Windham Life and Times February 24, 2023

The 300th Anniversary of Settling in Windham

Top: A view from the John H. Dinsmore farm. Near this spot, haying one hot summer day, young Samuel Dinsmore, told his father William, he didn’t want to be a farmer, but wanted to go to Dartmouth college instead. He eventually became governor of New Hampshire.

The Dinsmore Family has been in Windham since 1723.

300 years is a very long time for one family to call a place home. Most people move on, looking for better opportunities, or just different scenery.  John Dinsmore came to America as part of the Ulster migration of 1718. In the winter of 1719, he left his fellow Scots-Irish companions, and used his skills as a  stone mason to find work building foundations, fireplaces and in construction of Forts for  the proprietors in Maine.  He was captured by Indians near the fort at St. George, Maine. When warfare between the British, and Indians  began in 1722, he abandoned his house in Maine and rejoined his friends from Northern Ireland here.  At the town meeting on March 5, 1723, it was agreed to grant him 60 acres in a section of then Londonderry NH, which is now Windham. He built a stone house on the property and was joined by his wife and children;  Robert Dinsmoor and Elizabeth Hopkins. John Dinsmoor, or “Daddy” as he was known to fellow townspeople, lived to the age of 99 and died in 1741. The foundations of the farm still exists.

   Matt Dinsmore at the ruins of the Dinsmoor-Hopkins Farm near the old Nashua & Rochester railroad line. The foundations of the house and barn are still located on the property and there is an apple tree that blooms in the woodlands.

Robert Dinsmoor, also a stone mason, was born in 1692 and died in 1751 in Windham. He was one of Windham’s first three Selectmen and was instrumental in the establishment of the town in 1742. After the town was founded, the Dinsmoor family was granted several thousand acres of land including the peaks of Jenny’s Hill and Dinsmoor Hill, where Searles Castle is located today, running to the shore of Cobbett’s Pond.  Portions of this land are still owned by my parents today.

  Robert’s son William was born in Windham on May 9, 1731. When his father’s farm was divided, the “Jenny’s Hill” place so called, consisting of 1,400 acres came to him by the drawing of lots. He married Elizabeth McKeen and built a house and barn on the south side of Jenny’s Hill and planted an orchard.  He and his wife had 12 children. He died in 1811.

The Poets Farewell to the Muses

Robert Dinsmoor, The Rustic Bard

Andover’s Steeples there were seen,

While  o’er the vast expanse between,

I did with wonder gaze;

There as it were beneath my feet,

I viewed my father’s pleasant seat—

My joy in younger days.

There Windham Range in flowery vest,

Was seen in robes of green,

While Cobbett’s Pond from east to west,

Spread her bright waves between.

Cows lowing, cocks crowing,

While frogs on Cobbett’s shore,

Lay croaking and mocking

The bull’s tremendous roar…

…Farewell sweet scenes of rural life,

My faithful friends and loving wife,

But transient blessing all…

     Robert Dinsmoor was born on October 7, 1757 and died March 16, 1836. He was widely known as the “Rustic Bard,” which was the name under which he submitted his poetry to local papers. He fought in the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Bunker Hill. “He was a most genial companion, very fond of society…and maintained a large correspondence.” His first wife was his “beloved” Mary “Polly” Park who died giving birth to their twelfth child. On New Years Eve 1801 he married his second wife Mary (Davidson) Anderson.

The Poems of Robert Dinsmoor, The Rustic Bard

      Robert Park Dinsmoor was born in 1797 and lived on the farm formerly owned by his father on Jenny’s Hill. He married Sally Gregg. They had ten children together and he died August 28, 1861 and she died March 15, 1877.

    John H. Dinsmore, my great grandfather, was born on June 3, 1840 and he occupied the farm owned by his father and grandfather. He married Adrianna Black, the daughter of Gardner and Nancy Black. He erected a new house and barn on his property in 1877 and demolished the old family home. Gardner Road in Windham is named for Adrianna’s father.

Adrianna Black Dinsmore standing in front of my grandfather’s stone house on Indian Rock Road. George Dinsmore Sr. with his daughter Dorothy and George and Edith Dinsmore.

My grandfather, George Dinsmore almost escaped the clutches of Windham. He moved to Wyoming with his new wife, Edith Johnson, but they eventually returned to Windham where he built a beautiful stone home with his own hands, overlooking Cobbett’s Pond.

   The “Wyoming” a camp on Cobbett’s Pond owned by George Dinsmore Sr. and named in honor of the place that always lived large in his heart. It is said that he once shot a whisky bottle out of the hand of a resident that lived across the pond from this very porch.

