A History of the Piscataqua River Region

Category: 1620s

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. 

1622 Ferdinando Gorges

(rough draft)

Fernando Gorges is a name largely forgotten in American history, but he is considered “The Father of English Colonization of North America.(2)” His interest specifically in Maine and the Piscataqua region was decades in the making.

His father, Edward Gorges, was the nineteenth descendent of Ranolf de Gorges from Carentan, in Lower Normandy. Ranolf crossed the English channel with the followers of William the Conquerer as part of the Norman conquest. Wraxall, near Plymouth England, became the English seat of the Gorges family. (2)

Although he was the owner of all the land from the Piscataqua to the Kennebec, he went on to specificly found “Gorgeana” which was later named to York. More about this can be read here: http://piscataquaplantations.com/1623-agamenticus-gorgeana-york/

As we have seen, many reasons contributed to European colonization on the East Coast of the New World including natural resources, logging, gold, silver, fish, trade, and the survival of the Virginia Company in Jamestown, and other colonial powers. They were competing with the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and other rivals for land and power.

Ferdinando, from Plymouth, England, became a rich and powerful man. Through military service, he was knighted by the earl of Essex. He became governor of the fort at Plymouth.

In 1605, George Weymouth returned from Maine, arriving in Plymouth with five captive Native Americans. Gorges kept three and sent two others to George Popham. He learned about the rivers, islands, safe harbors, where great men lived, how they were aligned, and what enemies they had. Gorges and Popham agreed that any colony should be through royal decree.

Just one year later, in 1606, King James issued a charter for two companies, the first being London and second Plymouth. The London compnay was able to move quickly, and they had ships out immediately headed towards Jamestown. The northern colony needed more exploration.

Since Sir Ferdinando Gorges had chartered several of the earlier expeditions to the region he knew of the strange epidemic and it’s catastrophic impact on the native populations noting “their vulnerability to European microbes and power.” (25) It is by no genuis stoke that by 1620, Gorges was chief agent for the Council for New England.

Gorges met John Mason through Sir William Alexander, who was seeking the Nova Scotia area and knew John Mason was involved in Newfoundland. Alexander ended up getting a slice of Nova Scotia through The Council of New England.

In 1622, Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason received a large land grant from The Council which they named “Ligonia” or Plough Patent. The name Ligonia derived from Gorges Mother’s maiden namewhich was Lydon and Plough because the first ship sent over was on The Plough. (2) The word Ligonia was later annoted as Laconia. The original boundaries of land granted to them both extended between the Kennebec River south to Merrimack River in Massachusetts. Mason acquired the area between the Piscataqua and south to the Merrimack. Mason’s portion became New Hampshire, and Gorges’s portion, was from the Piscataqua north to the Kenebunk, Maine (1).

In Maine, the present towns of Kittery, the Berwicks, and Eliot were originally part of the Piscataqua Plantation, with initial settlements at Quamphegan Falls, Spruce Creek, Sturgeon Creek and at Kittery Point, which in the 1630’s collectively supported a population of about 200 people. The plantation on the east bank of the Piscataqua River at Sturgeon Creek Village was renamed Kittery in about 1647. (1) In my website, I’ve decided to include all the surrounding towns that were settled around this time.

Gorges’s nephew Thomas was said to be perhaps the most significant and influencial, helpful to settlers, and was held in high honor (2). (move this)

Sir Ferdinando Gorges died in 1647 having never visited New England. King Charles I was beheaded, and Puritans under Cromwell gained control of England. During the King’s struggle, Gorges had remained loyal to him. It was perhaps well that he died two years before the king and was spared the grief of seeing puratin control. Gorges had been on the loosing side from the beginning, first in his fishing monopoly, then in his ideas of government, and finally his love for the king. After his death, Gorges’s heirs, being royalists too, were unable to assert their claims in America (9).

He did not leave any direction or inheritance on his lands, and in Gorgeana, an assembly voted to rule independentaly until further notice. Edward Godfrey was voted Governor, and was thus the first person to be voted Governor in what is now the State of Maine (2).

Court cases and disputes between the Bay Colony and Maine continued until 1677, when they finally agreed to Gorges claim, however, were able to purchase the rights for 1250 pounds from his decendants. Game over.

1623 Panaway (Odiorne) Rye

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 since the Province was granted. 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 gave Gorges and Mason much hope that people could survive the winters here.

David Thompson left for the Boston area and died shortly after, many prominent men who were chosen by Mason and Gorges passed through here. Many became founding fathers of the Piscataqua region: Edward Hilton, Captain Walter Neal, Thomas Cammock, Henry Jocelyn, and Edward Godfrey, Humphrey Chadbourne, Robert Gorges, Admiral Francis West, and Christopher Levett.

Further reading can be found here:

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