#85 Nottingham Chartered 1722

9 03 2010

#85 Nottingham

Marker Text:

Two miles north on Route 156 (one mile ahead) is Nottingham, home of Revolutionary War Patriots, Generals Thomas Bartlett, Henry Butler, Joseph Cilley, and Henry Dearborn who was later a Congressman, Secretary of War, and Minister to Portugal. Monuments in Nottingham Square, five miles north, commemorate these men and the 1747 massacre of Elizabeth Simpson, Robert Beard and Nathaniel Folson by Indians of the Winnipesaukee Tribe.

This marker is located on Rt 27/107 in Raymond, about 3/4mi west of the junction of Rt 156.  Nottingham Square is 5 miles north on Rt 156.


Land grants were coming fast and furious in the 1700s.  Massachusetts had pretty standard language for all of them, and reading this stuff can put you to sleep quick.  I hope that’s not the case here as we see how a town on the edge of the frontier came to be.

The Nottingham land grant is the next in the expansion of New Hampshire, extending a protective ring westward from the coast. Old Dunstable-1673, the Scotch-Irish settlement (Londonderry)-1719, and The Two Mile Streak-1719 in Barrington were all being populated around this time.  When Nottingham is added (containing today’s towns of Nottingham, Deerfield and Northwood) there is an effective wall set up to help guard against Indian attacks and expand the wealth of New Hampshire.  A map might help here.

notmap2 The grants of the early 1720s.

The request for a land charter was submitted without a suggested name to Boston on April 19, 1721 and signed by 101 men. Boston responded on April 28th:

We, the dwellers at Boston, being in number a considerable part of the persons entered in a petition late granted by the authority of New Hampshire, April 21,1721, for settling a town norwestward of Exeter, etc., at a meeting among ourselves duly warned,

It is voted, That the tract of land contained and set forth in the said petition shall be called New Boston, if our brethren at Newbury and elsewhere are of the same mind, and the gentlemen of the province of New Hampshire approve of ye same to whom we submit the matter.

The people named in the charter were of many different backgrounds and motives.  Most of them came from coastal areas from Portsmouth to Boston. Land speculators were involved, as were entrepreneurs trying to expand their wealth.  Many were veterans of various Indian wars – or their heirs -  granted land as payment for service to the colonies.  20 New Hampshire men were added to the charter in December 1721 by the folks in Exeter who were responsible for it’s execution.

Town of Nottingham SealBut all of them – regardless of station or wealth – were required meet the terms of the grant.  The Royal Charter from George I, dated May 10, 1722 lays out all the details of elections and such.  Each “Proprietor” was required to build a house and plow up and fence in at least 3 acres of land within 3 years, and plant the fields in the 4th year.  Oh, and the charter changed the name to Nottingham.

Land was set aside for the Proprietors to build a town Meeting House, school and parsonage within 4 years.  They were also required to pay for any protection that may be needed and a town minister.

Charter in hand, the Proprietors went about the business of building a town.  Planning meetings were held in Portsmouth or Exeter.  At the first meeting in Exeter in June it was decided that “Major John Gilman, Capt. John Gilman and Capt. John Wadleigh be a committee to agree with men to build a bridge and make good ways to Nottingham.” As noted in a previous post, the Gilman family were quite influential in early Exeter.

There were no roads.  The bridge in question was over the Lamprey River to facilitate connecting the town to Exeter.  It took 2 years to build a way in, survey the land and finally get to the point where they could parcel out land.

The description of the chosen town center from 1724 is told to us thusly:

notmap3 “But the position chosen for the compact part of the town was "beautiful for situation." It was upon the height of a large swell of land, gently sloping in every direction. It was twenty-five miles south-east from what is now the state capital, fourteen miles north-west from Exeter, and twenty west from Portsmouth. The blue waters of the Atlantic, and the white canvas of vessels entering the harbor at Portsmouth, could be distinctly seen; while little lakes sparkled like gems in the wilderness, and Pawtuckaway Mountain gracefully rose in the west, and Saddleback in a more northerly direction, and babbling streams, affording ample water-power, found their way along the valleys. Here, at an elevation of about four hundred and fifty feet above the sea level, they laid out a compact village with great exactness in the form of a cross.“

The small map above (click for big) shows Nottingham Square today, with the originally laid out roads in the form of a cross. The four streets were originally named King St (Southeast to Exeter and the Lamprey bridge), Fish St. (Southwest to “Tuckaway” pond), Bow St (Northwest to Bow pond), and North St. (Northeast toward North River). Roads are said to have been built “Four Rods wide” – about 64 feet!

