Beverly History

A Brief History of Beverly

Early Settlement

Originally part of Salem, the area was first settled in 1626 by Roger Conant and other members of the Dorchester Company who came down from Gloucester, Massachusetts after a failed attempt at establishing a fishing station. They decided to settle in what was then called Naumkeag, part of the Agawam Indian Territory. Conant and other colonists built homesteads along the banks of the North River. Here they fished and farmed until 1628 when, a new wave of English colonists, led by John Endicott, arrived in Naumkeag. Endicott was sent by the Massachusetts Bay Company to govern the tiny settlement, replacing Conant. Disagreements between the “Old Planters” and the new arose, but were eventually resolved peacefully. In honor of this resolution, they changed the name of the settlement from Naumkeag to “Salem”— meaning the “village of peace”.

In 1635, Roger Conant and four other villagers, John Balch, Peter Palfrey, John Woodbury, and William Trask, petitioned the town of Salem for a land grant on the other side of the river, known as the “Bass River Side.” This grant was approved and each man was allotted 200 acres of farmland, totaling 1000 acres in all. These men and their wives and children soon settled the new region, building homesteads in what eventually became Beverly.

Salem Witch Trials

In 1692 Beverly, like all of Essex County, was swept by fear of witchcraft. Beverly’s minister, Reverend John Hale, was involved in the trials of those accused of practicing witchcraft, some of whom were part of his church. The accusations and arrests didn’t have the desired effect of stopping the devil in the area, which is what the colonial leaders hoped for. Although he believed in witches, as did all the participants, Reverend Hale began to question the accusations and the use of “spectral evidence” in the trials. Several years after the end of the crises, fearful that eyewitnesses accounts were not being written, he wrote a short treatise entitled, A Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft. In this book Hale tried to make sense of this black period in New England history. Writing of the difficulty they had in understanding the crises in which they found themselves enmeshed Hale wrote, “We walked in clouds and could not see our way.” Other local men, who had served as jurors, wrote a document called “A Declaration of Regret”. They apologized to the victims and their families for the suffering that the trials had caused.

Revolutionary War

Beverly citizens were well aware of the problems leading up to the war with England. In November 1774 they empowered the Selectmen to provide the town with a “Full Compliment of Arms and Ammunition.” They also supported a boycott of British goods.

Beverly played an important role through privateering in helping the colonies gain independence from England in the early days of the war. Ship owners purchased licenses issued by the government which gave them the right to attack enemy ships and seize the cargo and vessel as prizes of war. This was a lucrative means of income for local citizens and helped keep the economy going. Cargos and vessels were sold at auction, with ship owners, captain and crew all taking a cut of the proceeds. Military supplies from captured British vessels helped supply the Continental Army with desperately needed stores.

During the colonial period men from age 16 to 40 were required to join the militia, training on a regular basis. In the days leading up to the conflict with Great Britain, Beverly had three companies of militia. Some of these men were called “minutemen,” who volunteered to be ready to march “in a minute.” The militiamen responded to the call on April 19, 1775 and marched to the aid of Lexington and Concord, fighting the retreating enemy at Menotomy, today’s Arlington. Many Beverly men also served in the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington.

Washington's Navy

The first ship commissioned by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War was the privateer Hannah, a 60 ft. schooner armed with guns and cannons. In 1775, the Hannah was fitted out and sailed from John Glover’s Wharf in Beverly under Captain Nicholas Broughton. The captain and crew were given instructions to patrol the coast and attack any enemy vessels.

Battle of the Hannah and the Nautilus

On the afternoon of October 10th 1775, a skirmish between the British Royal Navy’s Man-of-War, the Nautilus and the schooner Hannah broke out. The Nautilus chased the Hannah into Beverly Harbor. The Hannah, a relatively small ship supported by a crew of only 39 men, was hardly a match for the Nautilus, which was 98 feet long and had a crew of 125 men.

The Hannah couldn’t outrun or outgun the Nautilus, so her captain purposely ran aground on the beach in Beverly, in order to unload and save the cannons. Hearing of the battle, local militia from Beverly, Manchester and Salem came to fight and began firing cannon and muskets at the Nautilus. The Nautilus, in return, fired her cannons at the Hannah, and at the town of Beverly. As the tide went out, the Nautilus became grounded in the harbor. The battle ended in a stalemate. Much damage was taken by both ships, but after four hours of fire, the British suffered only two casualties, and the Americans only one. When the tide changed, the Nautilus was able set sail again and promptly left Beverly Harbor.


After the war, Beverly continued to grow, becoming an important seaport, with vessels trading all over the world. In 1839, the railroad arrived in Beverly, which brought more people and created new industries.

The early settlers of Beverly were primarily farmers and fishermen. Dried, salted codfish was the basis of the trade with the southern colonies; merchants also traded timber as well as items for building houses, such as shingles, sawn boards, clapboards, and rough-hewn beams. Useful household items, like tallow candles, were also exported the West Indies and Europe.

