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New Hampshire Almanac > A Brief History of New Hampshire
Did you know New Hampshire was first named North Virginia, and it was once under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts? Read about the history of New Hampshire!
 

Early historians record that in 1623, under the authority of an English land-grant, Captain John Mason, in conjunction with several others, sent David Thomson, a Scotsman, and Edward and Thomas Hilton, fish-merchants of London, with a number of other people in two divisions to establish a fishing colony in what is now New Hampshire, at the mouth of the Piscataqua River.

One of these divisions, under Thomson, settled near the river’s mouth at a place they called Little Harbor or "Pannaway," now the town of Rye, where they erected salt-drying fish racks and a "factory" or stone house. The other division under the Hilton brothers set up their fishing stages on a neck of land eight miles above, which they called Northam, afterwards named Dover.

Nine years before that Captain John Smith of England and later of Virginia, sailing along the New England coast and inspired by the charm of our summer shores and the solitude of our countrysides, wrote back to his countrymen that:

"Here should be no landlords to rack us with high rents, or extorted fines to consume us. Here every man may be a master of his own labor and land in a short time. The sea there is the strangest pond I ever saw. What sport doth yield a more pleasant content and less hurt or charge than angling with a hook, and crossing the sweet air from isle to isle over the silent streams of a calm sea?"

Thus the settlement of New Hampshire did not happen because those who came here were persecuted out of England. The occasion, which is one of the great events in the annals of the English people, was one planned with much care and earnestness by the English crown and the English parliament. Here James the first began a colonization project which not only provided ships and provisions, but free land bestowed with but one important condition, that it remain always subject to English sovereignty.

So it remained until the "War of the Revolution." Smith first named it "North Virginia" but King James later revised this into "New England." To the map was added the name Portsmouth, taken from the English town where Captain John Mason was commander of the fort, and the name New Hampshire is that of his own English county of Hampshire.

Captain Mason died in 1635, just before his proposed trip to the new country which he never saw. He had invested more than twenty-two thousand pounds in clearing the land, building houses, and preparing for its defense, - a considerable fortune for those days. By then Dover and Portsmouth had expanded into Hampton and Exeter, and its income from fishing was increased by that from trade in furs and timber.

Taking the idea from the English government, a community of "towns" was erected, and this became a "royal province" in 1679 with John Cutt as president, with a population intended to be as nearly like England as it could be. The "royal province" continued until 1698 when it came under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts with Joseph Dudley as Governor. Thus it continued until 1741.

During that time England’s throne had been ruled by William and Mary, Queen Anne, and George I, and New Hampshire was administered by no less than eight lieutenant governors. There had been much unrest in England and as a result, to New Hampshire’s advantage, the Scotch settlers of Londonderry in Ireland had in 1719 sent many of their people here to form a "Scotch" colony in the new place they would call our own Londonderry.

Under King George II New Hampshire returned to its provincial status with a governor of its own, Benning Wentworth, who was its chief magistrate from 1741 to 1766.

During the first two decades of Governor Wentworth’s term New Hampshire had been beset with Indian troubles. With little aid from England, then at war with its old-time enemy, France, the colonists undertook the sieges of Louisbourg, and helped to reduce Crown Point, and in the conquest of Canada. By the time of the signing of the Peace of Paris in 1762, and the end of the Indian fighting under the Rogers Rangers, the entire north country of New Hampshire was ready to be explored, surveyed, and populated.

Governor Wentworth who, as if in anticipation of this opportunity, seems to have been well prepared for it, had arranged the purchase for the sum of fifteen hundred pounds of the unauthenticated claims of Robert Mason, heir of Captain John Mason. This was done through a group of twelve influential citizens who called themselves the "Masonian Proprietors." Having done this, the governor kept the land "within the province."

Governor Wentworth, with all or most of the Masonian Proprietors as his councilors, then proceeded to grant towns to prospective settlers as equally as possible. In addition to the thirty-eight towns already granted, more than a hundred others followed after the year 1761. These towns contained lots available to more than thirty thousand families, many from the older towns in southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but many from other neighboring states. Some of these towns were located in Vermont, to be released later by a court order, which made the western shore of the Connecticut River the state boundary line.

