The settlement isn’t named for a town with white cliffs

The name of the settlement kept bouncing around.

Cochecho or Piscataqua plantation, for a while Bristol or Bristow, and even Northam, but the one that stuck was Dover.

Just as the names Hilton Point and Dover Point keep bouncing around, for the same place, though the latter has also largely replaced Dover Neck.

Neighboring Strawbery Banke did get renamed Portsmouth, after the harbor town in Devonshire, but Dover was never named for the village with the famed white cliffs in Kent.

No, the inspiration’s better than that.

The name comes through Dover’s second minister, George Burdet, who was more Anglican than Puritan, though apparently not outwardly. The proprietors of the colony at the time, Lord Saye and Lord Brooke, are both staunch Puritans, and the cleric works for them. In fact, he even manages to become the colony’s governor, or agent – a dual role forbidden to ministers in Massachusetts. Some even see him as trying to become a little pope in his power.

In calling the settlement Dover, Burdet pays honor to the anti-Puritan wit and attorney Robert Dover, who created the Cotswold Olympick Games near Cambridge in the heart of the Puritans’ East Anglia.

Meet Robert Dover.

As my upcoming book details, there’s a long list of reasons the neighboring Puritan landlords forbid their servants from attending the pagan festivities. Besides, Dover was likely a secret Roman Catholic while openly ridiculing the Puritans. We can imagine what he would have said of Quakers.

Burdet, however, winds up fleeing Dover amid sexual scandal, only to generate more where he lands in Maine. Yes, the plot keeps thickening.

As for, “Roll over, Dover,” if we put it up for a vote, which inspiration would you chose? The picturesque cliffs or the scoundrel in the pulpit?

Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.


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