Legends and stories from Ipswich and surrounding communities.

Patronage and Scandal at the Ipswich Customs House - The Ipswich Custom House The exact location of the Ipswich Custom House has never been verified. Shown above is a photograph of the Town Wharf area taken by Arthur Wesley Dow, sometime between 1905 and 1910. Alice Keenan wrote that the small building on the right had been the customs house. Later photos show a sign … Continue reading Patronage and Scandal at the Ipswich Customs House
The shipwrecks at Ipswich Bar - Featured image: Map from Plum Island: The Way It Was by Nancy V. Weare The Ipswich Bar has a long history of tragic shipwrecks. Its swift currents and shallow waters are especially dangerous during storms, and many ships have gone aground. In 1802 and again in 1852 the Merrimack Humane Society of Newburyport constructed shelters at Sandy … Continue reading The shipwrecks at Ipswich Bar
The Proximity Fuze: How Ipswich women helped win WW II - The former Ipswich Mills, now owned by EBSCO, was the site of one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Second World War. The VT proximity fuze (variable time fuse) resembled tubes found in radios, and made it possible to detonate antiaircraft shells in the proximity of their target, rather than on impact. Fearing that the secret of the invention might fall into … Continue reading The Proximity Fuze: How Ipswich women helped win WW II
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 conspicuous part in the war along with … Continue reading Acadian exiles in Ipswich, 1755
Haunted houses of Ipswich - These ghost stories were shared on Facebook. A friend of mine mentioned that a few years ago a realtor was getting ready to go out the front door at the Jonathan Pulcifer house on Summer Street, when he noticed a stack of old publications sitting on the bottom step, and oddly enough, on top was … Continue reading Haunted houses of Ipswich
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 into Boston on the 24th, but Governor John Hancock … Continue reading President Washington visits Ipswich, October 30, 1789
Ecclesiastical Ipswich by Agnes Edwards Ecclesiastical Ipswich - Featured image from the book “The Romantic Shore” by Agnes Edwards, 1915. In the preface she writes, Of all the thousands of miles of our inspiring coast-line, east and west, there is no part more rich in romance, more throbbing with legendary and historical associations than the North Shore of New England. Try to imagine … Continue reading Ecclesiastical Ipswich
The “Dungeons of Ipswich” during the War of 1812 - On June 17,1812, President Madison declared war with England. The New England states were bitter in their opposition, because of the trade embargo and their vulnerability to British war ships. The Town of Ipswich adopted a resolution on June 25, 1812 declaring its alterable opposition to the embargo and “Mr. Madison’s War.” Ironically, the reputation of the … Continue reading The “Dungeons of Ipswich” during the War of 1812
To the Inhabitants of the Town of Ipswich, from Thomas Jefferson, September 2, 1808 - The Embargo Act of 1807, sponsored by President Thomas Jefferson, made illegal any and all exports from the United States. The embargo was imposed in response to violations of U.S. neutrality by the French and English during the Napoleonic Wars. By 1808, New England ports were at a standstill and its cities and towns were … Continue reading To the Inhabitants of the Town of Ipswich, from Thomas Jefferson, September 2, 1808
Historic women of the North Shore - Colonial Ipswich was a patriarchal society, and its history is all-too-frequently written by and about men. On this site, read dozens of stories about the women of Ipswich and the North Shore area.
The steamship “Carlotta” - The excursion boat Carlotta was built in 1878 at Rogers Point Boar Yard at the end of Agawam Avenue, and sailed from the Town Wharf to points on the Neck and Plum Island for 35 years. William J. Barton wrote about the Carlotta: “From Brown’s Wharf, the steamer Carlotta, a local steamboat owned by Nathaniel Burnham … Continue reading The steamship “Carlotta”
The first jailbreak in the Colony, March 30, 1662 - In 1652, the Boston jail was the only prison in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and it was ordered that a new one be built in Ipswich.
Central Street in ashes, January 13, 1894 - Three Business Blocks and Three Dwellings Destroyed in Ipswich January 14, 1894,© The New York Times. Flames were discovered soon after 1 o'clock this morning in the photograph rooms of George Dexter, in the upper portion of the Jewett Block, on Central Street. The wind was blowing a gale, and the temperature registered nearly at … Continue reading Central Street in ashes, January 13, 1894
Early Ipswich, “A paradise for politicians” - Thomas Franklin Water gave us in Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony a history of the early formation of the government of the Town of Ipswich.
