A History of the Piscataqua River Region

Author: Tim Colletto Page 1 of 2

1622 John Mason

Captain John Mason was a colonizer, merchant and sailor. Born in 1586 in King’s Lynn, England, he won the favor of King James I by helping to reclaim the Hebrides (islands off the west coast of Scottland). In 1615, he was appointed governor of the Cuper’s Cove Colony, Newfoundland, a title which he held until 1621. While back in England, he wrote a book called A Brief Discourse of the Newfoundland (1620), along with the first known English map of the island.

After his governorship in Newfoundland ended, he sought Sir William Alexander about colonizing Nova Scotia. It was at this time that he became aquianted with Ferdinando Gorges for the colonization of a better area further south.

Gorges and Mason study the Charter for the Provice of Maine

In 1622, Mason and Ferdinando Gorges received a land patent called “The Province of Maine” from the Council for New England for the lands between the Merimack and Kennebunk Rivers. In 1629, they split the patent, with Mason taking from the Merrimac to Piscataqua, and Gorges from the Piscataqua to the Kennebenc. Along with other rich merchants, they called themselves the “Ligonia” or Laconia Company, which is mentioned extensively throughout this blog.

In the spring of 1623, the Laconia Company sent David Thomson, Edward Hilton, and his brother William, with several other people, to start a settlement, which was at what is now Odiorne Point.

From inventories from his two main settlements at Hilton (Dover) and Newichewonnock (South Berwick) it seems that Mason provided for his tenants well. They had an abundance of arms, clothing, copper, tools, naval stores and fishing gear, cattle from Europe (the first to live in New England). (17)

A lot happened in 1635. Mason was appointed vice-admiral of New England. In September, Gorges sold to Mason a tract of land on the northeast side of the Piscataqua, from it’s mouth by the ocean to three miles inland, and all the way up to the saw mills at Newichewannock. He was preparing for his first voyage to his colony.

But Captain John Mason passed away November 26th, 1635. He poured vast sums of money into his settlements but received little benefit in return. He willed Mason Hall to his gransdon Robert Tufton, and to John Tufton his estate in New Hampshire, requiring them each to take the name Mason. Though he never visited New England, and his estate was valued at ten thousand pounds. (17)

Mrs Anne Mason, executrix of Mason’s will, appointed Francis Norton her attorney, also with powers to take the management of the estate into his hands.

Mrs. Mason found that little income came back from the colonies and neglected to send much else. Many people left the plantations, and those who remained, kept posession of the buildings and lands, and claimed them of new own.

1641 Wells

It’s coming soon!

1633 Sturgeon Creek Village Kittery Eliot

Rough Draft. Coming Soon. Updated Aug-2020

Like other areas around the Piscataqua, there were Native Americans living on the eastern (Maine) side of the river going back possibly 10,000+ years. There will be an accompanying article on Native Americans in York County. The Native camp (or settlement) was on the north side of Sturgeon Creek and it was discussed well into the 17th century. I am still looking into this.

Like many locations, this small inlet river off the Piscataqua was named after the fish that populated it’s waters. Sitting directly across from Hilton Point/Dover Neck, and accessible by boat or ferry, there was a stretch of land where Kittery was originally founded, later to be called Kittery Upper Parish, but now Eliot, Maine.

William Hilton Sr. was possibly the first person living in this area. He sailed to Plymouth Plantation in 1621, and then again in 1623 along with his wife and two children, Anne and William Jr. In 1624, the family left and sailed to Hilton Point, and possibly moved or tended a cornfield across the Piscataqua on or near Sandy Hill, Eliot, Maine. His brother Edward evidently bought the fields from the local Native Americans. (32)

William Sr. went on to be a founding member of the Piscataqua area. He was awarded by a 1654 court ruling of 160 pounds for the loss of his estate and lands, 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.

Somewhere near the cornfield there was a fortified trading post built by John Watts of the Dorchester Company in 1627. It was about 1 mile north of Frankfort Island and is now completely under water due to sea level rise. The Dorchester Company was founded in 1623 by a group of merchants who wanted to establish trade in the New World. They sent 14 fishermen where they established an outpost at Cape Anne Massachusetts called Gloucester. I’m still searching for a connection here.

On Nov. 3rd, 1631, The Council of Plymouth granted Gorges, Mason, Thomas Wannerton, and others a track of land along the eastern side of the Pistacataqua. The first deed on record for this region was one where Walter Neale, agent of the Laconia Company, sold a part of this land to Tomas Cammock in 1633. Thomas lived in Scarborough, Maine and did not live here, and sold this prime real estate to the Shapleigh family a few years later.

So the first actual settlers in this region were Thomas Wannerton, Nicholas Frost, Shapleigh, and William Everett. They settled on the plot of land just south of the Sandy Hill Farm area. The early map is as follows:

The Road between 1 and 2 is somewhere near Lane, Eliot. The Road along 4-5-6 is River Road, Eliot.
1- W. M. Everett 1640, WM Leighton 1656
2- Abraham Conley, Thomas Jones
3- Reynold Jenkins
4-Nicholas Frost
5- JNO. Leighton 1690
6- Church

Up the road from this map, in 1638 (or 1635 as I’ve also read), Alexander Shapleigh, (another agent of Ferdinando Gorges) sailed up the Piscataqua on his ship “Benediction.” He built the “Kittry House,” which was named from their manor in England. His family hails from the Dart River, Kittery Point, Kingware Devonshire. In Eliot, their manor house, complete with kitchen, brewhouse, barn, and outbuildings, cellar, garrett, a total of two stories and 10 rooms. (3)

