Web Text-ures Logo

Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)

Click Here to return to
Colonial Life in New Hampshire
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter

Kellscraft Studio Logo



It is probable that the first settlements near the present sites of Portsmouth and Dover had a certain form of government as early as 1633, but the first written constitutions were adopted by the infant settlement in 1638 and 1639.

The officers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were anxious to extend their possessions and inasmuch as their charter gave them the right to the land three miles north of the Merrimac River, they, with great ingenuity, sought to construe this clause as meaning three miles north of the source of the Merrimac, which would give them a goodly territory overlapping New Hampshire settlements and a part of Maine. With the end in view of supporting this claim, in 1631, Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts sent Captain Thomas Wiggin to exercise control over the settlements on the Piscataqua. A collision naturally occurred between Captain Walter Neale, who represented the Piscataqua settlements, and Captain Wig-gin. Neale dared Wiggin to step foot on a certain point of land half way between Dover and Exeter; while Wiggin proposed to defend his right by the sword. The quarrel terminated, however, without bloodshed, but in lieu of what might have been, this place was always known as Bloody Point and is called so to this day.

Despairing of obtaining a foothold by force, Wig-gin, the next year, purchased the entire Hilton grant for about ten thousand dollars. As soon as he entered into possession of the Hilton patent, Wiggin endeavored to place it under the control of Massachusetts, but he was decidedly opposed in this endeavor by the original settlers, since they feared for the titles to their lands under Massachusetts jurisdiction. In 1640, when the settlers began to feel the need of the protection of a stronger state, and as Massachusetts promised them all the liberties which they had previously enjoyed, the opposition was overcome, and in 1641 the entire Piscataqua region passed into the control of Massachusetts.

It cannot be said that this union was perfectly satisfactory to the settlers of New Hampshire, and there was constant strife between the “Churchmen” of the settlements along the Piscataqua and the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. Soon after the annexation, a number of the Puritans came to this section and by the aid of Massachusetts officials seized all the places of power and secured for themselves most of the unoccupied lands, causing the original planters to become more and more angry at their intrusion. As a result, two open rebellions occurred in attempting to withdraw from the union with Massachusetts, one in 1651, the other in 1664, but neither of them met with success. The union continued until 1679, when Massachusetts’ control over Piscataqua was ended by the making of New Hampshire into a royal province.

New Hampshire a Royal Province. — The king appointed John Cutt president of the colony and instituted a council composed of prominent settlers of New Hampshire. Before this time Robert Mason had made such vigorous efforts to place before James II the Masonian claim to this territory that the king now appointed him to a seat in the New Hampshire Assembly. Shortly after, Mason, armed with a warrant and the king’s favor, came to New Hampshire and tried to Compel the settlers to purchase of him a lease for their lands.

In this, however, he was opposed by the president and the assembly. Finding his efforts unavailing with the present form of government, he returned to England, and, by promises, obtained the appointment of Edward Cranfield as commander-in-chief of New Hampshire. Cranfield was induced to take this office only upon Mason’s guarantee that his salary should be paid.

Cranfield as Governor (1682). — Cranfield came from England with full power, and in a short time all officers of the state who were opposed to Mason were removed and others appointed in their stead. This, however, worked very little to either Mason’s or Cranfield’s advantage, for while they tried and condemned the settlers who would not take out leases of them, yet the force of public opinion was against them to such an extent, that they found it impossible to enforce the decrees of the court. The settlers continued to live on their lands, in spite of the officers and without taking leases from Mason.

Cranfield resorted to every expedient to raise money but was met with the most stubborn resistance by the colonists. Finally the people became so angry at his tyranny that they sent complaints to England which resulted in Cranfield’s withdrawal in 1685. This left his lieutenant-governor, Barefoot, in control.

Barefoot’s Trouble with Citizens. — Barefoot was not an improvement over his predecessor and used every means in his power to annoy the colonists. During his short stay an incident occurred which shows the contempt with which the government was held by the settlers. Thomas Wiggin and Anthony Nutter, who had formerly been members of the assembly, called one day at the house of Barefoot to remonstrate with him concerning the injustice of his proceedings. Mason, who was his guest at the time, was also present. During the discussion, the visitors told Mason very plainly and forcibly that his claim to the land amounted to nothing. This so enraged him that he took hold of Wiggin to force him from the house.

