Hampton History Matters I


The famous sandy beaches and first-class boardwalk of Hampton, New Hampshire often overshadow its long and robust history. In this eclectic collection of stories, historian and columnist Cheryl Lassiter invites readers behind the scenes for a fascinating look at some of its lesser known residents and surprising events.

“The town [of Hampton] is a fascinating mix of history and economics peopled by a lively cast of characters, and so is Cheryl Lassiter’s book. She is an entertaining and very well-informed writer.” —Jeanne Ryder, editor, Leavitt Family Association newsletter.













Heartfelt thanks to Karen Raynes, a former newspaper correspondent and former Hampton Historical Society board member, and to the Board of Trustees of the Tuck Museum of Hampton History and Betty Moore, Tuck Museum Executive Director emeritus, for generously allowing access to the museum’s archives and for reprint permissions.




Now available: History Matters II


Available now at amazon.com https://amzn.to/2Y3MvDF

The famous sandy beaches and first-class boardwalk of Hampton, New Hampshire often overshadow its long and robust history―that is, until Hampton History Matters. In the style of its predecessor (volume I, published in 2017), this latest collection of stories from historian and writer Cheryl Lassiter is an eclectic and entertaining sampling of the history of Hampton―from its early days as a colonial town to the twentieth century. Infused into accounts of the people, politics, industry, traditions, fads, and landmarks that define Hampton is Cheryl’s deep research and passion for finding the why behind each story.

Here you’ll encounter a fine cast of inhabitants who helped mold the town’s character and community―beach artisans, crafty politicians, hardworking Puritans, ambitious women who owned their own businesses and ran for public office. Read lively stories about the attempts to separate Hampton Beach from the mother town; the strange tale of a feckless young man who took revenge against his powerful adversary in a most bizarre way; the iron-fisted selectman who arbitrarily fired the entire police force, but wound up with a park named in his honor; the attempt to cure a young girl stricken with the King’s Evil; the rise and fall of the old town hall, a storied, 150-year-old building that met a fiery end in 1949.

Included in volume II are new stories about two of the town’s most notorious residents, the “witch” Goody Cole and the rascally General Jonathan Moulton. These tales and so much more lie ahead in Hampton History Matters.

Cheryl has chronicled the history of Hampton since 2009. From 2015-2019 her column History Matters appeared in the Hampton Union newspaper. While she has since gone on to other writing projects, her past columns are still available at lassitergang.com.

Hampton’s Old Town Hall


Engineering sketch of the old Hampton Town Hall, 1892.

For nearly two centuries, New Hampshire towns had taxed their citizens to support the Congregational ministry. Each town hired its pastor and paid his salary, and it owned and maintained the meeting house where both church services and town meetings were held. A growing revolt by non-Congregationalists and others against this taxation led to the passage in 1819 of the so-called Toleration Act, a contentious amendment to the 1791 law that regulated how towns chose their officers. The new law essentially ended mandatory religious taxation, except to fulfill existing contracts. Anyone who didn’t want to pay the tax could serve notice to the town clerk, and, according to town historian Joseph Dow, the first instance of this in Hampton occurred in 1823, “when some 30 persons refused to be taxed.” Initially feared and despised, the new law acknowledged the growing diversity of religious sects (and their sometimes overly zealous adherents—in 1808, Hampton was the scene of a potato-throwing riot when a Baptist minister showed up to preach), as well as those citizens with no religious affiliation. Instead, religious societies were given the power to raise money by taxing their members.

A productive disagreement

Long before the Toleration Act was enacted, a disagreement over the choice of minister led to a split between the Presbyterian-inclined town and the Congregationalists who wished to remain independent from an outside presbytery. With the Presbyterians in the majority, the Congregationalists gave up the meeting house and kept church in a private dwelling until 1797, when they built their own meeting house. This turned out to be a good thing in the long run, as it was this structure that would be refitted—some sixty years later—for its new life as the Hampton Town Hall.

In 1808 the factions reunited and hired Josiah Webster as pastor of their combined flocks. They knocked down the old meeting house and made the 1797 meeting house their single house of worship, for which the town paid the Congregationalists four thousand dollars. To make things fair for the Presbyterians, the pews were ordered relinquished and reauctioned.

The town ended its ministerial tax upon Webster’s death in 1838, when the terms of the 1819 Toleration Act barred any further expenditures of public money for religious purposes. In 1840, then, the town divided the parsonage lands and other ministerial assets among the established Congregational, Baptist, and Methodist churches. In 1843 the Congregationalists moved into their new-built church (which still stands in use today), just across the road from their old meeting house.

c. 1830 Hampton map, showing meeting house.

