Windham Life and Times – April 12, 2019

Nutfield 300

The First Settlement: By Land or River?

“…The company followed a trail from Haverhill about fifteen miles through the woods.” (But did they come by land? Not according the John Greenleaf Whittier who was intimately acquainted with the Scots-Irish in southern New Hampshire. In his book, Old Portraits and Modern Sketches Whittier describes the pioneer’s journey as follows: “In the early part of the eighteenth century, a considerable number of Presbyterians of Scotch descent, from the north of Ireland, emigrated to the new world. In the spring of 1719, the inhabitants of Haverhill, on the Merrimack, saw them passing up the river in several canoes, one of which unfortunately upset in the rapids above the village. The following fragment of a ballad celebrating this event, has been handed down to the present time, and may serve to show the feelings even then of the old English settlers toward the Irish emigrants:

 

‘They began to scream and bawl,

As out they tumbled one and all,

And, if the Devil had spread his net,

He could have made a glorious haul!’

 

     “The new comers proceeded up the river, and landing opposite the Uncanoonuc Hills, on the present site of Manchester, proceeded inland to Beaver Pond. Charmed by the appearance of the country, they resolved here to terminate their wanderings. Under a venerable oak on the margin of the lake, they knelt down with their minister, Jamie McGregor, and laid, in prayer and thanksgiving, the foundation of their settlement. In a few years they had cleared large fields, built substantial stone and frame dwellings, and a large and commodious meeting-house; wealth had accumulated around them, and they had every where the reputation of a shrewd and thriving community. They were the first in New England to cultivate the potato, which their neighbors for a long time regarded as a pernicious root, altogether unfit for a Christian stomach. Every lover of that invaluable esculent has reason to remember with gratitude the settlers of Londonderry.”

It’s probably true that both the trails and river provided access for the Scotch-Irish to their new settlement in southern New Hampshire. If they truly did take the river in April it would have been roaring with spring snow melt.

Rev. MacMurphy continues, “The men and boys, perhaps no women or small children as they were to stay with their friends a month while preparations were  being made to shelter them; sixteen men, their pastor and the boys, trailing up from Haverhill through the woods, with a few packs on horses, a few oxen and cows, and other live stock. What could they bring? Axes and hammers, saws, iron bars and shovels, hoes and plows, seed corn, potatoes, onions and beans, some garden seeds, some provisions, flour, meal, tea and molasses, pots and kettles, tins and dishes, knives, forks and spoons, their clothing, etc. (Also, undoubtably, rum.) And then where should they unpack? They came to a little west running brook, in a sheltered valley, and decided to camp down there. The horses and cattle were soon staked  to good low land grass. By the aid of steel and flint and tinder and dry wood a fine warm fire was kindled and the pots and kettles hung above and necessary arrangements quickly made to prepare supper in the open field. With axes, rude shelters were provided under which men and boys could sleep at night. The number that listened to that sermon on Sunday might have been seventy-five persons, perhaps even a hundred or more, for note that the pastor had six boys and sixteen other men with one exception are quite certain to have had average families for those years.”

The names of the sixteen should be of interest, they may be found in several places: In the Town Records, in Parker’s Centenary Sermon, in Book of Nutfield, and on the map of the Double Range. These sixteen or seventeen men selected their homes on both sides of this little brook and located their huts with reference to frontage on the brook and land a mile long stretching away north and south, but only 30 perches in width; bringing their families near together.” (The rod or perch or pole is a surveyor’s tool and unit of length exactly equal to ​5 12 yards…)

     In a month’s time the woman folks were anxious to join the menfolk and come to Nutfield and by that time sufficient accommodations had been erected of hewn timbers, split shingles, and stone chimneys with open fireplaces to make a cheerful place to live in. Rude furniture, tables and chairs, benches and bedsteads, cut and fashioned from the living forest gave an impression of comparative comfort. This colony had not been on the premises a month before they called a meeting and were duly organized. They ordered the construction of a mill dam and saw mill and in six months they had a saw mill in operation on Beaver Brook less than a mile away from their cozy valley, and in less than two years they had a gristmill there and a second saw mill on Aiken brook. So the log shanties began to be replaced and supplemented with framed houses with real boards, clapboards, and shingles. Of course a church was built the first year of Nutfield and just about where the First Church now stands. Four months had brought more families and in September of 1719, they voted twenty more homesteads to the first new comers, to that number who should make immediate settlement in Nutfield. By the time the territory had been surveyed and laid out in ranges and homesteads of sixty acres the number of inhabitants had increased to that degree that the first so called Schedule named one hundred and five heads of families to receive allotments of homesteads; and others rewarded for services rendered the colony, up to the number of homestead rights of 122 1/2.”

“The Wheelwright Deed, given to Nutfield Colony as an Indian title to the ten miles square territory was not signed until October 29, 1719, and consequently the surveying and settling of bounds to the homesteads did not progress much in the first six months of occupation. The colonists working together cleared a few acres of forest around their camps at West Running Brook, with difficulty plowed among the stumps and in common raised and harvested their first crops and thus originated the name ‘common field’ as applied to a section well known to this day. The winter was not particularly severe, their mill was kept running, the timber around prospective houses and homes felled and drawn to the mill yard. In March of 1720 the homesteads were surveyed, laid out, butted and bounded, as we find in the Town Records and may trace on the map drawn for the purpose by the writer of this address and published in sections in Willey’s Book of Nutfield, with the provision that all rights to use these maps are reserved by the original draftsman.”

 

 

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