While the new towns were occasionally given the names of the leading grantees, not a few of them bore the historic names of English royalty, frequently those of friends and relatives of Governor Wentworth and his own royal family, the Rockinghams, in England. Many of the beneficiaries were soldiers who had fought in the Indian wars, while a few were of Dutch origin, such as might settle from New York in New Hampshire.

The terms of the grants were simple. The Proprietors could convey only the soil, while the political rights and powers of government came from the province. Provision was made that no land should be subject to taxation or assessment until improved by those holding the titles. Rights were reserved for land for roads, churches and schools, to be built within a definite period of time, for the use of ministers and in many cases for mill-rights. Fees were nominal, often only a shilling or an ear of corn a year. All tall pines should be saved for the King’s navy.

Benning Wentworth died in 1770. He was succeeded by his nephew who later became Sir John Wentworth, the last of the royal governors. He is perhaps best known because of his purchase of a thirty six mile tract of land on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee where he established an estate known as Kingswood. It afterward become Wolfeborough.

Governor Sir John Wentworth’s beneficial acts to the state included the building of roads, including one from Portsmouth to Kingswood; publishing the first accurate state map; organizing the State militia, a member of which was Major Benjamin Thompson of Concord who afterward became known as Count Rumford; his help in founding Dartmouth College; and the building of Wentworth House, now owned by the State. Loyal to the English crown, he embarked for Nova Scotia at the beginning of the Revolution, there to become its lieutenant governor until his death in 1820.

A pre-Revolution event occurring in New Hampshire was the removal in 1774, by a small party of patriots at New Castle, of the powder and guns at Fort William and Mary. Other Revolutionary events included New Hampshire’s participation in the Battle of Bunker Hill at which nearly all the troops doing the actual fighting were said to have been from this State; the signing of the Declaration of Independence by New Hampshire’s Josiah Bartlett, Matthew Thornton, and William Whipple; General John Stark’s victory at the Battle of Bennington; and the success of Captain John Paul Jones at sea.

Just as it was the first to declare its independence and adopt its own constitution, New Hampshire was the ninth and deciding state in accepting the National Constitution as that of a republic, never to be known under any other form of government. New Hampshire’s John Langdon was the first acting vice-president of the United States, and was President of the Senate when Washington was elected first president.

Many events have helped to individualize New Hampshire’s unique history as the decades have followed each other down to the present time. Both Washington and Lafayette passed within our borders. Meshech Weare was elected the first state "president". Morey’s Connecticut River steam-boat preceded Fulton’s by seventeen years. An American President, Franklin Pierce, and a Vice-president, Henry Wilson, were elected, both from New Hampshire. Daniel Webster won his famous Dartmouth College case before the Supreme Court. The first American public library was established at Peterborough. The world-recognized "Concord Coach" was made here, as was America’s first cog-railroad to Mount Washington dating 1869.

Statesmen, educators, inventors, preachers, scientists, explorers, authors, industrialists, engineers, lawyers, diplomats, are all arrayed in the long line of notables New Hampshire claims as coming from her soil.

GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION

New Hampshire is situated the most northern of the thirteen original states and lies between latitude 42-40 and 45-18 north and longitude 70-37 west. It is about 180 miles long and 50 miles wide, although the extreme width is 93 miles.

It is bounded on the north by Quebec province in Canada, on the east by Maine and the Atlantic ocean, on the south by Massachusetts, and on the west by Vermont. The Connecticut River is the western boundary.

"MOTHER OF RIVERS"

Geographies sometimes speak of the state as the "Mother of Rivers." Five of the great streams of New England originate in its granite hills. The Connecticut River rises in the northern part, and for nearly one hundred miles of its winding course hems the shores of the state with a "broad seam of silver." The Pemigewasset River starts in the Profile Lake in the Franconia mountains and joins the Winnipesaukee at Franklin to form the Merrimack, which at one time turned more spindles than any other river in the world. The Cocheco and Salmon Falls rivers join at Dover to form the Piscataqua. In addition, two of the principal rivers of Maine, the Androscoggin and the Saco, have their beginnings in northern New Hampshire.

New Hampshire has 1300 lakes or ponds and 40,000 miles of rivers and streams which provide year round fishing and recreation in scenic surroundings, as well as power for the State’s many industries.

