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How Massachusetts Almost Ate New Hampshire


A NH buffer zone

So here's where the story heats up. The aggressive and intolerant Puritans had been encroaching on Maine since 1650 under Cromwell. Now they had taken legal control according to British law. Charles II, restored to the throne, was very unhappy.

King Charles II restored to the Monarchy"The English government was so pissed off at them [Massachusetts Bay Colony] that they created New Hampshire," Daniel says.

New Hampshire was a centralized New England neutral area or buffer zone where Royalists could come and go unmolested. Charles II set up John Cutt of Portsmouth as "president" of the new royal colony of New Hampshire in 1679. That temporarily removed this region from Mass Bay control. It didn't last long.

John Cutt died. Charles II died. It gets really confusing for a couple of decades here. The heirs of Captain John Mason in England, who held the original English charter, tried to reclaim control of New Hampshire.  And the next king, James II, tried to turn all the New England charters in one big happy royal colony and then govern it from 3,000 miles away. That was called "The Dominion of New England" with included New Hampshire, but the concept was a flop.

Even though the Mass Bay charter was revoked, they continued to govern weak little New Hampshire anyway. Then James II was branded a Catholic, fled from England, and was replaced by monarchs William and Mary. By then England and France were in a protracted war. Indian attacks, spurred by the French, crippled the New England area as the natives tried to push English settlements back to where they started. It's a real mess, historically, and that's why few residents understand early Granite State history.

Jere Daniell passed around a map showing the high-water mark of Massachusetts expansion. In 1691 King William III reorganized the map with a new "crown colony." The charter created a monstrous new "Province of Massachusetts Bay" unified the old Mass Bay Colony with Plymouth Colony, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, the district gigantic of Maine, plus all of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in modern day Canada.

"That was all Massachusetts!" Daniell said, handing out maps to everyone in his audience last week. "New Hampshire was only a pimple."


 Old grudges die hard

Canada was Massachusetts land only in theory. The northern territory, including parts of future New Hampshire and Maine, was by rights Wabanaki land, but the imaginary borders shifted as war raged between France and England. The Massachusetts map quickly retracted as the French, who got along better with the Indians, regained title to Nova Scotia in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.  (Americans would later make many attempts to invade Canada in the coming wars with England.)

Are you still with me? That European Treaty of Utrecht is important. It ended 24 years of hostilities between England and France. But it meant that the Wabanaki now had to work things out with the king and queen of England. And where was the royal English safety zone in New England? That's right, New Hampshire.

It was just three months after the Treaty of Utrecht that Wabanaki leaders agreed to come together to sign another peace treaty with the British. The ceremony and the negotiations were important to the Indians. The British were all about the paperwork, the land boundaries, and the fine points of the law. They wanted the Indians to bow down to the English king, to admit defeat, and behave. The important three-day peace negotiations were held, not in the Province of Massachusetts, but in the burgeoning Province of New Hampshire. Portsmouth was finally on the map.

"If the war between France and England had gone differently," Jere Daniell speculates, "New Hampshire probably would have been re-absorbed into Massachusetts."

But Portsmouth eventually slipped free of the Mass Bay grip. You can thank the Indians for making this an important meeting place. And you can thank the trees for making the province profitable. New Hampshire, which at this point extended as far west as New York, had valuable forest resources. The English kings needed the tall straight pine that came from seemingly endless forests. The white pine made ideal masts for the ships in the expanding British navy.

With the Indian threat reduced, the population of Portsmouth expanded. Some of its merchants, entrepreneurs, and sea captains grew rich.  They built big mansions along the Piscataqua River. Visitors to the 1716 Warner House on Daniel Street can still see colorful wall murals depicting life-sized Native Americans, although they are Mowhawk, not Wabanaki.

Between 1741 and the American Revolution, New Hampshire got two full-time royal governors. Both were named Wentworth, and they were only too happy to provide the tall timber, for a fee, shipped from our only seaport.

Massachusetts held onto Maine until it became a state in 1820, but northern New Englanders are still a tad resentful of the Puritan attempt at New World domination. We still call that place "Taxachusetts." We act like Bay State tourists are an invasive species and we've booby-trapped the Massachusetts border with a string of state liquor stores.

Old grudges die hard. I was biking to the public library just yesterday to pick up a copy of Jere Daniell's book Colonial New Hampshire. I still have a lot to learn from him.

I was riding through Market Square traffic when the driver of a big SUV blasted his horn at a couple of pedestrians inching along the crosswalk by the North Church.

"Must be a Massachusetts' driver," one of the women laughed. "They think they own everything."

Which reminds me of that joke about the  four guys from New England who were riding in the back seat of a car speeding down the highway. The guy from Maine had a big crate of potatoes with him. "Ah, we got too many potatoes in Maine," he said, and chucked the spuds out the window. The guy from Vermont, who had many jugs of maple syrup, said, "And we got too much maple syrup in Vermont." So he tossed the jugs out the window. The guy from New Hampshire, seeing this, thought for a moment. Then he tossed the guy from Massachusetts out the window.


Copyright © 2013 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site He is the author of 11 books including UNDER THE ISLES OF SHOALS and AMERICA’S PRIVATEER, available on and in local stores. 




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