Some Great History and a cup of tea…
At 105 Essex Street this building was built in 1808-1809. Over the years it has been called the Brown, Merchant’s, and Union Building. It is the oldest mixed used building in Salem. Over the years the building has seen Sophia’s Antiques, The Merchant Bank, and William Stearn’s Apothecary Store. It has also housed schools, religious groups, and professionals in its offices. John Watson was one of the many tenants that had a school in this building. He was the Parker Brothers’ great grandfather. Over the years the most famous personage to live here outside of Sophia Hawthorne was Congressman and once Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Crowninshield.
He was to open his Merchant Bank in the same location as Jolie Tea on the corner of Union and Essex Streets. The lease was $130 a year. The first deposit of specie in their bank was $54,939.90, $23,841 notes printed for their bank, and $20,279.86 of other bank notes. Once they opened those other banks had to redeem their notes and bring their gold and silver to the new bank to exchange for their bills. They opened their doors on October 11th, 1811.
Also in this year its founder Crowninshield will build his new mansion which is now the Brookhouse Home for Aged Women. Both were paid for by British agents who worked with several in Salem to create a new National Bank after the War of 1812. Many think that the war was brought on for America to incur a war debt forcing them to create a new national bank in which they can sell the majority of the shares to English bankers to handle the debt. 1811 was the year in which The First National Bank of the United States lost its charter. Benjamin Crowninshield would become a director in The Second Bank of the United States after the War in 1816 along with Associate Joseph Story, Senator Nathaniel Silsbee, Stephen White, Joseph White, Thomas Perkins, and Daniel Webster who would become major shareholders in the new bank or directors. All of them received bribes from British agents as well in 1811 and built or bought new mansions.
Benjamin Crowninshield was a State Representative from 1808, 1809, 1810, 1811, and 1821. He served as State Senator 1812, 1822, and 1823. In 1814 he became Secretary of the Navy during the War of 1812. Later he would become a Member of Congress from 1823-1831. He would serve as director of The Second Bank of the United States in Boston and Philadelphia.
After Benjamin Crowninshield stepped down as president of the Merchant’s Bank to become Secretary of the Navy, Associate Superior Court Justice Joseph Story becomes president. Story was also a director of The Second National Bank of the United States in Philadelphia and Boston. Story spent 33 years in the Supreme Court and has had the most impact of the Constitutions interpretation till the modern day. He worked tirelessly with Senator Daniel Webster to protect the national bank from all contenders. Story and Webster were agents for Stephen White who was behind the election and assassination of President William Harrison.
The Merchant Bank operated in this location till 1831 when they moved to the Manning Building which was where the offices are for the Peabody Essex Museum is now in the Bowker Block. In time they would also relocate into the corner of Essex and Washington streets in the Northy Building where Army Barracks is now and then the old Asiatic Building which now houses the new restaurant The Ledger.
Now back to Sophia. Sophia was born in this building. During her early years she played with the Hathorne family, including Nathaniel, till her parents moved her away. Also her mother taught school in this building. After many years of separation Sophia marries Nathaniel in 1842.
Oh by the way, the tunnel entering this building is just under the backroom of Jolie Tea. Now the furnace built just inside of the tunnel entrance is supplied by air within the tunnel.
So come and sit down at Jolie Tea and read Salem Secret Underground:The History of the Tunnels in the City and Sub Rosa over a delicious cup of tea (Maybe a scone too…) to find out more about Benjamin Crowninshield, our nation’s banking history, the tunnels in the city, and other amazing ways Salem, MA has shaped American history.