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From the Diary of Samuel Sewall 25 June 1685

Four and a half months after King James II was crowned leader of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the news reached Marblehead, Massachusetts, a fishing town about 17 miles north of Boston. Sewall’s entry is a tad terse. All of it’s been quoted. It’s pretty much a 1685 Tweet from a guy who might otherwise blog at length;)

Sewall’s silence is loud. James II was Anglican. His predecessor, just eight months prior, revoked the Massachusetts Charter. Boston was under pressure to adhere to the Navigation Acts. The pro-French, pro-Catholic, absolute monarchist King was, to say the least, not popular in Massachusetts at this time.

As for Marblehead: the town was settled by the late 1620’s. By 1629, local natable Isaac Allerton had established an excellent fishing business. British agents declared Marblehead the finest fishing port in the land.

Marblehead Massachusetts by Maurice Predergast

Marblehead Massachusetts, by Maurice Predergast

Prior to the British arrival, the Naumkeag, a clan of Algonquin, were the main inhabitants of the area. They were lead by Nanepashemet, among the greatest of New England Sachems.

Nanepashemet, like many today, loved to summer in Marblehead.

The Naumkeag and the early Salem ex-pats who ventured to Marblehead shared the area well. Trouble reared in the area only after Nanepashemet sent warriers north to assist the Penobscots in their battles with the Tarratines, who retaliated with ferocity against the Naumkeag, forcing Nanepashemet and his men to retreat south and west, all the way to the Mystic River.

native american smallpox plague

Smallpox Plague Hit the Naumkeag

During the same time frame, roughly 1615-1619, smallpox ravaged the native population near Marblehead, killing as many as 80% or more of the remaining Naumkeag. The British largely escaped the plague.

In 1636, Marblehead was proposed as a construction for a new college- the first on these shores. The proposal fell through. Harvard was built at Cambridge instead.

On a darker note, during the same year, the first slave ship constructed in the colonies was made in the yard at Marblehead. Later, through the Revolution and even during the War of 1812, Marblehead provided an excellent port from which to privateer. Naval historians often talk of Marblehead as the birthplace of the navy in America..

Marblehead is also the home port of “Joe Froggers,” a spicy cookie sweetened with molasses and, traditionally, salted with sea water. Mystic Seaport summarizes their legend: “A couple known as Aunt Crease and Black Joe lived at the edge of a pond in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Joe had fought in the Revolution as a young man. On election night, they would open their house, which on occasion was also a local tavern, and serve grog. Joe would play the fiddle and Aunt Crease would cook.

“One of her specialties was a molasses cookie the size of a salad plate. She made them for fishermen, who found they stored well in barrels during long sea voyages.”

The cliffs at Marblehead’s shore? They’re not marble. They’re primarily granite.


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