Newburyport and its Neighborhood in 1874, by Harriet Prescott Spofford

Excerpt from “Newburyport and its Neighborhood” by Harriet Prescott Spofford, July 1875, the New Harper’s Monthly Magazine.

“The history of Newburyport, and of her mother Newbury, much of which has become incorporated with herself, is replete with striking facts and marvels. She had not only the first of our ships upon the Thames, as has been noted, but the first chain-bridge on this side of the sea, as well as the first toll-bridge; she initiated the first insurance company; took the first daguerreotype taken in America; had the first incorporated woolen mill; the first incorporated academy; the first female high school; two of the first members of the Antislavery Society, which numbered twelve in all; the first volunteer company for the Revolution; the first volunteer company against the rebellion — the first, that is, in point of time of leaving home, summoned as it was by wild bell-ringing at the dead of night, though, owing to distance, not arriving the first upon the field of action; the first regularly educated physician of New England, Dr. Thomas Clarke; together with the first Bishop of Massachusetts, the Right Rev. Edward Bass, and the first graduate of Harvard — an institution to which she has given some presidents and many professors, notably Webber, Parsons, Greenleaf, Noyes, Felton, and Pearson.

Here also has been the home of various inventors of renown. Here the compressibility of water was discovered by Jacob Perkins, the illustrious inventor of steel engraving by a simple and beautiful process; here was invented the machine for making nails, which had previously been painfully hammered out one by one; here an instrument for measuring the speed with which a ship goes through the water; and here a new span for timber bridges, used now on most of our larger rivers.

Almost every mechanic, in sooth, has some fancy on which he spends his leisure; one amusing himself with making the delicate calculations necessary, and then just as delicately burnishing brazen reflectors for telescopes, before his heart was broken by the refractors with which Safford and Tuttle (both former residents of the town) have swept the sky; another occupying himself with the model of a machine in which all his soul was wrapped, but which, unknown to him, an ancient had completed a couple of thousand years ago; another inventing the first propeller screw that, it is believed, ever cut any waters, taking it up and down the Merrimac by night, and then, satisfied with his own achievement, unshipping it and hiding it away in a loft where it never saw the day; while others are busy with the useful low water reporters, and with those improvements in the manufacture of tobacco which have all sprung from a son of the town.

It is in mechanics that Newburyport excels; her ship-yards once lined all the water-side, as many as ninety having been seen upon the stocks at one time, and now, after a long rest, they are beginning to be active again. Shortly after the Revolution, wishing to export lumber, and having but few craft, she bound the lumber together in firm rafts, with a cavity in the centre for provisions and possible shelter, and furnishing them with secure though rude sailing apparatus, consigned them to the winds and waves, and after voyages of twenty-six days they were registered in their ports on the other side of the Atlantic. But before that experiment her ships were, and they still are, models to the whole world, for here were launched those fleetest clippers that ever cleft the wave, the Dreadnaught and the Racer.”

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