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About Essex County

Gloucester Mural by Veterans' Elementary School Students, participants in the 2011 Gloucester Education Foundation sponsored Summer Literacy Program.
About Essex County, Massachusetts

Essex County was established in 1643. It has a total area of 501 square miles and a coastline that is 493 miles long! The county consists of 34 cities and towns and has a population of over 750,000 people. An incredible 25% of land here is under conservation.

Fun Facts!

North Andover
In 2003, the Museum of Printing in North Andover became the primary destination for anyone seeking information about the history of printing in America.
  • Andover
    The Peabody Museum at Philips Academy in Andover is a major repository of American Indian artifacts.
  • Beverly
    The first ship commissioned by the United States military was the armed schooner, Hannah. It first sailed from Beverly Harbor on September 5, 1775. For this reason, Beverly is known as the "Birthplace of America's Navy".
  • Danvers
    The Endicott Pear Tree in Danvers is believed to be the oldest living cultivated fruit tree in North America.
  • Gloucester
    The first published essay calling for the equality of the sexes was written in Gloucester by Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820), appearing in 'The Massachusetts Magazine' in 1790.
  • Lawrence
    Lawrence is home to the Ayer Mill Clock Tower, the largest mill clock in the world and the second largest tower clock— just 6 inches smaller than Big Ben!
  • Lynn
    Lynn Woods is the largest municipal park in New England, and the second largest in the country at 2,200 acres.
  • Newburyport
    The story of what would become the National Biscuit Company, now Nabisco, began in 1792 in Newburyport when Pearson & Sons Bakery created 'Pilot Bread', a sturdy biscuit that could withstand the conditions aboard sailing ships.
  • Saugus
    The first American ironworks was established in Saugus in 1650.
  • Topsfield
    The Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, located in Topsfield, is the Audubon Society's largest wildlife sanctuary in Massachusetts.



Essex County's early years...

Compiled as part of a research project by ECCF Founder, David Tory


1004 It is said that Thorwold the Norseman visited the shore line of southern Essex County between Cape Ann and Nahant. Some conjecture that he might even have been buried in Nahant.
1497 Explorer, John Cabot, reported that the local natives in Newfoundland refferred to cod by the basque name of “baccalaos” picked up by their frequent contacts with basque fishing boats. By the mid 1500’s there were hundreds of French, English, Spanish and Portuguese boats fishing for cod off Newfoundland.
1524 Giovanni da Verazzano, who was looking for a passage to China, surveyed the North American coast line including Cape Ann.
1602 Bartholomew Gosnold landed on Cape Ann and met natives whose Chief wore a pair of breeches and a waistcoat, sailed what looked like a basque sailing shallop and whose language included some French words.
1604 Samuel de Champlain and George Weymouth (1605) visited and surveyed the coastline of Essex County.
1614 Captain John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, explored the coast line, first naming Cape Ann Tragabigzanda after a Turkish aquaintance.
1623 The first fishing settlement was established in Gloucester. However, after the first year, most of the settlers returned to England leaving 14 farmers behind over the winter to try and establish self-sustaining crops. Over the next three years the settlement increased to about 50 people, including families of both fishermen and farmers. They came from England’s west country, the counties of Devon and Dorset and were brought over by the Dorchester Company, a fish trading company. The Dorchester Company appointed Roger Conant, a Plymouth pilgrim, to manage the settlement.
1624 Prince Charles who later became Charles I of England, renamed the area Cape Ann after his mother.
1626 Eventually, most of the Gloucester settlers returned to England. Those that remained followed Roger Conant down the coast to a place that offered better farming opportunities called Naumkeag (the name of the local tribe), later renamed Salem.
1629 Another group of about 100 puritans organized by the Dorchester Company, and led by John Endecott arrived in Namkeag usurping Roger Conant. After the two leaders made peace the town was renamed Salem (meaning “peace” in Hebrew) in their honor.

The Great Migration - During this period, over 20,000 mostly puritan settlers from East Anglia and the midlands of England, followed John Winthrop to colonize Massachusetts. A few thousand of them moved along the coast and up the rivers of Essex County.

The Great Migration was caused by increasing intolerance and persecution of puritans in England. The puritans abhorred the catholic dogma that remained in the Anglican church following its separation from Rome, as well as the ceremony and hierarchy of the Anglican Church which the puritans considered antithetical to their beliefs in simplicity of worship and direct communication with God.

John Winthrop became the leader of the movement to seek a new world where they could worship and build the society they believed God had intended. The mass migration ceased when the puritan movement became so strong in England that it resulted in Civil War and puritan victory under Oliver Cromwell and the execution of Charles I.

1643 In 1643, Massachusetts was divided into four counties to establish manageable administrative and judicial oversight. The four counties were Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk and Norfolk. At this time, Essex County consisted of just ten towns: Salem, Lynn, Gloucester, Ipswich, Rowley, Newbury, Salisbury, Hampton, Haverhill and Andover.

Thanks to the Gloucester Education Foundation for sharing the artwork at top of page. The mural of Gloucester was created by Veterans' Elementary School Student participants in the 2011 Gloucester Education Foundation sponsored Summer Literacy Program.