Wiggin, who was a powerful man, seized Mason by the collar and threw him with great violence across the room and into the fireplace, where his clothing and legs were severely burned. Barefoot upon coming to his assistance was treated even more severely. Several of his teeth were knocked out and two of his ribs were broken. Mason meantime called loudly upon his servants to bring his sword, but upon its being brought, Nutter quickly took it from him, and mocked the discomfiture of the highest officer of the state. Barefoot was followed by President Joseph Dudley, who in a few months was relieved of his command.

New Hampshire under Andros. — In 1686, the government of all New England was given to Andros, who won the reputation of being its greatest tyrant. All the power which he possessed was used to obtain money from the settlers. Upon the overthrow of King James of England, Andros was captured and sent to England as a prisoner of state.

New Hampshire without a Government. — For eleven months after the removal of Andros the colony remained without a government, when the settlers, realizing the need of a united force in meeting the attacks of the French and Indians, sent delegates from Dover, Exeter, Hampton and Portsmouth to draw up a constitution; but the town of Hampton refused to comply with its provisions and, as a result, it was without effect. Thereupon, the party which had always desired to be reannexed to Massachusetts, sent a petition to that colony asking for its aid and protection. The petition was granted and New Hampshire was restored to its former relations with Massachusetts.

Governor Allen. — This union remained until Samuel Allen, who had purchased Mason’s claim, obtained from the king a commission as governor of New Hampshire in August, 1692. John Usher was appointed lieutenant-governor to look after Allen’s interests during his absence.

The people distrusted Usher exceedingly, not only because he represented Allen’s title, but because he had been a follower of the tyrant Andros. Usher was a merchant of Boston, a man of little education, but with a firm idea of his own importance. During his governorship there was a great deal of trouble with the Indians and he seems to have done everything in his power to help the settlers. They respected him for this and felt kindly toward him, but steadily resisted all his attempts to have them take out leases of their lands.

William Partridge, a well-known shipbuilder of Portsmouth, went to England and succeeded in being appointed lieutenant-governor in place of Usher. Partridge was particularly friendly toward the settlers, and during his short stay in the governor’s chair the affairs of the colony were orderly and quiet.

Earl of Belmont — Joseph Dudley — Elseus Burgess — Samuel Shute — William Burnet. — The Earl of Belmont was next in charge of the state, and of the other British colonies. He was well received by the people and formed an excellent impression of the New Hampshire colony. Upon the Earl’s death, Queen Anne appointed Joseph Dudley governor of both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Elseus Burgess was appointed governor by George I, but did not come in person to administer the affairs of the colony during the year in which he held the office. He was followed by Samuel Shute, an able official, who was well assisted by his lieutenant, John Wentworth. The latter acted as governor during Shute’s absence, and, through his diligence and thoughtfulness for the people’s welfare, he became much respected. William Burnet acted as governor for one year, his administration terminating with his death in 1729.

Jonathan Belcher, Conflict with Massachusetts over Boundary. — Jonathan Belcher, who was the next governor, was a merchant of great wealth and of sterling character. During Belcher’s administration, there was a long controversy between New Hampshire and Massachusetts in regard to the boundary line. While it was in dispute, a meeting was held between the legislatures of the two governments at Hampton Falls, with the hope that some agreement might be settled upon, but as is usual in such cases the parties were further apart at the, close of the discussion than they were at the beginning. The question was finally decided in favor of New Hampshire, and several towns settled by Massachusetts people became a part of this state.

Benning Wentworth. — Benning Wentworth, son of John Wentworth, succeeded Belcher. He was well received, and voted a regular salary, and he obtained, by purchase, the office and title of Surveyor of the King’s Woods. During the French and Indian War he took excellent care of his soldiers and received their hearty support.


Wentworth was very much of an aristocrat, and was fond of doing things in a royal manner. He boasted of the finest wine cellar in the colonies, had a bodyguard, and always traveled in state. After the death of his first wife, he desired to marry a young lady of Portsmouth, but much to his surprise and chagrin, she refused to become Lady Wentworth, preferring to marry a younger man. Wentworth, out of revenge for this slight, had her bridegroom seized by a pressgang and carried off to sea just before the time appointed for the marriage.

Afterwards the governor married a young girl beneath him in station. The way in which the wedding was brought about shows clearly his irascible temper. It occurred during a state dinner at the Wentworth mansion, at which many noted men were present, and among them a clergyman. When the guests were seated at the table, the governor introduced the future Lady Wentworth, and requested the clergyman to marry them. Upon his hesitating, Wentworth was much enraged and ordered him to perform the ceremony instantly. The frightened minister could only comply and he stammered out the marriage service. The misalliance was a great blow, not only to Wentworth’s family, but also to the exclusive people of the colony.

