While not Salem's richest sea merchant, Joshua Ward built quite a fortune importing molasses for rum, the wildly popular Sumatran pepper, tea, spices, silks, curiosities, and perhaps a pilfered Asian artifact or two. In 1784, he commissioned a new home worthy of his station in life and status in the community. A home that at the time was located on a wharf bearing his name on what was then part of the harbor.
A home where he could (literally) see his ships coming in.
Today, that home is now The Merchant, our historic Salem, MA hotel.
Sea Merchants and the Growth of Salem
It was to the “rich East,” that Salem owed its brief but dazzling period of commercial glory. According to Smithsonian Magazine, in the two decades following the American Revolution, Salem’s sailing ships returned from China and East India brimming with tea and spices, silks and porcelain, ivory, gold dust, molasses for rum and the "black gold" that was Sumatran pepper. "'Boston was the Spain, Salem the Portugal, in the race for Oriental opulence,' wrote historian Samuel Eliot Morison in 1921. Salem’s hugely profitable trade with the Orient transformed this hardscrabble New England seaport into a global powerhouse and, by the early 1800s, the wealthiest city per capita in the United States." This fascinating period of history is reflected in the life of Joshua Ward -- and in the name and tagline of our hotel.
The Merchant's design and interior woodwork was created by noted Salem architect, Samuel McIntire. A woodcarver by trade, McIntire was very well read and taught himself the finer points of drafting and home design. He grew a stellar reputation among the city's elite and designed the vast majority of Salem's elegant homes. Today, the McIntire Historic District comprises 407 homes and buildings along elegant Chestnut Street and throughout downtown. The Merchant's stunning "floating" staircase is believed to be the oldest surviving staircase created by him. We certainly think it is the most beautiful.
On Oct. 29, 1789, newly elected president George Washington came to Salem to a huge celebration where he reviewed the troops, was feted with speeches downtown, danced at a ball at the Assembly House, and viewed a grand fireworks display. He stayed the night in what is now our George Washington King Deluxe room, an honor we are excited to share with our guests.
Ghosts and Other Mysteries
The land on which Joshua Ward chose to build his house was where Sheriff George Corwin lived and maintained his jail in the 1680s. It was Corwin's self-appointed duty to interrogate anyone suspected of witchcraft, as well as carry out the accused's death sentence. For this reason, our building has a reputation of its own for ghosts and mystery -- even in a town full of intrigue and hauntings. Local legend has it that perhaps the spirits of a few innocent victims of Sheriff Corwin still roam our halls. One of these is a woman sporting wild, black hair who "turned up" in a photograph taken by a former tenant of 148 Washington Street. We've never seen or felt her (or anyone else), but we leave that up to you, your senses and your imagination!
Since Joshua Ward's time, the town of Salem has changed both a lot and very little. The river that housed Ward Wharf was filled in to create more building space and the city expanded its borders. But history is still very much alive in Salem. In fact, the residents and visitors thrive on it. Come, stay, explore, and immerse yourself!