Forget Portsmouth as far as the first permanent settlement goes

Dover and Portsmouth have always been at odds, it seems. But Dover is definitely older, despite the upstart’s claims to the contrary.

Portsmouth goes back to 1630, when the Laconia Company dispatched Captain Walter Neale, an English Army officer, to locate the large “lake of the Iroquois” the investors believed existed beyond the Piscataqua, which would give them a monopoly on the beaver trade – and possibly gold. He arrived with eight or ten ex-military adventurers aboard the barque Warwick that spring or summer and set up operations at the abandoned Pannaway Manor in today’s Rye, New Hampshire.

Portsmouth grew up around its harbor downstream from Dover.

As George Wadleigh deduced in 1882, “The Thomson house erected at Little Harbor in 1623, though built of stone, could have been no such substantial structure as has been assumed for it. It is not probable that ‘it presented the general appearance of the dwelling houses of the time of James I, vast numbers of which still remain in good preservation all over the old country.’ Had it been of this character it would hardly have been reduced to the dilapidated condition in which it was found by Hubbard in 1680, less than sixty years after its erection, when only ‘the chimney and some parts of the stone wall were standing.’ It is probable that as it must have been hastily built, it only sufficed for the immediate needs of Thomson and his little party, as a shelter from the elements.”

Within a year, Neale moved two miles east along the Piscataqua River, choosing to settle on a site rife with wild berries, leading to the name Strawbery Banke. Over the course of a few years, the Warwick and Pide-Cowe conveyed 48 men and 22 women to the new settlement. Note the odds. At least there were women.

A “Great House” was erected as the center of the settlement, one that “would be larger than the house at Pannaway.” It would be built of pine, with a stone foundation and chimney. In addition, a storehouse was constructed, along with small houses for the tenants, a shelter for cows and sheep, and wells were dug. There were also a sawmill and platforms for drying fish. Humphrey Chadbourne has sometimes been credited as the carpenter, but he would have been only 16 at the time, if he were even in the New World at all. He does definitely show up a few years later, though, at Newichwannock at today’s South Berwick. Maine, just upstream.

In addition to his explorations, Neale served as administrator, or governor, of the “lower plantations” along the river, while Wiggin did the same for the “upper plantations.” They had boundary disagreements during the three years before Neale returned to England.

As Wadleigh wrote, “‘Mason Hall,’ or the Great House, as it has been styled, was … probably a more suitable location for carrying on the business of the settlement, while the station at Little Harbor was abandoned. Such as it was, it passed into the hands of Mason’s men, and was sometimes called his ‘stone house,’ though it is now conceded the term ‘Mason Hall’ was never, as has been popularly supposed, applied to it.”

As a business, though, “In a few years this company broke up [in 1634] and the servants were discharged, the whole scheme proving a failure. On a division of the property, Mason bought the shares of some of his associates and sent over a new supply of men, set up saw mills, and soon after died.”

As Wadleigh notes, “These settlements on the Piscataqua went on but slowly for several years.”

~*~

At the time, “There were but three houses or settlements in all this region, namely, at Little Harbor or Portsmouth at the ‘Bank,’ at Dover Point and at Newichwannock. … Their occupants turned their attention chiefly to trade and the fisheries, the cultivation of the grape and the discovery of mines; in the latter it is hardly necessary to say that they did not meet with much success. Very little improvement was made on the lands, and bread was either brought from England, in meal, or from Virginia in grain, and then sent to the windmill in Boston to be ground.

“That they fared hard, if they did not work hard, is evident. One of them (Ambrose Gibbons) in a letter to the proprietors in England, complains that for himself, wife and child, and four men, ‘an have but half a barrel of corn … beef and pork I have not had but one piece this three months, nor beer this four months. I nor the servants have neither money nor clothes,’ etc.”

Wadleigh added, “The dwellings of the early settlers for nearly a hundred years were hastily constructed and of the rudest character. Their houses had but one or two rooms. Very few of them had other than block windows. Their furnishing, beyond a few necessary cooking utensils, was of the most meagre description. Of the dwellings of the settlers at Plymouth, at about the same time, we collect here and there (says Palfrey) a hint as to their construction. A storm on the 4th of February 1621, ’caused much daubing of our houses to fall down’; this was the clay or other earth which filled the chinks between the logs. Winslow wrote to persons proposing to emigrate, ‘Bring paper and linseed oil for your windows.’ The earliest houses on Cape Cod were built by selecting large logs of the right dimensions for sills and plates. In these, holes were bored about six inches apart and poles were inserted as a sort of studding, intervals being allowed for doors and windows. The spaces between them were filled with stones and clay. The most thoroughly built were plastered with clay. The roofs were thatched with long grass. The chimney was built of sticks, arranged like a cob house and plastered with clay inside. The windows were supplied with oiled paper instead of glass. The floors were nothing more than the bare earth or perhaps in some cases flat stones covered with straw, for as late as 1623 the cottages of the common people in England, of whom the emigrants were chiefly composed, were no better finished.”

