Newburyport Harbor lies at the mouth of the Merrimack River in northeastern Massachusetts. Newburyport Harbor is about 48 kilometers (30 miles) north-northeast of Boston and about 30 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Colonial Newburyport Harbor was a busy shipbuilding and fishing port with a big merchant fleet.
Today, light manufacturing and tourism are the base of Newburyport Harbor's economy, but storing and maintaining recreational boats is still important source of income. Newburyport Harbor streets are lined with noble homes built by sea captains and ship owners. Located on the East Coast's important Interstate Highway 95, Newburyport Harbor is the terminus of Boston's commuter rail line. In 2010, more than 17.4 thousand people called Newburyport Harbor home.
The indigenous Massachuset Nation inhabited the future Newburyport Harbor area long before settlers arrived from Europe. It is likely that the Massachuset are descendants of people who had lived in the Northeastern United States since the last glaciation period that ended up to 30 thousand years ago.
Archaeological finds support the idea that people lived in the Newburyport Harbor area for at least 6.5 thousand years. The Massachuset were farmers and fishers who migrated from season to season between inland and coastal villages. Plague brought by Europeans severely depleted the population of the Massachuset in the early 17th Century. Then, during the Great Migration of 1630 to 1640, more than twenty thousand English settlers arrived, driving the native people away.
John Eliot converted some Massachuset to Christianity, and they created an alphabet and a translation of the Bible into their language. The people were confined to praying villages by English law where they tried to convert more of the Massachuset.
The colonists did not trust the Massachuset after King Philip's War, a mid-17th Century conflict between the English and their allies and other native tribes. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a law in 1869 that eliminated the Massachuset Nation's sovereignty and made them citizens of the US. The modern Massachuset-Ponkapoag Tribal Council represents the descendants of the tribe who live in Natick and Brocton.
Newburyport Harbor was originally settled as part of Newberry Plantation (today's Newbury) in 1635. In 1764, Massachusetts' General Court authorized creation of Newburyport by separating it from the town of Newbury in recognition of the different characters of the two areas and the disputes that had resulted. Newburyport Harbor was populated by merchants and traders, while Newbury was home to many farmers.
The infant Newburyport Harbor was Massachusetts' smallest town. It contained three shipyards and several ferries traveling to Portsmouth and Boston. Prosperity made Newburyport Harbor a city by the early 1850s. Newburyport Harbor was a center for shipping, fishing, and shipbuilding. It was also home to a silverware manufacturer. Distilleries imported molasses from the West Indies and exported rum.
It was not legal to buy slaves in Massachusetts, but slaves bought somewhere else were legal. Many of the stately homes on Newburyport Harbor's High Street were run by Native American and African slaves until the American Revolution when the Massachusetts General Court abolished slavery completely.
After the Revolution, abolitionism took root in Newburyport Harbor. Several residents made significant contributions to the operation of the Underground Railroad. Many anti-slavery meetings led by William Lloyd Garrison were held in Newburyport Harbor's Brown Square.
Newburyport Harbor's busy fishing fleet operated from the mouth of the Merrimack River to Georges Bank. During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, Newburyport Harbor was also a privateering center. By 1832, many local ships were engaged in the whaling fleet. Many clipper ships were built in Newburyport Harbor during the 18th and 19th Centuries.
In spite of its historic prosperity, Newburyport Harbor's city center was neglected and almost abandoned by the middle 20th Century. Suburban strip malls and improved highways took business from downtown Newburyport Harbor. In the early 1970s, plans were made to destroy the historic downtown structures. Before this happened, Newburyport Harbor received a federal grant that made it possible to keep the historic buildings.
Restorations and renovations continued in Newburyport Harbor's downtown throughout the decade of the 1970s. They were so successful that Newburyport Harbor is now an example of how preservation can maintain historic architecture and heritage while also providing functional and comfortable space.