Col. Doctor Thomas Berry, “Last of the Ipswich Aristocracy” - Thomas Franklin Waters wrote that 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.” Born in Boston in 1695 and a graduate of Harvard, he married Martha Rogers, daughter of the Rev. John Rogers of Ipswich in … Continue reading Col. Doctor Thomas Berry, “Last of the Ipswich Aristocracy”
Drunkards, liars, a hog, a dog, a witch, “disorderly persons” and the innkeeper - As the young boys who arrived with the first settlers of Ipswich approached adulthood in the mid-17th Century, they developed a fondness for hard liquor and rowdiness, which frequently landed them in court. The words of accusers, witnesses and defendants in the Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County provide a bizarre but most entertaining narrative. Mark Quilter: drunkard, temperamental, and … Continue reading Drunkards, liars, a hog, a dog, a witch, “disorderly persons” and the innkeeper
Tales of Olde Ipswich by Harold Bowen - In 1972 Harold Bowen was asked to write a column for a newspaper called Ipswich Today, the first of a series of stories that continued for ten years. Tales of Olde Ipswich was republished in three volumes. Below are stories written by Harold, or which contain excerpts from Tales of Olde Ipswich.
The Amazing Story of Hannah Duston, March 14, 1697 - Hannah Duston of Haverhill was born in Ipswich on High Street in 1657 while her mother was visiting her relatives the Shatswells. In 1879, a bronze statue of Hannah Duston was created by Calvin Weeks in Haverhill in Grand Army Park, honoring her escape from Abanaki captors.  The following are excerpts from an article by H.D. Kilgore in 1940. … Continue reading The Amazing Story of Hannah Duston, March 14, 1697
The proof was in the Kettle - Mark Quilter made his living as a cow-keeper in the common land on the north side of town and seemed to always be in trouble. He was called before the court in 1647 and reprimanded for “sleeping in the barn” rather than watching the cows during his evening shift. He had a reputation in Ipswich for … Continue reading The proof was in the Kettle
Haselelpony Wood, November 27, 1714 - Haselelpony Wood’s tombstone is located at the Old North Burial Ground, just a short distance on the left starting from the front gate. She is believed to be the only person with this name in modern history. John Gee was lost at sea on Dec. 27, 1669, a sad Christmas surprise for his wife and five children. … Continue reading Haselelpony Wood, November 27, 1714
The Cape Ann Earthquake, November 18, 1755 - A series of earthquakes in the early 18th Century gave rise to recurrences of religiosity in Ipswich. On October 29, 1727 a severe earthquake occurred on a Sabbath night between ten and eleven o’clock. People became so frightened that a very powerful revival of religion followed in the Ipswich parishes and throughout New England. An urgent demand for … Continue reading The Cape Ann Earthquake, November 18, 1755
Saving John Appleton’s house - In 1707, Col. John Appleton acquired the lot at 2 North Main Street (across Central Street from the Five Corners Deli) after commanding a regiment in the expedition against Port Royal. He built the house still standing, and lived in it for the rest of his life. John Appleton represented the Town in the General Court in 1697, was … Continue reading Saving John Appleton’s house
Police open fire at the Ipswich Mills Strike, June 10, 1913 - The Lawrence Textile Mills strike in 1912 known as the “Bread and Roses strike” involved immigrant workers in Lawrence MA striking against a a two-hour pay cut. The strike grew to more than twenty thousand workers. Amos Lawrence also owned the Ipswich Mills Company, where a similar strike occurred a year later. The Ipswich Mills Strike In early 1913, … Continue reading Police open fire at the Ipswich Mills Strike, June 10, 1913
Saving the Rooster, 1915 - The gilded weathercock at the First Church in Ipswich has graced the steeple of every church at that location since the middle of the 18th Century. It looks small from a distance but is said to weigh 40 pounds. The origin of roosters on church steeples comes from the Ninth Century A.D. The pope reportedly decreed … Continue reading Saving the Rooster, 1915
The Bones of Masconomet - Masconomet was the sagamore (chief) of the Agawam tribe of the Algonquian native Americans when the first Puritan colonists arrived in Ipswich in 1633. He had survived the pandemic which killed 90% of the local native population in the early 1600′s. Masconomet ruled all the tribal land from Cape Ann to the Merrimack River, which … Continue reading The Bones of Masconomet
Ada K. Damon, Ipswich MA Wrecks of the sand schooners - These are photos of two-masted sand schooners, several of which wrecked at Steep Hill Beach, Crane Beach and Plum Island. Featured image: Wreckage on Steep Hill Beach believed to be the Ada K. Damon is frequently exposed by the changing tide and sands. Photo by Bruce Lord. Sand schooners delivered sand from local beaches to Boston … Continue reading Wrecks of the sand schooners
