Long before the creation of a New Hampshire colony, the region that is now
the state was inhabited by Native Americans. There are no federally recognized
tribes today, but New Hampshire history shows two main tribes occupied the region
before the arrival of Europeans. The Abenaki, called the “people of the dawn,”
were the largest tribe and occupied the largest area. The Pennacook people occupied
the southern area along what is today the border with Massachusetts
and the oceanfront around Portsmouth.
Today, many place names reflect the Native American history in New Hampshire,
such as the village of Penacook near Concord
and the names of the state’s lakes
and rivers, such as Winnipesaukee and Pemigewasset.
The Abenaki and Penacook people were part of the Woodland Nations, which is a broad term covering most of the native people east of the Mississippi River. Interesting facts about New Hampshire Native Americans concern the farming practice of the Abenaki, who, although they continued to hunt, began to plant what they called the four sacred plants, corn, tobacco, beans, and squash. Thus, by the time Europeans arrived, the Abenaki were living in villages as opposed to being nomadic hunters. This made them particularly vulnerable to diseases, and they were decimated by typhus and smallpox in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Another of the facts about New Hampshire is that it was not originally settled by people seeking religious freedom, as was its neighbor Massachusetts. In 1614, Captain John Smith, who would later found the colony of Virginia, sailed along the beaches of the Portsmouth coastline, and reported back to England on the excellent fishing.
The history of New Hampshire as we know it began as a 1623 English land grant,
three years after the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock. The first settlement,
called a “fishing plantation,” was at Rye
Beach. Over the next two decades, inland settlements were founded at Dover,
Durham, and Stratham. This little New Hampshire colony was made part of Massachusetts
in 1641, an arrangement that lasted off and on until 1741, when it became a
full-fledged colony and got its own governor.
The New Hampshire Colony played a significant role in the American Revolution. It was the first of the original thirteen colonies to declare independence from Britain, and had three regiments fighting in the Continental Army. Ships for the Continental Navy were built in the Portsmouth shipyards, and the first state constitution was ratified in January of 1776 in Exeter. After independence, the state capital was established at Concord. Ships are still built in Portsmouth, and the Portsmouth Navy Shipyard, founded in 1800, has been building U.S. warships and playing an important role in both the history of New Hampshire and the United States ever since.
Abolitionist facts about New Hampshire report that sentiment in Portsmouth prevented a runaway slave from being returned to George Washington in 1796. While New Hampshire history shows that segregation and discrimination did exist, the prevailing attitudes in the state were against slavery. The first interracial school was founded in the state near Dartmouth College in Hanover in 1835, and there were Underground Railroad stations in Hanover, Canaan, Durham, Manchester, and other locations in the state. While at Exeter Academy, Franklin Pierce met and became lifelong friends with the great American literary figures, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne. He later would figure in the history of New Hampshire when he became the 14th President of the United States.
From the beginning, history in New Hampshire has always been linked to the independent character of its residents, as reflected by its primary role in the Revolutionary War and its stand on slavery and integration. Sexism took its lumps as well, when two female students enrolled in the University of New Hampshire in Durham, near the beaches of the seacoast and the southeast border with Maine.
In 1915, the state moved its election primary to an earlier date in order to accommodate the rural population who were busy with their farms in the spring. New Hampshire history gives us another first when Indiana and Minnesota moved their primary to later dates in 1920. Today the first primary in the country still makes news. History in New Hampshire made news again when the first African American female graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1926. The independent streak of the residents surfaced again in 1963 when the first legal lottery in the country was adopted. This independent nature is evident in other ways. The state’s slogan, “Live Free or Die,” is on the license plates, and New Hampshire is one of the few states in the country with no sales tax and no individual income tax. This has made it a very popular retirement state. Many out-of-state visitors have second homes here, and New Hampshire vacations are very popular.