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Information for the
Town of Manchester, Mass
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The town of Manchester-by-the-Sea was included in a grant of land to
the Massachusetts Bay Colony made in 1629 by Charles I who signed their
charter in that year. By June of the same year the first ship, the Talbot,
dropped anchor in Manchester Harbor carrying settlers for the new town.
Formally incorporated in 1645, the young community displayed its moral
foundations by adopting a set of laws and regulations that prohibited the
slave trade, made cruelty to animals a civil offence and forbade
imprisonment for debt.
Historians point out that these goodly beginnings may have led the
colonists to go overboard as they continued to try to legislate all
behavior with laws about how to conduct a courtship, laws against
"excess in apparel" or "immodest laying out of theire haire".
In 1644 a tide-mill was established, in 1668 a sawmill was built and in
1684 Aaron Bennett set up a grist mill. Foreshadowing its maritime future,
John Norton began building ships on land granted him near the shore in
1684. By 1700 the prosperous burghers of Manchester were able to pay
Masconomet, the sagamore of the Agawam Indians, 3 pounds and 19 shillings
in silver money for all rights to the lands on which the town stood.
The town's economy was based on some farming and a lot of fishing for cod
and mackerel, and Manchester men were known as good mariners. In 1810, 50
masters of vessels were Manchester residents. Manchester men were
patriotic as well and they served in the successful assault on Louisburg
in Canada, while the town meeting raised money to support the Minute Men.
The life of the town was largely maritime with a fishing fleet, fish yards
and fish storage warehouses until the decay of the fishing industry freed
workers for the newly expanded woodworking and cabinet making jobs.
In 1845 a new phase opened in the town when the first summer resident,
poet Richard Dana, built his vacation home. Manchester quickly became a
very fashionable watering place for wealthy people from the city and the
town gained an increasingly important summer population. In 1868 the
original Town Hall was built, while the public library was given to the
town by the Hon. T. Jefferson Coolidge, a summer resident in 1886.
In modern times, Manchester has retained its reputation as a fashionable
summer address, while developing a new suburban population as a handsome
It is located in northeastern Massachusetts, bordered by Beverly and
Wenham on the west, Hamilton and Essex on the north, Gloucester on the
east, and the Atlantic Ocean on the south. Manchester-by-the-Sea is
located 25 miles north of Boston and 245 miles from New York City.
Narrative compiled by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and
Community Development (DHCD).