New Hampshire Colony Facts


Facts about the history, geography, and people of Colonial New Hampshire, which was one of the 13 Colonies that declared independence from Great Britain. New Hampshire started in 1623 and spent many years under the control of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Benning Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire

Benning Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire and architect of the New Hampshire Grants. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Essential Facts About Colonial New Hampshire

The establishment of the New Hampshire Colony started in 1622 when the Council for New England gave a grant to Captain John Mason and Sir Ferdinando Gorges for the territory between the Merrimack River and Kennebec River. Mason and Gorges sponsored an expedition to their territory for the purpose of establishing a colony with fishing operations and trading posts. 

New Hampshire Colony was established in 1623 when the expedition started two settlements along the Piscataqua River. The first settlement was started by David Thomson at Odiorne’s Point, near present-day Rye. It was called “Pannaway Plantation.” The other settlement was established by brothers Edward and William Hilton. They settled “Cocheco Plantation,” which became present-day Dover. Pannaway Plantation did not last, but Dover did and more settlements followed. 

In 1629, Mason and Gorges divided the territory in the colony, and Mason was given a grant for his portion, which he called “New Hampshire.” Afterward, the colony started to expand. Strawbery Banke was settled in 1630 and became Portsmouth. Exeter and Hampton followed in 1638. By 1640, the coast of colonial New Hampshire was dominated by four major towns — Dover, Portsmouth, Exeter, and Hampton. 

For the next 100 years, New Hampshire was plagued by conflicts with Native American Indians, border disputes with Massachusetts, and a lack of oversight due to the death of John Mason. During that century, the lack of involvement from Mason’s heirs and a series of confusing land grants saw New Hampshire fall under the control of Massachusetts and, for a short time, the Dominion of New England. In 1741, King George II established New Hampshire as an independent province and appointed Benning Wentworth as Governor.

New Hampshire has been known as the Province of New Hampshire, the Upper Province of Massachusetts, the Upper Plantation of Massachusetts, and New Hampshire Colony.

Odiorne's Point, Marker for First Settlement, New Hampshire
Odiorne’s Point, Marker for First Settlement, New Hampshire. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Early European Settlements in New Hampshire

  • The first European settlements in New Hampshire were English trading posts and fisheries near present-day Rye and Dover.
  • David Thomson, a Scottish merchant, established the first trading post and fishery, known as Pannaway Plantation, in 1623.
  • A second trading post was established at Dover, a few miles upriver from Pannaway Plantation, by the Hilton Brothers in 1623.
  • Dover was the first permanent English settlement in New Hamsphire and is the 7th-oldest settlement in the United States.
  • Exeter was settled on April 3, 1638, by Reverend Thomas Wheelwright and Puritan religious dissidents from Massachusetts.
  • Hampton was settled on October 14, 1638, and chartered by the Massachusetts General Court on December 24, 1639.

Other Colonies in the Piscataqua River Valley

There were no other colonies started in the Piscataqua River Valley, other than the four major plantations — Dover, Portsmouth, Exeter, and Hampton. Dover considered itself an autonomous colony — Dover Colony — for many years, until the first merger with Massachusetts.

Growth and Expansion of New Hampshire Colony

After the death of John Mason in 1635, control of his land passed to his family. However, his heirs failed to act on them, and settlers and former employees of Mason made claims on the land. In 1638, the Laconia Company went bankrupt.

By 1640, due to the lack of oversight, Massachusetts extended its jurisdiction to New Hampshire and it became the “Upper Province of Massachusetts.”

In 1643, New Hampshire joined the New England Confederation, along with the other Puritan colonies in New England.

In 1673, the Massachusetts General Court approved the settlement of the town of Dunstable.

In 1679, King Charles II issued a commission to John Cutt, authorizing him to set up a government for New Hampshire. New Hampshire was separated from Massachusetts and became a Royal Province.

King Charles II, Crowned at Westminster Abbey
This painting depicts the crowning of King Charles II. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Dominion of New England was established in 1686. The New England Colonies were joined together under the administration of Governor Joseph Dudley, who was succeeded by Edmund Andros. The Dominion collapsed in 1689 and most of the colonies returned to government under their previous charters. 