Parcels of land at the center were assigned to the meeting house, schools, and of course, special plots for the Governor and Lt. Governor.  A total of 134 plots were parceled and lots drawn for ownership.  Generally, the further from town, the more acreage.

The first meeting held in Nottingham itself occurred in 1727 in the town “Block House” – or meeting house.  By then the roads had been laid, town center built and folks were beginning to work the land.  The first order of business was to raise funds to build a mill on the “Tuckaway” river to process lumber.

Like many of the settlements around this time lumber, charcoal and Ships Masts (required by law to be sent to England for the Navy) were the main sources of income.  Farming was of less value because of our rocky soil, but it was good land for raising livestock and planting crops for a family’s use.

Over the next 60 years as Nottingham grew, people in the farther reaches of the town were complaining that it was to far to the town center.  The original planners misjudged the actual size of the grant and positioned the town center in the southeast corner of the grant.  Deerfield would later be set off as it’s own town in 1766, and the folks who lived in what they then called the “North Woods” would split again in 1773 to become Northwood.

It’s hard to imagine the New Hampshire of the 1720s-1730s. Mr. Elliott Colby Cogswell History of Nottingham, Deerfield, and Northwood 1878  gives a glimpse into the early pioneer spirit.

notpic "VARIOUS motives prompted men to engage in the settlement of some of our towns. Some were actuated by a spirit of enterprise. They delighted in seeing highways cut through the wilderness, smoke ascending from many a hill-top, — sign that the woodman’s ax was effecting clearings and rude dwellings were being constructed for those who were willing to dare and endure. It was for the greater safety of the lower towns to have the frontiers extended further from the coast-line, and the towns that were the centers of trade and influence encouraged every attempt to effect a new settlement.”


Mr. Cogswell’s book, celebrating the Northwood centennial was the only source used for this post.  The proceedings of the event are covered, including poetry, song, speeches, etc.  I didn’t read all the speeches (they sure could speechify back then) but enjoyed “The Old Elm Tree” by S. Clarke Buzell was my favorite of those I did.  Check it out if you have a moment extra.


Marker #161 Ladd-Gilman House

8 02 2010

#161 Ladd-Gilman

Marker Text:

Built about 1721 as one of New Hampshire’s earliest brick houses, and enlarged and clapboarded in the 1750s, this dwelling served as the state treasury during the Revolution. Here were born John Taylor Gilman (1753-1828), who was elected governor for an unequalled total of fourteen years, and his brother Nicholas Gilman, Jr. (1755-1814), a signer of the U.S. Constitution. The house has been maintained since 1902 by the Society of the Cincinnati.

Located at the Ladd-Gilman house on Water St. in downtown Exeter, the Marker was erected in 1991. (Leftmost Placemark below)


The Ladd-Gilman House gives us a chance to return to Exeter one more time before the Revolutionary War. This is a chance to catch up with Exeter’s history since the last marker from more than 80 years ago.  After Rev. Wheelwright was booted out of town in 1642 and Exeter came under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, the town began to be settled in earnest. 

Exeter was a desirable place to settle for many reasons. As the Exeter river goes over the falls it becomes the Swampscott river and is part of Great Bay.  Back then, before the construction of dams, salmon were plentiful as they headed from the ocean up the Exeter river to spawn.   The Swampscott river, being a tidal river, provided access to Dover, Strawberry Banke and the ocean.  Alewives were plentiful above the falls providing an opportunity to build fisheries and use the harvested fish to fertilize the soil as land was cleared  and farms built.  The first mill was erected on the east side of the river on the Exeter river falls (map above, center right).  The homes of the settlers were generally on the west side of the river.

As with any new town representatives were selected, taxes set out for the common cause, plots of land claimed and bickered about, grumbles about Massachusetts Government and people generally being people.  Into this new town being structured came a wealthy man named Edward Gilman:

the settlement in Exeter of Edward Gilman in 1647, and his relatives shortly afterwards, men of property and energy, who set up saw-mills and gave an impulse to the business of the place. Bell, History of Exeter

The Gilman family prospered in Exeter as more of the family moved into the town.  Over the next 50 years Exeter would grow steadily,  the primary exports being ship masts, barrel staves and other products produced at the mills.  The first garrison house would be built by a Gilman and still stands today at 12 Water Street (map above, lower right).

