The Early History of Londonderry
The immigrants who settled the Town of Londonderry, New Hampshire, were descendants of a colony migrating from Scotland to Northern Ireland (Ulster) about 1612. A large number of these Scotch-Irish settlers left their homes in Londonderry, Ireland, and arrived in Boston in 1718 to start a new life without religious wars and persecution. Of the five shiploads of people under the guidance of Rev. James MacGregor, one group remained in Boston, one group settled in Dracut and Andover and a third group ventured north to what is now Portland, Maine. A harsh winter and low provisions forced the third group to retreat south to Haverhill, Massachusetts, where they heard of a twelve square mile area “abound with nut trees”. Sixteen families left Haverhill for Nutfield in 1719 and on June 21, 1722, established a charter for the Township of Londonderry. Later, several portions of the Town were subdivided into parishes and other towns.
Nutfield was the first inland settlement in the Merrimack Valley and originally included what are now the city of Manchester and the towns of Hudson, Windham, Salem and Derry (the oak grove). In 1741 a section was lost on the southern boundary to form Windham and Hudson; Derryfield (later named Manchester) was incorporated in 1751 and Derry became a separate town in 1828.
In 1718 Nutfield had four Presbyterian ministers – James MacGregor, William Cornwell, William Boyd and John Holmes. The first sermon delivered in Nutfield was by the Rev. MacGregor under a large oak tree (now gone) on the east side of Beaver Pond. MacGregor organized the First Presbyterian Church in New England.
The Colonial Style of Settling
The first colonial towns in New England were generally settled in the same manner, with settlers’ cabins built around a large open space called a common. Here the cattle grazed and were protected. As time went on, the settlements branched out and committees were established to portion out lots and divisions of the Common were made. Miles and miles of rugged stone walls were erected to mark the boundaries, to provide an orderly place of disposal for the many stones found in the region and to provide fencing for cattle put out to pasture.
Londonderry was abound in butternuts, black walnuts, chestnuts, oak and hickory, which were used to supplement the early settlers’ limited diet and lumber materials. Hickory was used for axe handles and wagon wheel spokes; chestnut was used for fine straight-grained boards as finish work in homes and for furniture. In the 1920’s a blight hit the trees and destroyed the groves.
The use of flax started in Ireland, and eventually linen making became the basic industry of early Londonderry. The Patterson Homestead (c.1729, destroyed by fire) manufactured and sold Londonderry Linen, which was considered to be the best in New England. Londonderry linen is claimed to have been worn by both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Because many people attempted to sell linen under the pretense that it was manufactured in Londonderry, the House of Representatives drew up an act to have a seal affixed to all linen manufactured in Londonderry in 1731 and by 1768, New Hampshire produced 25,000 yards of linen cloth annually.
The Town Pound
The Town Pound was constructed in 1730 on the east side of Mammoth Road, one mile above the center of Town. It served as an enclosure for stray farm animals and the men in charge were called “pounders.”
Agriculture in Londonderry
Apple Trees were brought to Londonderry by the first settlers, and by the early 1800’s became the major crop of many local farms. Apple varieties included Nod Head, Russet and Blue Pearmain. The McIntosh apple was discovered in Ontario, Canada around 1900 and is today one of the many varieties of apples found in Londonderry. From 1912 to 1914, McIntosh apples were in great demand throughout New England, especially in the Merrimack Valley. As a result many dairy farms changed to apple farms, producing smaller orchards. Apples were sold locally to a large extent until the 1920’s and 1930’s. By 1976, Londonderry apples were being shipped throughout the United States, Canada, the British Isles, Brazil and Venezuela.
Mrs. William Morrison raised the first tomatoes in Londonderry in 1822. She transported the seeds from Octorara, Pennsylvania. The first potato ever grown in the United States was grown in Nutfield, now a part of Derry.
