My history essentially drifts off about the time the textile mills take over

Among other things, I would love to know more about the livelihoods of Dover’s Quaker families, especially as they evolved over the generations. How did they acquire new skills, for one thing, as the town went from being a fishing and shipbuilding center to timbering and sawmills and then milling in general, even before its emergence as a calico capital?

New England farming, of course, underwent its own permutations, especially after wool was displaced by cotton in the early 1800s.

As Dover shifted from a rural village with agricultural roots and fishing and shipbuilding to an industrial city depending on an immigrant workforce, the Quaker presence shrank to a mere thread. Even so, as I like to think, some of the Friends’ values continued in the descendants of the Meeting’s earlier members, even when the family was no longer Quaker.

Many had moved north or east in search of new farmlands, and others were about to head off to Minnesota and Iowa.

Dover Friends Meeting was already declining when the textile mills started changing the character of the community. Moreover, the new arrivals brought new churches and ethnic identities, and these are stories waiting to be told in the upcoming celebrations. I’ll be all ears.

As the ownership of the mills passed to out-of-town investors, the profits being generated in Dover prospered an upper crust elsewhere, most likely the famed Boston Brahmins. In contrast, Dover became a largely working-class neighborhood. The same can be said for the busy rail lines passing through town.

The centerpiece of Dover is the Lower Falls of the Cochecho River, capped by a dam that increased the waterpower to the textiles mills. Here, water from the river rushes into the tidewaters below and runs through an arch in the mills that define the downtown. Who can’t be inspired by such a sight, whether the river’s running high or low, in season?

Although a visitor to Dover today would have no problem seeing the town’s character as New England, its identity today comes from the brick mills erected at the falls four-and-a-half or five miles north of the Hilton settlement. There is no town common, a wide green square surrounded by imposing Colonial houses and white church under a lofty steeple. The same can be said for neighboring Portsmouth, formed around the harbor, and Exeter, with the elite academy. Yes, there are the iconic church spires and rooster weather vane but not the central green common. Hampton, which remained largely agricultural, does have a tiny green, not that it would pasture a single horse.

As my new book and these blog posts note, David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America explains that the stereotypical New England arises in the customs and culture of East Anglia, the region of England that produced most of the Puritan migrants who shaped Massachusetts and Connecticut. He sharply counters that with the Quaker migrations from the Midlands into Pennsylvania, and from the Royalist cavaliers who predominated the Virginia planter society, as well as from the Borderlands people in northern England who share commonalities with the Scots-Irish settling the Appalachian spine from Georgia to Maine.

Fischer examines these complex workings in a set of specifics that include distinctive speech, architecture, geographic patterns of settlement, family, marriage, gender, sex, child-rearing, naming of children, attitudes toward aging, religion, magic, learning and education, food, dress, sports, work ethics and practices, use of time and recording, ideas of social order and institutions, authority and power, and more, including differing concepts of liberty and social restraint.

Quite simply, there was no generic Englishman. Even the dialects could prove incomprehensible when taken from one part of the country to the other.

While the new settlers to the Piscataqua settlement were primarily Puritans, imbued with its Protestant ethos, they were also overwhelmingly from Devon, with folkways quite distinct from their East Anglia brethren.

I suspect these contrasting folkways play a major, though previously undetected role, in the deep conflicts about to emerge in the seeming isolation along the Piscataqua as well as elsewhere in other pockets of New England.

Far from being a homogenous nation, Britain was a patchwork of many long-buried identities, some of them resurfacing in new guises. The country had never suffered an Inquisition, either, to suppress them. Its Christianity had been imposed from the conversion of the regional kings, whose subjects might publicly worship one way but another in private.

English Quakers, too, had never suffered the trials of sustained violence with New France and the Indigenous American tribes or racial slavery or a Revolutionary War, as their American coreligionists did, especially in New England. Little wonder the English Friends were baffled by the separations that ultimately divided Quakers in the New World.

It was a rich brew. And, frankly, still is.


Though Dover Quaker Meeting was reborn in the ’50s after a hiatus, its viability is challenged, but so is much more of contemporary American society.  Besides, I’m not comfortable in considering the period as “history,” much less examining it systematically or comprehensively, though I tell what I can. Some early readers think it’s the best part of my book. I won’t argue.

I will say that our Quaker Meeting is a beautiful community, one I love dearly and invite you to experience.

As well as Dover.


Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in your choice of ebook platforms at

Welcome to the upcoming 400th anniversary.

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