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Beginning about 1832, it added numerous ships to the whaling fleet. Today, the city gives little hint of its former maritime importance.Notably missing are the docks, which are shown on earlier maps extending into the channel of the Merrimack River, and the shipyards, where the waterfront parking lot is currently located.

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On January 28, 1764, the General Court of Massachusetts passed "An act for erecting part of the town of Newbury into a new town by the name of Newburyport." Whereas the town of Newbury is very large, and the inhabitants of that part of it who dwell by the water-side there, as it is commonly called, are mostly merchants, traders and artificers, and the inhabitants of the other parts of the town are chiefly husbandmen; by means whereof many difficulties and disputes have arisen in managing their public affairs – Be it enacted ... be and hereby are constituted and made a separate and distinct town .... Situated near the mouth of the Merrimack River, it was once a fishing, shipbuilding and shipping center, with an industry in silverware manufacture.Merrimack Arms and Brown Manufacturing Company made Southerner Derringer pistols in their Newburyport factory from 1867 to 1873.A historic seaport with a vibrant tourism industry, Newburyport includes part of Plum Island.The mooring, winter storage and maintenance of recreational boats, motor and sail, still contribute a large part of the city's income.Newburyport is on a major north-south highway, Interstate 95. Route 1) still traverses Newburyport on its way north.

The outer circumferential highway of Boston, Interstate 495, passes nearby in Amesbury. The commuter rail line to Boston ends in a new station at Newburyport.Caldwell's Old Newburyport rum was manufactured locally until well into the 19th century.Although the purchase of slaves in Massachusetts was illegal, ownership of slaves purchased elsewhere was not; consequently the fine homes on High Street were staffed by African and Native American slaves until the newly independent General Court of Massachusetts abolished slavery altogether in the Revolutionary War.Newburyport once had a fishing fleet that operated from Georges Bank to the mouth of the Merrimack River.It was a center for privateering during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812.A Coast Guard station oversees boating activity, especially in the swift tidal currents of the Merrimack River.