Before Kittery was a town, which was incorporated in 1647, most of the population lived in this area, which was named Sturgeon Creek Villiage. (3)

Shapleigh’s interests were in the trading posts of Maine and New Hampshire, where he found a market for his goods sent over in his ships. His large interests in New England were looked after by the Treworgy family and his son Nicholas, whose transactions in his name, with the depositions of servants, would make it appear that he was here at times when actually he was in England. [8]

Alexander spent most of his time in England and his family here managed his estates. On 2 Apr. 1641 James Treworgy sold all of Alexander’s property in America to Mr. Nicholas Shapleigh, then of Kingsweare, son of Alexander Shapleigh for £1,500. The ordinary, warehouse and a small parcel of land was left in possession of Capt. William Everett who died soon afterwards. In 1652, 67 acres of land was confirmed by the town to Nathan Lord, son-in-law to Capt. Everett. Another 20 acres were confirmed to the heirs of Nicholas Frost. Another 47 acres were granted to others due to overlapping boundaries to other grant holders leaving Maj. Nicholas Shapleigh with about 760 acres of land.

From an article in the “Boston Globe” it seems as though the first cup of tea made in this country was made at Kittery House.[11]

The “E” Frankfort Island and the “F” is Watt’s Fort which is located close to what is now Laurel Lane, Eliot

The William Everett Tavern was located at what is known as Jocelyns Point, and there was a large 3 story house built about 1640. He was licensed to keep a tavern in 1649, along with 3 other local Inns or Taverns: Mavericks, Emerys, and Jenkins.

At Everett’s Tavern, the courts of General Assembly and other town meetings were held. On November 16th 1652 residents of Kittery were effectively bullied into signing a submission to the Massachasetts Bay Colony, to which was later contested by Ferdinando Gorges. There is a plaque commemorating the location on River Road, but it is believed the original location of the site may have been washed away sea level rise.

Just north the map, just before Sandy Hill Farm, is the Kittery House, which is the third house to be built on that spot. John Shapleigh and son Nicholas was attacked by natives along spruce creek, near Kittery Trading Post. Nicholas was killed and John was taken prisoner and ransomed.

Thomas Tricky ran a ferry to Bloody Point in Newington to Hilton Point in Dover, connecting the three areas. He ran the ferry for 25 years and provided service until a bridge was built from Bloddy Point to Hilton Head park. (3)

On November 15, 1648, Anthony Emery or “Emry” from Dover bought from John White, a house, field and great barren marsh just south of Sturgeon Creek and two other marshes. He seems to not have taken possession, however, until the next year, for he served as grand juror in Dover, in 1649. (3)

Anthony Emery was licensed to keep an Inn in 1650 as well as a ferry, which was located at rivers edge. The area known as “Cold Harbor” or sometimes spelt “Coole Harbor” was north of Sturgeon Creek Villiage but just south of Stugeon Creek, and is said to be the first structure in this area, and amoung the first taverns in the State of Maine. “Cold Harbor” is an English reference to Inns without fire. (3)

At the end of Old Cottage Lane, as late of 1910 an old cellar could be seen, as well as the old ferry that use to go across to Dover Point. (3)

During his eleven years’ (1649-1660) residence in Kittery, Anthony Emery was juryman several times, selectman in 1652 and 1659, and constable. He was one of the forty-one inhabitants of Kittery, who acknowledged themselves subject to the government of Massachusetts Bay, Nov. 16, 1652. At four different times he received grants of land from the town. He also bought of Joseph Austin, July 15, 1650, “a little Marsh soe commonly called aboue Sturgeon Cricke, with a little house & upland yrunto belonging, as also one thousand flue hundred foote of boards, for & in Consideration of Two stears Called by ye name of draggon and Benbow, with a weeks worke of him selfe & other two oxen wch is to be done at Cutchecha.”

In 1656, he was fined £5 for mutinous courage in questioning the authority of the court at Kittery, and in 1660, again fined, for enter-taining Quakers, and disfranchised.

May 12, 1660, he and Frances his wife, sold house and land at Cold Harbor to son James for £150 together with all other lands in Kittery, “with all & singular the honseing, harne Garden oarchards Com-mans profetts priviledges fences wood Tvmber appurtenances & Haer-edtaments belonging, or in any way apprtayning therenuto.”

Deprived of the rights and privileges of a freeman in Kittery, he turned his footsteps toward a colony in which greater liberty was allowed, and was received as a free inhabitant of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Sept. 29, 1660 (31)

The Ferry at least passed on to the Morrel Family, and the oldest Morrel cemetary is located in this area on the side of a hill.
John Morrell settled in Cold Harbor in 1676. The land stayed in the family until 1932 and bruned shortly later.

John Morrell was the first to embrace the Friends Religion (Quakers) which many of his descendants embrace to present time. There is little doubt that many a Quaker fleeing from persecution in Boston was carried on the Morrell ferry to safety “down east”.   John Morrell Jr. lived on part of the old homestead and was also a large landowner in the present town of North Berwick. He was a slave owner and a man of wealth and prominence in town. The Morrell’s, Winslow’s, Lowe’s, Peasley’s and Pope’s were all Quakers down to grandfather Paschal Pope Morrell who became a Methodist Minister. He was later a chaplain in the Civil War.  The first Quakers to arrive in America were viewed as dangerous heretics in many of the colonies. They were deported as Witches, imprisoned or hung. (30)

1623 Cocheco Plantation Dover

Rough draft, last updated Oct 2020

In 1623, Edward Hilton sailed about 8 miles up the Pisscataqua from where David Thomson settled at Odirone Point. He landed at “Hilton’s Point”, Pomeroy Cove, on a neck of land that was then called Winnichahannat. The area underwent several name changes over the years, mainly Northam/Dover Neck/Cochecho.

