, Newburyport, MA

Local News

February 3, 2014

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


Considering both local politics and international events, the decade from its separation in 1764 to the prospect of war in 1774 must have been a tumultuous period for this community.

Newburyporters involved in maritime commerce were resolved to oppose the British taxes, and many meetings were held to outline a defense strategy if war came to the Merrimack.

Protection districts were set up within Newburyport in 1775 should the British attack the community.

On the river itself, a plan was put forth to block the British should they come up the river: Municipal leaders launched a strategy to sink vertical piers into the channel.

The piers blocked only part of the river. But town officials made sure local mariners were stationed at the river’s mouth when friendly craft arrived so the “good” newcomers could be advised to avoid the obstructions.

War was in the air — and on the water.

Newburyport provided privateers during the war years but historians say that they were ill-matched when they met the larger vessels of the British Navy.

Records show that the first privateer fitted out in the U.S. sailed from Newburyport, and was owned by Nathaniel Tracy, a wealthy merchant whose family home later became the public library on State Street.

From 1775 to 1783 “Mr. Tracy was the principal owner of 110 merchant vessels ... of this total, only 13 were left at the end of the war, all the rest were taken by the enemy or lost,” according to historians.

Newburyport sent many soldiers to fight with the revolutionaries, and raised thousands of pounds to help the cause.

Because of its port and its very active cadre of captains, crew, merchants and craftsmen, the “independent” Newburyport emerged as one of the most prominent coastal communities during the revolution.

From this era, the city also claims the birth of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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