The Waterside People's Petition
A Presentation on the 235th Anniversary

of the First Town Meeting,

February 8, 1999


A Prologue


To follow is a transcription of the original petition seeking division of the Waterside Third Parish of Newbury in order to establish the separate town of Newburyport.  Those who lived in Newbury's New Towne (by the Waterside of the Merrimack River) were commonly called "the Waterside people" and as the party issuing this memorial (remonstrance or complaint) were designated to be the "Memorialists."1


The Waterside people's 1763 petition is transcribed verbatim et spellatim from Currier’s "History of Newburyport" --- replete with original syntax, but with relevant passages highlighted for ready review.  In addition to this prologue, a commentary/epilogue is included.


Crafted as an appeal to the General Court, the reader will find the petition itself to be a string of grievances tied together by an ample supply of ampersands.  Alas, it was not worded as elegantly as Jefferson's arguments in the Declaration of Independence --- yet woven throughout this memorial, one finds the concerns of a progressive, activist citizenry:


The Waterside people promoted a sound public education system, engagement of youth as productive citizens of the Commonwealth, reliable public services, the effective use of new municipal facilities and balanced appropriations for roadway infrastructure --- all with astute fiscal management and equitable tax assessment.  Passages suggest a synergetic relationship between commerce and community, and an understanding of the human frailties of self-interest, jealousy and partisanship.


What is remarkable is that these concerns are as cogent to any focus group in our own community --- America’s communities --- today.  Newburyport has always been a shallow port for deep thinkers ---  and our forebears required neither focus groups nor media:  They shared perspectives and had a vision.2 Today, let us commemorate the aspirations of the earliest generation of Newburyport --- and regenerate today’s Newburyport.  Let us consummate our own resolve and keep the Plan in Motion.  With these words and actions, we might best revere the past and prepare for the future.






The Annotated 1763 Petition

to the General Court

for the partition of

the Waterside Third Parish of Newbury

approved on January 28, 1764,

enacted under seal

February 4, 1764,

incorporating the town of
Newburyport therewith




To his Excellency Francis Bernard Esq. Governor & Commander to Chief and Province. To the Honorable his Majesties Council & house of Representatives in General Court assembled:


The Memorial of the Subscribers hereto, Inhabitants in & about that part of town of Newbury called the Water side, Humbly Sheweth:


That ye said Town of Newbury is Large & Extensive, That that part of it where the memorialists Dwell is Become thick (sic) Settled & Very Populous. That the inhabitants are chiefly Merchants, Traders, Mariners, & Artificers, those of the other parts of the town mostly husbandmen. That thro’ an unaccountable & Strange opinion of things, there subsists on that account among some and many of the Inhabitants, a certain Jealousy as to their public affairs & a high spirit of opposition which is a continual source of uneasiness and disquietude.  And as the Inhabitants in the other parts & parishes are more numerous than at the Water side they carry the vote in the affairs of the town & conduct the business of it in a way very different from the sentiments of your memorialists about those things concerning which the Memorialists & other Inhabitants of the Water side, have great occasion of complaint on account of the several things hereafter mentioned of which they have not the least prospect of Redress but from your Excellency & Honours & that by a Division of the town into separate Communities & that part of it by your Excellency & Honors be sett & Erected into a District --- and your Memorialists beg leave to observe to your Excellency and Honours some of the difficulties & grievances they labour under in the present state of the town, and they mention in the first place the want of public schools at the Water side for the instruction of children and youth, as before observe that part of town is become populous.  Three places of publick worship for ye people being there & a sufficient number of Inhabitants for three considerable assemblies & consequently a great number of children & youth to be taught & Instructed.  Yet there is not one fixed stated school (but movable ones only) nor a Public School house in that part of the town and no judicious person acquainted with the place but what will judge two fixed and stated schools (at least a Gramar School & Reading & writing schools) absolutely necessary for the instruction of the children & youth there.  And it is a great grief to ye Memorialists & every well disposed person, to see great numbers of children among them whose parents are not able to be at ye expense of private schooling (as in populous places there are many such) brought up in ignorance idleness & instead of being hereafter useful members of the Commonwealth, bid fair to be the reverse; also fire engines so necessary for the preservation of populous places, the town do not provide (and there is not the least reason to think in their present state they ever will) & some of ye Memorialists for their own & the safety of the place have been obliged to lay out and expend large sums of money for those necessary machines which they conceive ought to be provided at ye public expense as they are in such places of publick & general use.  On the other hand most of the charge and expense in repairing the roads and highways in the town is expended in the out parts & upon roads chiefly used by the inhabitants there & for their particular good.  The memorialists cannot be excused from their part of the charge under that head but annually are taxed & pay very large sums of money for that purpose & it is supposed sufficient for the suport (sic) of the schools before mentioned as the memorialists & ye other inhabitants at the Water side pay the greater part of the publick charge & if the remote parts of the town think themselves too distant to have any advantage of the schools & fire engines before mentioned & so think it unreasonable to be at any expense therefor.  The memorialists who are now actually suffering on that account can’t be humbly hope, Your Excellency & Hounours will put them in such circumstances as they may be enabled as a community to provide them.  And as the publick affairs is other particulars, The Memorialists humbly think there is great reason of complaint:  Namely, there is no town treasurer, nor can they prevail to have such an officer chose distinct from the selectmen notwithstanding the express directions of the Provinces laws in that case & ye apparent necessity of such an officer for the regular managing of & accounting for the publick monies & especially in a society where very large sums are annually raised & appropriated to publick use as in the case here, for some years above a thousand pounds lawful money for the use of the town, besides fines & forfeitures & monies coming to the use of the town in other ways, but such an officer by some & even by the majority & even by the majority is said to be useless & of no necessity or convenience & only a charge to the town & the selectmen can do better in that station:  And the memorialists can’t but conceive that a Treasurer here is absolutely necessary as it has been ye practice of the selectmen, illegally & arbitrarily to assess more than by law they ought, even on year, viz: 1761, L 465 lawful money more than by law they ought to have done.  But the memorialists & others agrieved (sic) thereat would have willingly passed by such a deviation from the right, if an open & fair account could have been adjusted & reported of the disposal of the publick monies by the committee for that purpose appointed.


