Thursday, June 26, 2014

Newbury, Massachusetts - The First Merrill Homestead

Sunlight and Shadow: The Newbury Marshes. Martin Johnson Heade (c. 1871-1875).
John and Nathaniel Merrill were born in Wherstead, Suffolk, England. They were considered rural farmers of the middle class. They possessed a character sufficient in ingenuity, depth, and independence. Acting upon their independent natures, the Merrills joined the handful of English settlers who migrated to America. It can be assumed, solely on their inclusion in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Merrills sought escape from the repressive religious policies of England.

Established by charter from King Charles I in 1629, the Massachusetts Bay Company began settling the coast of Massachusetts in 1630 as both a business venture and as a place of refuge for non-Separatist Puritans.[i] Organized much like England’s Parliament, the Massachusetts Bay Company’s government operated under a General Court (Parliament) with a House of Assistants (Lords) and a House of Deputies (Commons).[ii] Between April 1634, and July 1635, as part of “The Great Migration” Puritan settlers from Wiltshire, England, began arriving at Agawam (now Ipswich) Massachusetts.[iii] On 6 May 1635, the House of Deputies passed a resolution to establish a plantation for stock grazing in the marsh lands along the banks of the Wessacucon (now Parker) River approximately 8 miles north of Ipswich.[iv] With the arrival of the first settlers to the Wessacucon plantation it was renamed Neweberry,[v] eventually modernized to the present-day Newbury.[vi]

Newbury is a coastal town in Essex County Massachusetts, situated between the Merrimack River to the north and west, Parker River to the south, and Plum Island leeward the Atlantic Ocean on the east (Latitude 42°46′00″N Longitude 70°50′45″W). In typical Puritan fashion, the town centers on a “commons,” or central pasture, meetinghouse, and tavern, with “some residences in town for the artisans, such as the blacksmiths, cobblers, and those connected to shipping. The farmer’s residences extended out from the commons, with the wealthy and prosperous having more and better land than poorer families.”[vii]

The commons was located north of the Parker River on a verdant plat of meadow at the base of the only knoll of significant height in the region, a 168-foot high promontory, surrounded on the east and west by ample acreage of salt marsh. To the north ran a grassy plain through which ran the “way,” a road (more literally a trail) that led to the Merrimack River.  To the south, across the Parker River, by way of a ferry, was a small “piece of upland, of moderate extent,” known as the Neck, “bordering on the river, but surrounded by salt-marsh on the other sides.”[viii] It was here, around 1636, that John Merrill received his land grant, relocating from Ipswich to Newbury. According to “Proprietor’s Records, folio 38,” John Merrill was granted a house lot of four acres “on the neck over the Great [Parker] River be it more or less & is bounded by John Pemberton on the east John Caley on the west the River on the north and the way [the road between the Merrimack River and Ipswich] on the south.”[ix]

On 23 July 1638 John received a house lot on behalf of his brother Nathaniel Merrill, who had yet to arrive from England. According to the deed, “There is granted to John Merrill’s brother four acres in the neck for an house lott next his brother Jno. Merrill.”[x] Around 1665, John Merrill purchased a three acre parcel from Richard Currier. Lot 24, as it was listed in the Norfolk Deeds at Salem (Book 2, leaf 110) is described as a “higgledy-piggledy division of salt marsh.”[xi] This parcel took in the northwestern peninsula of marshland at the confluence of the Parker and Plum Island Rivers, at what would become known as Cape Merrill.[xii]

The original site of Newbury, Massachusetts with the Commons, Neck, and Cape Merrill visible.
It was here, on the Neck, and in the salt marshes east of town on the north side of Parker River that the Merrill family first settled and began farming.

Around 1665, John Merrill purchased a three acre parcel from Richard Currier. Lot 24, as it was listed in the Norfolk Deeds at Salem (Book 2, leaf 110) is described as a “higgledy-piggledy division of salt marsh.”  This parcel took in the northwestern peninsula of marsh land at the confluence of the Parker and Plum Island Rivers, at what would become known as Cape Merrill.

By 1646 John and Nathaniel received the deed for several acres of grass land comprising sections of marsh which lay directly east of the Commons. This section of land became known as Cape Merrill.

Cape Merrill is the point of land on the north side of Parker River formed by the confluence of the Parker and Plum Island Rivers. It is marshland, occasionally flooded by the tide, and its crop of salt hay for many years past has been left uncut. East of Plum Island River lies Plum Island, eight miles long, its bare sand dunes extending from the mouth of the Merrimack south to the mouth of Ipswich River.

