Salem Maritime National Historic Site
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  • Introduction

    You can begin this tour from any location within the park, but we recommend starting by Waite & Peirce, at 193 Derby Street in Salem. We also recommend following the tour stops in order, as each stop builds off the previous.  


    Before we begin, a note about language.  

    Throughout this tour, you will notice the terms "enslaver" and "master-enslaver" used to describe those who enslaved others. The use of these terms in wholly intentional. Borrowing from Jennifer L. Eichstedt and Stephen Small, authors of Representations of Slavery (Smithsonian Institution 2002), we believe the use of the term "enslaver" as opposed to "master" or "slave-owner," "challenges commonly used language and frames of understanding that replicate systems of racism...(and) continues to mask systems of domination..." by obscuring, "the reality of enslaving human beings," (5). 


    The other term you may note throughout this tour is "enslaved," used to describe people held in bondage, as opposed to the term "slave." As before, this is quite intentional. Again borrowing from Eichstedt and Small, we contend that the term "slave" has a "long tradition of erasing the basic humanity of enslaved people by naming them only in terms of status that was imposed upon them. Using the term 'enslaved people' emphasizes the point that people were enslaved and that who they were exceeded that status," (5). 


    In addition, throughout this tour we will present primary source documents related to the lives of enslaved and formerly enslaved persons. In some cases, we will read aloud or include transcriptions from these texts. The language used to describe people of color in these 18th and 19th century documents in outdated, racist, and unacceptable in contemporary society. However, we have included these documents because we believe they are fundamental to understanding the lives of Africans and people of African-decent in post-Revolution Salem. 

    Tour Stops

    Audio Transcript

    Welcome to Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the first ever National Historic Site incorporated into the National Park System in 1938.  

    This historic site was created during a time period known as the “Colonial Revival Movement,” a nationwide effort to preserve and celebrate early North American culture, specifically the culture and architecture of the East Coast colonies.  

    Salem Maritime was designed to tell the stories of “Salem’s Golden Age of Sail.” Fitting within the Colonial Revival Moment, this site focused on the wealth and luxury of an elite merchant class and how the revenue from their cargo helped America grow as a new nation. But today we know that that particular story is not the whole story. 

    By the 1930s, Salem’s Golden Age of Sail and the city’s cosmopolitan peak were a distant memory. This neighborhood had evolved into a thriving Polish community, with homes garages and stores. But another way to describe this same place, or that same story was rundown waterfronts, deteriorating wharves and warehouses, once magnificent mansions, left to disrepair. 

    So to present an elegant landscape, the National Park Service built fences, laid a cobblestone driveway, planted trees, restored the Derby House and the Hakwes House mansions, and removed numerous undesirable buildings. 

    You could say this site itself is a historical artifact of the Colonial Revival Movement. 

    But the stories of the working classes, women, immigrants, Africans and people of African decent, have slowly made their way into mainstream historical narratives.  

    With the help of new research, we hope to present a more honest history of Salem. During this tour, we’ll explore the connections between Salem’s merchant elite and the slave plantations of the West Indies, as well as the lives of enslaved men and women in Salem. We hope that by confronting the history of slavery in Salem, we can better recognize the legacies of oppression today.  

    Image Descriptions

    Photo credits and descriptions will be provided at each tour stop. Where no credit is given, it is a National Park Service photo.

    Image Descriptions

    1. Courtesy of Ty Hapworth. The Derby House is located at 168 Derby Street in Salem. 
    2. View from the Custom House cupola of Derby Wharf. Buildings visible in the lower left corner are later demolished. (SAMA 014A-041) 
    3. Rear view of the Derby House and Hawkes House during 1930s renovation. Workers lay the cobblestone driveway which remains today at 172 Derby Street. (SAMA 018B-134)