First period, Beverly, Massachusetts
Visit the oldest continuously used commercial site in North America in Beverly, Massachusetts. Located at the corner of Elliot and McKay Streets, the site is now fully redeveloped as the 2 million square foot Cummings Center office park, a Stop & Shop market and a McDonald's restaurant dates back to the 1630's. This former 100-acre home of United Shoe Machinery Corporation from 1903 through 1995, now houses hundreds of businesses and dozens of medical specialists, plus a large independent Surgi-Center, the Hyperbaric Wound Center, of Beverly Hospital.
New England was named by an Englishman who saw in this area a resemblance to the Old World while promoting the prospect of a new life on its coast. New England society and culture began with the import of a people, ideas, goods, trades, and ambitions from the Old World but developed into a distinctive American world through the colonists’ industry and creativity through all facets of life – political, philosophical, and commercial.
Although this is story of American industry located at a site on Massachusetts’ eastern shore, it begins in England where the colonists and the companies that sent them to New England formed their designs upon the new world.
Every New England school child has learned about the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620 and started the first permanent colony in what became the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and that story has traditionally been about seeking religious freedom. However, the Pilgrims came to New England by mistake. The objective of the companies who arranged and financed colonization of the New World was trade, the exploitation of the furs, fisheries, timber, and whatever wealth the land had. It was business.
Three centuries before England industrialized, its merchants (and crowned heads) pursued wealth through overseas trade. At the time New England was being viewed for exploitation, the state religion was Protestant, and Protestants saw their faith as a basis for success in British commercial ventures. Sir Joshua Child, who ran the East India Company, stated, “It is now manifest, that the increase of our trade and navigation is a great means, under God, to secure and preserve our protestant religion; foreign trade produceth riches, riches power, power preserves trade and religion; they mutually work one upon another and for the preservation of the other.”
The British mercantile business ethic was also marked by piracy, ruthlessness and a grasp on monopolies. Merchant capital was used to back the discoverers and then the settlers of New England, because their wealth lay overseas. As merchants sought new trades and trade routes, they began establishing overseas trading posts that would secure their foothold, command the resources of the new territory, and have a monopoly of the business. Salem, Massachusetts, parent town of the community in which the Cummings Center sits, for example, did not start as a religious refuge but as a fishing colony.
The English claim to New England (and much of eastern North America) dated from the voyages of John Cabot in 1497 and 1498. Under the commission of Henry VII, Cabot claimed the American Atlantic coastal lands for England. Following the explorers, the first Englishmen to venture across, along with Spanish, Portuguese, and French, were fishermen and traders. But by 1582, Richard Hakluyt, in his Divers Voyages and Principal Navigations, marveled that, unlike the Spanish and French, “we of England could never have the grace to set fast footing in such fertile and temperate places as are left as yet unpossessed by them.” Almost at once his friends Sir Humphrey Gilbert and his half-brother Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to establish colonies in the New World. Gilbert’s colony in Newfoundland ended in disaster and abandonment. Raleigh’s colony at Roanoke vanished.
Gilbert and Raleigh invested their own fortunes in these enterprises and demonstrated that colonization by individuals did not work. Groups of merchants, though, succeeded. Wealth, they firmly believed, was waiting across the Atlantic. Interest was strengthened when Bartholomew Gosnold (who named Cape Cod for its abundance of fish) returned from his 1602 visit to Massachusetts with furs and other goods obtained in trade with the natives.
Merchant companies created to trade with distant lands, such as the East India Company which traded with the Orient, had appeared in the latter half of 16th century. A charter from the crown defined their powers and established means for their internal regulation, providing the original basis for colonial governments. Companies were also created for settlements in the New World.
What the companies originally planned in America was not quite what resulted. The companies’ first objective was trade. Puritans within the companies modified the aim of simply gathering profitable cargoes to providing a haven for disgruntled Puritans. The people willing to colonize had their own motives, principally acquiring land and independence (both economic and religious). The majority of colonists invested themselves in making, not a trading station, but a new homeland.
After the ascension of James I to the throne and his declaration that either his subjects would conform to the state religion or he would harry them out of the land, many Puritans became interested in relocating to a new land. The Pilgrims, a faction of Puritans who wanted to separate completely from the Church of England rather than just reform and “purify” it from inside like the main body of Puritans, had in fact already sought asylum in Holland. Massachusetts was to become an important haven for them and other disgruntled Puritans.
In 1605, King James chartered the London and Plymouth Companies. The latter’s first attempt at a settlement, in Maine, ended when the bitter cold sent the party back to England. Nine years later, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, governor of the Plymouth Company sent Capt. John Smith to explore the coast. Smith drew map of the coast from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, naming it, for the first time, New England.
That the land in America was already inhabited was not viewed as an obstacle, especially as the inhabitants became severely weakened. Smith, writing in 1614, described the lands he saw and listed the names of many tribes inhabiting them, commenting that “The country of the Massachusits [was] the Paradice of all those parts, for her are many Iles planted with Corne, groves, mulberries, salvage gardens, and good Harbours.” Both Smith and Samuel de Champlain, who explored New England in 1605 and 1606, reported that the natives were quite populous. But that situation changed during the devastating last years of the great Massachusett sachem Nanepashemet.
Within a few years of Smith’s report of seeing “great troupes” of people and a number of villages along the coast, war with the Tarratines of Maine and a great pestilence wiped out masses of the natives in Massachusetts. On a later visit (1619-20) Smith wrote “where I had seene one hundred or two hundred Salvages, there is scarce ten to be found.” In 1631, it was reported that Nanepashemet’s two eldest sons could not command above 30 or 40 men apiece. Following other epidemics over the next four decades, possibly a tenth of the native population survived. To some English this was a sign that Providence favored their entry and prosperity in the New World.
