New Hampshire State History

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General New Hampshire State History

Early historians record that in 1623, under the authority of an English land-grant, Captain John Mason, in conjunction with several others, sent David Thomson, a Scotsman, and Edward and Thomas Hilton, fish-merchants of London, with a number of other people in two divisions to establish a fishing colony in what is now New Hampshire, at the mouth of the Piscataqua River.

One of these divisions, under Thomson, settled near the river's mouth at a place they called Little Harbor or "Pannaway," now the town of Rye, where they erected salt-drying fish racks and a "factory" or stone house. The other division under the Hilton brothers set up their fishing stages on a neck of land eight miles above, which they called Northam, afterwards named Dover.

Nine years before that Captain John Smith of England and Later of Virginia, sailing along the New England coast and inspired by the charm of our summer shores and the solitude of our countryside's, wrote back to his countrymen that: "Here should be no landlords to rack us with high rents, or extorted fines to consume us. Here every man may be a master of his own labor and land in a short time. The sea there is the strangest pond I ever saw. What sport doth yield a more pleasant content and less hurt or charge than angling with a hook, and crossing the sweet air from isle to isle over the silent streams of a calm sea?"

Thus the settlement of New Hampshire did not happen because those who came here were persecuted out of England. The occasion, which is one of the great events in the annals of the English people, was one planned with much care and earnestness by the English crown and the English parliament. Here James the first began a colonization project which not only provided ships and provisions, but free land bestowed with but one important condition, that it remain always subject to English sovereignty.

So it remained until the "War of the Revolution." Smith first named it "North Virginia" but King James later revised this into "New England." To the map was added the name Portsmouth, taken from the English town where Captain John Mason was commander of the fort, and the name New Hampshire is that of his own English county of Hampshire.

Captain Mason died in 1635, just before his proposed trip to the new country which he never saw. He had invested more than twenty-two thousand pounds in clearing the land, building houses, and preparing for its defense, _ a considerable fortune for those days. By then Dover and Portsmouth had expanded into Hampton and Exeter, and its income from fishing was increased by that from trade in furs and timber.

Taking the idea from the English government, a community of "towns" was erected, and this became a "royal province" in 1679 with John Cutt as president, with a population intended to be as nearly like England as it could be. The "royal province" continued until 1698 when it came under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts with Joseph Dudley as Governor. Thus it continued until 1741.

During that time England's throne had been ruled by William and Mary, Queen Anne, and George I, and New Hampshire was administered by no less than eight lieutenant governors. There had been much unrest in England and as a result, to New Hampshire's advantage, the Scotch settlers of Londonderry in Ireland had in 1719 sent many of their people here to form a "Scotch" colony in the new place they would call our own Londonderry.

Under King George II New Hampshire returned to its provincial status with a governor of its own, Benning Wentworth, who was its chief magistrate from 1741 to 1766.

During the first two decades of Governor Wentworth's term New Hampshire had been beset with Indian troubles. With little aid from England, then at war with its old-time enemy, France, the colonists undertook the sieges of Louisbourg, and helped to reduce Crown Point, and in the conquest of Canada. By the time of the signing of the Peace of Paris in 1762, and the end of the Indian fighting under the Rogers Rangers, the entire north country of New Hampshire was ready to be explored, surveyed, and populated.

Governor Wentworth who, as if in anticipation of this opportunity, seems to have been well prepared for it, had arranged the purchase for the sum of fifteen hundred pounds of the unauthenticated claims of Robert Mason, heir of Captain John Mason. This was done through a group of twelve influential citizens who called themselves the "Masonian Proprietors." Having done this, the governor kept the land "within the province."

Governor Wentworth, with all or most of the Masonian Proprietors as his councilors, then proceeded to grant towns to prospective settlers as equally as possible. In addition to the thirty-eight towns already granted, more than a hundred others followed after the year 1761. These towns contained lots available to more than thirty thousand families, many from the older towns in southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but many from other neighboring states. Some of these towns were located in Vermont, to be released later by a court order, which made the western shore of the Connecticut River the state boundary line.