Nor do I find any mention of a church in Portsmouth before 1641, which suggests the town’s faithful found themselves relying on Dover’s minister and congregation. The southern province itself didn’t incorporate until 1653, when it took the name of Portsmouth, after John Mason’s home port in Hampshire, rather than continuing as Strawbery Banke.

 ~*~

Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.

 

Delving into a microcosm for a bigger comprehension

In looking at the categories I’ve used since launching this blog a decade ago, I feel I should explain why I’ve resisted adding to them.

I simply wanted to retain some kind of focus on what I’d envisioned as a merry-go-round. Yes, the categories were the selected horses to ride.

Think of “American Affairs,” largely inspired by an academic department that Indiana University and Yale and a few others launched in the mid-‘60s to encapsulate a multicultural investigation of current affairs. I nearly embraced it as my own major, the way some Blacks turned to Swahili.

Hey, I had a girlfriend who saw that regarding her own eldest brother. Back off, please, and let’s get back to subject.

What I’ve found in practice here at the Red Barn is that my Am Affairs specific pigeonhole has increasingly probed local public states, especially in Dover, New Hampshire, and more recently, Eastport in Way Downeast Maine.

Or, as the adage goes, all politics are local. (Should that be “is”?)

The writer Tom Wolfe was someone I had thought followed this American Affairs college degree path, but I find myself mistaken, at least as far as academia goes. Still, I would list him as an inspiration here, just shorn of the heap of superlative adjectives, expletives, and adverbs.

But our localities do get lost in the national mass-media mindset, to the impoverishment of us all.

Or, as the French said, “Vive la difference!”

Actually, as I’m realizing, that also applies to my latest book, Quaking Dover.

Pickled Wrinkle?

Saw a small, weathered sign at the side of the road.

A restaurant, it turns out: Pickled Wrinkle.

While that particular location is long gone, not so over at Birch Harbor, near Acadia National Park.

“Wrinkle,” as I’ve learned, is a diminutive of “periwinkle,” which are commercially harvested around here. In the old days, pickling them was perfect for packing and shipping. And they are an invasive species, FYI.

As for today, you can look up the recipes yourself.

So much for local flavor. Or maybe French.

A view of early Plymouth from one of Dover’s earliest settlers

It turns out that Edward Hilton’s older brother, William, did indeed have a taste of what to expect in New England before settling in along the Piscataqua River.

William had emigrated to the Plymouth Bay colony aboard the Fortune, the first vessel after the Mayflower to bring settlers to the Pilgrim plantation. The small ship, carrying only 35 passengers, left England in July 1621 but didn’t arrive at Plymouth until November 10 or 11 of that year – late in the sailing season and most likely after the big feast or even too late for any leftovers.

As genealogist Mark Everett Miner notes, “On arrival they found that half the Mayflower passengers had not made it through their first winter in Plymouth and had died. The Fortune sailed back to England carrying a ‘cargo of good clapboard as full as she could stow, and two hogsheads of beaver and other skins,’ which showed the great potential for settling in America, and the hopes of selling this cargo and ensuring future settlement at Plymouth. Unfortunately, before reaching port in England, the ship was stopped by the French, who seized the cargo, and that intended profit for the small colony back in Plymouth was lost.”

So much for further thanksgiving. Sounds more like continued lamentation was in order.

The Fortune was under the command of Captain William Trevore, who had previously joined the crew of the Mayflower in its oft-told voyage to the New World after the Speedwell was deemed unfit. His exploration of Boston Harbor with Myles Standish gave name to the island New Hampshire pioneer David Thomson later inhabited. In the 1630s, as master of the William, Trevore made repeated trips bringing Puritan settlers into Massachusetts.

In a letter sent to their cousin Anthony Hilton in South Shields, England, William Hilton described the conditions of the Pilgrim settlement, where William was now living and laboring while his wife and children remained in England. They would come in 1623 aboard the ships Anne and the smaller, supply-loaded Little James.