Nathaniel Ladd was born in Haverhill MA in the 1650s, married Elizabeth Gilman and eventually settled in Exeter.  He managed to get into a bit of trouble in 1683 when he took part in Gove’s rebellion. Many were angry at provincial Governor who had dissolved the assemblies elected by the people to appoint his own guys. Ladd and 11 others (probably fortified with spirits) rode from Exeter to Hampton with guns and sword at the ready.  They were all arrested except Ladd who managed to escape and went into hiding for a while. Nathaniel Ladd would meet an early death participating in a raid on the Indian settlement at Casco Bay in 1691.  His eldest son, Nathaniel II would build what is today the Ladd-Gilman House.

ladd-gilman HDR Ladd-Gilman House, 11/09

IMG_0226 The original house is all brick, but was clapboarded over later when additions were added in the 1750s.  Through marriage between the Ladd and Gilman families in the 1700s the house was eventually owned by the Gilmans.  Today the house is part of the American Independence Museum in Exeter, and displays historic documents including original drafts of the Declaration of Independence.  Also on the museum property is the Folsom Tavern (pictured above), built in 1775 on the corner of today’s Front and Water streets.  It was moved to this location in 2004. And before you ask, yes, George Washington visited here in 1783.

There will be a little more on this important building in posts about the revolution.

Marker #96 The Two Mile Streak

27 01 2010

#96 Two Mile Streak

Marker Text:

Granted in 1719 to encourage industrial development in the province and called New Portsmouth, this two-mile wide strip of land was set aside to provide homesites for imported workers at the Lamprey Ironworks. Wood from this strip was converted to charcoal for the Ironworks. Absorbed by the 1722 Barrington Grant, the area retains its identity as The Two-Mile Streak. Descendants of early settlers still live here.

This marker was erected in 1974.  It’s located on the east side of Rt. 125, about one and a half miles south of Rt. 9 in Barrington.


Before getting to the Two Mile Streak it’s worth mentioning that the influx of settlers to New England really started to take off in the early 1700s.   Businessman had begun erecting mills on the rivers around Great Bay.  Townships and protective Garrisons were being established along the Merrimack river, and Portsmouth was the center of New Hampshire trade and government

As the population grew, so did the need for resources and trade goods.  Ship masts and lumber were in great demand, and most of the Great Bay area had been clear-cut by 1715 or so.  The trees were cut, masts and lumber made, then shipped off to England for the King.  The settlers needed homes and food, and the resources needed to keep flowing in and out of New Hampshire. Farms and markets were increasing in number and the colony was prospering quite well.  The population by 1720 was nearing approximately 10,000-15,000 people in the towns surrounding Great Bay, double what it had been only 10 years earlier. 

Abundant resources – and profits – attracted prominent and wealthy merchants to our shores.  Among them was a successful captain from Scotland, Archibald MacPheadris, who made his fortune as a sea captain and trader before coming to New Hampshire.  His first ventures here were in the fir trade and lumber exports.  He developed a  good relationship with the Indians and set up a network of outposts and employees to acquire firs.  Investing money in the building and running of lumber mills along the rivers feeding Great Bay produced valuable lumber.  Exporting his products back to London made him one of the richest and most important men in Portsmouth at the time.

Today you can still see his legacy at the home he built in Portsmouth, “The Warner House"

Warner House 1024 Warner House photo provided by and copyright of Philip Case Cohen.  Visit his blog, The Daily Portsmouth!  Check out his Virtual Gallery while you’re over there.

Construction began in 1716 or so (accounts vary) and was completed in 1718.  All of the original brick was imported from Holland, and the cost to build it was a then staggering  £6,000! It was completed in time to present as a gift to his new wife Sarah Wentworth.  She was one of the 16 children of Governor John Wentworth.  MacPheadris was well connected.  They had one child, Mary, who would later marry a gentleman named John Warner.  The home now bears his name.  To read a very interesting detailed history of the house, Volume 7 of the Granite Monthly of 1883 has quite the colorful story.

Now we can get to the Two Mile Streak!

One of  the ventures MacPheadris established in New Hampshire was the first Ironworks in the state, the “Lamprey Ironworks.”

Making Iron is no small thing.  First you have to find the ore, which was dug out of the bogs in the area.  Then you have to smelt it.  That means heat, and lots of it.  MacPheadris needed trees to burn into charcoal to keep his furnace hot, and people to dig up Bog Iron ore and man the Ironworks. It was backbreaking, dirty hot work.  MacPheadris brought employees over from England to man his project.

