The Massachusetts Bay Colony
thought about making land grants to individual settlers but opted
to grant lands to groups of settlers acting together as “parishes”
with a resident minister or as “towns” governed by freemen,
late seven “Select” men or Prudential Men. The
founding proprietors, initially holding the land in common were
typically granted approximately six miles square and from then on
were free to dispose of (subdivide) the land as they saw fit.
They would grant lots on the basis as to what the new settlers could
be expected to (i.e. have sufficient resources to) “subdue”
and make productive. A person with many servants and cattle could
“improve” more land than one with only a few. Thus,
the English social hierarchy was reproduced in a somewhat modified
form. Passage of land from town commons to individual property was
intended to create permanent private rights to it.
The English defended their
position of “taking vacant land” with an argument that
asserted that Indians, known (as a matter of convenience) as wild
“sauvages” at the time, did not act according to English
standards to qualify as landlords. Because the Native People were
a mobile society, that hunted, fished and gathered food where it
was most plentiful, they could not meet the requirement of English
“occupancy”. To meet the occupancy requirement
meant that owner/grantee had to “fence and improve”
the land that one had a right to. The first settlers maybe did not
understand the Native American view of rights to property (or perhaps
chose not to accept) and their necessity of seasonal mobility for
sustenance. Whatever the reason, it is clear that the
sovereignty of the King’s Patent was placed above any Native
rights to the land.
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The purpose of this Focus Point
is to place into perspective the settlement of Essex County
in three different time sequences, especially the earliest
periods, with emphasis before 1700. The first period (1624-1643)
chronicles those town formations or parishes or plantations before
Mass. Bay Colony’s original four Counties were incorporated
in May 1643. The second period (1644-1700) would include
towns, parishes and plantations incorporated after 1643 through
1700. The third period (1700-1876) finalizes
the settlement of Essex County’s thirty-four constituent
communities. One of the second period towns, Bradford, existed
only for 175 years and was abolished with the founding
of Groveland in 1850.
It is not commonly known that
in the first and second period, three of our larger communities
belonged to another County, called "Old" Norfolk
County (1643-1679). A second Norfolk County
was incorporated, south of Boston, about Quincy in 1793. Because
these three towns were located on the north side of the Merrimack
River, they were grouped with New Hampshire towns. Since
Norfolk County functioned similar to her sister counties in
Mass. Bay Colony, the same rules and functions applied…that
is to have shire towns, to hold quarterly court session, and
to record property rights at the Court. Norfolk County Deeds
were transferred to Essex County jurisdiction when New Hampshire
towns came under the new royal Province of New Hampshire in
It is also interesting to note
here that one town, which incorporated in the second period,
existed for two hundred years before being abolished. This was
of Bradford (1668 - 1875)
settlements initially occurred along the coastline and then
up the Merrimack River.
Later, towns were set off from large towns and finally the interior
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The Merrimack River Survey
While conducting research for
this project an ancient plan of the Merrimack River was discovered
in the Engineering Department records at the Registry of Deeds.
It is an undated 17th Century “original” plan or survey
of the Merrimack River from its source to its mouth at the Sea,
and it is signed by John Gardner of Salem. It is believed to be
one of a few renditions of this survey between 1638 and 1670, per
order of Governor Winthrop and the General Court of the Mass.Bay
The project was started in 1638
with a sense of urgency and was upgraded over time. A Commission was appointed
to engage appropriated artists and Indian, familiar with the River,
to accomplish the survey and report back at next Court Session.
The initial mission was to determine the upper most limits of the
Merrimack River and then to determine a point, three miles north
of that, to establish the upper most limits of the Mass. Bay
Colony boundary, according to its royal Patent.
A secondary objective, attributed
to Governor Winthrop, was to ascertain a new route to Boston
from central New Hampshire, down the Merrimack to Chelmsford
(Lowell) to the Concord River, to the Charles River for the
This shorter route would eliminate the sail down River to Ipswich
Bay and around Cape Ann into Mass. Bay and Boston. It also would
divert fur trade from the French who were settled in Maine and
had very aggressive traders. For discourse, see the ancient
Merrimack River Survey..
Settlement in the First Period (1624-1643)
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Ann 1623 – This area was first settled by a group
from Plymouth Colony called the “Dorchester Men”.
The intent was to establish a fishing station for drying (and salting)
their catch of cod from the Grand Banks and shipping it to England.
Rev. John White, a Pilgrim, was the leader of this company and
Roger Conant was a member. See graphics.
Cape Anne Side- 1624 – This is the first
name given to the territory opposite the north part of Salem,
now called Beverly. Roger Conant settled here from Cape Ann. The
area also was referred to as Bass River and in the river complex
an area was known after 1630 as Ryal Side, where John Winthrop,
Jr. was given permission to establish a saltworks there.
– This area was settled around 1626 by Roger Conant and three
others from the Cape Ann company.
Salem - 1628 -
It later became the destination of the Mass. Bay Colony, under
a Royal Patent and led by John Endicott, a Puritan. Original
Salem included The territory now occupied by Danvers,
Peabody, Middleton, Beverly, Wenham, Marblehead, Topsfield
and Manchester. Salem was incorporated as a town on Jun 24,
1629. In 1630, John Winthrop arrived in Salem and became governor
and moved the Mass. Bay Colony capital to Boston.