As he wrote in a cheery mode:

“Loving Cousin,

“At our arrival at New Plymouth, in New England, we found all our friends and planters in good health, though they were left sick and weak, with very small means; the Indians round about us peaceable and friendly; the country very pleasant and temperate, yielding naturally, of itself, great store of fruits, as vines of divers sorts, in great abundance. There is likewise walnuts, chestnuts, small nuts and plums, with much variety of flowers, roots and herbs, no less pleasant than wholesome and profitable. No place hath more gooseberries and strawberries nor better. Timber of all sorts you have in England doth cover the land, that affords beasts of divers sorts, and great flocks of turkeys, quails, pigeons and partridges; many great lakes abounding with fish, fowl, beavers, and otters. The sea affords us great plenty of all excellent sorts of sea-fish, as the rivers and isles doth variety of wild fowl of most useful sorts. Mines we find, to our thinking; but neither the goodness nor quality we know. Better grain cannot be than the Indian corn, if we will plant it upon as good ground as a man need desire. We are all freeholders; the rent-day doth not trouble us; and all those good blessings we have, of which and what we list in their seasons for taking. Our company are, for the most part, very religious, honest people; the word of God sincerely taught us ever Sabbath; so that I know not an thing a contented mind can here want. I desire your friendly care to send my wife and children to me, where I wish all the friends I have in England; and so I rest

“Your loving kinsman,

“William Hilton”

The “cousin,” incidentally, may have been an alias for Captain Smith, who soon after published the letter in his own book promoting New England settlement.

~*~

William Hilton next appears in 1623, when Governor William Bradford dissolved the communal operation of the Plymouth colony’s holdings and parceled out land to the settlers to build on and farm themselves. Hilton received one acre as a passenger on the Fortune and his wife and two children received three acres as passengers on the Anne.

Given a farm of four acres, Hilton was unlikely to pull up roots so soon to try the unknown Piscataqua venture or, for that matter, to be part of Thomson’s Pannaway Plantation. Confirmation of his remaining at new Plymouth rather than Piscataqua comes the next year, when the infant John Hilton was baptized by the Reverend John Lyford, who was not a member of the Pilgrims’ congregation. That action stirred up a controversy between Lyford and the Plymouth authorities that quickly escalated to the point that Lyford and John Oldham were expelled.

According to Miner, Hilton and his family left new Plymouth soon thereafter, possibly to join his brother Edward on the banks of the Piscataqua. William’s land in Plymouth, I assume, reverted to the colony. Real estate ownership, as we’ve noted, had different meanings back then.

Regarding the Lyford controversy, Miner explains the child “could not be baptized at Plymouth unless the parents joined the Pilgrim church, which they were not disposed to do, being staunch Anglicans. They appealed to Rev. John Lyford and arranged a private baptism according to the rites of the Church of England. … This issue … was behind the family’s migration first to the Piscataqua River and later to join his brother Edward to help found Dover, New Hampshire.”

Miner does acknowledge an alternative destination: “On the other hand, Noyes, Libby and Davis state that Hilton ‘left Plymouth and joined Thomson at Little Harbor with the purpose of starting salt works,’ and apparently did this in partnership with Gilbert Winslow,” a brother of two fellow Fortune passengers. “This would provide William Hilton and his family with a home prior to the arrival of Edward Hilton, assuming the latter did not come so early as 1625.”

There’s also the possibility that William may have had previous wives before the one, maybe named Mary, who followed him to new Plymouth. Miner quotes a source “suggesting that if one of his wives should prove to have been a Winslow, it would explain his letter writing with Edward Winslow, his association with John Winslow, his removal to Piscataqua [Fort Pannaway] with Gilbert Winslow and the marriage of two of John Winslow’s sons to his relations.”

Either way, William Hilton and his family would not have been living on the Piscataqua as early as 1623. And curiously, there’s no indication of his trade directly involving fish but rather salt manufacture.

William Hilton arrived at Plymouth but probably was a tad too late for the big dinner. Don’t bother looking for him in the group shot. Also note that the settlement looked nothing like this. It was fortified, for one thing, and had a completely different style of house.

The Lyford incident illuminates another side of the New England migrations. Not everyone came for a noble cause, religious or entrepreneurial. Some were running away from reprehensible acts.

After the Hilton child’s baptism, leaders of the colony discovered that Lyford had been writing letters to England disparaging the Separatists at new Plymouth. As the Lyford entry on Wikipedia explains, some of the letters were seized before they were sent and opened. When Governor Bradford confronted Lyford about their contents. Lyford apologized but later wrote another similar letter that was also intercepted. After the second incident, Lyford was sentenced to banishment.

