Hampton 1938 Tercentenary Program Booklet - An Old Town By The Sea

1638 - HAMPTON TERCENTENARY - 1938

Drawing by George K. Ross
Drawing by George K. Ross

By Rev. Edgar Warren

On a bright October afternoon, almost three hundred years ago, the gulls wheeling in ceaseless circles and the foxes peering curiously out of their coverts, were startled to see a shallop beating its way slowly up the winding waters of a tidal river. On board the boat was a little company of men and women who had been granted permission by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts to settle at Winnacunnet on the New Hampshire coast and there establish a church and a township. The reason they selected Winnacunnet, or Hampton, as it later came to be called, as the site of their settlement, was due to the fact that the great marshes, covered with a luxuriant growth of grass, would furnish an inexhaustible supply of feed for their cattle.

The leader of the group was the Rev. Steven Bachiler, a man of remarkable mental and physical vigor. Although 77 years old, his eye was not dim nor his natural force abated. Indeed, he was to live to be 100, and at 80, marry his third wife. Among his descendants were to be the poet Whittier and New England's greatest statesman, Daniel Webster.

The original settlers of Hampton were farmers, although they supplemented their meagre support from the soil by the products of the sea.. There must have been many adventurous and enterprising spirits among them, for the Hampton whale boat is known the world over as a staunch little craft which can breast the fury of the wildest storm.

The town of Hampton was originally much larger than it is at present and comprised within its boundaries what are now half a dozen prosperous towns. The soil was fertile and was particularly adapted to the growth of Indian corn. But before it could be planted, the giant pines which covered the surface had to be felled and their roots removed. The Indian name, Winnacunnet, means "the beautiful place of pines." It was no easy life which the settlers led. They toiled from morning until night. The township was exposed to attacks from wild beast and wild men. At any moment the war whoop of the Indian might resound from the woods, and the settler be called upon to leave the plow and take the musket. Before the outbreak of the Revolution, upwards of 500 men from Hampton had taken up arms against the French and the Indians.

It is a singular and interesting fact that the first armed resistance to British oppression in the North took place in Hampton almost 100 years before the outbreak of the Revolution. In 1682, Charles II of England sent to New Hampshire as royal governor, Edward Cranfield, a most arbitrary and injudicious man. The ruling body at this time was the Assembly, made up of representatives of the four towns of Exeter, Hampton, Portsmouth and Dover, which ably managed the affairs of the little commonwealth. This Assembly refused to comply with Cranfield's commands and he dissolved it. One of the members was Edward Gove, of Hampton, a high-spirited and impulsive man, who resolved not to lightly submit to what he considered an infringement of the people's ancient prerogatives. Mounting his horse he rode through Exeter and Hampton with the cry: "Freemen, come out and stand for your liberties!" He gathered around him a little band of supporters. But before the movement could become formidable, Gove was surrounded by the militia in Hampton village and surrendered. He was tried, convicted of high treason, sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. But this ferocious sentence was never carried out.

After several years commitment to the Tower of London, he was pardoned by the King and permitted to return to Hampton. Gove has been harshly treated by the historians. They have represented him as a rash and impulsive man who headed a hopeless rebellion against constituted authority. But there is another side. I like to think of Gove as a pioneer patriot, as a man in advance of his times, as the morning star of the American Revolution. Had Gove lived a century later, he would have been acclaimed as a great patriot, and his name would have been enrolled with those of Sam Adams, Josiah Quincy, Joseph Warren and John Sullivan.

Religion and education went hand in hand in the little settlement. The original settlers were bound together by a church covenant. The Congregational church in Hampton is the oldest church in continuous existence in New Hampshire, and among its pastors have been many learned and godly men. Church and town were one for nearly two hundred years. The minister was called by vote of the town and a tax was levied for his support. A special town meeting was once held to decide whether the choir at the church should be permitted to sing an anthem on the Sabbath. The anthem was voted down by an overwhelming majority. But the next Sunday, the choir sang an anthem as usual. It is hard to discourage singers. Schools were established at a very early date. There is on record an agreement of the selectmen with a school-master who was employed to teach the children of the town daily for a year. Summer vacations and Saturday holidays were unknown in the schools of our ancestors.

The glory of a town, after all, is not in its wealth or population but in the men and women it has given to the world. Sings the Psalmist. "And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her." Many distinguished men and women have had contact with Hampton, eight through birth or ancestry. As I have pointed out, the blood of Steven Bachiler ran in the veins of John G. Whittier and Daniel Webster. [Editor's note: Whittier was not descended from Steven Bachiler.] Rufus Choate, next to Webster the greatest advocate New England has produced, fitted for college at the old Hampton Academy. A girl was born in the Hampton parsonage who afterwards became the first lady of the land and graced with her presence the White House in Washington, Jane Appleton who became the wife of Franklin Pierce. The ancestors of Edward Tuck came from Hampton. And if you go outside of the narrow bounds of the present Hampton and take in the territory of the ancient town, Hampton may claim a propitiatory interest in Meshech Weare, the first Governor of New Hampshire and friend of Washington, Frank Sanborn the abolitionist, Ralph Adams Cram, America's most distinguished architect,and Alice Brown, the gifted novelist and poet.

Should I conclude my writings on Hampton with no reference to Hampton Beach, it would seem to many like a description of a wedding with the bride's name omitted. And yet for nearly 200 years the town did not realize that in the Beach it had it biggest asset. Access to the Beach was difficult, and the only buildings along the shore were a few shacks where fishermen cleaned their fish and housed their boats. In 1800, John Elkins built a one-story house at the North Beach, which he sold a year or two later to Moses Leavitt. Every winter fishmongers would make their way over the snowy roads from the back towns of New Hampshire and Vermont for loads of frozen fish, which they would sell upon their return to local consumers, and while at the Beach, they were put up by Mr. and Mrs. Leavitt. This was the beginning of the Beach's colossal development. A road to the South Beach was opened and soon people began to discover the charms which Nature had provided. Hotels for the accommodation of guests were constructed on and near Boar's Head. These were well filled and soon summer cottages began to appear. With the construction of the electric road from Exeter to Hampton Beach, in 1897, the tide of summer travel began to set in towards the resort. Now from the Long Bridge to the North Hampton line there is a continuous settlement. No beach along the Atlantic shore is cleaner and cooler in summer. On great days, there are often 100,00 people on the shore. If town and State combine to conserve to conserve the Beach and to protect it from destruction from the tides and the sea, the future of the Beach will be even greater than the past. Come to Hampton Beach this summer and you will echo these words of Whittier:

Good-by to care and pain! I take mine ease to-day:
Here where these sunny waters break,
And ripples this keen breeze, I shake
All burdens from the heart, all weary thoughts away.

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