Mapmaker’s representation of the Hampton meeting house, from the c. 1830 town map. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

 You own it, you fix it

With the town now solely in charge of the old meeting house, it was voted to pay Edmund W. Toppan $400 for the land on which the meeting house stood. Funds were allotted to deal with petty vandalism, broken windows and the like, and by 1855 the town was wrangling over the cost of repairs to the aging structure and wondering what to do with the privately owned pews, still in place for more than a decade. Five years later, an outside committee was appointed to appraise the pews and determine how much to pay owners for their interest.

As the year 1860 came into being, the long custom of referring to the building as the “Old Congregational Meetinghouse” was dropped in the records in favor of the simpler, secular “town house.” In that year, Jonathan N. Dow presented a resolution to determine the cost of moving the town house to a lot near the new (High Street) cemetery, to repair the building, or, failing approval of the move, to turn the building so that the front faced the road “where it now stands.” The town voted $1,200 to repair and turn the building, to move it to the east side of the lot, and to purchase 20 feet of land on each side of the property. Later that year they voted to buy a new bell (cost $441), to fence the lot, and to insure the building against loss. To accommodate the new, heavier bell, the original steeple was replaced with a belfry.

In 1870 the town voted to add a piece of property to the town house yard, one that had been formerly occupied by the house of Betsy Blake. By 1883 the town house had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the selectmen were directed to examine the structure and determine what repairs were needed, after which $200 was voted to effect the repairs. The following year, however, the issue of repairs was again brought to the voters. This article was indefinitely postponed, the voters approving only the removal of the fence that fronted the town house.

 The 1888 makeover

As expected, the postponements did not fix the problem of repairs. In 1885, voters were asked to appropriate a sum of money “sufficient to thoroughly repair the town house and to build an addition on the North end as per plan.” They again voted that the article be indefinitely postponed.

In 1886 the issue of repairs was once more brought before the voters. Committees were appointed, conclusions drawn, and it was decided that a committee should “draw plans and specifications and estimate what it will cost to repair the town house.” The committee’s report must have been sobering, as the town voted to lay the issue “on the table” for one year.

In 1888 the town was asked to appropriate the sum of $3,000 to makeover the town house. With nine very specific requirements, it was resolved to tackle the project in a major way. The requirements called for a two-story tower with a belfry, not less than 12 feet square, at the front of the building, with interior stairs that would give access to the second floor. It was also ordered that the second floor be remodeled, a new hardwood floor laid down, the ceiling replastered, the woodwork painted, and the window frames repaired. The floor of the lower hall was to be leveled, new petitions installed, walls and ceilings replastered and painted, and a chimney “to give a good draft” added. The exterior was to be painted with two coats of paint “in two colors.” The selectmen were authorized to issue town notes for the repairs, with rates of interest not to exceed five per cent.

Postcard view of Hampton Town Hall. postmarked May 1907.

Postcard view of Hampton Town Hall, ca. 1907.

The contract for the project was to be let to the lowest bidder, who was required to complete the work no later than July 25, 1888. Lawrence, Massachusetts architect George G. Adams was hired to draw the plans for the alterations and Samuel W. Dearborn of Hampton was awarded the construction contract. Things didn’t go quite as planned, and the date of completion was moved to October 30. The delay upset some persons, who wanted contracts annulled and a new town house built from scratch, at a cost of $8,000. Eventually, however, the problems were resolved and the town house was rebuilt to its final appearance—a typical New England structure, but with a strangely squashed, domed bell tower that seems to have been ordered up by a (perhaps deranged) Russian oligarch. Unlike in appearance to Adams’s other known works, it remains one of the most unique public buildings ever erected in New England.

While the selectmen had ultimate charge of the town house, the tradition of yearly electing an agent for the town house began in 1861 when Loring Dunbar was chosen to oversee the care of the building. In later years the job fell sometimes to the bell ringer and sometimes to the janitor.

A community resource

As a natural extension of the meeting house ethos, for nearly 90 years Hampton’s town hall had served as the community’s civic center. In 1861, the town allowed the Winnacunnet Guards, Hampton’s militia company that would soon be heading off to fight in the Civil War, the use of the town house one evening per week. In 1862 the Debating Society, “to aid the volunteers,” was also allowed one free evening per week. In 1871 the town permitted the Hampton Library Association to use the “lockup room” in the town house for a library (with the lockup moving to another room, of course). Also in that year, the voters left to the selectmen the matter of allowing the Adventists to use the town house for religious services (the selectmen apparently said no, as the Adventists soon leased from Simon Towle land on which to erect their church). Schools, churches, and community groups used the hall for their benefits, dramas, and minstrel shows. Movies were shown and dances and concerts held, with music provided by any number of professional and amateur groups. The Superintendent of Schools kept an office in the town hall, and when police courts were established in New Hampshire (1913), a room adjacent to the lockup was provided for that purpose. Before the ratification of the suffrage amendment in 1920, town meetings had been held in the lower hall, but afterwards, with the increase in voters, the meetings were held in the larger upper hall—which is why it was voted in 1924 to build a fire escape and to buy settees for the hall.

