An Historical Address -- Part 1

Delivered at Hampton, New Hampshire, on the 25th of December, 1838,

In Commemoration of the Settlement of That Town: Two Hundred Years Having Elapsed Since That Event.

By Joseph Dow, A. M.

Published by Request. Printed by Asa McFarland, Concord. (Opposite the State House.) February, MDCCCXXXIX

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As in the life of every individual, so likewise in the history of every community, there are seasons of more than ordinary interest. There are occasions, where not only individuals, but whole communities, are forcibly reminded of the rapid flight of time, and of the changes effected in a series of years. These changes are not confined to any one class of objects. They may be predicted of almost every thing around us. Many of them are so gradual, that, when viewed in relation to two successive days, they are wholly imperceptible; but they are, on this account, no less real. The countenance of a friend, whom we see every day, appears to undergo but little alteration while he is in health; but let us meet him after an absence of several years, and the change, though no greater than before, is very apparent.

On one of those interesting occasions, when our thoughts are busy with the past, and when they also run forward to scan the events of futurity, we have this day assembled. Two hundred years have passed away since the settlement of our town was commenced, and the church that worships in this house, organized. Our thoughts revert to that period, and, in our imaginations, we hear the forests of Winnicumet, echoing, for the first time, with the sounds of civilized life. In the character and the fortunes of the little band that then came hither, we feel a deep interest, for they were our ancestors.

My object in the following remarks, will be, to give a brief account of the settlement of the town; to notice some of the more important transactions of the people, in the infancy of the settlement; to exhibit, however imperfectly, their trials, dangers, and sufferings; and then to trace, in a cursory manner, the history of the first church, through a period of two centuries.

The first permanent settlement in New-England was made near the close of the year 1620.

On the 10th day of August, 1622, a grant was made, by the Council of Plymouth, to Sir Ferdinando Gorges, and Captain John Mason, jointly, of all the land lying between the rivers Merrimack and Sagadehock, now the Androscoggin, -- extending back to the great lakes and the river of Canada. This tract was called Laconia, and it was the first grant in which the territory of Hampton was included.

The next year a settlement was commenced near the mouth of the Piscataqua, and another further up the river, at the place which subsequently received the name of Dover.

The principal object in the formation of these settlements, both of which were commenced under the patronage of Gorges, Mason, and several English merchants, styled the "Company of Laconia," was to carry on the fishing business, which, it was thought, would prove very lucrative.

May 17, 1629, a Deed is said to have been given by certain Indian chiefs, assembled at Swamscot falls, now Exeter, to Rev. John Wheelwright and others, conveying to them, for what was deemed an equivalent, all the land along the coast, between the Merrimack and the Piscataqua rivers, and extending back to a considerable distance into the country. In this tract our own territory was evidently embraced.

Recently, however, the authenticity of this Deed has been denied, though it is admitted that Wheelwright, several years afterwards, purchased of the Indians all the land lying within a considerable distance of Swamscot falls. A similar course was probably pursued by those who formed the first settlement in this place.

On the 7th day of November, 1629, the Council of Plymouth made a new grant to Captain Mason, of a tract of land "from the middle of Piscataqua river, and up the same to the 'farthest head thereof, and from thence north-westward, until 'sixty miles from the mouth of the harbor were finished; also 'through Merrimack river, to the farthest head thereof, and so forward up into the land westward, until sixty miles were finished; and from thence to cross over land to the end of the 'sixty miles as counted from Piscataqua river; together with all 'islands within five leagues of the coast." This tract was called New-Hampshire, and it included the whole of Wheelwright's purchase, if such a purchase was ever made, and a part of the land previously granted to Massachusetts, as by the charter of that colony its territory extended three miles north of the Merrimack.

By other arrangements, made in 1630 and 1631, the settlements on the Piscataqua were divided into two parts, called the upper and the lower plantations. Captain Thomas Wiggen was appointed agent for the former, and Captain Walter Neal for the latter, which extended as far south as the stream called Little river, in the eastern part of North—Hampton.

In 1633 these two agents united in surveying their respective patents, and in laying out the towns of Portsmouth, Northam, afterwards called Dover -- and Hampton; though no settlement had at that time been made at the place last mentioned.

