On September 6, 1638, the secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Simon Bradstreet, was granted the right to him and eleven other men to begin a plantation north of the Merrimack River. This land grant included what are now the towns of Amesbury and Merrimack, Massachusetts as well as the New Hampshire towns of Seabrook, South Hampton, Newton, Hampstead, Plaistow, and Kingston. The settlement was first called Colchester, but when it was incorporated the next year, it was renamed Salisbury, after Salisbury in Wiltshire, England. The original residents were given one lot near the center of town, where they could build a house, plus a larger planting lot just outside the center for farming. Families also owned large sections of “sweepage lots” near the beach, where they harvested the salt marsh hay.
The original roads at the center of the town formed a compact semicircle, which allowed the residents to quickly reach the garrison house in case of Indian attacks. One of the two greatest fears at the time was the Naumkeag tribe of Indians, thus the men of the town took turns standing watch against a surprise attack, especially at night. The Naumkeag, however, had been decimated by the plague, and the threat was not what they thought it might be. The second threat came from wolves, which were plentiful, and would often kill the settlers’ livestock.
One of the original founding families of the settlement were Richard and Ursula North, who had immigrated from England with their children. In 1639, they lived with the other settlers on plots along the “circular road” in the center of the village. Richard’s daughter, by his first marriage, was Susannah North Martin, who would be accused and hanged for witchcraft during the hysteria of 1692. Though she lived in Amesbury at the time of her accusation, another Salisbury resident would play a key part in her trial.
Robert Pike, one of the founders of Salisbury and a prominent man who held a number of political positions over the years was responsible for recording much of the testimony against Susanna North Martin, who would be executed for witchcraft on July 19, 1692. However, Robert Pike would later become a vocal opponent to the entire affair when accusations were made against Mary Perkins Bradbury, whose son was married to Pike’s daughter. In August 1692, he wrote a forceful letter to Judge Jonathan Corwin attacking spectral evidence. As long as spectral evidence was admissible in court, he wrote, “the Devil is accuser and witness.”
After the whole witch affair, Salisbury continued to grow, profiting from its upland farms, boat building, and its position on a major overland trade route to the north.
In 1866, Beach Road was constructed across Great Marsh, providing access to the town’s five miles of pristine beach. This area soon developed into a thriving summer resort that was lined with hotels, restaurants, shops, cottages, arcades, and amusement parks.
Around 1900, the Ocean Echo was built at Salisbury Beach at the end of Broadway. The building was a large dance pavilion built on wooden pylons directly over the beach and ocean. Unfortunately, the building burned down after an arsonist set it on fire in January 1920. The next year, the Ocean Echo was rebuilt and operated until 1937 when it was auctioned off and later remodeled into a new music venue called the Frolics.
A carousel called The Flying Horses, hand-carved by Charles I. D. Looff, was installed in 1914. John Miller built The Sky Rocket, the beach’s first roller coaster. A Dodgem ride, originally built by Max and Harold Stoeher of Methuen, operated at Salisbury Beach in one form or another from 1920 to 1980. Major entertainers provided concerts, including Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Liberace.
Unfortunately, most of the historic buildings at Salisbury Beach were destroyed by a series of fires in the early half of the 20th century. However, the resort remained vibrant through the 1960s, then gradually faded. WildCat, the last roller coaster, was razed in 1976. Pirate’s Fun Park, the last small amusement park, closed in 2004 to be replaced with condominiums. Other buildings were demolished to make way for the Salisbury Beach State Park.
Today, Salisbury continues to be highly diverse geographically, encompassing sixteen square miles of farms, beach, marshlands, and both residential and commercial space. Now supporting a neighborhood of restored antique homes and riverfront marine businesses, it is called home to about 8,300 people.
The Salem Witchcraft Hysteria (main article)