The town hall burns

Nearly a half-century had passed since the makeover of 1888, and the country was now in the midst of an economic depression. Still, warrants presented at the 1933 town meeting asked voters to approve spending some $20,000 to enlarge and renovate the town hall. The proposed article, as you might guess, was indefinitely postponed. But—to everyone’s credit—in 1935 the town installed a fireproof vault to protect its valuable and historic records (a measure last proposed in 1891).

Lass56 - 1949 Town Hall fire

Fire fighters battle the blaze that destroyed the town hall, March 19, 1949. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Fourteen years later, in the frigid, early morning hours of March 19, 1949, a loud explosion jolted the vicinity of the town hall. A roused neighbor, seeing the front doors on the town hall blown open and flames pouring out of the windows, put in a call to the beach fire station (the town station, standing next door to the town hall, wasn’t connected to the “regular telephone system,” nor did its on-duty fireman hear the blast). The 14-degree temperatures hampered efforts to save the 152-year-old landmark, and in the end only the bell tower remained unscathed. The vault had done its job, the records were saved, and with the $10,000 insurance payout, a new town hall was built around the spot where the vault stood. Even with later additions, this structure was not much larger than an average house, but it served as the town offices until 1999, when they were moved to their current location, a concrete and glass fortress built originally as a bank. It’s predecessor stood abandoned until it was demolished in 2011.

1949-1999 Town offices. Sept 29, 2011. Lane library.

Demolition day for the old town offices building, Sept. 29, 2011. Courtesy of the Lane Memorial Library.

Some mementos still remain

In Hampton, the era of the community-centered town house, with its large hall, dining room, and kitchen ably suited for gatherings and entertainments, is long past. Yet a few mementos of the old town hall still exist. The “$80,000” clock—a reminder of the time when the town owned a money-bleeding street railway—resides in the present town offices; the 1861 bell that rang from the deranged oligarch’s tower is now a permanent fixture in the dooryard of the Congregational Church on Winnacunnet Road; and the Hampton Town Hall sign that once hung two stories above the front entrance, rescued from the dump, is on display at the Tuck Museum.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, December 27, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

Goody Cole & the Enchanted Oven


By any measure, Goodwife Eunice Cole of Hampton was a dreadful person. She was argumentative, foul-mouthed, and generally impossible to get along with. Even with the threat of physical punishment, she refused to change her behavior. Unfortunately, she lived at a time—the 17th century—and in a culture—Puritan—where being a cantankerous old shrew was not in a woman’s best interests.

Eunice and her husband William Cole came to America in 1636, near the end of the so-called Great Migration, the period between 1620-1640 when an estimated 20,000 English men and women crossed the Atlantic to settle in New England. When the Coles first arrived they spent a short time in Boston and at Mount Wollaston with the antinomian minister, John Wheelwright, and were still with him in 1638 for the founding of Exeter. But when he left for Maine a few years later the Coles moved Hampton, where William had been granted a house lot and land. While Exeter seems to have paid no attention to Eunice, Hampton was another story. Almost immediately, from the time they settled in 1643, Eunice was in constant trouble with her neighbors. She was so foreign and disagreeable that it wasn’t long before they began to suspect her of being a witch.

In 1656, suspicion became conviction when witch-marks were discovered on her naked body as she was being whipped for an unnamed offense. Anxious to be rid of her, the magistrates swore out charges of witchcraft and delivered her to Boston to stand trial. Eventually convicted of a lesser charge, she spent the next four years in prison. Upon her release, she returned to Hampton, but a year later was whipped for cursing at her neighbors and sent back to prison.

After eight long years, Goodwife Cole was released from the lock-up on Boston’s Prison Lane, a place that was called “the nearest resemblance to hell on earth,” with its iron-spiked doors and passageways that were like “ the dark valley of the shadow of death.” But the ink had barely dried on her release when she was once more accused of agitating her neighbors with witchcraft. The victims this time were the town constable Robert Smith and his wife Susanna.

One day in late summer, while the Smiths were taking their grain to the mill for grinding, they happened to meet Goodwife Cole on the road, who stepped to the cart and peered inquisitively at the plump sacks and baskets of grain inside.

“Do you grind rye?” she asked.

It seemed like an innocuous, neighborly remark, but knowing that she had been implicated in the strange death, some years ago, of their neighbor John Wedgwood, the Smiths were wary of anything having to do with old Goodwife Cole. Besides, it wouldn’t be prudent to be seen conversing with a reputed witch while their son was courting Reverend Seaborn Cotton’s daughter.

In what must have been the seventeenth century version of “well, duh!”—Susanna answered, “We do usually grind our English with our Indian in the summertime.”

“Indian” was the colonists’ word for the native corn. “English” was their term for any cereal grain that required grinding. The Smiths had grown rye, a hardy grain that fared better than barley or wheat in the short summers and often poor soil of New England.