Dr. Belknap says, that this survey was made by order of the company of Laconia, and that these towns, together with Exeter, were named by that company. Hampton was, however, incorporated by its present name at the request of the first pastor of the church established here. Whether he chose the name in conformity to the wishes of the company of Laconia, I cannot tell.

I have been thus particular in noticing the different grants that were made of the same territory, as they gave rise to much subsequent litigation and expense, by which this town, as well as others, was exceedingly harassed.

In 1636 the General Court of Massachusetts authorized two persons, Mr. Dummer and Mr. Spencer, to erect a house at Hampton, which was then called by its Indian name, Winnicumet. A house was accordingly built by Nicholas Easton, under the direction of the two persons just mentioned, and at the expense of the Colony of Massachusetts. This house was called the Bound House, although, as Dr. Belknap observes, it was intended as a mark of possession rather than of limit.

There is no evidence that a settlement was actually made here, till two years afterwards. For what purpose, then, was the Bound House erected?

The General Court had learned, that there were in this vicinity extensive salt-marshes. These must, at that time, have been very valuable, as the upland had not been brought to such a state of cultivation as to afford a sufficient quantity of hay to winter the stock which might be kept through the summer. The court wished to secure these marshes, and, by causing a house to he erected near them, at the expense of the Colony, they virtually claimed jurisdiction over them. It was, perhaps, for the purpose of asserting such a jurisdiction, that they adopted this measure.

On what grounds could the General Court claim jurisdiction here? The chartered limits of Massachusetts extended only three miles north of the Merrimack but the Bound House was probably much farther from that river.

That they did set up such a claim, is evident from the fact that they soon after made a formal grant of the territory to the company that actually formed a settlement here.

By a plain, natural construction of the meaning of their charter, this place was, undoubtedly, beyond their limits, while it was evidently included in tIme grant made to Captain Mason. The charters, however, that were given by the Council of Plymouth, and also those granted by the Crown, were often worded with too little care. Sometimes, unquestionably, this arose from a want of sufficient geographical information concerning the portions of country granted, and, at other times, from sheer carelessness.

In this case, the grant to Massachusetts was of land reaching to "three miles north of the Merrimack river, and of every part of it." Now, though that river is more than three miles south of this place, yet, if we trace it up to its source, we shall find, that it rises much farther to the north than we are, and Massachusetts claimed the land to our east and west line, passing through a point three miles north of time most northerly part of the river.

Such a construction of their charter would give the people of that Colony all the hand granted to Mason, amid a large part of Maine, which had been granted to Gorges; thus rendering the claims of these two gentleman null and void, as the grants to them were made after that to Massachusetts.

The agent of Mason's estate made some objections to the claims and the proceedings of Massachusetts, yet no legal method was taken to controvert this extension of their claim and, as the historian of New-Hampshire very justly observes, "the way was prepared for one still greater, which many circumstances concurred to establish."

In 1638 a petition was presented to the General Court of Massachusetts, by a number of people, chiefly from Norfolk in England, praying for permission to settle at Winnicumet. On the 7th of October their request was granted. Few privileges, however, were allowed besides that of forming a settlement. In the language of the early records of our town, "the power of managing the affairs thereof was not then yielded to them, but committed by the court to" three gentlemen, not belonging to the settlement, " so as nothing might be done without the allowance of them, or two of them." [John Winthrop, Jr., and Mr. Rawson -- probably Edward Rawson -- were two of this committee. The name of the other is gone from the records of the town.]

It was not till the 7th of June, 1639, that the plantation was allowed to be a town, and to choose a constable and other officers, amid, as our records state, "to make orders for the well ordering of the town, amid to send a deputy to the court." Even then the power of laying out land was not granted to the town, but was left to the three gentlemen to whom I have already alluded.

At that time three men belonging to the town, viz. Christopher Hussey, William Palmer, and Richard Swaine,were appointed by the General Court, as commissioners, or justices, to have jurisdiction over all causes of twenty shillings, or under.

On the 4th day of September, in the same year, at the request of Rev. Stephen Bachelor, the name of the town was changed from Winnicumet to Hampton, and about the same time, through the influence of their deputy, the right of disposing of the land, and laying it out, was vested in the town.

