Newburyport was settled in 1635 as part of Newberry Plantation, now Newbury. On January 28, 1764, the General Court of Massachusetts passed “An act for erecting part of the town of Newbury into a new town by the name of Newburyport.” The act begins:
Whereas the town of Newbury is very large, and the inhabitants of that part of it who dwell by the water-side there, as it is commonly called, are mostly merchants, traders and artificers, and the inhabitants of the other parts of the town are chiefly husbandmen; by means whereof many difficulties and disputes have arisen in managing their public affairs – Be it enacted … That that part of the said town of Newbury … be and hereby are constituted and made a separate and distinct town ….
The act was approved by Governor Francis Bernard on February 4, 1764. The new town was the smallest in Massachusetts, covering an area of 647 acres (2.62 km2), and had a population of 2,800 living in 357 homes. There were three shipyards, no bridges, and several ferries, one of which at the foot of Greenleaf Lane, now State Street, carried the Portsmouth Flying Stage Coach, running between Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Boston.
The town prospered and became a city in 1851. Situated near the mouth of the Merrimack River, it was once a fishing, shipbuilding and shipping center, with an industry in silverware manufacture. Merrimack Arms and Brown Manufacturing Company made Southerner Derringer pistols in their Newburyport factory from 1867 to 1873. The captains of old Newburyport (as elsewhere in Massachusetts) had participated vigorously in the triangular trade, importing West Indian molasses and exporting rum made from it. The distilleries were located around Market Square near the waterfront. Caldwell’s Old Newburyport rum was manufactured locally until well into the 19th century.