The Taverns in and around Londonderry
Taverns existed in Nutfield from the earliest days and were used for storehouses of rum, brandy, gin, tea, coffee, sugar, molasses, snuff and tobacco. The taverns were the center of conviviality and lively discussions in the Town.
Plummer’s Tavern (once called The Gregg House) was also used for public entertainment in addition to being a stagecoach stop. Here also the mail was changed. The building still stands at the corner of Route 102 and Mammoth Road (The Homestead Restaurant).
White’s Tavern, built by Reuben White, accommodated 50 horses and was used as a storehouse for groceries and provisions. White brought many goods from Portsmouth. Presidents James K. Polk, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Pierce and Daniel Webster stopped here. White’s Tavern still stands today in the northern section of Londonderry.
Londonderry Common, considered the center of Town, is an area which has monuments dedicated to the Veterans of The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, and World Wars I and II. A bandstand was constructed by the townspeople for activities such as Old Home Day, outdoor concerts and other special activities. The bandstand and the memorial to The Londonderry 99 (American Revolutionary War) were dedicated in 1976 during the Bicentennial Year.
Surrounding the Common are the United Methodist Church, Londonderry Grange #44, Londonderry Presbyterian Church (the oldest continuing Presbyterian Church in New England, founded in 1735), and Old Town Hall (Lion’s Club).
Old Home Day Celebration
The Londonderry Old Home Association was formed in 1900. A picnic was held on Saturday, August 11, with church services on the following Sunday. To this day, Old Home Day is a popular annual event held on Londonderry Common. The events include exhibits, booths, parades, contests, talent and music shows, concerts, and church services.
Ocean-Born Mary is a legend and a mystery in her time. Her father, James Wilson, was one of the grantees of Londonderry in 1719.
In 1720, Wilson and his wife, Elizabeth, left Londonderry, Ireland by ship. Their baby girl was born on the voyage over and during the journey, pirates boarded their ship. When the pirate captain discovered the baby, he told the passengers he would leave the ship without doing harm if he could name the infant. He named her Mary and left her a bolt of green silk brocade with a floral pattern to be used as her wedding gown, should she marry. Soon after landing in New England, Ocean-Born Mary’s father died, and her mother married James Clark and lived in a house in Londonderry.
Ocean-Born Mary married and moved to Henniker, NH. She died on February 13, 1814 at the age of 94. In 1930 her house in Londonderry was moved piece-by-piece to Little Compton, Rhode Island, reassembled and stands with other homes of its era. It is now called the “Sea-Born Mary House.”
General George Reid, born in 1733, was the son of James Reid, one of the early settlers of Nutfield. In 1757, George Reid married Mary Woodburn and settled in Londonderry.
During the American Revolutionary War, Reid was in command of the Minutemen Company during the Battle of Bunker Hill, and because of this was made Captain in 1776 by the Continental Congress. By 1785 he was Brigadier General of the New Hampshire forces. General Reid died at the age of 82 in September 1815.
Matthew Thornton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, lived in Derry Village in 1757 in a house which later became the “Howe House”. In 1976 Central School in Londonderry was renamed Matthew Thornton School in his honor.
John Stark, the second of four sons, was born in Londonderry on August 28, 1728. General Stark lead the troops of backwoodsmen from New Hampshire and Vermont to fight the British back from many battles, including from the Battle of Bunker Hill. General Stark fought alongside Colonel William Gregg, Captain Daniel Reynolds, and Lieutenants McClary and Adam Taylor and a select band of soldiers from Londonderry.
Indians Who Settled Londonderry Area
The Indians along the Atlantic seaboard belonged to the great family known as the Algonquin. They were brave, fearless and were greatly attached to their land, as indeed, were all Indians. The Indians living in what was later known as Londonderry and the region thereabouts (at the time the first settlers came to Londonderry in 1719) were the Pennacooks. Musquash, a large swamp area in Londonderry, was the Indian name for “muskrat”. Few things are left of the Indian culture except for fragments of their pottery, arrowheads and the names of rivers, mountains and towns.