After the Revolution Beverly vessels traveled to many far-flung ports including India and China. Maritime trade created a variety of support industries in Beverly, ranging from shipbuilding to rope and sail making. An off-season job for both farmers and mariners was shoe making. Eventually, the home-based shoe shop, called a ten-footer, was replaced with shoe making factories which lined much Park and Rantoul Streets.

Many other businesses and industries have flourished here over the years from cabinet and clock makers, to pewter manufactories and pottery makers. Some were not so successful. Notable was the earliest cotton mill in the country, which was visited in 1789 by President George Washington. Although Washington was impressed with what he saw of the “carding, warping, and cutting” – it was overtaken by a changing technology and went out of business by 1813.

In 1903 Beverly became the site of the United Shoe Machinery Corporation (USMC), a company that designed and manufactured machines for making shoes. The machines were distributed worldwide. In its heyday the “Shoe” employed more than 7,000 workers. The factory on Elliott Street was for many years one of the largest reinforced concrete buildings in the world. In the First World War the company sent trailers with resoling machines to France; they were able to resole 400 pairs of combat boots in a day.

During World War II, the USMC Research Department helped to develop remote control and weapons technology. The USMC was a strong and progressive company that remained in for over 80 years. In 1987, the USMC closed its doors; the complex was sold to the Cummings Properties in [1996](), which rehabilitated it into a thriving business complex.


The mid-19th century saw the beginnings of a wave of immigrants coming to Beverly to work on the grand estates as stone masons, landscapers, and gardeners. As the shoe industry became more established, they also went to work in the shoe factories and later for the USMC. These immigrants came from Italy, Canada, Sweden, Ireland and other countries to work and make a home in our community, adding to the richness and diversity of the region.

Beverly's Gold Coast Years

By the 19th Century, the North Shore had become such a beautiful and prosperous area, that many wealthy families decided to spend summers here; the arrival of the railroad in the 1840s made it a convenient place to journey. The cool ocean breezes were an added inducement. Beverly’s close proximity to Boston, New York City, and even Washington D.C., attracted notable figures such as steel magnate Henry Clay Frick, wealthy eccentric Eleonora Sears, and even President William H. Taft, who brought the White House to Beverly in the summer of 1909. Many of the homes and estates of these families still exist.

21st Century Beverly

Beverly is now a bustling city with a diverse population of people and many industries. The maritime and shoe industries have been replaced by hi-tech firms, small manufacturing companies, restaurants, and shops. Commuter trains make it convenient many people now commute from Beverly into Boston for work. There are many public parks, gardens, and beaches with beautiful views of the ocean and the islands in Salem Sound. All this beauty makes the name “Garden City” an apt one.

What to do in Beverly today

Some of Beverly's Famous People

Beverly wouldn’t be the same town it is today if it weren’t for these key individuals that helped sculpt it.

(1592 - 1679) Founder of Salem and Beverly, MA

Roger Conant

Born in Budleigh, England in 1592, Roger Conant came to New England in 1623 with his wife, Sarah. He was a salter and probably plied his trade in Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. When the fishing station in Gloucester, MA failed after just a few years, he was able to persuade several families to stay in New England. He led the tiny colony until the arrival of John Endicott in 1628. Roger Conant remained active in the affairs of the town throughout his life. In 1679, he died at the age of 87.

(1636 - 1700)

Reverend John Hale

Born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, Beverly’s first minister was educated at Harvard College, graduating in 1657. He was ordained as the first minister of the First Parish Church in Beverly in 1665, where he remained until his death. Hale was involved with the witchcraft crises of 1692. Following his wife’s death in 1697, he wrote a short treatise entitled, A Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft, which was highly critical of the trials.

(1745 - 1820) Merchant and Politician

John Cabot

Eldest of eleven children, John Cabot attended Harvard College, received an A.B. degree in 1763, and then joined his father in the merchant business in Salem. After his father, Joseph, died in 1768, the Cabot family moved to Beverly. John and his brother Andrew became successful merchants in Beverly and invested in several commercial enterprises that included fishing, foreign trade, manufacturing, and banking. John Cabot also served as representative to the General Court of Massachusetts.

(1751-1823) Merchant and Politician

George Cabot

George was born in Salem, MA and, like his brother John, attended Harvard College. However, George decided to leave college after two years to go to sea. He became captain of his own sailing vessel at the age of 21. He became active in community and political affairs throughout the Revolutionary War and into his later years. He was a delegate to the Provincial Congress in Concord, represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate, and acted as Presiding Officer of the Hartford Convention of 1814 and served as a U.S. Senator for one term.

(1748-1820) Merchant and Captain during the Revolutionary War

Moses Brown

Moses Brown was a successful Beverly merchant and captain in the Revolutionary War. He started several business ventures with Israel Thorndike, Joseph Lee and the Cabot brothers. Some of these included the founding of the Beverly Bank, the building of the first Cotton Mill and the Salem-Beverly Bridge. Brown was a descendant on his mother’s side from John Balch, one of Beverly’s founders.

