Historic Structures

Richard Derby House, Salem Massachusetts

Date added: December 29, 2009 Categories: Massachusetts House Federal Style

The land on which the Derby House sits was purchased in December, 1760, by Captain Richard Derby who was living at the time in a wood gambrel roof house on the corner of Herbert and Derby Streets, more recently know as the Miles Ward House. It is believed that he lived there until his death in 1783. It is suggested, therefore, by Messrs, Felt, Phillips and Small that the brick house was built by Richard Derby for his son Elias Hasket Derby in 1761-62. Richard Derby never paid taxes on the brick house, however Elias Hasket Derby paid his first taxes on real property in Salem in 1763 when he was charged 12 pounds for "1 homestead (N.W. corner unfinished)." He was taxed for a "House viz 7/8 parts" continually until 1782.

The major portion of the house was built in 1761 but the roof was not put on until 1762. There are few definitely identifiable records of the construction, and those appear in 1762. A receipt of January 6, 1762, indicates that Daniel Spoffard received two pounds and thirteen shillings from Richard Derby for work on the roof of a house 43 ft. long and 27 ft. wide, these dimensions approximate the actual dimensions of the Derby House, 28 ft. 9 in. by 43 ft. wide. On May 28, 1762, one John Jones was paid "the sum of three pounds fore Shillings in full for 24 Days Labour on Hasket's House. When the roof was put on in 1762 it is not known definitely what material was used, however, Mr. Edwin W. Small, former superintendent of Salem Maritime National Historic Site in his article on the Derby House proposes that the original roof may hare been slate.

Joseph Mclntire, 1716-1776, a housewright of Salem and father of the well known Salem architect Samuel Mclntire, may have had something to do with the construction since on May 22, 1762, Richard Derby paid him "the sum of forty shillings cash on account" as "Joseph Mackentire."

Elias Hasket Derby was paying rent in 1778 for "the Mansion House of Gov. Wm. Browne", so evidently he and his family moved from the brick house in 1777 or 1778. George Nichols, a prominent shipmaster and merchant, was born in the Derby House on July 4, 1778. His family later moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1779. Henry Prince, a shipmaster for the Derby family, lived In the house next, and appears to have been residing there by 1784 because of a notation in the Derby Papers of a bill of 1784 reading "account of the stuff expended upon Mr. Prince"s House and Fence."

In 1785 Wlias Haskat Derby received the lot and residence as part of his share of his father's estate, and in 1796 he conveyed the lot and buildings to Henry Prince for 1,075 pounds. This transaction was not recorded until January 1, 1801, and shortly after Henry Prince secured a larger frontage on the western boundary of his house. Prince stopped going to sea about 1805 and became a merchant, but Jefferson's embargo and the depression which followed forced him to sell the house on April 9, 1811 to William Ropes, a merchant from Boston. The house was occupied by descendants of the Ropes family until 1873.

After 1873 the house was no longer in the hands of the Ropes family and it had a succession of owners. It was in a rundown condition when acquired by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in April of 1927.