Tunnels: Part V – Transporting the ‘Product’

As indicated in previous posts on the tunnels, molasses was “black gold” to the early economy of Newburyport.    Though international trade and ship building was also important, it was the distilling of sugar into rum that was the foundation for Newburyport’s boomtown existence.      According to J.J. Currier, there existed as many as 60 of these distilleries within the small borders of the original Water-side community of Newbury-port.     Therefore, with so much smuggling occurring to supply these businesses, it must be understood that the primary product passing through the tunnels would have to be rum.

Anyone seeing the geography of the city would understand that transport would need to be done uphill, over “The Ridge” and down the other side.      There would be two means of possible transport.      One would be “carts” either on wheels or guided by tracks to make it easier to bring the heavy containers through the tunnels; or, and this is more likely, they were “rolled” throught the passageways.

Barrels often have a convex shape, bulging at the middle. This bulge facilitates rolling a well-built wooden barrel on its side allowing it to change directions with little friction, compared to a cylinder. It also helps to distribute stress evenly in the material by making the container more curved.     To help in transport, the Barrels have reinforced edges to enable safe displacement by rolling them at an angle (in addition of rolling on their sides as described).    Thus, skilled workmen on the wharves could rapidly move the barrels onto ships or onto local carts.

Now in England, the standard rum barrel design and size was established in 1484.   The barrel was mandated to hold a quantity of 36 imperial gallons (160 L; 43 US gal). Rum Barrel

Someone who makes barrels is called a “barrel maker” or cooper and was a very important skill here in Newburyport. Barrels are only one type of cooperage. Other types include, but are not limited to: buckets, tubs, butter churns, hogsheads, firkins, kegs, kilderkins, tierces, rundlets, puncheons, pipes, tuns, butts, pins, and breakers.

Barrels have a variety of uses, including storage of liquids such as water and oil, fermenting wine, arrack, and sake, and maturing beverages such as wine, cognac, armagnac, sherry, port, whiskey, and beer.

The rings holding a wooden barrel together, called hoops, are generally made of galvanized iron, though historically were made from flexible bits of wood called withies. While wooden hoops could require barrels to be “fully hooped”, with hoops stacked tightly together along the entire top and bottom third of a barrel, iron-hooped barrels only require a few hoops on each end.

The “head hoop” or “chime hoop” is the hoop nearest the extremes of a barrel, the chime being the beveled edge and the head being the flat circular top or bottom of the barrel. The “bilge hoops” are those nearest the bilge, or bulging center, while the “quarter hoop” is located between the chime and bilge hoops.

The stopper used to seal the hole in a barrel is called the bung.

There are pictures at Caldwells in which the barrels were literally covering a football fields worth.     Therefore the tunnels to be effective would have to be largely straight and have enough size to get a barrel comfortable down the passage with some room for steerage.     We know that the possible origin of these tunnels derived from a period of 1740 until 1815 (to avoid the tariffs from the Molasses Act of 1733) and the likelihood was their construction occurred before the American Revolution.

We know the tunnels were never really designed for human transport simply because there was no money to make from it!    Most abolitionists and their human cargo didn’t have the cash, nor would there be any source of justification for such an expensive mining operation.      But there was for rum!      Not only did a cash resource exist, the use of the tunnels guaranteed a consistent profit not only to pay for the construction but it gave a reliable profit source for years to come.

The tunnels may have been briefly re-opened during the terrible 11 years of the Slave Extradition Act of 1850; but that would have been incidental and not their original purpose.

So, when the tunnels are explored, more than likely the brick was the much smaller ballast brick which can clearly be seen on brick Georgian mansions and was still being used in the Federalist period as anyone can inspect on the buildings around Market Square.

-P. Preservationst



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Tunnels: Part IV – How did Newburyport become rich through smuggling?

The focus of the problem was simple, long before American Custom Houses there were British Custom Houses.      To simply follow the rules of empire would have impoverished the average trader with limited supply and the very high tariffs of the Molasses Act of 1733 which encouraged the molasses and other goods to be sent back to England.          Everyone did smuggling because everyone had to do it.        It was this sad but necessary fact that made the practise not just a requirement; it was automatically put into any equation of a business plan.

