In 1641, the General Court established four quarter-annual courts kept yearly by the magistrates of Ipswich & Salem, two to be held at Salem & the other two at Ipswich, with jurisdiction in all matters not reserved to the Court of Assistants. The records of the Essex County Quarterly Courts for the colonial period (1636-1692) are preserved and available online, Stories of Ipswich residents who faced the magistrates are shared below.

Vol 1: Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts
Vol 2: Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts
Vol 3: Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts
Vol 4: Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts
Vol 5: Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts
Vol 6: Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts
Vol 7: Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts

Bundling Bundling - As settlers moved west into the cold New England frontier away from the Puritan strongholds, it was not uncommon for unmarried persons to be invited to sleep in the same bed for warmth. The definition of bundling evolved and developed over time into a ritual of courtship.
Luke and Elizabeth Perkins, notorious Disturbers of the Peace and a “Wicked-tongued Woman” - Featured image: Grape Island, blockprint by Evelyn Goodale Grape Island is a part of the Parker River Wildlife Refuge at Plum Island, and was once a small, but thriving community. Jacob Perkins, Matthew Perkins, William Hubbard, Francis Wainwright, Thomas Hovey, Thomas Wade, Benedictus Pulsifer, Captain John Smith, Samuel Dutch, and Nathaniel Treadwell were among the owners … Continue reading Luke and Elizabeth Perkins, notorious Disturbers of the Peace and a “Wicked-tongued Woman”
Samuel Symonds, gentleman: complaint to Salem court against his two servants, 1661 - Philip Welch and William Downing, both children, were kidnapped from Ireland in 1654, and sold to Samuel Symonds in Ipswich. After 7 years they refused to continue working on his farm and demanded their freedom. They were arrested and brought to trial.
The hanging of John Williams and William Schooler, July 1637 - In 1637, two men convicted on separate counts of murder were executed in Boston on the same gallows.  John Williams was convicted of killing John Hoddy near Great Pond in Wenham on the road to Ipswich. William Schooler was tried in Ipswich and found guilty of killing Mary Scholy on the path to Piscataqua.
A Catalogue of the Various Sects in England and Other Nations with a brief rehearsal of their false and damgerous tenenants Lydia Wardwell on her presentment for coming naked into Newbury meeting house - In 1661,  Lydia Perkins of Perkins had become a Quaker, and the church issued demands that she appear and give reasons for her withdrawal. Her angry response was to appear naked in the Meeting House. She was ordered to appear at the Salem court, and was then taken to Ipswich and severely whipped.
Patronage and Scandal at the Ipswich Customs House - In 1829, the position of Ipswich Customs Collector was granted to Timothy Souther, a man of prominence and one of the old line Democrats who held office there under President Andrew Jackson. Souther resigned in August, 1840 after being charged with graft.
“Dying Confession of Pomp, a Negro Man Who Was Executed at Ipswich on the 6th August, 1795” - On Aug 6th 1795, Pomp an African-American slave was hung for chopping off the head of his master, Captain Charles Furbush while he slept beside his wife. He was confined in Ipswich jail Feb. 12 of that year, and after sentence of death had been passed, was held there until the day of his execution.
Illegal Currency: Ipswich and the Land Bank scheme of 1740-41 - In September 1740, two Massachusetts Land Banks organized and issued 50,000 pounds of notes of varying amounts, without legal authorization of the Crown, and over the objections of the governor and his Council. An Act of Parliament declared all the transactions of the two Bank Schemes illegal and void.
Puritans drinking Strong drink - Colonial liquor licenses were granted to Ipswich men of highest esteem. They were bound “not to sell by retail to any but men of family, and of good repute, nor sell any after sunset; and that they shall be ready to give account of what liquors they sell by retail, the quantity, time and to whom.”
James Nailer, Quaker, persecuted by Puritans. The Town is Full! - In the 17th Century Ipswich, residency was allowed to such as were church members and deemed suitable under the law. Every man thus elected took the freeman's oath, prescribed by the General Court. No stranger was permitted to live more than one week in any tenement without satisfaction of the Selectmen.
“Dalliance and too much familiarity” - William Row v. John Leigh, Mar. 28, 1673: “For insinuating dalliance and too much familiarity with his wife and drawing away her affections from her husband, to the great detriment both in his estate and the comfort of his life.”
The Muster Murder of 1787 - During the Boston Muster of 1787, Daniel Foster of Rowley participated in the customary celebration of shooting musket balls into the air, and accidentally killed Amos Chapman of Ipswich. A jury ordered his execution, but Governor John Hancock opposed capital punishment and pardoned Foster.
“Wording it over the sheep” and behaving badly - Samuel often had words with his neighbor John Lee Sr. over the handling of cattle and sheep, and in 1668 the two landed in court for disturbing the peace. Neither would not admit to any wrong. A witness testified that John's son Joseph hit Samuel with a club as they “were wording it over the sheep”
Puritans torturing quakers Persecution of Quakers by the Puritans - Beginning in 1656, laws forbade any captain to land Quakers. Any individual of that sect was to be committed at once to the House of Correction, to be severely whipped on his or her entrance, and kept constantly at work, and none were suffered to speak with them. In Ipswich,  Roger Darby his wife lived in High St, and were warned, fined and dealt with harshly.
