Category: History

The General Laws of the Massachusetts Colony

The Body of Liberties, the “Ipswich Connection,” and the Origin of written Constitutionalism in Massachusetts

However benign John Winthrop’s intentions were, the system he tried to construct rested on the discretion, or will, of individual magistrates. However, he was defeated by the Ipswich Connection’s campaign for the “skill” or “rule” of written law; and if we still prize the ideal that government should operate based on laws, not men, we owe that partly to their promotion of the Body of Liberties.

Petition to the Town of Ipswich

The Power of a mark

I stumbled upon a remarkable family artifact: the crude “signature” that the probable founder of the Grow family in America – my direct ancestor nine generations removed – had put down on paper 326 years earlier. A small, nondescript mark on a long-forgotten document brought history personally alive for me in a way that perhaps only passionately engaged family historians would fully understand.

Camp Sea Haven, Plum Island MA

The Knobbs

The Knobbs is a small beach in a stretch of salt marsh on the west side of the Ipswich section of Plum Island. On the Atlantic side was the Kbobbs Beach Life-Saving Station, replaced in 1947 by a camp for children who had been victims of polio.

The Fox Creek Canal

The Fox Creek Canal provided the missing link between the forests of New Hampshire and the shipyards of Essex. Lumber boats would sail down the Merrimack to Newburyport, cruise south along the landward-side of Plum Island and reach the Ipswich River without ever having to go on the ocean, then take the canal to the Castle Neck River to Essex Bay.

Millend Ipswich by Martin Van Buren Perley

“Mill End” Ipswich

“Millend” was the west side of the settlement, including today’s Topsfield Rd. and Washington St. Home of Samuel Appleton and John Whipple, it was separated from the east side by a wetland. In1717, Capt. Beamsley Perkins was taken to court for blocking their path to the Meeting House.

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.

The Commons

When the Town of Ipswich was established, ownership of a house and land within the town bounds carried with it the right of pasturage beyond the Common Fence. In 1788, the commoners resigned all their land interests to pay the heavy town debt incurred during the Revolution.

The Pillow Lace Tercentenary plaque on High Street in Ipswich

Ipswich Pillow lace

In the late eighteenth century, Ipswich had 600 women and girls producing more than 40,000 yards of lace annually. Ipswich industrialists imported machines from England to mechanize and speed up the operation, which destroyed the hand-made lace industry.

Acadian exiles in Ipswich, 1755

Massachusetts men played a conspicuous part in the French and Indian War, which resulted in wholesale destruction and deportation in French-speaking Nova Scotia. Surviviors were exiled to the Colonies, their children taken from them and distributed to English families as “nothing more than slaves.”

Green Street Bridge painting by Theodore Wendel

The Green Street Bridge

Twenty years after building the County Street Bridge, construction began for the Green Street Bridge. The original structure was made of wood but was later replaced by an arched bridge of stone on May 14, 1894. This was the fifth bridge built on the Ipswich River in the Town of Ipswich.