The settlers of Newbury were much like those of much of what is now northern Essex county. They were not religious enthusiasts or pilgrims who fled from religious persecution in England. They were substantial, law abiding, loyal English tradesmen, of that staunch middle class that was the backbone of England.
Those that settled Newbury came at different times and on different ships, between the end of April, 1634 and July, 1635. In one of the first ships arriving in 1635, came Thomas Parker a minister along with a small company of settlers. They went first to Agawam (Ipswich) and later along with their countrymen, who came from Wiltshire, England, to Newbury.
On May 6, 1635, before the settlers had moved from Ipswich to Newbury, the House of Deputies passed a resolution that Quascacunquen was to be established as a plantation and its name was to be changed to Newbury. So Newbury was named before the first settlers arrived, interestingly Thomas Parker had taught school in Newbury, Berkshire, England before coming to America.
The first settlers came by water from Ipswich, through Plum Island Sound, and up the Quascacunquen River, which was later renamed the Parker River. There had been a few fisherman occupying the banks of the Merrimack and Parker rivers before this, but they were not permanent settlers. These settlers came to Newbury in May or June of 1635. Ships from England began to arrive almost immediately with cattle and more settlers. Governor Winthrop, in his history of New England under the date of June 3, 1635, records the arrival of two ships with Dutch cattle along with the ship "James", from Southampton bringing more settlers.
Newbury was, therefore, begun as a stock raising enterprise and the settlers came to engage in that business and to establish homes for themselves. In total fifteen ships came in June and one each in August, November and December bringing still more families to the settlement.
There is no record of how many families arrived in the first year. Houses were erected on both sides of the Parker River. The principal settlement was around the meeting house on the lower green. The first church in Newbury could not have been formed before June, as some of those recorded at its formation are not recorded as having arrived until June.
In the division of land the first settlers recognized the scripture rule, "to him that hath shall be given," and the wealth of each grantee can be estimated by the number of acres given him.
The reason for establishing Newbury, as stated above, was not in fleeing from religious persecution but to utilize vacant lands and to establish a profitable business for the members of a stock-raising company.
When they arrived in Massachusetts, the settlers found that the state had established the Congregational form of religion. Everyone was taxed to support the Congregational Society and was commanded to attend worship at the meeting house. The Reverend Thomas Parker was a member of the stock raising company and was also the minister of the settlers.
The outlying settlers had a long journey to the meeting house. The congregations were in danger of attacks from Indians and wild beasts on their way to and from worship. There was a constant dread of attack during the time of services and all able bodied inhabitants were required to bring their weapons to church. Sentinels were posted at the doors.
In spite of the hardship and danger, the population steadily increased in number and gradually improved its worldly condition. Being cramped for room, the settlers moved up to the upper or training green. This was in order to get tillable land and engage in commercial pursuits. This movement began in 1642. Each had been allotted half an acre for a building lot on the lower green, on the upper green each was to have four acres for a house lot. Also on the upper green a new pond was artificially formed for watering cattle.
The new town gradually extended along the Merrimack River to the mouth of the Artichoke River. It appears that all desirable land in this region was apportioned among the freeholders by October 1646. The land beyond was ordered to lie perpetually common. This tract of common land was a part of Newbury and what is now West Newbury. The Indian threat had disappeared as most of the Indians in the region had been exterminated by an epidemic. The first record of an Indian living in Newbury is in January 1644, when a lot was granted to "John Indian."
Over the following years some notable, though not earth shaking events occurred in Newbury.
In 1639, Edward Rawson began the manufacture of gun powder in what was probably America's first powder mill.
Newbury had a trial for witchcraft thirteen years before the trials in Salem. In 1679, Elizabeth Morse was accused. She was condemned three times to die, but was reprieved and spent her last years in her home, at what is now Market square in Newburyport.
The first American born silversmith was Jeremiah Dummer of Newbury who apprenticed to John Hull, an Englishman. He practiced his trade in what is now Newburyport. Jeremiah was the father of Governor William Dummer the founder of Gov. Dummer Academy. Jeremiah's brother-in-law, John Coney, engraved the plates for the first paper money made in America.
In 1686, when the upper Commons (West Newbury) were divided among the freeholders of the town of Newbury, Pipestave Hill was covered with a dense forest of oak and birch. These trees were cut and used to make staves for wine casks and molasses hogsheads. For many years, this industry, the first of its kind in America, flourished and the place is still called Pipestave Hill.
Limestone was discovered in Newbury in 1697. Previous to this all the lime used for building was obtained from oyster and clam shells. Mortar made from this lime was very durable and came, in time, to be almost as hard as granite. This business prospered for many years until a superior quality of lime was discovered elsewhere.
The first toll bridge and shipyard in America were also in Newbury. The latter giving rise to the ship building industry which was to determine the prosperity of Newburyport in the coming centuries.
In West Newbury, in 1759, Enoch Noyes began making horn buttons and coarse combs of various kinds. This was the beginning of the comb making business in Newbury and other places. This business continued and grew, moving to Newburyport in its later years, closing in 1934.
Lt. Gov. William Dummer, in his will of 1761 directing that a school house be erected on the most convenient part of his farm. In 1762, the first schoolhouse was erected, a low one story building about twenty feet square commencing its sessions in 1763, this is the oldest boarding school in America.
In 1764, that part of Newbury which had become the commercial center was divided off and made Newburyport. This action relegated Newbury to a rural and fishing community.
In 1784, the first incorporated woolen factory in Massachusetts was erected at the falls of the Parker River in Newbury.
In 1851, still another section of Newbury was added to what is now the city of Newburyport. The area known as "Joppa", was the area from Bromfield Street, along the shore to Plumb Island.
Today Newbury is a quiet New England town, rich in heritage, the birthplace of many things American, not the least of which is an abiding reverence for our past.
Last Updated March 28, 2008