George and Edith Dinsmore had three children (John, Dorothy, and George) including my dad George Dinsmore Jr (Jigger). My father was in construction, assisted by his wife Marion (Mackenzie) who he met because her family had a camp on Cobbett’s Pond. Their companies built many homes and commercial buildings in Salem and Windham. My father was a selectmen for two terms in the late sixties and served on the planning board. They are now 91 years old and have been married for over seventy years.

The tall tales of George Dinsmore Sr. were well known around Windham. He normally would light upon somebody new to town and begin his story. He often told tales of his grandmother, Sally (Gregg) Dinsmore. The one I remember from childhood is this one:

How Cobbett’s Pond Came to Be

My grandmother was a hardworking woman, and her pride and joy were her watermelons which always won awards for their size at the country fair. She grew her watermelons on the side of the hill on her farm overlooking the broad valley below. One summer, she decided to use a secret formula to make the melons grow large, fat and juicy. And the watermelons grew. And grew. AND GREW SOME MORE! Soon they were so big, they were taller than my grandmother and she became alarmed they would roll down the hill and be ruined. So she devised a plan. She had her husband build large wooden braces to hold the giant melons in place. One day grandmother was out hoeing weeds in her watermelon patch and she accidently hit one of the braces. Well, that was a huge mistake and the giant watermelons, shining in the bright sun, began to roll down the hill toward the valley below. Well grandmother went ass over teakettle, rolling down the hill along side the giant watermelons. When the watermelons hit the valley below, they literally exploded filling it with water. Poor grandmother would have drowned too, if she had not been able to latch onto one of the giant seeds and paddle herself to shore. And that my friends is how Cobbett’s Pond came into being!

George and Marion Dinsmore and their grandson Isaac Dinsmore

So why did I decide to stay in Windham? Tradition I guess, but there is more to it than that. Windham was also a great place to start a family, a business and it’s also a great location just 30 or so miles from Boston. And when I was able to purchase an acre and a half of land and a cottage overlooking Cobbett’s Pond for $155,000, in 1985, it was a done deal. I will always be grateful to Sue (Binns) Alosky for helping me find my place on Cobbett’s and for introducing me to my wife, Kristie; her cousin. Every day, I find a reason to be happy that I live in Windham, overlooking the lake and Dinsmoor Hill and knowing my son Isaac now lives in town as well. Maybe, 300 years, isn’t that long of a time after all!

John H. Dinsmore gathering hay

L.A. Morrison’s History of the Dinsmoor-Dinsmore Family

The following is from L.A. Morrion’s introduction to the second edition of Robert Dinsmoor, The Rustic Bard’s poetry. It verifies the early records of Londonderry that John Dinsmoor arrived here in 1723.

