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Colonial America | Colonies | New Hampshire (Est. 1629)
New Hampshire State Emblem

NH, State Emblem
Old Man of the Mountain

The state motto of New Hampshire is "Live Free or Die." This bold statement of independence springs from the New Hampshire Colony's long struggle to set its borders, prosper, and move out from under the political and cultural shadow of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The first recorded visit to New Hampshire was made in 1603 when an English sea captain, Martin Pring, explored the shoreline and ventured a short distance into the interior. He wrote enthusiastically of the abundance of wildlife in the area around present-day Portsmouth. Pring was followed in 1605 by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who mapped the New England coastline. In 1614, English Captain John Smith also explored and mapped the area. His description of this new land brought about the name New England.

New Hampshire/Maine coastal map

Click the image to view an enlarged map of the
New Hampshire/Maine coastal region, 1625–1642

In 1622, Sir Fernando Gorges and Captain John Mason, a London merchant, received a grant from the Council of New England (formerly the Plymouth Company) for all the land lying between the Merrimac and Sagadahock rivers. In the spring of the following year, David Thomson arrived with a group of fishermen, and they attempted to establish a colony and fishery at Odiorne's Point near the mouth of the Piscataqua river.

In 1629, the New Hampshire grant was divided. Gorges took the land lying east of the middle of the Piscataqua River and named it Maine. Mason took the land between the Piscataqua and Merrimac rivers and called it New Hampshire, after the English county of Hampshire that had been his home.

Unlike the pilgrim founders of Plymouth Colony and the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire's first settlers were commercial venturers who hoped to become wealthy by developing trade with England in furs, salted fish, and timber. Many colonists settled on land claimed by Gorges and the heirs of Captain John Mason, who died in 1635. Mason's heirs did not enforce their land holdings until 1660, which then caused a long-running dispute over land titles that last several decades.

The first permanent settlement in New Hampshire—and the seventh-oldest in the United States—was Dover, established in 1623 by Edward Hilton, an English merchant. Hilton's settlement, on what is now Dover Neck, grew into a thriving center for shipbuilding and manufacturing.

The city of Portsmouth became the second settlement in New Hampshire. Originally settled in 1630 and then named Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth was incorporated as a town in 1653. For most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Portsmouth was a major shipbuilding center.

Read a biography of Reverend
John Wheelwright,

In 1638, Exeter was settled. The town's founder, Reverend John Wheelwright, purchased territory for the settlement from local American Indian chiefs, and in doing so, acquired one of the most favorable sites for a village in the coastal region of New Hampshire. Wheelwright, who was Anne Hutchinson's brother-in-law, was banished from Massachusetts because of his religious beliefs. He fled to New Hampshire and established Exeter as a simple community with a compact similar to that of the Pilgrims.

Massachusetts Bay soon began to expand and laid claim to parts of southern New Hampshire around 1638. For the next thirty years, the English Revolution took place overseas, during which time New Hampshire stayed under the protective arm of Massachusetts. Eventually, New Hampshire was separated from Massachusetts and became a royal province. The new charter became effective on January 1, 1680. The charter appointed a president, a council, and an assembly. The former two were chosen by the king; the latter were selected by voters in the province.

Read more about the
Cochecho Massacre.

During the early colonial years, the settlers lived peacefully with the native inhabitants. At that time, the largest groups living in the New Hampshire region were the Pennacook and the Abenaki—both Algonquian-speaking tribes. For the most part, trade and friendly interaction took place between the native inhabitants and the English settlers. However, tensions began to grow between native inhabitants and English settlers due to changes in leadership and problems in Massachusetts that caused American Indians to flee from Massachusetts to New Hampshire. Around 1684, the colonists in the town of Dover built fortified garrisons to ward off attacks by the Penacook. On June 7, American Indians attacked Dover, killing many residents and taking many more captive during what became known as the Cochecho Massacre. Dover is known today as Garrison City because so many garrisons were built preceding the Cocheco Massacre.

New Hampshire was the first
of the thirteen colonies to
declare its independence from
England. Click to read more
New Hampshire firsts.

Learn more about New
Hampshire at this informative
website sponsored by the
New Hampshire state

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire continued to struggle over boundaries and land grants. Land claims by Massachusetts often conflicted with those made by New Hampshire, which petitioned the king for a final settlement of its boundaries to the east and south with Massachusetts. In 1741, New Hampshire won a favorable decision, gaining more territory and the appointment of Benning Wentworth as its own royal governor, independent of Massachusetts.

New Hampshire has always been among the nation's pioneering states. One of the original 13 colonies, New Hampshire was the first state to adopt its own constitution and the ninth state to ratify and enact the U.S. Constitution.

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New Hampshire | Bibliography

New Hampshire | Image Credits

  • New Hampshire State Emblem | New Hampshire State Government
  • Piscataqua-Pemaquid Region, 1625–1642 | Adams, James T., Ed. Atlas of American History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1943. (p. 36)

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