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[p. 57]

Why Aberjona?

By Sylvester Baxter, a member of, and by permission of, the Maiden Historical Society.

In looking up some data in early local history I have just come across something that seems to throw a light upon one of our old geographical names whose origin has always puzzled me and which, so far as I know, appears to be unknown. The Mystic river—which geologically has a peculiar interest as having in the preglacial period actually been the Merrimac, carrying the greater stream by a short cut from near Lowell to Massachusetts Bay—has, since the first settlements, borne two names in different parts of its course, although the entire valley has been known as that of the Mystic. From its confluence with the Charles, near the Navy Yard, up through its tidal reaches, or what were tidal until the building of the dam and locks at Medford, up to the Mystic Lakes, it has been called the Mystic. Above the lakes, from Wilmington down through Woburn and Winchester, it appears to have been always known as the Aberjona, a name that is found in the early records of Woburn. Since most of our names of rivers, ponds, hills, etc., are of Indian origin, it has usually been assumed to be an aboriginal designation. To many, however, the name, with its ‘jona,’ has suggested a Scriptural derivation. And since many place-names have come from those of persons living in the neighborhood, it has also been somewhat fantastically suggested that perhaps the name is a corruption of ‘Abbie Jones' river,’ just as the Greater New York borough of the Bronx derives its picturesque name from an old-timer named Broncks. But there is no evidence in behalf of either of these assumptions.

Just now, however, having had occasion to look up some facts in relation to the famous expedition of the three Sprague brothers, Ralph, Richard and William, pioneers in the settlement of Charlestown, across country through the woods from Salem, I find that in the Charlestown records it is related that this party ‘lighted [p. 58] of a place situate and lying on the north side of Charles river, full of Indians, called Aberginians.’ Often as I had read that account, I had never before attached any particular significance to the name of those Indians other than that it seemed so different from Algonquin nomenclature in general, except that it was somewhat suggestive of ‘Virginians’ and might possibly have come from the circumstance that New England was originally regarded as a part of Virginia.

Now a place name is often derived from the name of the people who live there, or the name of the people may come from that of the place. We are here informed that the Indians of that neighborhood were called ‘Aberginians.’ And is there not a striking resemblance between that name and ‘Aberjona’? And in face of this extraordinary resemblance is it not reasonable to infer that the name of those Indians came either from that of the river on whose banks they lived, or that the river took its name from the Indians? It would require only a transition from a single vowel to make ‘Aberginians’ identical with ‘Aberjonians.’ Hence it seems quite natural to assume that Aberjona was originally the name of the entire river, from its source down to the sea, instead of being limited to the section above the lakes as at present—the lakes, or ponds, being simply slackwater and a tidal basin, respectively, in the river.

In the same Charlestown records occurs the following passage describing Charlestown or Mishawum, peninsular as the first settlers found it: ‘Upon surveying, they found it was a neck of land, generally full of stately timber, as was the main, and the land lying on the east side of the river called Mistick river (from the farm Mr. Cradock's servants had planted, called Mistick, which this river led up unto) and indeed generally all the country round about was an uncouth wilderness, full of timber.’

The name ‘Mystic,’ as applied to this river, has been derived by some students of history not from the English word, but has been held to be of Indian origin, coming [p. 59] from the Algonquin ‘Mistuck,’ signifying ‘great tidal river,’ or estuary. But according to this early record the name of the river came from that of the Cradock farm in Medford. In that event it might naturally have been limited to the lower reaches of the stream, taking the place of the original name, the Aberjona, which was retained for the upper portion. Altogether, the remarkable likeness of Aberjona and Aberginian seems to afford the most rational solution for the origin of the name of one of the most beautiful of our little rivers. And would it be altogether fantastic to suggest a possible relationship between the word ‘Aberginians’ and ‘aborigines’?

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