Colonists based their claims upon the land on their royal charters. Though Gov. Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony obtained deeds from Nanepashemet’s widow, the Squaw Sachem, during the 1630s, the residents of the Salem area did not do so until 1686 when their charter was revoked.
In 1620, the Pilgrims, exiled in Holland, got permission from the London Company to settle in Virginia but landed at Cape Cod. Although they had no charter, their colony was allowed to exist until 1691 when it was annexed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Also in 1620, Gorges persuaded the King to make a new grant of the territory mapped by Smith, and over the next several years, plans materialized for another permanent New England settlement.
Meanwhile, some merchants of Dorchester had regularly been sending vessels to catch fish in the coastal waters of Massachusetts. In order to have representatives there to take care of the work between fishing trips, the Dorchester Company decided upon a settlement. During the summer of 1623, fourteen men landed at Cape Ann and established a fishing settlement a few miles north of Beverly near what is now Stage Fort Park, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. [map]
That same year, Roger Conant arrived in Plymouth with his family. As a non-Separatist, he was not suited to the Pilgrim society, so he moved up the coast to Nantasket where, in 1625, he accepted the invitation of the Dorchester Company to manage the floundering fishing station on Cape Ann. When that failed, Conant led a group of Puritans from Cape Ann down the coast to an area which scouts reported was a fruitful neck of land called Naumkeag. They settled north and south of Salem Sound in what are now Salem and Beverly, making this area among the oldest permanent settlements in Massachusetts.
Back in England, Naumkeag assumed a new purpose as a refuge for Puritans. In 1628, John Endecott arrived to be resident governor of the Naumkeag Plantation, soon renamed Salem. An additional 300 colonists, including two Puritan clergymen, joined the embryonic Salem settlement. Others landed in what is now Boston, beginning in 1629.
When Endecott and his party arrived, a group of Naumkeag natives reportedly thronged the opposite shore to witness their disembarkment. Part of the Massachuett confederacy of tribes, the Naumkeags were led by the heirs of Nanepashemet. According to the Rev. John Higginson of Salem: “To the best of my remembrance, when I came over with my father , to this place, there was in these parts a widow woman, called Squaw Sachem [widow of Nanepashemet], who had three sons; Sagamore John kept at Mistick, Sagamore James at Saugus, and Sagamore George here at Naumkeke. Whether he was actually Sachem here, I cannot say, for he was young then, about my age, and I think there was an elder man that was at least his guardian. But the Indian town of Wigwams was on the North side of the North river not farre from Simondes, and then both the North and South side of that river was called Naumkeke.”
William Dixey of Beverly wrote that at first the natives welcomed the newcomers.
"I came here to the place now called Salem, New England, in June, 1629. The Indians bid us welcome and showed themselves very glad that we came to dwell among them, and I understand they had kindly entertained the English that came over hither before we came and the Indians and English had a field in common fenced in together; and the Indians fled to shelter themselves under the English, oft-times saying they were afraid of their enemy Indians in the country.
In particular I remember sometime after we arrived the Agawam Indians complained to Mr. Endicott that they were afraid of other Indians called, as I take it, Tarrantines. Hugh Browne was sent with others in a boat to Agawam for the Indians' release, and at other times we gave our neighbor Indians protection from their enemy Indians. Taken upon oath, this 16th February, 1680.”
From the Naumkeag, Richard Davenport, brother-in-law of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ancestor William Hathorne, learned about fertilizing with herring. Other colonists undoubtedly learned about farming locally from the natives and benefited from abandoned fields which the Naumkeag had cleared. In turn, the natives gained English protection and English goods. Some even accepted the Puritan faith. Salem pastor Roger Williams sought friendship with the natives and became sufficiently familiar with the language to afterward write his Key into the Language of America. However, mistrust led the colonists in 1631 to hold training days to prepare for defense against the natives.
Incidents of violence did, in fact, occur. In 1636, the Pequots killed colonist John Oldham and in a separate incident John Tilly, an Old Planter of Salem. In response, Endecott was sent on an expedition to Block Island where he burned down a Pequot village, helping bring on the Pequot War that soon followed. Over time, relations between the two cultures deteriorated. After the elder two sagamores died in 1633 and their mother about 1650, Sagamore George or Wenepoykin became sachem of all the territory being settled by the Massachusetts Bay Company. While Sagamore John was friendly toward the newcomers, as more and more English arrived and took over the land Sagamore George came to resent the intruders.
While some colonists pursued missionary work among the natives, Endecott focused on the religious practices of his own group. Endecott was one of those Puritans with a stern view of religious purity. Quite famously, when he visited the abandoned site of Thomas Morton's colony, he had the Maypole taken down.
One of Endecott’s group’s early goals was to improve upon the number and quality of the preachers and revise what they felt was the disorderly and ineffective governance of their Church. The Puritans founded the First Church in Salem in 1629, which claims to be the oldest continuing Protestant society in America and the first to be run with a congregational government. The long-enduring parish was clearly the center of Puritan life during the entire Colonial period. [church]
With the earliest settlements taking root, yet more ships set sail for Salem and New England. Under King Charles I who succeeded his father in 1625, Puritans became more anxious about the state of things in England. Migration multiplied. After a two-month sail from England, John Winthrop landed in Salem with four boats of colonists in early June 1630. He brought with him the "Cambridge Agreement" that would place him as the new governor of the colony as well as the governing head of the Massachusetts Bay Company.
Soon after their arrival, however, Winthrop explored the coast and moved most of his colony south a few miles to Boston and Charlestown and other localities named for towns in England. Of the one thousand Puritans who arrived that year, two hundred died during their first winter, and another two hundred returned to England in the spring. Life in the Colonies was extraordinarily challenging to all but the most hearty.
