Join us at 1220 Battle Street in Webster for an open house of the Webster Historical Society, Coffin Cellars Country Winery, and New Hampshire Bowl and Board Store, October 30, 1-5 PM. For more information, see websterhistoricalsociety.org.
The land we call New Hampshire today was a different place before European settlers arrived. It was prime real estate to the settlers of the Massachusetts Bay. In the first generations after the Mayflower, Massachusetts Bay immigrants settled along the seacoast from Maine to New York. As the population increased and farm land became more scarce, settlers began migrating along rivers and starting new towns in western Massachusetts, eastern New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Quebec. By the very early 1800’s, these Yankee transplants were starting new towns in the Midwest.
But back in 1732, eighty-one citizens of Newbury, MA petitioned for a grant of land “Laying on the Marymeck River Beginning at Pennacuck Upper Line and so run eight mile up ye Rever and Three Mile on ye E[a]st & Four Mile on ye West side of s[aid] River.” The Massachusetts Bay granted the petition, describing rivers and trees as boundary markers. The petitioners were required to settle 81 families there within four years, each with 1/84th part of the land, with a share left for a settled minister, a school, and a meeting house.
The first settlers left Newbury for the Contoocook intervale (later named Boscawen) in the spring of 1734. Charles Carleton Coffin’s “History of Boscawen and Webster,” 1878, says the route was from Newbury to Haverhill, or Hampstead to Nutfield (Derry), then to Amoskeag Falls, and from there following the Merrimack River to the Penacook Ferry, established in 1731. Another route, from Newbury to Chester and then to Pembroke, had been blazed through the woods in 1726, but the road through Derry was the one most traveled.
To the north of this new plantation lay unbroken wilderness up to Canada. Hunters and explorers had traveled the Merrimack River, but no settler had broken sod and started farming further north. King Street in Boscawen was the edge of civilization. To the east, no settlement had been established between Boscawen and Rochester. Canterbury was settled the same year, but it was virtually one settlement with Boscawen separated by a river. Salisbury’s first settlement was in 1750. To the west, Hopkinton was settled in 1740, but abandoned in 1746 after Indians entered the garrison there in April and captured Samuel Burbank, his sons Caleb and Jonathan, and David Woodwell, his wife, and three children.
Thomas Cook built the first house in the wilds of western Boscawen, the lands west of Beaver Dam Brook which became Webster in 1860. Cook abandoned his Mutton Road cabin when Indian hostilities began, and was killed by Indians in May 1746 at Clay Hill, along with Caesar, a slave to Rev. Mr. Stevens. Another man, Elisha Jones, was taken prisoner, carried to Canada with the Hopkinton captives, and sold to a Frenchman. He died while a prisoner.
The second house was built by Edward Emery. Edward was born Newbury, MA 1694, son of Jonathan and Mary (Woodman) Emery. Edward married Sarah Sibley, born Salem, MA 1699, daughter of Samuel and Sarah (Wells) Sibley. They moved to Boscawen in 1733, but thinking to obtain his venison nearby, Edward chose to settle his family in the woods on Corser Hill. The family had taken refuge at the garrison when hostilities began in 1746. The Indians rifled their home, and it appears the family never re-occupied it. Edward Emery and Ezekiel Flanders (son of Jacob and Mercy (Clough) Flanders) were killed by Indians in 1756 while hunting beaver at Newfound Lake. Edward and Sarah had eight children, and their descendants include the Emery, Burbank, Noyes, Carter, and Jackman families.
Capt. Peter Coffin erected a house on Water Street about 1768. Peter was born Newbury, MA 1722, son of John and Judith (Greenleaf) Coffin. He married Rebecca Haseltine, born Chester, NH 1741, daughter of Thomas and Joanna (Hills) Haseltine. Their house became a stopping place for all new settlers, and Capt. Coffin was known as the poor man’s friend who “… never made a man’s necessity his own opportunity.” Both Peter and Rebecca were ardent Revolutionary patriots. Peter served in Capt. Peter Kimball’s march to Bennington, with Rebecca outfitting shirtless soldiers before they marched off. Peter died suddenly in 1789, Rebecca in 1819; both are buried in Maplegrove Cemetery in Boscawen. Peter and Rebecca had seven children, and their descendants include the Coffin, Carleton, Little, Kilborn, Bartlett, Sawyer, and Cogswell families.
Another early settler was John Corser, born Newbury, MA about 1718, the son of John Corser (born Scotland about 1678) and Tabitha Kenney. He came with his father to Boscawen in 1735, later settling in Kingston, and then to Corser Hill about 1764. John married Jane Nichols, born Amesbury, MA 1721, the daughter of Jonathan and Mary (Challis) Nichols. They had nine children, and are buried in Corser Hill Cemetery. Their descendants include the families of Corser, Eastman, Fellows, Priestly, Parks, Bohannon, Anthony, Foss, Briggs, FitzGerald “Gerald,” Wetherbee, Hoyt “Hoit,” Davis, Adams, Burbank, Sherburn, Greeley, Shattuck, Danforth, Clark, Fisk, Gookin, Dutton, Elliot, Call, Downing, Plummer, and Sweatt.
The first settler of Little Hill was Enoch Little, born Newbury, MA 1728, son of Tristram and Sarah (Dole) Little. He married (1) Sarah Pettingill, born about 1730 and who died 1758, leaving two children. Enoch married (2) Hannah Hovey, born Newbury, MA 1733/4, daughter of Samuel and Mary (Ilsley) Hovey. Enoch and Hannah had nine more children, and built a home on Little Hill in 1774. Their nearest neighbor was miles away through an unbroken forest, and they were very poor. Their son Enoch Jr. wrote that some children had to go barefoot, and that he wrapped his feet in swingling tow (the course part of flax) and stood on a chip while cutting trees in midwinter. Enoch Sr. was a weaver, and also learned to make shoes. He died in 1816, Hannah died in 1801; both were buried at the Meeting House Cemetery, and removed to Corser Hill Cemetery when the Meeting House was moved in 1942 to make way for building Blackwater Dam. Their descendants include the families of Little, Couch, Sweatt, Kimball, Smith, Burbank, Call, Jackman, Carter, Gerrish, Bartlett, Story, Brown, Pillsbury, Sargent, Sawyer, and more.
Among the hunters who forayed from Boscawen to the north woods was then 24-year old John Stark, who parents were immigrants from Ireland. In April 1752, Stark and fellow hunters William Stark, David Stinson, and Amos Eastman, were surprised by Abenaki warriors while checking their traps along the Baker River. Stinson was killed, William Stark escaped, and Eastman was taken prisoner to Canada with John Stark. Stark spent the year learning Indian ways before a government agent from the Massachusetts Bay paid ransom to free both him and Eastman. That education proved invaluable during the French and Indian Wars, and the American Revolution. General John Stark is famous for the battle of Bennington in 1777, where he reportedly said to his men, “Tonight the American flag floats over yonder hill or Molly Stark sleeps a widow!” In 1809, unable to attend a gathering of Bennington veterans, General Stark sent a letter to his comrades which closed with “Live free or die. Death is not the worst of evils.”
~ Barbara Corliss is a member of the Webster Historical Society (websterhistoricalsociety.org), and a genealogist. Her research is publicly available at familyrecord.net.