Welcome to Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the first National Historic Site incorporated into the National Park System in 1938.
You could say this site itself is a historical artifact of the commemorative mood of the 1930s. Across the country, there was a sweeping nostalgia for colonial prosperity. At the time, Salem’s former glory was a distant memory, with rundown waterfronts, deteriorating wharves and warehouses, once magnificent mansions, left to disrepair.
The new National Historic Site was to focus mainly on telling the stories of wealthy merchants and how the revenue from their cargo helped America grow as a new nation. This narrative of Salem merchants involved in world trade is not unimportant, but it’s also not a complete picture of what life was like in Salem during the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries.
The stories of the working classes, women, immigrants, and Africans have slowly made their way into mainstream historical narratives. With the help of new research, we hope to bring to light a more complete picture and share the experiences of Africans and people of African descent in historic Salem. We want to acknowledge the connections between the success of the merchant elite, and the slave plantations of the West Indies. We hope that by better understanding the history of slavery in Salem, we can better recognize the legacies of oppression.