Twelve acres, at the end of the Cape, was granted by the town to John Merrill in 1646. Receiving his name it has been known as Merrill’s Point, or Cape Merrill, to the present day. Six acres of this land he conveyed to his son-in-law, Stephen Swett, and three acres to his brother Nathaniel Merrill. By a paper recorded 25 Nov. 1671, it appears that he sold “the rest of the poynt of marsh,” at the extremity of the Cape, to Abraham Merrill for forty shillings. (Proprietors Records, fol. 38, 64.)

Further review of the history of Cape Merrill reveals an interesting tale of how the name has continued through the years.

...The land at the extremity of Cape Merrill was purchased . . . from Jonathan Ela of Haverhill, the purchase price being $35. The deed, dated 16 June, 1831, and recorded in the Essex Deeds, at Salem, in book 262, leaf 146, thus describes the land: “A certain parcel of saltmarsh situate in Newbury . . . at a place called Cape Merrill Point and is bounded Southwesterly on old Town River thirty-two rods, Westerly on land of Daniel Plummer eight rods, Northerly on my own land about thirty rods and Easterly on Plumb Island River twenty-five rods containing about three acres and one half.”

The three and a half acres at the extremity of the Cape was held in common until 18 Feb. 1858, when it was purchased by Gyles Merrill, son of Moses, and it has since been kept in the family for the sake of the name. At the death of Gyles Merrill, in 1894, it came into the possession of his son, the compiler of this Memorial, who retains it as an interesting heirloom, paying annually to the Town of Newbury on account of it a tax of about sixty cents.

The addition of marshland to the holdings of the Merrill’s may speak to the extent of growth the men experienced in their farming.

Marshland west of The Green looking toward 168-foot high Old Town Hill
The salt marshes or salt prairies of the coast may be reckoned among the natural privileges, as they produce annually, without cultivation, large crops of natural grasses. The arable land[s] . . . furnish good natural pastures for cattle and sheep all the year round, and are highly esteemed by the farmers whose lands border on them, as they constitute also an unfailing source of hay for winter use and a surplus of exportation.[xiii]

Becoming freeman around 1640 through an oath,[xiv] the Merrills were entitled to own land, become members of the church, and share in the common and undivided lands surrounding the village that were held as community property. This led much to their success as farmers; originally in 1641 John Merrill had been granted “pasturage of [only] four cattle.”[xv]

As farmers the Merrill’s lived off the land, consuming daily dishes of fish, pork, wild game, turnips, bean porridge,[xvi] hasty pudding,[xvii] and limited varieties of other meats and vegetables and grains. It wasn't until 1719 and 1720 that potatoes and coffee, respectively, were introduced into the community. Eventually, as the village grew and saw mills were constructed the early dugouts and log cabins gave way to wattle and daub frame houses, and clapboard saltbox homes.

In time – around 1644 – the Merrills relocated to Newburyport, about five miles north on the banks of the Merrimack River. Here the flooding conditions of the marsh land were avoided and the surrounding area provided a greater vantage point to ports for ships carrying cargo and exports. 

Named after the family, Merrill Street can be seen just south of the Merrimack River west of the main bridge.
Over the years, the Merrills spread out through Essex County, and the neighboring countryside, and other parts of New England.

John and Nathaniel both married and had children, though John only had one daughter. This fact gives rise to the claim that the majority of Merrill ancestors in America can trace their lineage back to Nathaniel and Susanna Merrill. Nathaniel, at his death in 1654, left six sons to carry on the Merrill name: Nathaniel, John, Abraham, Daniel, Abel, and Thomas. From those six sons are thousands of Merrill descendents. 

Nathaniel Merrill - Susanna
Abel Merrill - Priscilla Chase
Abel Merrill - Abigail Stevens
Thomas Merrill - Abigail Bartlett
Thomas Merrill - Sarah Friend
John Merrill - Mehitable Hale
Thomas Merrill - Sarah Harriman
John Thomas Merrill - Sarah Phylinda Cook
Thomas "Tom" Merrill - Ella Emily Burk
Thomas Allen Merrill - Mary Eliza James
Charles Joy Davis - Eulla Eliza Merrill

~ ~ ~

In the early 1800's, just as John and Nathaniel Merrill had left England to pursue religious beliefs, their grandchildren would also feel drawn spiritually to leave their home in pursuit of God. As it was said of Deacon Thomas Merrill, the husband of Sarah Friend, so too could it be said of all the Merrills.
A friend to virtue & to vice a rod,
A moveless pillar in the church of God
On April 1, 1846, John Thomas Merrill married Sarah Phylinda Cook; she having been born on December 19, 1826, in Newburyport to John Cook and Harriet Coffin. In time they would have three children, including a son, Thomas "Tom" Merrill.
In December 1844, following a visit from missionaries who were teaching in New England, Sarah Phylinda joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; her children, Sarah Marinda, and Tom joined in baptism around 1862.
Sarah and the family emigrated from Winter Quarters to Zion in the summer of 1862 in the Ansil P. Harmon wagon company, designated the “Fourth Church Train.” Upon their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley Sarah moved her family to Snyderville, Utah in Summit County. When her son, Tom, was old enough he moved to the Salt Lake City area, making his home in Farmington, Davis County, Utah. There he met and married 17-year-old Ella Emily Burk. They would raise seven children, including Thomas Allen Merrill.
In time Thomas Allen married Mary Eliza James, and raised nine children, including my grandmother, Eulla Eliza (Merrill) Davis.

