Probably the most beautiful and strategic views of the Piscataqua on the Maine side come from Kittery Point. This small, raised penninsula at the mouth of the Piscataqua gives one a line of sight across to New Castle, Seavy Island, the Isle of Shoals, and the mouth of the Piscataqua.
In 1632, Ferdinando Gorges gave a grant to Alexander Shapleigh all of Kittery point “except the extremity where a wigwam stood owned by Philip Swadden.” This first site on Kittery Point dated to 1635 (other than possibly fishermens huts), was a Shapleigh site, at the southwest corner of Kittery Point, and on the eastern side of “Phylis’ Notch.” The structure was possibly inherited by an earlier builder. It was not the primary residence of Alexander Shapleigh, however, but here it was made into an “orginary” or tavern, a warehouse was built to store and trade goods, and close by was the wigwam. There was also a saw mill and saw pit at Spruce Creek, all of this by the mid 1630’s.
Subsequently, Nicholas, son of Alexander, owned all of Kittery Point after Alexander’s death [in 1650].”
In 1636, Alexander Shapleigh also bought more land, 800 acres, in current day Eliot. This land was south of Sturgeon Creek and directly across from Hilton Point, Dover. This area is chronicled in this article:1633 Sturgeon Creek Village Kittery Eliot
It’s funny to note that the price paid for this was “100 merchantable dried codfish per year, and half the net income of contemplated ferry, which never paid its expenses.” (34)
The tavern and warehouse was later placed in charge of William Hilton until 1651, and it was then leased to Hugh Gunnison for another 21 years (34).
Arthur Champernowne, was a rich merchant (and co-owner of some fishing ships with Alexander Shapleigh), a member of British Parliment from 1622 through 1626, and a “kinsman” or “cousin” to Sir Ferdinando Gorges. He was given a large island in what is now Kittery Point which was orignally called Dartington. That name came from his manor house in Dartington, England. Although I don’t know if he ever set foot in New England, the estate passed to Arthur’s son named Francis. Francis first lived in Greenland NH from 1640 to 1657 where he helped setup a merchant industry and later moved out to Kittery Point. Additionally, “at the same time another five hundred acres were granted to Champernowne, northeast of Braveboat Harbor, in York, to be called Godmorrocke.” (34)
Franscis Champernowne had no children. Before his death in 1687, started selling large tracks of land beginning in 1648 and the history of that can be seen in reference #34, but names like Gerrish Island and Cutts Island still date back to the 1600’s. Francis was perhaps the richest and most powerful man on the Piscataqua Plantations primarily due to his inheritance. Just another trust fund baby — 17th century style.
During the late 1600’s, William Pepperell started aquiring land in Kittery Point, and by the Revolutionary War, the family owned most of Kittery Point including Fort William (McClary).
There couldn’t be an article written about Kittery Point without mentioning Fort McClary. An important military defensive position since 1689, William Pepperrell acquired a tract of land known as “Battery Pasture”, which was adjacent to his own house. The first structures were probably simple earthworks and a small blockhouse, which was known as Pepperrell’s Garrison, or Fort Pepperrell (38).
Not until 1715 did the Colony of Massachusetts Bay vote to erect a permanent breastwork of six guns for the defense of the river. However, it may not have been until around 1720 that the fort was actually built. The position of a Naval Officer was also established, to collect duty from all ships entering the harbor, and to prevent New Hampshire’s Naval Officer from extracting unreasonable duties. This money went to the purchase of powder and shot for the fort. The new fort was named Fort William, again after William Pepperrell, although some still called it Fort Pepperrell (38).
After “The Province of Maine” was granted by the Council of New England in 1622, David Thompson and crew, friends of Fernando Gorges and members of the Laconia company, were the first to be sent. In the spring of 1623, he built a house at a place known by the natives as Panaway, later called Little Harbor, and Great Island. This area was later changed to Odiorne Point named after John Odiorne.
Much is written about this early location. It’s significance is the earliest year-round residence in the Piscataqua region and the state of New Hampshire. This, along with Plymouth Plantation and Cuper’s Cove, gave Gorges and Mason much hope that people could survive the winters here.
Robert Gorges, son (I thought nephew?) of Ferdinando, was named governor and lieutenant general of New England, and was granted by the Coucil land on the northeast side of Massachusetts Bay, between the Charles River and Nahant, including 10 miles out to sea (the islands). (35)
Robert Gorges, unlike his father, did visit New England. His crew sailed first to Plymouth Plantation where he stayed for two weeks, and then sailed to Panaway which was established by David Thomson earlier that spring. (35)
A few years later, David Thompson left for the Boston area and died shortly after, but many prominent men who were chosen by Mason and Gorges passed through here. Many became founding fathers of the Piscataqua region: Edward Hilton (Dover) , Captain Walter Neal (Portsmouth), Thomas Cammock, Henry Jocelyn, and Edward Godfrey (York), Humphrey Chadbourne (Portsmouth), Robert Gorges, Admiral Francis West, and Captain Christopher Levett (Portland).
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.
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.
Mason/Gorges’s attention were diverted when England went to war against Spain in 1624 and France in 1626. By the time they ended, “The Great Puritan Migration”, which occured between 1620-1640, saw a huge number of settlements in the Bay Colony, but populations in NH/Maine stayed smaller. By the time they were able to redirect they attention overseas, they were both at the end of their life.
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.
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. One 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 but details are slim.
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 settled, 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/confirmed 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. 
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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)
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.
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
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.