Saugus -1629. Part
of Lynn, first called Saugus after the Native Americans living there
was settled shortly after Salem. It was incorporated in 1631 and
the territory included areas now occupied by the towns of Saugus,
Lynn, Lynnfield, Nahant, Swampscott, Stoneham, Reading, North Reading,
Wilmington and Wakefield. Saugus name was changed to Linn in 1637,
later again to Lynn.
Nahant -1630 Black
Will, Poaquannum, Sachem of Nahant, sold the territory often referred
to as the two Nahants to Thomas Dexter for a suit of clothes.
Marble Harbor - 1632
– The first name of Marblehead, which was set off from Salem
and incorporated in 1649.
Agawam - 1633 -
The Indian name of Ipswich, after the tribe who resided in the area.
John Winthrop, Jr. founding father of Ipswich settled here in 1633.
Ipswich - 1634 -Town
renamed and incorporated in 1634. Area included towns to the southeast
Wenham, Hamilton, Essex, Gloucester and Rockport plus the northern
territory to the Merrimack River. See Ipswich Deeds where Masconomet
sells his rights to John Winthrop, Jr.
Jeffrey's Creek - 1635 –
This is what is now Manchester. A fisherman named William Jeffrey
from the “Dorchester Enterprise” settled here
from Plymouth and may have bought land from Masconomet. No
Salem Village - 1635 -
The territory now occupied by the towns of Danvers,
Middleton, Peabody and parts of Topsfield and Beverly
was given a town grant as what was called the Second and Middle
Parishes of Salem.
Quascacuquen - 1635
- In May 1635, a plantation along the Parker River (Quascacuquen)
was settled. The area, named by the Native Americans, was referred
to as Wessacucon, and later named by the English as Newbury.
Besides its present territory, Newbury included towns of West
Newbury, Newburyport, and parts of Rowley and Ipswich (including
Gloucester - 1636
what was known as Cape Ann included “Squam” (Gloucester),
Rockport and “Chebacco” plantation (Essex) became
incorporated as Gloucester in 1636. Essex incorporated in 1819.
Rockport incorporated 1840.
Linn Village - 1639
The General Court allowed a new plantation on the frontier and
called it Linn Village. This became “Redding” in 1644
and included the North Parish, which became incorporated in 1853
as North Reading. Another parish to the south part of town became
incorporated in 1812 called South Reading, later in 1868 became
Wakefield. Stoneham was set off in 1734 and Wilmington on
the northwest part of Reading joined with north part of Woburn
incorporated in 1730.
Colchester Plantation - 1639
The Colchester plantation beyond the Merrimack to
be called Salisbury in 1640 It included Salisbury, Amesbury, Merrimac
and a considerable area in New Hampshire.
Rogers Plantation - 1639
Mr. Ezechial Rogers plantation to be called Rowley. It included
lands westerly to North Andover what was called the Town of Bradford
for 200 years and now the towns of Georgetown, Groveled and Boxford.
- 1641 A plantation was authorized at Pentucket (Haverhill)
to Rev. Ward of Ipswich and Newberry Men. They purchased lands
from Pentucket Sagamores Passa Quo and Sagga Hue in 1642 with the
consent of the Great Pawtucket/Pennacook Sachem Passaconnaway.
Cochichawick Plantation -
1643 The Andovers were first settled in 1643 after
a purchase was made by “Newbury Men” John Woodridge
and Edmund Faulkner from Sagamore Cuchamakin and incorporated in
Enon - 1643 This
plantation was the Indian name of the territory and was changed
to its present name of Wenham.
Manchester - 1645
Manchester was incorporated in this year as a town.
Marblehead - 1649
Marblehead was incorporated in this year as a town.
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Settlement in the Second
Village at the New Meadows
of Ipswich- 1648 This plantation was first named “Toppesfield”
and two years later 1650, the court granted that Topsfield henceforth
be a town.
New Salisbury- 1666
the inhabitants of Salisbury, west of the Pow Wow River, were
incorporated as the town of New Salisbury. 1668 the town was called
Beverly- 1668 This
the year that Beverly was incorporated as a town.
Bradford – 1675
Bradford, the town for over 175 years, at the western edge of Rowley
and south of Haverhill at the Merrimack River was mentioned in a
tax act in 1675. Groveland was incorporated in 1850 from eastern
part of Bradford.
Boxford- 1685 Boxford
incorporated August 12, 1685
Settlement in the Third
1725 Methuen was set off from Haverhill
Middleton - 1728
Middleton was set off from Andover, Topsfield, Boxford and Salem
1757 Danvers was incorporated in this year
1764 Newburyport was set off from Newbury Jan. 28,1764
Hamilton - 1793
the parish of Ipswich Hamlet was incorporated as the Town of Hamilton
Saugus – 1815
The Second Parish of Lynn was set off as Saugus this year.
1819 the town as incorporated this year. In 1820 the name was changed
to West Newbury.
Essex – 1819
The Second Parish was set off as the town of Essex
1838 The northwestern portion of Rowley was incorporated Feb.21,
1847 the town of Lawrence was established as a mill town by Boston
investors incorporated as a town in 1847, as a city in 1852.
1852 the eastern part of Rowley was incorporated as a town of Groveland
on March 8, 1850
Swampscott was set off from Lynn, May 21,1852
Nahant – 1853
The peninsula was set off from Lynn this year
1855 The Town of South Danvers was incorporated as Peabody Mach.
Merrimac - 1876
the western portion of Amesbury was set off as a town this year.
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