Just as trade and faith were intertwined for Sir Joshua Child, so were they also joined for Gov. Winthrop, who summarized his group’s tenets in a document called “A Modell of Christian Charity,” written on board the Arbella while crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1630, and who declared therein:
“…the eies of all people are uppon us. Soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this work wee have undertaken and so cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world. Wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speak evill of the wayes of god and all professors for Gods sake. Wee shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into curses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going.”
Notwithstanding all the travails, by 1640 a total of more than 20,000 settlers had flooded into Massachusetts Bay Colony where Winthrop then presided as the territory’s governor. With the onset of the English Civil War, this migration suddenly almost stopped, though it resumed only a few years later.
Not everyone was welcome or allowed to stay in Puritan Massachusetts. Intolerance for differing opinions, for one example, led to Salem’s Roger Williams’ being banished for his belief in separation of church and state. “We believe in liberty,” Puritans claimed, “and others are at liberty to stay away from us!” Freedom of belief was sacrificed for unity and strength based on their common Christian beliefs.
Though some colonists left, the population of Massachusetts continued to grow. The settlers took over more land. Within a few years of its founding, Charlestown, for example, was granted more territory to its north, including present-day Woburn and Winchester, both of which had major future roles to play in the United Shoe/Cummings Center story.
The Puritans arriving in Massachusetts came with firmly established English attitudes toward land ownership. Independence, security for themselves and their children, and the right to participate in the government were tied to land ownership. The Puritans also brought with them their ideal of creating a godly society on earth. They might wrestle with wealth, which, although a sign of God's blessing and a trust for doing good to others, was also a temptation to sin. However, they had courts and clerics busy regulating excesses. While some might fall short of the ideals, the planters exhibited great industry, doing their best to farm what were essentially untamed, even hostile lands.
Bill’s Origins in America Among the early immigrants to the Massachusetts Bay, adding another thread to the Cummings Center story, was Isaac Cummings who arrived from England in October of 1635 along with wife Anne and three children, the youngest also named Isaac. Two more children were born in Massachusetts. His name first appears in the colonial records in connection with a grant of 35 acres in Watertown in Middlesex County in 1636. Prior to July 25, 1638, he also owned property in Salem’s original neighbor to the north, Ipswich.
“In 1638, Deacon Isaac Cummings, my eight times great grandfather arrived in Ipswich from Scotland and built a house perhaps five miles from today’s Cummings Center. Both he and his son, Isaac, and his grandson John Cummings, lived in the part of Ipswich, Massachusetts, that is now Topsfield. Isaac Jr. and John are buried in Cummings Cemetery, about one mile north of Route 128 in Topsfield, along with many other early ancestors. These included several who were involved with the tragic Salem witch trials.”
Isaac increased his holdings, including a 1652 purchase of 150 acres of land in an area inland from the main Ipswich settlement, which was named Topsfield in 1648 and incorporated two years later. His will is instructive about the possessions of a Puritan colonist. In addition to land, livestock, and money, the possessions he chose specifically to bequeath (to his grandson Isaac) were a chest with lock and key and “my history book with such books as are his owne: ie. a bibl and testament.” [full text in an appendix?]
Each colonial household strove to be self-sufficient. Several support industries grew up locally, mills for sawing, fulling and grinding grain, as well as small iron forges, but commerce with England was necessary to supply many manufactured goods such as tools, hardware, and glass. In 1635, the Rev. Hugh Peter, Roger Williams successor, arrived in Salem and encouraged the development of commerce and a spirit of business enterprise among the inhabitants of Salem. In 1639, Salem had a glass factory and subsequently a tannery and a salt works, which produced salt necessary for the fisheries.
The New England colonies relied on ship-building and sailing to generate wealth. Fisheries became a major part of the Salem/Beverly economy but only after a difficult start and only by admitting some flexibility into the structure of their society. At first, fishermen had to be imported from England. The hired fishermen troubled the Puritans with their disorderliness, drunkenness, profanity, and other wicked behavior. Efforts were made to encourage resident fishermen, but those who fit the Puritan model often opted for a life on the land. Those fishermen who did put down roots often exhibited the same laxness in behavior as the earlier hired hands.
As much as the Puritans wanted a homogeneous society, they could not have it if they wanted success in the fish market. That success finally came with the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642. Disruption of Britain’s maritime economy allowed room for competition. Essex County’s trade in cod began to flourish. The growth of a prosperous merchant class accompanied it.
As the population in the Massachusetts Bay Colony grew, the large town jurisdictions had to be divided into new towns, including Beverly. The original boundaries of Salem stretched from the southern edge of Ipswich to the northern boundary of Lynn and included enough land to ultimately form seven towns. [map] Midway along its coast was the Salem Sound.
More than half of Salem’s land was on the “Upper Parish” or “Cape Ann Side” (north) side of the harbor. Travel between the northern and southern sections of Salem was downright dangerous. Before ferry service was established in 1636, canoes were the only means to cross between Salem and what is now Beverly, and there were many drownings over the years from unsafe canoes. Severe fines were eventually levied on people using unsafe canoes.
In 1635, not long after Endecott arrived in Salem and sparked something of a rift between the “Old Planters,” and the “New Planters,” Roger Conant and four others each received 200-acre grants at the head of the Bass River on the “Cape Ann side,” now in Beverly. Establishing the nucleus for a new community, they made their homes around what would much later become the United Shoe Machinery Corporation complex, now the Cummings Center.
The first road developed from a Native American trail along the Bass River was upgraded to a horse path and then a cartway, especially after the ferry was established in 1636 to link Salem with the Cape Ann Side. In 1646, another road was laid out northwards from the new ferry landing to Manchester. A westerly road from the ferry landing probably existed during this period, on what became Elliott Street.