The number of the original settlers was fifty-six. Rev. Dr. [Jesse] Appleton, in his dedication sermon, preached in 1797, says, "of the names of the first settlers of Hampton, only sixteen are transmitted to us and but four of these names continue in the place." [See Appendix, A.] The same four names are still found among us, though one of them will probably soon become extinct, as it is now borne by only two individuals, both of them aged females.

The names of the sixteen persons referred to by Dr. Appleton are given in the first volume of Belknap's history of New-Hampshire. In that list the name of only one female is found, and it is probable that most of the other settlers were members of the families of these sixteen.

Though the number of settlers was at first only fifty-six, yet large additions were soon made. At the time when the settlement became a town, the number of inhabitants had very much increased. Indeed, a writer who lived and wrote about that time, says that in 1639 there were about sixty families here. [See Appendix, B.] It has been supposed that this writer stated the number larger than it really was. There are, however, reasons for believing that his statement is not far from the truth. In the record of the proceedings at a town meeting, early in the following year, more than sixty individuals are mentioned; and it is probable, from the great diversity of their names, that they belonged to nearly as many different families.

The historian of New-Hampshire says, that the people here began the settlement by laying out the township into one hundred and forty-seven shares. Others, relying upon him as authority, have repeated the statement. Our records, however, furnish an abundance of evidence that it is incorrect; and had Dr. Belknap, in this instance, exercised his usual caution, he would not have been led into such an error. The transaction which probably gave rise to this remark, did not occur till more than seven years after the settlement was commenced, amid, even at that time, there was a division of only a small portion of the land within the limits of the township.

The course the people really pursued was far different from that which has so often been imputed to them. Soon after they were allowed the privileges of freemen, they began to exercise them. The first town meeting, of which any record remains, was held October 31, 1639. William Wakefield was chosen town clerk. The freemen, instead of proceeding to lay out the township into any definite number of shares, appointed a committee, whose duty it should be, for the space of one year, "to measure, lay forth, and bound all such lots as should be granted by the freemen there." The compensation allowed this committee, was twelve shillings for laying out a house lot, and, in ordinary cases, one penny an acre for all other land they might survey.

Only one other article was acted upon at this meeting. The object of that was to secure the seasonable attendance of the freemen at town meetings. A vote was passed, imposing a fine of one shilling on each freeman, who, having had due notice of the meeting, should not be at the place designated, within half an hour of the time appointed.

On other occasions, similar votes were passed, and rules were adopted to secure order and regularity, when the people were assembled in town meeting. I will mention the substance of several regulations made in 1641.

At the close of each meeting, a moderator was to be chosen, to preside at the next meeting.

Every meeting was to be opened and closed with prayer by the moderator, unless one of the ministers were present, upon whom he might call to lead in the exercise.

After the prayer at the opening of the meeting, the names of the freemen were to be called, and the absentees noted, by the town clerk.

The moderator was then "to make way for propositions to be considered at the meeting. In doing this, he might propose any business himself, or he might call upon others to mention subjects to be acted upon.

When any person wished to speak in the meeting, he was to do it standing, and having his head uncovered.

When an individual was speaking in an orderly manner, no other one was to be allowed to speak without permission; and no person was to be permitted to speak, at any meeting, more than twice, or three times at most, on the same subject.

When any article of business had been proposed, it was to be disposed of before any other business could be introduced.

Penalties were to be exacted for every violation of any of these rules.

December 24, 1639, grants of land, to the amount of 2,160 acres, were made to 13 persons, in parcels, varying from eighty acres to three hundred. These were merely grants of a certain number of acres, without determining where the different lots should be located. The locations were fixed at subsequent meetings.

It is worthy of notice, that the persons who were regarded as the principal men in the town, received grants of the largest tracts of land, and so uniformly was this the case in regard to those individuals whose rank is known, that we may probably judge, with a considerable degree of accuracy, concerning the standing of others, by the grants made to them. In making the grants just mentioned, the records inform us, that "respect was had, partly to estates, partly to charges, and partly to other things."

