Ben H. Swett
Colonel USAF (Retired)
18 September 2006

Swett's Ferry crossed the Merrimack River between West Newbury and Haverhill, Massachusetts, at a place called Holt's Rocks, about four miles west of Amesbury. [Much of the following information is from John J. Currier, History of Newbury, Massachusetts, 1635-1902 (Boston, Damrell & Upham, 1902), pp. 459-462]

1695 March 26: At a meeting of the freeholders and inhabitants of Newbury, John Kelly, Sr., presented a petition for liberty to keep a "ffery over the river Merrimack in the place where he now dwells" provided the neighboring towns and the authorities of the province give their consent "for sd fferry to be granted to the Towne of Newbury." [Town of Newbury Records]

1695 June 5: "Capt Thomas Noyes, Cornl George March, Abraham Merrill & Henry Short appoynted by the Towne to vew a convenient place for a ferry over Merrimack River neer the now dwelling house of John Kelly, Senr, together wth a Rode theretoo and bring report to ye Towne at ye next meeting."

Two weeks later, the selectmen of Newbury were authorized to petition the next Court of General Sessions at Salem for permission to "establish a fferry over the Merrimack river near the dwelling-house of John Kelly, Sr., and to appoint the said John Kelly, Sr., keeper of it until the towne see cause to otherwise dispose of it." [Town of Newbury Records]

The selectmen were also instructed to ask the Court for "the continuation of the fferry so long as the Towne shall judg it beneficiall, the price of sd fferry to be sixpence money for horse and man and twopence for a single man, and for our owne Towne Inhabitants sixpence in pay for horse and man & twopence in pay for a single person." [Town of Newbury Proprietors' Records, vol. i., pp. 22, 23] This difference between "money" and "in pay" was apparently advantageous to citizens of Newbury.

1695 June 25: The petition presented by the selectmen of Newbury was deferred to the next term of the Court of General Sessions. [Salem Court Records, 1692-1709]

1695 September 24: The Court of General Sessions ordered that the town of Newbury "have liberty to keep a ferry over Merrimack river near ye house of John Kelly where they are to keep a suitable boat afloat with a hand ready to transport passengers, horses and cattle as need may require, and ye fare of said ferry is hereby appointed to be a penny for a man and five pence for a horse and so proportionable for other creatures allwaies provided that ye town of Newbury do at their own cost and charge make and maintain a sufficient highway from ye river up to ye country road way, and ye town of Amesbury do ye like on their side of ye river." [Salem Court Records, 1692-1709]

1700 October 18: At a meeting of the inhabitants of the town of Newbury, the selectmen were authorized to lay out a highway near the residence of John Kelly, Sr. It was also voted that "in order to [have] a convenient way to the fferry comonly known by the name of Kellys fferry the Towne voted yt a Bridg should be made over the swamp leading to sd ferry, to be made and maintained by the Towne so long as the Towne see cause. [Town of Newbury Records, vol. iii., p. 65.]

1703 April 12: "Upon the request of John Kelly, Senr., John Kelly, Junr., Abiel Kelly, Jonathan Kelly, and John Swett, Junr., to make & maintain a good & sufficient bridge or way over the swamp at the end of John Kelly, Senr, his field for the space of four years & thereby be aquitted from making or maintaining any other of the Highways of Newbury, the towne grants theyr proposition on the conditions aforesd provided yt it be used so long for a public highway to ye ferry now kept by sd John Kelly, Senr." [Town of Newbury Records (1693-1675), p. 99. emphasis added.]

This John Swett, Junior, was John [13] Swett, born 28 February 1677 in Newbury, the oldest son of John [6] and Mary (Plummer) Swett, grandson of Stephen [4] and great-grandson of John Swett of Newbury. He married Susanna Page. [Stackpole, head of family # 13, pp. 10 & 14] In 1703 he helped build a road to the ferry that was operated by John Kelly. Eight years later he was licensed to operate the ferry.

