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History of Salem, Massachusetts (part 1)

The Pickman House, Back view that abuts the Sa...

The Pickman House, Back view that abuts the Salem Witch Memorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne by sculptor Bela...

Statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne by sculptor Bela Pratt (1867–1917), in Salem, Massachusetts, USA. Copyright (if any) has expired on this image, as the sculptor died more than 70 years ago. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

"The witch no. 1" lithograph

Salem, Massachusetts

Salem, Massachusetts (Photo credit: Dougtone)

Salem, Massachusetts

Salem, Massachusetts (Photo credit: Dougtone)

Salem — seat of Essex County, is located on the northeast coast of Massachusetts at the mouth of the Naumkeag River.

Most people have some knowledge of Salem’s history because it is a fundamental part of early America. Originally the land of the Naumkeag American Indians, it was settled by European colonists in 1626. The city is perhaps best known as the location of the notorious Salem Witch Trials. However, it has also been the home and workplace to numerous authors, artists, architects, state officials and activists, and it is still known for serving as a vital seaport in the nation’s earliest international trade.

Salem was founded in 1626 by Roger Conant and a group of immigrants from Cape Ann. At first the settlement was named Naumkeag, but the settlers preferred to call it Salem, derived from the Hebrew word for peace. In 1628, they were joined by another group, led by John Endecott, from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The events for which Salem is best remembered began in 1692. A local physician diagnosed several teenage girls as bewitched, which resulted in the hanging of 19 persons and one being crushed to death. When the hysteria had played itself out the following year, an edict was issued that released all people from prison who had been accused of witchcraft. Since then, no one has been hanged for witchcraft in the United States. The history of that period can be explored at the Salem Witch Museum. Numerous original papers from the trials are kept at the Peabody Essex Museum.

The first provincial assembly of Massachusetts was held in Salem, in 1774. During the War of Independence and the War of 1812, Salem was a sanctuary for privateers. During peacetime, Salem ship captains took their vessels to distant ports and earned great wealth for their city. The tall ship Friendship, a replica of an East Indiaman merchant ship built two centuries earlier, is the largest wooden sailing vessel built in New England in more than 100 years. It is berthed at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, at the peak of Salem’s sailing prosperity. A house believed to have inspired him to write The House of Seven Gables is maintained and open to the public, along with Hawthorne’s nearby birthplace.

At the center of Salem is Washington Square, an eight-acre common dominated by a statue of Roger Conant, the city founder. It is surrounded by magnificent 18th-century homes. Chestnut Street is home to a large concentration of historic mansions as well.

Salem Normal School opened in 1854 to train young women to be teachers. Over the years, it transformed its mission and eventually became Salem State College in 1968.

In 1874, a Salem philanthropist donated $25,000 and a mansion on Charter Street for the establishment of the city’s first hospital. Salem Hospital opened on October 1, 1874, with 12 beds. It was heavily damaged in the great Salem fire of 1914, and new facilities were built on Highland Avenue.

The Salem Atheneum was formed in 1810 by the union of the Social and Philosophical libraries. By 1837, it boasted a collection of around 9,000 volumes. The Salem Public Library is located in the Historic District of Salem, in an 1855 renovated brick mansion originally owned by sea merchant John Bertram.

a witchtrials scene

A witchcraft trials scene depicted in ‘Pioneers in the Settlement of America’ by William A. Crafts. Vol. I Boston: Samuel Walker & Company, 1876. 

Early Salem: The 1600s

In the 1600s the community – which included much of land now incorporated into other towns and cities – prospered under the leadership of historical figures like Roger Conant and Gov. John Endecott. The National Guard considers its origins to be in the 1630s in Salem, where the first military muster was held on the historic Salem Common – today a well-preserved open space. Pioneer Village in Forest River Park, the country’s first living-history museum, recreates life in Salem Village from this time period.

During the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692, accusations were lodged against more than a hundred innocent people, and ultimately led to the deaths of 20 men and women.

Salem today contains many landmarks of the trials, the hangings of the accused and the parties involved, as well as numerous museums, tours and attractions that expand on this history. Related spots include: The Witch House (also known as the Corwin House, where witch trials Judge Jonathan Corwin lived, it is now a museum and the only remaining structure with direct ties to the trials), the Old Burying Point, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Salem Witch Museum, the Wax Museum of Witches & Seafarers and the Witch History Museum.

