Windham Life and Times – September 13, 2019

Nutfield 300

Settlement of St. Georges Maine

John Dinsmoor in Colonel Thomas Westbrooks’ Letters

The following section is taken from; Steven Edward Sullivan’s; Settlement Expansion on the Northeast Coastal Frontier of Colonial New England: St. Georges, 1719-1759. 1987. (Thesis (M.A.) in History–University of Maine, 1987) [University of Maine, Raymond H. Fogler Library, Special Collections] Mr. Sullivan’s impeccable research gives a very reliable and detailed account of the early settlement of St. Georges. It shows why John Dinsmore would have been induced to settle there and also the connection of St Georges to Colonel Westbrook.

“Shortly after the formation of the Lincolnshire Company, the Twenty Associates selected a committee to ‘Manage and bring forward the settlements within the patent…to begin with settling two towns on the St Georges River…’ While the administrative and organizational machinery of expansion was now in place and functioning, little had been done in preparing for the planned expansion at St, Georges River in terms of considering the climate of the Maine frontier. The Company and its Committee has very little or no experience in dealing with the conditions of the eastern frontier, and particularly with the native Indians who resided and frequented there. In hindsight, it was lack of consideration of these frontier conditions that led to the success of the Company in expanding and fortifying the Maine to the St Georges River in the summer of 1720, Likewise, the failure of early attempts by the Company to successfully plant two towns there also seems to have resulted at least partly from the failure in Boston to comprehend the practical realities of the Maine frontier at the time, particularly considering the disposition and attitude of the Penobscot Indians toward this new encroachment on their territory. Perhaps because the realities of the Maine frontier were well-known to the people of the Bay Colony, and perhaps also because of the precedent set by the Pejepscot Proprietors at Kennebec, in 1720 and 1721 the Committee of the Lincolnshire Company signed agreements with contacts in Ireland to procure large numbers of Irish or Scotch-Irish families to settle in the proposed settlements at St Georges.”

“In the first attempt, the Committee formalized an agreement with Robert Edwards fo Castleregh, Ireland, and his unnamed associates, called ‘undertakers’ on March 7, 1720. In general, conforming to Leverett’s outlined plan of expansion, Edwards and his undertakers agreed to settle two towns, each containing fifty families and measuring seven and a half miles square on or near the St Georges or Muscongus Rivers. The Committee stipualated that the first fifty families were to be settled during the year 1722…”

“… On April 18, 1720, the Company met and chose a committee to sail with cattle (oxen), mill gear, and workman for Muscongus and St. Georges River in order to view the land, procure confirmation of the title from the Indians, and to begin a settlement. En route, the Company’s sloop took on mill gear, seven millwrights, workmen, and another key associate, Thomas Westbrook of Portsmouth, who was designated to supervise the process of frontier expansion at St Georges. The expedition ascended the St Georges River in whaleboats on May 4, 1720…”

“…On June 4, 1720, the Associates concluded articles of agreement with Thomas Westbrook who would act as the Lincolnshire Company’s representative overseer, military leader, and ‘foreman’ for the undertaking. According to this agreement, Westbrook was to procure 25 families of ‘good, able, active, and substantial people’ who were to each construct and inhabit dwelling-house in a projected township to be situated at the upper end of St. Georges River. Two-thirds of the families were supposed to be at St Georges by the last day of November 1720, and were required to work and improve the lands there for at least three years. The Associates required that Westbrook send the greater part of his time a St. Georges for the next two or three years in order to ‘help encourage and bring forward the settlements there.”

The Lincolnshire Company agreed to grant Westbrook 10,000 acres of land to be disposed of in whatever amounts her felt necessary to encourage families to go and settle there. The ungranted portions were to become his property in compensation for his trouble and expense. The Company also agreed to lease the two sawmills to him for two years, for six cents interest per year, provided that he keep the mills in good repair and furnish the settlers with boards at common mill price, and return the same in good condition at the end of the designated time.”

“The company also agreed to furnish two great guns for a blockhouse. The use of the Company’s sloop to transport settlers was to be provided, freight free. The Company also agreed to provide some assistance and encouragement for a minister to settle there. This agreement was made at a time when the Penobscot Indians had no yet reached a consensus concerning the intended expansion and indicated the determination of the Lincolnshire Company to settle and improve the St. Georges frontier—with or without the approval or sanction of the Indians. Ominously, the planned frontier expansion now included a blockhouse fitted with cannon to protect the mills and settlers.”