1711 September 25: At the Court of General Sessions held in Newbury, John Swett, Jr., of Newbury was licensed to keep the ferry over Merrimack river near Holt's Rocks, for the term of seven years. [Salem Court Records, 1696-1718]

1711 Haverhill: John Swett, a native of Newbury, was this year appointed ferryman at the Rocks -- hence the name of "Swett's Ferry." It is believed that there were no more than two houses at that place; and, indeed, the whole town had increased but very little, if any, in population during the last thirty years. Strangers would not move into it, on account of the danger arising from the Indian war, and it is probable that those who sickened and died, and those who were slain by the enemy, nearly equaled the births. [George Wingate Chase, The History of Haverhill, Mass. (1861), pp. 236-237]

1712 February 12: Benjamin [15] Swett, born 11 April 1688 in Newbury, youngest son of John [6] and Mary (Plummer) Swett, married Mary Wheeler. [Stackpole, pp. 10 & 15] About this time, he probably went to work for his brother John [13] as the ferryman at the Newbury end of the ferry.

1712 September 3: The inhabitants of the town of Newbury again ordered the selectmen "to lay out the way from the Bradford road to Swett's ferry."

1712 December 13: The Court of General Sessions appointed a committee "to view the way leading to the ferry under care of John Sweat junior of Newbury."

1713 December: The selectmen of Newbury applied to the General Court for liberty to keep the ferry and pay over annually to the treasurer of the town the amount received for ferriage.

1714 June 10: "In answer to the petition of the Select Men of Newbury praying that the profits of the ferry lately granted by the Genll Sessions of the Peace, to be kept over Merrimack River above Holts Rocks between Newbury and Haverhill, may be settled upon the Town of Newbury. Ordered that there be a Ferry over Merrimack River in the place mentioned in the petition, the profits of the said Ferry to be to the Towns of Newbury & Haverhill in equall proportion; this Grant being limited for ye space of forty years next coming." [Province Laws, vol. ix., chap. xxiv., p. 356; General Court Records, vol. ix., p. 334]

The settlement on the north shore of the river, now known as Rock's village or East Haverhill, was at that time quite a busy and prosperous place. Salmon and other fish were caught in large numbers in that locality, and an extensive trade with the West India islands was established and maintained for many years. [Joshua Coffin, A Sketch of the History of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury, from 1635 to 1845 (Boston, S. G. Drake, 1845) republished in 1977, p. 193]

1717 John [6] Swett deeded his homestead to his son Benjamin [15] Swett, he to pay his brothers Stephen and Joseph and grantor's wife Esther. [Stackpole, p. 10. See deed at Salem.]

1718 March 27: The will of John [6] Swett dated 27 March 1717 according to the Puritan calendar system, confirmed the deed and the provisions by which he gave his homestead to his son Benjamin [15], made additional bequests to sons Stephen and Joseph, daughters Mary Lowell and Hannah Woodman, stated that "my son Benja. Swett shall pay to his brothers John [13] Swett & Samuel [14] Swett one shilling apiece besides the portion they have had already," and named Benjamin [15] sole executor of his estate. [Copied from court records by Mary Adams Rolfe.]

1719 March 4: The following petition was presented by John [13] Swett to the town of Haverhill. As so often happened, the town clerk misspelled his name.