Before his expulsion, Lyford’s wife, Sarah, came forward with further charges. Lyford had fathered a child out of wedlock with another woman before his marriage, and after his marriage, he was constantly engaging in sexual relationships with his housemaids.

Bradford recorded Sarah Lyford’s explanation of how her husband “had wronged her, as first he had a bastard by another before they were married, and she having some inkling of some ill cariage that way, when he was a suitor to her, she tould him what she heard, and deneyd him; but she not certainly knowing the thing, other wise then by some darke and secrete muterings, he not only stifly denied it, but to satisfie her tooke a solemne oath ther was no shuch matter. Upon which she gave consente, and married with him; but afterwards it was found true, and the bastard brought home to them. She then charged him with his oath, but he prayed pardon, and said he should els not have had her. And yet afterwards she could keep no maids but he would be medling with them, and some time she hath taken him in the maner, as they lay at their beds feete, with shuch other circumstances as I am ashamed to relate.”

Once more, he was on the run, eventually landing in Virginia. Sarah apparently remained behind, where as a widow, she married Edmund Hobart, a constable, court official, and minister, in 1634.

~*~

So much for some juicy scandal surrounding all the piety.

Happy Thanksgiving, anyway.

It’s all part of my new book, Quaking Dover, available in a Nook edition at Barnes & Noble.

 

 

Bays within bays, all adding into one

For someone raised like me far from the ocean, trying to pin down places along the coastline can be confounding.

Eastport, for instance, lies within famed Fundy Bay yet also has Cobscook Bay lapping its west banks and Passamaquoddy Bay on its east.

What gives?

Well, let’s say the bays are like Matreshka Dolls, one fitting inside another one that fits within yet another one and so on.

Cobscook Bay, for instance, includes the smaller East, South, Sipp, Dennys, and Whiting bays.

Looking into Cobscook Bay to the west of Eastport.
Or to the east, toward the Bay of Fundy.

I guess it’s like a New Yorker saying she’s from Flatbush, meaning a part of Brooklyn within New York City, which does – contrary to the knowledge of many Manhattanites – sprawl far beyond their little island.

So Eastport can justly claim to be the City in the Bay. Or several.

 

Gobble, gobble, darn it, gobble

There’s a widespread assumption across America that no household should be without a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. And that’s led many charitably inclined groups and individuals to deliver free turkeys to poorer families ahead of the holiday.

What gets overlooked is the realities of the recipients themselves. Some may not welcome the challenge in front of them. Some don’t cook, period. Some don’t have a full-sized oven. Some live by themselves and have no way of dealing with all that meat. Carving the heavy roast gets tricky, even if you have a large platter and the right knife and serving fork. Not everyone even likes the taste, white meat or dark.

I’ve heard of one group home that had a dozen of the brick-solid big birds stashed away in the bottom of its chest-style freezer, no date attached. A diligent volunteer finally took charge and into the trash they went, one a week.

Speaking of volunteers. Many people step up to volunteer for the holidays, only to be told the spots are already filled and then turn testy. What do you mean?

Doing good can get tricky and lead to hurt feelings.

The real needs continue all year, especially through the depth of winter, when the food and volunteers would be most welcome.

That holiday spirit doesn’t have to be expended all at once, does it?

The Bingham connection

After discussing Maine’s unincorporated townships, I need to add that there are a lot of variants – 17, if I’m counting right. Among them are the BKP, BPP, NBKP, NBPP, and WBKP designations – translated as Bingham’s Kennebec Purchase, Bingham’s Penobscot Purchase, North of Bingham’s Kennebec Purchase, North of Bingham’s Penobscot Purchase, and West of Bingham’s Kennebec Purchase.

So just who was this Bingham guy?

In short, he was William Bingham, already a wealthy Philadelphian when he became filthy rich via privateering during the Revolutionary War. He was also a statesman and U.S. senator who parlayed his riches into vast land purchases, as noted above but also including upstate New York, where Binghamton, where I’ve also lived, was named in his honor.

Got it?

Quite simply, Bingham owned two million acres in Maine, making him land rich but cash poor.

His agent in Maine, Revolutionary War Gen. David Cobb, was responsible for laying out most of the roads associated with the Airline Highway (now eastern State Route 9). And when Cobb retired in 1820, John Black, agent for Baring Brothers Bank in London, felt that lumber was the wealth that would provide his boss the needed profit. There were further complications as well as marriages, but you get an idea how Baring township in the Moosehorn wildlife preservation got its name.