The Great Age of Sail: The 1700s

The city eventually recovered from that dark period, and in the 1700s prospered through its waterfront. By 1790 Salem was the sixth-largest city in the country and possessed a world famous seaport. It was during this period that international trade thrived, particularly the East India and China trades. America’s first millionaires reportedly made their homes in Salem at this time. Today several historic waterfront areas thrive, including Pickering Wharf. Derby Street is home to the visitor’s center, at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Next to the site, is the Friendship, a working replica of the East Indiaman a tall ship of 1797.

In 1760 Salemites established one of the first book-sharing networks in the country, allowing residents – most of them wealthy – to discuss their books and their love of the printed word. Then in 1781 the spoils of the Revolutionary War helped create a Philosophical Library. In 1810 the Philosophical Library merged with the book-sharing network to create the Salem Athenaeum, which found a permanent home at 132 Essex St. thanks to a bequest from Caroline Plummer. The Athenaeum later moved to a striking building at 337 Essex St., its current home, which was dedicated in 1907. In addition, in 1899 the Salem Public Library opened on the same block as the Athenaeum when Captain John Bertram (a merchant, philanthropist and former seaman) provided a handsome brick building at 370 Essex St.

A brief history of Salem time


a witchtrials scene

A witchcraft trials scene depicted in ‘Pioneers in the Settlement of America’ by William A. Crafts. Vol. I Boston: Samuel Walker & Company, 1876.

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The Peabody Essex Museum, the oldest continually operated museum in America, was established by sea captains in 1799. Today it is internationally know for its diverse collections, programs and exhibits – from early Americana to modern marvels. Many rare documents of American and Essex County history are housed at its Phillips Library.

The museum in 2000 re-erected Yin Yu Tang, a late-Qing dynasty Chinese house that serves as a portal to daily life in China 200 years ago – and also symbolizes the connection between Salem and China in the Age of Sail.

Hawthorne’s era: The 1800s

Salem, still at its peak as a port city, was flourishing as it entered the 1800s. This was the era of the famous architect and carver Samuel McIntire, who designed the elegant Hamilton Hall and several Federalist mansions that still remain, particularly in the greater Chestnut Street area named in his honor.

Around the time McIntire was creating his designs, during the transition from the 18th to the 19th century, resident Nathaniel Bowditch was writing the first edition of “American Practical Navigator.” First published in 1802, “American Practical Navigator,” revolutionized sea travel. Considered the founder of modern maritime navigation, Bowditch’s book became one of the most popular in America by the end of the 19th century, and was considered the Bible of sea navigation.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born here and worked in the Customs House which still stands today. Hawthorne used Salem for the setting of “The Scarlet Letter,” as Arthur Miller later did with “The Crucible.” (Both works were made into major motion pictures.) His classic novel “The House of Seven Gables” was inspired by a real building, which still exists and was recently restored.

This was also the era of Alexander Graham Bell who in the late 1800s lived, worked and made history with his inventions – including important developments in the telephone.

Another ship replica that is open to visitors, the schooner Fame of Salem, is a tribute to the successful privateers in Salem from the War of 1812. (The Fame and the National Guard’s birthplace aren’t Salem’s only ties to the military: Salem residents and factories helped provide supplies in nearly every war from the Revolution to World War II, and the Coast Guard stored seaplanes at Winter Island during the latter.)

Old Town Hall was built in 1816 after the land was donated to the city by John Derby III and Benjamin Pickman Jr., and served as the headquarters for city government until 1836-1837 when the new, present-day City Hall was erected on Washington Street.  The Salem Willows park and its waterfront and amusement park were established in the 1800s, drawing people from all over.

Read more: A brief history of Salem time – History – Salem, Massachusetts – Salem Gazette
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 – – Books You May Like Include: —-

The Great Salem Fire of 1914 by Barbara Pero Kampas.
The Great Salem Fire of 1914 started on June 25 at 1:37 PM, following a long June dry spell at the Korn Leather Factory at 57 Boston Street. The fire …
Hawthorne’s Haunts in New England by John Hardy Wright.
Loosen the latchstring and peer into the places where Nathaniel Hawthorne passed back and forth from nineteenth-century New England to the fertile cou…
A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials by Frances Hill, Karen Armstrong.
This acclaimed history illuminates the horrifying episode of Salem with visceral clarity, from those who fanned the crisis to satisfy personal vendett…
In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 by Mary Beth Norton.
In 1692 the people of Massachusetts were living in fear, and not solely of satanic afflictions. Horrifyingly violent Indian attacks had all but emptie…
The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent.
Martha Carrier was hanged on August 19th, 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, unyielding in her refusal to admit to being a witch, going to her death rather…
The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion Lena Starkey.
The reign of terror that swept Salem Village in 1692 is still the most celebrated of all witch hunts. It was a tragedy of individuals, which underline…

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