Middlesex North Registry of Deeds history
Middlesex Northern District Registry of Deeds is the depository of all land ownership records for Billerica, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, Westford and Wilmington. All documents from 1629 to the present are freely available on the registry’s website, www.lowelldeeds.com. (360 Gorham St, Lowell MA 01852 – 978.322.9000).
An integral part of our system of real property ownership, the registry of deeds is used mostly by lawyers and other real estate professionals. However, the 14 million pages of registry records that have been digitized and made available online are a valuable resource for historians and members of the public.
Registry of deeds records are organized as follows: When a document is recorded, the registry makes a full copy of it and returns the original to its owner. In the seventeenth century, that meant a registry clerk making a pen and ink copy by hand; today it means scanning the original to make a digital image. Newly recorded documents are placed in numbered record books in the order that they are received with each page of the book being numbered. The book and page number of the page where the document is located serves as its identification number. This system continues today even though the last physical record book was produced in 2001.
Wheelwright Deed (1629)
Among the earliest documents recorded at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell, Massachusetts, is one dated May 17, 1629. Executed by Passaconaway, Runaawitt, Uahanqnonawitt, and Rowes, the Sagamores of the indigenous people of what is now southeastern New Hampshire and northeastern Massachusetts, the deed purports to convey a large swath of land from the Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River to the Piscataqua River to John Wheelwright, Thomas White, William Wentworth, and Thomas Leavitt.
Engulfed in controversy throughout its existence, the Wheelwright Deed and the circumstances surrounding it provide a fascinating story in itself, but also serves as a window into the history and practices of land ownership in early New England.
Both the hand-written version from the official registry of deeds records and a typed version with a geographic sketch of the land covered by the deed are available.
Wannalancit Deeds (1685)
In 1655, the colonial legislature of Massachusetts granted town charters for Chelmsford and Wamesit which was an existing Native American village located where downtown Lowell exists today. The Native Americans of Wamesit and the English colonists of Chelmsford peacefully co-existed until King Philip’s War (1675-76) transformed relations between the two groups.
In 1685, Wannalancit, “the only sonne surviving of old Passaconoway, deceased, who was the great and cheife Sachem upon the Merimack River,” executed a series of deeds conveying ownership of all the land in Wamesit from the Native Americans to Jonathan Tyng, Daniel Hinchman and Jerahmell Bowers.”
Proprietors of Wamesit Neck (1686)
On December 14, 1686, Jonathan Tyng and Daniel Hinchman joined 48 other men to form a loose association known as the Proprietors of Wamesit Neck. Tyng and Hinchman then conveyed the land the Wamesit land they had obtained from Wannalancit to these fifty proprietors, identifying three of them, Hinchman, John Fisk and Josiah Richardson, as trustees for the rest.
Although Wamesit had a separate town charter, the proprietors of Wamesit Neck dispensed with the technicalities of local government and considered themselves to be part of Chelmsford. Eventually, in 1726, the General Court of Massachusetts formally made Wamesit part of Chelmsford by an order of annexation. From that time until 1826 when the town of Lowell received its own charter, Wamesit was known as East Chelmsford.
Deed Restricting Irish Ownership (1881)
On May 25, 1881, Susan Butters and Eleanor Butters conveyed to Abel Asherton of Lowell, a parcel of land on the south side of Fairmount Street in Lowell. Included in the deed was the following language: “The said premises being deeded under the express agreement and condition that the land shall never be deeded or conveyed to any person born in Ireland.”
Paddy Camp Lands Plan (1832)
In 1823, the founders of Lowell hired hundreds of Irish immigrant laborers to dig the canals and build the mills that made Lowell one of the most important places in America in the nineteenth century. Unlike those who worked inside the mills who were provided with company-owned housing, the Irish were given an acre of unoccupied land to the southwest of the mills on which to build their own residences. Although this area eventually became known as Lowell’s Acre neighborhood, it was initially called the “Paddy Camp Lands” as is shown on these two early subdivision plans.
Nesmith Land in Belvidere Village (1831)
Soon after Lowell’s founding, brother’s Thomas and John Nesmith sensed the tremendous growth that would follow and purchased a number of large, sparsely settled parcels of land to the east of the mills and downtown Lowell in a neighborhood known as Belvidere Village. This early subdivision plan shows the Nesmith’s vision of a tree-lined residential subdivision of large lots surrounding a communal green space then called Washington Square but now known as Kittredge Park.