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. The name “Cocheco” is another Abenaki name for the area, and I’m still unsure as to exactly when this name was used for a “Cochecho Plantation.”

Fun fact: The Hilton (Hylton) Family settled in England during the reign of King Athelstan c.895–939, which was heavily portrayed in the Netflix show The Last Kingdom.

Built by Henry de Hilton in about 1072, was likely to have been built of wood. It was subsequently re-built in stone by Sir William Hylton (1376–1435), Wear River

In 1630/31, The Council of New England granted this area of the Piscataqua (in what was called the Squamscott Patent) to Edward Hilton and his associates, and it contained the current towns of Dover, Durham, Madbury, Lee, Somersworth, Rollinsford, Stratham, and parts of Newington and Greenland. (17)

Need something on John Mason’s role here.

Captain (or “Governor”) Thomas Wiggin, who was an agent of John Mason and a proprietor of the Laconia Company, 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. They either moved to or tended a cornfield across the Piscataqua in 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 precious 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)

“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
  • John Mason died in 1635
  • 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. 

1635 Oyster River Plantation Durham

(rough Draft, Coming Soon, Aug 2020)

Situated beside Great Bay at the mouth of the Oyster River, Durham was originally called Shankhassick by the Native Americans and Oyster River Plantation by English settlers. It started to become occupied in 1635 as inhabitants of Dover Neck began to trickle into the area. The town name “Durham” was suggested by the Rev. Hugh Adams, as claimed by him in an address to the General Assembly in 1738. Two of the earliest settlers of Dover were William and Edward Hilton, the direct descendants of Sir William de Hilton, Lord of Hilton Castle in or near Durham County, England, but there is nothing to prove that Durham was named in their honor. (I’m still investigating this).

Captain Thomas Wiggins, agent for the proprietors of the Laconia Company, brought a crew of people to Dover Neck, or at least by 1633 the area was quite populated. He desinged to build a city on Dover Neck and allocated lands around Little Bay and Great Bay for farming. Presumably he allocated the lands and organized some form of local government.

These settlers on Hilton Point/Dover Neck began to migrate to this area and clear forests for agriculture by 1640. The early settlers received the best/largest lots and their families prospered as people moved here permanently.

In the 1600s, before people had a major effect on the river, Great Bay, into which the Oyster River flows, was a port where sturdy oceangoing ships could anchor at a place called Durham Landing. But as time passed, settlers built dams and cleared the forests for farmland. As forests diminished, soil usually held in place by tree roots started to wash into the river, causing its waters to fill with silt. By the 1800s, oceangoing ships were unable to reach Durham Landing except at extremely high tides.

The Oyster River Plantation became caught between a land dispute between Exeter and Dover. If you look at the map, Dover claimed the land all the way to the Lamprey River, and the people of Exeter claimed the land to the Oyster River.

The Oyster River community was one of the three original Dover settlements, which also included Newington, Hilton Point and the current Durham town center. The population of this settlement is said to have peaked at around 300 people in the mid 17th century.

The population was reduced in 1694 after a Native American raid, commonly known as the Oyster River Massacre or the Raid on Oyster River. In total around 94 inhabitants were either killed or taken hostage by the Native Americans under French command.

Additional notes from the author:

BURNHAM, ROBERT, 1614—1691. He was 
born in England and came over in the ship "Angel Gabriel," which was wrecked at Pemaquid, on the coast of Maine, 15 August, 1635, but the passengers all escaped, and later came up the coast, stopping where each one might fancy. Mr. Burnham at first tried his fortune 
at Ipswich, Mass. He was at Boston in 1644, and pros- 
pered in business there until 1654. He was a carpenter 
by trade and assisted in building houses there, and part 
of the time he was boss of the business. He came to 
Oyster River in 1654, and at first engaged in work at 
his trade. In 1656 he purchased 200 acres of land from the heirs of Ambrose Gibbons, who died that year, hav-  ing given the farm to his grandson, Samuel Sherburne.  When Mr. Burnham took possession, he built a  house for himself, on a steep hill, on the south side of  the river, about one mile below Durham Falls. This  craggy and precipitous eminence was, and is, approach-  able on only one side, so in the Indian wars it had to be  defended at a very small space, in case of an attack.  There was just room enough on top for the house and  the palisade that enclosed the yard. The Indians never  disturbed Mr. Burnham ; they saw it was useless to try  to capture or burn this garrison. The house long ago  disappeared, but the cellar with its stone wall is per-  fect, showing that Mr. Burnham was not only a good  carpenter, but also a good stone mason ; he knew how to  build a stone wall that would stand against the frosts of  untold winters. There is a smaller cellar entirely sep-  arate, but near the house cellar, which may have been  used for storage purposes, especially for powder in  time of war. The Burnham records of the 18th cen-  tury speak of the "Cellar" — and the "Cellarhouse." At  one end of the garrison-cellar is a depression where  stood the barn and other out-buildings. In their old  records, the "little barn" is mentioned. The house was  capacious; built of large, white oak timbers, covered  with wide boards and clapboarded, so that it was very  strong and warm to withstand the weather. When  it was taken down in the 19th century, the woodwork  was perfectly sound, and much of it was used in build-  ing the present farm buildings of the Burnham family,  which are located by the roadside, on the level ground  west of the hill. Near the foot of the hill is a never-  failing spring of water.  From the early records, it seems quite certain that  Ambrose Gibbons was settled on that land as early as  1640 ; of course he had a house and out-buildings, but it  is not reasonable to suppose that he built the house that  Mr. Burnham had for his dwelling in Indian war times.

