John Dunton's visit to Ipswich

John Dunton’s visit to Ipswich and Rowley in 1686

Thomas Franklin Waters wrote that in 1686, Mr. and Mrs. Stewart who lived in the ancient Caleb Lord house on High Street (no longer standing), “were favored with a visit from the book-seller John Dunton, who came to Ipswich in the course of his saddle-bag peregrinations.”

John Dunton, the English writer and book seller
John Dunton, the English writer and book-seller

In October 1685, Dunton sailed from England to visit New England, where he stayed eight months selling books and observing the new country and its inhabitants. He stayed for a time at Salem and Wenham, and returned to England in the autumn of 1686. Waters writes, “The gossipy letter he wrote his wife affords a rare glimpse of an old Ipswich home, and a complimentary description of the personal appearance of his entertainers:” An abbreviated version of Mr. Dunton’s letter follows:

“My Landlady, Mrs. Wilkins, has a sister at Ipswich which she had not seen for a great while. Her daughter, Mrs. Comfort, (a young gentlewoman equally happy in the perfections both of her body and mind), had a great desire to see her aunt, having never been at her house, nor in that part of the country. Being never backward to accommodate the Fair Sex, and all things being ready for our ramble, I took my fair one up behind me and rode on our way, I and my Fair Fellow Traveller to Mr. Steward ‘s whose wife was Mrs. Comfort ‘s own Aunt, whose Joy to see her Niece at Ipswich was sufficiently Expressed by the Noble Reception we met with and the Treatment we found there; which far outdid whate’er we could have thought.

And tho myself was but a stranger to them, yet the extraordinary civility and respect they showed me, gave me reason enough to think I was very welcome. It was late when we came thither, and we were both very weary, which yet would not excuse us from the trouble of a very splendid supper, before I was permitted to go to bed. Only I must let you know that my apartment was so noble and the furniture so suitable to it, that I doubt not but even the King himself has oftentimes been contented with a worser lodging.”

The house on the left in this old photo is the Caleb Lord House, on the corner of Manning and High Streets
The book-peddler John Dunton visited with the Steward family, probably in the Caleb Lord House, which was on the corner of Manning and High Streets. That house and the one behind it were both taken down in the early 20th Century.

“Having reposed myself all night upon a bed of Down, I slept so very soundly that the Sun, who lay not on so soft a bed as I, had got the start of me, and risen before me. I straight got up and dressed myself, having a mind to look about me and see where I was; and having took a view of Ipswich, I found it to be situated by a river, whose first rise from a Lake or Pond was twenty miles up, breaking of its course through a hideous swamp for many miles, a harbor for bears. It issued forth into a large bay, where they fish for whales, due East over against the Island of Shoals, a great place for fishing. The mouth of that river is barred. It is a good haven town.

Their Meeting House or church is built very beautifully. There is a store of orchards and gardens about it, and good land for Cattle and husbandry. Ipswich is a country town not very large, and when a stranger arrives, ’tis quickly known to everyone. It is no wonder then that the next day after our arrival the news of it was carried to Mr. Hubbard, the Minister of the town. He is a sober, grave and well accomplished man — a good preacher (as all the town affirm, for I didn’t hear him) and one that lives according to his preaching.

Another view of the Caleb Lord house, where the live
Another view of the Caleb Lord house, where John Dunton visited. The house was on High Street but faced Mineral Street, which at that time was a muddy cart path to Washington Street.

The next day I went for another ramble in which Mr. Steward was pleased to accompany me. And the place we went to was a town called Rowley, lying six miles North-East from Ipswich, where most of the Inhabitants had been Clothiers. There was that Day a great Game of Foot Ball to be played, which was the occasion of our going thither: There was another Town that played against them, as is sometimes Common in England: but they played with their bare feet which I thought was very odd: but was upon a broad Sandy Shore free from Stones, which made it more easy. Neither were they so apt to trip up one another’s heels, and quarrel as I have seen in England.”

John Dunton’s travels also provided the opportunity to go to Wonasquam (Annisquam), an Indian village, “after a long and difficult ramble. ” On the way he found some Indians, with faces blackened with soot, who rather alarmed him, but their greeting, “Aseowequassummis,” interpreted as “Good morrow to you,” relieved his fears. They were in mourning for a dead chief and they buried him that night. Dunton remained and made a note of the funeral ceremony

“First the gravest among them wound up and prepared the dead body for the coffin; when the mourners came to the grave they laid the body by the grave’s mouth, and then all the Indians sat down and lamented, and I observed tears to run down the cheeks of the oldest among them, as well as from little children. After the dead body was laid in the grave, they then made a second great lamentation. Upon the grave they spread the mat that the deceased died on, the dish he ate in, and two of the Indians hung a fair coat of skin upon the next tree to the grave, which none will touch, but suffer it there to rot with the dead.”


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