What is The Josiah Thing House?

Friday, January 17, 2020

In early 2018, Alan and I found out that our adventure in Ireland was coming to a close and we'd have to move back to the U.S. The great thing about his job is there are offices all over the country, and as someone who can do her job practically anywhere, a specific location wasn't required for me either. We looked long and hard at our options - immediately ruling out a move back to the San Francisco Bay Area - and in the end, decided that we wanted to be in New England. Specifically, within a 40 or so minute drive of his office in a Boston suburb.

In February, before we'd broken the news to anyone, we spent a week in Boston to "celebrate our anniversary." Yeah, because Boston in the freezing cold sounded so, so romantic. Thankfully, no one looked askance at this, and when he wasn't working out of that office, we were putting over five hundred miles on our rental car, driving all around the state looking at various communities and determining their suitability for our life. In the end, we decided the coastal communities of the North Shore were our best fast.

Fast forward to May, and we were back again, this time with a realtor and a list of 20 houses we wanted to tour over a long weekend. We focused on search in Marblehead, Salem, Gloucester, Ipswich, and Newburyport. In the course of our epic multi-day search, there were a couple of houses that we thought we were going to love but didn't (always frustrating), plus a few we couldn't agree on, and some that we dismissed immediately. In the end, we were left with about five that were possibilities.

We were pretty sure that we wanted to live in an historic house - the older the better - and Newburyport was neck and neck with Marblehead for the communities we enjoyed the most. Honestly, looking back at the pictures of the house we ended up with, it's amazing I could even convince Alan to look at it in the first place. But the specs were right, the price was at the low end of our range, and the location couldn't be beat. So what if it was funky times one thousand. In the end, I walked out of there with a giant smile on my face. "I love it," I said to him and our realtor when we eventually met up again outside (I have a habit of wandering off on my own ...) Alan was shocked. Like I said, funky (for example: his and her side-by-side master bathrooms - neither of which was very master bathroom like).

We put in an offer, and went back and forth with the sellers until we settled on a price they were happy with, and that was the end of that. When we closed on July 2, the sellers handed over a genealogy of the home, dating it back to the 1700s. Their listing advertised it as the Stephen Cross House, circa 1761, but within these documents I couldn't find anything specific linking this structure with this location, and this particular year.

(A sketch of the history of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury from 1635 to 1845 by Joshua Coffin. On March 17, 1767, Stephen Cross was given permission to set up a distillery in Newburyport.)

What we do know from wills and other recorded records and deeds is that Stephen Cross owned the land this house stands on, and he sold it to Josiah Thing, a blacksmith, in 1795. The house that sits here now was moved here from elsewhere in 1797. Odd as it sounded to us at the time, we've since come to learn this was a common practice in the Colonial era. What we also know is that Stephen Cross had a house on Water Street that was built in 1761, but it was moved in the late 1700s. The theory is that *this* house was Mr. Cross's house, and it was sold to Mr. Thing when he bought the land. But since that's only theory and conjecture, at this point, I don't feel comfortable claiming this as The Stephen Cross House.

At some point, we may pay the Newburyport historical society a ridiculous sum of money to do a more exhaustive search than the former owners were able to do to unravel this mystery (and get ourselves a nifty plaque on the front), but in the meantime, I'm happy to call this The Josiah Thing House. Unfortunately, Mr. Thing was not quite as controversial as old Mr. Cross, so there's nothing in the history books that talks about him, or this house.

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