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massacre graphic In one bloody afternoon, a quarter of the colonists in what is now downtown Dover, NH were gone -- 23 killed, 29 captured in a revenge attack by native warriors. In one afternoon, 50 years of peaceful co-existence between the Penacook tribe and European colonists ended. The ìmassacreî of 1689 entered the history books along with similar accounts throughout the Seacoast. With three-quarters of the native population afflicted by white diseases, dead or driven out of their ancestral homeland, the next half century brought the final gasps of protest against the unending "white tide" of settlers. The final attacks were felt sharply in Lee, Durham, Nottingham, Exeter, Salmon Falls, Rochester, Newmarket, Kingston and nearby Maine villages of Eliot and York. By 1770 the attacks were over. the Indians were gone and their 10,000 year reign along the Piscataqua rivers had ended.

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The Path from Peace

Passaconaway, the Penacook chieftain, deserves credit for enforcing a lengthy peace with the whites who first settled the city near Great Bay at Dover Point in 1623. He demanded tolerance from his people, as did his son Wonalancet who succeeded as Sagamore in 1665. As Dover's biggest landowner, British emigrant Richard Walderne (Waldron) assumed the role of local leader. and representative to the Boston Court. By the 1660s Waldron had convinced 43 families to live deeper inland at the lower Cochecho falls. Waldron settled where the Dover downtown nills now stand. Here Waldron built his own early sawmill, grist and corn mills and the areaís only trading post. Records show Waldron was accused, but not convicted of selling liquor to the natives and for cheating them in trades.

In Massachusetts to the south a Wompanaug chief nicknamed ìKing Philipî declared open warfare on Europeans in 1675. Rather than chose sides, Wonalancet sequestered his Penacook people until the defeat of King Philip, then signed a treaty with Waldron who by now had advanced to the rank of "major." When 200 native survivors from King Phillipís War fled to the Cochecho area, Waldron was required to capture and turn them over to visiting Boston authorities. This was a tricky situation, since he had just renewed a peace treaty with Wonalancet, and 200 local natives were then gathered in the Dover mill area.

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Waldron's Mock War

Waldron's inspired solution became his undoing. He suggested a "sham battle;" the white soldiers would appear to battle the Indians and, legend says, natives were allowed to borrow a cannon with which to ìdefendî themselves. On September 6, 1689, in what is today a drugstore parking lot, Cochecho and Boston militia surrounded the Indians and, likely without loss of life, separated the local natives from the Massachusetts warriors. These 200 natives were marched to Boston where some were hanged and some were sold as slaves. Waldrene had saved Wonalancetís men and the Cochecho pioneers. But the New Hampshire natives felt betrayed, and their personal animosity toward Waldron was not forgotten.

King Philip's War ended with Indian losses reported at 3,000. In New Hampshire, Wonalancet was succeeded by Chief Kangamagus, a man more inclined toward action than negotiation. Whites were demanding more land and their treatment of natives was sometimes harsh. In exchange for the loss of their hunting grounds, native families were each paid one peck of corn annually. Indians were required to lay down their guns in sight of any English person. No native could travel paths east of the Merrimack River without a certificate from Major Waldron. Racial tension increased. Farmers carried rifles into the work fields. Houses on strategic high points in town were fortified. Historians estimate that by 1684 there were 50 heavily protected or "garrisoned" houses within 15 miles of Dover. In Cochecho, with a population of 200 whites, workers secured the homes of Peter Coffin, his son Tristram Coffin, Richard Otis, the "Widow" Heard and, of course, Major Waldron. Rifles protruded through tiny holes in the thick walls behind sharp palisade fences. Women were trained to pour boiling water though loose boards on the second story onto an attacking enemy below.

Advance word of Penacooks massing for battle on Cochecho was known as far away as Chelmsford, Massachusetts. The vendetta against Waldron was described in a warning letter from Chelmsford that arrived by courier in Dover on June 28 -- just one day too late. Waldron, aware of the tensions, reported told his townsfolk that he could assemble 100 men simply by lifting his finger. "Go plant your pumpkins," were his legendary last words. On June 27 an Indian squaw appeared at four of the five Cochecho garrisons requesting shelter for the night. Because it was a common request, they were taken in.

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The Attack

That night each undefended garrison was opened silently from the inside and the Penacook war parties rushed in. Waldron, then 74, is said to have wielded his sword in defense. He was tied to a chair and cut across the chest repeatedly as each warrior symbolically "crossed out" his trading account with the distrusted merchant. His ears and nose were cut off and shoved into his mouth. After he was forced to fall on his own sword, the attackers cut off his hand. The garrison was burned and his family killed or captured.

The Otis family garrison fared no better. The blacksmith, his son and a daughter were killed while his wife Grizel, an infant Christine and two grandchildren were kidnapped to Canada. Elizabeth Heard was lucky. The widow, her three sons and their families, had been out of town on a fortuitous sail up the Cochecho River to Portsmouth. Her house, on Dover's highest point, today called Garrison Hill, was successfully defended by a neighbor William Wentworth.

Across the river, the Coffins too survived, escaping while their garrisons were looted. Peter Coffin later shows up in the record books 15 miles away in Exeter, NH where he became one of the region's wealthiest land and mill owners. A half dozen other Cochecho homes were burned, out by morning, there was no sign of Kangamagus' men. The Otis grandchildren were recovered far away in Conway to the north.

Still the most harrowing survival account belongs to the last child of Richard Otis. Abducted to Canada, where the descendants of New Hampshire's last Abenaki tribes live today. Christine was raised by French nuns in Quebec, She returned to Dover with her husband in 1735 and established a house of "public entertainment" in Tuttle Square. Three months old when she was kidnapped at the "Cochecho Massacre," Christine Otis Baker first set foot in the town of her birth at the age of 45.

By J. Dennis Robinson,
© 1997 by All rights reserved.

Source: Abridged from an article by Cathleen C. Beaudoin and distributed by The Northam Colonists of Dover, 1989.

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