Town of Ipswich - History

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.

The town became the Birthplace of American Independence when, in 1687, Ipswich citizens protested a tax that English Governor Sir Edmond Andros attempted to impose on the colony. Ipswich residents, under the leadership of Reverend John Wise, led the protest, arguing that as Englishmen they could not abide taxation without representation. The citizens were jailed and fined for their action, but in 1689 Andros was called back to England and the Colonists received a new charter from the new sovereigns, King William and Queen Mary.

The early residents of Ipswich were farmers, fishermen, shipbuilders, and traders. Lace making developed as a home industry, as did the making of stockings. The first stocking machine, which had been smuggled from England, arrived in Ipswich in 1822. For several years, small and fitfully successful textile industries came and went. Then, in 1868, the Ipswich Hosiery Mills was begun by Amos A. Lawrence in the old stone mill on the Ipswich River, utilizing its wealth of water power. By the turn of the century, the enterprise had become the largest stocking mill in the country.

In the days of the clipper ships, Ipswich shared, to some degree, in the great riches that came to the deeper-water ports of neighboring Newburyport and Salem. The famous Heard family made their home in Ipswich, though their ships sailed principally out of Boston.

Ipswich remained a small country town through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This may be why Ipswich has such a large number of well-preserved seventeenth and eighteenth-century houses: they were cherished as the homes of ordinary townsfolk who could not afford to modernize them and make the kind of changes that might have spoiled their simple Colonial architecture.

As happened in many New England towns where industrial growth put new demands on communities, labor shortages brought small waves of immigrants to work in the mills. English, Irish, Nova Scotian, French Canadian, Polish, and Greek people found their way to Ipswich to work in the mills and then gradually in other occupations. Their descendants remain here today and, as a result, Ipswich has a rich mix of cultural heritage.

The growth and development of Ipswich as a larger town - never a suburb - came only after 1945 with the great outward expansion of population from Boston. The town government was reformed in 1950 with the acceptance of the Town Manager Charter. This charter was rescinded by the voters, regained, lost again, and the present Town Manager-Selectmen Charter was adopted by the voters in 1967. The town's efforts to control growth and improve the environmental quality of life began in 1957 when the zoning and sewage programs were accepted by voters. Since then, efforts have continued, with the updating of zoning, increasing the efficiency of the sewerage treatment plant, and building a water filtration plant to provide clean drinking water.


This page was reproduced from an archive of a previous version of the Town of Ipswich web site.

Copyright: Town of Ipswich