While the new towns were occasionally given the names of the leading grantees, not a few of them bore the historic names of English royalty, frequently those of friends and relatives of Governor Wentworth and his own royal family, the Rockinghams, in England. Many of the beneficiaries were soldiers who had fought in the Indian wars, while a few were of Dutch origin, such as might settle from New York in New Hampshire.

The terms of the grants were simple. The Proprietors could convey only the soil, while the political rights and powers of government came from the province. Provision was made that no land should be subject to taxation or assessment until improved by those holding the titles. Rights were reserved for land for roads, churches and schools, to be built within a definite period of time, for the use of ministers and in many cases for mill-rights. Fees were nominal, often only a shilling or an ear of corn a year. All tall pines should be saved for the King's navy.

Benning Wentworth died in 1770. He was succeeded by his nephew who later became Sir John Wentworth, the last of the royal governors. He is perhaps best known because of his purchase of a thirty six mile tract of land on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee where he established an estate known as Kingswood. It afterward become Wolfeborough.

Governor Sir John Wentworth's beneficial acts to the state included the building of roads, including one from Portsmouth to Kingswood; publishing the first accurate state map; organizing the State militia, a member of which was Major Benjamin Thompson of Concord who afterward became known as Count Rumford; his help in founding Dartmouth College; and the building of Wentworth House, now owned by the State. Loyal to the English crown, he embarked for Nova Scotia at the beginning of the Revolution, there to become its lieutenant governor until his death in 1820.

A pre-Revolution event occurring in New Hampshire was the removal in 1774, by a small party of patriots at New Castle, of the powder and guns at Fort William and Mary. Other Revolutionary events included New Hampshire's participation in the Battle of Bunker Hill at which nearly all the troops doing the actual fighting were said to have been from this State; the signing of the Declaration of Independence by New Hampshire's Josiah Bartlett, Matthew Thornton, and William Whipple; General John Stark's victory at the Battle of Bennington; and the success of Captain John Paul Jones at sea.

Just as it was the first to declare its independence and adopt its own constitution, New Hampshire was the ninth and deciding state in accepting the National Constitution as that of a republic, never to be known under any other form of government. New Hampshire's John Langdon was the first acting vice-president of the United States, and was President of the Senate when Washington was elected first president.

Many events have helped to individualize New Hampshire's unique history as the decades have followed each other down to the present time. Both Washington and Lafayette passed within our borders. Meshech Weare was elected the first state "president". Morey's Connecticut River steam-boat preceded Fulton's by seventeen years. An American President, Franklin Pierce, and a Vice-president, Henry Wilson, were elected, both from New Hampshire. Daniel Webster won his famous Dartmouth College case before the Supreme Court. The first American public library was established at Peterborough. The world-recognized "Concord Coach" was made here, as was America's first cog-railroad to Mount Washington dating 1869.

Statesmen, educators, inventors, preachers, scientists, explorers, authors, industrialists, engineers, lawyers, diplomats, are all arrayed in the long line of notables New Hampshire claims as coming from her soil.
New Hampshire Historic Figures

Franklin Pierce
1804-69: Franklin Pierce was born in Hillsboro and a resident of Concord. He served as the 14th President of the United States (1853-1857).


Daniel Webster
1782-1852: He was one of this country's most famous statesmen. Webster was educated at Exeter and Dartmouth before serving in the U.S. Senate. In addition, he was Secretary of State under Presidents Harrison and Fillmore.


Robert Frost
1874 -1963: He was a noted poet, who gave poetry a fresh turn at the turn of the 20th century, that is recorded in the history of Western literature. He transmuted the sounds of music in poetry, to the poetry sounds of speech. Frost was a four time Pulitzer Prize winner and he held more than fifty honorary degrees.


Alan Shepard
1923-1998: Born in Derry, Shepard was the first American in space. His historic flight was made in 1961.


Horace Greeley
1811-72: Greeley was born in Amherst and founded the New York Tribune in 1841.