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Early Settlement 

The Departure from England

Nonconformist Ministers Thomas Parker and James Noyes, along with a like-minded group of British subjects, decided to emigrate to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633 with the sanction of the Council of New England at Whitehall.


At that same time, Richard Dummer, Stephen Dummer, Richard Saltonstall, Henry Sewall, and others in Wiltshire had organized a company to establish a stock-raising plantation in the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of England’s high prices for horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs.


The latter group persuaded Thomas Parker and his group to join them, and they arrived at Ipswich (then called Agawam) and spent the winter of 1634 there before moving farther east.  At that time, The Massachusetts Bay Colony was extending its inhabited frontier as far as possible to protect its land from the French

The Landing at the Parker River

In the spring of 1635, this small group of immigrants petitioned the General Court to leave Agawam and remove to Quascacunquen to begin a town there.  In the colonial records, it is noted:


May 6th, 1635.

Quascacunquen is allowed by the court to be a plantation...

and the name of the said plantation shall be changed, and shall hereafter be called Newberry.


The immigrants left Ipswich and rowed small boats known as shallops to the mouth of the Quascacunquen (now Parker) River.  They came ashore at a spot on the north shore, east of the present Parker River Bridge.  A commemorative boulder at the end of Cottage Road now marks the spot.


All was wilderness around them, and they spent the first summer clearing land, building shelters, raising crops, and gathering fish and berries for the winter.  Each man was allotted land for a house, with a planting lot and salt meadow, the size depending on the amount of money each had invested in the venture.  Richard Dummer and his group had the largest acreage: more than 1,000 acres up river near the falls for their stock raising.


Dummer also was granted the right to erect a sawmill on the Newbury falls (near the present day intersection of Central Street and Orchard Street, Byfield) and was given fifty acres of woods to supply the mill.  He was also allowed to grind corn so long as he would grind all of the grain that residents brought him.


The Town Takes Shape

The settlement became focused around what we know today as the Lower Green.  A meetinghouse was built soon after the establishment of the town on land North of the Lower Green.  Frances Plumer opened Newbury's first tavern shortly thereafter.  The town was first governed by a committee of all the freemen, but later "prudential men, no more than seven" executed the town business and reported to town meetings.  Missing a town meeting or Sunday worship meant facing stiff fines.


By 1647, the heart of the town had moved north closer to the port.  A "trayneing green" was laid out, known as the Upper Green today.  North of the green stood a new meetinghouse for the First Parish Church with a burying ground adjoining.  Subsequent meetinghouses stood within the bounds of the cemetery until the 1868 building was constructed on the opposite side of High Road.


The boundaries of the town originally extended from the Merrimack River to the Parker River, and from Plum Island to the town of Bradford.  Plum Island, a nine-mile-long sandy barrier beach forming the eastern boundary of the town, was a great natural asset to the town from the beginning, an abundant source of salt hay and pasture for horses and cattle during the winter.  In 1639, the town petitioned the General Court to be allowed sole use of Plum Island, but the Court divided the use of the island among Ipswich, Newbury, and Rowley.  A century later, in 1739, the General Court was forced to enact a conservation measure, forbidding the use of Plum Island as pasture because grazing destroyed the grass roots, causing erosion.


In the beginning the town was one parish called the First Parish of Newbury.  In 1702, the residents of the "Falls" area built a meeting house because they were so far from the First Parish meetinghouse.  Thus began the parish of Byfield (for a short time called "Rowlbury"), extending for two miles in all directions from the Falls.  This portion of Newbury was officially set off in 1706 as a separate parish for "so long as they maintain an Orthodox minister among them."  It was, and still is, a part of the town of Newbury.  For more information on how Byfield got its name, see the Religion page.



The early settlers of Newbury were largely engaged in agriculture and stock raising.  As the town grew and spread along the Merrimack River, the residents built wharves and docks where domestic and foreign trade flourished.  These "waterside people" felt that they were wholly different from the husbandmen of Newbury, and petitioned the General Court to be set apart as a separate town.  Newbury officials opposed the change, but after extensive litigation and financial adjustment the town of Newburyport was incorporated in 1764.


The residents of the western portion of Newbury also built a meetinghouse in order to be closer to their house of worship, and consequently asked to be excused from taxes to support the First Parish Church.  Thus the West Parish was born, and in 1819 this Parish was incorporated as a separate town of West Newbury (first called "Parsons," and changed to West Newbury in 1820.

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