North End Papers, 1618-1880, Newburyport, Massachusetts

Development of the North End of the City by Oliver B. Merrill. Originally published in 1906 & 1908 in the "Newburyport Daily News"


Author: Motes, Margaret Peckham
Publication Date: 2007
Reprint Date: 2009
Pages: x + 127 pp.


The North End Papers, 1618-1880, by Oliver B. Merrill, were originally published in installments in the Newburyport [Massachusetts] Daily News in 1906 and 1908. The author, a lifelong resident of the North End of the town, had as his purpose to “trace the ownership of the land from the first owners of the sold down to modern time [1908], and to give the history of the substantial and solidly built houses that have stood the sunshine and storms of more than a century, and are good for the use of many generations yet to come.”

The heritage of the North End, once the site of large estates commanded by Newburyport’s local gentry, as well as ship building businesses and a variety of other manufacturers, is often overlooked and underrated owing to the developmental infill that has occurred there in recent decades. It was fortuitous, therefore, for students of history and genealogy that researcher Margaret Motes discovered the Merrill series, transcribed it, added photographs, and assembled these contents for the first time into the single volume at hand.

The reconstituted North End Papers, 1618-1880 will appeal to genealogists and historians alike. In the first instance, Oliver Merrill drew his findings from the registry of wills and deeds at Salem; the town records of Newbury and Newburyport; files of old newspapers, back to 1792, and a variety of published sources. Merrill’s research yielded genealogical entries like the following:

The lot of land upon which Thomas built the hospital building was a part of the estate of Patrick Tracy. In 1769 Mr. Tracy bought of John Wood four acres and 74 rods of land . . . In 1771 he also bought two acres and 72 rods adjoining from the heirs of Archelaus Adams . . . Mr. Tracy, in his will, left this land to the children of John Tracy. It could not be sold for money until these children came of age, but could be exchanged for other property of equal value . . . several lots of land were disposed of in this way, namely two lots on High Street and two on Broad and finally the remainder of the field was bought by Judge Charles Jackson in exchange for a house and 20 acres of land.

Since Merrill was as interested in Newburyport’s inhabitants as its structures, readers will discover an abundance of local history in his work. Witness the following:

The house on the upper corner of Merrimac and Warren was the home of Samuel Coffin, father of Capt. Abel, who after his return from service in the continental army built the house in which he passed the remainder of his life. Mr. Coffin with several men who lived at the “North End” enlisted in Capt. Newell’s company that marched to Bunker Hill in April 1775 . . . Mr Coffin was a soldier of the Revolution who fought . . . at Germantown and in other engagements. In the same company with Coffin was John Brett whose home was on Warren street.

Not content merely to transcribe Merrill’s original articles, Margaret Motes scoured the collections of the History Society of Old Newbury for relevant photographs of the North End, as well as shot new photographs of structures that have survived from the author’s day. Readers will find 27 such illustrations throughout her transcription, as well as a name and subject index of 3,000 entries to the contents of the volume.

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