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Recently my wife and I went over to New Hampshire. Arriving Sunday night at a sprawling inn near Mount Manadnock,where I was to participate in a four-day storytelling workshop. It was the most time we’d spent in New Hampshire in some time, and I had a chance to see up close the way they do things over there beyond our western border.
I realized that even though we live in the same part of the country, have the same type of geographic elements -- lots of rocks -- and our populations are pretty similar -- a mix of English, Irish, Scott, Scandinavian and French Canadian -- our two states are quite different. Even though a border can be an arbitrary line drawn on a map it can have a profound effect on what eventually happens on each side of that line. Why do they do things so differently over there to our west?
I began an informal search for a possible answer at the beautiful Peterborough, N.H., Historical Society. For starters, I learned that the society’s stately building was made possible through the generosity of a Marshall Field heiress who summered in the area around the beginning of the 20th century. I wondered: Do New Hampshire folks have more generous “summer complaints” than we do? Maybe they’re just better at getting money out of them. If our summer visitors were more generous, we might stop calling them complaints. Maybe.
The region we now call New Hampshire was first explored by Martin Pring around 1603 and Samuel de Champlain in 1605. In 1620, the Council for New England, formerly the Plymouth Company, received a royal grant of land between 40 degrees north latitude and 48 degrees north latitude. One of the council's leaders, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, formed a partnership with Capt. John Mason and in 1622 obtained rights between the Merrimack and Kennebec rivers, then called the province of Maine. So we started off together with the same impressive royal land grant.
After the two men had a falling out in 1629, Mason took the area between the Piscataqua and the Merrimack, naming it New Hampshire. Portsmouth was founded in 1630. Through claims based on a misinterpretation of its charter, Massachusetts (who else?) annexed New Hampshire between around 1641 and although New Hampshire was proclaimed a royal colony in 1679, Massachusetts continued to press land claims until the two colonies finally agreed on the eastern and southern boundaries. Maybe that’s the first thing we did wrong. We never insisted on being recognized as a royal colony. Although New Hampshire and Massachusetts were technically “independent” of each other, the crown insisted on appointing a single man to govern both colonies. Maine never had a royal governor. Some say we never got over it.
The French and Indian Wars had prevented colonization in both Maine and New Hampshire, but after the war, they say, a land rush began in the Granite Colony. Lumber camps were set up and sawmills were built along the streams. The Scotch-Irish settlers had already started the textile industry by growing flax and weaving linen. By the time of the Revolution many of the inhabitants had tired of British rule and were eager for independence. In December 1774, a band of patriots overpowered Fort William and Mary (later Fort Constitution) and secured the arms and ammunition for their cause.
New Hampshire was the first colony to declare its independence from Great Britain and to establish its own government in January of 1776. It was the ninth and last necessary state to ratify the new Constitution of the United States in 1788. New Hampshire's northern boundary was fixed in 1842 the same way Maine’s was -- with the Webster-Ashburton Treaty.
All the other political and cultural differences would come later, like their thing about the Old Man of the Mountain, their first in the nation lottery, their coveted first in the nation primary and all the rest of it.
Could Martin Pring be responsible for all our differences? Could be.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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