The Port of Salem may be one of the most famous towns in the United States but not for its maritime status. Located in the State of Massachusetts, the Port of Salem is just about miles south of Beverly Harbor and just over 19 nautical miles (22 kilometers or 13.7 miles by air) northeast of Boston. Salem Bay Harbor is an inlet of Massachusetts Bay. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Port of Salem was a leading shipping and ship-building center for New England. But its lasting claim to fame is the infamous 1692 witchcraft trials.
Today, the Port of Salem's economy is based on tourism, health care, retail trade, financial services, and higher education. A diverse light manufacturing sector also contributes to the Port of Salem economy. It is also the birthplace of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne who wrote The House of the Seven Gables. One of the most popular attractions in the Port of Salem is Pioneer Village, a reconstruction of the early settlement. The 2010 US Census reported a population of over 41 thousand in the Port of Salem.
Before Europeans came to the future Port of Salem, the indigenous Massachuset Nation lived there. These Algonquian-speaking people were descendants of natives who had lived in the area for between 15 and 30 thousand years. Archaeological evidence confirms that the area has been inhabited for at least 6.5 thousand years.
Before Europeans arrived in droves, most of the Massachuset had fallen to plagues brought from Europe. Then the new immigrants drove those who survived away from the Port of Salem toward the south. From 1630 until 1640, a period called the Great Migration, over 20 thousand settlers came from England to the future Massachusetts.
White men arrived in the Port of Salem area to find the native Massachuset fishing and farming from season to season. Some of the people were converted to Christianity, and they created an alphabet and a Bible in their language. The people were forced to live in "Praying Villages" as part of the colonists' attempt to convert them. In the 1670s, the Massachuset joined in King Philip's War, earning the distrust of the Europeans.
In 1869, the State made the Massachuset citizens of the United State, effectively ending their status as a sovereign Nation. Today, the people are organized under the Massachuset-Ponkapoag Tribal Council.
In 1626, a group of fishermen from Cape Ann led by Roger Conant established the Port of Salem on the site of a Native American village at the mouth of the Naumkeag River. Originally called Naumkeag, the settlement was named Salem three years later, a form of the Hebrew word shalom.
John Endecott, thought by some to be the State's first governor, was instrumental in developing the early Port of Salem. He signed the 1639 contract for converting the meeting house into the First Church of Salem, the first Puritan church in North America.
The early Port of Salem included much of the surrounding area, including Marblehead. Most of those accused of witchcraft lived in the nearby Salem Village, known as Danvers today. Salem Village also encompassed today's Beverly, Peabody, Middleton, Wenham, Topsfield, and Manchester-by-the-Sea.
During King Philip's War, Port of Salem businessman William Hathorne led his troops to victory. Hathorne was also a passionate advocate for personal rights against the British. The Puritans had traveled to Massachusetts and the Port of Salem for religious freedom, but they were not compelled to offer that freedom to others. Their laws were unforgiving, and punishments might include taking a person's property or banishing or imprisoning them.
During the era of the witchcraft trials, John Hathorne (William's son) rose to notoriety as the leading judge. He earned the nickname "Hanging Judge" for sentencing accused witches to death.
During the American Revolution, the Port of Salem became a center for privateers. Nearly 800 vessels commissioned for privateering are said to have destroyed or captured around 600 British ships.
By the late 1700s, the Port of Salem was the sixth biggest city in the new United States. The Port of Salem was known around the world as a seaport, especially for its trade with China. Exports of codfish went to Europe and the West Indies, and imported molasses and sugar came from the West Indies. Tea came to the Port of Salem from China, and pepper came from Sumatra. Ships from the Port of Salem visited Russian, Japan, Africa, and Australia. When the War of 1812 began, the Port of Salem once again became a privateering center.
Prosperity created by the Port of Salem brought many mansions designed by Samuel McIntire, one of the country's first architects for whom the Port of Salem's biggest historic district is named. Today, these Colonial America homes and mansions are the biggest concentration of pre-1900 homes in the country.
The Port of Salem was incorporated as a city in 1836. Nathaniel Hawthorne oversaw the port from 1846 to 1849 where he worked in the Customs House. The beginning of his The Scarlet Letter was set at the Port of Salem's Pickering Wharf.
Shipping in the Port of Salem declined in the 19th Century. The harbor continued to silt up, making it too shallow for large commercial vessels. Commercial traffic increasingly went to Boston and New York. The decline in commercial shipping brought a move to manufacturing in the Port of Salem. Shoe factories, tanneries, and the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company became the city's economic base.
In 1914, the Great Salem Fire destroyed over 400 homes in the Port of Salem, making 3500 families homeless. Luckily, the historic homes on Chestnut Street were not harmed.
In early 1935, the US Coast Guard created a seaplane facility in the Port of Salem because it had no expansion space at the Gloucester Air Station. The Coast Guard Station was charged with search and rescue, medical evacuations, and looking for derelicts. During the first year, they conducted 26 medical evacuations.
Air crews based in the Port of Salem few neutrality patrols along the coast during World War II. They patrolled the seas for submarines. Then in late 1944, the Air Station Salem was designated an Air-Sea Rescue station, the first one on the United States' eastern coast. However, strong winds and heavy waves forced a transfer of the air station to Cape Cod in 1970.
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