The farms of the Old Planters and others who removed to that area remained within Salem boundaries for over three more decades. Eventually their physical and philosophical separation from the main body at Salem, along with the extreme difficulty in getting to church during the winter, prompted building their own meeting house, and eventually separating as an independent town in 1668.
Like Salem, Beverly was admirably suited for agriculture, fishing, and trade. While still part of Salem, many residents of the “Cape Ann side” engaged in Salem’s fisheries, but agriculture was their chief occupation. As in Salem, Beverly families led basically self-supporting lives, raising their own food, spinning their own yarn, weaving their own cloth, dipping candles, building tables, and making other basic items. But for a settlement to be self-sufficient it needed the integration of artisans, particularly a blacksmith, sawyer, and a miller.
The history of the United Shoe site in Beverly as an industrial site began with a mill. It began while the town was still part of Salem. It began, in fact, on Christmas day in 1638. That day there was a variety of business for the quarterly court, both civil and criminal:
“Richard Graves and Peter Busgutt, a smith, were indicted for breach of the peace, and Graves was ordered to sit one hour in the stocks for beating Busgutt in his own house; Mathew Reade, servant to Mr. Charles Gott, was ordered to be severely whipped for drunkenness on the Lord’s day, pilfering from his master, etc.; and Jane, wife of Joshua Verrin, was presented for absence from religious worship...”
Importantly for our story, one hundred acres of farm land was granted at that session to John Friend. About ten years later, Friend desired to construct a tide gristmill and was granted about two acres of land for the construction of his tide-powered gristmill at the intersection of what are now Elliott and McKay Streets in Beverly.
Without a mill, grain had to be laboriously ground into flour and meal by hand, in the native manner, using a mortar and pestle. Though the Pilgrims did it this way for about a decade, mills were quickly erected in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the 1630s. They were often built before schools and churches and helped attract settlers to an area.
The grist mill built in 1640 in South Woburn, for example, preceded all other buildings, except the miller’s own house. Settlements offered incentives for millers to locate in their community, such as creating a milling monopoly by granting mill seats and adjoining lands with water rights. Luckily for those who possessed the water rights, an exemption from taxation and from military service was often possible.
From England the colonists imported a style of mill building and a process of milling which had not changed for centuries, a vertical mill which typically stood by a river which would be dammed to create a mill pond.
Since town records for the years 1647-1655 do not exist, it is not possible to pinpoint the date when Salem gave permission for Friend to build his mill across the northerly end of Bass River. However, before he could build his mill, however, he needed to build a dam, which required moving the ferry landing, and that required approval from the General Court, which can be dated.
According to one Salem historian, Friend himself probably suggested the new site for the ferry. After this met town approval and a lane was proposed to be laid out as a means of going to it, the General Court voted on May 4, 1649: “The petition of Salem, for removal of the highway and landing place from the head of Bass River to Draper’s Point, is granted.” At Draper’s Point the United Shoe drop forge was later located. Parts of the river above the dam were eventually named “Lower Shoe Pond” and “Upper Shoe Pond,” andsome buildings of the United Shoe Machinery Company were located on filled land within the site of the ancient mill pond.
Once the ferry landing was relocated, the mill and dam were built. It would likely have been built by a millwright, one of a group of artisans who were the first in the Colonies to handle heavy machinery. They had to know the intricacies of mills, decide what type and size of wheel was best, what gearing was necessary and how to differentiate between good and bad mill stones. Then the millwright oversaw the construction. Thus millwrights might well combine the skills of carpenter, joiner, mason, stonecutter, blacksmith, wheelwright, and surveyor.
The Friend mill could have taken weeks or even months of planning and labor. When it was finished, water that had entered the mill pond with the rising tide was released when the tide was low. The flow of water turned a great wooden water wheel to carry power to paired stones inside. The stones ground grain, generally corn since wheat did not do well in New England.
The miller was typically paid with a portion of the grain brought for milling. A craftsman who learned his trade through apprenticeship, the miller for centuries wore distinctive garb, white clothing that was snug so as not to get caught in the workings of the machine and a neckerchief tied around his neck to keep out small particles of grain, and usuallwore no beard.
The first official record of the Friend mill appeared in the town meeting records of Sept. 5, 1653, when Salem “graunted to Henerie Skerie a little hill incompassed about by his own marsh neare mr ffrends mill.” The little hill also became part of the land where United’s drop-forge plant stood. Friend also had a dwelling house near the mill. [map]
After all the trouble to get his mill permitted and built, Friend had the enjoyment of it for only a few years before he died in 1655. Lawrence Leach, a selectman of Salem, took over the mill, but, not having paid the entire 40 pounds purchase price by his death in 1662, he never acquired title. In 1665, Friend’s son Samuel conveyed the title to John Leach.
Only four years later, the mill changed hands again when John Leach conveyed “all those parcells of land now belonging unto my mills, – to say, 10 acres of land on Beverly side…& 2 acres on the other side of the river” to John Dodge Jr. for 250 pounds. Dodge owned and operated the mill for at least thirty years. The name “Beverly” occurs in this deed since, just a year earlier, the town of Beverly was incorporated.
During Dodge’s years as a miller, a number of significant events changed the Massachusetts colony. King Philip’s War (1675-78) ended any hope of the native and English cultures co-existing peacefully in Essex County. It brought tragedy on both sides, as when Capt. Thomas Lathorp of Beverly and his company of 70 picked men, known as the Flower of Essex were ambushed and massacred in Deerfield. Sagamore George allied himself with Philip, was captured and sold into slavery, but rescued after eight years in Barbados. After he died in 1684, his widow and heirs deeded their territory in and around Salem to the settlers and left the area.
