-- Journal of Christopher Columbus, after first encounter with Arawaks, as quoted in Alvin Josephy, 500 Nations (New York: Knopf, 1994)
Even before the threat of Indian attacks had subsided in Andover, families were moving into the southern part of town, where previously only the communal farms and the Abbots’ garrison house had been permitted. The decision wasn’t the result of bravado on the part of the decision makers. The north was simply getting too crowded, evident especially when everyone tried to attend church services together. A new meeting house was needed, but the question of where it should be built was controversial. In the end, the colonial government in Boston split the parish in two. The new parish picked a location for its church, meeting house, parsonage, burial grounds and schoolhouse to be built on land given by a member of the Abbot family. In the summer of 1709, the congregants of the new South Parish, consisting of twenty-one women and fourteen men, built their first meeting house; the first meeting for parish business took place on October 19, 1709; and the first use of the space for worship occurred that January.
The services were initially conducted by temporary ministers, including one Samuel Phillips, who preached his first sermon in April of the following year.  A graduate of Harvard’s class of 1708, the twenty-year-old Phillips was the son of a Salem goldsmith. There had been no wealth in the family previously. The goldsmith’s father had been minister of a parish in a sprawling, colonial “plantation” called Rowley, which at the time included portions of today’s Byfield, Groveland, Georgetown, and Haverhill. The younger Phillips had taught school for a year at nearby Chebacco, today’s town of Essex. He had also preached a bit in Norton, a settlement south of Boston. And he might well have stayed there, but, according to George Mooar’s account in the Historical Manual of the South Church, “the influence of the minister of the old Parish of Taunton,” adjacent to Norton, “was unfavorable,… and he was not ordained.”  In eighteenth-century New England, the ministry was a form of public office. Parish and town were synonyms. When ministers traditionally served one church for a lifetime, the fit had better be good. And so it was that, due to someone’s random unfavorable opinion, Samuel Phillips was hired in Andover instead of Norton, and began to raise the family that would determine the town’s destiny. In those days, ordination followed a minister’s election to a parish, not the other way around. On October 17, 1711, Samuel Phillips was ordained and became Reverend, and the Church of the South Parish became an official Congregational Church in the colony of Massachusetts.
There is a large red clapboard house at a bend in the road on the way out from Andover towards the section of town that is now known as Ballardvale. The eastern portion of the house, which is very close to where the traffic passes, was built in 1711, when the young Reverend Phillips was just getting to know the members of his parish. It is called the Benjamin Abbot house, even though its namesake died in 1703 and never lived there. It’s just that he was thought to have lived there earlier than he did, because the house was dated earlier, too, to 1685. The source of the error can be traced to something Margaret T. Abbott (the name is spelled by some family members with two t’s) wrote about it in 1952 in the course of tracing “Ten Generations of Abbotts in America.”  Margaret Abbott also noted accurately in the same research report that in 1692, Benjamin Abbot’s neighbor, Martha Allen Carrier, was arrested for witchcraft, Benjamin Abbot having named her as the cause of his foot swelling and the open sore on his side. They had bickered for years, previously over land boundaries, and she had threatened Abbot. As a result of her refusal to say she was a witch, she was hanged in Salem, where a plaque memorializes her and condemns what happened to her and all the others caught up in the hysteria. And in the same year that the Benjamin Abbot house was built, her family received from the Massachusetts government a small recompense, 7£ and 6 shillings, for her wrongful conviction and death. All of which is to say that some of the Andover people to whom Reverend Phillips was charged with ministering could be as small-minded, superstitious, and vindictive as anyone, including their cohorts in Salem, which has received virtually all of the witch-trials celebrity ever since. (And they can have it, thank you very much.) And probably they could also be just as remorseful.
1. http://www.southchurch.com/HistoricalInfo/HistComVisitorsGuide062007.pdf. Retrieved Jan. 19, 2021.
2. George Mooar, Historical Manual of the South Church in Andover, Mass. (Andover: Printed by Warren F. Draper, 1859), 96.
3. https://mhl.org//sites/default/files/files/Abbott/Abbott%20Family.pdf Retrieved April 16, 2022.