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Thomsons were First NH Settlers in 1623
Portsmouth, NH Settled in 1623 /

Portsmouth loves to flaunt its founding date. A big new chunk of granite at the corner of Deer and Market Streets welcomes visitors to the city, settled in 1623. One might infer from the carved stone that the first European settlers climbed ashore at this very spot. They didn’t. (Full article below)

As far as we know, David Thomson [also Thompson], his wife Amias, and a party of perhaps seven to 10 indentured servants landed their ship Jonathan at what is now Odiorne Point in Rye in April of 1623.

The claim is arguably correct. Rye and other surrounding towns were once part of the New Hampshire settlement officially named Portsmouth in 1653. Rye and New Castle split off in 1769. Portsmouth didn’t think much about its birthday until Plymouth, Massachusetts held a big bicentennial celebration in 1820. Not to be ignored, Portsmouth threw its own founder’s day festivities three years later in 1823, branding the 1623 settlement date in the process.

NH’s Forgotten First Family

But while Portsmouth loves its birth date, it doesn’t give a cranberry for its founding family. They are rarely mentioned or memorialized today. The Thomsons established a small plantation, trading post and fish drying factory near the entrance to Little Harbor called Pannaway and – if you don’t count 10,000 years of Native American occupation -- they built New Hampshire’s first house there.

We have an eyewitness description of Pannaway from Samuel Maverick, a Royalist who came to Boston Harbor in 1624. He says Thomson built

"a strong and large House, enclosing it with a large and high Palizado [a defensive wall made from poles] with Mounted Gunns and being stored extraordinarily with shot and Ammunition was a Terror to the Indians."

So New Hampshire’s first home was an armed fort erected on well-defended high ground. There was likely a salt works, wooden racks or "flakes" for drying fish, a blacksmith shop and possibly quarters for the "lustie young fellows" who did the heavy lifting. A later witness described Piscataqua House (Pannaway) as made of stone, but historians suggest that the stone may have been a tall and sturdy foundation. No trace of the original Rye settlement survives.

In 1631, John Mason of Portsmouth, England sent an advance team to settle at Strawbery Banke two miles up the Piscataqua River, now Portsmouth’s South End. They found Thomson’s house at Rye largely abandoned, claimed it, and moved in. Then they built a large wooden Great House across from what is now Prescott Park for a rag tag group of about 75 settlers. No trace of that structure survives either.

CONTINUE The First Family of New Hampshire

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News about Portsmouth from

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 
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