Longfellow has made this incident of New Hampshire history the subject of one of his most graceful poems,— “Lady Wentworth.”

He gave a splendid banquet, served on plate,
Such as became the Governor of the State,
Who represented England and the King,
And was magnificent in everything.

He had invited all his friends and peers,—
The Pepperels, the Langdons, and the Lears,
The Sparhawks, the Penhallows, and the rest;
For why repeat the name of every guest?

But I must mention one in bands and gown,

The rector there, the Reverend Arthur Brown
Of the Established Church; with smiling face
He sat beside the Governor and said grace.

When they had drunk the King, with many a cheer,
The Governor whispered in a servant’s ear,
Who disappeared, and presently there stood
Within the room, in perfect womanhood,
A maiden, modest and yet self-possessed,
Youthful and beautiful, and simply dressed.
Can this be Martha Hilton?

Yet scarce a guest perceived that she was there,
Until the Governor, rising from his chair,
Played slightly with his ruffles, then looked down,
And said unto the Reverend Arthur Brown:
“This is my birthday: it shall likewise be
My wedding-day; and you shall marry me!”

The listening guests were greatly mystified,

None more so than the rector, who replied:
“Marry you? Yes, that were a pleasant task,
Your Excellency; but to whom? I ask.”
The Governor answered, “To this lady here;”
And beckoned Martha Hilton to draw near.
She came and stood, all blushes, at his side.
The rector paused. The impatient Governor cried:
“This is the lady; do you hesitate?
Then I command you as Chief Magistrate.”
The rector read the service loud and clear:
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here,”

And so on to the end. At his command

On the fourth finger of her fair left hand
The Governor placed the ring; and that was all:
Martha was Lady Wentworth of the Hall!

 The governor’s hasty temper and haughty ways of dealing with the people made him so unpopular that he was finally compelled to resign in favor of John Wentworth, his nephew.

Able Administration of John Wentworth (1767). — John Wentworth II, the last, as well as the most respected of New Hampshire’s colonial governors, began in the best way possible to obtain the good‑will of his people. He took a strong interest in all the common affairs of the province, was active in agriculture, surveyed the forests, laid out new roads, and stimulated activity and thrift among the people. He was a patron of the arts, and also of education. It was due to his efforts that Dartmouth College was begun with such favorable conditions, and under his jurisdiction the state was divided into counties, which was a great convenience for those persons living in the western and northern parts of the state, since the county courts were able to settle disputes which formerly could be decided only by those at Portsmouth. The abolition of paper money was also a distinguishing mark of John Wentworth’s administration. Silver and gold were gradually introduced and paper money was called in through the taxes, which placed the currency upon a solid basis, and obviated difficulties of trade.


Even after the battles of Lexington and Concord, Governor Wentworth seemed to believe that there was still hope of peace. At the general meeting of the council at Exeter, three members, favorable to England, were expelled from that body. One of them expressing himself too freely was assaulted by the enraged people, and he finally took refuge in the Wentworth mansion at Portsmouth. The people, aroused by the action, brought up a cannon and placed it in front of the house, at which they threatened to fire unless the man was surrendered to them. The governor, frightened at this demonstration, gave up the offender, who was taken to Exeter. As the king’s representative, Wentworth felt so insulted by this action that he withdrew from the house and moved to the fort in the harbor. From here he went to Boston, to return but once again to New Hampshire, and then only for a day.

Forming of the Provincial Congress. — During the last part of Wentworth’s administration, the assemblies, which were made up of delegates chosen by the people, had gradually withdrawn their support from the King. Their discontent reached its height in July, 1774, when there assembled in Exeter the first provincial congress. From this time to December, 1775, the people elected five congresses, and the fifth congress adopted a form of government which lasted throughout the war. In June, 1784, a new constitution was made which has remained practically unchanged to the present time.

During this formative period the name and influence of Meshech Weare of Hampton Falls was most prominent. He was a delegate to the five provincial congresses and for many years was president of the council and chairman of the committee of safety, which had charge of the affairs of the state when the council was not in session. Upon the adoption of the constitution he was unanimously elected the first governor of New Hampshire and held this office until his death in 1786. Meshech Weare was a man of sterling honesty and one who left his impress upon the form and character of the government.

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.