1631 Frank’s Fort Eliot

“Frank’s Fort” or “Frankfort Island” as known to Google Maps is now an island and is perhaps the first structure built in what is now Eliot Maine, located in Mast Cove close to the Eliot Boat Basin. During the 1630’s the land was still connected, steep but flat on top. Sea level rise and the fast moving waters of the Piscataqua erroded the land and it’s now an island. The island is now private property owned by James Austin of Kittery Point.

1665 Map – The “E” represents Frank’s Fort and “F” Watt’s Fort

Built in the summer of 1631, Frank’s Fort, an ancient name, is named after Francis Williams, overseer of the Laconia Company. The company failed, but more about the Laconia Company can be read about here (coming soon). (3)

Franks Fort, and about one mile north “Watts Fort”, also called Darby’s Fort, which used to be another stop for the Laconia Company men traveling along the Piscataqua. They were never actually fortifications and no structures can be seen today. Watts Fort is completely under water. (3)

From “Old Kittery and Her Families

During the American Revolution, rebels attacked the British occupied Fort William and Mary at New Castle. They took firearms and gunpowder and burried the powder Franksfort Island. The cache was then distrubuted to the militia and which happened to be used at the battle of Bunker Hill in Boston.

I’ve also read that “in 1524, John Verrazani, an Italian navigator, in the employ of the French, or Franks, explored the Piscataqua ; and from this source came the name, Frank ‘s Fort” (19) although I do not believe this account at this time.

From Google Maps

1638 Exeter

(rough draft coming soon Jan 2020)

John Wheelwright founded TWO towns in the vicinty of the Piscataqua River: Exeter and Wells, Maine. He was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637, and with about 175 people in tow, settled just north of the Bay Colony boundry, the Merrimack river. Wheelright was banished for sharing “dissident religious views” of his sister-in-law Anne Hutchinson. A deed of land signed April 3rd, 1638, by John Wheelwright and others established Exeter, named after a town located in Devon, England. It originally included Newmarket, Newfields, Brentwood, Epping, and Freemont. Two years later they signed the “Exeter Combination” establishign a government.

The land was purchased by Wheelwright from “Wehanownowitt, sagamore of Puschataquake.” (13) Members of the Squamscott domain, they were a sub-group of the Penacook, who were a member of the Wabanaki Nation.

John Wheelwright only lasted a few years here after the Bay Colony purchased a competing tract of land that overlapped Exeter. Two of his partners from the 1638 purchase, Samuel Hutchinson and Nicholas Needham, began prospecting the region to the northeast. On 24, September 1641 they obtained a license from Thomas Gorges, the deputy governor of Maine, for a property that became Wells, Maine. After his banishment was lifted, he spent the rest of his life preaching in Hampton, and then Salisbury, MA.

“It was without any kind of central government. It lay within the bounds of grants given by the Plymouth Company to John Mason in 1622 and 1629. Mason, however, having died in (DATE) and his grandson and heir, Robert Tufton Mason was a minor in 1638, could not pursue his claims. The English government was too preoccupied with the troubles that eventually resulted in their Civil War to listen to complaints by Mason’s advisors. As a result, the area and the earlier settlements, such as Portsmouth and Dover, were without any central government….They also made Exeter the only New Hampshire town settled for reasons of religion.” (15)

The fresh water Exeter River meets the salty Squamscott river which flows into Great Bay, which flows into the Piscataqua.

Thomas Wilson established the first grist mill on the eastern side of the island in the lower falls. This mill was established within the first season of settling in Exeter, and his son Humphrey assumed control of the mill in 1643, when Thomas died. (14)

In 1647, Edward Gilman, Jr. established the first sawmill, and by 1651 Gilman had his own 50-ton sloop with which to conduct his burgeoning business in lumber, staves and masts. Although he was lost at sea in 1653 while traveling to England to purchase equipment for his mills, his family later became prominent as lumbermen, shipbuilders, merchants and statesmen. (14)

The Gilman Garrison House, a National Historic Landmark, and the American Independence Museum were both former homes of the Gilman family. The Gilman family also donated the land on which Phillips Exeter Academy stands, including the Academy’s original Yard, the oldest part of campus. The Gilmans of Exeter also furnished America with one of its founding fathers, Nicholas Gilman, and the state of New Hampshire with treasurers, a governor, representatives to the General Assembly and judges to the General Court.

