As Dover gears up for its big 400th anniversary next year, folks need to be alerted to the fact the early history spills far beyond today’s city limits – and that includes both sides of the state line.
While much of the settlement is along Dover Neck and then grows around the Lower Falls of the Cochecho, the town itself sprawled across today’s Durham [but then Oyster River], Newington, Madbury, Lee, Barrington, Rochester, Somersworth, and Rollinsford. That’s a lot of geography.
It’s sparsely populated, at least by Europeans, as is reflected in the 42 signers of the Dover Combination, essentially all of the freemen in the town even if a number of them are soon living elsewhere in the watershed or even returned to the mother country.
When the itinerant Quaker troublemakers arrive two decades later, the town has maybe 60 households. There are perhaps no more than a thousand English total all in New Hampshire.
In 1679, when New Hampshire is separated from Massachusetts and becomes an independent provincial government, Dover has just 61 qualified voters; the remainder of the province, 148.
The picture magnifies when we look at the Piscataqua watershed.
The tiny outpost at Hilton Point becomes the center of settlement in 1630 when Captain Walter Neale arrives to settle Strawbery Banke, today’s Portsmouth, downstream on the Piscatauqua, the same year Newichawannock, a fortified trading post, was established at today’s South Berwick, Maine, upstream from the Hiltons. Some accounts have the parties arriving on the same boat. I’m not getting into those intricacies.
Besides, it leads to an argument over whether Newichawannock or an hermit who stayed the winter at York was Maine’s first permanent European settlement.
What is clear to me is that Hilton Point is the center of development, more than the other three towns in New Hampshire – Exeter, Hampton, and Portsmouth – by 1638. Yes, only four towns in the entire colony until New Castle is admitted, and nothing in New Hampshire’s Merrimack Valley until the next century.
As emphasis, a 1631 observer reports only three houses or settlements in the entire Piscataqua watershed: today’s Dover, meaning Hilton Point; Portsmouth; and South Berwick.
The history gets more interesting when there’s mention of Sturgeon Creek, which is straight across the Piscataqua River from Dover Neck and in today’s Eliot. We’ll get into that later.
At the time, all of the Maine side of the Piscataqua is considered Kittery – but as it turns out, the first settlement is Newichawannock, not Kittery Point on the Atlantic. That is, much further inland than folks assume today.
During many of the early years, settlements on both sides of the river are often called Piscataqua. Many of the legal cases from the Maine side wind up in the courts of provincial New Hampshire, and the other way around, adding further difficulty in determining exactly where certain activities occur.
That, too, indicates how closely both sides of the river interacted with each other, with the center of gravity for “upper Kittery” being Dover.
Even more, it’s hard to envision a feudal society with Edward Hilton on Pomeroy Cove. Or even later, with Captain Wiggin’s troupe of Puritan settlers along Dover Neck. Not that we really know their names – there’s controversy when it comes to listing them.
The more I look at these early situations, the more I’m amazed that any of it actually survived.
Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.