In the 1680s, trouble and change came from England. In 1684, Charles II revoked the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Two years later, James II created a Dominion of New England and sent a governor who dismissed the Massachusetts Assembly and abolished the courts. In 1691, three years after William and Mary ascended the throne in 1688, a new charter emerged which united the Plymouth Colony with the Bay Colony and made it a royal province. Among other provisions, it established freedom of worship (except for papists).
From then on, the Puritans would have to endure the presence of Quakers (whom they formerly banished and hanged) and people of other faiths – but not witchcraft. In 1682, a witch-hunting frenzy erupted in Salem. Centered in Salem and Salem Village, it spread to other towns, including Beverly. Dorcas Galley Hoar was the first in Beverly to be accused. At her trial, she was found guilty and condemned to hang. However, she then confessed and with the support of several ministers, was given a reprieve and released. Other Beverly residents were also accused, including the minister’s wife. At first, the Reverend John Hale was intent on seeking out the witches alleged to be tormenting the group of Salem girls who started the whole horror and became deeply involved in the witch trials. However, he changed his mind, particularly when his wife was accused (though she was never charged). He wrote a critique of the trials, published after his death, in 1702.
Cummings Family caught up in hysteria
“Several of my ancestors were involved with the tragic Salem witch trials.” Isaac, son of Isaac the immigrant, lived throughout his years in Essex County. In Ipswich, he held various town offices such as moderator, surveyor, constable, and selectman and was chosen as a deacon of the church in 1686. During the witchcraft hysteria Rebecca Nurse, who was my 71 year old 6th great grandmother, and a member of the First Church in Salem, had a land dispute with a neighbor, and was accused of withcraft.
Perhaps in retaliation, Isaac soon thereafter gave testimony in court, corroborated by his son, also Isaac, and his wife Mary, against Elisabeth Howe, stating that a mare of his was strangely affected under Elisabeth's bad influence. Among a total of 20 victims, Elisabeth Howe was also condemned, and then executed on the same day as Nurse was, on July 19, 1692. Nurse’s family was able to have her excommunication from First Church revoked in 1714.”
“Except for our family name, I take no credit for Isaac, or blame either, for that matter. There must be seventy or eighty thousand other descendants with an equal degree of kinship after ten generations, but it is hard not to be mindful of his heritage.”
When John Dodge gave up the mill by conveying it to his son-in-law Ebenezer Woodberry in 1702, it was a new century. By 1708, Beverly’s population had increased to 1,680 people. Along with agriculture, fishing was the major occupation and a vital one, not only for feeding the inhabitants but also as a source of income. Beverly was catching up to Salem and Marblehead as a seaport.
During the seventeenth century, numerous fishermen had made their homes in Beverly, but they usually sailed out of Salem, and there were few fish merchants in Beverly before the mid-eighteenth century. In 1762, there were nine local vessels engaged in the fishery and export trade. By 1772, merchants employed 30 schooners, and 35 by 1775 when the War of Independence broke out. By the end of the Colonial period most Beverly boys grew up expecting they would at least spend a part of their lives at sea either fishing or manning the vessels that sailed out of their harbors.
Moving into the nineteenth century, fishing and shipping became the dominant industries. Beverly’s Fish Flake Hill Historic District commemorates this time when fish were caught, salted, and then sun-dried in ever-present fish flake yards which occupied much of the surplus land along the shore. Large quantities of dried cod especially were shipped to the West Indies, but the best quality fish went to Europe.
Through most of the eighteenth century, the mills stones on Bass River kept grinding under the charge of millers named Woodberry or Woodbury. On Oct 12, 1702, during the “1st year of the Reign of our Soverign, Ladey Queen Ann the 1st of England, Scotland and Ireland, Queen,” John Dodge conveyed his mills in both Salem and Beverly, along with land and “the rivers, streams, water courses, waters, utensils and appurtenances,” to his son-in-law Ebenezer Woodberry for 200 pounds. Woodberry continued the mill until his death in 1714. The inventory of his estate included two old grist mills on Bass River, which were assigned to his son Ebenezer. After Ebenezer died at sea, no mention of the mill was found in the return to the probate court, nor is any record of conveyance known.
It is known that the next owner was Dr. Israel Woodberry, probably a relation (though not a descendant) of Ebenezer’s. A physician and farmer, Israel Woodbury possessed a considerable estate. He owned and operated the mill until 1797 when his “two Grist Mills, called Woodberry’s Mills, with mill dam, flumes, timber, also the mill privilege of the stream and the waters therof” were bought at auction on July 17 by his son-in-law Thomas Davis, Jr., of Beverly, gentleman, for $2,850. [mill painting?]
During the Woodberry era, Essex County was undergoing economic changes that prepared it for the economic revolution of the nineteenth century. Gradually and increasingly through the 18th century, farmers and their wives began to view the home crafts that were vital to their own subsistence as also a means to supplement their income, and they found local and regional markets for their domestic products. As uncleared land dwindled, more people turned to employment for others for survival. The New England of self-sufficient families began to develop a class of paid laborers.
18th-century Cummings family leaves Essex County
The Cummings family did not remain forever in Essex County. John Cummings, the fifth of Isaac and Mary Cummings’ ten children, and his wife Susanna Town lived, married, and died in Topsfield, but their son Samuel moved to Stoughton in 1733. There he and his wife Susannah Hood raised twelve children, the tenth of whom, Richard (b 1750), moved to Sterlington, Maine, in 1776. He built the second house in what is now Union, Maine, and was the first person known to tan hides in town. The line of his family leading down to Bill remained in Maine until the fifth generation when a branch returned to Massachusetts.Independence
When Davis took over as mill owner in Beverly, the mill stood in the same place but in a new country. Once the alarm had gone out that fighting had begun at Lexington and Concord, men from Essex County joined in the fighting in and around Boston. They took part in the battles on land, while the women wove, knitted, and stitched to supply the army with clothing. More significantly, Beverly’s long tradition as a town of seafaring men made Beverly Harbor a natural place for the beginning of the American Revolution at sea. In fact, due to the ship Hannah, Beverly has laid claim to being “Washington’s first naval base” or “Birthplace of the American Navy”.
