Rough draft, last updated Aug 2020
In 1623, Edward Hilton sailed about 8 miles north up the Pisscataqua from where David Thomson settled at Odirone. He landed at “Hilton’s Point”, on a neck of land that was called Winnichahannat. The area underwent several name changes, mainly Northam/Dover Neck/Cochecho.
Fun fact: The Hiltons (Hylton) settled in England during the reign of King Athelstan c.895–939, whose family was heavily portrayed in the Netflix show The Last Kingdom.
Cocheco is another Abenaki name for the area, and I’m still unsure as to exactly when this name was used for the “Cochecho Plantation”. But Dover is the oldest permanent settlement in New Hampshire, and credited as seventh in the United States. At the end of this article, we’ll discuss the legal paperwork that makes this date accepted by historians.
In 1630/31, The Council of New England granted this area of the Piscataqua (called the Squamscott Patent) to Edward Hilton and his associates, which contained the current towns of Dover, Durham, Stratham, and parts of Newington and Greenland. Captain Thomas Wiggins was appointed agent for the grantees of the patent. (17)
One of the colony’s four original townships, Dover, then incluced the current day towns of Durham, Madbury, Newington, Lee, Somersworth, and Rollinsford.
Captain Thomas Wiggin was an agent of John Mason and a proprietor of the Laconia Company. “Governor” Wiggin desinged to build a city on Hilton Point/Dover Neck and he allocated the lands around Little Bay and Great Bay for larger farms. He was called “governor” due to the power granted to him to allocate the lands and organized some form of local government.
William Hilton Sr., brother of Edward, sailed to Plymouth Plantation in 1623 along with his wife and two children, Anne and William Jr. About a year later, the family left and sailed to Hilton Point, and shortly after moved to a cornfield across the Piscataqua to present day Eliot, Maine. Edward evidently bought the fields from local Native Americans. (32)
Thomas Roberts, who accompanied David Thomson to Orione, and Edward Hilton to Hilton’s point, was the last “Governor” or Chief Magistrate of Dover before it was brought into the jurisdiction of the Bay Colony. Roberts had the best selection of land, and in 1628, chose a hill about 2.5 miles north of Hilton’s Point, and it remains the oldest continuously family-owned land in North America.
In 1632, a group of Puratins from The Bay Colony convinced Edward Hilton that Dover overlapped with the Bay jurisdiction, and convinced him to sell the land before that happened. The occupents of Dover Neck stayed and the town of Dover went on to be founded by the Puritans. William Hilton Sr.’s family were forced to leave their home of seven years. (32) William Sr. went on to be a founding member of the Piscataqua area. He was awarded 160 pounds for the loss of his Eliot estate and lands in 1654 by a court ruling, to be paid by the late John Mason’s wife Ann Mason. (32)
Captin William Hilton Jr went on to become a famous mariner and named Hilton Head, South Carolina.
When the waves of immigrants came, they lived close to this original settlement at Dover Neck, and were heavily engaged in fishing, the original purpose of the settlement (as well as searching for previous metals). Both banks of the settlement were lined with numerous ships, landings, and shipyards. In Dover’s early history, shipping masts, dried fish, and beaver skins for Europe were the staples of the area’s economy. Lumber for barrels and casks was hewn in Dover sawmills and regularly shipped to the West Indies in trade for rum and spices. (29)
Captain Thomas Wiggin, agent of John Mason and proprietor of the Laconia Company, brought a crew of people to Dover Neck, and/or by 1633 the area was quite populated. “Governor” Wiggin desinged to build a city on Dover Neck and allocated lands around Little Bay and Great Bay for farming. He was called “governor” due to the power granted to him to allocate the land and organized some form of local government.
“On the most inviting part of the landscape, they constructed their first log meeting house which was surrounded with an “entrenchment and flankarts.” Then, having cleared the trees, the first houses were built in this section. The First, or “Log Meeting House,” built on what was to become Low Street, was the center of business during the first years, as all public meetings were held there, both religious and town meetings. The village quickly grew such that after a few years, the first meetinghouse became too small.