It was well known in the colonies that the town that had the lowest enforcement was also the most attractive and would attract the most business.     Advertisements would boldly be posted even in the local papers which port was the ‘easiest’ place to do smuggling.     In the end, avoiding the kiss of death; local ports would actually try to out compete each other.

There was also a Code of Silence that was almost universal in New England; and to break it would often mean the informer would be arrested, given trumped up charges and imprisoned or run out of town; which was better than having a raving mob attack with tar and feather.      Respectable merchants wanted to distance themselves as much as possible from their smuggling businesses and the Code prevailed through out colonial society.

It was in this atmosphere that encouraged the local Custom’s Agent to be bribed; or a local official would take the job with sympathies toward the activity of smuggling; or an official would be named but would not actually show up for the job.     It was an advantage for everyone to avoid violence either by the affected, or by the aggressor; so “lubricating” the custom’s agent, or pacifying them saved lives and encouraged profitable commerce.

Of course, there was always the danger that the British would actually show up occasionally so either an imposter would play the agent; or there would be a claim he was out-of-town.

For the busiest and largest ports, the British would often put in an official who was more sympathetic to the crown so the next stage in the deception would have to be implemented.      Many ships because their cargo was largely unknown would generate fake manifests that indicated the goods came from a British port or a neutral port.      Just in case, the obvious source was too apparent, the ship would off-load a portion of cargo and the manifest would only indicate the current amount present at the custom’s dock.

As Newburyport became more prosperous; the large amounts of smuggled goods became more apparent, and more obvious.      To avoid penalties; more and more neutral ports were used.    The ships would land at a special neutral country that was literally a stone’s throw from the French or other hostile nation to England.     At first, the French would off-load their goods and the Americans would re-load onto their ships but after awhile; they would directly load from one ship to the next – and visiting British dignitaries were horrified to see the boldness of these actions.

If you look at the Declaration of Independence, the largest signatory was also one of the most prolific smugglers, John Hancock.     In addition, as part of the grievances listed against Britain was the restrictions placed on the American colonies as to where they could trade; which caused so much necessary breaking of the law and caused them to cry out for “Fair Trade”

Newburyport became wealthy with the abundance of rum – which was more than adequate to use as a means of exchange for slaves in the infamous Triangle Trade.        Though the Northern colonies were upset over the institution of slavery in the South; most had no problem contributing to it via the molasses/rum and slaves resources.

In Summary, Newburyport became fabulously wealthy far above its small supporting population which would allow them to have the funds to not only build a sophisticated tunnel system but the Code of Silence, and the distancing of the chief smuggler from the rank and file participants allowed them to keep it a great, and undocumented secret especially when so many “dignified” citizens had feeder tunnels in their basements leading to the main underground passage.

-P. Preservationist



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Check out the Little River Trail System – A Hidden Newburyport Treasure

Little River LogoThere is an incredible resource in the City of Newburyport that is being under utilized; all because it is out of the public eye; and in many ways, hidden from view.

Called the Little River Trail System – five beautiful trails, one a pedestrian/bike trail, that encompasses a wild area composed of lovely pastures, deep forest, verdant wetlands and in which harbor vernal pools with their unique creatures.        Though surrounded on three sides by urban settings of industrial & retail businesses, and residential neighborhoods; it’s the home of a rich variety of bird life, and animals that you wouldn’t picture being so near a city: beaver, coyote, deer, fox and otter coupled with hawks, herons,  owls and wild turkey.

The City has already invested large sums to obtain the wetlands in this area so the area can do the job of soaking up excess precipitation and providing a rich resource of ground water.

Parker River Clean Water Association (PRCWA) that is dedicated to protecting the watershed that springs from the Little River and which as small as it seems is a great aquatic resource and if not respected can cause damaging floods downriver; wants to educate as many as possible in the region on how important this area stays open and not contaminated.

The plans as funding becomes available is to establish trail heads with adequate parking.    Informative kiosks, maps and signage will help educate the visitor.Little River Trail System Map Proposal

One trail head is at Storey Avenue across from the park & ride, a new one behind the new gas station/CVS and two on Hale Street.    But the most centrally located with plenty of parking is at the end of Crow Lane off of Low Street.