Later, after the grain had been milled, the Smiths discovered that the bread baked from the English meal “would stink and prove loathsome before it was 24 hours old.” Spots formed like “rotten cheese” on the loaves. Re-baking them only made the problem worse.

Rather than conclude that the rye was at fault, the Smiths suspected that Eunice had bewitched their oven. In an attempt to prove it, they carried on what turned out to be the only documented case of methodical inquiry into the nature of enchanted objects in the town of Hampton. It was an undertaking that would have made the Elizabethan scientist Sir Francis Bacon proud.

They went first to the house of John Wedgwood’s widow, who lived just across the road. She baked bread in her oven using both the Smiths’ English rye and their Indian corn meal. The bread made from the Indian “proved good,” but the English bread stank just as it had for Robert and Susanna. This did not convince them, however, that their rye was spoiled. Instead, they took the suspicious meal up the road to their daughter Meribah Page and asked her to bake bread from it. Meribah’s bread turned out to be “sweet and good” and lasted at least a week. Supposing that her house fell outside the area of Eunice’s baleful spell, they went back to their original suspicion—that their oven was under an enchantment.

Once more, Susanna tried to bake the rye in her oven. The resulting loaves were so bad that she and her husband were “faint” to give them to the swine and dogs. One night after they had gone to bed, the stink in the house grew so unbearable that Susanna swore it would poison her.

“Go to prayer, Rob,” she implored her husband. “We must drive away the Devil!”

Robert got up and lit a candle from the banked fire. Clasping his hands in supplication, he began to pray. Susanna joined him, and after a time the gross smell went away.

Having nothing further to do with the English meal, they turned to the Indian for their bread. But when they baked with that flour, the loaves stunk up the place just like the rye bread. Again they went to their daughter, this time to test the Indian. To their horror, the area of enchantment had grown! Even baked in Meribah’s oven the bread smelled bad. The Smiths were now in “such great straits,” they dared not bake with anybody “for fear of spoiling their bread,” too.

Robert and Susanna Smith had recounted the story of the bewitched flour and enchanted oven in a court deposition, as a part of Eunice’s 1673 trial for “enticing” a nine-year-old orphan named Ann Smith. Like so many other real life stories about this strange woman, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the cognitive orientation, or worldview, of typical 17th century Western minds, especially as it concerns the Smiths’ ordered approach to sorting out what was happening to their grain. It would be interesting to know how they solved the supernatural problem for which their prayers proved only a partial fix. Unfortunately, the existing records don’t tell us how the story turned out, which leaves it to the imagination to suppose that, even though they risked admonishment from their future in-law Reverend Cotton, they had resorted to some sort of counter-magic to unhex their oven.

As for Goodwife Cole, according to the partially decoded journal of fellow townsman Henry Dow, she died on October 24, 1680…just weeks after being accused of witchcraft one last time.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on October 25, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Read the true story of Goody Cole’s life in “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole,” available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

Heyday of the Hampton Players


Above: The Hampton Players cast of “Harvey,” 1957.
Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society

If the early history of amateur dramatics on the Seacoast proves anything, it’s that Shakespeare was right: all the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Literally. It’s hard to imagine that the region in the early 20th century could have accommodated one more amateur theatrical company without bursting its dramatic seams. Granges, fraternal organizations, and women’s church societies—all in plentiful supply—were the primary providers of plays, held at the town and grange halls and often paired with oyster suppers and dancing. These entertainments grew in popularity as, beginning in 1897, the street railway’s daisy chain of horseless transportation made them easily available to a wider audience. In Hampton, the stage in the old town hall was ground zero for theatricals put on by local residents, while at Hampton Beach hundreds of amateur citizen-thespians treaded the sand instead of the boards by participating in the elaborate historical pageants held there.

This was also the era of the “by-gosh drama,” an immensely popular subspecies of theatre notorious for its caricatures of country people as bumpkins and rubes. Fast forward a couple of decades, and the tables were turned as rural but educated people, like a young Dartmouth graduate named Henry Bailey Stevens, began to take offense. For his part, Stevens wrote plays lampooning the “city rubes” who ventured into the country. He also nurtured the idea of encouraging the “self-entertainment potentialities” of rural communities, and in 1929, as the executive secretary of the University of New Hampshire Extension Service, he introduced a state-wide one-act play competition for amateur groups in towns of less than 5,000 population. The farm bureaus in each county sponsored preliminary contests, whose winners went on to compete for the state title during Farmers’ and Homemakers’ Week, a farm life extravaganza held every August in Durham. Over the life of the contest, which ended in the latter years of the Depression, Rockingham County averaged 10 entries per year, mainly from the local granges. The town of Hampton, although qualified under the rules, never fielded an entry, but the lack of a locally-organized amateur group, dedicated solely to theatre, was nearing an end.