St Georges Fort was one of the strongest, most commodious, and strategically situated fortifications to be erected in New England during the colonial period. It was built in several stages by Westbrook and his workmen on behalf of the Lincolnshire Company beginning in June of 1720 and was probably completed in late August of 1721…”

Westbrook and his men successfully completed the construction of the blockhouse or ‘trading house’ by July 19, 1720. The Indians had requested such a trading house at the Treaty of Georgetown in 1717. This trading house or ‘truck house’ measured 30 by 50 feet in size. Building this house was the first stage in the plan for the fort, as the Indians would presumably not object to a truck-house they had requested. Was this a clever contrivance or simply a matter of practical necessity, or both? Truck-houses were constructed along the frontiers by the government for the purpose of trading goods with the Indians and creating material dependence. The truck trade was intended to be economically profitable for the sponsors, to provide the government with intelligence concerning strength, movements and disposition of the French as well as the Indians, and to draw the Indians away from the French influence, while at the same time making them more dependent on English trade for ‘necessities,’ and theoretically at least, to regulate liquor distribution to the Indians. At St. Georges, establishment of the truck-trade served another important function as well. Construction of the truck house at St. Georges River acted s a catalyst for new expansion and was therefore the decisive factor in planning the permanent establishment of the new frontier.”

“Visiting the eastern frontier in Mid-August of 1721, the English minister to the Eastern Indians, Rev. Baxter, observed that the fort at St. Georges was fitted with at least one great gun. He observed that the Company men were busily engaged in attempting to finish a second blockhouse down by the river (Letter “H” in diagram of the fort, p.39), dig trenches between the two blockhouses, and erect stockade walls connecting the two blockhouses, transforming it into an effective fortress. These preparations were undertaken, according to Baxter, to ‘get ye shop in readiness to defend ourselves against ye Indians if they should assault us.’”

“The work of enclosing the area between the blockhouses with a stockade wall proceeded vigorously, if not frantically in the latter weeks of August, 1721. Baxter tells us that, ‘all hands’ were ‘briskly employed’ in the enterprise indicating that the work proceeded with a sense of urgency. The nervous workmen had no doubt heard rumors concerning the changing temper and disposition of the Indians. The work was continuing at an accelerated pace on August 24, but was probably completed within a short time thereafter to appear substantially as the ca 1721-22 draft (p.39) indicates.”

Originally, the Committee of the Lincolnshire Company contracted with Robert Edwards to bring families over from Ireland to settle at St. Georges. However, on November 21, 1721, the Lincolnshire Company authorized the Committee to dispose of 76,000 acres in the Patent to Cornelius Rowan, gentleman, of Cullnady, County Derry, Ireland in return for bringing 160 families to settle in the three towns in the Patent. The agreement was formalized on November 28, 1721, and provisions contained therein resembled greatly Leverett’s blueprint for frontier expansion and the earlier agreement with Edwards.”

Rowan agreed to settle two towns on both sides of the Muscongus or St. Georges River with 160 families in a ‘regular and defensible manner’ as was though best for their mutual defense and interest. The three townships, each seven and a half miles square, were to be located anywhere in the Patent not previously settled. The Company stipulated that the families were to consist of ‘able and substantial’ people who would be able to supply and support themselves with provisions. These settlers were expected to build houses and barns, maintain stocks of cattle, ‘build, inhabit, and improve’ the lands grated them for at least three years. For their part, the Committee agreed to lay out three towns with 1000 acres reserved in each of the first two towns for ministerial and school lots, and further agreed to pay 50 pounds per year for a minister in each of the first two towns for the first two years. The remaining 25,000 acres in each town was to go to Rowan and his associates. Also, the Lincolnshire Company agreed to bear the expense of surveying and laying out of each 25,000 acre plot. Further subdivisions would be undertaken at the charge of Rowan or the settlers.”

“The Lincolnshire Company, no doubt anxious to see the settlement proceed with all possible rapidity, set a timetable for Rowan to comply with which necessarily coincided with the deadlines established by Leverett for the Twenty Associates. Fifty of the families were to be settled by the end of 1722 unless some ‘extraordinary province hinders’ such as restraint of the government, miscarriage at sea, or some other ‘considerable disappointment.’”