The Iron was turned into everything from home fixtures (nails, hinges, door handles, etc.) to household goods such as pots and plates. (Photo above is the Iron Furnace in Franconia, click it to visit the web site)

In 1719 the resources required to support the operation were awarded in the form of the Two Mile Streak.  Two miles wide, and six miles long it is today the eastern side of Barrington.  Homes were built for the families of the men that worked for the Ironworks, and the wood of the land kept the furnace going. The streak can be clearly seen in this portion of a 1784 map by Samuel Holland (click to enlarge).

two mile streak

In 1722 the Streak became part of the Barrington Grant that created that township (and included what is today Strafford). The same charter created the towns of Chester, Nottingham and Rochester.  Barrington would begin to be settled in earnest in the mid 1730s.

The Lamprey Ironworks operated until MacPheadris’ death in 1728.  He had been an entrepreneur, magistrate in Portsmouth, part of the Kings Council and pioneer in developing New Hampshire trade and early industry. The homesteads built for his workers and their families were the first in Barrington.

Today’s Rt. 125 enters Barrington from Lee in the Streak, and runs north through this land grant all the way to the Rochester border.  It’s not very impressive when you drive along, but it played an important part in our history, thanks to Captain Archibald MacPhaedris.

He was Capt. Archibald Macpheadris, a yellow-haired Scotchman, as crotchety as his late countryman, Carlyle, an indefatigable worker, a prosperous merchant and speculator, whose thrift brought him wealth.”

Marker #58 Scotch-Irish Settlement – and Tartan!

19 01 2010

#58 Scotch-Irish Settlement

Marker Text:

In April 1719, sixteen Presbyterian Scotch-Irish families settled here in two rows of cabins along West Running Brook easterly of Beaver Brook. Initially known as Nutfield, the settlement became Londonderry in 1723. The first year, a field was planted, known as the Common Field, where the potato was first grown in North America.

Located about a mile east of the Derry rotary on East Derry Rd in front of the East Derry Church and site of the first meetinghouse. Marker erected in 1969.



The Scotch-Irish – also known as the Ulster-Scots – have  a pretty interesting history.  Back in the days of King James I and through the 1600s, there were settlers sent from Scotland to Catholic Ireland.  One of the first was in what came to be known as Ulster County.  The major town was … Londonderry!

Of course the native Catholics weren’t to happy about having land given to these immigrating Presbyterian Scotsmen. It didn’t take long before hostilities broke out. 

By 1641 The Irish Rebellion was in full swing.  This was pretty much the start of the centuries long strife between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.  We don’t need to go through it all here.  Lets just follow the Scotch-Irish that came to New Hampshire.

As previously noted, the Scotch-Irish were Presbyterians.  They had splintered away from the official English church.  In 1688 the ascension of William to the English throne brought relative peace to Ireland.  The Scotch-Irish were allowed to practice their religion, but were required to pay the church of England 10% of everything they produced.  They land they lived on and worked was only leased to them by the crown – they could be evicted at any time.

Edward Parker, in his 1851 “History of Londonderry” quotes an earlier historian commenting on the feelings in Northern Ireland at the time between the Protestants and the Catholics:

"On the same soil dwelt two populations, locally intermixed, morally and politically sundered. The difference of religion was by no means the only difference, and was perhaps not even the chief difference, which existed between them. They sprang from different stocks. They spoke different languages. They had different national characters, as strongly opposed as any two national characters in Europe. They were in widely different stages of civilization. There could, therefore, be little sympathy between them ; and centuries of calamities and wrongs had generated a strong antipathy. The relation in which the minority stood to the majority, resembled the relation in which the followers of William the Conqueror stood to the Saxon churls, or the relation in which the followers of Cortez stood to the Indians of Mexico."

So there they were.  No real land ownership, taxed to support a church they didn’t believe in and surrounded by animosity from both the Irish Catholics and church of England.  And they had heard things.  Good things about new freedoms across the Atlantic.  It didn’t take long for them to realize leaving for the new world might not be such a bad idea.

Four Presbyterian clergymen gathered all the interested families from their churches. 217 signed the request that was sent to Boston in the hands of Reverend Boyd.  The colony said “sure, come on over!” and they did.  They arrived in Boston in August of 1718.

In the fall of that year a gentleman named MacGregor took 16 of these families to Casco Bay to find a place to settle, but arrived late in the fall.  They spent a miserable winter aboard ship, sick and hungry, iced into the bay.  Boston sent enough food to see them to the spring.