Players 03

Helen LaRoux and Paul Harris in the Hampton Players production of “Another Language,” Hampton High School auditorium, November 4, 1949. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

During World War II, the massive mobilization of men and resources, and gas and food rationing, had put a halt to most “am-dram” productions. Then in 1946, a group of amateur players performed Ayn Rand’s three-act comedy-drama, The Night of January 16th, in the auditorium of the Hampton Academy and High School. Presented under the auspices of The Men’s Club of the First Congregational Church and directed by newcomer Foster L. Greene, the play was deemed a great success, literally “fostering” the idea of putting together a group to perform on a regular basis.

Foster and his wife Betsy, transplants from Vermont, where they had been active in a theatre group known as the Fletcher Farm Players, are credited with organizing the first meeting of the Hampton Players in 1947. With eleven members in attendance, Foster was named chairman, John Creighton treasurer, and Ruth Nelson secretary. Betsy Greene, Chester “Chet” Grady (a former professional stage actor and singer), Eva and Wiear Rowell, John Brooks, Ada Perkins, Priscilla MacCallum, and Dr. Harold Pierson filled out the roster of original members. In time, familiar names like Lawrence Hackett, Clara and Floyd Gale, Russ and Ada Merrill, and many others, would be added to the list. The Players were a diverse group, with business owners, homemakers, writers, servicemen, a lawyer, a dentist, a psychic, a selectman, Harvard grads, married couples and families, all drawn together by their shared passion for playacting. With a formal structure now in place, the Players held monthly meetings and, in 1951, legally incorporated.

Their first play under the Hampton Players name was Ghost Train, directed by Foster Greene, sponsored by the Hampton Kiwanis, and presented at the high school auditorium in March 1948. While the auditorium was their home stage, over the years they also gave performances at the Hotel Wentworth, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth Air Force Base, and the Hampton Playhouse. During the height of their activities in the 1950s and 1960s, the Players staged from two to four plays each season, mainly as benefit shows for the Kiwanis and other local organizations like the Lions Club, PTA, and Hampton Monday Club. To further their internal interests, monthly meetings included stagecraft seminars, skits, and readings, and, at an annual picnic, they awarded “Oscars” to their most talented members. Lamie’s Tavern on Lafayette Road and Chet Grady’s home on High Street became their favorite group hangouts.

Players 02

Behind-the-scenes crew on the set of the Hampton Players production of “Champagne Complex,” Portsmouth Air Force Base, 1957. (L-r) Earl Anthony (director), Betsy Greene (set designer), Foster Greene (stage manager), George Leoutsakos (lighting), Marge Pierson (props). Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Seacoast one-act play competition

In 1950, the amateur theatre group from Rye spearheaded the creation of the Seacoast One-Act Play Competition, which for years was held in the Rye Town Hall—since the 1880s, the grand dame of the local theatrical venues—with later competitions held at the Hampton Playhouse and Exeter Town Hall. Along with Rye and Hampton, groups from Hampton Falls, Exeter, Portsmouth, Amesbury, Dover, and Berwick, Maine participated.

In 1955 the Hampton Players won Best Play with their production of Beams of Our House. Members garnered the Best Actor award six times: Foster Greene (1951), Ken Ryan (1954), Chester Grady (1955 and 1956), Alex Finan (1957 and 1958); and Best Actress three times: Aloyse Doyle in 1952 and Betsy Greene and Ada Simmons in 1955.

Players in the big time

 Robert Duggan

A native of Newburyport, Massachusetts, Robert Duggan appeared in the Players’ 1955-1956 productions of My Three Angels and The Youngest Shall Ask, and he directed their 1956 production of the hit Broadway play Male Animal. The following year he was in Hollywood, with a small role on the Jack Benny Show. He went on to work in other tv series, such as The Twilight Zone, The Fugitive, All In The Family, and The Jeffersons, and in a number of films, including The Invaders (1967), Cruising (1980), and The Dogs of Hell (1983).

Players 01

(L-r) Russell Merrill, Chester Grady, and Mary Fogarty of the Hampton Players rehearse at Grady’s High St. home, c. 1950. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Mary Fogarty

In 1946, twenty-four-year-old Mary Fogarty, formerly of Manchester, New Hampshire, began writing community interest articles and theatre reviews for the Beachcomber and Hampton Union newspapers. In 1949 she made her acting and directing debut with the Hampton Players in A Murder Has Been Arranged and Another Language. In 1950 she played the lead in the Players’ production of Kind Lady, directed their production of Fumed Oak, and moved into the professional ranks with a supporting role in the Hampton Playhouse production of Rain. By 1952 she had moved to New York City to pursue a fulltime acting career.  

During her 60 years as an actor, Fogarty worked on Broadway and off, in films, and on television. She played regional and summer theatres, returning to the Hampton Playhouse for the 1981 and 1983 seasons. She is remembered for originating the role of the cantankerous Ouiser Boudreaux in the 1987 off-Broadway production of Steel Magnolias. Her last role was in the 2009 thriller Sordid Things, two years before her death at age 90.


