As the story goes, he’s a perfect villain

The three Quaker women who come to Dover in 1662 and 1663 are tormented principally by Major Richard Waldron. He and his brother William arrived from a staunchly Puritan family in Warwickshire in 1635, and after returning to England to marry a woman against her family’s wishes, Richard returns to Dover. History does not record her name, only his second wife’s. In 1642 he buys up rights around the dramatic waterfalls of the Cochecho River about five miles north of Hilton Point.

In building mills there and establishing a village, Richard consolidates power and wealth. He has, for one thing, obtained a monopoly on fur trade with the Natives and, for another, rises to head the colony’s militia, a politically powerful position. In addition, he serves 22 years as a deputy of the General Court of Massachusetts, its assembly, seven of them as its Speaker. He votes to impose the anti-Quaker acts of 1656 and 1657.

Richard Waldron was influential in the passage of the anti-Quaker Cart and Whip act and other punishments.

Dover is not his only residence – at least three of his children are born in Boston and he has ships on the sea. He’s also the magistrate who imposes the Cart and Whip sentence on the Quaker women who come to Dover – in effect, a death sentence if constables in towns down the road follow through on his order. Even his wife is appalled by his cruelty.

He’s also the mastermind behind the invitation to the Natives to participate in a mock war game and festivities in 1676. After the 20 armed Natives fire their weapons, they are surrounded and arrested, along with 350 or more, mostly women and children. Seven or eight of the leaders are sent to Boston and executed. The rest are sold into slavery in the Barbados or West Indies.

Major Richard Waldron masterminded the sham war game that led to the captivity of local Natives who came in peace.

The Natives do not forget Waldron’s deceit and cunning. Knowing they cannot trust the English, they form an alliance with France. Many of them convert to Catholicism under French priests.

In 1689, they take their revenge, attacking and burning garrisons at Cochecho village, killing 23 and taking 29 captive to Canada. Quakers are not spared. Waldron, however, is singled out for torture and death.

The early morning raid is the beginning of devastating violence large and small across northern New England that does not end until the end of the French and Indian Wars in 1763.

Every family in Dover would suffer losses. They were far from the only ones.

Major Waldron was singled out in revenge.

Behind the scenes, an ominous shift in the settlement’s character had been occurring, centered on Waldron. The sixth son of a well-off Puritan family, he was “immensely able, forceful, and ambitious,” arriving with his oldest brother in 1635, when he was barely twenty. In 1637, he returned to England, married a young gentlewoman despite her parents’ opposition, and brought her to Dover. Her name and dates are unknown. He then married Anne Scammon and had eleven children.

By 1642, he had accumulated the rights to land around the falls in today’s downtown Dover and erected his first sawmill. Emerging as the town’s central figure, he eventually controlled much of the Native trade and amassed large land holdings. In pressing for Dover to submit to Massachusetts jurisdiction, Waldron placed himself in opposition to Thomas Roberts, who then lost office when the Dover province was subsumed by the Massachusetts Bay colony.

Waldron, in contrast, became a deputy to the Massachusetts General Court, or legislature, in 1654, where he served for the next twenty-two years, seven of them as its general speaker, one of the most powerful political posts in New England. How much time was he spending in Boston during this period, and how much in Dover? At least three of his children – Elnathon, Esther, and Mary – were born in Boston.

Brother William also held public office and eventually purchased a part of the Shrewsbury Patent in today’s town of Stratham. He was, according to Massachusetts governor John Winthrop, “a good clerk and a subtle man,” one who “had an inclination toward drink and contention,” which leaves me wondering about Richard as well. While crossing a small river at Kennebunk on his way back from Saco, Maine, in 1646, William drowned. Whatever his skills as a public official, his business dealings left him in debt to many creditors. Like the Hilton brothers, we have a case where the younger brother fared more successfully than his elder.

After his death, another brother, George, showed up in Dover after 1650, when he was a chandler in London. From 1659 through 1677, he was taxed as a resident of Dover. His domestic life, however, was strained. In June 1661, he was in court for being absent from his wife, and again in the fall of 1662, when she was reported dead twelve months. In June 1680, he petitioned the court to be rid of his son, “who instead of holding me hath rather destroyed me and what I had in drinking.” Impoverished, elderly, and nearly blind, he appealed for a guardian. Mrs. Richard Waldron took him in until her husband’s return.

Richard, on the other hand, flourished, not just in politics. He traded widely, as is seen in the death in Algiers around 1669 of his son, Paul, “probably on board one of his father’s vessels.” Another son, Timothy, died while a student at Harvard. Daughter Esther died on the Isle of Jersey. Quite simply, his family wasn’t stuck on the banks of the Cochecho or Piscataqua rivers.

The Cochecho Falls and the village that grew up around them were part of Richard Waldron’s power base.

As Jere Daniell observed, “By the 1670s the portion of Dover known as Cochecho had become something like Waldron’s personal fiefdom, and citizens in the other areas of settlement rarely challenged his social authority.”

A man like that had to have enemies and a capacity for revenge.

From everything I’ve seen, he was quite unlike Nicholas Shapleigh just across the river.


Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.


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