In the spring they explored the lands around Casco Bay but couldn’t find anything to their liking.  So they struck west into the Merrimack valley, arriving at the settlement in Haverhill, MA.  Once there they began asking about land that could be settled and were told of an area called Nutfield, about 15 miles northwest.  The men went to explore the new area and fell in love. 

#58 mid_plus_dark_tonemapped November 2009

They communicated the selection of the land to Boston – making their claim – and proceeded to build some crude huts before returning to gather up their families and few possessions for the trip to their new home.   As the marker notes, 5 years later they renamed the town after their old home in Ireland, Londonderry.

Now to important stuff.  Potatoes!  That’s quite a claim on the marker: “The first year, a field was planted, known as the Common Field, where the potato was first grown in North America.”  Could it be true?  This calls for some intense googling.

It seems that a few people brought some potatoes in the 1600s, but no one really established a potato plantation.  All of the most reliable Potato Historians do indeed place the first legitimate Potato farms in Londonderry, 1719.  Take that Maine!

Special bonus for all my Crafty readers, the Official State of New Hampshire Tartan!

Yes we do have one, approved by the state legislature in 1995 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the New Hampshire Highland Games.


Here is the Sett for the Tartan:

green 56, black 2, green 2, black 12, white 2, black 12, purple 2, black 2, purple 8, red 6, purple 28

tartan2The colors represent:

Green represents our forests, Black the granite of our mountains, White is the snow, Purple our state flower the Lilac and bird the purple finch.  Red represents all our state Heroes.

I’ll let some of our weavers explain how a list of colored string gets turned into tartan.  Looms scare me.

Marker #55 Baker River

12 01 2010

#55 Baker River

Marker Text:

Known to Indians as Asquamchumauke, the nearby river was renamed for Lt. Thomas Baker (1682-1753) whose company of 34 scouts from Northhampton, Mass. passed down this valley in 1712. A few miles south his men destroyed a Pemigewasset Indian village. Massachusetts rewarded the expedition with a scalp bounty of £40 and made Baker a captain.

Erected in 1968, this marker is located on Rt 25 in Rumney, about 8 miles west of I93 off exit 26, in a rest area and information station.  You’ll pass the world famous Polar Caves on the way there.


The Baker River is a quiet waterway about 36 miles long with its headwaters originating on the south side of Mount Moosilauke (4800 feet).  It parallels  Rt25 in Rumney before entering Plymouth and emptying into the Pemigewasset River.

To learn the full story of Thomas Baker we’ll need to go back 8 years before the event on the marker to 1704 and the town of Deerfield Massachusetts.  It was there that a key event in Queen Anne’s War would occur and chart Baker’s course in life.  The Deerfield Massacre.

At dawn on leap day, February 29th 1704, the settlement at Deerfield came under attack from a force of 300-400 Indians and their French commanders.  Two Garrisons protected the town, one surrounded by a high palisade.  Fearing attacks, many residents spent their nights within the garrison walls.  The attack force stealthily approached the town and climbed snow drifts to get inside the palisade and open the gates.  The massacre was on.  As dawn broke hatchets fell and guns fired.  The Indians ransacked and burned homes lighting up the skies and alerting settlements to the south.

The pattern would be the same as befell Hanah Dustin from Haverhill 7 years earlier:  Strike at dawn, pillage, burn the town, take captives and escape north.  The town garrisons and militia put up a valiant fight eventually driving off the attack. 48 were killed, 140 “alive at home” (wounded) and 112 people were taken captive.

Among the captives was the town minister John Williams, who would later write a book about the event The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion  and 22 year old Thomas Baker.  I’ll bet you thought I forgot about him by now!

To make a long story a bit shorter, Baker was taken to Montreal.  He would spend 15 months there before escaping.  In May of 1705, he and 3 others managed to get clear of Montreal making their way back to Deerfield where they arrived weak and hungry on June 8th.

The Deerfield Massacre, his capture and escape would define Bakers life.  Described as “somewhat rough in manner” he joined the King’s army and became a proficient scout.  Commanding soldiers scouting north for Indian raiding parties would be his day to day life, and he eventually earned a commission to Lieutenant.

#55-3 Now we can get to the event that earned Thomas Baker his promotion to Captain, and the naming of a river after him.  It’s not as exciting as the Deerfield massacre.