The first settlers accomplished a great deal in their first five years in Exeter, despite the enormous difficulties they faced, with no outside financial backing and Massachusetts’ continuing animus against them. Wheelwright organized a church sometime in 1638, one would expect immediately after arriving. He wrote the Exeter Combination (it is considered to be in his own hand), which on July 4, 1639, thirty-five freemen of Exeter signed. That document declared the settlers’ intention of establishing their own government. (15)

In the winter of 1639 Exeter parceled out to its inhabitants its salt marshes, natural meadows, and upland lots for planting. The government functioned: it passed regulations controlling lumbering and the pasturage of swine; in 1640 it authorized Thomas Wilson to operate a grist mill; it ordered the owner of swine that had damaged and Indian’s corn fields to make restitution in kind; it made provisions for a “band of soldiers”; and it passed a number of other regulations, which give us some idea of life in earliest Exeter. We know little about how the town looked but can assume that some of the settlers built substantial houses because there were two carpenters among the first settlers, and because we know that at least two of their houses were in use many years later. Most of the first settlers, including Wheelwright, lived on the west side of the river, but a few lived on the east side. The settlers raised cattle and swine; they made barrel staves and shakes entirely with had tools; they did some planting; and they exploited the abundant fish in the rivers.(15)

In 1643 Exeter twice petitioned the Massachusetts Bay Colony to take Exeter under its jurisdiction. The second petition was accepted in September; thus Exeter joined Dover and Portsmouth, which had already accepted Massachusetts’ jurisdiction under favorable terms. (Hampton had been part of Massachusetts since its founding in September 1638.) No doubt the pressure of being alone on the frontier and the influence of new families that had settled in Exeter since its founding overcame the opposition of Wheelwright and others who were under the ban of Massachusetts. Wheelwright and a number of his followers went into exile once again, this time to Wells, Maine. The remainder of Wheelwright’s life was long and eventful. Massachusetts lifted its sentence of banishment against him in 1644; he accepted a call to the Hampton Church in 1647, remaining there until going to England in 1657. There he was warmly received by his college classmate Oliver Cromwell and his friend from Boston days, Sir Harry Vane. He returned from England to the pulpit of the Salisbury, Massachusetts Church in 1662, where he remained until he died at about eighty-seven in 1679.

People of note:

COLCORD, EDWARD, 1615—1682. He was 
born in England. It is stated that he came over when 
he was 16 years old ; perhaps he did ; if so, he was drift- 
ing round the settlements, from Maine to Massachu- 
setts. The first record of him is when he was at 
Exeter with Rev. John Wheelwright, where he wit- 
nessed, if he did not participate in, the founding of 
that town. In his various rambles, he had been at 
Dover, and perhaps knew something about the head 
waters of the Squamscott River, and by that acquired 
knowledge may have assisted Mr. Wheelwright in se- 
lecting a place for his proposed town. It is not known 
where Wheelwright first met Colcord. 

He was at Exeter and witnessed the signing 
of the deed, 3 April, 1638, given to Wheelwright by — 
"WEHANOWNOWITT, SAGAMORE OF PUSCHAT- 
AQUAKE" — by which the Exeter territory was ac- 
quired from the Indians. Colcord did not sign the 
Exeter Combination agreement for good government, 
made 4 July, 1639 ; neither did he help organize the 
Church. But in October, 1640, he was at Dover and 
signed the Combination agreement, then drawn up and 
signed by the inhabitants. He appears to have resided 
in Dover for several years following. 

He was then a young man of twenty-five, and in  some way had become acquainted with the laws, and  law methods of that period, so that he was really the  first practicing lawyer in the town of Dover. He had  cases in other parts of Old Norfolk County. He re-  mained in Dover until 1645, and was one of the active  business men of the town. In 1642 the town gave him  one of the 20-acre lots on the west side of Back River,  He received other grants of land, which shows he was  in good favor with the town. For a year or two he was  a magistrate for the settlement of small cases.  In 1645 Mr. Colcord appears in the history of  Hampton as a resident of that town, and there was his  home nearly all the rest of his turbulent life, engaged  in conducting lawsuits for others, or in defending him-  self against attacks from others. He died at his home  there, 10 February, 1681-2. 
OILMAN, JOHN, 1624-1708. He was born in 
England and came to Exeter in 1649. He immediately 
became prominent in the affairs of the town. He was 
in partnership with his brother Edward engaged in the 
saw mill and lumber business, until his brother was lost 
at sea in 1653 ; he then inherited a large share of his 
brother's property and carried on the business alone 
and did much in developing the resources of the town. 
He was chosen selectman more than one half of the 
years between 1650 and 1680. He was repeatedly 
elected Commissioner to end small cases. He served on 
important committees for the town. The town gave 
him grants of land, and the special right of a grist 
mill. For two years he was Associate Judge in the 
Court of old Norfolk County. He was one of the first 
Councillors when New Hampshire was made a province 
separate from Massachusetts. In 1682 he was ap- 
pointed Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. In 1693, 
he was Speaker of the House of the Assembly. The 
thing that is to his lasting memory is the log house, 
built in 1650, that was a garrison in Indian war times, 
and is now standing and well preserved. When Daniel 
Webster attended school at Exeter Academy he had a 
room in that house. This room is carefully pointed out 
to visitors. John Oilman m. 30 June Elizabeth Tre- 
worthy. He died 24 July 1708; she died 8 September 
1719. 

1630 Agamenticus Gorgeana York

It’s both shocking and fascinating to see this area mapped by early explorers.

Early Dutch, Spanish, and English maps showed the York River and surrounding area. It was highly probably that there was a Native American village on the east side of the river where the land would have already been cleared and fields set for planting. Mount Sasanoa was the Native American name for the highest point, Mount Agamenticus.