Hay straddle Ipswich MA Gathering Salt Marsh Hay - Salt marsh hay is still gathered on the North Shore today. Eva Jackman replied to this post: “My husband’s family has been harvesting salt hay on the same Newbury land as in 1643. He cuts salt hay and helps with the stacks on Rte 1. When greenheads get really bad he resorts to burying himself in … Continue reading Gathering Salt Marsh Hay
The Witchcraft Trial of Elizabeth Howe - Featured image: Examination of a Witch, by T. H. Matteson, 1853 The 1996 movie “The Crucible” is based on Arthur Miller’s award-winning 1953 play about the Salem Witch Trials. It was filmed on Choate Island, part of the Crane estate in Ipswich and Essex. The story and movie are based on accusations against John and Elizabeth Proctor of … Continue reading The Witchcraft Trial of Elizabeth Howe
The Devil's Footpring, Ipswich Ma The Devil’s Footprint, 1740 - Imprinted into the rocks in front of the First Church in Ipswich is a xenolith, confirming that 400 million years ago, Town Hill was part of a chain of volcanic islands. Hellish as that may seem, for the people of Ipswich it will always be the footprint of the devil, left there forever in a legendary encounter with … Continue reading The Devil’s Footprint, 1740
Harry Maine house, Ipswich MA The ghost of Harry Maine - Featured image: Harry Maine house by Arthur Wesley Dow Harry Maine — you have heard the tale; He lived there in Ipswich Town; He blasphemed God, so they put him down With an iron shovel, at Ipswich Bar; They chained him there for a thousand years, As the sea rolls up to shovel it back … Continue reading The ghost of Harry Maine
The Trouble with Mugg - King Phillips War spread into a series of battles in Maine known as the Eastern War. On October 12, 1676 about 100 Indian warriors made an assault on an English settlement at Black Point near Portland, Maine and took a number of captives. A couple of weeks later an Arosagunticook chief named Mugg Hegon visited General … Continue reading The Trouble with Mugg
One Third for the Widow - Under Puritan law an adult unmarried woman was a feme sole, could own property and sign contracts. A married woman was a feme covert and could not own property individually. Widows regained the status of feme sole but the Right of Dower entitled them to keep only one third of their property. When a woman was left a widow some … Continue reading One Third for the Widow
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 Hamlet (part of Ipswich that later … Continue reading Freedom for Jenny Slew, November 1766
Crossing the tracks on High Street - High Street originally continued straight at the John Kimball Jr. house (the one with the blue tree house) until the first bridge over the railroad tracks was constructed in 1906. From 1900 when the first trolleys came to town until the bridge was built, passengers had to unload here to switch from the trolley from Newburyport to … Continue reading Crossing the tracks on High Street
Great Ispwich Fright, John Greenleaf Whittier The Great Ipswich Fright, April, 1775 - Capt. Jonathan Burnham with the Hampton company arrived in Ipswich on the morning of April 21, 1775 after an all night march, and found the town panic-struck. The town was nearly defenseless, as more than three hundred of its men had marched off with their Ipswich captains to fight the British regulars at Concord and Lexington. A rumor had spread … Continue reading The Great Ipswich Fright, April, 1775
The Life of Daniel Hovey - At the foot of Hovey Street on Water Street along the Ipswich River is a plaque dedicated to the memory of Daniel Hovey, placed there by his descendants. The original wharf on the river in Ipswich was Hovey’s Wharf at this approximate location. Daniel Hovey was born in 1618 in Waltham Abbey, Essex Co., England. He … Continue reading The Life of Daniel Hovey
Ada K. Damon, Ipswich MA Wreck of the Ada K. Damon - Ada K. Damon shipwreck photo from “Ipswich” by Bill Varrell Christmas, 1909 witnessed the heaviest storm in many years and is known by sailors on the Atlantic Coast as one of the most fateful days in the history of these waters. The “Great Christmas Snowstorm” struck the North Atlantic States hard as far south as Maryland. … Continue reading Wreck of the Ada K. Damon
Legend of Heartbreak Hill, Ipswich MA The Legend of Heartbreak Hill - When the lands of Ipswich were apportioned among the settlers, the summit of Heartbreak Hill was designated as a planting lot because the Indians had cleared it for corn. Perhaps some settler was “heartbroken” to receive such an inaccessible and rocky field. The 1832 Ipswich map gives the name “Hardbrick,” and perhaps the name evolved from “Hardbrick,” which referred to the hill’s abundance of clay … Continue reading The Legend of Heartbreak Hill