But the biggest selling point will be the area itself. A visitor will be aghast when seeing this area how amazing the habitat even as they hear the faint sounds of the city around them.

Come and visit one of Newburyport’s hidden treasures!

To help introduce this area, a tour will be conducted on July the 23rd at 8:30 in the morning at the Crow Lane Trail Head.     This is reachable from off of Low Street.    Jerry Mullins will take participants deep into this area to explore and explain the natural features, and flora and fauna of the area.       Please wear sturdy shoes, long pants, and bring along water.      Bug spray will be needed to curb the appetite of the local wildlife.

-P. Preservationist




Posted in Agriculture & Farms, Conservation, Eco-tourism, Ecology, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Flooding, Landscapes, Open Space, Organizations, Parking, Recreation, Tours, trails, Watershed, Wildlife | 1 Comment

Disrespecting History

What burns me greatly is when someone does something stupidly, which will, in the end, hurt them; and then we’re all supposed to ignore it so we won’t hurt their feelings, or offend them or make them mad.

It’s still stupid,

And will hurt them in the end.

Are we not worse than devils knowing their end and doing nothing to stop them!?!

I’m speaking about businesses here in Newburyport that want to disregard our culture, our geography, and worst of all, our history.


Remember River Merrimac Bar & Grille?     Merrimac are the indians who once lived in this region; Merrimack is the river.      Duh!     I don’t care how fancy the food or elegant the bar – I wouldn’t eat there out of sheer embarrassment!       And a lot of other people agreed with me.

Then there are the business plans designed for self-destruction.     My beloved 10 Center Street – first they sold the historic booths out of the bar area, then they stripped the history out of a restaurant that was supposed to celebrate Newburyport until there was just one 8-1/2″ x 11″ historic picture. (by the kitchen door)       People come because of the historic and romantic feel of the city and when they came to the restaurant, modernity, and so they left with ’emptiness’.

Then Nix comes along and tries to outdo their stupidity and whitewashed the brick.     Duh, it’s the brick that drew them to the city with all its romantic setting.       When they opened, I vowed I would boycott them and predicted they would fail.

Am I bad for seeing the obvious, and predicting the inevitable?

So, what I am about to say is not out of cruelty but out of concern for my beloved 10 Center Street.     I want the Wolfes to succeed.      The idea, as offered by many in town, that they use this opportunity to call their new restaurant Wolfe’s Tavern; has been spurned.

It was the beloved Wolfe’s Tavern that was once located at Threadneedle Alley and then moved up to where the present parking lot is across from the Institution of Savings.     It’s destruction was the spark that started the Historic Preservation Movement in Newburyport which has given us such a beautiful downtown and the reason for the preservation of the Newburyport Historic District.       By using their name and keying into that history, they would have been guaranteed to be an institution for decades to come.

Instead they’re going to go the way of the Dodo Bird and call it Wolfey’s like it’s some Southy Bar in Boston!

In the end, they will lose out, the bank that foolishly financed them will lose out, and alas; those who live here will lose out.

I want them to succeed.         The food may be great, the service phenomenal and the owners will have the very best intent; but it will all be in vain.

They have a great opportunity to make their place an awesome institution and all because they have the last name of Wolfe.       Can they not see this before their eyes?

Change the name to Wolfe Tavern and prosper in historic Newburyport.

The one good thing is, they have until the Fall when they are to open to change their mind.

-P. Preservationist



Posted in Art & Culture, Businesses, Economics, Environment, Heritage Tourism, History, Planning, Preservation, Preservation History, Quality of Life, Tourism | 1 Comment

Historicity is a money-maker!!!!

“People come to Newburyport to be attracted by the historicity of the community… we want to continue that.”

-Dick Sullivan, Sr, June 18, 2007, Renovators had rules to follow when rebuilding, Newburyport Daily News.

I hate to be crude about it but it is time to just blurt it out, “Promoting our history on the waterfront, and in the downtown and the historic neighborhoods is a huge cash-generator.