Captain John Smith originally marked this spot “Boston” when he expored and mapped the region in 1614 before there was a wharf built at the end of the Charles River. (4)

On John Smith’s map also appeared the name Plymouth – where the Pilgrams landed a just few years later in 1620 (4) which, similarily enough, was built over the Native American villiage Pawtuxaway.

The Agamenticus plantation was personally established from afar by Ferdinando Gorges whom received an original land charter in 1606. This critical early chater would later be crutial for a court case settled in the Vatican giving the English claim over this land.

In 1620 Gorges, Mason, and other business partners obtained a new charter from King James, and in 1622, obtained the grants for New Hampshire and Maine. See previous articles XXX which discuss the settlements on the New Hampshire side. (This can possibly come out)

Some accounts say that in 1623, in addition to Odiorne, a sister settlement was made at Agamenticus, now York, however, Rufus M Sawyer said “It is not quite certain when civilized men first pitched their tents at Agamenticus. A fertile valley partles intervale from one to two miles wide and heavily wooded with pine and oak. On the eastern bank of the river, near the ocean, was an admirable site for a future city, backed by the knoll of Sentry Hill, from which, inland, could be seen a bird’s eye view of the three-mile-square plantation, which in 1642 was to be enlarged to twenty-one square miles.” (4)

But there is actual evidence of when settlers started building here. Edward Godfrey, who originally came over with David Thompson and lived in the Great House at Odirone in 1623, is said to have built the first house in York in 1630. In 1654 writing:

“Seweth that he hath been a well wisher incourarger and furderer of this Col. of N. E. for 45 years (1609) and above 32 years an adventurer on that design (1621-2), 24 years an inhabitant of this place (1630), the first that ever bylt or settled ther…” (Mass. Arch). The years in brackets added by the author (10).

The Cape Porpoise Grant, made to John Stratton, December 2, 1631 was taken over by Thomas Gorges when he came over to govern for Ferdinando. Twelve hundred acres of land on each side of the Agamenticus (York) River were included in the grant, and these men brought settlers. (9)

The colonists send by Gorges came prepared to clear forests, procure lumber, build mills and ships, and cultivate the ground. They began the embryo city by building cabins on the eastern bank of the Agamenticus (York) River near its mouth.

In 1635 the Council for New England gave up it’s charter and Gorges reclaimed all the land of the original Mason and Gorges grant (from the Piscataqua to the Kennebunk). He renamed that whole area of land New Somersetshire (9). William Gorges, nephew of Ferdinando, was sent over in 1636 and acted as Governor of the Province for two years. (4)

In 1636 an attempt was made to establish the first authorized government by Ferdinando’s nephew William, but it was abandoned a year later. In 1637, King Charles I made Sir Ferdinando govenor of all New England. In 1639 the King of England issued a grant for New Somersetshire but directed that the mainland be called “The Province of of Maine and not by any other name” (2) which was the original name from from the Mason and Gorges land grant in 1622!

Thomas Gorges, a fine, attractive person, a lawyer by profession (9), Ferdinando’s “truly and well beloved cousin” came to the Province in 1640 and was Deputy Governor about 4 years. He built his house at Agamenticus, at what was known as Gorges Point, which lies between the Judicature Creek and the River, about three and one half miles from the sea. It’s just north of Intersate 95.

In 1642 the first official “city” charter was established in America, named Georgiana, after Ferdinando himself. It included twenty-one miles on the north side of the York River, bordering on the coast, and numbered 300 inhabitants. (9)

Trade had already sprung up between Agamenticus, Piscataqua, Saco, St. John, Boston, Pemaquid, Lygonia, Kennebunk, and Nova Scotia. On June 28th 1643 Thomas Gorges wrote aletter to Governor John Winthrop (Mass Bay) stronly urging that decisive measures should be taken to destroy the power of French Govenor d’Aulney, at St. John. (5)

In 1652, after Kittery was forced to join Massachusetts Bay colony, and Georgiana was too, and thus ended Gorges’s decades of work. It was here that the name was changed to York. In 1653, Wells, Cape Elizabeth, and Saco submitted. By 1658 Scarborough and Falmouth gave in.

In 1660 the Bay Colony aquired New Hampshire and Maine, and a committee of English Parliment concluded that the Mason and Gorges claims were well founded and the Bay Colony was forced to surrender New Hampshire.

Court cases and disputes between the Bay Colony and Maine continued to 1677 when they finally agreed to Gorges claim, however, purchased the rights for 1250 pounds.

1630 Strawberry Banke Portsmouth

Coming Soon. Rough Draft.

Tracking the history of this area is complicated and confusing, as the geographical area of Pannaway (Odiorne), Great Island (Newcastle), and Strawberry Bank were at points settled, abandoned, moved, and then resettled.

Captain Walter Neale was hired by Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason to lead a group to establish a fishing/trading post and to look for precious metals. This was also a Laconia Company operation. He arrived with a group of soldiers at Pannaway (Odiorne) in Rye, which was at that point “mostly abandoned” after the death of David Thompson. They then moved two miles east to a spot more near the entrance of the Piscataqua, which was earlier identified on John Smith’s map as a place of interest.

In all, forty-eight men and twenty-two women were paid and sent over on behalf of Mason and Gorges. These trips spanned a few years. Two ships, the Warwick,  and Pide-Cowe were Portsmouth’s version of the Mayflower.