John Dinsmore in Colonel Thomas Westbrook’s Letters

Muster Roll showing John Dinsmore as a “pilot” or scout.

During 1722, the Indians of Maine, at the instigation of the French, attacked many of the English settlements there. In June, the settlement of St. Georges was attacked and 5 men were taken captive by the Indians. From Colonel Thomas Westbrook’s letters we now know with certainty that one of the men taken captive was John Dinsmoor.

LETTERS OF COLONEL THOMAS WESTBROOK, AND OTHERS,

RELATIVE TO INDIAN AFFAIRS IN MAINE, 1722-26

COMMUNICATED BY WILLIAM BLAKE TRASK, A.M., OF DORCHESTER

From the New England Historical and Genealogical Register

For the Year 1890.

VOULUME XLIV

Page 23-32

“Thomas Westbrook of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was perhaps the son of Thomas Westbrook, for many years a member of the state council of New Hampshire, who died in 1736. Captain Westbrook, subsequently promoted to the office of Colonel, was ordered by the Massachusetts government to range through the country from Kennebeck to Penobscot, and prosecute, as had been expressed, ‘the Eastern Indians for their many breaches of covenant’ with our people. Some of the details of these expeditions, and the military movements attending them, are interestingly, and, we doubt not, correctly related, in the letters before us, from the fall of the year 1722 to 1726. The Westbrook letters, written, probably by dictation, have the autograph signatures of the Colonel. He was afterwards engaged as an agent in obtaining masts for the royal navy. His speculations in Eastern lands commenced, as we have been informed, as early as the year 1719, and were continued, notwithstanding the unsettled condition of the times, some nine or ten years. In August 1727, he became a citizen of Falmouth, and soon after built a house at Stroudtwater in that town. He was considered and important and honorable member of the place where he lived. His death occurred, February 11, 1744. The maiden name of his wife, who died his widow, at Portsmouth, in New Hampshire, aged 75 years was Mary Sherburne. Col. Westbrook left no male issue. His daughter Elizabeth married Richard Waldron , the well-known Secretary of New Hampshire, a grandson of the noted Richard Waldron, killed by the Indians in 1689.”

“The town of Westbrook, in Maine, six miles from the city of Portland, was, in the year 1815, named in honor of the Colonel. It was taken from the town of Falmouth, and included the village of Stroudtwater. In 1880, it had about 4,000 inhabitants. The late Hon. William Willis, at the close of a brief notice of Col. Westbrook (History of Portland, page 355), says: ‘The town in which he lived justly perpetuates his name, and is the only memorial of him which remains.’ It gives us pleasure, therefore, to be enabled to publish the following muster rolls and letters, as well as his journal, which is purposed, hereafter, to print, With the exception of a few extracts, and a communication or two to an eastern paper, it is believed they are now for the first time made public, presenting thereby a standing ‘memorial’ to the name and patriotic services of Thomas Westbrook.”

“See ‘Journal of the Rev. Joseph Baxter,’ 1717 Register xxi. 54-59. Also, same volume, page 348. Maine Historical and Genealogical Register.

Letter of Colonel Westbrook:

Falmouth September 23, 1722.

