Ipswich in the 18th Century

The Town of Ipswich devoted much manpower and resources during the first half of the 18th Century to the French and Indian Wars, and became a staunch supporter of the War for Independence. The development of the stagecoach maintained the prominence of the town for several decades. In 1793, the Hamlet was set off from the town and became the Town of Hamilton. The port of Ipswich was unable to compete with the larger harbors, and the town sank into period of economic decline began.

Pingreys Plain Ipswich map Pingrey’s Plain, the Gallows Lot - Long before the corner of Mile Lane and High Street became famous for the Clam Box, it was known as Pingrey’s Plain, where the wicked were hung. The story was written by Alice Keenan in Ipswich Yesterday: “Pingrey’s Plain was where the local hangman plied his macabre trade and […]
Jewett Hill, Ipswich Village map Ipswich Village (Upper High St.) - Featured image: “Ipswich Village” in the 1832 Philander map of the town of Ipswich. The following narrative includes excerpts from Ipswich Village and the Old Rowley Road. by Thomas Franklin Waters in 1915. “At the very beginning of the Town, High Street was the road to Newbury or ‘the pathway […]
Carted back to Ipswich, 1714 - In the Old North Burying Yard on High Street in Ipswich lies the body of the Reverend Samuel Belcher. Born in Ipswich in 1639, he graduated from Harvard College in 1659, and studied for the ministry, and was preaching at Kittery, Maine as early as 1663. In 1668 he married Mary, daughter […]
Haselelpony Wood, November 27, 1714 - Obadiah Wood married a 35-year-old widow Haselelponiah, whose scriptural name means "A shadow falls upon me." The only person in modern history with that name. Haselelpony Wood's tombstone is located at the Old North Burial Ground in Ipswich.
A romantic tale from the Great Snow of Feb. 21-24, 1717 - Snowstorms on the 20th and 24th of February 1717 covered the earth up to 20 ft. deep. In some places houses were completely buried, and paths were dug from house to house under the snow. A widow in Medford burned her furniture to keep the children warm.
Col. Doctor Thomas Berry, “Last of the Ipswich Aristocracy” - In the first half of the Eighteenth Century, Col. Thomas Berry was the most conspicuous citizen of the Town, "Autocrat of his time, Magistrate, Military leader, Physician and Statesman."
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.
The reluctant pirate from Ipswich, Captain John Fillmore - John Fillmore was born in Ipswich in 1702, the son of mariner John Fillmore Sr. who died at sea in 1711. His widowed mother was Abigail Tilton, whose two brothers Jacob and Daniel famously overcame and killed several Indians who took them hostage after boarding their fishing schooner in […]
Two Taverns for Two Susannas - In the 1700’s two of the finest inns in town were run by women, a mother and daughter both named Susanna. Although the two houses are both on corners of County Street, they were separated by the river since the bridge was not built until a hundred years […]
The Buried House at Wigwam Hill - Much of the 1200 acres of dunes at Castle Neck along Crane Beach were forested with pitch pine in 1634 when European settlers arrived. The people of Ipswich realized that it was a special place, and the selectmen decreed that “The Neck of Land whereupon the great Hill […]
Great Sorrows: The Deadly “Throat Distemper” of 1735-36 - Featured image: Tombstone of the daughters of Dr. Thomas Berry: Elizabeth age 5 years, and Mary, age 18 months, who died in December 1735 of the “throat distemper.” Photo by John Glassford An epidemic of “throat distemper” raged in New England between 1735 and 1740. The contagion struck first […]
Land Bank Scheme 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.
The Devil's footprint, Ipswich MA The Devil’s footprint - Imprinted into the rocks in front of the First Church in Ipswich is the footprint of the devil, left there forever in a legendary encounter with the traveling English evangelist George Whitefield in 1740.
