This small locality was one of several communities along the New England coast that flourished in the 18th century, thanks to the export business of salted cod. Among the prosperous merchant families living in the area were those of Jeremiah Lee and Elbridge Gerry, who used their transatlantic connections with various European traders to import arms for the American Revolution. Both men belonged to the Massachusetts Committee of Supplies, the organization charged with shaping a rebel army and addressing its logistical needs. As early as November, 1774, they solicited weapons and gunpowder from Diego de Gardoqui, their associate in the Spanish port of Bilbao. These supplies were crucial to the creation of the Continental Army, which was placed under George Washington’s command the following year. In February, 1775, Gardoqui sent 300 muskets and 600 pairs of pistols. In July the sale was repeated, paid for partly with cash and partly with bills of exchange. Gardoqui also secured approval from the Spanish government to export the requested gunpowder, and in March, 1776, he sent off 21.5 additional tons of explosives.
The coast of New England is quite rocky, and the old sections of Marblehead are lined with steep and narrow streets; many of the houses are typically made of wood. Among the most famous is Jeremiah Lee’s home, which is remarkably well preserved, both outside and in its interior. Notable are its hand-painted 18th century wallpaper, many original furniture pieces, and decorative items, including two handsome mirrors. Highly prized and in vogue at the time, mirrors of this style were exported from Bilbao to all parts of the known world.