Humphrey Charbourne built the “Great House” which would be the center of the settlement. “[It] would be larger than the house at Panaway. It would be built of pine, with a stone foundation and chimney. Stone and pine were ready at hand, and Strawberry Banke became all at once a bustle of activity. In short order, a storehouse had been built, small houses for the tenants, a shelter for cows and sheep…wells had been dug, a blacksmith shop was in prospect…and on the edge of the woods was a sawmill and along the shore, platforms for drying the fish. (6)

As the story goes, the first men called the area Strawberry Banke after a patch of wild strawberries that grew near the Pistacaqua. This story is disputed by some, as this was also the name of an estate back in England (I have this story somewhere). Portsmouth was the name of John Mason’s estate back in England, as was Kittery, named after the Shapleigh’s Family estate.

John Mason’s relationship with his settlers was a slow tug of war with long months lagging between each transatlantic conversation. Mason’s agent usually begged for more goods made in England – shoes, nails, beer. Mason, in return, promised to send more supplies as soon as the colonists could produce something he could sell in England to pay back his investors. While furs and fish came from the settlement in South Berwick, the Great House produced very little. Strawberry Bank and Pannaway were, initially, failed investments.  In 1635, as he was outfitting a ship to visit his colony for the first time, John Mason died. The Laconia Company folded around that time, abandoning the New Hampshire colonists to fend for themselves. Puritan businessmen from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and England quickly took over at Strawberry Bank as they did in Dover [and other areas]. (11)

Despite the constant complaints from the early residents of the Great House, life was better here than the early years of places like Jamestown or Plymouth, where half the new colonists died. A precise and extended inventory of all three plantations made after John Mason’s death offers a look inside the great houses where everything belonged to the proprietor. The inventory shows scores of items, including: guns (161), swords (61), shirts (80), pairs of stockings (204), iron kettles (23), rugs (40), musical instruments (17), sugar (610 lbs), corn (140 bushels), pine planks (1,151), livestock (155 head), and bibles (1). Clearly Portsmouth was not founded for religious freedom. (7)

No written description of the Great House at Strawberry Bank survives, but a look inside a 1640-era manor at Cape Elizabeth offers clues. Plantation owner John Winter described his manor there as 40 by 18 feet with a large fireplace, an attached room near the kitchen, storage for twenty tons of casks, a steward’s room, and a sizeable eating area. Each room had doors and locks. Of the two large chambers, one was big enough to sleep all the men working at what is still called Richmond Island. (7)

More likely, the Great House was a post-in-ground structure like the mid-1600s Humphrey Chadbourne site excavated by Emerson Baker in South Berwick. Baker also excavated a 1636 site in York, Maine. Data accumulated from these modern scientific digs, Candee points out, give us more detail from which we can speculate about Portsmouth’s first houses. We are fairly certain where that the Great House stood on the crest of a hill that sloped down to the sea and to the tidal inlet or “cove” that gave Puddle Dock neighborhood its name. The cove, now filled in, was an attraction to the early settlers. (7)

One of its old chimneys and the southern wall of the Great House were reportedly still standing in 1695. Historians generally agree that the Great House, the first European-built structure in Portsmouth, sat near what is now the southeast corner of Court and Marcy streets (formerly Pitt and Water streets). That puts it across from the modern entrance to the Memorial Bridge end of Prescott Park. Strawbery Banke Museum today is literally in the “back yard” of the original Great House. The area that is the museum may once have been used as an orchard. The Laconia Company’s original thousand-acre grant to John Mason included much of what is currently downtown Portsmouth. (7)

The Garrison House in York Maine is also probably similar to the one built in Portsmouth.

Life was relatively peaceful for this settlement and trading with the Natives was commonplace. It wasn’t until King Philips War in 1675 that hostilities occured. Nethertheless, a small fort was built called “The Castle” in what is now New Castle, NH. A history of the Fort will be told on a seperate page.

After John Mason died in 1635, by 1640 the people of Portsmouth entered into a social contract to establish a government amounst themselves. They elected Francis Williams as Govenor, and Ambross Gibbins and Thomas Warnerton assistants.

People of Interest:

BERRY, WILLIAM, was in the service of Captain 
John Mason in 1631. He died about 1654, and his 
widow, Jane, married Nathaniel Drake. After mar- 
riage they lived at Strawberry Bank. He died before 
June, 1654.
FERNALD, RENALD, M. D. He came to Ports- 
mouth with the first settlers of that town, in 1631 ; he 
was surgeon of Capt, John Mason's company. It is 
said that he was surgeon in the English navy before 
engaging to serve Captain Mason's company. Prob- 
ably Capt. Mason wanted to have his men well cared 
for, so induced the navy surgeon to resign and come to 
America. He became the physician for all the settle- 
ments along the Pascataqua river. He also made him- 
self useful in official capacities. He was clerk of the 
Court, for Dover and Portsmouth ; recorder of deeds ; 
town clerk of Strawberry Bank ; surveyor of land ; and 
commissioner for the settlement of small cases. So 
Dr. Fernald was a very useful, active and influential 
man in the settlements outside of Portsmouth, as well as in it. His wife's name was Joanna. He died in  1660, and it is said his grave is in the Point of Graves  Cemetery.

1602 – Early 17th Century Explorers

(rough draft)

( add https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuper%27s_Cove )

In 1602, the Concord, commanded by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, learning from members of the earlier voyage Humphrey Gilbert, reached the southern part of Maine, possibly Cape Porpoise, Kennebunkport, and held parley at what is now York. The explored New England, possibly as far south as Martha’s Vinyard. No colony was established yet.