Town meetings were frequently holden, at which, in addition to the election of the necessary town officers, the making of regulations for the government of the people, the laying out of highways, and the transaction of such business as ordinarily comes before town meetings, at the present day, the people by vote, admitted persons to enjoy the privileges of freemen, and, from time to time, made such grants of hand as they thought proper.

We come now to the transaction, alleged to have been a division of the town into 147 shares. It took place on the 23d of the 12th mouth, 1645; that is, according to the method of reckoning time, afterwards adopted, in February, 1646. At that time the town having previously disposed of a large portion of the land that had been surveyed, agreed to reserve 200 acres to be disposed of afterwards, and to divide the remaining part of the commons into 147 shares, and to distribute it among persons, most or all of whom had received previous grants.

There is some uncertainty as to the extent that was intended to be given to this order. It is certain that it was not designed to include all the land within the township, which had not already been disposed of, as large tracts were afterwards ordered to be laid out, and others were granted to individuals at different times. The probability is, that it was intended to embrace only such parts of the town as had been actually surveyed, but had not been granted to individuals.* [From a vote of the town passed several years afterwards, it appears, that the land divided at this time was only the Low Common, so called, lying in the northeast part of the own.]

Six years after this transaction, it was determined, at a public town meeting, that the great Ox—Common, lying near the Great Boar's Head, "should be shared to each man according as it would hold out." It appears from the records, that in conformity to this order the common was divided into about seventy-five shares, amid distributed among a portion of the people; most of those to whom any part was granted, received one share each, though a few individuals received two, or even three shares apiece.

Four years afterward, Sargent's Island was appropriated to the use of fishermen, for the purpose of building stages and other things necessary in curing fish. There was in the grant, however, a promise, that, if the island should be deserted by fishermen, it should still remain at the town's disposal. 0n the 9th of June, 1663, it was voted in town meeting, that the land in the west part of the town should be laid out to the amount of four thousand acres, extending through the whole breadth of the town along its western boundary. Subsequently it was determined that this land should be laid out, partly in shares of 80 acres each, and partly in shares of 100 acres each.

About a year afterwards, it was agreed, that each one of the inhabitants of the town, who would assure the selectmen that he would settle on these lands within twelve months, should be entitled to twenty acres for a house lot.

This land was called the New Plantation, and it extended from Salisbury to Exeter, and of course was a part of land now embraced in three or four towns.

I have mentioned these instances of grants and of laying out land, merely as a specimen of the course which our forefathers pursued. [See Appendix, C.]

When the settlement was in its infancy, it would have been very much exposed to injury if no precautions had been taken in regard to receiving inhabitants. Mischievous and disorderly persons might have come in and harassed the settlers. This was foreseen, and measures were taken to prevent it. The power of admitting inhabitants and of granting them the privileges of freemen, was strictly guarded. After the town was once organized, none were admitted from abroad without the permission of the freemen. It was voted, "that no manner of person should come into the town as an inhabitant, without the consent of the town, under the penalty of twenty shillings per week, unless he give satisfactory security to the town."

On different occasions, votes were passed to prohibit the selectmen from admitting inhabitants. I will cite several of these, nearly in the words of the Town Records, as they will serve to show the course that was taken in regard to the subject.

The first vote of this kind, on record, is dated on the 6th of the 10th month, 1639, and is as follows: --

"Liberty is given to William Fuller of Ipswich, upon request, to come and sit down here as a planter and smith, in case he bring a certificate of approbation from the elders."

"On the 25th of the 9th month, 1654. -- By an act of the town, Thomas Downes, shoemaker, is admitted an inhabitant, who is to make and mend shoes for the town, upon fair and reasonable terms."

"May 22, 1663. Thomas Parker, shoemaker, desiring liberty to come into the town and follow his trade of shoemaking, liberty accordingly is granted him by the town." Ten men, however, dissented from this vote.

On the 8th of the 10th month, 1662, an order of the town was passed determining who should be regarded as inhabitants. It runs thus: --

"It is acted and ordered, that henceforth no man shall be judged an inhabitant in this town, nor have power or liberty to act in town affairs, or have privilege of commonage, either sweepage or feedage, but he that hath one share of commonage, at least, according to the first division, and land to build upon."

