About those taken into captivity

Learning of the length and bloodshed of border warfare between New England and New France comes as a surprise to many Americans.

One of the more startling facets is the tales of English hostages who were taken to Canada by Natives receiving payment for each person they brought north.

Some captives were ransomed by family and returned home, leaving the impression that the French were interested mostly in added revenue. You know, like legal piracy, or a landbound privateering. Maybe even as a kind of generous sympathy on behalf of the captors. Many, as I’m seeing, were wives.

Others, though, never returned, leaving the mysterious impression that they chose to remain, perhaps indulging in a more sensually rich culture than the Puritan world of their past. And perhaps some did.

The French were, however, at a distinct disadvantage in the colonial warfare and settlement. They were outnumbered by the British four to one, by many estimates. Or five to one, from another I’ve encountered.

One way for the French to build up their population was by immediately baptizing the Protestant captives into the Roman Catholic faith. For single women, this could soon be complicated by marriage and childbirth – she would not be allowed to take her children if she was “rescued” or “redeemed” and returned to New England, perhaps as a widow. Becoming a nun was another option.

Yes, further complicating the picture is the fact that some of the captives did in time become Catholic priests or monastics. As a consequence, there would be no place for them in New England without their renouncing that faith.

So far, I’ve come across no indications that the kidnapping ran in the other direction.


The definitive examination of the cases seems to be Emma Lewis Coleman’s two-volume New England Captives Carried to Canada between 1677 and 1760 during the French and Indian wars (published in 1925).

My book Quaking Dover presents two of the attacks, though there were other serious incidents in the town.

As I was saying about wanting to learn more?

The four original towns of New Hampshire differed from the start

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.

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.

Must admit, since writing the book, I’m still learning

More accurately, I’ve become acutely aware of how much I still don’t know. Or even, does anyone see this fully?

The adage, “Write about what you know,” had me starting with my Quaker experience. But the adage should add, “Write about what you don’t know.” Frankly, that’s the part that’s exciting.

Think of it as working a puzzle, trying to figure out what goes in the gaps. You just don’t know without some hands-on trial and error. And perhaps a few friends or family members’ help.

From the other direction, I know a professional historian who quotes his mentor saying that if you think you have an answer nailed down, you’re badly mistaken.

I’ll spare you my list regarding the Quaking Dover project, for now.


Dover’s prominence in the early province is typically overlooked

Not only is Dover the oldest permanent settlement in New Hampshire, it’s also the largest city in the Seacoast region today, with more than 30,000 residents. The region, however, adds to way more.

An hour northeast of Boston and with proximity to both Atlantic Ocean rugged shoreline and beaches as well as New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Dover has also become the fastest-growing city in the Granite State.

The town originally encompassed what’s now Durham (home of the University of New Hampshire), Barrington, Lee, Madbury, Rollinsford, Somersworth, and parts of Newington and Rochester. It also interacted heavily with the earliest settlements of Maine across the Piscataqua River, back when fishing was a leading business, followed by logging and sawmilling.

Still, there has also been a longstanding rivalry with Portsmouth just downstream, ever since its enterprising merchants rose to the fore. You know, uppity. Well, they do have the Music Hall.

Dover, I’ll insist, has been more modest. I’ll refrain from adding more for now.

For perspective, the region today has more than a half-million residents.

I like to think the center of gravity is shifting back to Dover. We’ll see. In the meantime, there’s that big 400th anniversary to celebrate.

Please stand by, as they used to say on radio.

How about a few more readers’ candid responses to my new book?

In case you’re wondering how things are going with Quaking Dover, here are some early reactions:

“The book purports to be merely a history of the Quakers at Dover, New Hampshire, but it is much more than that. It is a history of the beginning and spread of the Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) in the USA, the best exposition of their faith that I have read so far, a history of their persecution by the Puritans, and of the bloody conflicts between the Puritans and the native peoples. …

“Most of all, I had not previously been exposed to the reality of the Quakers’ faith, revealed in their own words. Jnana Hodson, himself a Quaker, has done extensive research in old records and journals and includes extensive quotations that bring the faith to life. Including their peaceful acceptance of persecution, their prudent approach to courtship and marriage and their belief in the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart.” – Bob Goodnough, Saskatchewan

(For his full review, visit his Flatlander Faith blog post of Dec. 12, 1922.)


“I enjoyed your conversational writing style – sharing the research that you did — and confidentially whispering (in your writing style), ‘This is what this finding means and how it should be interpreted.’ … To ascertain what really happened you checked primary documents, read previous accounts of Dover, New Hampshire – triangulated your sources and showed us readers how you reached your conclusion. A very enlightening read – well researched, well written.” – Joe Clabby, author of A History of Eastport, Passamaquoddy Bay, and Vicinity


“Love it!” – Susan Wiley, Sandwich, New Hampshire


“Deftly told. I really like your voice. It’s engaging, light, and easy to read.” – Jim Mastro, science fiction novelist


“An enjoyable book!” – Arnie Alpert, longtime peace activist


“A rich feast of a book.” – one of my favorite authors and fellow Maine resident


“I truly appreciate all the work and careful thought and interpretations you put into it.” – Canyon Woman, New Mexico