Gosnold, as did the other explorers, called the natives “indians” under the belief that they were the inhabitants of the Indies, which they were seeking through the mythical Northwest Passage (10).

The first European to explore and write about the Piscataqua river was 23 year old English explorer Martin Pring in 1603. Pring is believed to have sailed his ship up the Piscataqua River all the way into Great Bay looking for sassafras, considered to be a plant with great medicinal value. None were found, but he camped at the spot where Portsmouth was to be founded.

in 1605 George Weymouth visited Monhegan, explored the coast, captured 5 natives, brought them back to Europe, and taught them English. Three of them he gave to Sir Ferdinando, by whom one of them was sent back in 1607 with Captain George Popham. Years later, these natives were to have an major impact on the early pioneers of the the New World.

In 1606 Captain Henry Challons left Plymouth, England, but was captured by a Spanish fleet.

The Plymouth and London Companies, named after their respected locations in England, were joint-stock companies founded in 1606 by James I of England. Rich merchants in the London and Plymouth area agreed to finance settlers in return for repayment plus interest out of profit made. Popham was the first attempt at a settlement for the Plymouth Company and Jamestown the first attempt for the London Company.

Popham is in Maine and “SA” is Saint Augustine FL a Spanish Colony

In 1607, Captain George Popham, with the help of Pring and Captain Challons, tried to make the first ever English colony in New England at the mouth of Sagadahoc, Kennebunk River (Google Maps search for Popham Beach). (18) The story and failure of Popham Colony will not be expored here. The failure did, however, discouraged English attempts at exploration and settlement for roughly 16 years. These companies fizzled out but were replaced by The Council for New England in 1620.

In 1610, John Guy petitioned the King and esablished a colony in Newfoundland called the Cuper’s (Cupids) Cove Colony. This was the first official English colony in Canada and second in North America only behind Jamestown.

Other European Empires were not dormant. In 1604 Frenchman De Monts received a legal monopoly of the fur trade in the new land, from Newfoundland to Philadelphia. De Monts, Samuel de Champlain, and Jeal de Potrincourt left on two ships for Nova Scocia. (18)

They explored the Bay of Fundy, named a now famous island “Isle des Monts Deserts” and La Cadia, later called Acadia, sailed up the Penobscot River. He also explored the modern area of Bangor, possibly to the foot of Oak St, named the St. John River, St. Croix, and also sailed to Cape Cod. (18)

De Mont returned to established a colony at St. Croix. 2/5ths died the first winter. Spring brought provisions but they refused to spend another winter. Before the end of the summer they moved across the bay to Port Royal Nova Scotia. The first military battle between English and French over the territory of New England happened near here, at Sommes’ Point, and did not commence until 150 years later with the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Most or all of the French Settlements were destroyed by the English, who launched from the Virginia Settlement, though Champlain did go on and found Quebec.

John Smith of Jamestown fame, at age 38, started working for Ferdinando Gorges and the Plymouth Company, much to the anger of the Virginia. He sailed to the Maine coast and landed at Monhegan in 1614. Like other exporers, he search for percious minerals and found none. He took a small group and then sailed from Monhegan to Cape Cod while mapping the coast along the way. He named the Isle of Shoals “Smith’s Isles” and cited the area as an excellent spot for a harbor. I think he is cited as the first person to name this area “New England” (2).

While the majority of these expeditions had a goal turning profits through gold silver, and resources, it’s interesting to note that in Description of New England he envisioned towns along the coast where men and women would live with children. “No landlords to rackle us with high rents, no struggle to get justice in the courts. Here every man may be master of his own little harbor and land. Could I have but meanes to transport a colonie, I would rather live here than anywhere.” (6)

When John Smith reported this to Prince Charles, he said “Call it New England.”

“In 1615 Smith set sail with two ships and sixteen colonists… but was captured and taken to France. Gorges settlement was again delayed.” (9) In 1617, Smith tried returning again with three ships, but were stuck in harbor by contrary winds for so long that his supporters lost heart. (2) For John Smith, that was his last adventure to the New World and he died in London in 1631. (18)

In 1615, Sir Richard Hawkins sailed from England with a comission from the Council of Plymouth to do what service he could for them; but upon his arrival, he found a destructive war prevailing among the naitives, and passed along the coast to Virginia. (18)

Gorges send Captain Richard Vimes, who became prominent in the early history of Maine, in 1615 to winter on the Maine Coast. A civil war broke out in Maine, and those who managed to survive were mostly killed by plagues that decimated New England, killing upwards or 9/10 Natives. Vimes wintered at Leighton’s Point, which they called Winter Harbor still to this day (18). In 1618 Gorges persuaded a few people to spend the winter at Monhegan. (9)

It was one of these men, Thomas Dermer, brought back two natives that had been captured earlier, named Squanto. If you’re reading this, you should be familiar with the Squanto of Plymouth Plantation fame. (9)

Financial loses caused the Plymouth Company to fold, so King James issued a new patent called “Great Patent of New England” in 1620. This patent was made up of 40 noblemen and merchants. (9)

The next settlements that Gorges sent over established a fishing and trading post at Monhegan in 1621. It became important for supplying people in Massachusetts Bay during the hard winter of 1623. This was the first settlement which continued for any considerable length of time within any part of the territory of Maine. (18)

We also find that a settlement was commenced at Winter Harbor, at Pemaquid in 1625, which continued to increase without interruption until it’s destruction during King Phillips War in 1675.

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