For decades, and always for a worthy cause, the Hampton Players had entertained Seacoast audiences with performances of some of the most popular contemporary plays—Anastasia, Harvey, Sabrina Fair, The Curious Savage, and Bell, Book and Candle—as well as children’s plays like Winnie the Pooh, Cinderella, and The Elves and the Shoemaker. But with the sparkly new medium of television drawing audiences, the lack of a dedicated, funded performance space, and the looming certainty of retirements, old age, and death to chip away their numbers, the organization didn’t last much past the mid-1970s. Yet none of those factors can diminish the short but sweet life of Hampton’s only amateur dramatic corporation. The Hampton Players had provided an artistic, creative outlet and training ground for a hundred or so stage-happy grownups and a few aspiring young actors, and had bonded the community together as only live amateur theatre can do.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on September 13, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

The short history of the Miss New England contest at Hampton Beach


1925 Miss New England Hazel Houghton of Lowell, Massachusetts (l) and second place winner Dorothy Dobbins of Methuen, Massachusetts (r). (Haverhill Gazette).

In 1924, more than two decades before the advent of the now-iconic Miss Hampton Beach beauty pageant, the Hampton Beach Board of Trade sponsored a photo contest to determine who was the “most beautiful bathing girl” at the beach. Stationed in front of the Casino, local photographer Dave Colt snapped photos (none of which seem to have survived) of a reported 150 girls and women, from ages “six to sixty.” After a local judging committee trimmed the field of contestants to twelve, the final judge, E. Wyatt Kimball of Concord, New Hampshire, an artist then employed restoring portraits in the New Hampshire State House, selected the winner, 17-year-old Bernice Rand of Exeter, New Hampshire. She was awarded the title of Miss New England and a silver “Neptune’s Loving Cup” at a parade event billed as the “August Festival of Mermaids.”

1925 Junior Miss New England Virginia Rose Calnan of Lowell, Massachusetts (Haverhill Gazette).

In 1925 the contest was part of the 11th annual Labor Day Carnival festivities. Kimball again judged the contest, awarding first prize to Hazel Houghton of Lowell, Massachusetts and second prize to Dorothy Dobbins of Methuen, Massachusetts. In the junior category, 8-year-old Virginia Rose Calnan of Lowell won the top prize.

These contests seemed an auspicious start to a new Beach tradition, but the idea of a Miss New England beauty contest, or of beauty contests in general, didn’t catch on right away, and after 1925 the contest was canceled. The first Miss Hampton Beach contest, called “Miss Cover Girl” for the first two years of its existence, debuted in 1946. Then in 1957, during the glamorous Golden Age of beauty pageants, the Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce reintroduced the Miss New England contest, held in the Casino Ballroom as a prelude to the Miss Hampton Beach pageant (which was still held outside on the beach, but would join Miss New England in the Ballroom in 1959).  The judges’ favorite was Maureen Burke of Methuen, who also won first runner-up in the Miss Hampton Beach pageant that year. For local residents, a memorable event in the pageant occurred in 1963, when sixteen-year-old Frances Houlihan of Seabrook won the title. As it turned out, she was one of only nine girls to wear the Miss New England crown, as the pageant was permanently closed after the 1965 season.

1957 MHB Sally Ann Freedman, Peabody MA1950-59 MHB binder at CRC

1957 Miss New England Maureen Burke of Methuen, Mass. crowns the 1957 Miss Hampton Beach, Sally Ann Freeman of Peabody, Mass. (Hampton Historical Society)

1963 MNE Winner

1963 Miss New England Frances Houlihan of Seabrook, New Hampshire (Hampton Historical Society).

Originally published in the Hampton Union, July 26, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “The Queens of Hampton Beach,” a history of the Hampton Beach Carnival Queens and Miss Hampton Beach, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

Hampton’s History in Maps


The New England towns that dotted Captain John Smith’s 1616 map (above) didn’t really exist, but a sixteen-year-old English prince named Charles had taken the liberty of replacing Smith’s indigenous place names with English ones, most of which did not survive the era of Puritan migration. As to the future site of Hampton, located on the mainland just south of “Smiths Iles,” neither the young prince nor Smith had paid much attention—its place on the map was nameless and nearly hidden by Smith’s outsized portrait.

A decade later, William Alexander, the future viscount of Canada, divided New England north of Cape Cod into twenty feudal manors, each with its own named governor. Alexander’s plan met the same fate as Charles’s imaginary towns, but if it had been enacted as envisioned, a church historian named Sir Henry Spelman would have governed the still-unnamed area that one day would be called Hampton.

Local area placenames, “Strabery Banke” and “the boreshead,” from the 1634 map of New England by William Wood. NYPL Digital Collections.

