More About Welcome to Newburyport

While Newbury remained mostly agricultural, Newburyport’s fishing industry, maritime trading, and shipbuilding flourished. The Merrimack River was lined with wharves. During the Revolutionary War, privateering brought more wealth.


The maritime industry of Newburyport included, like other New England ports, trade with the West Indies, revealing the town’s complicity in the slave economy. Sugar and molasses brought from the Caribbean were turned into rum in distilleries around Market Square. From the city’s website: “Although the purchase of slaves in Massachusetts was illegal, ownership of slaves purchased elsewhere was not; consequently, the fine homes on High Street were staffed by African and native American slaves until the newly independent General Court of Massachusetts abolished slavery altogether in the Revolutionary War.” Although enslaved people did not immediately disappear from New England, abolitionism took hold in some northern areas.


In 1805, William Lloyd Garrison was born in Newburyport, the son of immigrants from the Canadian colony of New Brunswick. In 1831, in Boston, he founded an anti-slavery newspaper called The Liberator, which he published until 1865, when slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment. Garrison’s birthplace still stands on School Street and a bronze statue was erected in his honor in 1893, in Brown Square.


In 1811, a fire destroyed the downtown area, and that, combined with embargoes during the War of 1812, led to an economic downturn. By 1851, however, Newburyport had prospered again and was officially incorporated as a city. The fire prevention efforts that came about from the devastating conflagration of 40 years earlier led to the beautiful brick buildings in the downtown area and scattered mill buildings throughout the city. Another economic downturn in the early twentieth century lasted into the 1950s and 60s. It was followed by an urban renewal project in the 1970s, creating the beautiful city of Newburyport we know today.


The population of Newburyport was approximately 18,700 people in 2023. The city has a vibrant waterfront with shopping and restaurants, active boatyards for recreational boats, beaches and parks, Plum Island airport, numerous Federal-style houses along High Street where the wealthy maritime merchants once lived, and an annual, week-long Yankee Homecoming Festival in mid-summer.


Newburyport’s ties to the Salem witch trials are few (it was part of Newbury until 1764 and most connections are covered in that section of our tour), but it is included for the important story of Elizabeth Morse, which took place a dozen years before Salem, and for the tie to the George Carr family of Salisbury, whose ferry transported passengers across the Merrimack to Newbury(port). There is also an interesting connection to the fourth minister of Salisbury, Rev. Caleb Cushing, who began to lead that congregation four years after the witch trials. His great-great-grandson held many important political jobs in his life, including US Attorney General and Mayor of Newburyport.