The early investors were looking for gold, not Jesus

To understand why a third of Dover became Quaker in the mid-1600s, we need to go back to the very founding of the colony.

The whirlpool in Sir Ferdinando Gorges’ coat of arms eerily reflects his role in New England’s early settlement.

The common presentation of history has New England settlement being prompted by a quest for religious liberty – you know, the Pilgrims and then the Puritans – but close examination finds that’s not the full story.

For instance, the first permanent English habitation, Plymouth in southern Massachusetts, is only half Pilgrims – the other half is diverse individuals looking for economic opportunity. The colony is also heavily in debt to investors in London who dictate much of its operation. Religion isn’t on their radar.

There’s nothing altruistic in the investors’ role. They’re looking for quick returns on their money. Their eye is on gold and silver or at least a shortcut to the Far East and its lucrative spices. Trade for furs could also be lewdly profitable. And then there’s the possibility of creating landed estates in the New World, where they could live at ease as gentlemen farmers supported by the rents paid by their tenants once the time’s ripe.

All of that puts the investors at odds with settlers who are out to establish homes, livelihoods, and security.

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AS A FURTHER COMPLICATION, the investors come in layers. One company holds rights to the development of all of New England and then enters agreements with others interested in specific tracts, sometimes within a specified timeframe.

Sir Ferdinando Gorges is the godfather of all this and plays a crucial role in the birth of Maine, which emerged largely on its border with Dover. Quite simply, the Maine side of the Piscataqua River is a big part of early Dover’s community.

Sir Ferdinando’s business associate, Captain John Mason, emerges more directly as the proprietor of New Hampshire itself.

Together, only two years after the Pilgrim venture, they negotiate with a band of Devonshire merchants to settle on the Piscataqua River, today’s border between New Hampshire and Maine.

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THEIR AGREEMENT SPECIFIES seven settlers – and, as we will see, that implies their families, servants, and laborers – intent on commercial opportunity. Forget religion.

Captain John Mason may have owned the province of New Hampshire, but fate intervened before he could set foot in it.

The Puritans, pointedly, are nowhere to be found. They’re still seven or eight years off in the future. Their arrival to the south of New Hampshire will, however, spark a culture clash and ongoing power struggle that will include Maine. As you’ll see, the plot thickens.

In the meantime, the odds are greatly against the survival of the Piscataqua enterprise.

Other attempts in New England have failed, some without a trace, as would others. The Plymouth colony is faltering.

Remember, nobody finds gold or silver or that shortcut to China.

Even so, Gorges and Mason leave a deep imprint on the future Dover.

As do Edward Hilton, a member of the powerful fishmongers’ guild in London, and his apprentice, Thomas Roberts. Their outpost at Dover Point is the start of the seventh oldest permanent European settlement in the United States – and the third oldest in New England.

Edward has been recognized as the Father of New Hampshire.

Thomas, however, is generally neglected, even though he has a more central role in its continuing development. He even becomes Quaker, for all intents and purposes. And though an apprentice, he’s not a disadvantaged youth looking for a step upward. He comes from a privileged family, and his father, by some accounts, is about to become a baron.

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ALL OF THAT’S PART of what we’ll be celebrating next year – 400 years after their arrival. And my new big book tackles some of the story.

 

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