(1750-1780) Revolutionary War Soldier

Nathaniel Cleaves

Nathaniel Cleaves was a Beverly soldier in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was a tailor by trade, like his father, Captain Joshua Cleaves.

During the war, Nathaniel served as First Lieutenant in Lt. Col. Israel Hutchinson’s regiment and fought in several major battles, including the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Battle of Long Island. His regiment joined with Col. John Glover’s Marblehead regiment in aiding the retreat of Washington and his troops across the East River to Manhattan. In November 1776, he was taken prisoner when the British took Fort Washington. Toward the end of the war, Nathaniel Cleaves served on privateering vessels and was reported lost at sea on his passage home from the West Indies in 1780. Historic Beverly owns the diary he kept during the beginning of the Revolutionary War on display.

(1752-1835) Lawyer and Politician

Nathan Dane

Nathan Dane was a prominent statesman and Beverly lawyer. In 1783, he was elected office in the Massachusetts State House of Representatives. He was also a member of the Continental Congress and the author of the Ordinance of 1787, which abolished slavery in the Northwest Territory. He founded the Dane Law School at Harvard University.

(1824-1893) Author and Poet

Lucy Larcom

As a young child, Beverly-born Lucy Larcom wrote poems and stories for her own amusement. When she was ten years old her father died and her mother moved the family to Lowell to run a factory boarding-house. Her mother wasn’t able to support her family and Lucy had to go to work in the mills at age 11. While working as a cotton-operative, Lucy became the editor of the Lowell Offering, a literary paper published by the girls who worked in the mills. Her writings attracted the attention of John G. Whittier, as well as other notable literary figures of the time, who encouraged her talent for writing. Lucy had several books of stories and poems

(1778-1858) Merchant and Attorney

Robert Rantoul, Sr.

Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Robert Rantoul, Sr. was a pharmacist and social reformer who lived for most of his life in Beverly.  In 1796, he opened his apothecary. He later became an attorney and magistrate and was active in local offices like the school committee and overseers of the poor. He served as State Representative from 1809-1820, as U.S. Senator from 1821-1823, and again in the House of Representatives until 1833. Rantoul was an outspoken critic of capital punishment and was an ardent supporter of the Temperance Movement, the Massachusetts Peace Society, and various charitable societies.  Explore Rantoul through our storymap.

(1805-1852) Attorney and U.S. Senator

Robert Rantoul, Jr.

Born in Beverly, MA, in 1805, Robert Rantoul, Jr. attended public schools and Phillips Academy and graduated with a degree in Law from Harvard University. He was admitted to the Massachusetts State Bar in 1829 and practiced law in many towns along the North Shore and in Boston. Rantoul had a short but distinguished career as a District Attorney, State Representative and Senator. He was an outspoken abolitionist and a strong proponent of labor unions, railroad expansion, and public education reforms. Rantoul’s most important contribution was his work towards changing the “common law” practice to a more democratic method, in which laws were codified rather than arbitrarily created by a sitting judge. In 1851, Rantoul was elected to the United States Senate and continued to serve until his death in 1852 at the age of 47.

(1809-1894) Poet, essayist, novelist, and physician

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of a minister, Holmes was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and at Harvard University. He first attained national prominence with his poem “Old Ironsides” about the 18th century frigate USS Constitution, which was to be broken up for scrap; the poem generated public sentiment that resulted in the historic ship being preserved as a monument. Holmes was one of the five members of the group known as the Fireside Poets. He contributed poems and essays to the Atlantic Monthly magazine and published several novels. In the field of medicine Dr. Holmes was an early proponent of sanitation, recognizing the dangers of not washing hands and the spread of disease among hospital patients.

(1841-1935) Justice of the Supreme Courts of Massachusetts and of the United States

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Born in Boston, MA, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. served in the Civil War with distinction, surviving three wounds and rising to the rank of Captain in the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry.

In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Holmes to the United States Supreme Court. For thirty years, from 1902 to 1932, Holmes served as US Supreme Court Justice and greatly influenced the American legal system.

(1902-1985) Politician

Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

A descendant of George Cabot and grandson of Henry Cabot Lodge, he was Harvard educated. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. worked in the newspaper business until he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1931. He was elected to the Senate in 1936, but quit in 1944 to serve in World War II. After the war, he was again elected to serve as Senator. In 1953, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Lodge left the ambassadorship during the election of 1960 to run for Vice President on the Republican ticket headed by Richard M. Nixon.

Great-great-great grandson of George Cabot and grandson of Henry Cabot Lodge

(1857-1930) Politician and Jurist

President William Howard Taft

William H. Taft was the 27th President of the United States, serving from 1909-1913. He vacationed in Beverly and for four summers brought the White House to Beverly. The “Summer White House” was a large “cottage” (pictured above) on the estate belonging to the Evans family – the house was moved and today is the site of Rose Garden at Lynch Park. In the final year of his presidency from 1912-13, Taft summered at “Parramatta”, in the Monserrat area of Beverly.