168 Derby Street, Salem, Massachusetts, 01970
Built in 1762 as a wedding present, this was the home of Elias Hasket Derby (1739-99) and Elizabeth Crowninshield Derby (1727-99) for the first 20 years of their marriage. They lived here with their seven children and enslaved at least two people of African descent. The Derby family became one of Salem’s wealthiest merchants, their wealth was tied to their trade in goods produced by slave plantations in the Caribbean Islands.
Built in 1762 as a wedding present the Derby House was the home of Elias Hasket and Elizabeth Crowninshield Derby for the first twenty years of their marriage. The Derbys raised seven children in this house.
Hasket, Elizabeth, and their children lived here during most of the Revolutionary War. As part of the war effort, Hasket converted many of his family's cargo vessels to privateers. The wealth that the Derbys amassed from privateering was the foundation of the great East India trade that Hasket and others pioneered after the Revolution.
The Derbys sold the "little brick house" as Hasket called it, in 1796, to Capt. Henry Prince, who built the West India Goods Store next to the house around 1800. The Princes lived in the house until 1827. After that time, the house had numerous owners during the remainder of the 19th century. For a while, it was used as a tenement house, and multiple families lived in the building. Many of those families were members of the Polish community who came to work in the nearby mills.
In the early twentieth century, the Derby House was purchased by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England), and restored to its 18th century grandeur. In 1937, SPNEA transferred the house to the newly formed Salem Maritime National Historic Site.
Derby House Garden
While Elizabeth and Elias Derby probably never had a garden behind the brick house that Richard Derby built them, they did have large, elaborate gardens both at their Danvers country estate “Oak Hill” and at their 1798 mansion in downtown Salem. Elias Hasket Derby loved “interesting” plants, and instructed the captains of his ships to bring him plants from their voyages around the world.
The 18th century garden at Salem Maritime NHS was designed in 1990 by Suzanne Gentiluomo, a horticultural expert specializing in historic gardens. With fellow volunteer Joel Ohringer, she created a formal garden typical of those favored by wealthy eigheenth century merchants.
Formal gardens evolved from medieval European palace gardens. Although they were old-fashioned for the late eighteenth century, formal gardens were still common in New England, especially in towns where space was limited. The formal garden behind the Derby House is divided into beds, or parterres d’ broderie (embroidered plots), edged with germander hedges and separated by crushed gravel walkways. Within each bed, vegetables, flowers and herbs all grow together. A traditional parterre was defined by its hedges, so the arrangement of “filler” plants was less important.
The parterres are surrounded by an orchard of fruit trees, leading to a grape arbor at the back of the garden. The entire yard is enclosed by a sturdy fence to keep out wandering livestock. A formal garden symbolized the triumph of Godly order over the diabolical chaos of Nature, which had to be kept at bay with a strong barrier.
The Derby House garden contains more than 150 varieties of heirloom annuals, perennials and bulbs, all documented to 1798 or earlier. Some are native to North America; many were imported. You may even recognize some roadside weeds! The 18th century merchant who owned this garden would have been an enthusiastic plant collector, rather like Elias Hasket Derby.
Last updated: November 10, 2020