The prevailing viewpoint of dull-minded bank financiers, and silly real estate agents and lower-baser-sort contractors and developers coupled with people who view the world through mediocrity; and impatient businessmen who can only see a short-term cash output:  history doesn’t make any money.


Massachusetts Historical Commission has estimated, as other states have also calculated who run along the same region as the 13 original colonies; hundreds of millions have been generated by honoring the past in architecture, culture and society.

It is sad when people smirk at the Newburyport Preservation Trust like it’s some kind of altruistic club gathering around and stroking old moldings.       Instead, they are working night and day to make sure we STAY affluent and the envy of other communities.    Wisely, they have allied themselves with our museums (and historic churches and historic organizations), and yes, even talented craftsmen, contractors and developers; to champion the history that lies behind our beautiful architecture.

So it is sad when Yankee Homecoming, which was set at its date, the Founding of the Coast Guard in Newburyport, to have an Old Fashioned Sunday that has nothing to do with honoring the Old Fashioned.     A Plastic train, a midway, pro-wrestling and art displays with pop music accompanied by screaming children led by parents who think John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan are ancient history is all you are going to see.  My advice: If you don’t have little kids, stay away.    Sadly, the closest to history are ship models at the First Religious Society downtown.

But I don’t want to leave you in despair.      Thanks to people like Ghlee Woodworth, and Linda Tulley and Mary Baker; Yankee Homecoming is going to be satisfying the craving of our visitors who have caught the ‘historicity bug’.

These visitors who will be coming in droves want to know what lies behind these houses, what history made such a gorgeous town, and they want to understand what they are seeing.     These insightful people will actually generate money for the YH; not scarf the free stuff and bolt.      They will linger to hear about the adventure and romance instead of hitting the gas pedal to get out of town after the concerts and fireworks.     These are the ones that will study carefully pages 24 and 25 of the Yankee Homecoming Brochure and explore.       These are the ones that will come away from our city craving to come back and come back and come back excited to experience Clipper City.

These will linger to catch the atmosphere of what it means to be in Newburyport and will stay here, eat here, shop here and most of all, walk in wonder through our neighborhoods.

During Yankee Homecoming, they will see many plaques with brief stories and be even more inquisitive.

A new feature has been devised in which historic homeowners are encouraged to put out a ‘story’ about their house – on post board.     Already, the map is filling in fast and more are encouraged to participate.       As our visitors walk our streets or take a tour to walk our streets; they will be getting that historicity craving satisfied.

Check out the Facebook page on what is being planned for Yankee Homecoming and go to the website which will instruct you on how to research your home.      You will be amazed what you will discover.      For example, at the end of my street is a non-descript house.    It is where a famous arctic explorer lived who co-founded the National Geographic Society and the New York Explorer’s Club and is now buried at Arlington National Cemetery.     Wow!

Not only will you be enriched, and will enrich the lives of our visitors; but the next time a cruel developer wants to destroy one of our historic homes by claiming nothing ever occurred there significantly; we as neighbors can proudly counter that our city is full of historic events and they are focused and lie within our precious homes.

Please reveal your house’s history!

-P. Preservationist





Posted in Architecture, Art & Culture, Businesses, Craftsmen, Demolitions, Developers, Downtown, Economics, Education, finances, Health and wellness, Heritage Tourism, History, Infrastructure, Landscapes, Organizations, Preservation, Quality of Life, Real Estate, Streetscapes, Taxes, Tourism, Tours | Leave a comment

Yikes they’re early!

I was shocked this Independence Day weekend to find out the nasty devils, The Greenheads, are here early.     They usually don’t show up until the week after the 4th.

The Tearing EdgeIt is a known fact that greenheads can’t function fully unless it’s at least 84 degrees.        We’ll have a little break for this coming weekend but don’t be fooled.

With the next blast, comes the pain!

Now is the time to get that cure-all from Avon called Skin So Soft.

Regular bug spray makes them laugh and bringing a can of Raid is just not cool plus it will make you stink really bad.

In addition, having a ready bottle will put you in good stead for the next major onslaught which occurs toward the end of August.Skin so soft       It is presently in stock and going at 46% less than the list price. (And no, I get no profit from it – but our local Avon representatives do!)

