Ipswich and Essex County are the center of Puritan New England. Read additional stories from:
- Plum Island
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.
The ghost of Harry Maine - 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; So when the sea cries, the goodwives say "Harry Maine growls at his work today."
The Legend of Heartbreak Hill - "In Ipswich town, not far from the sea, rises a hill which the people call Heartbreak Hill, and its history is an old, old legend known to all."
Central Street in ashes, January 13, 1894 - Early in the morning of Jan. 13, 1894, the businesses on Central Street from the corner of Market St to Wildes Court went up in fire. Three months later the Damon Block burned, and the town finally voted to build a water system.
Saving the Rooster - 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.
Freedom for Jenny Slew - Jenny Slew was born about 1719 as the child of a free white woman and a black slave. She lived her life as a free woman until 1762 when she was kidnapped and enslaved by John Whipple. Jenny Slew is believed to be the first person held as a slave to be granted freedom through trial by jury.
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 […]
William Franklin of Newbury, hanged for the death of an indentured child in 1644 - Children in the 17th and 18th Century New England colonies generally arrived with their families, but hundreds of English children were taken from the streets and unwillingly taken without their parents to be indentured as servants. Although the practice was more common in the Southern colonies, Joshua Coffin […]
Bundling - As settlers moved west into the cold New England frontier away from the Puritan strongholds, it was not uncommon for unmarried persons to be invited to sleep in the same bed for warmth. The definition of bundling evolved and developed over time into a ritual of courtship.
Samuel Symonds, gentleman: complaint to Salem court against his two servants, 1661 - Philip Welch and William Downing, both children, were kidnapped from Ireland in 1654, and sold to Samuel Symonds in Ipswich. After 7 years they refused to continue working on his farm and demanded their freedom. They were arrested and brought to trial.
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 […]
The hanging of John Williams and William Schooler, July 1637 - In 1637, two men convicted on separate counts of murder were executed in Boston on the same gallows. John Williams was convicted of killing John Hoddy near Great Pond in Wenham on the road to Ipswich. William Schooler was tried in Ipswich and found guilty of killing Mary Scholy on the path to Piscataqua.
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 Great Dying 1616-1619, “By God’s visitation, a wonderful plague” - Featured image: Drawn by a French missionary of Abenaki in Maine during a smallpox epidemic in 1740 The arrival of 102 Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower at Plymouth in 1620 and the settlements by the Puritans in Boston, Salem and Ipswich a decade later were accompanied by the demise of […]
Governing Ipswich - Ipswich was established in 1634, and was one of the most influential towns in Colonial America. The early town records, the actions of Town Meeting, and the deliberations of the courts are preserved.
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 […]
Patronage and Scandal at the Ipswich Customs House - In 1829, the position of Ipswich Customs Collector was granted to Timothy Souther, a man of prominence and one of the old line Democrats who held office there under President Andrew Jackson. Souther resigned in August, 1840 after being charged with graft.
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 […]
Battles of the bridges - Excerpts from Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, by Thomas Franklin Waters The stone bridges which span the Ipswich river with their graceful arches are picturesque and interesting, but the readiness with which the Town proceeded to build the latter two stone bridges is in singular contrast with […]
19th Century: Religion divided the town - Excerpts from Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Thomas Franklin Waters The Congregational Church The Congregational Church, founded by the first settlers, maintained the old order for many generations in undisputed supremacy. From time to time, as the population increased, as has been noted, new Parishes within […]
Jake Burridge, the sailor - Jake Burridge Jake loves to sail, so when the second World War started, he joined the Seabees. In November 1982, Jake Burridge, already in his 60's, set out on his 33-foot sailboat "Trepidation" from Gloucester to the Bahamas. Jake no longer sails, but he has 99 years of sailing stories to share with you.
“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.
William Clancy, WWI hero - Featured image: The Battle of Vimy Ridge by Richard Jack Harold Bowen wrote in Tales from Olde Ipswich that William Clancy’s family lived in the Old Post Office on North Main Street. Thomas Franklin Waters spoke about historic actions by William Clancy in a 1917 address to the Ipswich Historical Society, […]
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.
