Hidden History – Naumkeag (Salem, MA)

Date Of Visit: February 2, 2019

Location: Salem, MA (formerly Naumkeag)

Summary: The area now known as Salem, MA, was once known for so much more than the venue of the witch hysteria.

Although much is made of the Salem witch trials, there is much more to Salem’s history than this dark spot on the city’s past.

Long before Roger Conant settled in what is now Salem, MA, in the 1620s, the Naumkeag tribe had settled in what is now considered Essex County, comprising essentially the northeast corner of MA.  Although the area originally kept the name Naumkeag, the settlers would decide to change the name.  Naumkeag would eventually become known by its current name of Salem, a name derived from the Hebrew word for peace.

What is interesting is Salem is not the only area which bears the name Naumkeag.  Some areas of western Massachusetts, specifically an estate in Stockbridge bears this name.  If it is named after the same tribe that would be quite a distance to travel (well over 100 miles).  It’s not clear if the same tribe once lived there.  But, it’s more likely the name was derived from the Algonkian name for “fish” which I will touch on later in this post.

Salem keeps ties to the Naumkeag name with some businesses bearing the name and this building on Essex St that some people may never have noticed also bears the name of the area.  Most prominently, the building houses the liquor store Pamplemousse (185 Essex St) in addition to other shops.

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The name is not listed prominently.  So it could be easy to miss.  But, if you look up you can’t miss it.

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The name Naumkeag is most likely derived from the Algonkian root “Namas” meaning “fish.”  As the waterways of Salem were once plentiful with fish and fish was such a major food source this is a logical conclusion. In fact, after a quick search of restaurants in Salem it is evident it still relies on fish and other seafood for its economy.

The native Naumkeag was settled some 4,000 years ago as a seasonal fishing settlement.  Eventually, it became part of  a colonial settlement, as was the case with many former Native American settlements.  Roger Conant would settle that area and a much larger area in 1629.  Now, it is a mere footprint on a city which is rich in many aspects of American history.  In fact, it is plausible to write more hidden histories on Salem as it has played an essential role in many historical events other than the witch trials.  And it all started in a place called Naumkeag.

So, the next time you’re shopping on Essex St or photographing the Halloween revelers, take a look up and note that you’re actually at Naumkeag Block.

 

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