May it Please your Excellency,

I take this opportunity to inform you that I arrived at Piscataqua at 10 o’clock in ye morning the 15th instant and immediately waited on ye Lt. Governour [Dummer] of home I received a confirmation that there was 5 or 6 hundred Indians at Arrowsick upon which I immediately returned to ye sloops in order to sail but the wind proving contrary I was obliged to stay til ye next morning 3 of ye clock and then proceeded to Arrowsick where I came to anchor at on a clock on Monday morning. I waited upon Col. Walton who told me ye Indians were withdrawn & that he intended to march that day with 180 men to way lay the Indians in their carrying places and desired our company. But in as much as the Indians were withdrawn I was willing to make my way to St. Georges fearing ye enemy might attack it. Tuesday about 5 a clock we came to sail & came to the mouth of St. Georges River Wednesday morning and not having fair wind went up in five whaleboats to the fort which I found in good order the Indians having attacked it ye 24th of August and killed 5 men yet were out of the garrison. They continued their assault 12 days & nights furiously only now and  then under a flag of truce they would have persuaded them to yield of the Garrison promising them to give them good quarters and send them to Boston. The defenders answers were that they wanted no quarters at their hands. Daring them continually to come on and told them it was King George’s lands and that they would not yield them up but with their last drops of blood. The Indians were headed by ye friar who talked with them under a flag of truce and likewise by two French men, as they judged them to be. They brought with them five captives yet they took at St Georges 15th June last and kept them during the siege. But upon their breaking up sent Mr. John Dunsmore of the said captives to ye fort to know whether they would redeem them or no. Our people made answer they had no order so to do, neither could they do it. Upon which Mr. Dunsmore returned to the Indians and they carried the captives back to Penobscutt Bay, and then frankly released three of them Vizt. Mr. John Dunsmore, Mr. Thomas Foster and Mr. William Ligett. One Joshua Rose yet was taken at aforesaid time and place and whom the Indians had left behind at Penobscutt Fort made his escape & after six days travel arrived at ye fort ye second day after the siege began being obliged to make his way through the body of ye Indians to get to the fort and was taken in at one of the ports. I now detain the four captives aforesaid to be pilots to Penobscutt Fort until I know you Excelleny’s pleasure about them. They inform me that the Indians have rebuilt their fort at Penobscutt since the 15th of June obliging them to work on it. It contains about 12 rod square enclosed with stockado’s of 12 foot high. It has 2 flankers on the east the other on ye west and 3 gates not at that time hung, they have likewise 2 swivel guns. It is situated on an island in a fresh water river twelve miles from ye salt water. The captive’s judge there is no way of getting to the island but by canoes or flat bottom boats & it is impossible to carry up whale boats by reason ye falls are 8 or 9 miles long & [      ] is very swift and full or rocks. The captive Foster & [              ] affirm that they saw 12 or 13 barrels of gun powder brought to the fort by the Indians as they said from Canada about the middle of July. They have a meeting house within a rod or thereabouts on ye outside of ye south wall of the fort it being 60 foot long and 30 wide and 12 foot stud with a bell in it which they ring morning and evening. The said Rose informs me they had a considerable quantity of corn standing when he made his escape. After I had viewed the garrison I returned in about an hour & ½ to my sloop lying in ye mouth of the river and sent up one of them with a few hands upon deck as to carry up stones to the fort and sailed with the other sloop for Arrowsick full of men to induce the Indians spies to believe that we had entirely left the place and that there was no design against Penobscutt, and likewise to inform Col. Walton of ye state of affairs, not knowing but that he might have orders to make an attack upon them. This being all that is material I make bold to subscribe myself your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servant,

Thomas Westbrook.

Col. Walton desired me to come along with him to this place to see what forces that he could draw, which I did accordingly, and brought Mr. Dunsmore and Rose along with me. The garrison at St George has expended most of their ammunition during ye late siege and I desire your Excellency to send pray ye first opportunity 4 or 5 barrels of gun powder with ball, swan shot and flints answerable, for ye Indians are resolved to take ye fort if possible. If there be no opportunity of sending it to St. Georges please order it to Arrowsick, and I will fetch it in my whale boats.

P.S. The captives informed me that ye most part of ye Indians food during ye time of ye siege was seals which they caught daily keeping out a party of men for that purpose. They also inform us & do assert that there are great quantities of sturgeon, bass and eels to be caught even close by ye island where the Penobscutt Fort is.

 

 

Windham Life and Times – September 6, 2019

John “Daddy” Dinsmoor: Maine Pioneer

John Dinsmoor grave marker on the Cemetery on the Hill, Windham NH

On the Cemetery on the Hill, in Windham, you can find the grave of John “Daddy” Dinsmoor who was the first of the family to come to America. There is an impressive granite monument there to mark the spot, placed there by a descendant, James Dinsmoor in 1902. While a generous gift, not everything etched in stone is necessarily true. The inscription unfortunately conveys misinformation about the timing of John Dinsmoor’s arrival in America which was much earlier than 1724.

Over the past several weeks, I have been mucking about in ancient Maine history, and I have stumbled upon the documentary, written proof, that John Dinsmoor was in Maine, and was indeed taken as a captive of the Indians, at St. Georges, Maine, in June of 1722. This proves that Daddy Dinsmore was definitely in Maine prior to 1722. The entire event is described in detail in a letter from Colonel Thomas Westbrook, an English commander, dated September 23, 1722. John Dinsmore’s name, clear as day, was in the Index of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register Vol. 44.  As it turns out, John Dinsmoor was made a captive by the Penobscot Indians, and taken to what is now “Indian Island” in the middle of the Penobscot River exactly as was related in the very detailed and eloquent, family oral tradition given by Robert Dinsmoor.

