New Hampshire

Part of New England, New Hampshire is one of the original thirteen states. When the glaciers that once covered the North American continent retreated in the area now known as New Hampshire, they left behind a hard, gray granite rock called gneiss, which is why New Hampshire is called the Granite State.

History of New Hampshire

Part of New England, New Hampshire is one of the original thirteen states. When the glaciers that once covered the North American continent retreated in the area now known as New Hampshire, they left behind a hard, gray granite rock called gneiss, which is why New Hampshire is called the Granite State. The state is relatively small: Its longest distance is 180 miles from north to south, and is ranked forty-fourth in land area among states. Bounded by Canada in the north, its other borders are the New England states of Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont. New Hampshire has a small coastline, stretching only eighteen miles, with Portsmouth serving as the state’s only harbor. Because of the state’s relatively small amount of arable land, farms produce mostly dairy and poultry products. The impressive water power available made New Hampshire attractive to industrialists in the early 1900’s, and manufacturing is still an important segment of the state’s economy. With fiercely independent people whose state motto is Live Free or Die, this traditionally conservative state is one of the few without a state income tax.

Before 1800 New Hampshire was home to the Ossipee, Nashua, Pennacook, Piscataqua, Squamscot, and Winnipeaukee Indians. These people, known collectively as the western Abenaki, belonged to the eastern branch of the Algonquian family, a large group of tribes related by similar languages and customs. They lived in wigwams and were primarily hunters and gathers, living off the area’s fertile fishing waters and hunting grounds. The encroaching European settlements drove most of the early settlers off the land by the late 1700’s. Native Americans comprised 0.2 percent of the population in 1990.

Early Exploration

Viking Leif Eriksson and other Norse sailors most likely explored some of New Hampshire during their travels in 1000. Explorer Martin Pring was at the mouth of the Piscataqua in 1603. In 1605, British captain George Weymouth landed in Maine, kidnapped five Abenaki men, and took them back to England. Upon meeting the tribesmen, King James I agreed to sponsor a settlement there. In 1620 he formed the Council for New England which gave out land grants, the first going to Captain John Mason, “the founder of New Hampshire.” The following year, David Thompson started the first known English settlement in New Hampshire, now known as Rye. He headed a company that organized fishing and trading.

Religious Conflict

In 1636 the Reverend John Wheelwright was banished from Massachusetts for his religious beliefs. Wheelwright was an Antinomian who believed that Christians do not need to observe moral laws if they are saved by God. Ironically, the Puritans, who had fled England because they were persecuted for their religious beliefs, had little tolerance of other religious philosophies.

Wheelwright turned down an offer from Roger Williams to come to Rhode Island because he wanted to establish a new colony. He went by boat as far as the site of present-day Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was there that he and a settler named John explored further west and established the village of Exeter and the Laconia Company, a joint-stock company.

In the same year, Massachusetts encouraged Puritans to settle nearby Hampton. Tension quickly erupted between the Antinomians and the Puritans. Both New Hampshire and Massachusetts granted townships within New Hampshire territory. It took the Revolutionary War against Great Britain to unite the two factions for a greater cause.

The Wentworth Family

The Wentworths were New Hampshire’s most influential family throughout much of the 1700’s. In 1717 the king of England appointed John Wentworth, a wealthy, self-made merchant, lieutenant governor of New Hampshire. At the time a single royal governor administered both Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

When John Wentworth died in 1730, his son Benning worked to separate from Massachusetts. In 1740, the King’s Council established a boundary and the following year appointed Benning Wentworth as the first independent governor of the providence. Like his father, he was a loyal representative of the Crown. His devotion to England was unpopular with most citizens, who found the king’s taxes unjust, and he resigned from office in 1766. His nephew, John Wentworth, was the new royal appointee. He too tried to keep New Hampshire on the side of Britain, and in 1774, he dissolved the assembly for speaking of revolution. The colonists took matters into their own hands, and in June of 1775, Governor Wentworth was forced from office, ending 160 years of colonial rule in New Hampshire.


In what some historians consider the first revolutionary act against Britain, four hundred New Hampshire men stormed the British fort at New Castle and carried off arms and ammunition in 1774. The following year the Revolutionary War began, and New Hampshire was represented in every important battle. Portsmouth’s shipbuilding industry naturally grew significantly as naval vessels were needed to aid the war.

About four thousand of the state’s men fought in the war. Another three thousand men served the cause by privateering: These men sailed the coast capturing British supply ships and seized their cargoes for the American army. Those at home did not have to suffer invasions–New Hampshire was the only one of the original thirteen states British armies never attacked.

The New State

New Hampshire was the first state to adopt its own constitution, in 1776, and also the first of the original thirteen states to call a convention to write a better one. In 1784 the permanent state constitution was adopted.

In 1808 the state’s seat of government moved to Concord. Like most of the country’s population, New Hampshire’s at this time was mainly made up of farmers. When the Industrial Revolution came to New England in the 1830’s, it caused an upsurge in economic activity downriver from Concord in Manchester, which soon became the economic center of the state.

The first commercial buildings to appear were sawmills, which processed lumber, and gristmills to grind grain. The rivers in the Merrimack Valley provided great power, and soon the area developed into one of the world’s leading textile centers. The millworkers labored long hours, usually under dangerous conditions. The workers had no bargaining power to speak of, as in 1840’s the mill owners had an influx of cheap labor: Ireland’s potato famine had driven many of that country’s poorest to the shores of America, many ending up in New Hampshire. Wages remained low and working conditions harsh.

Favorite Sons and Civil War

One of the country’s most gifted orators and famous politicians, Daniel Webster was born in Salisbury, New Hampshire, in 1782. After graduating from Dartmouth College, he was New Hampshire’s state representative from 1813 to 1817. Webster eventually moved to Massachusetts, however, representing that state in both houses of Congress.

In 1852 New Hampshire lawyer and former state representative Franklin Pierce came out of retirement to become the Democratic nominee for president. He was elected and was then the youngest president ever to serve. His inexperience lead to several botched political moves, and in 1854 he backed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise. Many historians believe that this act reignited the slavery issue on a national level and pushed the country quickly toward Civil War, which began in 1860.

During the Civil War, New Hampshire was fortunate again as no battles were fought on its soil. Yet the citizens were staunch defenders of the Union, and nearly half the state’s population at the time, thirty-nine thousand men, fought in the war.

The Twentieth Century

When the new century began, more people in New Hampshire made their living from manufacturing than from agriculture. Labor unions began forming in the factories, and a labor reform bill passed in 1907 that limited the workweek for women and children to fifty-eight hours.

The United States entered World War I in 1917, and New Hampshire citizens fought again in large numbers. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard built warships, including submarines. After the war, the 1920’s brought the beginning of years of decline for New England textile milling, and the state entered an economic slump that would worsen through the Depression and only start to get better at the beginning of World War II.

Frank Knox, publisher of Manchester’s Union Leader, was appointed secretary of the Navy. Production rapidly went into high gear at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard making U.S. submarines–at one point during the war, two a week. About twenty thousand men and women worked in the yard.

The Primary State

In 1913, New Hampshire state legislators moved the date of their election year primary and began a long tradition of being the first primary of every political season. After World War II, presidential primaries became more important, as they were seen as a testing ground for potential candidates. The eyes of the nation focus on New Hampshire during this time every four years. Other states, jealous of the attention, have tried to move their primaries up, and New Hampshire has responded by passing a law dictating that their primary will be held the Tuesday before any other state’s.

Since 1952 no president has been elected without first winning the New Hampshire primary–until 1992, when U.S. senator Paul Tsongas won the primary but later lost the nomination to Bill Clinton.