Originally built as a seventy-eight ton coastal schooner, the Hannah was commissioned by the Continental government under a lease calculated at the annual rate of one dollar for each ton of vessel weight. Its mission was to prey upon formerly unguarded British supply ships that were supplying the British troops, then under siege in Boston. Although the Hannah’s early record sailing out of Beverly Harbor was not impressive, it did manage to retake from the British a merchant ship that had been previously captured as a prize by the British warship HMS Lively.
On October 10, 1775, however, “the schooner Hannah, the first armed ship of General George Washington’s fleet, was leaving [its home] harbor of Beverly Massachusetts. At the same time, the Royal Navy’s ship Nautilus was bearing down on Beverly, with orders to burn the Hannah. The battle that followed was the first real naval action of the American Revolution. It would start our country’s proud naval tradition on its course into history.”
The Hannah retreated into Beverly Harbor where it was intentionally beached (opposite Lynch Park). The Nautilus severely pounded the Hannah and fired upon the town as well, stirring citizens of both Salem and Beverly to fire back. According to the report (reprinted below or somewhere) from Nautilus Captain J. N. Collins to his commander, Vice Admiral Samuel Graves, both vessels sustained very substantial damage. When the tide rose, the Nautilus limped away, while the heavily damaged Hannah required stern-to-stern rebuilding before sailing again.
Captain John Collins’ report to Admiral Samuel Graves, October 12, 1775 Sir, The 10th Instant saw standing into Salem a Schooner I supposed the one I was in quest after. Followed her into a little Bay near to Beverly Barr, in which she run ashore. I got in as near as possible just within Grape. After firing some Shot, they left her, as she was aground and very near the Beach. Thought it best to endeavour setting her on fire immediately. Hoisted out the Boats & got combustible ready for that purpose, but by this time she was quite dry and rendered it impracticable.
I continued firing a Number of shot into her. This Alarm brought great Number of Armed People to different Stations of Security and a smart fire of Musketry and some Swivels took place. Soon after a fire from Salem side with three Pieces of Cannon, set at different Stations, so well chosen that I could not see them with my Glass, and at such a distance as to put it out of my power to return the compliment with the effect I could have wished.
After exchanging Shot for some time, to no purpose, not being able to destroy the Schooner, thought it time to get under way, which could not be effected but by bringing a Spring on the Cable to cast her, as the wind blew on the Bank to which I was very near. Obliged me to leave the Anchor. Not withstanding this precaution very soon after took the ground, and in this situation Received a great many Shot mostly in my Rigging and Sails. About 20 [came] thro’ the Hammacoes and Hull. One Gun dismounted and a Swivel shot in two. One man has lost his leg and another wounded in the side. Tis very lucky they fired so high.
I am Sir,
Your most Obedient and most humble Servant, Jn Collins, Nautilus, Boston Bay
October 12th, 1775
Soon after the commissioning of the Hannah on September 5, 1775, the Lee, the Franklin, and the Hitchcock were also fitted out and commissioned in Beverly. Privateers were also commissioned in Beverly, and five forts were constructed to protect the fledgling fleet. By war’s end in 1782, Beverly had seventy or more privateers preying on British supply ships. The Buccaneer was the largest with 350 tons and 18 nine-pound guns. (After the war was over the Buccaneer was the first ship to sail from Beverly for trade to St. Petersburg, Russia in 1786.)
The Hannah served again but was eventually captured off the coast of France by the British ship HMS Foudroyant in 1775. It had delivered correspondence to American Ambassador Benjamin Franklin, and was starting back with a cargo of small arms. As was the admiralty custom at the time, both the American ship, which by this time had been renamed the Lynch, and its cargo were auctioned off. All the proceeds went to the British captain and his crew.
The American Revolution (1775-1783) had economic as well as political causes. The war and what happened afterward impacted American economy. In Beverly, it took its toll on the fisheries, but the end of the war ushered in the “halcyon days of the cod fishery.” The business had its downs – e.g., the short-lived Embargo Act which prevented American vessels shipping to foreign ports and the War of 1812 – but then business picked up and up.
Other business were also affected. During the war, local craftspeople found their wares in greater demand. Weavers turned out hundreds of blankets, and shoemakers fashioned cartloads of boots for Continental Army. When the war was over, the import of British goods revived. In response, enterprising Americans focused more on their own manufacturing. At Beverly’s 1793 celebration of Washington’s Birthday, the following toasts (among others) were made to three endeavors Washington acknowledged in his First Annual Address to Congress in 1790:
“Agriculture – May we always revere the most ancient and most useful of arts. Manufactures – May a conviction of their utilization in an improved state make us cherish them in their infancy. Commerce – May it universally be conducted on the liberal principles of reciprocal advantages.”
Agriculture and commerce were well established, but manufacture was considered to be in its “infancy.” Under British rule, theoretically, manufacturing had not been allowed in the colonies, since they were earmarked to “serve as suppliers of raw materials and consumers of British manufactured goods.” England severely limited trade via the various provisions of the Navigation Acts first enacted by Parliament in 1651.
