|1830 map shows Elizabeth River as the|
border between Stow and Sudbury
Concord was established
in 1635 the land - purchased from Native Americans - was originally referred to
as Musketaquid for "grassy plain," and perhaps also meaning the
river, as another history translates Musketaquid as .
This was descriptive. Both north and south of nascent Reedy River Concord the river was slow-moving, with a
very wide flood plain. The colonists coveted the reedy marshland as meadow,
fodder for cattle and horses.
Upstream the river forked at Egg Rock.
maps from 1753 to as late as 1835 refer to the north branch as North River, or on some maps Concord NR. An echo of this
naming is the present-day North
Branch Road, near the Concord/Acton border and
parallel to the . Settlement did not
expand up both rivers at the same pace. Assabet
was named a town in 1639. Meanwhile, surveyors described the territory along
the other river as "meane land," not settled until Stow was a named town in 1683.
|An early name for the Assabet River. Click on photos to enlarge|
the river's name was in flux, with various maps and documents reading Asibeth,
Assabath, Elsabath, Elsibeth, Elizabeth, Assabett, Assabet... One map even had
it as . There was a consensus in 1830
that Elizabeth Brook flowed into Stow River Elizabeth
River into Concord
River, but by 1856, when Middlesex
county was being remapped in great detail, it was Assabet Brook flowing into
the Assabet River,
with the pre-Maynard community identified as .
(Nowadays it is Elizabeth Brook into Assabet Village .) Assabet
There is a well-known quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne (1846) which when cited now usually has the "Assabet" spelling, but what he actually wrote was: "Rowing our boat against the current, between wide meadows, we turned aside into the Assabeth. A more lovely stream than this, for a mile above its junction with the
Concord, has never flowed on earth..."
|Native American name? No one|
knows for sure. Or what it meant.
As for how "Ass-a-bet" came to be the name of a river - a mystery. Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. Our problem here is that various 19th century history attribute the origins to a Native American name, but if that is true, it would have been from the Nipmuc dialect of the Algonquian family of Indian languages. There is no resource to pursue this theory back to an original source. Supposed translations are to the reedy place, the miry place, or the backward flowing river place. A mire is more permanent - a marsh or bog - than a temporally fleeting muddy place. 'Backward flowing' is a reach. On infrequent occasions the
River, immediately upstream from the
junction of the Sudbury
and Assabet, flows backwards. This happens after heavy rain, and it happens
because water from the steeper Assabet reaches the junction sooner than water
from the flatter Sudbury.
Place names are rarely for rare events, so this last theory feels
An alternative theory is that the various names of the river were corruptions of spelling of "
But it is more of a reach to go from this perfectly good person-name to Aisbeth
or Assabath, both dating to late 1600s, than it is to consider all those
Elizabeth-names as attempts to Anglicize the native name.
There are other examples of changeable naming. In southeast
Stow, Bottomless Pond became Crystal Lake. In Harvard, Hell Pond became
Hill Pond, became . In early Mirror
Lake Sudbury documents the Sudbury
River was referred to as the Great River,
while at the same time the upper end from Framingham
west was for decades called the . And lest we
forget, in 1902 the Town of Hopkinton
almost changed its name to - Assabet.
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