John Sweet petitioning to the Towne as followeth: To the inhabitants of Haverhill this day convened at the meeting house in Haverhill: The petition of John Sweet of Newbury humbly showeth, Whereas there has been a Ferry granted by the Court to the Towns of Haverhill and Newbury for the term of Forty years where I now keep it. I humbly now request that I may have this Towns interest therein during the whole term, and I will carry over the inhabitants of this Town one single person for a penny per time, and a horse & man for four pence & oblige myself to keep good conveniences for the transport of passengers, for which liberality & kindness as in duty bound shall always pray. --- John Sweet.
This petition granted in the terms imposed therein. [Town of Haverhill Records]
1719 March 17: John [6] Swett died in Newbury. [1718 by the Puritan calendar]

1724 March 17: The Newbury Second Parish church voted to give Deacon William Morss seven pounds and ten shillings for half an acre of land "for a burying place at the north end of his land adjoyning upon ye highway leading to Swetts ferry." [John J. Currier, History of Newbury, p. 356]

1724 November 3: John [34] Swett, born 3 December 1699 in Newbury, oldest son of John [13] and Susanna Swett, married Sarah Saunders of Haverhill. They had eight children, but five of them died young. [Stackpole says that he lived near the Haverhill end of Rocks bridge, but the bridge wasn't built until 1795, so he actually lived at the Haverhill end of Swett's Ferry.]

1725 November 26: John [13] Swett died. His will dated 20 November 1725 gave his son John [34] Sweat "all the lands and priviledges which I am intitled to either in Haverhill, Almsbury or Kingston, or elsewhere on the north of Merrimack River. Also my ferry boat and canoe and also my right unto the ferry;" gave his son Benjamin [35] "my dwelling house and buildings of all sorts, also all my lands in Newbury and the one moiety or halfe part of all my marsh lying on Plum Island. I also give him all my stock of cattle and moveables without doors and utencills for husbandry;" gave bequests to daughters Mary, Susannah, Ruth and Hannah, and named Benjamin executor. However, when the will was proved on 27 December 1725, the Probate Judge granted administration to "John Sweet, eldest son of the deceased" because the executor named in the will (Benjamin [35] born 14 March 1708) was "not being of age." [Essex County Probate Records, Vol. 315, pp. 312-314]

1726 Haverhill: At the March meeting for 1726, ten persons living in the east part of town petitioned for permission to assemble for worship at the Amesbury meeting house. The request was granted. [George Wingate Chase, The History of Haverhill, Mass. (1861), p. 279]

1728 June 18 Haverhill: Complaint being made that there were "too many taverns" in town, it was decided that two taverns were "sufficient" for the town's benefit: and Lieutenant Ebenezer Eastman and John Swett were appointed to keep them. Eastman kept in the village, and Swett at Holt's Rocks. [George Wingate Chase, The History of Haverhill, Mass. (1861), p. 283]

1729 John [34] and his uncle Benjamin [15] continued to operate Swett's Ferry. As shown by a map of West Newbury dated 15 September 1729, John Swett lived at the Haverhill end of the ferry, and Benjamin Swett lived at the West Newbury end of the ferry. [John J. Currier, Olde Newbury, 1896, pp. 395-97]

1730 Haverhill: Twelve persons living in the east part of the town petitioned the town to allow them to pay their "minister's rate" in Amesbury, instead of Haverhill -- John Sanders, James Sanders, Robert Hankins, John Sanders, Jr., Abner Chase, Green Whittier, James Bradbury, John Sweet, Joseph Kelley, Anthony Colby, William Bley, Robert Hastings. The request was granted. [George Wingate Chase, The History of Haverhill, Mass. (1861), p. 279]

1731 February 22: "Deacon Caleb Moody, Mr Ezekil Hale & Mr Joshua Bailey were chosen to let out ye Towne of Newburys part of ye Ferry called Swets Ferre for foure years next insuing ye date thereof." [Town of Newbury Records]

1731 March 9: "The selectmen of Newbury received from Mr. John Swett of Haverhill the sum of four pounds for the use of the ferry for the two preceding years." [Records of the Selectmen of Newbury] It looks as though 1730 was the last year Benjamin [15] Swett operated the Newbury end of the ferry. See next entry.