Agnes Surriage, Marblehead Marblehead tavern maid Agnes Surriage becomes becomes the lady of the manor, 1742 - Thanks to the New England Historical Society for this romantic old tale from Marblehead. In 1742, Charles Henry Frankland, the king’s collector for the port of Boston, visited Marblehead. Staying at the Fountain Tavern, he was gobsmacked by the beauty of Agnes Surriage, the tavern’s 16-year-old maid. Charmed by […]
The Missing Burial Ground - The Case of the Missing Burial Ground Lesslie Road Burial Ground Linebrook Parish, Old Ipswich, Massachusetts Story by: Bruce Laing Toward a comprehensive documentation of the greater Ipswich burial grounds In 1935 Arthur Warren Johnson and Ralph Elbridge Ladd jr. wrote Momento Mori, a map and transcription of tombstones […]
Peg Wesson the Gloucester witch Peg Wesson, the Gloucester witch - An old legend about the Gloucester witch Peg Wesson is often mentioned, but never was it told in such detail as in this story, written by Sarah G. Daley and published in the Boston  Evening Transcript, October 14, 1892. It was carried in papers throughout the country. It was March, 1745, and the […]
Lord Timothy Dexter - Timothy Dexter was born on January 22, 1747, and was undoubtedly the most eccentric person of his time. He aspired to join the upper classes of society, as many a fortunate blockhead had done before him, but he could not keep his mouth shut, and made no headway in […]
Ipswich Hosiery - In the mid-18th Century a group of Ipswich women started making and selling lace with distinctive patterns. Small round lap pillows were used to pace the bobbins and needles as the lace grew around it. Ipswich lace quickly became very popular and played an important roll during the […]
Abraham Knowlton, “Workman of rare skill” - By Ipswich Historical Commission chairman John Fiske: Ipswich is home to two groundbreaking masterworks of early eighteenth century America, a paneled wall and a pulpit. Both were made by Abraham Knowlton (1699- 1751), a woodworker who is less well known than he deserves to be. William Knowlton, born in England in 1615, was […]
Acadian exiles in Ipswich, 1755 - A lesson for our times: The French and Indian War, as it is now known, began in 1754 and ended with the French defeat in 1763. Expeditions were planned against the French strongholds on Lake George, Fort Niagara; and against the Acadian settlers in Nova Scotia. Massachusetts men played a […]
The Cape Ann Earthquake, November 18, 1755 - A series of earthquakes in the 17th and 18th Centuries gave rise to recurrences of religiosity through New England. June 1, 1638:  Believed to have been centered along the Connecticut River Valley with a magnitude of about 6.5, this was the strongest known earthquake to hit New England: […]
The Old South Cemetery - The Old South Cemetery in Ipswich, MA was used from 1756 till 1939, with a few more recent burials. It sits at the southwestern end of the South Green, and has about 1000 interments. A walking trail extends down the slope to the River, continuing downstream to Sallys Pond near the Whipple […]
Bombshell from Louisbourg - Mounted securely to a stone post at the corner of Middle and Independent Streets in Newburyport, there was for many years a large cast-iron bombshell, thrown from a mortar at the Second Siege of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia in 1758. It was brought to Newbury by Nathaniel Knapp, who served as […]
The First Church Clock - By Ipswich Historical Commission chairman John Fiske: It’s not often that a major purchase in 1762 turns into a major headache in 2017. But that is what happened with the First Church’s clock in Ipswich. The First Church (uppercase C: the institution) built its first church (lowercase c: […]
The Choate Bridge in Ipswich MA is the oldest double stone arch bridge in America The Choate Bridge - The American Society of Civil Engineers cites the Choate Bridge in Ipswich as the oldest documented two-span masonry arch bridge in the U.S., and the oldest extant bridge in Massachusetts. 
The Choate Bridge–what a bargain! - This 250-year-old bridge that the naysayers claimed would never survive its first day has stood the test of time. It cost our town £500 to build, $1000 to widen, and some occasional upkeep. When we consider every horse, buggy, stagecoach, car, truck, bicycle and pedestrian that has passed over Col. Choate's bridge since 1764, that seems like a really good deal.