I also have to fall back on Rev. A.L. Perry, the Professor of History and Political Economy at Williams College, who states emphatically in The Scotch-Irish in New England that the Dinsmores were part of the 1718 migration from Northern Ireland: “Besides Mr. Boyd, who had stayed the summer in Boston, where he found already settled a few scattered and peeled of his own race and faith, there were three Presbyterian ministers on board, —Mr. McGregor, of blessed memory, Mr. Cornwell, and Mr. Holmes. Those best off of all the passengers were the McKeens, the Cargills, the Nesmiths, the Cochrans, the Dinsmores, the Mooars, and some other families— were natives of Scotland, whose heads had passed over into Ulster during the short reign of James II…” As one of the wealthiest immigrants, Dinsmore could have had the means to purchase a large estate or tract of land in Maine, especially considering the fact the many of the land speculators were giving land away for free or on a payment plan in order to induce settlement in this wild frontier, which was under constant threat of Indian attack, even after the 1717 “peace treaty” with the Eastern Indians.

        I also reread the grant of land to John Dinsmoor in Londonderry from the proprietor’s records of 1724-5. This dating would verify that John Dinsmoor stayed in Maine many months after his captivity in 1722. We now know that he was detained as a “Pliot” or scout for Colonel Westbrook after being released by the Indians. The land was “bestowed” as a gift to him and the grant was conditional that he or his son “settle this place in the space of a year after the peace is Concluded and if so be that he or his son does not settle said place against a perfixt time yet then and at yet time said land Shall fall to the town or said grantees…”  What peace? The only war raging in New England at that time was the Indian War in Maine, so it must be alluding to that and additionally to the fact of John Dinsmoor’s preference, which if possible, was to return to his holdings in Maine. What was so special about his home in Maine that he wanted to return to it when tranquil Londonderry beckoned?

Was it possible that his home was more than a hastily constructed cabin in the woods? Could it rather have been a stone house constructed with his own hands at some place in the vicinity of St Georges?  John Dinsmoor was a stone mason and he may have been employed in construction at the settlement of St. Georges. When he came to Londonderry he built himself a stone house and also built many stone houses in the area. The construction of stone houses in 18th century (the 1700’s) New England is very rare.  The vast majority of homes are of wood frame construction. Could it have been that he had also built himself a stone house in the St. Georges area that he wanted to return to and what would be the rare chance that it could still exist? Unfortunately, land titles were pretty much non-existent at that time in Maine, and many of the Scotch-Irish pioneers in Maine had to petition the government later in the century with sworn affidavits to prove they had occupied their land.

So let’s begin again with the account of John Dinsmoor in Maine, by Robert Dinsmoor in his introduction to his book of poetry: “My father’s grandfather, John Dinsmoor, was the oldest son of this Scotchman, who came to America about the time the first settlers of Londonderry came (1718). He is yet remembered by many of the old people, and very respectfully called Daddy Dinsmoor. But, whether from accident, I know not, he was landed at a place called Georges, where there was an English fort, in the district of Maine. There he built a house, and the Indians which traversed those woods, (I believe they were of the Penobscot tribe,) became very familiar with him, calling him and themselves all one brother. This was about the commencement of the war between Great Britain and France.”

One day, when Daddy Dinsmore was shingling his house, the Indians surrounded it with a war-hoop, ordered him down saying, ‘no longer one brother, you go to Canada.’ He was taken and kept with them three months. The Chief’s name was John, and Daddy Dinsmoor became his waiter, and ‘found grace in his sight.’ On a certain day, Captain John was called to attend a council of war, and in his absence, Old Daddy was accused by two squaws, of being on a certain point of land near the shore, in conference with some Englishmen, and although in the absence of the chief, he was condemned to be burnt. He was accordingly bound to the tree, and the fatal pile made around him, and that instant to be set on fire, when providentially, the captain returned, and commanded his execution be delayed until inquiry should be made with respect to the truth of the charge, alleging if it was true, their tracks could be seen, as the place was a very sandy point.” (My father tells me that his father told him that John was involved in a little hanky-panky with the Captain’s women, however, George Dinsmore Sr. was known for telling tall tales and then watching the reaction of his incredulous listeners, so I have to believe that this is merely a family legend.)