When the Dominion collapsed, the New Hampshire towns initially resumed self-government, as they were prior to the merger with Massachusetts. There was an attempt in January 1690 to form a new colonial government, but Hampton decided not to participate.

After threats from Native American Indian tribes, the four New Hampshire towns asked Massachusetts to provide “government and protection,” as it had before the Cutt Commission. Massachusetts agreed and New Hamsphire rejoined Massachusetts. However, there was dissension from Hampton, which wanted to have more independence so it could manage its own affairs.

New Hampshire’s independence was restored on March 1, 1692, when Samuel Allen was given a commission as Governor of the colony. Allen remained in England and his son-in-law, John Usher, oversaw the colony as Lieutenant-Governor.

In 1699, Richard Coote, the Earl of Bellomont, was named Governor of Massachusetts, and also Governor of New Hampshire, replacing Allen. This arrangement, where the two colonies shared the Governor, continued until 1740, once again tying New Hampshire to Massachusetts.

In the first two decades of the 1700s, more immigrants from Europe moved to New Hampshire. They started settlements further north and west in New Hampshire, including Londonderry in 1719.

In 1736, the Massachusetts General Court issued grants for 26 new settlements in the upper portion of the Connecticut River Valley. One of those settlements, No. 4, was the northernmost colonial settlement in colonial America.

In 1740, Benning Wentworth was named Governor of New Hampshire by King George II. New Hampshire was once again separated from Massachusetts. 

In 1746, a group of investors bought the deeds to the land claimed by the Mason heirs. The “Masonian Proprietors” issued land grants for towns to be settled on their land. The first was Goffstown, which was granted on December 3, 1748. Over time, the Proprietors established around 40 new towns.

Starting in 1749, Governor Wentworth started selling grants for land west of the Connecticut River. This territory was known as the “New Hampshire Grants” and created controversy with New York, which thought the territory was within its borders. During the French and Indian War, Wentworth paused the sale of grants but resumed in 1761. Wentworth established more than 100 towns in the Grants. The dispute between the people living in the Grants and the authorities in New York led to armed conflict. The settlers in the grants were led by Ethan Allen, Seth Warner, and the Green Mountain Boys. Eventually, the New Hampshire Grants became Vermont.

New Hampshire Land Grants and Commissions

The history of New Hampshire is complex. The formation of the colony started with land grants that gave property rights to John Mason, Ferdinando Gorges, and the Laconia Company. The purpose of those grants was to allow the company to establish fishing operations on their property, not necessarily to create settlements that needed government and religious oversight. The land grants were given by the Council for New England. A grant given to Mason in 1629 was the first to refer to the territory as “Hampshire.”

The first government for the colony was set up by King Charles II in a commission that was issued to John Cutt on September 18, 1679. Prior to that, each of the settlements had its own government, or the colony was under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts.

Gorges-Mason Grant of 1622

The first grant was issued on August 10, 1622, and is known as the “Gorges-Mason Grant of 1622.” It was a contract between the President and Council of New England, Gorges, and Mason for “the making of a plantation and establishing a colony or colonies in ye country called or knowne by ye names of New-England in America.” 

The territory was defined as “all that part of the main land in New-England lying upon the sea-coast betwixt ve rivers of Merrimack and Sagadahock and to the furthest heads of the said rivers, and soe forwards up into the land westward until three-score miles be finished from ye first entrance of the aforesaid rivers, and halfway over; that is to say, to the midst of the said two rivers web bounds and limitts the lands aforesaid together wit all the islands and isletts within five leagues distance of ye premises and abutting upon ye same or any part or parcell thereof.”

Mason’s New Hampshire Grant of 1629

In 1629, Mason and Gorges divided the territory from the 1623 grant. On November 7, 1629, King Charles I issued a grant to Mason. It was a contract between the King, the Council of New England, and Mason for the “makeing a Plantation & establishing of a Colony or Colonyes in the Countrey called or knowen by ye name of New England in America” and the territory was called “Hampshire.”

John Cutt Commission of 1679 Establishing the Province of New Hampshire

On September 18, 1679, King Charles II issued a commission to John Cutt that officially separated New Hamsphire from Massachusetts. The commission is officially titled, “The Commission constituting a President & Counsel for the Province of New Hampshire in New England.”

