18 Lesser Known Historic Sites in the United States that We've All Been Missing Out On

The era in which Salem Massachusetts was one of the world’s most important and famous ports is commemorated by the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. National Park Service

2. Salem Maritime National Historic Site in Salem, Massachusetts

Salem Massachusetts is most widely renowned for its difficulties with witches and warlocks in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. What is less well known is that at the time of the first census of the United States, Salem was the sixth largest city in the nation, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century it was world famous as a shipping port. Ships from Salem traded around the world, to the Spice Islands of the far Pacific from which they brought pepper home to the United States. Chinese tea was exchanged for American products via ships from Salem, New England codfish was shipped to Europe, salted and dried. Salem ships also participated in the Atlantic triangle trade, which included the shipment of slaves to the American South and the Caribbean islands.

Shipping of spices from the Pacific was so crucial to the town that its seal includes a depiction of pepper from Sumatra. The first shipload of Sumatran pepper brought to Salem delivered a profit of more than 700% to the vessel’s owners. As ships grew larger and their drafts deeper, the relatively shallow harbor became unable to accommodate them, and the great shipping industry of Salem went into steady decline, no longer able to compete with the deep harbors of New York, Boston, and Baltimore. The city became a manufacturing center for a time, which also declined in the early twentieth century. By the end of the twentieth century Salem’s primary industry was tourism, focused largely on the town’s association with witchcraft, though its maritime history is well represented by the Maritime National Historic Site.