William Merchant house, 103 High St., Ipswich MA

The William Merchant house, 103 High St. (1639/1672)

In the first years of the Ipswich settlement, this location was the north end of town, beyond which was the fence that kept the cattle and sheep on the common land. One of the oldest houses in Ipswich, 103 High St. has elements of a small cottage built by early settler William Merchant, who arrived in Ipswich in 1639, and who died in 1668. Merchant bequeathed the house to his widow, and she to her daughter Mayry, the wife of Henry Osborn, who in turn conveyed the house to his son John in 1694. In 1705, the west side of the house was sold to James Lord, who purchased the east side in 1709. The two halves of the house were owned by members of the Lord and Russell families into the early 20th Century.

The Merchant-Choate house, early 20th Century. Photo courtesy of David Thayer
An early 20th Century photo of the Merchant-Choate house courtesy of David Thayer

In 1975 and 2001, tree ring cores were taken from the oldest beams in the house by the Lamont-Doherty Tree Ring Laboratory and Oxford Dendrochronology, which identified the samples as being from trees felled in 1671 & 1672. This suggests that William Merchant’s son-in-law Henry Osborne replaced or greatly expanded the house after inheriting it from Merchant’s widow. They also found components that appear to have replaced earlier portions of the building, including three ceiling joists from trees cut between 1638 and 1643. The rafters are from an earlier structure in which the purlins were “clasped” against the underside of the principal rafter. Clasped purlin roof construction in east England originated in the second half of the 16th Century. According to the authors of the dendrochnology study, this is the only known evidence of clasped purlin use in New England.

The William Merchant house is protected by a preservation agreement with the Ipswich Historical Commission.

Fireplace in the Merchant-Choate house
Fireplace in the Merchant house

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