Cobb did, however, build a great house at Gouldsborough and soon faced some harsh realities that he notated between 1795 and 1800.

First, the land and climate of eastern Maine were not and are not suitable for farming. He noted that “those who come to view the country … have as frequently returned almost blind by the bites of flies and mosquitoes. You have no conception of the hosts of these devils that infest the thick forest at this season.”

More critically, he found “the great body of the people of this country possess no regard to the rights of private property,” calling them ” vicious inhabitants who disfigured its landscape. Every inhabitant here is now a trespasser, a plunderer. They live by it, and therefore they will not cultivate the finest soil in the world. They’re not doing this is the chief cause why the reputation on the country has been damn’d. If the people who live by lumbering are indulged in cutting the forests wherever they please, they will have but little … appreciation of the soil.”

For the record, the soil itself wasn’t nearly that rich.

But continuing, in his estimation, “The greater part … follow lumbering and fishing … and they are very intemperate, very lazy and very poor. It may be said in truth … the majority of the inhabitants are drunkards.”

There are those, of course, who would question whether much has changed since.

Or, as is sometimes said of Eastport, it’s a drinking village with a fishing problem.

Why Yankee mariners wintered in the woods

You might think the ideal time to work in a forest would be spring or fall, but that’s not how it’s turned out in logging in the great northern forests of New England and New York state. Instead, the time to be out harvesting trees is deep winter. Yup, below zero around here.

I first learned of this when trying to order firewood after an uncommonly warm winter in New Hampshire. Because the ground hadn’t frozen hard enough long enough, the cutters hadn’t been able to access much of the woods with their heavy equipment. The result was a marketplace shortage.

For contrast, mud season can be notorious, so much so that come spring, logging roads are closed to prevent destruction. Much of Maine, in particular, is either standing water, once the ice melts, or boggy, including soft peat bogs. And in late spring and early summer, hoards of nasty black flies swarm about – the defenders of wilderness, as some contrarians contend.

~*~

Folklorists examining the songs of Maine have noticed that many of the songs from the old lumberjack camps originated at sea. You know, as shanties and the like. At first, these scholars were puzzled, but then they realized that winter was a treacherous time to be out on the water. Many sailors instead headed for the forests, to work in the camps for the season. Somehow, though, any songs originating in the woods failed to travel the other direction.

Historically, the logs were stacked along streams, awaiting the spring melting and surging high waters that the timber could ride to ride millponds. That, in turn, could be exciting, demanding, and deadly work where mariners would continue.

From there, the sailors went back out on the ocean.

Mechanization has changed much of that, on land and sea, but not the reality of mucky soil.

We’ll see what global warming does to the industry.

Maine has a raft of unincorporated townships, and some of them even have names

For those of us who come to New England from other parts of America, the insistence that here we live in either a town or a city but nothing in between comes as a shock. There’s no saying “near” anywhere, even if the place has its own post office. Nope, either city or town, the difference being the kind of government it has.

Eastport, for instance, is a city, while neighboring Lubec, roughly the same size, is a town.

And each may have its own neighborhoods or villages, further complicating the picture. A town typically has its historic center, even when larger development came later somewhere else within the boundaries – maybe out along the railroad tracks, for instance, or the mills. Note that when you look at maps.

Maine adds a third twist to this model. Much of the state was surveyed into parcels, typically six-by-six-mile squares, that never lived up to expectations, at least in terms of habitation and development. They remain uninhabited, seasonally or year-’round, or lack sufficient population to self-govern themselves.

Here in the Pine Tree State, they’re designated as townships or even plantations, though some do have names or have reverted by necessity from self-rule to management by the state.

Thus, when driving along you might see a highway marker like the one announcing that you’re entering T26 ED BPP.

There are many more signs like this, equally baffling. This one translates as Township 26, Eastern District, Binghams’ Penobscot Purchase. Don’t ask me more, I’m already confused, as I’m sure you are.

There’s even another variation, PLT, for Plantation – and, no, it has nothing to do with fields of cotton or tobacco.

The Plt stands for plantation, which has nothing to do with a privately owned farm in Maine.

Significantly, more than half of the state is uninhabited. Hard to think of that, considering the urban and suburban density and congestion of so much of the rest of the Northeast.

Somehow, nobody’s counting mosquitos or moose in the equation.

What do you have to explain to others about the political setup of the place you live? Ward politics? The county sheriff? The nut jobs, right or left?