Pemaquid, out beyond the Piscataqua frontier

Call it a serendipitous trip.

My stopping off at the Colonial Pemaquid historical site in Maine during a weekend at the Common Ground Country Fair last year was an impromptu decision. I’d made a side trip to visit the iconic lighthouse down on Pemaquid Point in midcoast Maine and saw a roadside sign and thought, what the heck, on my drive back.

After all, the settlement had some connections to early Dover, as I note in my new book, but simply setting foot there gave me a more substantial sense of the place than as a footnote vaguely out there somewhere up the coastline.

At first, the state-managed site appears rather modest. Its small museum and nearby seafood restaurant were both closed, this being the shoulder season. But nosing around revealed much, much more, as I’ll explain here and in some upcoming posts.

It was settled by West Country fishermen, like those who were pivotal in early Dover, shortly after Edward Hilton and Thomas Roberts set up shop along the Piscataqua, so they would have shared a common culture. Notably, both sites were established before the great Puritan migration into Massachusetts Bay, bringing a much different English culture into New England.

Unlike Dover, the Pemaquid village was destroyed repeatedly in attacks from the French and their Native allies in the decades from King Phillip’s war on.

In short, English settlement was erased from Maine all the way down to Wells and York, close to Dover. I have to admit that caused me to give lesser attention to settlement much to the east of the Piscataqua River.

Still, the Pemaquid site, now in the town of Bristol, was left relatively undisturbed after the late 1700s. In the 1990s, though, extensive archeological excavations determined the shape of the village and a gave a clearer understanding of its economy and lifestyle. Today, the stone foundations and interpretative signage present some of their findings.

In those, as I’m excited to see, I got a clearer sense of how early Dover may have also emerged along High Street – today’s Dover Point Road.

I’d love to hear more about the settlers’ culture

What did they eat, for instance. Or, more accurately, how did they prefer it to be cooked?

And did children really smoke tobacco and drink beer, as seemed to be common among the Puritans.

My book, Quaking Dover, mentions a number of things that may have come down through the West Country culture of Devonshire. As one historian details, they were part of the Cavaliers’ lifestyle in Virginia, but for now I have no evidence of the degree they influenced the settlers in the Piscataqua watershed.

Still, I believe they were one of the reasons the Quaker message so readily took root and flourished there.

Not that Quakers or Puritans got very far in Virginia.

There’s a good reason Dover Friends didn’t have a meetinghouse before 1680

Or keep minutes, that we know of.

The Quaker Meetings in Salem, Hampton, and Dover were all in Puritan-governed colonies, and thus officially illegal at the time. Religious toleration around 1680 came with a change New England governance and a royal governorship in Massachusetts.

With it, Salem has claimed to have the first Friends meetinghouse in America, though it was built about the same time as the one on Dover Neck, just south of today’s St. Thomas Aquinas high school. And Third Haven on Maryland’s Eastern Shore may be a tad older than either one.

Now, if we only had documentation, we might find the honor of being first in New England belongs instead to Dover.

Perhaps one of your family lines runs through Dover Friends Meeting

We get the occasional inquiry from someone researching a family genealogy and wondering if they were part of Dover Friends Meeting.

Records for early Dover are pretty scanty, including both First Parish and the Quakers.

Family registers in New England Quaker Meeting minutes have never been indexed, unlike William Wade Hinshaw’s ambitious volumes for Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Ohio or the subsequent multivolume project for Indiana.

Well, Dover’s births, marriages, and deaths compiled for publication in the early 1900s can now be found online, for those so interested.

Also, I should point out that the Puritans never called themselves such and did evolve into today’s Congregational and Unitarian-Universalist denominations. First Parish is heir to that stream.

On the Quaker side, connecting the dots from the Dover Combination signers as an early census, the court convictions for non-attendance at public worship, and the Friends Meeting’s records from 1701 and 1703 on hinted at the foundation of Quaker membership in the early years. A survey of online family genealogies helped immensely in filling in the general body, though I take many of those details with a grain of salt.

So here’s the core of the historic Friends community around the Piscataqua watershed:

Ring any bells?

The persecution wasn’t consistent

Had the Puritan persecution of dissidents been consistent, the Quakers and Baptists likely wouldn’t have survived. Instead, it came in waves aimed more at the traveling missionaries as well as to constrain the political and business prowess of resident Friends.

Further, there were relatively few congregations or ministers in New England. Despite required attendance at worship on the Sabbath, the buildings couldn’t hold them all, had they showed up.

Who was keeping attendance rolls, anyway?

Under its stern exterior, Puritan polity was fragile in nature

No, I didn’t expect to be feeling some sympathy for the Puritan authorities in America.

In fact, I had assumed they were a pretty formidable front.

But then, in researching my new book, Quaking Dover, I was rather amazed by the range of developments they faced in the 1630s, their first decade in the New World. It’s like they were being hit on all sides.