Killing wolves - One of the first laws instituted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a bounty on wolves, and in early Ipswich, a rather disconcerting aspect of entering the Meeting House was the site of wolf heads nailed to the door. Even in 1723, wolves were so abundant and so near the meeting house, that parents would not suffer their children to go and come from worship without some grown person.
Strong drink - Colonial liquor licenses were granted to Ipswich men of highest esteem. They were bound “not to sell by retail to any but men of family, and of good repute, nor sell any after sunset; and that they shall be ready to give account of what liquors they sell by retail, the quantity, time and to whom.”
Lucretia Brown and the last witchcraft trial in America - Lucretia Brown, an invalid living on the South Green in Ipswich was a disciple of Mary Baker Eddy,. When she suffered a “relapse” in 1875, Mrs. Eddy convinced her that Daniel Spofford of Newburyport was exercising mesmeric powers upon her.
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 […]
The Great Revere Train wreck, August 26, 1871 - On the evening of August 26, 1871, the Eastern Railroad’s Portland Express slammed into the rear of a stopped local train in Revere, Massachusetts. It is reported that the night was very dark and the engineer of the express thought the lights on the rear car of the […]
“Dalliance and too much familiarity” - William Row v. John Leigh, Mar. 28, 1673: “For insinuating dalliance and too much familiarity with his wife and drawing away her affections from her husband, to the great detriment both in his estate and the comfort of his life.”
Roads to Paradise - Paradise Road follows a shallow peninsula bordered by Muddy Brook and the Egypt River. In 1807, the ancient path was laid out by the Town as a road from Pingrey’s Plain near the Clam Box, which served as the hanging grounds, to the Muddy River Bridge and the Egypt River. Thomas Franklin Waters […]
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.
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
The “Dungeons of Ipswich” during the War of 1812 - On October 7, 1813, the keeper of the Ipswich jail was given orders by the President "to "receive into his custody and safely keep in dungeons, in the gaol aforesaid, 16 British prisoners of war" as hostages.
To the Inhabitants of the Town of Ipswich, from Thomas Jefferson - The Embargo Act of 1807 put New England ports at a standstill and its towns into a depression. The Ipswich Town Meeting petitioned the President to relieve "the people of this once prosperous country from their present embarrassed and distressed condition." The town found Jefferson's answer "Not Satisfactory."
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. The small hotels at Ipswich Bluff on Plum Island were a favorite destination for tourists and locals.
The first jailbreak in the Colony, March 30, 1662 - On the morning of the 30th of March, 1662, the Ipswich jailer found that a prisoner had escaped, the first offence of this nature committed in the country.
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” - 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."
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, they developed a fondness for hard liquor and rowdiness, which frequently landed them in court. The words of accusers, witnesses and defendants provide an entertaining narrative.
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 […]
The Amazing Story of Hannah Duston, March 14, 1697 - Featured image: “Hannah Duston Killing the Indians” by Junius Brutus Stearns, (1847); Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville Maine. 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 […]
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 drinking and losing his temper and was always the butt of jokes and pranks.
Haselelpony Wood, November 27, 1714 - Obadiah Wood married 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.
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: […]
Police open fire at the Ipswich Mills Strike, June 10, 1913 - On June 10, 1913,police fired into a crowd of protesting immigrant workers at the Ipswich hosiery mill. A young Greek woman named Nicholetta Paudelopoulou was shot in the head and killed by police. Fifteen persons, including the local leaders of the I.W.W. were taken into custody.
The Bones of Masconomet - On March 6, 1659 a young man named Robert Cross dug up the remains of the Agawam chief Masconomet, and carried his skull on a pole through Ipswich streets, an act for which Cross was imprisoned, sent to the stocks, then returned to prison until a fine was paid.
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 […]
Gathering Salt Marsh Hay - (Featured photo from a glass plate negative taken by Ipswich photographer George Dexter (1862-1927).) 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 […]
One Third for the Widow - Under Puritan law, widows could keep only one third of their property. Martha Ringe was widowed with small children after her husband died. After considering her petition, the court allowed Martha to marry John Wood before three years had passed "in order to advance her circumstances."
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 […]
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.
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 […]
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 […]