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Old Odiorne Point Cemetery

Old Odioren Point Cemetery
THE GRAVE SITE

Like us, you may have missed this historic site, perhaps the oldest cemetery in the state near where the first NH settlers landed in 1623. Here you will find a meticulously cared-for family cemetery and the slightly puzzling monument to NH’s first European resident David Thomson. It’s a complex and still murky story in a practically unknown Seacoast location. Could it be the state’s most historic site?

 

 

Jump  directly to PHOTOS

Odiorne Cemetery and David Thomson Monument
Rye, NH

Location: Route 1A in Rye between the entrance to the Odiorne Park small boat launch and main entrance on the opposite side of the street. Follow the path between the 1880 Odiorne family house and barn/ greenhouse.

The Odiorne family obtained this land in Rye soon after 1660 when Portsmouth’s early settlers divided the town land among its key citizens. The Oriorne’s lived at "Pascataway" that historians believe was the first European site in New Hampshire, established as a fishing outpost in 1623 by David Thomson. For eight generations the Odiorne family farmed here. A plaque outside the 100 X 60 feet graveyard reads as follows:

"Two hundred and eight-two years of Odiorne ownership led to the use of the family name for Odiorne Point State Park. During World War II, the property was a coastal defense known as Fort Dearborne."

Map from NH State Parks/ Colonial Dames

The wording is elusive. In fact, the federal government took the extensive Odiorne property (and 17 other family houses) by eminent domain. When the war was over and the family attempted to recover its ancestral lands, the farm was given instead to the state of New Hampshire, a source of great heartbreak to the Odiorne family. Luckily for us at least, this scenic site at the mouth of the Piscataqua is now a well-maintained state park.

Goseacoast.comIn 1899 the Colonial Dames, a national historic preservation group, established a monument to NH settler David Thomson, who arrived here in 1623 with his wife Amais and small group of fishermen. Thomson was gone by 1626 and his "plantation" was taken over by the early settlers of Strawbery Banke down the river in 1630. The monument to Thomson used to be on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It was moved about 1,000 feet in 1955 to the Odiorne Cemetery across the street. Although the cemetery is well maintained by the Colonial Dames and the state of NH, and despite excellent interpretive signs, the site is not listed in any guide we could find. IT may not be publicized for security reasons, but it also, sadly, largely unseen by the public.

The third Odiorne farmhouse, built in 1800, is still standing and the grounds show some ancient details including an old well site, orchards and stone walls. A new interpretive environmental trail nearby offers details about salt marshes with views of Seavey Creek.

Besides a few Odiorne family tombstones dating from early 1800s, it is not clear exactly who else is buried here. The interpretive plaque notes vaguely that the burial ground is "one of the oldest in the state". Many of what appear to be ancient graves are marked with rough stones as was a colonial practice before the creation of carved stones later in the 17th century. Are these really ancient markers or just rocks? Historian Charles Brewster, writing in the early 1800s, said "Odiorne’s Point should be respected as our Plymouth Rock." New Hampshire, however, has never chosen to honor its first settler in any significant way. Even the monument placed in 1899 has been moved out of public view. Brewster goes on to say:

Thomson Memorial in its original location at Rye, NH / SeacoastNH.com"This first cemetery of the white man in New Hampshire occupies a space of perhaps 100 feet by 60, and is well walled in. The western side is now used as a burial place for the family, but two-thirds of it is filled with perhaps forty graves, indicated by-rough head and foot stones Who there rests no one now living knows. But the same care is taken of their quiet beds as if they were of the proprietor's own family. Large trees have grown up there - one of them, an ancient walnut, springs from over one of the graves. In 1631 Mason sent over about eighty emigrants, many of whom died in a few years, and here they were probably buried. Here too doubtless rest the remains of several of those whose names stand conspicuous in our early State records."

Whether this burial ground is as old as Brewster believed is unknown. It is a good distance from the shore and miles from the 1631 Great House that was near modern Prescott Park. The Odiorne sites is still aswell-kept and as well-kept a state sectret as it was when Brewster visited nearly two centuries before. -- JDR

RELATED LINKS:

NH State Park web site
Odiorne Park map
Seacoast Science Center web site
Odiorne Genealogy web site
Brewster’s Rambles article on Odiorne Point
About David Thomson 

CONTINUE for PHOTO TOUR of Odiorne Cemetery


 
DAVID THOMSON MONUMENT  (Continued)

 

1880 Odiorne Farm, Rye NH, the route to the Odiorne cemetery / SeacoastNH.com

Odiorne Cemetery / SeacoastNH.com

Early 19th century Odiorne grave markers in Rye, NH / SeacoastNH.com 

David Thomson Monumnet was moved hre in 1955 / SeacoastNH.com

CONTINUE for PHOTO TOUR of Odiorne Cemetery


 
DAVID THOMSON MONUMENT  (Continued)

 

Grave markers of NH's first settlers? / SeacoastNH.com

David Thomson )Thompson) Memorial / SeacoastNH.com

 

Early well at Odiorne Farm, Rye, NH / SeacoastNH.com

Greenhouse and barn at Odiorne family farm now run by NH State Parks / SeacoastNH.com

Seavey Creek salt marsh walk, Rye, NH / SeacoastNH.com

All photos (c) SeacoastNH.com.

BONUS: BACKSTORY TO THIS WEB PAGE

 

WHERE IS THOMSON MEMORIAL?
Dear SeacoastNH.com: I have been searching through your site and many others to find the location of the monument to the first settlers of NH. Have found much info but nothing that tells me exactly where the monument is located if one wanted to see it. Do you know where this is? Is it original location , has it been moved, some articles just say Rye, another says Portsmouth or Portsmouth Harbor, and another I found, although not recently, says Prescott Park. Any help you can provide is appreciated.
Joan Carlson

EDITOR’S REPLY: We aim to please. Following your note we took an entire day to seek out the elusive monument and post this web page with photos. New Hampshire has once again done an incredible job of hiding its historic light under a bushel. But the monument, moved in 1955, is still well cared for in a cemetery in the woods of Rye, not far from the assumed landing site of the first European settlers. Now what we really need is a monument to the thousands of Native Americans who died in the great pandemic (up to 95% of New England natives were killed in the early 1600s by viruses brought by European visitors). And one to Passaconaway who maintained peace in the region for the first 50 years of settlement. Seems all the good stories never get told which is why our view of history is so inaccurate, and our image of America so warped. SeacoastNH.com is dedicated to setting the record straight. Pass that on.-- JDR

 

 

 

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