More About Welcome to Ipswich

Although there were some early English squatters in this beautiful area on the north coast of Massachusetts, it was not until 1633 that a group of thirteen men, led by John Winthrop the Younger, the eldest son (at 27) of Governor John Winthrop, made a concerted effort to settle Agawam. ”Agawam” was the colonists’ version of native Chief Masconomet’s name for the area around the Ipswich River. (Masconomet sold the entirety of the land he controlled to Winthrop in 1638, for a mere £20. (Here is a link to view the original deed with Masconomet: Salem Deeds.) The English were spurred on by fears that the French would move in and settle the area themselves. The colonists named their settlement Ipswich, after Ipswich in Suffolk County, England. Ipswich, Massachusetts was officially incorporated on August 4, 1634.


When the colonists arrived in Ipswich’s great harbor, they saw hills already cleared by the Indigenous people, growing native corn. Then, as now, the Ipswich River flowed through the center of town, perfect for the building of mills. Richard Saltonstall was granted permission to build a gristmill on the Ipswich River and held a monopoly until 1687. That early gristmill served Ipswich, the parish of Chebacco (today the town of Essex), Topsfield, and Rowley. The first sawmill on record was built in 1649. Other early trades were farming, fishing, and shipbuilding. Obtaining food and shelter was, of course, of utmost importance. Corn was the principal food staple, but other crops included peas, beans, pumpkins, melons, and turnips. The colonists also grew rye for bread, hay and oats for livestock, flax for linen and barley for beer. Tobacco was another crop, although there were laws against using it. Some Ipswich men also became builders of houses, roads, and bridges.


Ipswich was also a seat of government for Essex County, along with Salem, with a Quarter Sessions Court. According to Thomas Franklin Waters in his 1905 work Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, “This lower Court had power to try all civil cases, ‘whereof the debt or damage did not exceed £10, and all criminal causes not concerning life, member or banishment.’”


When the original charter that had established the Massachusetts Bay Colony was revoked by England in 1684, creating a legal limbo that had a significant impact on the witch trials to come eight years later, Ipswich was one of the most vocal towns opposed to English attempts to establish tighter control. When Boston’s General Court was dissolved and a royally-appointed council took its place, Ipswich was outraged. Royal Governor Edmund Andros arrived in late 1686, immediately imposing a tax of one penny on a pound for revenue.


Says Ipswich historian Waters, “Topsfield, Rowley, and Ipswich were recognized as hostile to the new government, at its very beginning.” At this time, when Boston, Salem, and Ipswich were the most important towns in the colony, and both Boston and Salem agreed to the new tax, it was the Town of Ipswich who voted unanimously not to elect a taxation commissioner. Waters notes, “The high-handed course of this influential community made it a target for official wrath.”  Several of Ipswich’s leaders were arrested and jailed in Boston, among them Reverend John Wise of Chebacco Parish, as well as the town’s Clerk, Moderator, and Constable. All eventually capitulated, except Major Samuel Appleton who, says Waters, ““…scorned even the appearance of submission. He had made no petition for bail, and he refused to make any apology. He continued in the same defiant mood.” The town seal of Ipswich notes this early stand against English interference with the words “The Birthplace of American Independence, 1687.”


One woman from Ipswich, Elizabeth How, was hanged for witchcraft in 1692. She lived with her blind husband James in Ipswich Farms, known as Linebrook Parish since 1746, just north of Topsfield. A nearby How neighbor was Nehemiah Abbott Jr., the only accused person that the afflicted declined to positively identify during his questioning, and so he was released. Another woman, the beggar and long-suspected witch Rachel Clenton (alternatively spelled Clinton) of Chebacco, “did suffer arrest, trial, conviction, and imprisonment for a period of several months,” according to John Demos in his 2004 book Entertaining Satan. Clenton was eventually released after the trials came to an end, and reportedly lived out her life on Choate Island, alone and in poverty. Also raised in Ipswich was John Proctor, who arrived with his family in the mid-1630s, when he was around 3 years old. John was still frequently visiting Proctor property in Ipswich in 1692, although he had moved south in 1666 and was living in Salem Farms (Peabody today), where he raised his family and ran a tavern. Proctor and his third wife, Elizabeth, were both accused of witchcraft. John was hanged while Elizabeth escaped execution because she was pregnant at the time of her arrest.


One hundred years after the witch trials were over, Ipswich’s well-known cottage industry of lace-making had grown so large, over 600 women were hand-making bobbin, or Ipswich lace, a unique style only found locally. At its peak, the women were making more than 40,000 yards of lace annually. In 1868, Ipswich Hosiery Mills was established by Amos A. Lawrence and it became the largest stocking mill in the country by 1900. Interestingly, many Ipswich Hosiery advertisements featured images of witches during the first decades of the twentieth century. The mill buildings are today the home of EBSCO Publishing.


In 1910, Richard T. Crane of Crane Plumbing bought 3500 acres of Ipswich land and created Castle Hill’s Crane Estate, which overlooks Ipswich Bay, the Essex River, and Crane Beach. To this day, the area is one of the most idyllic on all of the North Shore. In 1949, the property was bequeathed to The Trustees of Reservations, a non-profit land conservation and historic preservation organization. The 1,000-acre Appleton Farms, another Trustees property, was first established by Samuel Appleton in 1638. Appleton is mentioned by historian Waters during Ipswich’s late-1680’s stand against the despised royal government. The family-owned Russell Orchards, on the road to Crane Beach, has been a working farm since Dr. Joseph Goodale first planted apple trees in 1920. The MacLeod family purchased the farm in the 1950s, and the Russell family has owned it since the 1980s. This is a family-friendly, favorite stop from May through November. Since 1914, when Chubby Woodman invented this beloved food, the towns of Ipswich and Essex have been famous for the best fried clams on earth. The Clam Box, Woodman’s, and J.T. Farnham’s are all highly-recommended.


There is a wealth of information on the website Historic Ipswich, created by Ipswich town historian Gordon Harris, be sure to check it out!


The Ipswich section of our tour is dedicated to Tammy Goss, whose love of history and research is eternally inspiring.