NEWBURYPORT — With the help of a local bank, the Custom House Maritime Museum has acquired a document that marks a significant milestone in Newburyport's seagoing history.
In November 1772, almost four years before the Declaration of Independence, a group of ship captains formed a mutual aid association called the Marine Society of Newburyport.
They drafted a set of bylaws on Nov. 13, 1772 and sent them off to a printer, probably in Salem.
Maritime museum officials yesterday proudly unveiled an original copy of those bylaws, a single sheet listing 17 articles, purchased from a private collector with the financial help of the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank.
The 12 1/2-by-15-inch document will be put on display, possibly this fall, in the Maritime Museum at 25 Water St.
South End resident Scott Nason said he bought the Marine Society bylaws as part of a Topsfield estate about 10 years ago.
He recently consigned it for sale and Newburyport rare books dealer Matthew Needle, a maritime museum member, bought it with an eye toward making it part of the Custom House collection.
Needle said the document is an excellent example of an 18th century American "broadside" or single printed sheet, but its significance to Newburyport extends far beyond its value as an example of a 238-year-old printed page.
The Marine Society, he said, "was the very basis of Newburyport as a maritime force."
The price was $4,500, a sum which Newburyport Bank President Richard Eaton said his board agreed to pay. Eaton is a former president of the Newburyport Maritime Society, which operates the Custom House.
"For Newburyport it's a priceless document," maritime museum President Mark Guay said.
Needle said he is aware of only three other copies of the document, in the New York Public Library, a Connecticut conservatory and a private collection.