THE TOWNSHIP GRANT
In the autumn of 1638, Winnacunnet remaining still unsettled, and the time allowed to the inhabitants of Newbury for a removal hither having nearly expired, a petition, signed by Steven Bachiler and others, was presented to the General Court, asking leave to settle here. Their prayer was granted. The record stands thus:
"The Court grants that the petitioners, Mr. Steven Bachiler, Christo: Hussey, Mary Hussey, vidua, Thom: Cromwell, Samuell Skullard, John Osgood, John Crosse, Samu: Greenfield, John Molton, Tho: Molton, Willi: Estow, Willi: Palmer, Willi: Sergant, Richard Swayne, Willi: Sanders, Robert Tucke, with diverse others, shall have liberty to begin a plantation at Winnacunnet and Mr. Bradstreete, Mr. Winthrope, Junior and Mr. Rawson, or some two of them, are to assist in setting out the place of the towne, and apportioning the severall quantity of land to each man, so as nothing shalbee done therein without leave from them, or two of them." (Mass., Rec., I:236.)
The above grant was made sometime during the session of the General Court, that was commenced Sept. 6, 1638; but as all the acts of the session bear this date, it may not be possible to determine the very day on which the grant was made. Its place on the records--it being the second entry--indicates that it was made very early in the session. An entry on the Records of Hampton, in the handwriting of one of the grantees, Rev. Steven Bachiler, assigns as the date, the seventh of the eighth month, that is October; but as that day was the Sabbath, it must be presumed that some error has crept into the record, which possibly should read, 8:7 mo., that is the eighth of September,--a more probable date, it being two days from the opening of the session.
If there is some uncertainty about the exact date of the grant, there has been until recently, still more about that of the settlement. Several considerations, however, concur to induce the belief, that there was but little delay on the part of the grantees, many of whom had been living at Newbury, only a few miles distant from Winnacunnet, and had, undoubtedly, already explored the land and found the most eligible place for a settlement. When those who had been at Boston to present and urge their petition, had obtained the desired grant, we may readily believe that they returned immediately to their friends at Newbury, and then, as the season was far advanced, proceeded without any needless delay to the place, where they intended to fix their residence. With this view agrees the tradition that the settlement was nearly coëval with the grant. It is also a matter of record, that when the petitioners received permission to form a settlement, "they were shortly after to enter upon and begin the same."
Governor Winthrop affords some aid in determining the date of the settlement. He not only states that, from the great number of persons who arrived in the country in the summer of 1638, it was found necessary to look out new plantations, and that, among others, one was formed at Winicowett, but also under a date corresponding to March, 1639, he writes in his Journal, that Mr. Wheelwright and his company, who had formed a settlement at Exeter, and had purchased of the Indians a large tract of land which included this place, had written to the government of Massachusetts, informing them of their purchase and their intentions, and to those who had been "sent to plant Winicowett, to have them desist, etc." Hence it is evident that the settlement was made prior to this entry, and, consequently, in the preceding autumn or winter. It seems hardly probably that a company of men would go into the wilderness, ten or twelve miles from their families, and seven or eight miles from the nearest habitation, to begin a settlement in the midst of winter.
From a brief entry on the records of the First church in Hampton, made by one of its pastors a hundred years after the settlement was formed, it appears to have been the tradition at that time, that the fourteenth of October was the date of its origin. If such were then the belief, it may reasonably be considered as correct. Several persons were then living, whose parents were among the first inhabitants, and a still larger number, who remembered some of the settlers, and, in all probability, had heard them relate the time and circumstances of the settlement. That the 14th of October was the exact date, there is, indeed, no positive proof; but circumstantial evidence has within a few years, been found, in the discovery of a letter in Rev. Stephen Bachiler's own handwriting, which proves conclusively that the intention, at least, declared within a week of that date, was to begin the settlement on the 14th of October; and there is no reason to suppose that the plan was not carried out.
The letter is as follows:
- "To my worshipful friend John Winthrop, Esq., at his house in Ipswitch. these:
- Worthy Sir,
- I commend me to you & yours in the Lord, So it is, that we are resolved (God so consenting) the second working day of the next weeke to set forward towards our plantation, preparing thereto the day before. We intend to go by a shallop, so that as we hope and desire to have your helpe and our christian friend's Mr. Bradstreet; so we pray you both to be ready to accompany vs, the day following: we were there & vewed it cursoryly & we found a reasonable meet place, which we shall shew you; but we concluded nothing.
