Salem’s History

“Still making history.” That’s our tagline, but it’s so much more. It’s everything that made Salem come to life, and everywhere we’ll go next. It’s witches, and ocean ships, making waves through literature, settlers, pirates and trading. And it’s all right here. What will you learn? View the timeline below to learn about what shaped today’s Salem.


1626 Founded by Roger Conant and a group of immigrants from Cape Ann. The settlement was first titled Naumkeag, but the settlers preferred to call it Salem, derived from the Hebrew word for peace.

1628 Massachusetts Bay Company arrives and relieves the struggling Naumkeag settlement. John Endicott leads a group of settlers to lay ground for thousands of Puritans.

1629 Town of Salem is issued a charter by the monarch of England, giving them the rights of autonomy and self-rule.

1629 The First Congregational Society is founded by Puritan pioneers of the Massachusetts Bay Company.

1630 There is a threat of charter revocation, and the colonists respond by preparing a defense. Roger Williams cuts the cross out of the English flag as an act of defiance.

1636 The first Salem ship sails to the West Indies to trade salted cod.
1637 First Militia Muster is organized by Massachusetts Bay Colony Court

1637 The Charter Street Cemetery or “Old Burying Point Cemetery” is created, now the oldest burying ground
in Salem.

1643 Winter Island is created as a fort, originally named after King William.

1644 Fort Pickering, a strategic coastal defense military barracks for Salem Harbor, is established.

1649 Salem Custom House built. It was responsible for collecting taxes on imported cargoes.

1667 The House of the Seven Gables, made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, is built for Capt. John Turner. It remained in his family for three generations.

1668 The House of the Seven Gables (Turner-Ingersoll Mansion) is built by John Turner, a wealthy merchant. The house was lived in by three generations of the Turner family, before being acquired by the Ingersoll family, relatives of Salem-born author, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The Witch House is completed. Judge Jonathon Corwin, a judge who presided over the trials, resided there, and some of the preliminary questioning for the witch trials was held there.

1686 A Salem selectman purchases land, that today is Salem, Peabody and Danvers, from the heirs of the Naumkeag tribe for 20 pounds.

1692 The Salem Witch Trials begin. This is the event that Salem is most known for, in only three months’ time 19 innocent people, 14 women and 5 men, were hanged, and one man was pressed to death. It was a time of hysteria, when courts believed in the devil, spectral evidence and teenage girls. The trials ceased when Governor William Phipps disbanded the court, after his wife was accused of being a witch herself. A Superior Court of Judicature formed to replace the Court of Oyer and Terminer and did not allow spectral evidence. The new court released those awaiting trial and pardoned those awaiting execution; the trials were over.

1693 Cotton Mather publishes his famous book, Wonders of the Invisible World, which contained “proofs” of witchcraft.

1760 The Salem Courthouse is torn down after being active from 1677 to 1718.

1762 Derby Wharf is created/begins as one of the busiest, of the nearly 50, wharves in Salem. (It is extended to its present ½ mile length in 1806.)

1774 Provincial Congress is organized, and the political revolution begins.

1774 General Gage moves the General Court from Boston to Salem.

1775 The first armed resistance of the Revolution happened in Salem when the Salem militia blocked British Lt. Colonel Leslie and his men from their mission to capture ammunition stored in Salem.

1776 Salem-based privateers capture and sink 445 British vessels during the Revolutionary War.

1785 The Old Courthouse is built; it was designed by Samuel McIntire.

1790 Salem is the sixth largest city in the country, and the richest per capita.

1797 The Salem East Indiaman Friendship, or The Friendship as we know it today, was launched. She made 15 voyages during her career to Batavia, India, China, South America, the Caribbean, England, Germany, the Mediterranean and Russia.

1799 The Peabody Essex Museum is founded by sea captains. It is the oldest continually operated museum in the country.

1799 The East India Marine Society is founded.

1801 The city of Salem transforms the “town swamp,” which is what the Salem Common was often called, into a park with trees and walks.

1807 An embargo is ordered that grounds Salem’s fleet for 15 months and is soon followed by the War of 1812.

1810 The Salem Athenaeum is founded from the merging of two older libraries.

1812 The Friendship is captured as a prize of war by British Sloop of War HMS Rosamond in September of 1812. (The one we have in Salem Harbor is a replica.)

1813 The battle of the frigates, Chesapeake and Shannon, takes place in Salem Harbor.

1819 A chemical company is built near the North River.

1819 The Salem Custom House is built.

1825 The East India Marine Hall is completed, with an open hall on the second floor designed to hold the museum of the society.

1826 A lead works is built next to the Briggs shipyard.

1828 Nathaniel Hawthorne self-publishes his first novel, Fanshawe. It was a romantic novel written in Salem while he was staying in the Manning House on Herbert Street.

1830 The Salem Lyceum is formed, a building constructed to provide public entertainment and instruction.

1835 A gum copal processing plant is built.

1836 Salem is incorporated as a city.

1838 The Eastern Railroad line from Boston to Salem is opened, and the railroad tunnel is dug under Washington Street.

1839 The City of Salem adopts the motto “To the Farthest Ports of the Rich East,” paying tribute to its glorious maritime past.

1850 The Scarlet Letter is published by Nathaniel Hawthorne to great acclaim everywhere but in Salem, where the residents did not appreciate the depiction of the city and its people.

1850 The House of the Seven Gables is written in Salem by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and is published in 1851

1851 Nathaniel Hawthorne’s world-renowned novel, The House of the Seven Gables is published. Inspired by the mansion, it helped make the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion one of the most famous historic houses in America.

1854 Salem State College, now known as Salem State University, is founded. A major educational and cultural resource of the North Shore, right here in Salem.

1856 The First Methodist New England Conference is held in Salem; the United Methodist Women’s Club greets you with information, advice and refreshments. In addition: sandwiches, coffee, tea, and cold drinks are available.

1877 First public demonstration of a long-distance phone conversation is held in the Lyceum Hall on Church Street.

1914 Great Salem Fire: On June 25, a devastating fire ignited Boston Street in Blubber Hollow, the leather manufacturing district of Salem. Over the course of two days, this massive fire destroyed 1,376 buildings and left 18,000 people (almost half of Salem’s population) homeless and many without jobs. Salem State University has books, pamphlets, and online documents about this tragedy.

1938 The Salem waterfront is designated a National Historic Site under the National Park Service.

1970 Bewitched’s seventh season is filmed in Salem. It’s a very magical time for the city.

1971 The Chestnut Street Historic District is established; it was Salem’s first historic district (known today as the McIntire Historic District).

1982 Salem hosts the first Haunted Happenings festival. It lasted one day.

1992 Witch Trials Memorial is dedicated by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel to commemorate the tercentenary anniversary of the trials.

1993 HocusPocus is released in theatres; it was filmed at numerous locations here in Salem.

1996 Congress designates Essex County as a National Heritage Area in order to enhance, preserve and encourage awareness of the county’s historic cultural and natural resources and traditions.

2001 Construction on The Friendship, a replica of the 1797 East India Merchant Ship, is completed.

2013 President Obama signs legislation recognizing Salem as Birthplace of the National Guard.