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Back to A Merrill Memorial
    Samuel Merrill, 1928, reprint 1983

Newbury in the Seventeenth Century - Chapter VI, pp55-65

Cape Merrill

   Cape Merrill is the point of land on the north side of Parker River formed by the confluence of the Parker and Plum Island Rivers. It is marshland, occasionally flooded by the tide, and its crop of salt hay for many years past has been left uncut. East of Plum Island River lies Plum Island, eight miles long, its bare sand dunes extending from the mouth of the Merrimack south to the mouth of Ipswich River.

   Twelve acres at the end of the Cape was granted by the town to John1 Merrill in 1646. Receiving his name it has been known as Merrill's Point, or Cape Merrill, to the present day. Six acres of this land he conveyed to his son-in-law, Stephen Swett, and three acres to his brother Nathaniel1 Merrill. By a paper recorded 25 Nov. 1671, it appears that he sold "the rest of the poynt of marsh," at the extremity of the Cape, to Abraham2 Merrill for forty shillings. (Proprietors1 Records, fol. 38, 64.)

   Deacon Abraham Merrill acquired other marshland adjoining, and held it until 8 May, 1686, when he conveyed to Jonathan Emery of Newbury twelve acres "at a place Comly Called Merrills point bounded by Newbury river Southerly Plumb Island river Easterly & on ye Northerly & Westerly Side by ye marsh of Nathaniel Merrill Deced & Joseph King." Deacon Merrill received in exchange twelve acres "in ye Great Marsh below pine Island."

   The acknowledgements of these mutual deeds were not taken until August, 1719, and they were recorded with Essex Deeds, book 35, leaf 246, and book 36, leaf 244, respectively. Of the subsequent history of this land, for more than a century, I have no knowledge.

   It was formerly the practice of farmers to cut the salt hay, and feed it to their stock, and early in the last century the farmers in some parts of the interior would go to the seashore in companies to get hay from the marshes. These parties would camp on the spot while the hay was cut and dried, and loaded on the great flat-bottomed boats, called "gundelows" (a corruption of gondolas(*)), to be freighted to points near home as wind, and the tide in the streams, favored. The cost of labor for a generation past, however, has resulted in most of the salt marshes being left uncut. It's cheaper for the farmers to buy salt for their cattle by the bushel.

   In these journeys after salt hay Moses6 Merrill (Gyles5, Moses4,3, Daniel2) of Haverhill worked in conjunction with his neighbor, True Kimball of Plaintow, N.H. They bought in common a number of adjoining parcels of marsh at Cape Merrill, their holdings extending more than a quarter of a mile on Plum Island River, and about thirty-two rods on Oldtown, or Parker, River. The men and boys of the two households would go down the Merrimack and into Plum Island River with gundelows, and, after harvesting their crop, would return home and divide the hay for the Winter's use.

   The land at the extremity of Cape Merrill was purchased by them from Jonathan Ela of Haverhill, the purchase price being $35. The deed, dated 16 June, 1831, and recorded in the Essex Deeds, at Salem, in book 262, leaf 146, thus describes the land: "A certain parcel of saltmarsh situate in Newbury . . . at a place called Cape Merrill Point and is bounded Southwesterly on old Town River thirty-two rods, Westerly on land of Daniel Plummer eight rods, Northerly on my own land about thirty rods and Easterly on Plumb Island River twenty-five rods containing about three acres and one half."

   The three and a half acres at the extremity of the Cape was held in common until 18 Feb. 1858, when it was purchased by Gyles7 Merrill, son of Moses6, and it has since been kept in the family for the sake of the name. At the death of Gyles7 Merrill, in 1894, it came into the possession of his son, the compiler of this Memorial, who retains it as an interesting heirloom, paying annually to the Town of Newbury on account of it a tax of about sixty cents.

   The scene at Cape Merrill has changed very little in the two and three-quarters centuries since John Merrill cut salt hay there. On the farther edge of the Plum Island marsh, half a mile away, a few modest shooting boxes can be seen, but beyond this the landscape in our day tells nothing of the changes which have transformed the New England wilderness of the middle seventeenth century into a populous land throbbing with the activities of industry and trade. In most landscapes time works great changes. At the mouth of Parker River, looking eastward, it seems almost as if the world had stood still while century after century has come and gone.

(*) My father used to tell of these "haying" trips, to Cape Merrill, in which he participated, in the '30s of the last century. They were, he said, the most keenly-enjoyed holidays which came into the lives of the farmers' boys who took part in them. S.M.

Chapter VII


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