A few things that surprised me about early Dover

In researching my new book, Quaking Dover, new findings pointed me in fresh directions. Sometimes they came in examining something I knew a little about already. Here are a few:

  1. Dover was a wilder place than you’d expect. At one point, it was a haven for harassed leaders and dissidents from Massachusetts, and for decades its frontier was torn by massacres, raids, and scalpings — much longer than anywhere in the Wild West.
  2. Despite its upstream location on the Piscataqua River, Dover emerged as New England’s third oldest permanent settlement and the seventh oldest in the United States. That makes New Hampshire the second-oldest state in New England, rather than Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, or Vermont.
  3. The earliest mills were for sawing wood rather than grinding grain. Shipbuilding and shipping, requiring barrels and boxes, were major industries. Food could be imported.
  4. Dover nearly had the first Baptist church in America, but its minister fled town, along with some followers who established Piscataway, New Jersey — named for the Piscataqua River.
  5. Edward Starbuck, sire of the surname in the New World, was elder of the town church until he ran afoul of its practice of baptizing children and its objections to the length of his hair. He left Dover to become a founder of Nantucket, where his family became well-known Quakers. His son repeatedly returned to Dover.
  6. The Quaker movement arrived in Dover earlier than has been acknowledged. Two of the three men hanged in Boston had visited Dover less than a month before — the third had been in town the previous year. Shortly afterward, three women missionaries in Dover were tied to the tail of an ox cart, banished, and ordered whipped in every town to the south. Even so, a third of the population of Dover soon identified as Quaker.
  7. Women were coequals in the Quaker movement, illustrated by many of Dover’s recorded ministers over the years.
  8. Early settlement of Maine was largely across the river from Dover. Access by water was more like crossing the street nowadays. Kittery House, named after a manor in England, sat in today’s Eliot, opposite Dover Point. Its proprietor, Nicholas Shapleigh, gave crucial protection to Quakers. Dover Quaker Meeting had meetinghouses in both Eliot and Berwick, close to the homes and farms of many members. Later generations of Dover Friends fanned out across the state, where their surnames remain quite visible.
  9. John Greenleaf Whittier was famed across the country as an abolitionist and poet, but Whittier Falls and Whittier Street in Dover were named for his uncle. The poet’s mother, on the other hand, grew up as a member of Dover Meeting and married in its meetinghouse.
  10. Landmark Tuttle’s Red Barn, a popular market at what was proclaimed America’s oldest family-owned and operated farm, was home to generations of Quakers. That “oldest” distinction is challenged by descendants of Thomas and Rebecca Roberts, themselves with a Quaker identity and founders of the Piscataqua settlement itself.

Order your copy of Quaking Dover at your favorite bookstore. Or request it at your public library.

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