Learn About New Hampshire Colony

New Hampshire Settled depicted in a woodcut

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New Hampshire was one of the 13 original colonies and was founded in 1623. The land in the New World was granted to Captain John Mason, who named the new settlement after his homeland in Hampshire County, England. Mason sent settlers to the new territory to create a fishing colony. However, he died before seeing the place where he had spent a considerable amount of money building towns and defenses.

New England

New Hampshire was one of the four New England Colonies, along with the Massachusetts, the Connecticut, and the Rhone Island colonies. The New England colonies were one of three groups comprising the 13 original colonies. The other two groups were the Middle Colonies and the Southern Colonies. Settlers of the New England Colonies enjoyed mild summers but endured very harsh long winters. One advantage of the cold was that it helped to limit the spread of disease, a considerable problem in the warmer climates of the Southern Colonies. 

Early Settlement

Under the direction of Captain John Mason, two groups of settlers arrived at the mouth of the Piscataqua River and established two fishing communities, one at the mouth of the river and one eight miles upstream. These are now the towns of Rye and Dover, respectively, in the state of New Hampshire. Fish, whales, fur, and timber were important natural resources for the New Hampshire colony. Much of the land was rocky and not flat, so agriculture was limited. For sustenance, settlers grew wheat, corn, rye, beans and various squashes. The mighty old-growth trees of New Hampshire's forests were prized by the English Crown for their use as ships masts. Many of the first settlers came to New Hampshire, not in search of religious freedom but rather to seek their fortunes through trade with England, primarily in fish, fur, and timber.

Native Inhabitants

The primary tribes of Native Americans living in the New Hampshire territory were the Pennacook and Abenaki, both Algonquin speakers. The early years of English settlement were relatively peaceful. Relations between the groups began to deteriorate in the latter half of the 1600s, largely due to leadership changes in New Hampshire and to problems in Massachusetts that led to a migration of native people into New Hampshire. The town of Dover was a focal point of struggle between the settlers and the Pennacook, where settlers built numerous garrisons for defense (giving Dover the nickname "Garrison City" that persists today). The Pennacook attack on June 7, 1684, is remembered as the Cochecho Massacre. 

New Hampshire Independence

Control of the New Hampshire colony changed several times before the colony declared its independence. It was a Royal Province prior to 1641 when it was claimed by the Massachusetts colony and was dubbed the Upper Province of Massachusetts. In 1680, New Hampshire returned to its status as a Royal Province, but this lasted only until 1688 when it again became part of Massachusetts. New Hampshire regained independence--from Massachusetts, not from England--in 1741. At that time, it elected Benning Wentworth as its own governor and remained under his leadership until 1766. Six months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, New Hampshire became the first colony to declare its independence from England. The colony became a state in 1788.