The commission states that Massachusetts extended its jurisdiction to include New Hampshire, but had no “legall right or authority so to do.” As a result, an “orderly Government” is needed in order to bring the inhabitants of the Province of New Hampshire under the immediate protection and oversight of the Crown, which would provide them with rights, liberties, and impartial justice in both civil and criminal cases. 

Although it is not a charter, the commission does set up a typical colonial government — a President, President’s Council, and a General Assembly. Further, since it was issued by King Charles II, it made New Hampshire Colony a Royal Province.

John Cutt was named the first President of the Council, and the term of his office was one year. Cutt and the existing members of the Council were instructed to select three more men to join the Council. The commission also authorized elections for a General Assembly. Cutt and all members of the President’s Council were Puritans, who supported New Hamphsire’s union with Massachusetts. Most of them were also opposed to the the claims of Mason’s heirs.

Facts About the Cutt Commission

Date Granted — King Charles II issued the commission to John Cutt on September 18, 1679.

First Government — The commission established the “President & Counsel for the Province of New Hampshire in New England” and set up the first government, which included a President, President’s Council, and General Assembly.

  • President — John Cutt was named the first President of New Hampshire’s Council.
  • Councilors — 6 men — Richart Martin, William Vaughan, Thomas Daniel, John Gilman, Christopher Hussey, and Richard Walden — were named to the Council. The final three members selected were Elias Stileman, Samuel Dalton, and Job Clemants.

Type of Charter and Colony — Because the commission was granted by the King, for the establishment of a government, it made New Hampshire a Royal Colony. Under the commission, New Hampshire was given the freedom to govern itself, as long as its laws were based on English law at the time.

Facts About Nature in New Hampshire Colony

Geography — New Hampshire Colony was located in New England. New Hampshire was bordered by Quebec (North), Maine and the Atlantic Ocean (East), Massachusetts (South), and New Netherland, later New York (West).

Most of the eastern side of New Hampshire was bordered by Maine, which was part of Massachusetts. However, the southeast corner of the colony, from Portsmouth in the north to Hampton in the south, was on the east coast, on the Atlantic Ocean.

The area that made up the New Hampshire Grants was the western half of colonial New Hamsphire. The Grants stretched westward, from the Connecticut River to the New York border.

Terrain — The terrain of New Hampshire Colony was rough and covered with forests, rivers, plateaus, and mountains. The soil was rocky, which made it difficult for farmers to cultivate fields and raise certain crops. The plentiful forests provided access to timber. New Hampshire features around 1,300 lakes and ponds, plus 40,000 miles of streams.

Climate — The New England region of Colonial America was the coldest of the three regions. Winters were cold and harsh, but the cold weather kept some diseases from spreading as much as they did in other colonies. The winters were broken up by long, hot summers.

Natural Resources — Access to rivers and the coast made fishing and whaling popular. The thick forests provided wood that was used for timber, including masts for ships. The forests were also full of animals that provided valuable furs for trade.

Facts About the Society in Colonial New Hampshire

Religion — Like Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Connecticut, religion in New Hampshire was dominated by Puritan Congregationalism. However, since the colony was not founded for religious purposes, there was some level of religious tolerance. As the colony expanded, so did the religious denominations. Quakers were found in both the Piscataqua River Valley and Connecticut River Valley. The Church of England was in Portsmouth and other places loyal to the Crown. The Scotch-Irish settlements, like Londonderry, were Presbyterian.

Industry — Although farming was difficult, the settlers were able to grow potatoes, once the Scotch-Irish settlements were founded. Farmers also produced corn, wheat, berries, apples, dairy products, leather, and maple syrup. Otherwise, timber, shipbuilding, and fishing were the dominant industries in New Hampshire Colony.

Economy — The economy of the colony was dependent on the Triangular Trade, and was dominated by timber, shipbuilding, and fishing. However, the Crown required the best timber to be sent to Britain, to be used for ship’s masts.

