The Endicott Estate

In the Herald-Citizen 5/14/2021.

The Glen Magna mansion in May 2021.

Glen Magna, the beautiful mansion at the center of Endicott Park, started as a haven from the British during the War of 1812, and went on to become a center of high society, and the site of a near-assassination of the British politician who governed the worldwide British Empire.

During the War of 1812, Salem merchant Joseph Peabody moved to Danvers because he feared that the New England coast could be attacked by the British Royal Navy, with the port of Salem a likely target. Peabody rented the inland farm in Danvers from Capt. Jonathan Ingersoll, a shipmaster in Salem, and later purchased it in 1814.

A cousin of George Peabody, the famous London banker and philanthropist, Joseph Peabody was the wealthiest ship-owner in Salem until his death in 1844. His fleet of merchant ships traversed the globe, trading in ports in Europe, Africa, and the East Indies. He bought additional nearby land, and increased the estate’s size to 300 acres. As a very wealthy man, Peabody greatly enlarged the mansion on the property, which served as a private home for more than 140 years.

Joseph Peabody (1757-1854), Salem merchant. Wikimedia Commons.

Peabody became an integral part of business in Danvers in addition to his Salem ties, and employed many Danversport men on his ships. One Danversite in his employ was William Endicott, who served on Peabody’s ship Glide that was wrecked in 1829 on an island near Fiji inhabited by cannibals. Endicott survived, living among the natives for four months before he was rescued, and his story became famous among the seamen of Salem.

After Peabody died, the farm was inherited by his daughter Ellen Peabody Endicott and her husband William Crowninshield Endicott Sr. – the son of the William Endicott who sailed on Peabody’s ship Glide. This family traced its roots back to the Crowninshields of Salem, another wealthy family in the maritime trade, but also to the Endicott family of Danvers, descendants of Governor John Endicott, the first resident Governor of Massachusetts, whose farm had been along Endicott Street.

William Crowninshield Endicott Sr. was a successful lawyer, a Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Massachusetts. In 1885 President Grover Cleveland appointed him to be Secretary of War, a role that he held until 1889. While living at Glen Magna, Endicott and Ellen Peabody had two children, William Crowninshield Endicott Jr. and Mary Endicott, who were raised among the political elite and high society.

Due to Endicott’s official position, many important figures in world politics and society visited him at Glen Magna and in Washington, including the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain. As this was the height of the British Empire, Chamberlain was one of the most powerful figures in the world, managing an Empire on which the sun never set. Soon after he first met Endicott’s daughter Mary at a British Embassy ball in Washington in 1888, Chamberlain proposed to her, and the President was in attendance at their wedding.

Joseph Chamberlain and Mary Endicott Chamberlain in 1903. British National Portrait Gallery.

The married couple spent most of their time in England where Chamberlain served in the cabinet and on Her Majesty’s Privy Council, governing Queen Victoria’s realm. In England, the couple was at the height of power of influence, with Mary Endicott Chamberlain accompanying her husband on official visits to various British overseas colonies and Dominions.

The portico side of Glen Magna, May 2021.

They summered at Glen Magna in Danvers, where Joseph Chamberlain temporarily established his office, and while not working he designed one of the estate’s elaborate manicured gardens, known still as the Chamberlain Garden. He often brought his children from two previous marriages to Glen Magna, including future Nobel Peace Prize-winning British Foreign Minister Austen Chamberlain, and also future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Infamous today, Neville Chamberlain is known for his policy of appeasement in the 1930s that allowed Hitler to take Austria and Czechoslovakia and rebuild the German Army without any consequences.

While Joseph Chamberlain was fêted in London as a leading advocate of British imperialism, his policies were less popular in America. Chamberlain was loathed by Irish Americans for his decades-long opposition to Irish Home Rule – the movement to allow Ireland, a British colony for centuries, a degree of self-government. Additionally, during the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1901), Chamberlain’s office led the war effort that included the world’s first modern system of concentration camps, in which the wives and children of the Dutch Boers were imprisoned and starved. They were only given sufficient food if their husbands gave up fighting, as a way to convince the Boers to surrender to British troops.

Boston Globe, October 27, 1902.

During one summer visit to Glen Magna, Mary Endicott Chamberlain was sitting with Joseph Chamberlain on a bench in the elaborate gardens when he was nearly killed. An assassin, enraged by Chamberlain’s oppression of the Irish, crept up to the hedge behind the couple with the goal of killing the Colonial Secretary. However, upon seeing him sitting beside his wife, he wavered, not wishing to murder him in front of her, and the assassin was then caught by the British security detail.

The estate stayed in the Endicott family through the first half of the 20th century. In 1901 Ellen Peabody Endicott, wife of William Crowninshield Endicott Sr., purchased the Derby Summer House – also known as the Tea House, the small two-story structure built in 1793 by Samuel McIntire for Elias Haskett Derby – and moved it to Glen Magna, where it now stands. 

The summer house was willed to the Danvers Historical Society in 1958 by Louisa Thoron Endicott, the wife of William Crowninshield Endicott Jr., and a few years later, the whole estate was put up for sale and expected to be subdivided into 276 house lots.  In 1963 the Danvers Historical Society purchased the central portion of the Glen Magna Estate to preserve the historic mansion, and after a public campaign by local residents the Town purchased the rest of the property to establish Endicott Park and save the open land from development.


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