Prior to the area's European settlements in the mid-17th century, Dracut and the surrounding area was known as "Augumtoocooke," and was the site of important Pennacook Indian settlements, due to the fishing grounds at Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River and the abundant hunting game in the surrounding marsh areas. From the late 16th to mid 17th centuries, the legendary sachem Passaconaway and his family spent much of their lives on this land.
Europeans began to settle in the "Augumtoocooke" area around 1653, and established the town of Chelmsford, incorporated in 1655, on the opposite side of the Merrimack River from modern Dracut. Ten years later, in October 1665, Bess, wife of Nobb How and daughter of Passaconaway, sold the land called Augumtoocooke to Captain John Evered, also known as Webb of Draucutt of Norfolk County (the Webb family is associated closely with the town of Dreycott Folliott in Wiltshire, England, for the sum of four yards of Duffill and one pound of tobacco. Webb then turned around and sold tracts of land to the Richard Shatswell and Samuel Varnum. Before owning it himself, Webb had already sold 11,000 acres (45 km2) of the land months earlier to Samuel Varnum, as the deed for "Drawcutt upon Mirrimack" was dated 1664, for 400£ (Four Hundred Pounds). Richard Shatswell then took his Dracut land and exchanged it with Edward Colburn (also spelled "Coburn" or "Colborne") for his home and land in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Edward Colburn and his family were probably the first settlers in Dracut who owned land with the intention of permanently living on it (since the owners of the Webb farm had bought it as an investment, rather than to settle, and Samuel Varnum lived on the Chelmsford side of the Merrimack River).
Even though this area, now known to the new settlers as Dracut (Draucutt), was across the Merrimack River from the Chelmsford town center, they agreed to pay taxes and relied on Chelmsford for protection, as 1667 Middlesex Court documents so declared. By the summer of 1669, however, protection became too costly and difficult, so the Chelmsford Mayor Henchman declared:
"Wherefore, Honorable and Worshipful, I judge it highly needful and necessary that we have relief, and that speedily of about twenty men or more for the repulsing of the enemy and guarding some outplaces, which are considerable on each side of the Merrimac, as Messrs. Howard, Varnum, Coburn & company who must otherwise come in to us, and leave what they have to the enemy, or be exposed to the merciless cruelty of bloody and barbarous men."
On the morning of March 18, 1676, the Wamesit Indians burned down four of Edward Colburne's buildings, then attacked Samuel Varnum and family as they crossed the river to milk the cows grazing in the Dracut pastures. The Indians fired upon their boat, killing Samuel's two sons, as one died in his daughters arm as she sat behind him. The accompanying soldiers and Samuel fired back, but the Indians fled.
By the late 17th century the Varnum, Coburn, Richardson, and the other families of the Dracut section of Chelmsford, dissatisfied with the protection provided, began to petition to the General Court to layout their own township.
To the Hon. Council & Representatives of his Majesty's Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England in General Court assembled February 1701.
"The petition of Samuel Sewall Esq., Benjamin Walker, John Hunt & Jonathan Belcher, proprietors of part of the Tract of Land called Dracut beyond Chelmsford in the County of Middlesex on the North Side of Merrimack River and of Samuel Varnum, ..., Thomas Colburne, ..., James Richardson, ..., Ezra Colburn,... Inhabitants and Proprietors of the said Tract of Land called Dracut, ... lyes very commodious for a Township & hath about twenty families already settled thereupon in which are about Eighty Souls & Forasmuch as the making said place a Township will not only be a great Encouragement to the Inhabitants thereof & be the means for a settlement of the Ministry among them (for the benefit of which they are now obliged to go to Chelmsford, which is a great difficulty & eamiot be attended by their children & several others by reason of the distance thereof) but will also be of considerable benefit to the Publick, and be a great strengthening of the Frontier parts by reason of the people which will be desirous to settle at said place when made a Township because of the convenient positionship thereof.
Your Petitioners humbly pray that by the grant of this Honorable Court, the Tract of land aforesaid may be made a Township, and that the Inhabitants, which are or shall settle thereupon, may have and enjoy all Libertys, Privileges & Immunities as the Inhabitants of other Towns within this Province have & do enjoy. And ... the Tract of Land therein described be made a Township & called by the name of Dracut, ...
Sent up by concurrence Nehemiah Jewett, Speaker."
Dracut was granted separation from Chelmsford, and was officially incorporated as a town on February 26, 1701.
Parts of the community were part of the Wamiset Praying Town, one of the preserves set aside by the colonists for Christianized Indians. The town has several large ponds, bogs and swamps, and numerous brooks (most notably Beaver Brook). Dracut's early economy relied on fishing, lumbering and milling, which led in turn to the 19th century industries of paper making and cotton textile manufacturing, including the Beaver Brook Mill. These mills attracted Irish and French-Canadian immigrants.
There has been intense modern development in Dracut with suburban residential pressures from Lowell. Twice in the 19th century, Lowell annexed large sections of Dracut into its borders. However, some rural landscapes remain intact, as do some handsome historic houses. One of the better known is the 290-year-old Colburn/Cutter House, with its massive beams, huge center chimney and fireplaces. The building, dating back from about 1717, has served as the site of the annual Dracut Craft Fair. In addition, Dracut holds an annual Old Home Day every September starting in 2001 . As of 2010, it is also the only town in the world with the name "Dracut". [Citation needed]
- History of Dracut, Massachusetts, called by the Indians Augumtoocooke and before incorporation, the wildernesses north of the Merrimac. First permanent settlement in 1669 and incorporated as a town in 1701, by Silas Roger Coburn (1922)
- Richmond alias Webb of Wiltshire, England, and Taunton, Plymouth, Massachusetts. http://www.geneajourney.com/rchmnd.html.) (OGBOURNE ST. GEORGE. British History Online. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=66524#n73.)
- "The Varnums of Dracutt," by John Marchall Varnum, 1907
- Stager, Helen and Stager, Evelyn. A Family Odyssey, p. 235, Nicollet Press, Inc., Pipestone, Minnesota, 1983.
- Gordon, George A. and Coburn, Silas R. Genealogy of the Descendants of Edward Colburn/Coburn, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1913.
- Coburn, Silas Roger. History of Dracut, Massachusetts, pp. 67, 75-6, Press of the Courier-Citizen Co., Lowell, Massachusetts, 1922.