Maine, where there was an English fort, and while engaged in building a house for himself was taken captive by a band of Indians and carried away a prisoner. I have not been able to find any historic account of his settlement, or attempt to settle at that place, save that given by the Rustic Bard in the first edition of his poems, and I give it as the family tradition thus authenticated by his own pen : “The Indians had appeared quite friendly to him while so engaged in preparing himself a house, often visited him, and called him and themselves in their broken English ‘ all one brother,’ till one day they surrounded his unfinished cabin, with a war- whoop said, ‘ no longer one brother, you go Canada/ and he went with them, and was kept with them three months. The chief’s name was John, and his prisoner was made his body servant. One day when the chief was called away to a council of war, the prisoner was accused by two squaws of having been seen on a point of land near the shore in conference with some Englishmen, and although the edge of the St. George’s River, at the elbow, and a blockhouse at a short distance, having a large area between, enclosed by palisades and capable of receiving 250 men.” In Eaton’s Annals of Warren, Me., published years ago, is the following: “In 1719-20 two strong block- houses were erected, and the old trade house, which was situated directly in front of the spot, where the residence of the late General Knox now stands, was remodeled, being made a sort of fort.” The site of General Knox’s mansion was occupied in 1898 by the station of the Knox and Lincoln railway, at Thomaston, Me It was at Thomaston, Me , that Fort St. George stood. It was there that John Dinsmoor landed when he came to America. It was there he built his house, and while shingling it was captured by the Indians. The chief was still absent, he was condemned to be burned. He was bound to a tree, the fatal pile of wood made around him and that instant to be fired, when providentially the chief returned and commanded the execution delayed till he could enquire into the truth of the charge, alleging, if true, their tracks could be seen, as the ground there was sandy. The charge was soon proved to be false, and he, was reprieved. The last three days he was with them they traveled almost night and day, a great part of the time on k a dog trot,’ carrying their canoes with them. When they had a river to cross, as soon as the chief was in the boat it was the prisoner’s duty to push off and jump in after, and having just performed that duty at a certain river, the chief who had resolved to set him at liberty forbade him. He pleaded for liberty to step in, but the chief said, ‘ you much honest man John, you walk Boston.’ He replied, ‘ the Indians will kill me.’ The chief then told him how and where he could find a cave in a rock where he must lie three days and in that time the Indians would all be past. He gave him some bears’ grease and nuts, saying, ‘ Indians and French have all this land, you walk Boston John, then take English canoe, walk your own country. You much honest man John.’ He then took his solitary way and found the rock as he had been told. When he had lain there three days and nights, and seen the Indians, tribe after tribe, pass, till they had all gone, he arose from his cave and thought he must die of hunger, but by chance, or rather by Providence, he found some cranberries which supported him till he arrived at Fort George. From thence he got a passage to Boston, and from there he visited his old friends and countrymen in Nutfield. They had all been acquainted with him in Ireland. For the respect they had for the man, and perhaps moved by the narration of his perils and sufferings, the proprietors of Londonderry made him a gift of one hundred acres of land, and confirmed it by deed to him and his heirs forever. He was a mason by trade and built himself a stone house.” This appears to have been in 1723. After that he sent to Ireland for his wife and children, but they did not reach him in his new home till 1730. Neither tradition nor family records had handed down to the Rustic Bard, the Christian or sir-name of his maternal great-grandmother, and so far as my enquiry in the family extends, which comprehended every family of lineal descent up to 1883, I was not able to find the name, till during the current year the untiring research of Hon. Leonard Allison Morrison found that honest John had verified the appellation given him by the Indian chief, by his last will and testament, made Oct. 6, 1736, proven Jan. 4, 1736-7, now in the Probate Records Office of Rockingham County at Exeter, N. H., (as every honest man should, by providing for his widow) had answered our enquiry by calling her Hannah. John and Hannah had two children who came to this country, a son and daughter. The son Robert had married in Ireland Margaret Orr, and his sister Elizabeth married John Hopkins, and the wife and daughter with her family went to live in the stone house built by the husband and father on the land given him by the proprietors, and it is well authenticated that they continued to live as one family till the death of John the father, and that thereafter his widow, Hannah, lived till her death with the daughter Elizabeth, which facts go to show that the Bard was not warranted in his conclusion that the wife of John who came to this country was a second one, that had blessed him, for, genealogy rarely shows daughters falling in love with step- mothers. Robert Dinsmoor, the grandfather of the Rustic Bard, was evidently no ordinary man. We find him reaching the Londonderry Colonists in 1730, from whom he obtained title to a large tract of valuable land in the original town of Londonderry, which was near the tract deeded by the Colonists to his father, on which he built himself a residence, and which has been owned and occupied as a home- stead by his descendants till the present day. His eldest son, John, married the daughter of James McKeen, who, as chief man among the Colonists, came from Ireland in 1718, selected the Londonderry tract of land for settlement, then called Nut- field, and his daughter Elizabeth married James McKeen, Jr. Upon the organization of the town of Windham, under grant of charter from the provincial government of New Hampshire, this Robert Dinsmoor was named as Chairman of the three commissioners therein appointed to organize the town in 1742. His son William, born May 9, 1731, was the father of Robert, the Rustic Bard. He married Elizabeth Cochran, granddaughter of the same Justice McKeen, and settled on a part of his paternal acres which, then a primeval forest of oak and pine trees, awaited the axe of the pioneer man, whose strong arm should level the forest and compel a hard reluctant soil to yield the fruits necessary to support a christianized civilization. By lot, the father, Robert, divided his lands between his three sons, who lived to manhood. John, the eldest, drew that part which extended northerly toward Londonderry. Robert, Jr., drew the homestead, which occupied a commanding view of the country east and south, and in later years has been honored by a view of the once-renowned Boston and Concord Turnpike, and in still later years by the Lawrence and Manchester Railroad, and has had that rare attraction which has held spellbound to it the family name from generation to generation, known and honored for the intelligence and Christian vir- tues of its occupants that has made the spot a beacon light to the passing ages. The younger son, William, the father of the Rustic Bard, drew by the same cast that portion of the domain which embraced “Jenny’s hill,” a mound of sixty acres or more from which can be seen the Monadnock in New Hampshire and the Wachusett in Massachusetts. The land extended and embraced, in part, that charming lake, now surrounded by its beautiful farms and wood-capped hills, two and one-half miles long by one-half mile wide, and called ” Cob- bet’s pond ” from the fact that the colonial government in Massachusetts, which never owned a foot of land near it, granted it with five hundred acres of land to a minister by that name, Rev. Thomas Cobbet, in Ipswich, Essex County in Massachusetts, and thereby shows how unfortunate it is to get a bad name when young. But the very air of that place seems to have been poetic, as I find in the History of Windham a beautiful and touching tribute of affection to the memory of his deceased brother by the Bard’s father, found in a letter to his sister, that has escaped the ravages of the tooth of time by the thoughtful care of the historian and is given a place here as a meed of honor :