Get it NOW!      Here is where you buy it.

Or pay the consequences!

-P. Preservationist

PS.   And don’t think hiding in town will save you.     Greenheads have been known to travel in search of blood for ten miles or more from their salt marsh habitat!

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Tunnels: Part Three – Smuggling was the original cause of the American Revolution

Yes, I know!      Another controversial statement but well-documented from American and British correspondence.

As indicated in the previous post, Smuggling was making the American Colonies, especially New England wealthy.        And then came the French and Indian War (Called the Seven Years War in Europe) which stretched from 1756-1763.

Rather than stifling smuggling, the practise went into hyper-drive and profits soared.    Along with privateering, much money could be made by trading with the enemy who often would be desperate to be supplied as the British Navy tried to blockade and starve them.

Using a neutral port, often right next to an enemy colony; the Yankees would off-load the goods which would be transported right across the border.       After awhile, the urgency and desperation by the enemy would have them tie up to an American ship, and off-load directly.    The British Navy would often stand by helplessly as their own allies safe inside a neutral port would sabotage their military efforts.

Worse yet, Yankee ports found a loophole to directly trade with the enemy.      If the American Colonies possessed prisoners of war, they could sail directly to the enemy under a flag of truce.        Cleverly exploiting the measure, heavily laden fleets would descend upon a French port such as Guadelupe with one prisoner deposited on one ship apiece.      When the prisoners ran out, flags of truce would be sold at the highest bidder and the ships would sail on with ‘virtual’ prisoners aboard.      This is why William Coombs sailed his famous ships to Guadalupe and Martinique, French ports, to load up with arms and gunpowder for the Seige of Boston; he was a regular!*

Word was sent back to as high up as to the Prime Minister who, unknowingly, with these stern words – relayed back the opening shot that would soon be the American Revolution:

“The Commanders of His Majesty’s Forces, and Fleets, in North America and the West Indies, having transmitted repeated and certain Intelligence of an illegal and most permicious Trade, carried on by the King’s Subjects, in North America, and the West Indies, as well to the French Islands, as to the French Settlements on the Continent of America…by which the Enemy is, to the greatest Reproach & Detriment of Government, supplied with Provisions, and other necessities, wehreby they are principally, if not alone, enabled to sustain, and protract, this long and expensive War;…In order, therefore, to put the most speedy and effectual Stop to such flagitious Practises…so highly repugnant to the Honor, and well-being, of this Kingdom.    It is His Majesty’s express will and pleasure, that you do forthweith make the strictest Enquiry into the State of this dangerous and ignominous Trade.”

-Prime Minister William Pitt, August 23rd, 1760.

If you want to know when the American Revolution began; it ws in the year of 1760 as not just the King but Parliament began to denounce America for, as far as they were concerned; treasonous acts.        Best echoeing that wide-spread feeling, British Admiral John Montagu denounced America as,

“…a set of lawless piratical people…whose sole business is that of smuggling and defrauding the King of his duties.”

Here lay an impossible situation – American had to smuggle to prosper in the British Empire and yet to do so was to be treasonous to the Mother Country.      Though victorious, Britian’s coffers were barren after the expensive world war; and they looked over at the rich and prosperous America and bitterly knew why.      It was at this year that the King and Parliament began to make plans to pass laws to crack down on the smugglers by rigorous enforcement, installing customs agents loyal to the King and to pass ever more taxes to ‘get back’ some of the ill-gotten funds.

The end result was a desire to drain the resources of America and making penniless a proud, self-reliant and free people.

Worse yet, when these actions were taken, the Great Awakening wa in full swing in the American Colonies preaching republican values.     Americans no longer needed the King as a necessary for their well-being; and more and more felt themselves to be free British citizens before God and Country.

As for what happened next, the rest is history.

-P. Preservationist

* William Coombs brought two ships up laden with cannonball, gunpowder and muskets.    General Knox had brought cannon to Boston but the Continental Army had practically no way to fight the British.      Coombs gave free-of-charge his precious cargo to General Washington!


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