, Newburyport, MA

Local News

February 3, 2014

Newburyport 250th series: The city's 'waterside' roots


Historian Joshua Coffin wrote, “Their grievances were numerous ... for there had grown a deep-rooted jealousy between these different sections of the town, and mutual suspicions of each other annually widened the breadth between them, insomuch that if the ‘waterside people’ proposed any measure in town meeting, it was pretty sure of rejection by the farming population ... the impossibility of their continuing to act harmoniously together was obvious.”

Newbury Port as it was initially known (some in town petitioned to name it Portland, but their effort failed) was a prosperous community, and after the separation it began to flourish.

In 1764, there were numerous shipyards. There was no bridge but several ferries were active, including one at the base of the now State Street. This ferry carried the Portsmouth Flying Stage Coach between Portsmouth and Boston.

One of the most prosperous industries here in the mid-18th century was shipbuilding. Not only were wooden vessels constructed for merchant companies but the industry employed many carpenters, blacksmiths, caulkers, riggers and rope-makers.

Historian Mrs. E. Vale Smith wrote, “Two years after the incorporation of the town, an individual counted 72 vessels under construction.”

Shipbuilders supplied merchants in London with vessels, and also filled orders of lumber from thick forests upriver.

“Principal customers for Merrimack-built ships were the British, who paid for them with British manufactured goods and the produce of the British West Indies,” wrote Mrs. Smith in 1864.

“This, in turn, gave employment to retail traders here.”

In immediate years following its “independence,” local merchants created strong trading ties with merchants in both the British West Indies and the French West Indies.

In fact, the thriving commerce with the West Indies was a key reason for tension and eventually a revolutionary war: the British wanted to tax the lucrative trade revenues that emanated from ports like that of Newburyport.

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