The Indians that raided Massachusetts and New Hampshire were using the Pemigewasset more often to make their escape.  Baker was assigned 30-35 men (accounts vary) for an exploratory mission up the Connecticut River Valley and then southeast to what is currently Plymouth NH.  Travelling north they went as far as what is currently Haverhill NH. On their arrival no Indians were to be seen.  Striking Inland and following the terrain the party would eventually arrive in what is today Warren, NH and the Baker River.

Baker River HDR

Baker River, at the marker with Rattlesnake Mt. in the distance, 12/09

The trip down the river was uneventful until the party arrived at the confluence of the Baker River and the Pemigewasset at today’s Plymouth.  There they encountered a small band of Indians who had made their home there.  Baker attacked, killing many including their chief, and scattering the rest.  After inspecting the village they took as many furs and supplies as they could carry, and burned the rest to the ground.  They finished their journey heading south to the Merrimack, and then to Boston to report.

The marker story ends here, but Captain Baker doesn’t.  In 1714, guiding negotiators to Montreal to gain the release of British Captives, Baker would meet his wife Margaret.  As a baby she had been taken from Dover, NH in an Indian raid in 1689.  She was given to the Catholic priests for upbringing.  She married a Frenchman named LeBeau and had three children before M. LeBeau died.

She returned to Massachusetts with Baker and they were wed in 1715.  He continued his scouting missions, became a local politician, and by 1735 had resettled in Margaret’s home town of Dover, NH.  Captain Baker died in 1735.  Mrs. Baker ran a tavern in Dover as a widow until her death in 1773.

Marker #29 Old Dunstable

15 12 2009

#29 Old Dunstable 2

Marker text:

Was the original town, chartered by Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1673, which embraced parts of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The New Hampshire portion of this area, following the determination of the province boundary in 1741, was subsequently divided into Hollis, Hudson, Litchfield, Merrimack, and Nashua.

This marker was originally erected in 1965 south of the old Merrimack Toll plaza on the Everett turnpike.  The toll plaza was replaced in the early 1990s by the Bedford toll, and the marker moved to its current location, on Rt. 3 south, about 1/4 mile south of exit 11.


The early New Hampshire and Massachusetts settlers increased dramatically in the mid 1600s.  The major seacoast settlements were overcrowding and more people petitioned for land.  As a result, settlements began to push inland, and a perfect location for farming and milling was the Merrimack valley and its associated tributaries.

 Merrimack River Basin map, by Karl Musser

But before we learn more about Old Dunstable, how did the Merrimack Valley become such an attractive settlement area in the first ossipee place?  Let’s go back a few million years and find out.  The New Hampshire we love today at one time sat over the “New England Hot Spot” as the North American Plate moved west about 100 million years ago.  The result was a whole bunch of White Mountains, and some volcanoes such as the long dormant ring dike volcano, we call The Ossipee Mountains (left, click for map).

And then the glaciers came.  From about 70,000 years ago, to as early as 10,000 years ago the earth repeatedly warmed and cooled, as it continues to do today.  The last glaciers covered all of New Hampshire, grinding and scouring on their way down, then leaving rivers lakes and the Merrimack Valley behind on the way back.  The good news is that the glaciers receded.  The bad news is that we’re overdue to cool again.  Just saying.

Back to our settlers.  As early as 1655 land grants were being handed out in the valley.  At the time, a large tract of land would be assigned, and the person receiving the grant needed to recruit families to work and settle the area.  This continued to 1673.  That year, 26 of the proprietors of the land – or potential proprietors – petitioned the General Assembly of Massachusetts that their farms (over 14,000 acres by now) be combined into a plantation for the common good.  The assembly agreed, and “Dunstable” was founded.

dunstablehilight Map from The History of Old Dunstable page 14.  Charles Fox – 1846

I’ve highlighted the boundaries in red of the new town.  The town listed as Nashville was eventually incorporated into Nashua, and today the Nashville Historic District is located just north of downtown Nashua, on Concord St.

It’s a large piece of land – more than 200 square miles – and the inhabitants needed the security of a community vs. scattered farms.  In general their relations with the local Abenaki were cordial, many of them having become Christians.  And they were united to keep the aggressive Mohawk tribes from New York at bay.  As more settlers came into the area though, they began pushing the local tribes further away, assigning the Abenaki lands of their own.

By 1675 and the outbreak of King Philips war and his intent to “exterminate the  English”, few Garrison houses had been built.  The most settled area was in and around todays Nashua, especially where the Nashua River joins the Merrimack.  The local Abenaki, having no desire to join the fight against the English went north.  Most all of the residents of Dunstable decided to leave for the coast.  They were few, isolated and indian-attack vulnerable to attack on the frontier.