Jenny Slew gains her freedom Freedom for Jenny Slew, November 1766 - Jenny Slew was born about 1719 as the child of a free white woman and a black slave. She married one or more black men who were slaves but lived her life as a free woman until 1762 when she was kidnapped and enslaved by John Whipple of […]
The “Detested Tea” - From Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, by Thomas Franklin Waters In 1767, the Townshend Acts were passed, one of which provided for a tax on wine, glass, tea, gloves, etc, imported into the Province. During the winter, the General Court issued a Circular Letter, which was sent to the […]
Ipswich and the Breach with Britain - On June 10th, 1776, the men of Ipswich, in Town-meeting assembled, instructed their Representatives, that if the Continental Congress should for the safety of the said Colonies Declare them Independent of the Kingdom of Great Britain, they will solemnly engage with their lives and Fortunes to support them in the Measure.
Pillow Lace Sign, High St., Ipswich MA Ipswich Pillow lace - The Pillow Lace plaque is located in front of 5 High Street in Ipswich. In the mid-18th Century a group of Ipswich women started making and selling lace with distinctive patterns. Small round lap pillows were used to pace the bobbins and needles as the lace grew around it. […]
The Marblehead smallpox riot, 1773 - From The History and Traditions of Marblehead” by Samuel Roads. Featured image by Charles Green. During the year 1773, the attention of the inhabitants of Marblehead was for a time occupied in considering their danger from another source than the oppressive acts of the British Parliament. In June […]
Stagecoach Ipswich MA The stagecoach in Ipswich - The first stagecoach in Essex County, drawn by four horses, was established in 1774 and connected Newburyport with Boston via Salem and Ipswich. By the early 1800’s, up to seventeen stagecoaches and four post chaises passed through town each day, most of them full to overflowing. In 1803, the Newburyport […]
The Essex Convention The Ipswich Convention and the Essex Result - Delegates met in Ipswich in 1774 and 1778 to deliberate a Constitution for Massachusetts. Their “Exceptions” were published in the 60-page “Essex Result,” and included an ominous warning to future generations: In 1774, in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, General Gage was sent to Boston […]
John Adam’s letters from Ipswich, May-June, 1774 - Article by Bruce Laing.  John Adams visited Ipswich many times during his tenure as the Boston representative to the colonial legislature from 1770 to 1774. This brilliant and controversial fellow served as a member of the Continental Congress, then as the 1st Vice President in the Washington administration, then as […]
Paul Revere’s not so famous ride through Ipswich, December 13, 1774 - Capt. Michael Farley and Mr. Daniel Noyes represented Ipswich at the First Provincial Congress, which met in Salem on Friday, October 7, 1774. A resolution was adopted that companies of Minutemen be organized and that “each of the minute men not already provided therewith, should be immediately equipped with […]
John Calef house Ipswich MA Fall 1774: Ipswich mob attacks Loyalist John Calef - The people of Ipswich have a long tradition of heated debate at Town Meeting. In 1687 Samuel Appleton and other town leaders called an emergency town meeting to debate new taxes imposed by the Crown. They were imprisoned for their refusal to appoint a tax collector, an act for […]
Rooty Plain near Rowley MA Flight from Rooty Plain - The story of the Great Ipswich Fright on April 21, 1775  was widely told, and memorialized by John Greenleaf Whittier. Mrs. Alice P. Tenney in 1933 provided an amusing story of the fear that struck Rooty Plain, also called “Millwood,” a thriving little mill community along today’s Rt. 133 […]
Memorial on South Green Ipswich ma The Arnold Expedition arrives in Ipswich, September 15, 1775 - A memorial sits in the intersection between the South Green and the site of the former South Congregational Church in Ipswich. It reads, “The expedition against Quebec, Benedict Arnold in command, Aaron Burr in the ranks, marched by this spot, September 15, 1775.” In September, 1775, Gen. Montgomery […]
The Ipswich Post Offices - The first known post office in Ipswich was on North Main Street in the small red building across from First Church. It was built in 1763, probably as a barn or warehouse. In 1775, a committee from Ipswich began meeting with other towns, from Newburyport to Danvers, regarding […]
Leslie's Retreat mural in Salem MA Leslie’s Retreat, or how the Revolutionary War almost began in Salem: February 26, 1775 - In our struggle for Independence, the British military received its first setback from the inhabitants of Salem in an episode that could not have been more ludicrous or entertaining if it had been written for Monty Python.