"THE GRANITE STATE"

New Hampshire is commonly known as the Granite State, and of late years by some writers is called the Queen State - "Queen by right of her natural beauty; queen by her native hardy spirit; queen by her diversified industry; queen by reason of her motherhood of great men. She is enthroned on hills of granite, diademed with sparkling waters and sceptered with industry."

The state entertains annually over a million summer visitors who resort in the mountain, lake and seashore scenery. The soil is suitable for fruits, flowers and vegetables. The forests of pine, spruce and hard wood add beauty to the landscape and wealth to the land.

The White Mountains are the natural feature which has the widest fame. New Hampshire bodies of water cover one hundred and fifteen thousand acres and vary from small ponds to Lake Winnipesaukee, which is twenty-two miles long and eight miles wide.

New Hampshire’s publicly-owned aerial tramway, the first erected to a mountain top in North America, is located in Franconia Notch near The Old Man of the Mountain.

No state grows apples of finer flavor than come from the hillsides of New Hampshire. Horticultural shows have no better exhibits than are presented from towns in the southern part of this state. Strawberries, blueberries, peaches and products of the garden are grown in great quantities and shipped hundreds of miles.

New Hampshire is also famous for her products made from the sap of the maple tree.

The state has a seaboard of about eighteen miles. Hampton and Rye beaches have been famous summer resorts since the days Whittier pitched his "tent on the beach." The salt waves of the Atlantic lap the sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky coast into one continuous pleasure ground, where surf bathing and scenic beauty enchant the visitor. In the early fall of 1915 a disastrous fire at Hampton Beach destroyed many of the hotels and places of business there, but the resort has since been rebuilt from the ruins until it is larger and more attractive than ever. The recreational area at Hampton Beach has greatly improved the appearance of that part of the coast. The state maintains a large public bath house and a parking area.

Among New Hampshire’s all-year, all-season recreation attractions, none are more popular than its winter sports. Mount Washington is the highest mountain east of the Rockies and north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Its privately-owned cog railway was the first mountain climbing railway in the world.

New Hampshire has some of the finest ski terrain in the east where the sport may be enjoyed well into July and August.

Portsmouth, the only sea city, has an historic past and a prosperous present with its large navy yard. New Castle is a place of romance and aesthetic beauty and adventure. A large part of the Isles of Shoals in Portsmouth harbor belongs to New Hampshire, with their cottages and hotels. Lobster fishermen find the Isles of Shoals and the New Hampshire coast favorable areas for taking this famous sea food. The state highways are as fine as any state can boast of and are kept in excellent driving condition the year round. New Hampshire is open to visitors, from the coast to the mountains, twelve months in the year.

FISH AND GAME

In 1865 New Hampshire joined the vanguard of American science by establishing a fish and game department, the first one of its kind in New England. Since that date, the efforts of this department have been devoted to the propagation and conservation of fish and game.

In modern times the cultivation of fish and the protection of wildlife have demanded the application of scientific methods quite as much as any other element of our life. It is known fact that while European countries have found vast resources in their shore fisheries, the United States is by no means able to rely on her coast fisheries, and has thus been obliged to develop her inland waters to meet the needs that otherwise could have been met only by importation from other countries. Moreover, while Europe’s supply is bound to lessen in time to come, our supply will continue to increase.

Today, New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department employs a balanced team of trained wildlife men, fish culturists, and law enforcement officers to maintain and increase the available supplies of her native species under the pressure of vastly increased demand. To do so means that every one of her waters and every bit of cover must be contributing its full share to the state’s crop. Research personnel are constantly exploring new avenues to increase natural productivity, while evaluating the results of current practices.

Fish and game is now recognized as a major factor in the recreation business which is one of New Hampshire’s foremost sources of revenue. We can be justly proud of the effective teamwork between department personnel and the sportsmen of the state who are looking forward with the eye of true conservationists to establishing the fish and wildlife species of our state on a secure footing for future years. Deer, grouse, black bear, snowshoe hares, landlocked salmon, togue, black bass, and several species of brook trout are only a few of the wild residents which are to be found in such plenty as to make sportsmen choose New Hampshire first.

This history was edited and revised from an article in the State of New Hampshire Manual for the General Court 1977, pp 115-124, published by the New Hampshire Department of State.

The New Hampshire Almanac is compiled by the New Hampshire State Library from state statutes and other sources as noted.

 

 
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