They are more fully confirmed to the necessity of a town treasurer & more so, as before the last annual meeting for the choice of town officers it was given out by those who used to oppose it that one should be chosen & that the grievances complained of by the memorialists should be rectified but not withstanding no Treasurer was chose & instead of doing anything to remove the cause of the Memorialists complaint went into such measurers as apparently tended to increase them.


Your Memorialists are sensible that illegal taxes are not binding & that actions at law may in that case be brought, but they rather choose to put up with the grievance than take the method on a reasonable prospect of having the cause of the complaints removed which they humbly hope your Excellency and Honours will do, and your Memorialsits humbly think they have a right to a fair & proper disposal of the publick monies as they pay a very large share of the publick taxes, some of them annually and as they with the other inhabitants in that part of the town pay the greater part of the publick charges of the town, which they conceive ought not & would not be the case to such degree if a due proportion of the selectmen and assessors where chosen for that part of the town who must be better knowing to the trade, commerce & particular circumstances of individuals, than the more remote, yet but one selectmen from that part of ye town has been chosen for many years past, or can be obtained, altho’ for the present year seven were chosen to the town.


The Memorialists pray your Excellency & Honors indulgence for thus trespassing on your patience & beg leave only to mention as an instance of ye prevailing & growing spirit of jealousy & opposition before mentioned:  the present state of the town relative to ye new Court house lately built at ye Water side by the County & people there, which altho’ most conveniently situated as well for the use of ye town & county, as have once & again been voted by the Court of sessions with respect to the County large & capacious enough for the whole town, whereas the old house is not as well situated for publick convenience, yet the town as yet have not & we suppose will not meet in it, which the Memorialists can not but think proceeds from a party spirit which is so diffused & become so general in some parts of town, that it is sufficient objection with them to any measure proposed, or thing done, tho’ ever so just & reasonable in its nature, that ye Water side proposed or did it.  Wherefore, upon the whole, your Memorialists humbly pray, your Excellency & Honors would take the premises into consideration & as the Memorialists can’t in the least see any reasonable prospect for the removal of ye complaints & grievances before mentioned, in the present situation of the town, they, therefore, pray the same may be divided & separated by such bounds & limits as to the Great & General Court shall seem fit & that a committee may be appointed to determine the same, or that your Excellency & Honors would otherwise relieve your Memorialists as in your great wisdom you shall think fit & they as in duty bound will ever pray.3


An Epilogue


While the Town of Newbury itself voted in opposition on October 20, 1763, the petition of the Memorialists4 was granted by the General Court on January 28, 1764, and officially enacted under the provincial governor’s seal on February 4, 1764.5  The first town meeting was held at 10 o’clock on the Wednesday morning of February 8, 1764.  At that meeting, officers were selected and an ad hoc School Committee was formed.  The townspeople of Newburyport established three schools by March of 1764, actions predicting Newburyport’s future prominence on the vanguard of public education.