Great Ispwich Fright, John Greenleaf Whittier The Great Ipswich Fright, April 21, 1775 - A rumor spread that two British ships were in the river, and were going to burn the town. The news spread as far as New Hampshire, and in every place the report was that the regulars were but a few miles behind them, slashing everyone in sight.
Abigail Adams to John Adams: “All men would be tyrants if they could.” - John Adams and his future wife Abigail Smith began writing each other during their courtship, as he was frequently away on legal matters from his home in Quincy, often taking him to Salem, Ipswich and as far as Portsmouth. Over the next two dozen years they wrote over […]
In Congress, July 4, 1776 - Featured image: “Declaration of Independence,” oil on canvas by John Trumbull, 1818. IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776   The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected […]
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the fate of the American Revolution - I listened today to an interview with author Nathaniel Philbrick on NPR, and was impressed with his fresh take on the social dynamics of the Revolutionary War, portrayed in his book, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. His account of the Revolution and the tragic […]
The Letters of Joseph Hodgkins and Sarah Perkins - The Perkins-Hodgkins house is located at 80 East St on the corner with Jeffreys Neck Road. This First Period timber-frame house was rebuilt in 1709 after the original 1640 thatch roofed home burned when an indentured servant dropped ashes from her pipe on the straw roof. Ownership passed […]
19th Century political toasts - In April, 1778, a number of prominent Essex County men gathered in Ipswich to discuss the drafting of a new Massachusetts constitution, and became the local backbone of the Federalist Party, advocating the financial policies of Alexander Hamilton. President John Adams coined the name “Essex Junto” for this group, who he deemed his […]
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 Dark Day, May 19, 1780 - On the afternoon of May 18, 1780 the sky was a strange yellowish color and the clouds seemed dark and heavy. The next morning the sun came up deep red and barely visible through a haze, until by noon there was “midnight darkness” and people could not see. […]
George Washington and Family by Thomas Pritchard Rossiter, 1858-1860. Gift of Nanine Hilliard Greene George Washington returns to Mount Vernon, Christmas Eve 1783 - Featured image: George Washington and Family by Thomas Pritchard Rossiter, 1858-1860. by Helen Breen   General George Washington welcomed back to Mount Vernon on Christmas Eve 1783 at the end of the Revolutionary War (mountvernon.org) The dramatic painting of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” launching a surprise attack on the […]
We the People Constitutional Convention The Constitutional Convention and establishment of the Electoral College - Many of our founding fathers had little trust in the instincts of the common man. John Adams observed that “Pure democracy has also been viewed as a threat to individual rights,” and warned against the “tyranny of the majority.” Alexander Hamilton, one of the three authors of the “Federalist Papers” defended the system […]
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.
General Putnam landing at Marietta Ipswich to Marietta, 1787 - In December 1787, a group of Revolutionary War veterans and adventurers set out from Ipswich on an 800-mile journey through the wilderness by horseback and rafts to establish the first settlement in the Ohio Territory.
President Washington visits Ipswich, October 30, 1789 - President George Washington’s visit to Ipswich is portrayed in the Ipswich History Mural by Alan Pearsall for EBSCO, created in 2006. Washington had announced that during his presidency he would personally tour every state, and in the autumn of 1789 he spent four weeks traveling through New England. Samuel Adams escorted Washington […]
Dr. Manning’s mills - In 1792 Dr. John Manning erected a factory at the corner of South Main and Market Streets beside the Choate Bridge, and began the manufacture of coarse cloths and blankets in 1794. The completed building was two stories high, 105 feet long and 32 feet wide. On the […]
1793 and 1818: the “Burden of the Poor” divides Ipswich into three towns - As the people of the Hamlet were financially stable, the burden of taxation for the support of the poor in the old town of Ipswich was considered to be an unjust imposition. The leaders of the parish petitioned Ipswich to be allowed to incorporate as the new town of Hamilton. 25 years later, the men of Chebacco petitioned the Legislature for incorporation as a separate town, and to not be held for any part of the new establishment for the relief of the poor in Ipswich. The following year, Chebacco Parish became the Town of Essex
Pomp slave hung in Ipswich “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.

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