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 at a ‘dog trot,’ carrying their canoes with them. When they had a river to cross, as soon as the captain was seated in the Bark, it was Daddy Dinsmoor’s office to push it off and jump in after; and having performed this duty at a certain river, the captain being resolved to set him at liberty, forbade him to step in. He plead for leave to get in, but the chief replied ‘No, you much honest man, John—you walk Boston.’ Daddy answered, ‘The Indians will kill me.’ The captain 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 bear’s grease and a few nuts, saying ‘Indians and French have this land, you walk Boston, John, then take English canoe, walk your own country—you much honest man John.”

My father’s grandfather, then took his solitary way, and found the rock as the captain had told him. When he lay there three days and nights, he saw the Indians pass tribe after tribe, until they were all passed. Then he arose from his cave, and thought he must dies of hunger; but by chance, or by providence, rather, he found some cranberries, which supported him until he arrived at Fort George. From thence, he got his passage to Boston, and from thence he visited his old friends and countrymen in Nutfield, now Londonderry. They had all been acquainted with Daddy Dinsmoor, in Ireland. For the respect they had for the man, and perhaps moved by the narrative of his sufferings, which no one doubted, the proprietors of Londonderry, made a gift of one hundred acres of excellent land and confirmed by deed, to him and his heirs forever…Daddy Dinsmoor lived ten years after my father was born. He and his son being both masons. They built a number of stone houses in town, which served as garrisons in the Indian war. (And I really believe, that his once being an Indian captive, was his inducement to build a stone house on his own land, in Londonderry) The remains of many of those houses are to be seen at this day; and a great many stone chimneys, as no brick could be had. His name was ever held in honor by all who knew him.”

Indian Rock Road, Windham NH

Morrison Family Homestead

Morrison Family Homestead

The changes on Route 111 and Interstate 93 in Windham NH have totally transformed the area which was composed of Dinsmoor Hill and Indian Rock Road. At the turn of the twentieth century, this scenic country road traversed some incredibly beautiful scenery. Beginning at it’s intersection with Range Road, Indian Rock Road, where the Morrison family homestead once stood, it began a decent toward Cobbett’s Pond in the Valley below. Along the way, this scenic road passed hills, farms and the shores of a truly panoramic lakes-shore view. Much of the land along the road was part of the Dinsmore Family farm.

Searles Castle, Windham NH, Main Gate

Searles Castle, Windham NH, Main Gate

"Behind the Walls" View of Searles Castle

“Behind the Walls” View of Searles Castle

The biggest change along Indian Rock Road, at the beginning of the twentieth century, was the construction of Searles Castle. Ponds were dug, walls were built and the castle itself could be seen rising on the distant hillside. The main feature a traveler along the road would have noticed would have been the gate-house that was built right on the road. At this time , the road passed behind where Citizens Bank is located today. The road was moved when Route 111 was reconstructed by the state of NH in the 1950’s.

Dinsmore Farm and Dinsmoor's Hill in Windham NH (John H. Dinsmore pictured

Dinsmore Farm and Dinsmoor’s Hill in Windham NH (John H. Dinsmore pictured)

Continuing along Indian Rock Road, you would have come to the John H. Dinsmore farm. The road actually ran between the barn an the house, where the horse and carriage are shown in the photograph above. When Route 111 was rebuilt in the 1950’s this stretch of Indian Rock Road became Wyman Road where the Windham Exxon was located. Today the southbound exit ramps pass just about where the house was located. The road shown veering to the right was county road which was a straight shot to Windham Depot. When Interstate 93 was built it was discontinued except on one end, but it could still be seen, making its way in the median strip of the highway, before the most recent construction. John Dinsmore’s land ran to Cobbett’s Pond and his son George Dinsmore Sr. built a stone house on Indian Rock Road, past the farm, when he returned from Wyoming. He built the house himself, with his own hands. Across the street from the house he built a barn. The road was still dirt at the time. There would have been glimpses of the pond from the road but it would have really come into view at Dinsmore Ravine. Today you can still see it from the road near Rocky Ridge Road.

