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Topsfield, Massachusetts Town Records

Topsfield, Massachusetts Town Records

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Topsfield, Massachusetts
Title:Topsfield, Massachusetts Town Records
Dates:1616/1971, 2000/2006
Quantity:28.5 linear feet (24 boxes, 103 volumes, 8 flat files, 4 microfilm reels)
Abstract:The Topsfield, Massachusetts, town records contain select records from the town of Topsfield from the seventeenth through the early twentieth centuries, including town offices and committees, town and military records, private business records, materials about individuals' deed and houses, and some other miscellaneous topics.
Collection Number:EC 31

Series List

SERIES I. Town Offices and Committees
A. Selectmen
B. Treasurer
C. Town Clerk
D. Schools
E. Assessors
F. Finance Committee
SERIES II. Town Records
A. Tax Records
B. Demographic Records
C. Pauper Registry/ Overseers of the Poor
D. Charters and Writs
E. Proprietor
F. Highways and Roads
G. Telephone Poles and Electricity Records
SERIES III. Town Military Records
A. Revolutionary War
B. Civil War and World War I
SERIES IV. Private Businesses
A. General Store Records
B. Mortgage Records
C. Trust Funds
SERIES V. Individual Deeds and Houses [WPA Transcripts]

Scope and Content Note

The Topsfield, Massachusetts, town records contain select records from the town of Topsfield from the seventeenth through the early twentieth centuries, including town offices and committees, town and military records, private business records, materials about individuals' deed and houses, and some other miscellaneous topics. All of the volumes in this collection have maintained their original number from the donor and lender; the following volume numbers do not exist: 10, 62, 76, 90, 92, 93, 94, and 95. Some of the material is available on microfilm. A portion of the collection has mold on it. While most of the mold appears to be inactive, there is some black mold on items found in the flat files, and while the moldy items have been sleeved, individuals with sensitivity to mold should use caution while working with this collection. This collection has been divided into six series.

Series I. Town Offices and Committees contains materials on the various town offices that make up the government of Topsfield, which include selectmen, treasurer, town clerk, schools, assessors, and finance committee. Some of the materials appear to have been bound in a binder together, as they have two uniform holes at the tops of them; these items have been filed in the appropriate place. This series has been divided into six subseries. Subseries A. Selectmen contains correspondence, town warrants, petitions, perambulations, receipts, insurance policies, and bonds. These papers were originally arranged in packages without an identifiable order, so a chronological order was imposed on them. Also included in this subseries are record books and payment authorization books. Subseries B. Treasurer contains materials from the office of the town treasurer, including office holder bonds, treasurer's orders, receipts, and correspondence. Also included in this subseries are account and record books, records of payments, and other logs. Subseries C. Town Clerk contains bound transcripts of the town clerk books for 1809 through 1850, which were originally transcribed by the Conservation Works Administration in 1933 under the supervision of George Francis Dow. At the time, it was not possible to publish the material in 1933, so a surviving carbon copy was typed to provide a few reading copies. These transcripts are divided into two volumes. Also included in this subseries is correspondence, notices, voter and ballot information, and record books. Subseries D. Schools contains teacher recommendations, school committee reports, expenditures, and other miscellaneous papers. There are also school committee record and meeting minute books. Subseries E. Assessors contains assessed values and requests for assessments of properties and other related materials. Also included in this subseries are two assessors' books, and property appraisals and census information for tax returns. Subseries F. Finance Committee contains a town finance committee report for 1944, and a log book from the committee.

Series II. Town Records contains the records from various town activities, such as tax and demographic records, pauper registry/overseers of the poor, charters, proprietor records, highways and roads, and telephone pole records. This series has been divided into seven subseries. Subseries A. Tax Records contains tax warrants, invoices bills, and statements. Volumes in this subseries include tax lists, tax books, and collection books. Subseries B. Demographic Records contains the records of marriage intentions and certificates, communicable and contagious diseases, and death certificates. Also included in this subseries is a verbatim transcript of the first book of town records of births, marriages, and deaths from 1645 to 1740, which was transcribed in 1878. Within the marriage certificates is a folder with marriages of Topsfield residents from the 1700s who were married in other towns, but that were recorded in Topsfield the mid-1800s. Subseries C. Pauper Registry/ Overseers of the Poor papers contain account and record books from the Overseers of the Poor, pauper registries, and other related papers. Included in this subseries is correspondence to the Overseers of the Poor, poor house records, and records binding children to service. Volumes include an account book of the supervisor of the poor farm, overseers' notebook and records, and pauper registries. Subseries D. Charters and Writs contains charters granted by King William and Queen Mary, a volume of perpetual laws of Massachusetts, a journal of the House of Representatives, and writs. Subseries E. Proprietor contains account books for Topsfield, Stickey Meadows, and Common Land. Subseries F. Highways and Roads contains highway limits, taxes, and a highway book. Subseries G. Telephone Poles and Electricity Records contains materials relating to the installation and relocation of telephone poles, electric wires, and lights. This includes requests from the telephone companies to the town clerk and board of selectmen to install and/or relocate telephone poles and wires, and requests or notices that repairs are going to be performed. Also included in this subseries are blueprints of streets and proposed telephone pole locations, the installation and repair of lights and electric wires for telegraphs and railroads, pole locations, and permits.

Series III. Town Military Records contains materials from the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, and World War I. This series has been divided into two subseries. Subseries A. Revolutionary War contains materials from the American Revolutionary War. The majority of the materials have "'Rev"' with a number in pencil written on the top right corner; these materials were once part of a scrapbook; the items have been left in numerical order. For a detailed inventory of the items removed from the scrapbook, see Appendix I. Subseries B. Civil War and World War I contains pension books and family support books from the Civil War, and personnel books from the Civil War and World War I. It also contains transcribed civil war records of enlistments and deaths of Topsfield men; it is not known where the originals are located. Also included in this subseries is a broadside listing the names of men subject to the draft. Some of these materials have a number in pencil written on the top right corner; these items have been left in numberical order, and the inventory has been placed in the control file. Item number one is missing.

