History in NH – Part 2
As a member of the 13 original Colonies, New Hampshire doesn’t get much press. What with being next to Massachusetts, host of so many dramatic events in the birth of the nation, it’s not much to wonder at. But how much of what we hear is just spin? According to some folks, a lot. And they are bitter about it. Why should “Plymouth Rock” get all the attention? Just because Massachusetts gobbled up the majority of the usable coastline? Just because the Pilgrims claimed to be fleeing religious persecution? Just because they got a theme park? Just because George Washington needed a myth with which to bind the nation together after the American Revolution? Probably because of all those things and more.
Still, New Hampshire’s early European history goes back just as far, but is imbued with a bit less “look at me” and a bit more practicality. Just like everyone else who came here early it was for money. Even the hallowed Mayflower Pilgrims were largely motivated by cash. Overcrowding, over plundering, social inequality, religious nuttery and disease really made Europe an unlivable cesspool if you weren’t aristocracy, so it’s no wonder people felt they had little to lose by making the dangerous Atlantic crossing.
David Thompson was one such gambler. Oh and his pregnant wife, too. Oddly to us today, they chose to leave another child behind with relatives. Hedging their bet I suppose. Eventually David came to what would become New Hampshire. The areas now known as the Isles of Shoals, Portsmouth harbor, Ordione Point and the Piscataqua river. He and his fellow gamblers came here to fish and they were successful, building a fort and a plantation; fixing the official “settled” date as 1623. There is shadowy evidence that Thompson was going for land grants and making other deals here as early as 1619 though, and was in communication with the captain of the Mayflower, possibly giving him advice as to safe harbors along the Massachusetts coast. Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot of this early activity remaining to be seen. One such place is this cemetery with its oddly non-shaped stones –
Since no one has actually dug one up, there’s no real evidence these are graves at all. Sure, the Ordione family eventually buried some of their people here in the 19th century, but there are no carved stones earlier than that even though the family had been living in this area for generations before. Probably they are buried in Portsmouth, site of the Strawbery Banke plantation.
I find the stones to be a bit to regularly spaced and placed to be random. Plus, why else would the family start burying other people here if it weren’t already a burial ground?
Here’s the roughest of the carved stones you can see in the distance in the first two of the photos above. I really loved the light on this one and how it brought up the crude carving.
So why doesn’t this area get more press? I have no idea. The monument to David Thomson and the early settlers used to be here at the cemetery, but was moved to the more accessible and popular Ordione State Park across the street. It was originally erected at Strawbery Banke, but was moved to the cemetery in 1955. No one visited. No one does now. But it is beautifully maintained and cared for none-the-less.
The trails here lead to a salt marsh area that was once farmed by (presumably) the Ordione family and an example of a staddle remains. It was where the hay was piled until the ground froze enough for carts to be pulled into the marsh to take it away. The posts had to be high enough to keep the hay dry during high tide.
Through the marsh runs Seavey creek and it’s truly a beautiful area. There are two viewing platforms with many informational plaques, but the place seems unused and deserted. Several blowdowns across the trails have not been cleared and a once accessible Ordione family well is now blocked.
In a way, I prefer it like this. It means there’s a spot of great beauty and peace that I can enjoy in reliable solitude. But it also means no one else gets to do the same unless they go a fair bit out of their way to do it.