1733 March 5: "The selectmen of Newbury received from Mr. Joshua Bailey three pounds for the use of the ferry for the year 1731, and subsequently received from him three pounds annually for the years 1732, 1733, and 1734." [Records of the Selectmen of Newbury]

1735 March 11: The inhabitants of the town of Newbury passed the following order: "Our Townes part of ye ferre called Swetts ferre is granted to Joshua Bailey upon his giving to ye selectmen a bond to see said ferre be well tended & also to pay four pound a year, yearly, for three years insuing for ye use of ye Towne of Newbury." [Town of Newbury Records (1731-85), p. 21] John [34] Swett continued to operate the Haverhill end of the ferry.

1738 Benjamin [15] Swett died, aged 50. His will, dated 15 June and probated 13 August 1738, gave bequests to wife Mary, sons Stephen, Enoch, John and Daniel, daughters Sarah, Elizabeth, Mary and Hannah, left the rest of his estate to his oldest son Eliphalet and appointed him executor. [Essex County Probate Records, Vol. 322, pp. 357-358]

Eliphalet Swett was my ancestor. He settled in Amesbury, where he was a shipwright, and had a large family. There is still a Swett Street and Swett's Hill in Amesbury, overlooking the Merrimack River.

1738 September 2: "Mary Swett, widow of Benjamin Swett, late of Newbury, ferryman, entered into agreement with her son Eliphalet in which she released to him all her right & title & power of [ ] in her deceased husband's estate. In consideration whereof he, Eliphalet, doth engage that his mother shall have ye full liberty, use & priviledge of ye South Easterly End and Part of ye dcd Benjamin Swett's dwelling house in Newbury, up & down, & that during her widowhood. And if she, ye sd Mary Swett, should marry, then after such her marriage, ye sd Eliphalet should pay to her or her spouse ye full sum of five pounds in bills of credit every year during her natural life." [Amesbury Genealogies, para. 32]

Apparently, Benjamin [15] Swett was the ferryman at the Newbury end of Swett's Ferry all of his adult life, working for his brother John [13] from 1711 to 1725 and then for his nephew John [34] until 1730.

1745 Haverhill: In 1745 there were five ferries across the Merrimack between the village of Haverhill and Swett's Ferry at Holt's Rocks. [George Wingate Chase, The History of Haverhill, Mass. (1861), p. 325]

1750 Haverhill: The little village at the Rocks increased very slowly ... there were but four houses in 1750, owned and occupied by Dr. Brown, John Swett, Joseph Burrill, and Mr. Nichols's father. [George Wingate Chase, The History of Haverhill, Mass. (1861), p. 323]

1756 March 9: David Chase was granted permission to build a warf at his own cost at Swetts ferry. [Town of Newbury Records (1731-85), p. 103]

1760: The town of Haverhill granted John Swett a lease of the ferry at Holt's Rocks for ten years. This ferry had for forty years previous to that time been kept by his father. [George Wingate Chase, The History of Haverhill, Mass. (1861), p. 338]

1780 The will of John [34] Swett, dated 3 April 1778 and proved 17 October 1780, gave his homestead and his interest in the ferry to his grandson, James White of Haverhill (born in 1754 son of his daughter Sarah and her husband Noah White), and named him sole executor. [Essex County Probate Records, Vol. 354, pp. 235-236] All of John [34] Swett's sons had died without a male heir. [Stackpole, p. 25]

1782 March 12: The selectmen of Newbury were authorized "to let that part of Sweats ferry belonging to Newbury and defend the same against the claim made by the town of Haverhill." [Town of Newbury Records]

1789 James White probably sold his homestead in Haverhill and his interest in the ferry when he removed to Thetford, Vermont. [E-mail from David G. White, 1999]

1795 When the Merrimack Bridge later known as Rocks Bridge was built nearby, the ferry was discontinued. It had been there for 100 years. John Kelly established it in 1695 and operated it for 16 years. It was licensed to John Swett, Jr., in 1711. Thereafter, he and his heirs operated both ends of Swett's Ferry for 19 years and the Haverhill end for 78 years.

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