When Route 111 was rebuilt in the 1950’s this stretch of Indian Rock Road became Wyman Road, where the Windham Exxon was located. Today the southbound exit ramps pass just about where the house was located. The road shown veering to the right was County Road, which was a straight shot to Windham Depot. When Interstate 93 was built, it was discontinued except on one end, but it could still be seen, making its way, lined with stone walls, in the median strip of the highway, before the most recent construction. The picture at the upper right shows John H. Dinsmore pushing a wheelbarrow beside Indian Rock Road. County Road and Dinsmore Hill is behind him. The southbound lanes of Interstate 93 are located today, just about where the beautiful stone wall is shown in this photograph. After passing the barn, Indian Rock Road took a steep decent into a gully where a small brook ran into Cobbett’s Pond. On the left, there was a hillside, totally cleared of trees, that offered a panoramic view of Cobbett’s Pond to anyone who took the time to climb it. Today, the residences of “Granite Hill” are located there. On the water, near the brook, John Dinsmore’s son, George Dinsmore Sr., built cottages. At this time, many farmers, who owned frontage on Cobbett’s Pond were doing the same. You might want to know if these photographs make me nostalgic. Since I never knew this time or place in Windham, I do feel that something is lost but it’s not really tangible because I never experienced it. For the people of my grandfather’s generation, however, the construction of Interstate 93 changed everything

George Dinsmore Sr. built the stone house and was know for his tall tales.

George Dinsmore Sr. built the stone house and was know for his tall tales.

George Dinsmore Sr., loved to tell tall tales and his favorite character was his heroic grandmother. According to his account, the brook that crossed Indian Rock Road, near his house, was known as “Scalding Brook.” There was a reason for this rather peculiar name. Back when Mr. Dinmore’s grandmother, was in her prime, she was quite the woods-woman. The men who cleared trees in Windham had nothing on her. She would cut down massive trees and chopped wood at such an incredible rate of speed, that her double sided axes would glow red hot. The reason why the brook was called “Scalding Brook” was because Grandmother always had several red hot axes cooling in the water of the brook. In fact, the water in the brook boiled red hot constantly from the axes and the towns-people would bring their pigs there to boil the hides. Mr. Dinsmore’s grandmother would be what you would call an emancipated woman and her strength made her a legend in Windham, as well as in surrounding towns. In fact, she lived to be 104 years of age, but sadly died in child birth while digging a well. She passed away thirty feet below ground. When Grandmother was in her prime, there used to be competitions in Windham to see who could plow the most field with a team of horses. The men did their best to beat Mrs. Dinsmore but she had a maneuver that none of them could match, and for this reason, she always won the competition. When the men and their teams would reach the end of a row, they would have to take the time to get their horses turned around. Grandmother didn’t have this problem, because of her great strength, she just picked her team of horses up over her head and turned them in the row. In this manner, she always won. And of course, Mrs. Dinsmore was quite the watermelon farmer. She grew championship watermelons that were almost as big as a small houses. She grew these on Dinsmore Hill, high above the valley below. They grew so mammoth that she had to prop them up with large planks of wood. One day, she was on the hillside, hoeing weeds around her melons, when she accidentally hit one of the boards holding them in place. All of a sudden, there was a tremendous roar, as the first one, then all of the giant watermelons became dislodged and began to roll down the hill toward the valley, carrying Grandmother along with them. The poor lady would have surely drowned but she was able to grab onto a giant watermelon seed and survive. That is how Cobbett’s Pond came to be. As a great story-teller, George Dinsmore Sr., would have added more details and feigned sincerity, in order to take his listeners in, but you get the idea. The pictures show George Dinsmore Sr. and the stone house that he built by hand, early in the twentieth century. Many of you, will remember the barn that sat across the street. At left, my great-grandmother is standing in front of the stone house. Behind her, Indian Rock Road, passes over “Scalding Brook,” with John H. Dinsmore’s barn in the background. Of course, the rock shown behind her, was once located near Indian Rock. It was the chief’s chair and he used to sit in it while the members of his tribe ground corn. Grandmother, carried the stone chair on her back, and placed it where it still sits today, in front of my grandfather’s house on Indian Rock Road.

