History of Ipswich, Massachusetts

Ipswich is a charming and historic town in Massachusetts. It is home to the largest number of historic houses in America and has the oldest double-arch stone bridge in America.

The area was first settled by paleoindians thousands of years ago and was home to the Agawam tribe before being settled by English colonists in the 17th century.

The following a history of Ipswich, Mass:

9000 BP:

  • Paleoindians establish a settlement in Ipswich at Bull Brook.


  • Captain John Smith makes a draft of his map of New England and names Ipswich Agawam. Prince Charles changes the name to Southampton.

1616 – 1619:

  • An epidemic in the Native-American villages of New England greatly decimates the native population in Agawam.


  • On July 4, the sagamore of Agawam is banished from the colonist’s house for one year.
  • On August 8, around 100 Tarrentines attack the Agawam, killing seven men, wounding John and James Sagamore and others, and capturing James’ wife and others.


  • In March, Ipswich is settled by John Winthrop Jr and twelve other Massachusetts Bay colonists, including William Clerk, Robert Coles, Thomas Howler, John Biggs, John Gage, Thomas Hardy, William Perkins, John Thorndike and William Sarjeant, who call the settlement Agawam.
  • On April 1, the Court of Assistants forbids anyone else to live in the new settlement without their permission, except for the existing 13 settlers.
  • On June 11, Thomas Sellen receives permission to become an inhabitant.


  • On August 4, Ipswich is incorporated into the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Court of Assistants and is renamed after Ipswich, England.
  • The Old North Burial Ground is established on High Street.


  • On June 8, Masconnomet, the leader of the Agawam tribe, sells Ipswich to John Winthrop Jr for 20 pounds.


  • In the southwest part of Ipswich, in what is now modern-day Middleton, an Indian plantation exists on a hill called Will Hill, which is named after a local native called William who owned a considerable amount of land in the area.


  • The Giddings-Burnham House, a first period Colonial-style house, is constructed by carpenter George Giddings on Argilla Road.


  • The Agawam and the other tribes have their guns returned to them, having been taken from them because it was suspected that they were planning to attack the colonists.


  • On March 8, Masconomet allows himself and his subjects to be placed under the rule and protection of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and agree to be instructed in the Christian religion.


  • A local native named Peckanaminet, alias Ned, sells his eight square miles of land near the Merrimack River to the town for 30 pounds.
  • The Ipswich jail is constructed near the meeting house.


  • On March 6, the sagamore of the Agawam tribe, Masconomet, dies and is buried on Sagamore Hill in what is now modern-day Hamilton. He was the last Agawam chief to rule there.
  • On June 18, the town grants a parcel of land to Masconomet’s widow.


  • On March 6, a young man named Robert Cross digs up Masconomet’s remains and carries his skull on a pole through the streets of Ipswich, for reasons unknown. Cross is imprisoned, sent to the stocks, fined and is forced to rebury Masconomet’s body and build a two-foot-tall pile of stones over his grave.


  • On March 30, a prisoner escapes from the Ipswich jail, which is the first jail break in American history. He was later recaptured and stated that he escaped because the prison was cold.


  • On February 21, the town grants two or three acres of land to Ned.
  • The Dr. John Calef House is constructed by Deacon Thomas Knowlton on Poplar Street. It was later occupied by loyalist John Calef in the late 1770s.


  • The James Burnham House is constructed on Heartbreak Road.
  • The John Whipple house is constructed by Captain John Whipple at the corner of Market Street and Saltonstall Street.
John Whipple House in Ipswich, Mass


  • On December 23, several natives living in a wigwam in Ipswich are given provisions by the town.


  • The town awards a small quantity of land to Ned and his family and to Masconomet’s daughter and her children.


  • The Shoreborne Wilson House, a Colonial-style house, is constructed sometime between 1685 and 1692 by local cooper Shoreborne Wilson, on South Main Street.


  • Reverend John Wise publicly denounces British taxation without representation.


  • The Thomas Knowlton house is constructed on Summer Street.


  • On February 18, the town gives Ned, who is about 82 years old, some provisions.
  • On December 30, the town gives another native, Robert, some provisions as well.
  • The Nathaniel Rust Mansion, a Colonial-style mansion, is constructed on the South Green.
  • The Ross Tavern, known at the time as the Lord-Collins house, is constructed in downtown Ipswich.
Ross Tavern in Ipswich, Mass


  • In the spring, four women from Ipswich, Elizabeth Howe, Rachel Clinton, Joan Braybrook and her stepdaughter Mehitable, are arrested on charges of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.
  • On July 19, Elizabeth Howe is hanged at Proctor’s Ledge in Salem.


  • The Paine-Dodge House, a Colonial-style farmhouse, is constructed by colonist Robert Paine on the Greenwood Farm.


  • The town votes to build a new meeting house, about 60 feet long and 60 feet wide, on the “sightly hill top.” The old meeting house nearby is leveled.
  • The Isaac Goodale House, a first period Colonial-style house, is constructed about 1700.
  • The Thomas Low House, a 2 ½ story Federal-style house, is constructed on Heartbreak Road.


  • The Old Linebrook Cemetery is established on Linebrook Road.


  • A poorhouse is constructed in Ipswich.


  • The House on Labor-In-Vain road, a Colonial-style house, is constructed.
  • The Smith House, a Colonial-style house, is constructed sometime between 1720 and 1725 on Argilla Road.