“I enjoyed your book very much. I particularly liked relearning about early life in Dover and surroundings, and was impressed by how much research you did to fill in details. Not only about the life of early Quakers and their trials and tribulations, but the connection they had to the rest of New and Old England. I did not understand how important the settlement of Dover was compared to Portsmouth, Exeter, and other towns.” – John Dawson, Lee, New Hampshire


“Thank you for writing this record of Dover Friends Meeting. The ‘Children of the Light’ had me on the verge of tears as I read it to Andrea.” – Harvin Groft, Berwick, Maine


Considering the play, ‘Mother Whittier’s Meeting’

In timing my book for Quaking Dover for the 400th anniversary of English settlement in town, I gave myself a deadline that ensured it would actually be done. Otherwise, I’d still be researching it.

In some cases, that meant I didn’t simply follow a conventional account but came to my own original conclusions. In others, post-publication findings confirmed in what I’ve deduced. Besides, in a period of Covid restrictions plus my own relocation to the other end of Maine, opportunities in the archives were limited.

One of the works I’m glad I waited to read until my own work was done is Henry Bailey Stevens’ three-scene play, Mother Whittier’s Meeting. It was premiered outside the Dover Friends meetinghouse on August 17, 1963, to mark what he thought was the 300th anniversary of the Quakers’ presence in town. As I now see, the celebration was four or five years late.

Had I read the play first, I might never have written my own take of the history. He covers the heart of the plot in 200-some fewer pages.

Stevens himself is an interesting character who turned up around the time that the Dover meetinghouse was reopened for regular worship in the 1950s. He was the head of the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of New Hampshire in neighboring Durham but also harbored a deep interest in both history and dramatic literature, as well as an ardent vegetarian and pacifist. He even penned a series of Quaker family profiles for Dover’s daily newspaper.

The play itself is what we’d call “talky” – more dialogue than action. There’s no dancing or sword-fight scenes, as it were. The central focus shifts between Meeting as the community and as the house itself, or even turns to Abigail Hussey Whittier herself. Not that you really notice as you follow along.

There are points I’d heatedly contest. The first meetinghouse, for instance, was most likely not a log cabin.

But then I feel like cheering when Annie Pinkham shows up as a character. Her mimeographed brief history contained tidbits that would otherwise be lost to oblivion. She had every reason to believe she’d be the last Quaker in town once she locked the meetinghouse door.

Not so, as things turned out.

As for Stevens? His play, published by Baker’s Plays in Boston, isn’t his only significant book-length publication. Finding those, though, can be a challenge.


Starting with a wedding certificate

Join me online from the Whittier Birthplace Museum in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on Thursday, January 26, at 7 pm.

My presentation in their virtual lecture series via Zoom will explore the celebrated abolitionist and poet’s many connections to Dover, starting with an examination of his parents’ certificate of marriage in the Quaker meetinghouse in 1804. His mother grew up in the Dover Quaker community, and his Whittier uncle, Obadiah, was already living in town at the time of the wedding. In fact, Whittier Falls and Whittier Street weren’t named for the poet but his uncle and cousins.

There’s a lot packed into this historic document. Join me to find out.

Once we’ve gleaned insights into seemingly quaint Quaker practices of the time, we’ll turn to the signatures of the witnesses – that is, all of the Friends in attendance – and learn about some of them, too, as well as a few who weren’t present but were still members of the Meeting living in a town to the west and definitely of interest.

And then it’s your turn to ask questions or make comments.

The event does require preregistration and a suggested donation of $10 per household. Go to whittierbirthplace(dot)org and click on Events to learn more.

Here’s hoping you can make it. Putting this together has been a blast.

For tiny Dover, why all the hoopla?

As improbable as it would seem now, Dover was a throbbing center of dissidents and misfits in its early years, at least from the perspective of the Puritan authorities to the south in Boston.

Nor would I have expected a settlement inland from the ocean to be the one that took root, rather than the companion complex facing the ocean, but the Dutch trading post at Albany, New York, was even further up a river and survived.

There are good reasons that Dover became the center of action north of Salem, Massachusetts, and of Boston further south, not that you were taught any of that in your history classes.

I have to admit, it’s taken a while for the fact to sink in. Dover was the heart of the New Hampshire province, not that we see that today. Still, the roots remain.

My book, Quaking Dover, looks at the history from a minority viewpoint that leaves most of the last 200 years pretty wide open. Yes, there’s so much more to examine and include in the full picture leading to the rebirth of the community in recent years.

But what I’ve found is still pretty remarkable.

To think, it was such a humble and audacious start 400 years ago and counting.

It’s gonna be a big year!


Ring in the big celebration

My first New Year’s Eve in Dover was filled with wonder when all of the church bells burst out ringing. The next year, however, they were silent.

The occasion, I learned later, was the new millennium, even if technically 2000 was the last year of the old millennium while the actual arrival went unnoticed as such.

This year, Dover’s churches have been asked to ring their bells at 9 pm as a prelude to a fireworks presentation to welcome in the city’s 400th anniversary year observations.

Here’s hoping the weather obliges.

From many miles away, we’ll be thinking of folks there and hoping for a most exciting new yar.