About Ipswich, Massachusetts

History of Ipswich

The following history is taken from the Town of Ipswich website — See more Stories from Ipswich at http://www.ipswich.wordpress.com

“The land on which the Town of Ipswich was founded was originally inhabited by Indian tribes who called the area “Agawam.” Little has been known about these people until recently. But now, studies have shown that tribes had been living along these coastal and riverine areas for thousands of years. One of the most important discoveries about Indian history was made in 1951 at our own Bull Brook site. Carbon dating proved that artifacts found at this site belonged to inhabitants of the Paleo-Indian period, about 9000 B.P. (Before Present). Other collections discovered at Great Neck and along the river banks have been analyzed as they belong to the later Archaic (8000-5000 B.P.) and the Woodland (2000 B.P.) Periods. Thus we have come to realize that we are only the latest in a long history of peoples who have lived in this special place.

One of the first descriptions of Ipswich was made by Captain John Smith in 1614 – a description which is still appropriate today: “…there are many sands at the entrance of the Harbour… Here are many rising hills, and on their tops and descents are many corn fields and delightful groves… plain marsh ground, fit for pasture, or salt ponds. There is also Oakes, Pines, Walnuts, and other wood to make this place an excellent habitation, being a good and safe harbour.”

Agawam remained an uncolonized part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony until 1633 when Governor John Winthrop sent his son, John, to establish a settlement to be called Ipswich. With his hearty band of twelve men, John sailed up the Ipswich River in his shallop on a cool March day and began his settlement on the banks of the river near the present wharf. Some earlier explorations must have informed the new settlers that the banks of this tidal river would provide an ideal place for a new community to be established. Here they would enjoy the advantages of fresh water, water power, good fishing, and an easy means of transportation.

It was an extraordinary group of settlers who came to Ipswich – men of substance and education, who were among the key founders of the Puritan Commonwealth: Thomas Dudley, Deputy Governor; Magistrates Simon Bradstreet, Richard Saltonstall, and Samuel Symonds; and Ministers Nathaniel Ward, John Norton, William Hubbard, and Nathaniel Rogers.”

Our Henry Bennett was in New England as early as 1650, and in Ipswich by 1654, when he bought a farm of two hundred acres situated in the south-eastern part of Ipswich, and having for its southern boundary Castle Neck Creek, part of the present dividing line between Ipswich and Essex. Click on the map above to view a large topographical map of the Ipswich area, including the Bennett properties.

The Mayflower

l love to think of old Ipswich town,
Old lpswich town in the east countree,
Whence on the tide you can float down
Through the long salt grass to the wailing sea
Where the “Mayflower” drifted off the bar
Sea-worn and weary, long years ago,
And dared not enter, but sailed away
Till she landed her boats in Plymouth Bay.

After many months at sea the pilgrims finally reached the shore of New England. They found a sheltered harbor backed with rolling green and lush hills. There were river entrances to bring the ship into shore and out of the harsh sea weather. It was an idylic spot for their landing in the new world.

They dropped the long boats to send a party to the shore but alas it was low tide and as they neared the shore all that they saw was sand sticking up out of the bay. The beautiful Ipswich sand bars were not an attraction to the wary Pilgrims and in 1620 they sailed off to the south finally landing in Plymouth harbor.

The Salem Witches

I love to think of old Ipswich town;
Where they shut up the witches until the day
When they should be roasted so thoroughly brown,
In Salem village twelve miles away;
They’ve moved it off for a stable now;
But there are the holes where the stout jail stood,

And, at night, they say that over the holes
You can see the ghost of old Goody Coles

The hysteria that gripped Salem in 1692 was felt in all of the surrounding towns. As the Salem jail filled with accused and confessed witches, the court could not empty the jails quick enough and more space had to be secured. Ipswich, a short distance away had a nice jail down by the Ipswich River. The good Puritan settlers of Ipswich would certainly support the good work being done in Salem and it was decided to send the witches to Ipswich. There many of the accused witches spent their last nights before trial and hanging.

The witch hunt ended quickly in 1692 and the Ipswich jail was soon empty of the witches. But the witches were not done with the Ipswich jail. Unhappy with the ostracism and bad treatment they received at the hands of the Ipswich jailers and the townspeople, the witches cast their spell. For many years prisoners were found screaming in the jail because of apparitions that they saw while in their cells. Even after the jail was torn down and used for a farm and later for schools, many said there were often strange noises and ghostly presences.

Even years later when the Ipswich High School occupied that spot and many of us spent our days next to the river on the sight of the former jail, strange events occurred and unexplained appearances were seen.

Have the witches left yet? Or have they occupied the Town Hall?

Poem Excerpts from:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Ipswich, Mass.
Ipswich Town
James Appleton Morgan (1845–1928)