In addition, they had no direct representation in Parliament. And they didn’t necessarily represent the majority of the residents in their own towns.

In their tribulations with the Crown, the place was ripe for Revolution from the very beginning, rather than having to wait for Paul Revere’s midnight ride.

The Quaker challenge of the late 1650s hit at some intrinsic flaws in the Puritan mindset. As one challenge voiced it, the flaws were essentially theological rather than focusing on the unfolding news events. The title of the pamphlet?

An examination of the grounds or causes which are said to induce the Court of Boston in New England to make an order or law of banishment, upon pain of death, against the Quakers

As also

Of the grounds and considerations by them produced, to manifest the warrantableness and justness both by their making and executing the same; which they now stand deeply engaged to defend, having already put two of them to death

As also

Of some further grounds for justifying the same, in an appendix to John Norton’s book (which was printed after the book itself, yet part thereof); whereof he is said to be appointed by the General Court

And likewise the Arguments briefly hinted, in that which is called, “A true Relation of the Proceedings against the Quakers, &c.”

Whereunto somewhat is added about the Authority and Government Christ excluded out of his church; which occasioneth somewhat his true Church-Government

By Isaac Penington, the Younger



It’s a remarkable document, actually, well worth reading, even in light of the headlines and news flashes we encounter. It argued, essentially, that the Puritans were falling far short of their true goals and potential.

As for the full title?

It would never sell today.

The Puritans do get a bad rap

Oh, it’s hard for me to admit that, at least in light of the early persecution of Friends. I started out with my new book, Quaking Dover, assuming the Puritans were a monolithic opponent of religious liberty for others.

I did know, however, they weren’t always as uptight as they’ve been portrayed. In some ways they were liberal, with high literacy rates for men and women. Startlingly, a woman could divorce her husband if he didn’t sexually satisfy her. Besides, in England their Parliamentarian armies were the vanguard of the radical World Turned Upside Down that toppled the king. And they did love their beer.

As I researched my book, I began to sense that the old adage about coming to America for religious freedom but not extending it to others wasn’t exactly on target, nor was the part about neighboring colonies like New Hampshire being founded purely for monetary gain. As for Rhode Island? You see, it complicates.

For starters, the Puritans’ Massachusetts Bay charter was a commercial document, like the one for the East India Company, with their brilliance coming in immediately moving the annual stockholders meeting to the New World rather than London, under the King’s eyes.

The Pilgrims at Plymouth, too, had come under a commercial charter, one that left them strained by heavy debt. The majority of the first settlers at Plymouth weren’t even fellow Separatists in faith, but here for economic opportunity.

What the Puritans envisioned was a utopia, one within an economic, political, and religious worldview. While it’s sometimes described as a theocracy, ministers were banned from town office – not so elsewhere in the colonies.

Two of New Hampshire’s first four towns, meanwhile, were founded by ministers fleeing Massachusetts. That’s Hampton and Exeter.

And then, the Puritan fundamentalism somehow evolved into a liberal Unitarian strand and more mainstream Congregational wing, now part of the United Church of Christ denomination.

I’ve previously noted an essay by Marilynne Robinson in the August 2022 Harper’s Magazine, delineating ways Massachusetts was far more liberal than Virginia or the Carolinas when it came to religion and liberty in general. In early Virginia, for instance, missing church three times or speaking ill of the King merited a death sentence. Let it be noted, too, that Puritans, along with Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and Roman Catholics, were unable to gain much of a foothold anywhere in colonial Virginia, with its ruthless Anglican state denomination.

There are even arguments that the persecution of the upstart Quakers in both New England and the southern colonies was based more on political and monetary motivations than religion.

The historian at First Parish church in Dover had me seeing that the opposition in New England wasn’t nearly as monolithic as I’d assumed, and then that New Hampshire’s four local congregations had somewhat different characters from those in Massachusetts.

More recently, I’m facing Carla Gardina Pestana’s contention in Quakers and Baptists in Colonial Massachusetts that Friends went out of their way looking for trouble. It does rather thicken the plot. The Baptists somehow found ways to fit in more agreeably.

Considering current attacks on freedom of speech (and printing), some of it under the guise of religion, I do wonder about the status of the separation of church and state.

Sometimes history isn’t so far back there as we’d like to suppose.


Was this our 1680s Quaker meetinghouse?

Yes, this garage. The Asa Allen farmhouse is to the right.

One of the lingering questions about Dover Friends is what happened to our first meetinghouse after it was moved across the river to Eliot, Maine, in 1769.

It originally sat next to today’s Pinkham cemetery just south of St. Thomas Aquinas high school and was used there from the 1680s until the current meetinghouse was built in 1768.

Quaker history buff Silas Weeks was long puzzled about its destiny, relating that it had been moved again and incorporated into a neighboring garage, but he got no further than that. When we looked about, nothing resembled what we would have expected as a Quaker meetinghouse.

