Rowley, Massachusetts

Early day Rowley, Massachusetts.

Early day Rowley, Massachusetts.

Rowley, Massachusetts, located in Essex County, was first settled in the spring of 1639 as a plantation by Reverend Ezekiel Rogers.

As more people came to the area, the town of Rowley was incorporated the following spring, including portions of modern-day Byfield, Georgetown, and Haverhill. The town was named after Rowley, Yorkshire, England, where Rogers had served as pastor for 20 years before coming to the United States.

A church was built that first year, and the Reverend Rogers became its pastor in December. In the early 1640s, two mills were built, and the town soon became known for its hemp, flax, and cotton cloth. In 1642, a Keystone arch bridge and a dam were built on the Mill River. North America’s first stone arch bridge was constructed entirely of hand-chiseled granite and contained no mortar. It was rebuilt in the mid-19th Century. In 1669, a sawmill was established, which is still in business today. During this time, agriculture and livestock were the focus of the economy, and was known for growing hemp and flax cloth, as well as cotton.

In 1675, the westerly section of the Rowley, known as the “Merrimack Lands,” or “Rowley Village by Merrimack,” which began to be settled in about 1650, was incorporated as a separate town called Bradford. By 1680, Rowley was called home to about 129 families. In 1685, the southwestern section of the town, long known as “Rowley Village,” was incorporated as the town of Boxford. In 1689, several Rowley men were ordered to defend Haverhill and Dover against the Indians, but it is not known that they were slain. In 1690, when Sir William Phips led an expedition against Quebec during King Phillip’s War, Rowley furnished one captain, Philip Nelson, one lieutenant, and thirty other men. Of these, John Bailey and Moses Wood died on their way to Canada.

Witch in Jail

Witch in Jail

When the witch hysteria broke out, Rowley had its share of accused, including John Howard, John Jackson, Sr., and John Jackson, Jr., who were thought to have been related to Elizabeth Jackson Howe of Topsfield, who had been found guilty and hanged July 19, 1692. Also accused was Mary Post, the daughter of  Mary Tyler Post Bridges of Andover, who had also been accused of witchcraft. But Rowley’s saddest loss was Margaret Stevenson Scott, an impoverished woman in her 70’s, who was hanged on September 22, 1692.

A month later, Rowley would see more turmoil on October 23, when Rowley suffered its only Indian raid. In what was then called Byfield Parish, and now called Georgetown, Benjamin Goodrich, his wife, and two daughters were killed by the Indians. Another daughter named Deborah, who was seven, was taken captive but redeemed at the province’s expense the following year.

In 1731, part of the town called “New Rowley,” now Georgetown, was incorporated as the Second Parish, and a church was organized the following year.

In the following years, several Rowley men served in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.

A post office was established in 1804, and James Smith was appointed the first postmaster. For the War of 1812, the town furnished 31 men.

Before long, tanning and the manufacture of boots and shoes were prevalent in the community, and a bank was established in 1836. A Baptist Church was organized in November 1839.

A military company called Poor’s Rifle Guards, led by Captain J. Scott Todd, was organized in July 1855. A decade later, the town furnished its full quota of men for the Civil War and displayed the same patriotic spirit as in the old Revolutionary War.

During the year ending May 1, 1865, Rowley manufactured 5,650 pairs of boots and 26,310 pairs of shoes, employing 76 people. The number of bushels of shellfish taken was 7,304, valued at $3,527, and the number of hands employed six months in the business was 15. There were 132 farms, embracing 10,085 acres and employing 159 people. The gallons of milk sold was 7,273, valued at $1,306.20. The woodland was estimated at 2,000 acres, and the number of apple trees cultivated for their fruit was 11,568; of pear trees, 756. A carriage factory was built in 1868 by Moses E. Daniels.

The Jewell Mill in Rowley, Massachusetts still stands.

The Jewell Mill in Rowley, Massachusetts, still stands.

At the start of the 20th century, the town boasted a booming shoe industry and successful boat-building businesses.

The Rowley Historical Society, established in 1918, continues to preserve its first-period home and all aspects of Rowley’s history. Tours of the museum are offered by appointment. It is located in the historic Platts-Bradstreet House at 233 Main Street.

Today, this small town of about 6,300 people is filled with colonial homes and later architectural styles.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated June 2023.

Also See:

The Salem Witchcraft Hysteria (main article)

Accused “Witches”

Puritans of New England

Towns Involved

Timeline of the Salem Witchcraft Events