The settlers petitioned the colony for security.  The main Garrison at Dunstable was reinforced.  King Philip and the better part of his army was defeated in August the following year.  Many more fortifications were added after the war.  The settlers returned to clear the land and make their homes, and the first meeting house was erected by 1678 near the Salmon Brook settlement in Nashua.

When King Williams War came to the new world in 1689 the residents of Dunstable only numbered between 30 and 40 families and would dwindle to about 25 families by the end of the war in 1697.  Constantly worried about imminent attacks, many families left.

Things remained peaceful for 6 years until the outbreak of Queen Anne’s War in 1703.  And once again Dunstable was exposed.  The French were up to their old tricks inciting the Indians against the English.  The inhabitants of Dunstable moved into the protection of the Garrison houses.  More fortifications were erected and men and money sent from the General Assembly.  Things would not improve much, there were simply too few people and men at arms to protect the whole frontier.

countOf the 7 Garrisons in Dunstable in 1711(2 years before the end of Queen Annes War), Fox shows us a tally from the Massachusetts military records.  The small columns read: “No. of families”, “No. of male inhab.”, “No. of Soldiers.”, “Total”.

It’s a pretty sad state of affairs.  19 soldiers and 7 men able to fight.  The other 60 women and children.  The war ended in 1713 but the worry would linger even as the settlements began to grow.

Now the settlement would accelerate.  The first in Hudson was in 1710, Nutfield (now Londonderry) in 1719, Brettons Farm (Litchfield) and Chester in 1720, and Merrimack and Pelham in 1722.  The increase in people meant security in numbers and the Dunstable settlements in the Valley grew quickly. As the settlements grew larger they petitioned the General Assembly to incorporate as towns.  The names and boundaries would be defined throughout the 1730s.  Merrimac, Nottingham-West (now Hudson), Litchfield, Hollis, Townsend, Nashua, Tyngsborough, Nashville (now part of Nashua).

Finally in 1741 the long dispute between Massachusetts and New Hampshire over the boundaries was settled  and “Old Dunstable” found itself sliced nearly in half.  Not all of the newly minted New Hampshire residents were pleased, but there was not much they could do.  They had invested in land, mills, farms and homes.  If they could see us now, I’m sure they would choose New Hampshire.

Postscript:  This Marker is posted out of order.  The state marker web site (where I swiped my database) has numbers transposed, listing the charter as 1763 instead of 1673.

Finding this marker was a true pain.  They had to move it someplace!  If you are coming up Rt. 3 from Nashua the back side of the marker is blank, and I don’t remember seeing any “Historic Marker Ahead” signs in either direction.  Just look for the Citizens Bank. 

I exclusively used James Fox 1846 volume History of Old Dunstable for this article.  Of course, any errors are mine.

Marker #154 Packer’s Falls

28 11 2009

#154 Packers Falls

Marker Text:

These scenic falls, 1.6 miles west of here on the Lamprey River, once provided waterpower and industry for the early settlers. A deed dated April 11, 1694, shows that Capt. Packer, Jonathan Woodman, James Davis, Joseph Meder, and James Thomas were granted "the hole streame of Lamprele River for erecting a saw mill or mills." Thomas Packer of Portsmouth was a merchant, physician, judge, member of the King’s Council, and father of the famous Sheriff Thomas Packer.

Located at the corner of Bennett Road and NH 108 this marker was erected in 1985.


The actual falls are located 1.6 miles down Bennett Rd at the bridge on Packer’s Falls Road as shown above.

#154 zpic2The view downstream from the bridge.

As the marker notes, Thomas Packer was granted land to build sawmills and other structures for the purposes of  processing the resources of New Hampshire for trade and shipment back to England.  He was joined by multiple partners, but Packer retained about half the grant on the Lamprey River.

#154 zpic4 Packer’s Falls Bridge.

As this grant occurred in 1694, we’ve made quite a jump from the last Marker (1658).  As you can imagine, a lot happened between these two markers which I’ll document in my next post.  The point to take away here is that the settlers were pushing inland and claiming more land as the early expansion of New England accelerated.

We can learn a bit more from this snippet from Landmarks of Ancient Dover (1892) Page 190:

Packer’s Falls. These falls are in that part of Lamprey river which flows through the southern part of Durham. The name is now confined to the falls just below the bridge on the road to Newmarket—the first falls below Wiswall’s ; but it originally comprised the whole series of falls or rapids along this portion of the river. These falls were in early times generally called "the second falls" a name that included the falls where General Sullivan afterwards established his mills. (See Sullivan’s Falls and Second Falls.)

