Massey’s Cove

Sometimes I feel sorry for the so-called “Old Planters”, the very first European settlers of Salem (which they called Naumkeag), who arrived in 1626 from the failed colony further north on Cape Ann. They are a rather overlooked lot. For two years they maintained their own isolated settlement until John Endecott arrived with more settlers and authority and transformed the rather loose Naumkeag into the rather staunch Salem, under the aegis of the Massachusetts Bay Company. And thus the Old Planters gave way to the New. Salem recognizes the Old Planters with a prominent statue of its leader, Roger Conant (who had made his way from Plymouth to Cape Ann to Salem), which is unfortunately located in close proximity to the Salem Witch Museum, thus he is often misidentified and/or overlooked: I shudder to remember all the ridiculous things I have heard tourists say about Conant as I have passed by. The other site associated with these men (and their families) is unmarked and removed: this is their landing place on the north side of the Salem peninsula and the North River: most often called “Massey’s Cove” in the sources. Salem’s great antiquarian/historian from a century ago, Sidney Perley, places this location at the foot of Skerry Street, but the train tracks and Route 1A bypass road that was built a couple of years ago have rendered it relatively inaccessible. Even though it is a very idealistic perspective, probably the best way to ponder Massey’s Cove is by looking Marblehead folk artist J.O.J. Frost’s naïve painting, The Hardships + Sacrifice Masseys Cove Salem 1626 The First Winter. A mighty nation was born God leading these noble men and women, painted in the 1920s.

Massey's Cove Frost

Massey's Cove crop

John Orne Johnson Frost, The Hardships and Sacrifice, Massey’s Cove, Salem 1626, Collection of Historic New England.

And then of course we also have Perley’s seventeenth-century maps from the Essex Antiquarian–not very embellished but most likely pretty accurate. Perley believed that the Old Planters erected 19 cottages along the shore, all of which had disappeared by 1661. The oldest house in this first-settled section of Salem to survive well into the twentieth century was the Ephraim Skerry House on Conant Street, a late First Period house built in the early eighteenth century. It was demolished in 1990, to make way for the bypass road. I tried to conjure up some sort of historical feeling for the Old Planters by accessing some photographs (from MACRIS, dated 1985) of the Old Skerry House, but it didn’t work, as it was just too new.

Massey's Cove map Perley

Massey's cove map Perley detail

Massey's Cove

Massey's Cove Collage.jpg

The Ephraim Skerry House on Conant Street, built between 1710-1724, demolished 1990.


10 responses to “Massey’s Cove

  • Emerson Baker (@EmersonWBaker)

    There was an archaeological survey of the Rte 1A Bypass Corridor prior to its construction. Unfortunately they found no evidence of that early occupation. Not sure if it was already destroyed, or if it lies outside the bounds of corridor.

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  • kinneret

    Very nice… I had not heard much of this history. I’m actually a Mayflower descendant and I feel like I need to teach my children more of the histories.

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  • Denise Hoefer

    I enjoy all of your posts and found this one of particular interest as we live in Western Massachusetts at Santarella in the former home of Sir Henry Hudson Kitson, sculptor of the Roger Conant statue and hope to get to Salem to see it sometime. Thank you for all of the continual, interesting topics and photos!

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  • hannahdd

    Thank you Donna. That precise location is nice to know. Next time I walk down there I shall stop and honor it.

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  • helenbreen01

    Hi Donna,

    Very interesting piece. These “old planters” deserve recognition. What a hard life it must have been for them.

    Also, to kinneret who is a Mayflower descendant – have you read MAYFLOWER, THE STORY OF COURAGE, COMMUNITY, AND WAR by Nathan Philbrick? A fabulous read.

    Always enjoy your posts…

    Liked by 1 person

  • THe Ancestor I’d Like to Meet | Crafting in the 21st Century

    […] Seger, eminent author of the Streets of Salem blog, wrote in her “Massey’s Cove” post in 2016, that Roger Conant and his associates got short shrift in the history books. The famous statue of […]

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  • jmswtlk24

    This comment is a little late, however, since the blog’s post have been a nice find several times over the years when doing a ‘trolling’ (fishing, in a good sense) query, I wanted to add something with regard to the Old Planters (one of our interests). Today, I got here indirectly. Since I have been reading all of Sidney’s TEA issues, especially those maps of his which match up well with the modern view, I noticed Henry Lunt on one map, he of Newbury. And, upon looking at areas of North River (upriver, it ain’t no river, now), I see that this was where Sidney thought Roger might have come with his crew. But, I noticed, too, the other people on the map. That got this post motivated.
    https://thomasgardnerofsalem.blogspot.com/2019/05/masseys-cove.html
    We’ll be doing this review in more detail. Please note, this post links to the blog on Henry Lunt which points to The Massachusetts Magazine. Rev. Waters was the first Editor. I mention this as a great source of research can be the work of those 100 years ago who looked back. We can use that as a basis for reviewing what we might know (or think that we do).
    About which, I have uncovered the fact that 200+ graves were dealt with in a way that is other than respectful. In Essex County, no less. Thomas Gardner, himself, and his remains were stepped on, so to speak. We’ll be bringing this discussion to fore as we fill in the picture so as the 400th will allow a proper telling of the tales that were suppressed 100 years ago.

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