A History of the Piscataqua River Region

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1636 Kittery Point

Rough Draft – more to be added – June 21st, 2021

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

Phylis’ Notch, at the end of Lawrence Lane, looking west towards New Castle, probably Salamander Point

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).

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.

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.


(References will undergo formatting updates)

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  6. Ola Elizabeth Winslow Portsmouth, The Life of a Town The Macmillan Company New York 1966
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  26. History of the Town of Durham
  27. https://archive.org/stream/piscataquapionee00pisc/piscataquapionee00pisc_djvu.txt
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  30. http://earlynewenglandfamilies.blogspot.com/2012/05/morrell-family-of-new-england.html
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  32. Pickett, Dwane W, “Captain William Hilton and the Founding of Hilton Head Island” 2019 Arcadia Publishing
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  34. Old Kittery and Her Families
  35. Burrage, Henry S. Gorges and the Grant of the Province of Maine, 1923
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  37. Henry Ernest Dunnack, Forts of Maine
  38. https://www.northamericanforts.com/East/Maine/Fort_McClary/history.html#:~:text=In%201808%20the%20State%20of,of%20Bunker%20Hill%20in%201775.

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