Most of us who pass along Indian Rock Road, never consider this area was for thousands of years, the home to Native American tribes. Morrison says that “the Indians of this town were of the Pawtucket nation, and derived their name from the Pawtucket Falls at Lowell, MA… Their domain included New Hampshire. Efforts were made to Christianize the Indians at Pawtucket previous to 1653, and it is not improbable that the same Indians whose wigwams were on the banks of our ponds, and whose canoes glided over our waters, taking fish therefrom, may have heard the gospel at Pawtucket (now Lowell), twelve miles away…The Indians congregated at the Falls, as it was a good place for fishing. Our Indians, confined to no permanent places of abode, of course visited these Falls, as the rushing of its waters could be distinctly heard in Windham, before they were in 1818-20, turned from their rocky bed for the Lowell factories. The last great chief of this tribe was Passaconnaway. In 1660, at a great feast and dance, he warned his people, as a dying man, not to quarrel with their English neighbors, as it would be the means of their own destruction. They left this section as a residence about 1685, but in their wanderings for fifty years after, spent much time at the Falls. After the settlement of Londonderry Colony, there is but one recorded instance of Indian cruelty to a citizen of Londonderry,—that of the killing the boy on the banks of Golden Brook in what is now Windham.”

Indian Rock and Dinsmore Ravine leading to Cobbett's Pond

Indian Rock and Dinsmore Ravine leading to Cobbett’s Pond

“In early days the Indians used to encamp on the shores of Cobbett’s’ and Policy Ponds, and many arrowheads have been found as they were turned up by plows near the shore…” I was told that there was a large agricultural settlement located in Windham, between Cobbett’s Pond and Canobie Lake. Native Americans did in fact have large settlements and open agricultural fields. Of course, the Indian grinding holes, on “Indian Rock,” prove that corn was grown by the Indians in the area. Back when Cobbett’s Pond Road was rebuilt by the state of New Hampshire, a great number of Native American implements and tools were found in the there.
So that is why there is a memorial plaque on Indian Rock. It is there to remember a forgotten people, who once lived nobly and in harmony with nature. It allows us to picture in our minds, these people sitting upon this rock, grinding their corn, as they looked out through the ravine to the shores of Cobbett’s Pond. Before Route 111 was rebuilt in the 1950’s, Indian Rock was visible from the road.

THE PLAQUE SAYS- INDIAN ROCK- “Over these rock strewn hills and through these woods the Indians roamed on their hunt for game, on these waters their canoes were launched in their quest for fish, nearby fields yielded their harvest of corn and on this rock it was ground in to meal.” This tablet erected by the Town of Windham, A.D. 1933.”

The Harris Homestead and North Shore of Cobbett's Pond

The Harris Homestead and North Shore of Cobbett’s Pond

Continuing along Indian Rock Road was the Harris Homestead which was built by the Rev. Samuel Harris in 1811. He was a beloved pastor at the Windham Presbyterian Church. His son, William Harris wrote a “Windham” column for the Exeter Newsletter from 188o though 1917. His columns and interest in Windham History have preserved much of what we know about Windham’s past.  Beginning in the late 1800’s, William Harris began a summer resort on the North Shore of Cobbett’s Pond, building several cottages and renting them out to summer tourists, by the week and month. The Harris Homestead was located where Windham Village Green is today.

Inidan Rock Road Ended in the Center of Windham

Inidan Rock Road Ended in the Center of Windham

The final section of Indian Rock Road was laid out much differently than it is today. When Route 111 was widened and straightened in the 1950’s, it was also rerouted to bypass the Center of town. Today, this bypassed section of Route 111, runs from about where “Windham Commons” is today to the current intersection with North Lowell Road. Prior to the 1950’s, Indian Rock Road, ran along what is Church Street today. It ended right in front of the Presbyterian Church, where it intersected with Lowell Road. Yes, Lowell Road, because before the bypass of the Center, there was no Lowell and North Lowell Roads, there was just Lowell Road. 1) The view looking from where the “Village Green” is today toward the “Center.” 2) The current location of the plaza where Klemm’s Bakery is located. 3) The site of “The Commons,” the wall is still there. 4) Indian Rock Road before it became Church Road. 5) Indian Rock Road running in front of the Windham Presbyterian Church. 6) The intersection of Indian Rock Road and Lowell Road. I hope you enjoyed this look back at Indian Rock Road. Within a couple of years, you will never be able to imagine that it could have looked as it did and you will also have forgotten how it looked just 10 years ago.

Indian Rock Road prior to the 1950's Reconstruction

Indian Rock Road prior to the 1950’s Reconstruction