The name of Packer’s falls was derived, not from Thomas Packer, the sheriff who hung Ruth Blay, but from his father, Col. Thomas Packer, also of Portsmouth, who was at once physician, judge, lieutenant-colonel, and member of the governor’s council.

The town of Dover, Ap. 11, 1694, "granted to Capt. Packer, Jonathan Woodman, James Davis, Joseph Meder, and James Thomas, the whole stream of Lamprele River for the erecting of a sawmill or mills, that is to say, the one half to Capt. Thomas Packer, the other half to the other four men befour mentioned."

Packer’s Falls are so called as early as 1718.

There is a hidden clue in this marker however, with the innocent ending:

“and father of the famous Sheriff Thomas Packer”

And from the narrative above:

“Thomas Packer, the sheriff who hung Ruth Blay”

Oh yeah … my Historic Marker Radar was beeping like crazy!

The first executions ever in Portsmouth were carried out by Sherriff Packer in 1739, and involved two women accused of murdering an Infant.  Nearly 30 years later Ms. Blay, a 25 year old schoolteacher was similarly accused of murdering her newborn child.  It was later found to be stillborn.

Her friends made numerous attempts to stay the execution, and a reprieve was on the way, but too late to save her.  As the story goes, the Sherriff moved up the execution time by one hour, so he wouldn’t miss his dinner.  The reprieve arrived 20 minutes after her hanging.   She was buried in an unmarked grave at South St. Cemetery in Portsmouth, that some say she and her stillborn child haunt to this very day.

Only 3 women were ever executed in Portsmouth, all 3 by Sherriff Packer.  His execution of Ruth Blay was immortalized in a poem by Albert Laighton “The Ballad of Ruth Blay.” Perhaps the Historic Marker should read “the infamous Sherriff Thomas Packer.”

In the worn and dusty annals

Of our old and quiet town,

With its streets of leafy beauty,

And its houses quaint and brown,–


With its dear associations,

Hallowed by the touch of Time,–

You may read this thrilling legend,

This sad tale of wrong and crime.


In the drear month of December,

Ninety years ago today,

Hundreds of the village people

Saw the hanging of Ruth Blay;–


Saw her, clothed in silk and satin,

Borne beneath the gallows-tree,

Dressed as in her wedding garments,

Soon the bride of Death to be;–


Saw her tears of shame and anguish,

Heard her shrieks of wild despair

Echo through the neighboring woodlands,

Thrill the clear and frosty air;–


Till their hearts were moved to pity

At her fear and agony:

"Doomed to die," they said, "unjustly,

Weak, but innocent is she."


When at last, in tones of warning,

From its high and airy tower,

Slowly, with its tongue of iron,

Tolled the bell the fatal hour.


Like the sound of distant billows,

When the storm is wild and loud,

Breaking on the rocky headlands,

Ran a murmur through the crowd.


And a voice among them shouted,

"Pause before the deed is done;

We have asked reprieve and pardon

For the poor, misguided one."


But these words of Sheriff Packer

Rang above the swelling noise:

"Must I wait and lose my dinner?

Draw away the cart, my boys!"


Fold thy hands in prayer, O woman!

Take thy last look of the sea;

Take thy last look of the landscape;

God be merciful to thee!


Stifled groans, a gasp, a shudder,

And the guilty deed was done;

On a scene of cruel murder

Coldly looked the Winter sun.


Then the people, pale with horror,

Looked with sudden awe behind,

As a field of grain in Autumn

Turns before a passing wind;


For distinctly in the distance,

In the long and frozen street,

They could hear the ringing echoes

Of a horse’s sounding feet.


Nearer came the sound and louder,

Till a steed with panting breath,

From its sides the white foam dripping,

Halted at the scene of death;


And a messenger alighted,

Crying to the crowd, "Make way!

This I bear to Sheriff Packer;

‘Tis a pardon for Ruth Blay!"


But they answered not nor heeded,

For the last fond hope had fled;

In their deep and speechless sorrow,

Pointing only to the dead.


And that night, with burning bosoms,

Muttering curses fierce and loud,

At the house of Sheriff Packer

Gathered the indignant crowd,–


Shouting, as upon a gallows

A grim effigy they bore,

"Be the name of Thomas Packer

A reproach forevermore!"