The development of the West Parish of Salisbury was the subject of a talk given recently by Milton Kray at a meeting sponsored by the Amesbury Improvement Association.
Kray, the newest member of the Amesbury Historical Commission, lectures about Amesbury history. His wife, Hazel, does the research in preparation for the lectures, makes supplementary remarks in the course of her husband's talks, and distributes duplicated maps and other printed material as additional information.
In Kray's talk he referred to Amesbury's annexation of "Little Salisbury" in 1844. Jonathan Ring and others petitioned the Legislature in 1843 that this portion of Salisbury be annexed to Amesbury. This annexation occurred in 1844.
The annexation of "Little Salisbury" was mentioned in Joseph Merrill's "History of Amesbury and Merrimac, Massachusetts" (1880) used in both the Amesbury Vital Records and the Salisbury Vital Records, but in none of these was the location given. "Little Salisbury" wasn't referred to in Sara Redford's "History of Amesbury, Massachusetts" (1968). Consequently, little is known about "Little Salisbury". Kray believes "Little Salisbury" was that land which is bounded on the north by the New Hampshire state line and on the remaining sides by an arc formed by the Powow River from Tuxbury's Pond to a point where the river turns northerly into South Hampton before flowing again into Amesbury above Lake Gardner.
Boundary line From 1668 until 1886, 218 years, the Powow River was the boundary between Amesbury and Salisbury. But when Mitchell's line, later the state line, was established in 1741 merely as a town boundary, South Hampton, within a year, became incorporated as a town. This new line crossed the Powow River in two places and caused the part of Salisbury to be cut off from the rest of the town with the present Whitehall Road area of Amesbury running between the smaller and larger parts of Salisbury's territory.
Presently located in what Kray believes was ''Little Salisbury'' are Ring's Corner, a portion of the Newton Road, Ring's Hall, and the relatively new Masonic building. Through Mrs. Kray's research, the couple have excellent documentation for their conclusion. Either this area indeed was "Little Salisbury" and was annexed to Amesbury in 1844. or it was part of the bigger annexation in 1886 when a substantial amount of Salisbury was given over to Amesbury establishing the current boundaries. Kray stated the commoners of the town of' Salisbury first started in 1638. Twelve received from the Massachusetts Bay Colony "a grant of land with exclusive rights". The grant provided for them "to take possession of that land and to do with it what they wanted and to increase their numbers." It was the duty of the Great and General Court to grant township rights to individual men, who then as grantees, sold off or set off numbers of lots and parts of the new town. They remained as proprietors of the remaining land. They were "tenants in common", a right which could be inherited or sold. In Salisbury, there were commoners into the 20th century.
Striking a line Immediately after house lots were granted, there were two meadow land divisions, lowland and upland, and soon after settlers began to push outward into the wilderness. A large number of lots were granted toward, and west of the Powow River, and northward into the Plains and toward Hampton.
Around this same time, Christopher Batt, Samuel Winsley, and Thomas Macy were ordered to "strike a line near Hampton." On Nov. 20, 1640, a committee was chosen to set a boundary line between Colchester (now Salisbury) and Pentucket (now Haverhill).
While there is some question of the possible sites of mills closer to the center of east Salisbury, it is known that in 1641 some grants were made to use the tremendous power of the falls of the Powow. Abraham Morrill and Henry Saywood were granted the right to set up a corn mill near the falls that year, and William Osgood was granted the right to build a sawmill on the Powow River at the falls, which are thought to have been situated in the upper millyard near the junction of Pond and High Streets.
Early movement from the East Parish of Salisbury was inland rather than along waterways because the Merrimack River, although useful for transporting goods and people to the upriver communities, was also a route for the marauding Indians and French coming down from Canada. Most settlers made their homes from one to four miles from the Merrimack River.
By the early 1640's a thriving community had grown up around the two mills on the falls of the Powow. A garrison house (the Osgood house) had been built on Congress Street and another on Monroe Street on the property of the late Roy Smith. The Smith house is thought to have been a Morrill family home. A training field had been laid out on the Portsmouth Road. Schools were built and cemeteries had come into existence. Shoemakers, tanners, blacksmiths, boat builders, carpenters, and farmers were living around the plains, hills, and rivers of West Salisbury.