- I pray you acquaint Mr. Bradstreet with our desire & purpose, that we may lay some foundation & the better by your helpe & assistance.
- The Lord's good eye be ever upon you & yours, & so I rest in Him that is alsufficient.
- Yours in all christian office & service,
- his most unworthy
- Stephen Bachiler.
- This 9, of this 8th month 1638."
The above date was on Friday. The second working day of the next week (Tuesday) was October 13. The day following (Wednesday) was Oct. 14, when they were to set forward towards the plantation. If the plan was carried out, then the time of making a beginning of the settlement was October 14, 1638.
Aside from any evidence, it would seem hardly probable that the grantees would remain inactive within a few miles of the place, which as early as September or October, they knew was in a few months to become their home, and suffer the autumn and winter to pass away without making any preparation for the accommodation of their families, or for the farming operations of the ensuing season. Prudence would dictate that, at the opening of the spring, they should be in readiness for planting and sowing, without having a large portion of their time occupied in clearing land, or building houses. Some might indeed make such preparation, and yet not remove their families till the return of spring; but that the settlement had actually been commenced before that time, cannot reasonably be doubted.
In the early part of the year 1639, a considerable accession was made to the number of inhabitants. With this new band of settlers, came Mr. Timothy Dalton, who was soon associated with Mr. Bachiler, the pastor of the church, in the work of the ministry. In the course of the year the number of families had increased to about sixty. Such is the statement of a contemporary writer, and his statement is corroborated by other evidence. At a town meeting on the 30th of June in the following year, grants of land were made to nearly sixty persons. Add to these, other names previously entered upon the records, and we have an aggregate of about seventy-five persons, mentioned in such a way as to show, that nearly all of them were then residents of the place. From the great diversity of their names, and from what is known of many of them, it is safe to conclude, that they belonged to almost as many families.
In the spring following the grant for a plantation, the General Court enacted, as follows: dated May 22, 1639.
"Winnacunnet is alowed to bee a towne, & hath power to choose a cunstable & other officers, & make orders for the well ordering of their towne, & to send a deputy to the court; & Christo: Hussey, Willi: Palmer, & Richard Swaine to end all businesses under 20 sh[illings] for this yeare; the laying out of land to bee by those expressed in the former order."
This may be considered as the incorporation of the town. The date of the act, according to the town records, was the 7th of June, the date given above being the time when the session of the court began. The plantation was then "in some degree of forwardness;"--a fact of some importance in determining the time of the first settlement; and tending to show the correctness of the view that has been taken.
During the next fall session of the General Court, the Indian name, by which the town had hitherto been called, was exchanged for the one that it has ever since borne. The brief record of the act is in these words: "Winnacunnet shalbee called Hampton." As briefly is it stated in the town records, that this change was made "at Mr. Bachiler's request." (Mr. Joshua Coffin says that the change in the name of the town was made at the request of Mr. Rawson. This is incorrect.) About the same time, through the influence of John Moulton, the first deputy to the General Court, the right of disposing of, and laying out the land, was vested in the town. The people were now in full possession of town powers and privileges.
In looking back upon this portion of our history, through a period of two centuries and a half, and finding the plantation steadily advancing under prudent management, we are apt to lose sight of the difficulties which the people had to encounter. Of their toils and trials, their sufferings and sorrows, we can have but very inadequate conceptions. They were alone in the midst of an unbroken wilderness. The forest around them had never before echoed with the sound of the axe. No house was opened to afford them shelter, no friendly hand extended to give them aid. Their dependence, under God, was upon themselves alone. Their first labors were undoubtedly expended in constructing for themselves, from the trees of the surrounding forest, log-cabins in which they might repose their weary limbs at night, and find shelter from the frosts and storms of autumn and approaching winter.
In the prosecution of their labors, and in the endurance of hardships, the people appear to have been cheerful and happy. They felt that they had embarked in an important enterprise, and with a firm reliance on Divine Providence, they were confident of success. Hence they were not discouraged by the privations and difficulties incident to a new settlement.
But they met with difficulties and trials, that they had not anticipated. These must now be explained.