By town records, colonial Newburyport enjoyed circumscribed self-governance in moderate bliss, despite being overly taxed by "imported" British plagues and plagued by British taxes on imports.  Balancing political activism with decisive public actions, the citizenry of Newburyport were to realize the goals set forth in the Memorialists' petition, despite tumultuous times.  With dynamic momentum --- “in confident expectation” --- the town of Newburyport approved the anticipated Declaration of Independence on May 31, 1776.  No words can do justice to Newburyport’s spirit and heritage.


With review of the Overview of the Community’s History found employed as an introduction to a Request for Proposal for Design Services for a Waterfront Park, those unfamiliar with Newburyport might misinterpret the term, "heavily residential community."  Newburyport --- the Waterside --- will never be a prototypical suburban setting, despite the demographic change of the last decades.


On February 4th, during the High Street project’s "town meeting" in City Hall’s auditorium, one experienced what might be called the Spirit of the Memorialists.  For, whether thriving in their businesses and professional livelihood, or their busy personal lives, the Waterside people of today remain merchants of the Memorialists’ Manifesto, craftsmen of their destiny, and mariners on the journey to tomorrow.


The Waterside’s Memorialists are eager for more discourse and less discord.6 Today, despite the open meeting law for diffused committee hearings, we are often denied an open forum for discussion of the broader issues confronting this community --- with the exception of the cycle of campaigns and elections.


This year, as we celebrate our 235th Anniversary, let us be as innovative but as scrupulous as our forebears.  Commune to formulate solutions for versatile school facilities and facilitate innovative school reform.  Be resolute as we resolve the Waterfront issues.  Sensitively restore but not refashion historic roadways and sensibly design the new inroads.  Procure the necessary municipal equipment, and balance open, commercial and residential domain and dominion.


Yet, let us be pragmatic as we plan for the future, for the Waterside people were above all, practical and fiscally prudent.  Let it not be said however they did not dare to dream.  The Waterside people simply wanted their DREAMS TO COME TRUE.  As today's generations of the Waterside people, let Newburyport’s citizens provide municipal leaders with a mandate to keep the Plan in Motion.  And the rest will be History.


1A Memorialist --- someone who writes or signs a memorial.  A memorial --- a statement of facts addressed to a government and often accompanied with a petition; it is often a legal abstract.  One commonly associates the word memorial with a monument, a speech, a memento, memoir or record.


2Newburyport even passed a by-law to ban smoking on the public streets in 1794.


3The dividing line was "humbly proposed" as to "begin at Merrimack river at ye westerly bounds of the Third Parish of Newbury, and so to run back (as the dividing line of the third & fifth parishes doth) to a brook in the Great Pasture there & so as the said brook run toward Pearsons Mills to the Stone bridge & from thence to the river Parker and thence southward to the Rowley line."


4The 208 signers of the petition (including two illegible signatures) were from such prominent families as Titcomb, Boardman, Kent, Carr, Atkins, Noyes, Coffin, Greenleaf, Emerson, Toppan, Bartlett, Plumer and Pillsbury. The eminent Judge Theophilus Bradbury was one of the signatories. The petition was brought before the Court by five Memorialists including Daniel Farnham, who himself became Newburyport's first representative to the General Court.

5While there were fifty-four dissenters to separation, these "reunionists" were defeated by a vote on May 25th of 1764. On that date, Newburyport instead passed a petition to the General Court to enlarge the town's limits and bounds by a majority of two hundred and sixty-two votes. That annexation of Newbury (Belleville and Joppa Flats) was not achieved until April 16, 1851. The following June 24th, Newburyport's City government was organized. In 2001, the City of Newburyport marks its Sesquicentennial and 150th Anniversary as a city form of government with the bounds that exist today.

6The founders of our City Charter fully appreciated this appetite for community conferences and allowed that general meetings of the citizens may still be held "to obtain redress of grievances, consult upon the public good, and to given instructions to the Representatives" (Section 20).

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