  • There are only three remaining families of Native-Americans living in Ipswich. They live in three wigwams at Wigwam Hill. A few years later, they had left Ipswich as well.


  • The Burnham-Patch house, a Colonial-style house, is constructed on Turkey Road.


  • The Benjamin Grant House, a 2 ½ Georgian-style house, is constructed on County Street.
  • The Ross Tavern is relocated to the south-east side of Choate Bridge.


  • The Choate Bridge is constructed on Main Street.
Choate Bridge, Ipswich, Mass in 1934


  • The old 1652 Ipswich jail is torn down and a new jail, a 2-story gambrel roof building, is constructed.


  • On August 29, the town votes in favor of giving 100 pounds to the distressed residents of Boston “who are suffering in the cause of the country.”


  • The population of Ipswich is just over 4,500 people.


  • The Heard-Lakeman House, a 2 ½ story Colonial-style house, is constructed on Turkey Shore Road.


  • The Merrifield House, a Federal-style house built by Revolutionary War veteran Francis Merrifield Jr, is constructed on Woods Lane.


  • A new stone jail is constructed near what is now modern day County Street. The old 1771 jail is torn down and the land is sold to Rev. David Tenney Kimball.


  • The town votes to buy the farm owned by John Lummus and create a town farm, a working farm that served as a poor house.


  • The Green Street Jail is constructed on Green Street.


  • The population of Ipswich is 2,949 people.


  • The Nathaniel Rust Mansion is relocated by Asa Brown to County Street and is renovated using Federal-style modifications.


  • Two brick lighthouses, the Ipswich Light Range, are constructed at Crane Beach.


  • The Essex County Receptacle for the Insane is established in Ipswich.


  • The Howe Barn is constructed on Linebrook Road.


  • The County Street Bridge is constructed on County Street.


  • The Ipswich Hosiery Mills are established by Amos A. Lawrence in the old stone mill on the Ipswich river.


  • By 1880, the town farm is no longer cost effective and is phased out and used primarily as housing for the elderly poor.


  • The Ipswich Rear Range Light at Crane Beach is replaced by a cast iron lighthouse.


  • The Green Street Bridge is constructed sometime in the late 1890s on Green Street.


  • A stone is inscribed and placed on Masconomet’s grave to mark his grave on Sagamore Hill.
  • Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr. purchases 2,100 acres of land on Argilla Road.


  • The Immigrant Cemetery is established on Fowler Lane.
  • The town establishes a Garbage Department in which food waste is collected and taken to the town farm to be fed to livestock.


  • The population of Ipswich is 6,272 people.


  • The Benjamin Stickey Cable Memorial Hospital is constructed at the junction of routes 1A and route 133.


  • The John Whipple House is relocated to its present location on Main Street and restored to its 1683 appearance.


  • The Crane family mansion, a 59-room Stuart-style mansion, is constructed on the Crane Estate on Argilla Road.
  • The town farm closes down. The farm later serves as a town dump, a transfer station, a cemetery, a composting facility and an auto salvage yard.


  • The Isaac Goodale House is relocated to its current location on Argilla Road.


  • The Green Street jail is torn down and replaced by a new high school.


  • The Ross Tavern is relocated to Jefferys Neck Road.


  • The Town Manager Charter is adopted which reforms the town government. This charter is later rescinded, regained and then lost again,


  • In the spring, the Bull Brook fluted point site is discovered on the south side of Bull Brook and is excavated by members of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society.


  • Town Manager-Selectmen Charter is adopted.


  • A proposal is made to build a nuclear power plant on the site of the former town farm on Town Farm Road.


  • The proposal to build a nuclear power plant on Town Farm Road is defeated at a town meeting.
  • A large stone monument is placed at Masconomet’s grave during a memorial service.


  • The Benjamin Stickey Cable Memorial Hospital closes.


  • The North American Wolf Foundation is founded in Ipswich.


  • The North American Wolf Foundation opens a wolf sanctuary, Wolf Hollow, on Essex Road.


  • An official Native-American ceremony is performed at Masconomet’s grave.
  • By the late 20th century, the population of Ipswich is 13,085 people.


  • Voters approve the construction of a windmill on the site of the former town farm on Town Farm Road.


  • Voters approve the construction of a second windmill on Town Farm Road.

Pin it for later:

Felt, Joseph B. History of Ipswich, Essex and Hamilton. Charles Folsom, 1834.
Ipswich Reconnaissance Report. Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, mass.gov/doc/ipswich/download
Smith, Bonnie Hurd. “When Agawam Became Ipswich.” Wicked Local, wickedlocal.com/article/20080715/NEWS/307159670
“1 South Green, the Captain John Whipple House.” Historic Ipswich, historicipswich.org/the-whipple-house-south-green/
“Ipswich and the Salem Witch Trials.” Historic Ipswich, historicipswich.org/2015/03/25/ipswich-and-the-salem-witchcraft-trials/
“John Whipples House, Ipswich, Massachusetts.” Whipples.org, whipples.org/photos/johnwhipplehouse.html
“The Crane Estate.” Crane Estate Events, craneestateevents.com
“Ipswich: More Historic Homes Than Any Place in America.” WCVB, wcvb.com/article/ipswich-more-historic-homes-than-any-place-in-america/8122553#
“History.” Ipswichma.gov, ipswichma.gov/493/History
“History.” Ipswichma.gov, ipswichma.gov/799/History

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site’s About page to find out more about Rebecca.