For most of the first century, Dover dominated both New Hampshire and neighboring Maine.
It was the core of population, for one thing, as well as the oldest continuing settlement.
It also had significant water power, unlike Strawbery Banke, the future Portsmouth.
But Portsmouth, in turn, was closer to the Atlantic and had a viable harbor, leading it to become a center for adventure capitalists and merchants plying the ocean for trade at the same time Dover’s fishing focus diminished, in part a consequence of the sawdust in the water from the lumber trade.
Hampton (1636) and Exeter (1638) were both founded by men seeking religious freedom from Massachusetts. How’s that for a turn of affairs as well as a challenge to the argument that the latter was established in a quest for religious liberty while New Hampshire folks were interested only in lucrative gain?
Hampton long remained the most agricultural of the lot. Exeter did have water power for mills both there and in today’s Newmarket, yet it soon aligned with some powerful Puritan families. As did a elite portion of Hampton.
There were even the poor collected off the streets of London and shipped to New England, who may have then drifted northward.
Maine, meanwhile, began to coalesce around York, one town over from Dover.
Today, each of them remains somehow unique, within a New England identity.
Hampton, for instance, has a suburban sprawl feel with colonial touches. Exeter, with its prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy, could easily be one of the old towns abutting Boston but yet isn’t. The novelist John Irving calls it Gravesend. Continuing on, Portsmouth is a magnet for wealthy residents and resembles wealthy port towns all along the New England coast. George Washington, after all, did both sleep and worship there. It definitely has a superiority complex. And Dover, once a major textile mills and railroad center, is taking off as a family-friendly town with a viable, pedestrian-welcoming, downtown. It has, to me, the most practical yet visionary community spirit.
The differences are a subject well worth investigating. In the meantime, I’m keeping my focus on everything touching Dover.
It is, after all, the center of my new book and the city’s 400th anniversary as the oldest of all.