The 1660 revision prohibited the direct importation of goods. Instead, they had to be landed first in England, where only English ships with an English master and a crew of at least three-fourths English men were allowed to journey to the colonies. The further revised Navigation Act of 1663 imposed added duties to colonial imports, including cloth, resulting in reports from New York that “everyone” was making his or her own linen, and a large part of any needed woolens. Through the 18th century, England continued to regulate the export of commodities, manufacture, and overseas trade with an eye fixed on benefiting English merchants.
The former colonies had been kept so dependent on Britain that they simply did not have much industry of their own by the war’s end. Yet the new country was aware that economic prosperity required growth in industry and actively pursued it.
The federal government helped. The Constitution established that the entire nation was a unified or "common," market without tariffs or taxes on interstate commerce (though tariffs on foreign imports were later introduced). The Constitution provided that the federal government could regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the states, establish uniform bankruptcy laws, create money and regulate its value, fix standards of weights and measures, establish post offices and roads, and fix rules governing patents and copyrights..
One year after the Constitution was adopted in 1787, Beverly started into manufacturing. “The year 1788 began an epoch in the history of Beverly, marked by the establishment of the first cotton mill in America…. Great expectations were entertained from the introduction of manufactures into the country on an extensive plan, at this early period.”
By this time, much cotton was grown in the South but was not processed where it was grown, because cotton fields of that day were situated below the “fall line,” that is below the natural water drop necessary to drive mill power. After independence was won, the possibility of shipping cotton north was much more attractive than sending it abroad. Consequently, the cotton was moved downstream and onto clipper ships and other vessels, many of which were built in Massachusetts.
The Beverly Cotton Manufacturing Company was formed in 1787 by a group of Beverly merchants, led by John, Andrew and George Cabot who had substantial shipping interests. In 1788, a brick factory building rose in North Beverly to house a spinning jenny, carding machine, warping machine, and other tools for processing cotton after the English model. George Washington visited the Beverly mill a year after it opened. He wrote in his diary, “In short, the whole seemed perfect, and the cotton stuffs which they turn out, excellent of their kind.”
[Washington’s Visit to the First Cotton Mill]
When the firm was incorporated in 1789, the Legislature granted land and later “a lottery of 700 tickets to offset costs.” In 1790, the plant employed up to forty workers and used teams of two horses to provide power to the machines. Among their products were thread, denim and corduroys. Costs were very high, however, and the small mill failed in 1800. New owners set up the operation again in 1801 on Bass River, but, even with water power, they lasted there only until 1812.
Inability to keep up with the rapidly improving technology of that fast growing industry has been cited by many as the reason that Beverly’s mills did not get anywhere. It seems more likely that a mill relying on tidal water power from the Bass River could never have been competitive with the vast mills spawned along the much more powerful Merrimack River, just a few miles to the north.
Though lasting only a couple dozen years, the Beverly cotton mill was an important early step in developing an independent American manufacturing expertise. A woolen mill opened in Ipswich; and a sailcloth manufactory, in Haverhill. In time, of course, Massachusetts became world-renowned for the huge mills that lined long stretches of the Merrimack River. That river gave rise to many textile communities throughout the state, including one of the country’s most prominent ones in Lowell.
Another product made in Beverly which was important to the Essex County economy was shoes. Although Lynn, which was located between the original Charlestown and Salem settlements, had been the center of the shoe business since the early years of colonization, Salem and Beverly also had an old tradition of shoe-making.
In colonial days, craftsmen were specifically recruited to the Colonies, in some cases “temporarily” for that purpose. A shoemaker of note, Thomas Beard, resided in Salem in 1629 – giving Salem (and Beverly) first title to shoemaking since the landing of the earliest settlers. “It was the custom in the early history of our country for journeymen shoemakers or ‘tramping tours’ as they were called to travel from house to house repairing shoes, and not unfrequently they took orders for shoes to measure.
These shoemakers or cordwinders and cordwainers as they were called in those days, boarded with the men for whom they were working, staying at a house until all necessary repairs in their line had been made, then going on to the next place and so on. In the winter they travelled on snowshoe.”
The earliest known cordwainer in Beverly was Andrew Elliott, who arrived in Beverly about 1670, was appointed its first town clerk in 1690, served as a juror at the witch trials in 1692, and later made a public recantation. (He was also an ancestor of President Elliot of Harvard College.)
The Revolutionary War stimulated the production of shoes and boots. Essex County shoemakers profited by both the interruption in British supply and orders for footwear from the army. Among others, Joseph Foster, who moved to Beverly from Ipswich (and also became town clerk), supplied the Continental Army with shoes during the war.
His son Daniel carried on the business, manufacturing thick, heavy boots, calf skin jackets, and petticoat trousers for fishermen. He supplied shoes to area grocery stores and shipped them to the West Indies and the southern states, receiving in return all kinds of produce, such as beans, corn, and grain.
In 1789, George Washington passed through Lynn and learned about 400 local workmen and many of their wives were turning out 175,000 shoes a year. Although the revival of British competition created a difficult period for craftsmen, the shipping boom reinforced development of local manufactures as some merchants and artisans reorganized into larger networks of production and aggressively marketed their wares along the Atlantic seaboard.
As Beverly’s population continued to grow, shoemaking soon became an increasingly staple industry there and in nearby communities. The trade worked particularly well in Beverly and other coastal communities where farming families and fishermen also in-between their long trips away would supplement their incomes with payments for piece work for the local shoe shops (in and out of town).
The next war with England proved a challenge to overseas trade, though one anecdote survives telling how they could surmount it. “During the war of 1812 several of these shoemakers chartered a schooner, loaded her at Essex during the night, ran the blockade successfully, disposed of their cargo at an immense profit securing for themselves a good round sum of money as the result of their venture and the reward of their daring.”