Soon enough, place names that modern Hamptonians would recognize began to appear on maps. William Wood’s 1634 map identifies “Strabery Banke” and “the boreshead,” and Reverend William Hubbard’s 1677 map, drawn to illustrate his account of King Philip’s War, marks the town of “Hamton.” Then in 1689, a decade after King Charles II had ordered the separation of New Hampshire from Puritan Massachusetts (much like the Puritans had ordered the separation of his father’s head from its body 40 years earlier), the correctly spelled town of Hampton, with its coastal promontories of Great Boar’s Head and Little Boar’s Head, appeared on an English map.

Hampton as it appears on the 1737 map by George Mitchell, drawn to facilitate the 1741 Massachusetts-New Hampshire boundary decision.

1737-1741 Mitchell map

The establishment of the Province of New Hampshire renewed the question of the true location of the Massachusetts colony’s northern boundary—did it extend three miles north of the northernmost point of the Merrimack River as claimed by Massachusetts, or was it a straight westerly line three miles north of the river’s mouth as claimed by New Hampshire? The competing claims launched a dispute that would drag on for years, with both sides asserting taxing authority over the inhabitants of the disputed zones. King George II of Britain would have the final say, his decision guided by the map prepared by George Mitchell, a surveyor who had spent the previous five years mapping stands of mast trees in Nova Scotia. The town of Hampton and its harbor appear on his 1741 map, which plots the so-called Mitchell Line. Ultimately, the king chose a line similar to the boundary as it exists today.

1761 Blanchard Map

Hampton as it appears on the 1761 map by Col. Joseph Blanchard and Samuel Langdon. Boston Public Library.

1761 Blanchard-Langdon map

Colonel Joseph Blanchard of Dunstable, New Hampshire served in the New Hampshire militia and fought in the French and Indian War. Assisted by Samuel Langdon, a regimental chaplain from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he surveyed “An accurate map of His Majesty’s province of New-Hampshire in New England…which exhibits the theatre of this war in that part of the world.” Hampton, Great Boar’s Head, and “Hampton R. & Marshes” appear on this map, published three years after Blanchard’s death in 1758.

Thomas Leavitt’s 1806 map of Hampton. Hampton Historical Society.

1806 Leavitt map

In 1803 and 1805 the New Hampshire legislature directed that a state map be compiled, and to that end it required all New Hampshire towns to make plans of their territories. The plans were to show all principal roads, water features, mountains, hills, and the names of adjoining towns, and were to be transmitted to the office of Secretary of State Philip Carrigain by June 10, 1806. The resulting state map, published in 1816, features a pictorial vignette of Boar’s Head.

To produce Hampton’s contribution to the project, the town hired Thomas Leavitt of Hampton Falls. A selectmen’s record for 1806 shows that the town paid $64.85 for “surveying the town.” To engrave the map, Leavitt recruited his friend James Akin, an artist and political cartoonist then residing in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The selectmen evidently had not approved the expense beforehand, as the town voted “not to allow Thomas Leavitt Esq. [his] account for engraving the plan of the town of Hampton.” Leavitt’s map is the first to include a detailed portrayal of Hampton’s built environment: churches, schools, businesses, and the names and locations of property owners.

Portion of the c. 1830 map of Hampton. Hampton Historical Society.

1830 Hampton map

This rustic, color-coded map by an unknown maker was found in the North Hampton Library and donated to the Hampton Historical Society in 2008. The linen backing suggests that it may have been used as a wall map. Besides depicting the principal buildings and the names and locations of property owners, it identifies two roads by their names then in use, Sandy Lane (Winnacunnet Road) and Nook Lane (the eastern end of High Street).

Portion of the 1841 Marston-Dow map of Hampton. Hampton Historical Society.

1841 Marston-Dow map

At the 1837 annual meeting the town voted to hire former school teacher Josiah Marston to survey and draw a plan of the roads in town. Edmund W. Toppan assisted Marston by keeping the minutes of the survey. In 1840 the town authorized the selectmen to make any necessary corrections to the map and print 250 copies for the use of the legal voters. Former Hampton Academy principal Joseph Dow added the town’s boundaries and rivers, and, notably, the track of the Eastern Railroad that now cut through town. Like the 1806 and c. 1830 maps, the built environment was included, as was a commentary on the town’s history, the output of its fishing, farming, and salt industries, and a census of human and livestock populations. The Marston-Dow map is the only one known to have been proposed and carried out by the town itself.

Portion of the 1857 map of Hampton, Rockingham County, New Hampshire. Hampton Historical Society.

1857 Rockingham County map

The 1857 county map, published as a large color wall chart, was compiled from surveys by John Chace, Jr., a prolific surveyor of county maps in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. Property owners and structures are named, and pictorial vignettes of Hampton Academy and the residences of Aaron Coffin, Esq. and Dr. William T. Merrill are prominent among the illustrations that line the map’s border.