There was movement across the Powow River to Salisbury Newtown, which in 1668 became Amesbury.
Once a week, all men of the community over 16 years old were required to lay down the tools of their trade and assemble on the green to drill in the tactics necessary to the survival of the community. The training field at the junction of Portsmouth Road and Dark Lane (now Monroe Street) became a focal point for this activity and for the political and religious affairs of the people of the West Parish. In time, this primitive path through the Plains would become a highway connecting the ports of Boston, Newburyport and Portsmouth and the entrance into the Eastern Provinces.
First meeting house In 1716 the first West Parish Meeting House was built near the training field after a long and bitter controversy over the site. Many of the original landholders of West Salisbury left their names to posterity on the plains, hills, and waterways of the area. Christopher Batt for whom Batt's Hill and Plain were named, received land but appeared not to have settled on it. He resided in East Salisbury for about 10 years before moving to Boston where he died. One reference to his having owned a tannery on Elm Street near a brook in the Rocky Hill district has not been con firmed. There were tanneries in this area well into the 1800's.
John Clough and John Gill were probably the first to take up residence in the Plains, perhaps in 1661. The Morrills were early settlers and lived on Congress Street toward Main Street, Salisbury, in houses on the property of the Bartlett farm and on the training field near the site of the first West Parish Church; it is thought to have been a Morrill who owned or occupied the garrison house near Smith's farm. The garrison house was torn down.
The Browns owned much of the land Mount Prospect, probably to the Powow River to the south. Mr. and Mrs. Kay reside in a house on the corner of Monroe and Elm Streets. This was a very large farm through which the road to Seabrook, often known as Dark Lane, and the road (now Elm Street) to Amesbury and Salisbury Mills Village from Salisbury ran. The property abutted the West Parish parsonage land in the 1700's and 1800's. The Flanders, Evans, and True families, and others, owned many of the older houses in that vicinity.
By 1784 the West Parish meeting house was in great need of repair. Much of the population had shifted to Webster's Point (also known as Salisbury Point and after 1886, the Point Shore), and there was again clamoring for a meeting house site more convenient to the majority. The freeholders' committee eventually after much protest settled on the present Rocky Hill Meeting house site near the parsonage. The parsonage, until the construction of route 495, was on the other side of the Portsmouth Road from the building's present location.
The Rocky Hill meeting house was first used, not for a worship service, but for a Town Meeting on December 7, 1785.
As the country moved into the 19th century, other religious groups began to surface as the result of the Revolution. New freedoms taking root nationally and the privations of the Revolutionary War fermented unrest in the heretofore ingrown communities of the early settlements. The parish concept was no longer a part of the government, and new churches at Amesbury and Salisbury Mills Village and at Salisbury Point, closer to the population centers, weakened numerically the congregation of the West Salisbury Parish. As a result, the Rocky Hill Meeting house fell into disuse as a place for regular Sunday morning worship.
Many ancestors of local citizens came to this meeting house to worship and to argue, and a few of them became celebrities. Abigail Eastman, the mother of Daniel Webster, grew up in the vicinity of Rabbit Road and Joy Street (or Baker Road), and worshipped in this meeting house which her famous son later visited.
There are many documentary references to the lower Powow River Bridge but the date of its construction is yet to be determined. According to a 1761 petition for a ferry across the Merrimack River, this bridge did not exist at that time.
A later petition in 1789, indicated that the bridge by then had been constructed but that it was frequently in disrepair. This was the year that George Washington visited the area, and it is known that he did not cross the bridge across the Powow River. Instead, he was ferried down river to Webster's Wharf.
An article written by William Lowell in the late 1800's indicates that the residents of Salisbury Point (later the Point Shore) persisted by petitions for a river road for many years. The road was finally laid out from the Powow River to Rocky Hill Road in 1762. There was no road from Rocky Hill Road to Merrill Street until many years later although there were probably paths to the cemetery and to houses in that direction.
In 1791 the Essex Merrimac Co. was formed to bridge the Merrimack River at Deer Island from Newburyport and to Gunner's Point (Hawkeswood) at Salisbury Point. Granted by the General Court and built in 1792, Chain Bridge soon made all the upriver ferries obsolete.