Salisbury, the northernmost coastal town in Massachusetts, was originally called “plantation at Merrimack” and then Colchester. It was settled in 1638 and incorporated as Salisbury in 1640.
More About Welcome to Salisbury
Salisbury is today the northernmost coastal town in Massachusetts, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, New Hampshire to the north, Amesbury, MA to the west, and the Merrimack River to the south. The area was originally home to the Pennacook tribe, who lived along the Merrimack, which provided a plentiful source of fish and fowl, while the woods were filled with game to hunt. Historian Joseph Merrill, in his 1880 book History of Amesbury, Including the First Seventeen Years of Salisbury, says, “there were found abundant evidences of their settlements in the various relics and extensive shell mounds.” In the 1970s, 6-7,000-year-old skeletal remains were excavated from burial mounds on Salisbury’s Morrill Point near the mouth of the Merrimack.
When the area was first colonized by future governor of Massachusetts Simon Bradstreet and eleven other men in 1638, there were very few native people left, as they had been decimated by smallpox and other diseases previously brought by the white man. At one time, Salisbury also included all or part of Merrimac and Amesbury, MA, as well as South Hampton, and portions of Seabrook, Newton, Kingston, Plaistow, and Hampstead, NH. Originally called “plantation at Merrimack,” then Colchester, Salisbury was officially re-named by the General Court on October 7, 1640. The name was suggested by early settlers Christopher Batt or William Worcester, both of whom lived in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England before coming to the New World.
In the seventeenth century, Mudnock Road, a semi-circular road laid out by 1639, looked much as it does today. It was the center of the original town, where early settlers including Robert Ring, Thomas Bradbury, and George Carr lived. Close by, on what is now Route 110, was where Richard North was living by 1640. West of North’s home on 110 was the site of the Garrison House and Court House, built in 1640. At the intersection of Mudnock and Route 110 stood the meetinghouse and, a short distance to the north was the home of Robert Pike. A burying ground was laid out just east of Pike’s homestead. “The object in settling compactly was, no doubt, protection against sudden raids by the Indians. No settlement was without its “fort” or garrison house,” says Merrill.
In November of 1640, a large number of lots were granted to the west of the Powwow River, according to Merrill. It was in this part of Salisbury, which later became Amesbury, where the first mills were built. In December of 1642, the community leaders proposed that thirty families move their homes west of the Powwow to start a new town. Their plan was unsuccessful. It was foreboding to the west, forested and frightening. Vigilant watch had to be kept to prevent attack. The date is unclear, but George Martin appears to have been one of the earliest settlers here. He married Richard North’s daughter Susannah in 1646 – she would be hanged for witchcraft in 1692. [Information on Susannah Martin can be found in the Amesbury section of our tour.]
This was truly “the frontier.” In its earliest days, the two greatest fears of the Salisbury townspeople were Native American attacks and wolves. Early on, a bounty of 10 shillings was offered for every wolf killed.
By 1643, Salisbury was a “Shire Town,” a local seat of government for Norfolk County, which lasted until 1679, when New Hampshire was separated from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1654, the area west of the Powwow River officially separated and was incorporated in 1668 as the town of Amesbury.
By the American Revolution, about 1700 people were living in Salisbury. For protection, Fort Nichol was built on the Salisbury side of the Merrimack. Also used during the Civil War, the fort was completely washed away in a storm in 1865.
Early on, the main industries in Salisbury were agricultural, hay and livestock being the principal products. Other businesses, like mills and slaughterhouses were also established. Until the War of 1812, fishing, shipbuilding, and saw mills flourished. In later years, the textile mills of the Salisbury Manufacturing Company operated in the Salisbury Falls section, an area annexed to Amesbury in 1886. Like many other New England towns, Salisbury was also home to hat and shoe manufacturers.
Salisbury Beach has been a popular resort area from the 1860s until today. In its earliest years, visitors were transported by horse-drawn car, steamboat, and ferry, and by the end of the decade, by railroad. Also arriving by the 1880s were amusement park rides, followed by hotels, dance halls, and concessions. A terrible fire in 1913 destroyed over 125 buildings, including hotels, rides, and cottages. Salisbury Beach was rebuilt but never achieved its former glory. It was home to the legendary Frolics Ballroom from the 1940s to the 1980s. Amusement-park rides returned for about 50 years, from 1954 to 2004. Today, Salisbury Beach remains a seasonal summer tourist attraction, with music venues, hotels, and restaurants, and of course, the beautiful beaches.
Salisbury is currently home to approximately 8,200 residents.
Several people from Salisbury were involved in the witchcraft trials: Mary Bradbury, who was accused and convicted, but who fled to avoid execution; Reverend George Burroughs, who, after fleeing Native attacks in Maine during King Philip’s War in the mid-1670s, spent a short time in Salisbury as assistant to Reverend John Wheelwright and then became interim minister after Wheelwright died in 1679. Burroughs then became Salem Village’s second minister from 1681-1683, and was accused, convicted, and hanged for witchcraft in 1692; George Carr’s daughter Ann Carr, who married Thomas Putnam Jr. of Salem Village. Both became principal accusers during the trials, as did their daughter Ann Putnam Jr.; Robert North’s daughter Susannah (North) Martin, accused, convicted, and hanged for witchcraft (she was raised in Salisbury but after her marriage lived in what had become Amesbury in 1668); Robert Pike, a pillar of the community who was a rare voice of reason against the proceedings and argued against the use of spectral evidence; first settler Robert Ring’s sons Jarvis and Joseph Ring, the latter of whom was one of the more colorful accusers during the trials; and William Sargent Jr., who was sued by Susannah Martin’s husband George in 1669 “for saying she had borne and then strangled a bastard before her marriage,” according to Marilynne Roach in The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege. Susannah Martin was cleared of that charge, but would be hanged for witchcraft 23 years later.
The site of the 1640 Garrison House is noted by a sign on Route 110.
Salisbury Town Creek. Photo by Joyce McKenna, Salisbury Historical Society. Used by permission.
Today's Mudnock Road is the circular road where the first settlers lived. Photo by Joyce McKenna, Salisbury Historical Society. Used by permission.
Inland to the west are the Salisbury Plains. Bartlett's Farm was founded in 1659.
Pettingill Farm on Ferry Road has been in the Pettingill family since 1792.
The carousel at Salisbury Beach.
Joe's Playland at Salisbury Beach.
Black Rock Creek at Salisbury Beach Reservation. Photo by Joyce McKenna, Salisbury Historical Society. Used by permission.