New Hampshire, the most northern of the 13 original colonies of New England, is nicknamed the Granite State because of its extensive granite formations and quarries. About 180 miles long and 50 miles wide, it is bounded on the north by Quebec, Canada, on the east by Maine and the Atlantic ocean, on the south by Massachusetts, and on the west by Vermont. It is the 5th smallest by area and the 10th least populous of the 50 states. Concord is the state capital, while Manchester is the largest city in the state.
Before Europeans arrived the state was inhabited by various Algonquin-speaking Abenaki tribes, largely divided between the Androscoggin and Pennacook nations. Despite having a similar language, they had a very different culture and religion from other Algonquin peoples.
Many historians believe that the Vikings were the first white men to visit New Hampshire’s shores. However, the earliest explorers to leave a record of having been there were Martin Pring in 1603, Samuel de Champlain in 1605, and Captain John Smith in 1614. Captain Smith, who was better known for his adventures at Jamestown, Virginia explored New England mapped the coastline, and visited the Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire. He wrote back to his countrymen saying:
“Here should be no landlords to rack us with high rents, or extorted fines to consume us. Here every man may be a master of his own labor and land in a short time. The sea there is the strangest pond I ever saw. What sport doth yield a more pleasant content and less hurt or charge than angling with a hook, and crossing the sweet air from isle to isle over the silent streams of a calm sea?”
John Mason, a London merchant, was the founder of New Hampshire. After serving as the governor of Newfoundland from 1615 to 1621, he and Sir Ferdinando Gorges received a patent in 1622 from the Council for New England for all the territory lying between the Merrimack and Kennebec Rivers. In 1629 they divided the grant, with Mason taking as his share, which he named New Hampshire. Though he never saw the land, he arranged for settlers to come and named the region after his home county of Hampshire.
The excellent fishing in the waters off the New Hampshire shore was the reason for establishing the first settlements. Fisherman David Thompson was one of the first to receive a land grant from John Mason in 1623 and settled at Odiorne’s Point in present-day Rye to form a fishing colony, which was called Pannaway. Here, he and others built salt-drying fish racks and a “factory” or stone house.
A few years later, the first permanent settlement was made at Hilton’s Point at present-day Dover by Edward and William Hilton. Strawbery Banke was established in 1630 by settlers from Pannaway and an expedition of the new Laconia Company, with money and aid from John Mason. In 1631, Captain Thomas Wiggin served as the first governor of the Upper Plantation, which was comprised of present-day Dover, Durham, and Stratham.
In contrast to their counterparts in other areas, who often settled for religious reasons, New Hampshire’s first settlers came strictly for commercial purposes.
Exeter was founded in 1638 by Reverend John Wheelwright, a minister who had left the Massachusetts Bay Colony after a religious conflict with the Puritan Church. Winnacunnet, or Hampton, was founded in the same year by Reverend Stephen Batchelor, who moved there from Newbury, Massachusetts to establish a new church and colony. By 1640, the state had a total population of about 100.
In 1653, Strawbery Banke was renamed Portsmouth, after Mason’s home and soon became the colonial capitol and a busy seaport. By that time, other areas were also doing well from trade in furs and timber. New Hampshire became a “royal province” in 1679 with John Cutt as president. The “royal province” continued until 1698 when it came under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts with Joseph Dudley as Governor and continued under that jurisdiction until 1741.
During these years, with New Hampshire’s location on the frontier between British and French colonies in North America, it was in the line of many military conflicts, including King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, Father Rale’s War, and King George’s War. By the 1740s most of the native population had either been killed or driven out of the province’s territory.
Under King George II, New Hampshire returned to its provincial status with a governor of its own, Benning Wentworth, who was its chief magistrate from 1741 to 1766. During his term, New Hampshire was beset with Indian troubles during the French and Indian War. Wentworth also complicated New Hampshire’s territorial claims by interpreting the provincial charter to include territory west of the Connecticut River and began issuing land grants in this territory, which was also claimed by the Province of New York. The so-called New Hampshire Grants area became a subject of contention from the 1740s until the 1790s, when it was admitted to the United States as the state of Vermont.
Benning Wentworth died in 1770 and was succeeded by his nephew, Sir John Wentworth, the last of the royal governors. He is perhaps best known because of his purchase of a 36-mile tract of land on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee where he established an estate known as Kingswood, that later became known as Wolfeborough. Today, this estate is the oldest summer resort in America. His beneficial acts during his service included the building of roads, including one from Portsmouth to Kingswood; publishing the first accurate state map; organizing the State militia; his help in founding Dartmouth College; and the building of Wentworth House, now owned by the State. Loyal to the English crown, he embarked for Nova Scotia at the beginning of the American Revolution.
A pre- American Revolution event occurred in New Hampshire in December 1774, when some 400 men from Portsmouth, Rye, and New Castle raided Fort William and Mary and removed 16 pieces of small cannon and 98 barrels of gunpowder. They also hauled down the fort’s huge British flag. Several injuries but no deaths occurred in the engagement. Many consider the attack to be the first overt act of the Revolution. The arms and powder were distributed through several New Hampshire towns for potential use in the looming struggle against Great Britain.