Manchester By The Sea - A History of
the New England Fishing Industry
By Harriet Rockwell
While tracing your ancestors, don't overlook the wealth of information to be found by visiting the towns where they lived and reading the histories of those towns.
This will help you find those little known facts about your ancestors not included in the broadly based genealogies and state histories, as well as interesting background material that will give you a better understanding of the kind of lives your ancestors lived.
Several months ago, I visited Manchester-by-the-sea, a beautiful coastal town which began as a settlement on the 400 acres of land known as Jeffrey's Creek that was
once the part of Salem.
The immigrant, Pasco Foote, lived there in the 1600s. The "History of Salem" tells us that he was from Bedfordshire, England, and that he was a fisherman.
Many years before Pasco immigrated to America, fishermen in England and surrounding countries had begun migrating westward to Greenland and Newfoundland as competition in the fishing grounds close to home steadily increased and the supply of fish steadily decreased. Mariners were continually searching for new fishing grounds where cod and mackerel were abundant in order to supply the great demand for these fish In England, Europe and the West Indies.
The first English settlers to reach the northern coast of America sent reports of excellent fishing back to England and in 1622 a royal proclamation was issued in England which gave the Massachusetts Company a monopoly for fishing and curing fish on the shores of New England.
In the following decades, increasing numbers of mariners migrated to New England to engage in the lucrative fishing industry developing there. Pasco Foote arrived in Salem in 1636. He was the patriarch of a long line of fisherman, shoremen, mariners and shipwrights who depended upon the sea for their living.
Catching and curing fish for export was already a thriving industry in Salem when Pasco arrived. It centered around Winter
Harbor which was between what was called The Neck and Winter Island. Winter Harbor was so named because the Salem fishing vessels remained in that harbor during much of the winter.
Eager to encourage the fishing industry there, Salem gave fishermen grants of half-acre lots on the shores of The Neck and Winter Island for a term of years or for life. These grants could not be inherited, however.
On January 16,1636/37, Pasco was one of eight men who received half-acre grants at Winter Harbor. The fishermen had houses and wooden platforms called "flakes" for drying and curing fish, and warehouses for storing the fish when ready for market.
In May of 1639 the town of Salem ruled that those who had fishing lots around Winter Harbor would be allowed to fence in their lots to keep the swine and goats from their fish. The following January, the town further ruled that all of Winter Island could be
fenced in for the safety of the fishing trade; and in June, ordered that dogs on the Neck must be tied up during the day and that any dogs spoiling fish there would be sent away or killed.
To further encourage men "to set upon fishinge," the general court ordered that ships involved in the "taking, making, and transporting of fish" were exempt from all country charges for seven years and that all men were forbidden to use "any codd or basse fish for manuring of ground" except the heads and offal of such fish for fertilizing corn. In addition, all fishermen, while away from Salem during the fishing season, were exempt from military training.
At first only small fishing vessels were built in Salem; but the town soon realized it needed to build its own much larger ships. A grant of land was provided by the town for this purpose and the Salem fishing industry took on a new dimension. The town was growing fast.
By Harriet RockwellPublished Fall 2003,
In 1640, the immigrant, Pasco Foote, and 16 others petitioned the court of Salem for permission to form a new town on land granted to them in a remote part of Salem then known as Jeffrey's Creek. It appears from the wording of this petition that the Winter Harbor area had become overcrowded and some fishermen preferred to move on to a less populated area.
Just the substance of the petition is quoted here. The spelling has not been changed:
"We whose names are subscribed being straitened in our accommodations soe that wee are not able ...."
comfortably to subsist... .and noe place being soe convenient for our easy removal as Jefferyes Creek lying soe neereus & most of us having some small quantity of ground allotted to us there ... d o e therefore.... humbly request... (the) power to erect a village there
The power was granted to the petitioners and the fishing settlement at Jeffrey's Creek was renamed Manchester. According to the "History of Salem," Pasco lived in Salem "except from 1649 to1652." I take that to mean that he lived in Salem proper and in Manchester except for 3 or 4 years between 1649 and 1652 since an entry in the second book of the records of Manchester which records the voting on various town affairs ends with these words:
"Given under the hands of the Selectmen in the yere 1658.," followed by the names: Pascoe ffoote, John Siblee, Robert Leach.
No explanation is given as to where Pasco was between 1649 and 1652. Note the spelling of Pasco's name following the 1658 entry.
Manchester in the 1600s, was ideally suited to the small-boat fisherman. Its harbor, tucked into the south-facing side of Cape Ann and sheltered by islands, was actually an estuary at high tide and a mud flat at low tide, and its beaches were suitable for the building and launching of small boats. Manchester fishermen brought their catches ashore, removed the heads and entrails, and placed the fish on the flakes to dry in the sun, turning the fish occasionally until they were properly dried, covering them when it rained.
Lightly salted dried fish were considered more valuable and commanded a higher price than fish cured at sea by the "wet bulk" method popular in countries where abundant and cheap supplies of salt were available. This made it practical to bring many layers of heavily salted fresh fish to market in the holds of large fishing vessels.
The settlement surrounding the Manchester harbor was separated from neighboring settlements by a crescent of rocky hills and swamp land, which made traveling overland to and from Manchester very difficult.
This typography is thought to be a major reason the town of Manchester has changed in appearance and grown in population much less than the neighboring towns over the past 300 years. It's also interesting to note that Manchester did not suffer the devastating Indian attacks inflicted on many nearby towns such as Amesbury-perhaps because Manchester was easily accessibly only from the sea.
Today the Manchester harbor which was once an estuary has been dredged to make it larger and more navigable; and a railroad spur to Boston, originally slated to go right through the center of Manchester, crosses on a bridge dividing the harbor into inner harbor and outer harbor instead.
The encroaching city sprawl that has drastically diluted the historic flavor of so many early historic towns has not spoiled this town. Manchester is a treasure. I plan to return for a second look in the fall.
Main sources for this article:
- "The History of Salem, Massachusetts" by Sidney Perley;
- "The History of the Town of Manchester" by "Rev. D. F. Lamson; ".
My thanks to Esther "Slim" Proctor, Archivist at the Manchester
Historical Society, for her time, knowledge, interest and patience.
Copyright © 1999
Foote Family Association of America
P. O. Box 418, Middlefield, CT 06455
---- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ----
(Last updated 29 December 2017)