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.

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.

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.

 

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!

 

Locally, ours is known as the Baskerville House

The broker listed our house as being built in the 1860s, but even then, we thought it went back further. I’ve since seen maps from the mid-1830s showing a footprint for a house like ours, which seems right, confirmed in an 1855 map of town.

We know it was here before 1886, as the charred rafters affirm, reflecting the great fire that destroyed the downtown. (One historian had primed us to look for that touch.)

The 1855 map even shows this as the Estate of J. Shackford, a member of a prolific local family that originated in Dover before scattering to Portsmouth and Newburyport, Massachusetts, and then resettling up here quite successfully.

But to everyone we’ve met, it’s the Baskerville House.

I love the literary allusion, of course, to Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles (and the fact it takes place largely in Devonshire, which plays into so much of my history of Dover). Hound/house are, of course, nearly homonyms. Beyond that, there’s also the fact that Baskerville was a basic serif typeface back in the letterpress days when I entered journalism. It’s an old style that largely didn’t make the leap to digital, though I see it has recently joined my Windows options. (Not so for my beloved Caslon of the same era.)

Facing the sunrise

What we liked about the place, besides its location and TLC potential, was the fact it felt good inside. Close-your-eyes, even when the room’s chilly. I’ve certainly felt comfortable in extended solitude and all the writing that’s come within it.

Something that struck me after moving to New England was how often people – even highly rational professionals – calmly asked new homeowners if their place had ghosts. I’m not kidding. And Maine seemed especially prone to that.

Nobody’s asked us, though. Instead, they confirmed that ours always felt good to them, too.

The Baskerville at the heart of this story is Anna, a retired Black nurse who came to Eastport in 1999 to live with her son and daughter-in-law, also named Anna.

From what I’m told, she was stout, had red hair, and loved to sing – especially in all of the churches, where she was always welcome. And she, too, found this place hard to heat but stayed in it, after her son remarried and moved to the other end of town.

When I said no ghosts but the place feels good, others piped up that’s likely Anna’s presence or spirit. I’ve known similar imprints elsewhere, especially in old Quaker meetinghouses.

Naturally, we want to know more about her.

One story I heard was about her introduction to the town. She had a longstanding fear of deep water, and because her new residence was only a block from the ocean, the family arranged for her to arrive after dark and get used to the house first. Maybe they figured they could deal with any trauma better in the morning.

So, as I’m told, when Anna awoke and opened the blinds and saw the expanse of water, she inhaled and, as she proclaimed later, “I knew I was home.”

Yes, we know the feeling, too. And we still want to know more.

In the meantime, we’re trying to keep our renovations in line with what we hope she would have approved. There are good reasons to respect the past.

What do you know about the place where you’re living?

Kinisi 132

Top student
Good son, good daughter
Good spouse
Careful and caring lover
Loyal and hard worker
Good citizen
Faithful member
Prized customer
Patient and firm parent
Quietly humorous
You know, the model of rectitude
Goodly recipe for disaster
Pinpoints of pain to remind
of deep shame

And now in paper!

Taa-tah! My Quaking Dover is officially out as a print-on-demand paper book around the globe.

Check it out through your favorite bricks-and-mortar bookstore.

It does mean going to your favorite book retailer for a copy, but there we are.

Independent bookstores and libraries have their own insiders’ routes to obtain it. Go to them to keep these channels alive.

As for me, I’m stocking up for copies to keep in my car, wherever I go.

How about you?