Too Rich for Manchester


This the first of two articles on Manchester’s 18th century son, Samuel Lee.

Samuel Lee (1694-1753), 49, moved with his family to Marblehead in 1743.  It was a bustling seaport, with a large fishery, a growing merchant fleet, and 4,000 inhabitants.  The town that they left behind, Manchester, across Salem Sound, was a village of a few dozen fishermen and farmers.

Samuel was evidently determined to raise the fortunes of himself and his children.  In Manchester, as a master housewright (building contractor), his business often took him out of town; and he was well acquainted with Marblehead—the birthplace of his wife—where, for the past 15 years, a booming commerce had led outsiders to move in and set up as tradesmen and merchants. 

It is likely that his wife, Mary (Tarrin) Lee, had died in Manchester in 1742-3.  Her death may well have been the event that convinced him to move away.  His eldest sons, Samuel (Jr.) and John, were married and had their own homes.  Samuel thought that his daughters, Mary, 23, and Abigail, 10, and younger sons, Jeremiah, 22, and David, 14, might thrive in big Marblehead, where the import-export economy was robust and where newcomers could crack the upper social ranks.  Samuel likely sought the challenges of a new setting and new business opportunities to console himself over the loss of his wife, and to find a new one.

A son of Manchester, young Samuel learned his father’s building trade and rapidly advanced to mastery by his late teens.  At the unusually young age of 18, this whiz kid married Mary Tarrin, 22, the daughter of fisherfolk, in 1712; they would have at least 13 children, of whom Jeremiah was in the middle.  He may have been sociable; and perhaps he was precocious growing up in Manchester.

By the time of his fourth son Jeremiah’s birth in 1721, Samuel Lee, 27, was a leading man of the village.  Since 1717 he had been paying a higher tax than his prosperous father.  At the town meeting, he was elected town treasurer in 1716-1718, and assessor and selectman in 1721 and many times after.  In 1723 he, a housewright, built a gristmill where the brook ran into the harbor.  Evidently, he built commercial buildings (as well as houses), for in December 1723, he (“Mr. Samuel Lee Jr.”) was hired by eight Marbleheaders to build them a large warehouse on a new wharf, which Samuel may also have built.  He probably had similar clients in Salem and Boston, which would account for much of his prosperity.

In 1725, aged 31, Samuel Lee Jr. built a fine house opposite Manchester’s town landing (site of 19 Central Street—see illustration).  He would be elected town clerk, yearly from 1725 to 1738; and he was appointed justice of the peace, in February 1734, after which he was known as Justice Samuel Lee. He did own at least two enslaved people, Stephen and Dilly (Dilla), whose daughter Flora would move to Marblehead and son Caesar would remain in Manchester with Samuel Lee 3rd. 

Samuel was chosen moderator of the Manchester town meeting in June 1742; and in April 1743, he purchased a large house and land on Marblehead’s Training Field Hill (still standing at 183 Washington Street).  Justice Lee soon turned over his Manchester houses to his older sons, Samuel 3rd and John, and moved to Marblehead.

Robert Booth is director and curator of the Manchester Historical Museum, which is currently hosting an art show of local artists.  Come down and see it, or to chat with Bob more about the fascinating life and times of Samuel Lee.

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