Series IV. Private Businesses contains records from some privately owned stores, sales, mortgages, and trust funds. This series has been divided into three subseries. Subseries A. General Store Records contains general store record books and a day book. Subseries B. Mortgage Records contains personal property mortgage books, and loose mortgages and deeds. Also included in this subseries are pew rights. Subseries C. Trust Funds includes a trust fund book and journal.

Series V. Individuals, Deeds, and Houses [WPA Transcripts] contains materials on individuals, personal deeds, land, and houses. The majority is a collection of transcripts that appear to have been created by Works Progress Administration workers (WPA) during the Great Depression, probably as part of the Historical Records Survey. The original materials are most likely located with the town of Topsfield. The transcripts are of deeds and other land related materials, with some family histories, and have been arranged according to family name. At the end of the series is a folder labeled "'Bi monthly project inspection report"' which contains what appear to be notes about the project and the families whose papers were included in the project.

Series VI. Other contains histories of the town of Topsfield, common lands books, burial ground family plots, Sunday school attendance records, a liquor agent book, records on dogs, and an index of instruments. Also included are wills and deeds for the Lamson family of Topsfield, newspapers with mentions of the town of Topsfield in them, and some Kodachrome slides of what appear to be a scrapbook.

Historical Sketch

In 1643, the town of Salem, Massachusetts, was ordered to send people to create a town near Ipswich in the New Meadows land. In 1648, the town was given the name "Toppesfield", later spelled Topsfield. Two years later it became a distinct community. The first selectmen of the town were appointed in 1661. The first school was created in 1694, and the first school house was built in 1740.

Topsfield supported the Revolution due to its residents viewing slights of injustice at the hands of the courts and tariffs to be oppression. The town had a troop of minute men, some of which were veterans from the French and Indian War. Topsfield also supported the abolitionist movements; 132 men served in the Civil War, 22 of which did not return.

The town had multiple shoe factories in the 1800s. The earliest of these were "Ten-footer shops". In 1867, there were four major shoemakers in town and several other smaller shops around. The four were Charles Herrick & Company, Bailey, Saunders & Company, Towne, and Fredrick Stiles. The trade suffered in the economic depression after the civil war. Trade and communication improved with the creation of turnpikes in the area around 1803; the Newbury Turnpike was completed in 1805, connecting the town with the seaport. Hotels began to immerge in the area with this improvement, along with the traditional inns. The town hosted the first Topsfield Fair in 1818 for the Essex Agricultural Society to "'promote and improve the agricultural interests of farmers and others in Essex County"'. The fair continues to be held annually, except for six exceptions when it was canceled by government decree.

In 1854 the Georgetown and Danvers Railroad Company and the Danvers Railroad Company finished the two-year construction of a rail line that took ten years to put into fruition. The line ran until 1950, four years short of its centennial, when service ended.

Today, Topsfield no longer has factories or inns. The town is mostly residential, a characteristic that began the 1900s as it filled with estates. Its population increased after World War II as people moved out of the cities, and created the town's now suburban characteristics.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Contracts for deeds--Massachusetts--Topsfield
Highway departments--Massachusetts--Topsfield
Poor--Services for--Massachusetts--Topsfield
Populations, Human
Public welfare--Massachusetts--Topsfield
Town clerks--Massachusetts--Topsfield
Essex County (Mass.)--History
Topsfield (Mass.)--History
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
Account books


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Topsfield, Massachusetts Town Records, EC 31, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


Two boxes of transcriptions of Topsfield town records are from an unknown source, but were transcribed by Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers. There are six folders of original materials within the transcripts: mortality list from 1850 to 1860, a letter about continental tax during the American Revolution, a verbatim transcript of town records from 1645 to 1750, a highway book from 1861, and two folders of miscellaneous materials from 1726 to 1872. The miscellaneous items include town valuation records from 1869, 1870, and an unknown year, a selectmen's account from 1867, school expenditures, and miscellaneous tax papers. Within the transcripts, folders labeled "Bixbys #33 & 33A" and "#43A Rea [Junior] (Topsfield)" have notes on them that they were a gift from the American Antiquarian Society N12, 1854—it is possible that the original materials, presumably located with the town of Topsfield, were a gift.

The rest of the material was donated by James Long, acting as an agent for the Town Clerk of Topsfield, Massachusetts, in 2010 (accession #2010.001, 2010.002, 2010.003, 2010.004, 2010.005, 2010.006, 2010.007, 2010.008). In 2002, the following volumes were placed on loan from the Topsfield Town Clerk: book #96, book #97, book #98, book #99, book #100, book #101 (accession #2002.053).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Bryanne McArdle, August 2014, Tamara Gaydos, June 2015, Hilary Streifer, June 2015 and September 2017.

Related Material

Dow, George Francis. History of Topsfield Massachusetts. Topsfield: The Perkins Press, 1940.

Isler, Norm. "Topsfield History." Accessed June 9, 2014.

Topsfield Fair. "'Fair History."' Accessed June 24, 2015.

Topsfield Historical Society. "Topsfield History Overview"' by Norm Isler. Accessed June 9, 2014.

Topsfield Rail Trail Committee. "Trail History/Vision". Accessed June 9, 2014.

Topsfield (Mass.) Poll Taxes and Town Records, 1778-1793. Fam. Mss. 1015

Appendix I - Revolutionary War and Militia documents

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