Windham Life and Times – November 20, 2020

The Border Dispute

The Royal Border Settlement 1740-1 III

       Haverhill, Methuen, Dracut and Dunstable were all Massachusetts towns who claimed that their border lines travelled into southern New Hampshire until declared otherwise by the crown in 1741. William Harris who wrote a local column in the Exeter Newsletter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries wrote  about the border dispute between Massachusetts and New Hampshire:

     “In April 1719, a company of people from the vicinity of Londonderry, Ireland, commenced a settlement called Nutfield, having its center at what is now East Derry. They described themselves in their petition for a charter as ‘being descended from and professing the Faith and Principles of the Establist Church of North Britain’—that is, Scotch Presbyterians. Incorporation was at first denied by both New Hampshire and Massachusetts, as it was doubtful which province had jurisdiction.”

     “In October following, the settlers obtained title to their lands by deed from Col. John Wheelwright, of Wells, ME., whose grandfather, Rev. John Wheelwright, the founder of Exeter, was supposed to have purchased in 1629 from Passaconoway and other Indians chiefs a large tract of land between the Piscataqua and Merrimack Rivers. Colonel Wheelwright’s deed conveyed a tract not to exceeding ten miles square, bounded by the Merrimack River at the west and the lines of Dunstable, Dracut, Haverhill and Cheshire (Chester). The description reads as if the north boundary of Dracut met the west line of Haverhill but when Methuen was incorporated in 1725, it was made out of the western portion of Haverhill and a strip about one and a half miles wide of ‘country land’ of unincorporated land stretching north from the Merrimack River, between the limits of Haverhill and Dracut.”

     “June 21, 1722, the governor and court of New Hampshire gave a charter incorporating Nutfield as the town of Londonderry. Its boundaries began at the southeast corner of Chester (which town had been charted the moth previous) and ran definite distances in specified directions, not naming the Massachusetts towns of Haverhill, Dracut and Dunstable, merely providing that this grant should not annul any claim which the Province of Massachusetts Bay might have to any of the territory granted. It must have been known at the time that the boundaries as given, overlapped by a considerable space the limits claimed by all three towns. There was considerable controversy and litigation between Londonderry and Haverhill settlers over lands in the strip which both claimed, until 1740, the province boundary dispute was ended by the decision king that the line should be three miles north of the Merrimack River, which decision was effectual the next year by the actual running of the line, practically where it is now. A portion of the Londonderry grant would have indeed fallen within Massachusetts if the province line had been run straight west from a point three miles north of the mouth of the Merrimack, which was all that New Hampshire claimed.”

     “The province line as located in 1741 divided Dunstable into two towns (the New Hampshire portion later becoming Nashua) , and cut off large tracts from the northern potions of Dracut, Methuen and Haverhill. The next year (1741-2) Windham, comprising the southern part of Londonderry, was set off to form as separate parish or town.”

     The part of the present Windham-Salem boundary running from ’Clark’s Corner’ (the small offset on Derry line) south to the head of Hitty Titty Pond (Shadow Lake) is a portion of the original boundary of Londonderry.  If we extend this line through Salem Depot village to a point in the southern part of Salem where the Windham-Pelham line boundary would intersect it, we shall enclose the original area of Windham as it was during the first eight years of its existence as a separate municipality, its other boundaries being virtually the same as at present.” (A portion of Windham split off to join the town of Salem. In effect, the towns of Salem, Windham Pelham Hudson, and Nashua came into existence because of the border settlement.) 

    “In May, 1750, Salem was incorporated and the line between that town and Windham was made to run west of Hitty Titty and Policy Ponds, putting those bodies of water wholy in Salem, as well as a number of Scotch-Irish settlers who naturally belonged to Windham. This caused dissatisfaction and within two years, (January 1752,) the line was changed to run practically as it does at present, to the head of Hitty Titty Pond, and from there through that pond and Policy (Canobie Lake) from end to end, and on to the Pelham line. Morrson’s History of Windham does not mention the original Salem boundary running west of Policy Pond, but it is given in Gilbert’s History of Salem and shown by a plan. This change in the boundary lines gave back to Windham number of families living west of Policy Pond, and transferred some situated southwest of that pond to Salem. It was also decreed at the same time that persons living in the part of Salem which had been Windham might join with the latter town in ecclesiastical matters if they wished. A number of families did so affiliate, and paid the minister tax to Windham, everybody in those days having to pay a minister tax somewhere. This arrangement continued until 1798, when the place of worship here was transferred from the Range to the present center of town, no longer accommodating the Salem people.” Facts about Dracut and Haverhill boundaries, both of which lapped over the present territory of Windham, will be given later.”   

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