In Beverly, Foster’s sons carried on the business through much of the next century. During their time, America launched into an industrial era. The whole business of shoemaking in Massachusetts changed with the number of shops, the amount and type of employment, methods of production, markets and marketing, and investment in new technology for making shoes multiplying.
The character of Beverly with its small family-owned farms, a few small mills, its fisheries, and a shipyard was changing. New conditions were preparing it for an industrial revolution. Changes in production from the old craftsman model to piece work and division of labor had already commenced.
A working class was growing, due to farmers and fishermen increasingly accepting paid employment to supplement their incomes, to the younger generation leaving the hard toil of the land and sea for new occupations, and to new waves of immigration. It was a time when businessmen were seeking new opportunities for wealth, when many merchants redirected their capital from shipping to manufacturing. As the population grew, so did demand, and more markets were being opened up through improved transportation by water, land, and rail.
In his First Annual Address to Congress in 1790, President George Washington recommended that Congress give encouragement to “the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad, as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home.” What followed was an era of business innovation on an ever increasing scale.
Nevertheless, some ways of life persevered. While the world changed around it, the grist mill on the Bass River continued to grind corn according to a centuries-old model into a new century.
Deed for the second transfer of the gristmill, signed by Andrew Elliott and Isaacke Hull, and the mark of John Leach.
On the fifth day of the eighth month in the year 1669 this deed was recorded in Book 3, page 225 at Salem in ye Massachusetts colonie of New England.
Be it knowne unto all men by these presents that I, John Leach of Salem, in ye County of Essex, miller, for & in consideration of ye sume of two hundred & fifty pounds, in hand received, before ye signing and delivery of these presents of John Dodg Junior of Beverly in ye County aforesaid, husbandman, have bargained & sold, & do by these presents cleerely, absolute & fully grant, bargin, sell, aliene, assigne & sett over, unto ye said John Dodg, and to his heires executors, administrators & assignes all those parcells of land now belonging unto my mills, that is to say, ten acres of land on Beverly side, be it more or less, all that land which was caled Bushnell Lott, & two acres on the other side of the river in Salem side, be it more or less, with the dwelling house thereupon with all the fruite trees, fences, and appurtenances with the mills, with all the housing, materialls, appurtenances what soever, there unto belonging with ye privilidges & benefetts thereof, being bounded sotherly with ye land of Osman Trask, eastward on Edward Grover, northward on Henry Herrick senior.
To have and to hold the said land, dwelling house, orchard, mills, houseings, there unto belonging with all rights, titles, in any wise appertaining unto ye said John Dodg. & to his heirs & assignes , to his & theire owne use forever. And ye said John Leach doe by these presents for my selfe, my heires, executors, administrators, to and with ye said John Dodg, his heirs, yet I have good right, full power, and lawfull authoritty, in my owne name, to bargaine, sell & conveye ye bargained for promises as aforesaid.
I shall & will, warrant, acquit, and defend ye peaceable possession to give & maintaine of all & singular as promised , to every parcell there of unto the said John Dodg, his heires & assignes, against all persons laying any claime there unto, whereby ye said John Dodg, his heires or assignes, shall not forever hearafter be molested or troubled out of the peaceable injoyment of the same, & Sarah my wife doe freely yield up all her right little, dower & interest of and into ye bargained promises, unto ye said John Dodg, his heirs and assignes, forever, as wittness our hands and seales, this second daye of September, in ye yeare of our Lord God one thousand six hundred sixty nine.
Will of the elder Isaac Cummings “The last will and testament of Isaac Comins Senier. I, being sencable of my approaching desolution, being at present weak in body yet perfect in my understanding, having by the face of God bene helped to provid for my future state in another world: doe now in ordering of what God hath been pleased to bestow upon me of the blessings of this life, take care and order that, in the first place, my debts be duly paid.
Nextly I doe by this my last will and testament confirme to my son Isaac the ten acres of division land, on the south side of the great river, be it more or less: nextly, I do give unto my son John Juet, ten pounds, part in Cattel & part in household goods: nextly, I doe will and bequeath to my grandson Isaac, the son of my son Isaac, one year old hefer, one little sow, the Indian corn which he hath planted for himself and the flax which he hath sown.
Item, I doe give unto him my chest 2d in bigness with the lock and key: item, my history book with such books as are his own, viz. a bible and testament. Item, I doe give him ten pounds to be paid at seventeen years of age in country pay. Item, I doe give my son, John Pease, thirty pounds to be payd out of the stock of cattle and household goods as much as may be att present & the rest in two years. Item, I doe make my son John my sole executor and doe give unto him my house and lands, being forty acres, more or less, consisting of upland and meadow with all the privileges and emoluments thereof and apertainances thereunto belonging provided that this land shall stand bound in part and in wholl for the payment of these legacyes and in case the said legacyes shall not be payd according to my will, the land shall be sold and payment be made out of the price thereof, and the remainder shall be to the executor.
Item, my will further is that if any of these my children shall through discontent att what is done for them in this my will, cause trouble to arise to the executor, that then there shall be nothing pay’d to him or them, but the legacy or legacyes willed to them shall return to and remain in the hands of the executor as his proper right. My desire further is that Isaac Foster and Thomas Dorman would take care that this my will be duly performed.
Dated this 8th day of the 3d mth 1677.
Witness the mark of Isaac Cummings.
John Poore Sr.
Sir Josiah Child, The Great Honour and Advantage of the East India Trade, London, 1697, quoted by Miriam Beard in A History of the Business Man (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1938).
Quoted in Charles Henry Webber, Winfield S. Nevins, Old Naumkeag: An Historical Sketch of the City of Salem, Salem, 1877, p. 183.
Vaughan, p. 3
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