~ ~ ~

In 1884, General Lewis Merrill, in a letter to the Reverend Samuel Lewis Merrill in Springfield, Massachusetts, said this of the "Merrill stock." 
The persistence of family traits in character and appearance is very striking. . . . I have never found one of whom I was ashamed, and have known very few in whom I could not detect the facial and gestural marks of the race. They have uniformly, in my experience, been a sober-minded, honest and capable people.
From left to right, standing, Ella, Eulla, Dolly, May, Mary Eliza Merrill, and Erleen (Ezra's wife).
Kneeling, left to right, Bob, Ezra, Joe, Paul and Burl Merrill. 

[i] US History – Massachusetts Bay Company. National Repository of Online Courses: Monterey Institute for technology and Education. (The Regents of the University of California: 2007). Online - (accessed March 10, 2014).

[ii] The Massachusetts Bay Colony. 2009. Online – (accessed March 10, 2014).

[iii] Newbury – A Brief History. Essex County Massachusetts Genealogical Project. (USGenWeb Project: 2008). Online - (accessed March 10, 2014).

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Shurtleff, Nathaniel B. Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England. (Boston, MA: 1853). 146. Digital - (accessed 10 March 2014).

[vi] Merrill, Samuel. A Merrill Memorial – An Account of the Descendants of Nathaniel Merrill, an Early Settler of Newbury, Massachusetts. (Cambridge, MA: 1928). 55-56. Digital – (accessed 10 March 2014).

[vii] Aboukhadijeh, Ferros. The New England Colonies. (StudyNotes, Inc.: 2012). Online - (accessed 10 March 2014).

[viii] A Merrill Memorial. 57.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] A Merrill Memorial . 103.

[xii] According to the deed, dated 16 June 1831 (Essex Deeds, Salem, book 262, leaf 146) the acreage at Cape Merrill was purchased from Jonathan Ela. The land is described as “a place called Cape Merrill Point and is bounded Southwesterly on old Town River thirty-two rods, Northerly on my own land of Daniel Plummer eight rods, Northerly on my own land about thirty rods and Easterly on Plumb Island Rover twenty-five rods containing about three acres and one half.” The land has remained in the possession of the Merrill family through 1894, when Samuel Merrill acquired the deed at a tax of sixty cents annually for the sole purpose of retaining the heirloom name of the location. To this day, Cape Merrill is the recognized name for this marshland peninsula (Lat 42.7556482, Log -70.8156061).

[xiii] Moonsammy, Cohen, Williams, Pinelands Folklife (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 143-144 as quoted in From Marsh to Farm – The landscape transformation of coastal New Jersey. National Park Service. (2005) Online - (accessed 24 June 2014).

[xiv] Freeman’s Oath: “I ________being by gods providence, an Inhabitant, and Freeman, within the Jurisdiction of this Commonwealth; do freely acknowledge myself to be subject to the Government thereof: And therefore do here swear by the great and dreadful Name of the Ever-living God, that I will be true and faithful to the same, and will accordingly yield assistance and support there unto, with my person and estate, as in equity I am bound; and will also truly endeavor to maintain and preserve all the liberties and privileges thereof, submitting myself to the wholesome Laws and Orders made and established by the same. And further, that I will not plot or practice any evil against it, or consent to any that shall so do; but will timely discover and reveal the same to lawful Authority now here established, for the speedy preventing thereof. Moreover, I do solemnly bind myself in the sight of God, that when I shall be called to give my voice touching any such matter of this State, in which Freemen are to deal, I will give my vote and suffrage as I shall judge in mine own conscience may best conduce and tend to the public weal of the body, So help me God in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

[xv] Currier, History of Newbury. 54, as quoted in A Merrill Memorial. 103.

[xvi] Bean porridge was made cooking beans with salt pork for several hours. Once soft, a beef hock and cubed meat was added to the beans along with additional water and the mixture was cooked throughout the day. When thoroughly cooked, cornmeal was added to the mixture as a thickener.

[xvii] Hasty pudding comes in a variety of recipes. Most commonly it consists of ground wheat, oats, or corn being cooked with water into a thick porridge-like consistency, much like today’s cream of wheat, oatmeal, or grits.

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