To recap some major developments in the land ownership:
- The land was granted to Edward Hilton via the Squamscott Patent in 1630/31
- Edward Hilton sold the land in 1632
- The Laconia Company failed in 1634
- Dover was incorporated into the Massachusetts Bal Colony in 1642
Since, the population was shifting northward, in 1654, the second, or “Fort Meeting House,” was built at Nutter’s Hill, on what was then High Street. Richard Waldron built the house in exchange for timber rights. The town meetings were held there until 1720, when the bell was removed and the town meetings were held at the new meeting house on Pine Hill, again following the population shift toward the north.” (29)
Is the Wheelwright Deed 1629 Authentic?
A settlement from date range, (1623) is a big deal, and there was some debate on whether Dover was actually founded as far back as 1623. This discovery seemed to confirm it:
a discovery in the Court files of Suffolk County of the Petition of William Hilton, sou of the first settler of that name, dated June i, 1660, to the Honored General Court then assembled in Boston, in relation to some lands bought by him and his father of the Pennacook Indians in 1636. In this petition William Hilton says, that "your petitioner's father, William Hilton, came over into New England about the year Anno Dom. 1621, and 3^our petitioner came about one year and a half after, and 771 a little time follozvins; settled ourselves upon the rive?- of Pis- cataqua with Mr. Ed7v. Hilton, -who icere the first English planters there.'' (27)
People of interest:
CANNEY, THOMAS, 1600—1678. He was born in England and came to New England in 1631. He was a member of Capt. John Mason's company that commenced the settlement of Strawberry Bank. He came to Dover in 1634, having land in what is now Newington, then called Bloody Point-in-Dover. His farm was on the bank of the Pascataqua River, at the cove called Canney's Cove, the cove taking its name from its ownership of the surrounding land. He sold this land to John Seeley, and Seeley sold it to James Rawlins in 1661. Canney removed to Dover Neck before 1650, and resided there the remainder of his life. The present shipyard in Newington is located on part of Thomas Canney's farm. Probably he never anticipated such a use of his shore line. Mr. Canney was a very active man in business affairs, also he was a stanch supporter of the First Church in the time when the Quaker women gave the Church so much trouble, after 1662. In 1670 Thomas Canney renewed his deed of prop- erty to son Joseph; ''My late dwelling house and land, bounded E. by Fore River; N. by a cove ;W. by ye Great Streete On Dover Neck; S. by land of Joseph Austin. Also a lot on Dover Neck, bounded N. by John Roberts ; W. by a cove; S. by land lately Richard Pinkham's. Also 4 acres on Dover Neck, bounded N. by common. Also 30 acres west of Great Bay, except 3 acres of marsh already laid out to son Thomas. Also 80 acres on the north side of Cochecho Marsh. Also one-eighth of Cochecho Point, bounded (undivided) by Cochecho River, Newichawannoch River and Nechewannick Path from Fresh Creek to St. Albans Cove." Acknowledged 6 October, 1670. Jabez Foye, Hatevil Nutter, Job Clement, Sen., were witnesses.
GIBBONS, AMBROSE, first comes to view as steward of Capt. John Mason at Newichawannock, though it has been asserted that he began a settlement at Cape Ann in 1621. In 1634, land was granted to him at Sanders Point, between Little Harbor and Saga- more Creek. He soon moved to Oyster River, in Dover. He is mentioned as Captain in 1642. He was one of the Selectmen of Dover in 1647 and 1648. He died 11 July, 1656. His wife's name was Rebecca; she died 14 May, 1655. Their only child, Rebecca, m. 13 Nov., 1637, Henry Sherburne. She died 3 June, 1667. He was an honest, capable and faithful steward, and knew better than his employer what the plantation needed. The land that he bought at Oyster River was the farm known as the Robert Burnham farm, of which see an account under Mr. Burnham's name in this book. It may have been the same place where the old cellar now is that he built his house ; probably it was the Gibbons house that Burnham at first lived in. (It is an inter- esting fact, too, that there once lived Capt. John Ma- son's steward who came over in 1631.) His only daugh- ter, Rebecca, m. Henry Sherburne of Portsmouth; to their son, Samuel, grandfather Gibbons gave the farm at Oyster River, and Samuel sold it to Robert Burnham, as elsewhere noted. This is one of the historic farms of Durham.