The sources of some of the troubles and perplexities of the early settlers, will next claim our attention. They were harassed by wild beasts, and by lawless men. No wonder, indeed, that they were troubled by the former. Until the English settlements were formed, the wild beast had been free to range the country, their right undisputed, and themselves unmolested, except occasionally by the Indian hunter. It could hardly be expected that they would tamely yield to the new settlers, and acknowledge their right of jurisdiction over them. Though they did not often attack the people, yet they showed less respect for their herds and flocks. It then early became an object with the people to destroy such beasts as were found to be troublesome. Perhaps none annoyed them more than the wolves; and bounties were offered by the town, as an inducement for killing them.

In January, 1645, a bounty of ten shillings was offered for each wolf that might be killed in the town. [See Appendix, D.] Nine years afterwards the bounty was increased to forty shillings. In 1658 it was raised to five pounds.

In 1663 a bounty of twenty shillings was likewise offered for each bear killed within the limits of the town.

The settlers were also troubled by disorderly persons. Depredations were often made upon the common lands owned by the town. The making of staves appears to have been a profitable employment, and some persons, who were engaged in this business, were not very scrupulous in regard to the means employed to procure timber. Wherever they could find any, that was suitable for staves, they took it, without inquiring to whom it belonged. The vest best of the timber was thus, in many instances, taken from the commons. The town adopted various expedients to prevent such acts, but still depredations continued to be committed.

In some instances, persons, whom the town had never admitted as inhabitants, settled on the public lands. In other cases, difficulties occurred, and disputes arose, in consequence of the boundaries of the town not being well defined. There were disputes of this kind with Salisbury, and with Portsmouth.

The township extended so far north as to include a portion of the present town of Rye, and near the northern limit several persons settled without permission from the town. One of the most resolute and stubborn of them was John Locke, who settled at Jocelyn's, -- now Locke's, -- Neck. He was ordered to leave the town, but seems not to have regarded the order; and at length, a committee was chosen at a public town meeting, to go and pull up Locke's fence, and give him notice not to meddle further with the town's property. The difficulty with him was not settled till he, having expressed a willingness to demean himself peaceably as a citizen, was received as an inhabitant, by a vote of the town.

In speaking of the trials of our forefathers, it would be inexcusable to pass over in silence the dangers and the sufferings which resulted from the hostility of the Indians. It is uncertain how soon after the first settlement of the town they began to manifest their hostility. It is, however, evident that it was at a very early period.

In the later part of the year 1640, the town passed a vote in relation to a watch-house, appropriating the meeting-house porch to this purpose, temporarily, till another could be procured. The object of providing a watch-house is not, indeed, stated, but we can hardly conceive of any object, unless fears were entered from Indian hostility. That such was really the case will appear probable, if we compare this vote of the town with another passed several years afterward, at a time when it is well known that most of the settlements in this vicinity were exceedingly harassed by the Indians. The selectmen were then ordered "to build a convenient watch-house, according to law, and to set it where the old watch-house stood, and to provide powder, balls, watches, flints, and what else the law requires, for a town stock for the soldiers."

Trainings were also ordered at an early period. Our records mention one that was appointed by the officers to be held on the 18th of May, 1641. Whether military duty was required by the town, or enjoined by the government of Massachusetts, is not of consequence. In either case, it shows that danger was apprehended from some source or other; but whence, except from the Indians, could the early settlers ion this section of our country anticipate danger, which might be repelled by force of arms?

On the 8th of July, 1689, a vote was passed, very explicit, in regard to the town's apprehension of danger from the Indians. The vote is as follows: --

"That all those who are willing to make a fortification about the meeting-house, to secure themselves and their families from the violence of the heathen, shall have free liberty to do it."

A fortification was accordingly built around the meeting-house, distinct traces of which remained till the academy was removed, a few years ago, to the spot it now occupies, and the land around it ploughed. I believe that, even now, a small portion of the mound may be seen, just without the east side of the academy yard.

May 17, 1692, it was voted to extend the line of this fortification, so as to enclose more space, and liberty was given "to build houses in it according to custom in other forts."

At the same time it was voted to build within the fort, at the town's expense, a house 14 by 16 feet, for the use of the minister, and that, when he made no use of it, it should be improved as a school-house.

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