As he related in his comprehensive 2001 book, New England Quaker Meetinghouses: Past and Present, a bronze plaque at the corner of State Route 103 and River Road in Eliot marks the site of the first Quaker Meeting in Maine and is affixed to what is said to have been a carriage stone used as a horse block for dismounting.

When I was back in Dover last month to do a presentation at the public library, I decided to swing by the Shapleigh manor grounds to take a few additional photos for my history project. I missed the turnoff and was surprised when I came upon the Eliot Quaker site instead. I pulled over to get fresh photos of the small burial ground and, on impulse, decided to take some shots of a 1950s’ red garage sitting nearby.

As I was doing that, a woman came out from a house behind it and called out, “Are you from the town?” The tone was accusing, but I explained who I was and why I was interested. That’s when things got interesting.

She mentioned that the building had been used as a garage for at least a century and that the planks in the flooring upstairs were quite wide – something that often indicates a very old structure, as well as the King’s Pine restrictions.

As we looked about, some other things began to click.

The building is square – a nonconforming size in the town’s current zoning rules – 24 or 25 feet on each side. It would have allowed for separate men’s and women’s sides with a divider down the middle, one that could be opened or closed as needed. When I saw one side, I recalled seeing something similar a few years earlier in Fort Fairfield, Maine, where the sides and back of the meetinghouse had been left untouched when a steeple and stained-glass windows were installed on the front. The footprint of the two meetinghouses, I now see, is about the same.

It’s not uncommon for old buildings in New England to undergo huge changes over the years. Adding the garage doors where the men’s and women’s entrances were would make sense, then, as did the dormer upstairs and a back entry. A cement floor and foundation would have been reasonable changes, too. Who knows if the original even had flooring or what remodeling occurred when the house was relocated to Maine. Bigger windows, including the one upstairs on the front, would have been a no-brainer. It’s not uncommon to hear of old houses that have barely a stick of the original wood remaining.

The fact remains that when Dover Friends built their first meetinghouse, there was no tradition to adhere to. One in Third Haven, Maryland, may have been earlier. Dover’s may have predated the one in Salem, Massachusetts – a replica of that structure sits on the grounds of the Peabody-Essex Museum and looks quite different from this but of roughly similar size.

The low pitch of the roof of the Eliot garage was a concern for me, but I now see it matches Henniker’s 1790 meetinghouse in New Hampshire.

The garage and burial ground are on what had been the extensive Asa Allen farm, a surname common in Dover Quaker records. I am inclined to go along with the view that the cemetery was the Allen family’s, rather than the Meeting’s. Once gravestones were allowed, the ones that were erected adhere to common dating rather than the traditional Plain designations.

The dormer is an example of how a building can grow over the years. Neighbor Stephanie Mask has long been fascinated by the Allen family legacy.

The garage, meanwhile, appears doomed for demolition as a new generation takes ownership. The Eliot Historical Society’s website suggests that the meetinghouse was torn down in the [late?] 1800s, but even if that were the case, portions may have still been used in the garage across River Road.

As for my assumption that this was a 1950’s garage? Back to the proverbial drawing board.

Dover was on the frontier of Friends

For much of its first century of settlement, Dover was on the frontier of English settlement. Tenuous outposts clung to the coastline as far as Pemaquid and Monhegan Island in Maine, but after hostilities broke out in 1689, European settlement was pushed down to Wells, just beyond Dover.

During this time, Dover Friends were both the furthest north and furthest east Quakers in the New World. Did they feel isolated or vulnerable? They did get some strong visiting ministry during those years.

Only when Casco Bay, or today’s Greater Portland, was resettled around 1740 did that begin to change.

The number of Dover Friends relocating to new Maine lands by 1800 continues to astound me. After all, the traditional historical focus tends to look south, to Boston and to the west beyond.

I’m sensing that there’s a much richer story looking in the other direction, involving Dover families of all stripes.

A chilling example of American genocide

In reviewing passages I deleted from my draft version of Quaking Dover, I found this troubling detail. The conflicts with the Indigenous people, after all, are not the focus of the book. And yet …

After “the Indians renewed their ravages on the frontiers in small parties [in 1711, with several of the attacks detailed] in consequence of these ravages the House of Assembly passed the following vote: ‘Voted for Incouragement of Volunteers to Kill and Destroy the Indian Rebels in the province of New Hampe for every man shall be paid sixty pound, for every woman forty pound, for every child thirty to be paid out of the Treasury, and that the said Volenteers shall Remain in that service at least four months, not leaving any Garrison unnarmed, but have the consent of the comitte of Meletia for there so Inlisting … by order of the house. Sam’l Keais, Clark.”


That’s it, a bounty for killing children, and another, their mothers. Men might be considered warriors, but not necessarily.

Even if this was never paid, it’s inexcusable.

And the English considered the Natives barbarian savages?