Slavery — The first documented enslaved person in colonial New Hampshire is found in 1645 when an African was purchased in Piscataqua. There was activity in the slave trade, especially at Portsmouth, where the colony’s only port was found. By 1682, the Cutts family of Portsmouth was trading slaves to William Fitzhugh of Virginia for tobacco. Unlike other colonies, New Hamsphire did not charge tariffs for slaves, so merchants would pay to have slaves shipped to Portsmouth and then smuggled to the colonies. Over time, slavery dwindled in the colony. When the American Revolutionary War started, New Hampshire offered bonuses to slave owners who freed their slaves — to fight in the Continental Army. By 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed, there were fewer than 50 enslaved people in New Hampshire.

Important People in Colonial New Hampshire

John Mason — Mason is considered the Founder of New Hampshire. He invested a significant amount of his own money in the colony, trying to make it a profitable fishing operation. Unfortunately, Mason never had the opportunity to see New Hampshire. He died in 1635.

David Thomson — Thomson and his wife Amias, along with a group of around 18 others — built Pannaway Plantation, starting in 1623. They were the first European settlers of Hampshire. Within three years, Thomson abandoned Pannaway and moved to an island in present-day Boston Harbor.

Edward and William Hilton — The Hilton brothers arrived in New Hampshire after Thomson and established a trading post a few miles upriver from Pannaway. They called it “Cocheco Plantation.” Over time, the town came to be known as Dover.

John Cutt — Cutt was the first Royal Governor of the Province of New Hampshire. On September 18, 1679, he received a commission from King Charles II that named him “President” of the colony and set up the first unified colonial government for New Hamsphire.

Benning Wentworth — Wentworth was named Governor of New Hampshire in 1740. He enacted a scheme for selling land grants in the territory west of the Connecticut River. New Hampshire had a weak claim to the land, so Wentworth sold the grants at a low price. The scheme allowed him to become one of the wealthiest men in Colonial America at the time.

Interesting Facts About New Hampshire Colony

Robert Rogers — America’s First Ranger

Robert Rogers was born in northeastern Massachusetts in 1731. When he was 8, his family moved to New Hampshire and lived on the frontier. His father called the settlement “Munterloney,” and it is present-day Dunbarton, New Hampshire. In 1746 and 1747, Rogers served in the New Hampshire Militia during King George’s War and helped defend the New Hampshire frontier. After the French and Indian War broke out in 1754, Rogers joined the Connecticut militia, which is where he first met Israel Putnam. In 1756, his commanding officer, Colonel Josiah Winslow, asked him to go to Portsmouth, New Hampshire to recruit men to fight in the war. The men served with him in his ranger unit, which was known as “Rogers Rangers.” Among the members of the unit was John Stark, who would go on to be a hero of the American Revolutionary War. Rogers developed a set of rules for his men to follow, which is called the “Rules of Ranging,” and is still part of the U.S. Army Ranger Handbook. Rogers had a controversial life, but his contributions to ranging are considered worthy of his being inducted into the United States Army Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992.

Robert Rogers, Portrait, Illustration
This illustration depicts Robert Rogers. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Eunice Cole — The Supposed Witch of Hampton, New Hampshire

Eunice Cole — or “Goody Cole” — emigrated from England with her husband William Cole. They eventually settled in Hampton, New Hampshire. While living in Hampton from 1656 to 1680, Goody Cole was accused of witchcraft three times. In 1656, she was charged with afflicting people she knew, and was found guilty by the court in Boston. However, instead of being put to death, in accordance with the law, the court ordered her to be whipped and imprisoned. She was released from prison and her husband died soon after. Although she was supposed to leave New Hampshire, she refused, and continued to cause trouble. She was accused of witchcraft again in 1673 and found innocent of the charges. In 1680, her neighbors accused her of being a witch for the third time. Again, she was found innocent. However, in October 1680, she was found dead in her home. Legend has it that the inhabitants of Hampton dug a grave and threw her body in it. Then they drove a stake into her body and hung a horseshoe on it — for good luck — and to protect themselves from her taking revenge. Goody Cole was memorialized by John Greenleaf Whittier in his 1864 poems, “The Wreck of Rivermouth” and “The Changeling.” In 1938, the Town of Hampton adopted a formal resolution that cleared her of all charges.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title New Hampshire Colony Facts
  • Date 1622–1761
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 14, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 9, 2024