Learn About New Hampshire Colony

New Hampshire Settled depicted in a woodcut

Three Lions/Stringer/Hulton Archives / Getty Images

New Hampshire was one of the 13 original colonies of the United States 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.

Fast Facts: New Hampshire Colony

  • Also Known As: Royal Province of New Hampshire, Upper Province of Massachusetts
  • Named After: Hampshire, England
  • Founding Year: 1623
  • Founding Country: England
  • First Known European Settlement: David Thomson, 1623; William and Edward Hilton, 1623
  • Residential Native Communities: Pennacook and Abenaki (Algonkian)
  • Founders: John Mason, Ferdinando Gorges, David Thomson
  • Important People: Benning Wentworth 
  • First Continental Congressmen: Nathaniel Folsom; John Sullivan
  • Signers of the Declaration: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

New England

New Hampshire was one of the four New England Colonies, along with Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and 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 and his short-lived Laconia Company, 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. David Thomson set sail for New England in 1623, with 10 others and his wife, and landed and established a plantation at the mouth of the Piscataqua, near what is Rye called Odiorne's Point; it only lasted for a few years. About the same time, London fishmongers William and Edward Hilton set up a colony at Hilton's Point near Dover. The Hiltons obtained financial support to buy land in 1631, and by 1632, a group of 66 men and 23 women were sent out to the budding colony.  Other early settlements include Thomas Warnerton's Strawberry Bank near Portsmouth and Ambrose Gibbons at Newichawannock. 

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 when the English arrived 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 Bay 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, the people elected Benning Wentworth as its own governor and remained under his leadership until 1766.

New Hampshire sent two men to the First Continental Congress in 1774: Nathaniel Folsom and John Sullivan. Six months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, New Hampshire became the first colony to declare its independence from England. Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, and Matthew Thornton signed the Declaration for New Hampshire.

The colony became a state in 1788.  

Sources and Further Reading

  • Daniell, Jere R. "Colonial New Hampshire: A History." University Press of New England, 1981.
  • Morison, Elizabeth Forbes, and Elting E. Morison. "New Hampshire: A Bicentennial History." New York: W. W. Norton, 1976.
  • Whitney, D. Quincy. "Hidden History of New Hampshire." Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2008.