The sad story of Alexander Knight - In 1648, Alexander Knight was charged with the death of his chiled whose clothes caught on fire. A jury fined him for carelessness after being warned. The town took mercy and voted to provide him a piece of land "whereas Alexander Knight is altogether destitute, his wife alsoe neare her tyme."
The hanging of Ezra Ross and Bathsheba Spooner, July 2, 1778 - In 1778, sixteen-year-old Ezra Ross of Ipswich was condemned to death for the murder of Joshua Spooner of Brookfield. Spooner's wife Bathsheba became the first woman executed in the newly-created United States of America. Ezra Ross is buried in an unmarked grave at the Leslie Road Cemetery.
The “wearing of long hair” - The wearing of long hair was a burning theme of address in the early Puritan pulpit. The clergy prescribed that the hair should by no means lie over the band or doublet collar. In 1649, the Governor and seven of the Assistants declared their “dislike and detestation against the wearing of such long hair, whereby men doe deforme themselves, and offend sober and modest men.”
The first jailbreak in the Colony, March 30, 1662 - On the morning of the 30th of March, 1662, the Ipswich jailer found that a prisoner had escaped, the first offence of this nature committed in the country.  Soon a second prisoner escaped, and when he was recaptured he said he was very cold in the unheated jail, so he removed some floor boards to effect his departure.
Ipswich and the Salem witchcraft trials - During the Salem witch trials the Ipswich jail was filled with the accused. Among them was Mary Easty, Joan Braybrook and her stepdaughter Mehitable. Elizabeth Howe of Linebrook Road was tried and hung. All the ministers put themselves on record as out of sympathy with the delusion, 
Death in a snowstorm, December 1, 1722 - On December 1, 1722, Daniel Rogers was returning to Ipswich from a court case in Hampton and took a wrong turn that led deep into Salisbury marshes. His body was found a few days later near Salisbury beach. Suspicion fell on one Moses Gatchel but no charges were filed, there being a lack of solid evidence.
Drunkards, liars, a hog, a dog, a witch, “disorderly persons” and the innkeeper - As the young boys who arrived with the first settlers of Ipswich approached adulthood, they developed a fondness for hard liquor and rowdiness, which frequently landed them in court. The words of accusers, witnesses and defendants provide an entertaining narrative.
The proof was in the Kettle - Mark Quilter made his living as a cow-keeper in the common land on the north side of town and seemed to always be in trouble. He was called before the court in 1647 and reprimanded for "sleeping in the barn" rather than watching the cows during his evening shift. He had a reputation in Ipswich for drinking and losing his temper and was always the butt of jokes and pranks.
Troubles with Sheep - Thomas Granger was the 16 year old son of Thomas and Grace Granger of Plymouth Plantation, and was a servant to Love Brewster of Duxbury. He was found guilty of having sexual relations with animals in Love’s barn. Granger’s execution on September 8, 1642 was the first in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
300 years on Grape Island - Grape Island is a part of the town of Ipswich that was once a small, but thriving community of fishermen, farmers, and clam diggers. There was an abundance of farmland, fish and fowl for the people who lived on this narrow, isolated strip of land.
Police open fire at the Ipswich Mills Strike, June 10, 1913 - On June 10, 1913,police fired into a crowd of protesting immigrant workers at the Ipswich hosiery mill. A young Greek woman named Nicholetta Paudelopoulou was shot in the head and killed by police. Fifteen persons, including the local leaders of the  I.W.W. were taken into custody.
The Bones of Masconomet - On March 6, 1659 a young man named Robert Cross dug up the remains of the Agawam chief Masconomet, and carried his skull on a pole through Ipswich streets, an act for which Cross was imprisoned, sent to the stocks, then returned to prison until a fine was paid.
Mason’s Claim - On January 4, 1681, John T. Mason presented the King's letter to the General Court, which ordered "all said tenants" to appear in Ipswich. If an ancient claim was confirmed, every land title would be worthless and a landed medieval system known as "quit-rents" could be grafted upon New England.
Chebacco women build a meetinghouse The women of Chebacco build a Meeting House, March 21, 1679 - When Chebacco Parish (now Essex) began building their own meeting house, Ipswich authorities obtained an order that “No man shall build a meeting house at Chebacco.” Abigail Proctor saw a glaring legal loophole...
The defiant Samuel Appleton - In 1687, a warrant was issued for the arrest of several Ipswich men for being "seditiously inclined and disaffected to his Majesty's government." The 62-year-old Major Samuel Appleton scorned the appearance of submission and remained imprisoned in the cold Boston Jail through the winter.
One Third for the Widow - Under Puritan law, widows could keep only one third of their property. Martha Ringe was widowed with small children after her husband died. After considering her petition, the court allowed Martha to marry John Wood before three years had passed "in order to advance her circumstances."
Life in the Ipswich jails - The Ipswich stone jail on Green Street, built in 1806, was a notoriously cruel and inhospitable place. Sixteen British prisoners were kept hostage there during the War of 1812 and treated so cruelly that they were removed by the District marshal.

One thought on “Records from the Essex County Quarterly Courts, 1636-1692

  1. Hi Gordon,

    Thanks for the colorful review of crimes and misdemeanors through the early centuries in Ipswich town.

    I got a kick out of the admonition to Colonial liquor vendors –

    “not to sell by retail to any but men of family, and of good repute, nor sell any after sunset; and that they shall be ready to give account of what liquors they sell by retail, the quantity, time and to whom.”

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