Map of Hampton from Hurd’s Town and City Atlas of the State of New Hampshire (1892).

1892 Town and City Atlas

From his publishing offices in Boston, Massachusetts, historian Duane Hamilton Hurd produced dozens of works on the histories of New York and New England, including the illustrated 1882 History of Rockingham and Strafford Counties. Maps of Hampton and Hampton Beach appear in Hurd’s 1892 Town and City Atlas of the State of New Hampshire, which is the last privately published map of this type to mark Hampton residents’ names and property locations.

Early Settlers Map

Map of the old town of Hampton from Joseph Dow’s “History of the Town of Hampton” (Lucy Dow copyright 1894).

1892 Dow’s early settlers map

This illustration, included in Joseph Dow’s History of Hampton, identifies the locations of the church and homesteads of the early settlers at the original center of town, the so-called “Ring” that encompassed the area now bounded by Park Avenue, Winnacunnet Road, and Lafayette Road.

Portion of the 1923 Sanborn fire insurance map of Hampton Beach, showing the Opera House and Convention Hall. Dartmouth College Digital Library Collection.

20th century Sanborn insurance maps

In 1867, Daniel Alfred Sanborn published his first fire insurance map for the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Realizing the lucrative market for this kind of map, Sanborn built his company into the country’s largest insurance mapper. The company’s near monopoly and premium prices spurred competitors to develop cheaper methods of assessing fire risks, and by the mid-20th century the Sanborn Map Company had diversified into more profitable mapping activities. From 1904 to 1942, Sanborn mapped the commercial, industrial, and adjacent residential sections of Hampton and Hampton Beach.

Guides to the past

More than just tools that point the way from here to there, maps reflect the interests of their audiences at the time they are produced. Early maps like those of Captain John Smith and William Wood helped would-be colonists see into the unknown by depicting the natural resources, wildlife, and native populations of what was then a vast wilderness. Maps like Colonel Blanchard’s, made during the wars of the 18th century, marked military forts and pointed out the trails where Indians were known to carry off their captives. Maps made during the relatively peaceful decades following the establishment of the United States paid marked attention to domestic matters—property owners are identified by name and buildings are drawn as they actually appear. Leisure activities, too, are often illustrated, as on the 1806 Leavitt map, which depicts gunners hunting on Boar’s Head while their horse and carriage await. From the 17th century to the 20th, the town of Hampton appeared on state, county, and town maps that were the product of both public and commercial interests. Today these maps serve as valuable guides to the past for historians, genealogists, and anyone interested in the history, growth, and urbanization of the town and its beach.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on July 5, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.


The ‘phew’ in the meeting house


Hampton, New Hampshire. Built in 1797, the fifth town-owned Congregational meeting house—where the ‘phew’ incident took place—was converted in 1844 to secular public use only. As the town hall (shown above), the building was altered a number of times and assumed its final appearance in 1888, when, according to town historian Joseph Dow, it was “radically made over.” Lawrence, Massachusetts architect George G. Adams designed the alterations, which included the unique belfry tower. The hall burned down in 1949. —Postcard image courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

The firing of Reverend Ward Cotton, a man known to sometimes lose control of himself while in the pulpit, had been years in coming. The complaints of certain female parishioners were becoming impossible to ignore, and in 1765 he was removed as pastor of the Hampton Church. No one disagreed that his behavior had been shocking, but on the subject of how the case should be handled there was a large divide between those who worked for his outright dismissal and those who took a more sympathetic approach, believing his mind had been damaged by “disease.”

The differences spilled over into the choice of Cotton’s replacement. Every plan put forward was met with opposition. When the town finally settled on 32-year-old Ebenezer Thayer of Boston, the vote was far from unanimous. Dissenters believed he had been chosen only to keep a more liberal candidate from taking the position, and they warned that if Thayer should become pastor, “the Town of Hampton is on the Verge of Ruin,” which they were “Determined to find out some way to remedy it.”

Some saw the deaths of Deacon Joshua Lane, a dissenter who had been killed by lightning as he stood at his doorstep, and the child of another malcontent, Simon Nudd, as “special providences” in favor of the new pastor. Others not swayed to his side went elsewhere for their religion, refusing to pay their minister’s tax. The town didn’t like it, but short of rounding up the dissenters and confiscating their property, there was little that the selectmen could do.

Adding to the strain of these religious troubles were the British Acts of the mid-1760s, which had been enacted to tax the colonists’ commerce. The Acts agitated Hampton as much as any town, and everywhere in the colonies efforts were made to encourage anti-British sentiment and to make life hard for the royal officers charged with enforcing the laws. It was a risky course of action, one that eventually exploded in the Boston Massacre of 1770.

It was within this atmosphere of dissent and dissatisfaction that the bizarre affair of Nathaniel Sheaf Griffith of Hampton, a 24-year-old clock and watch repairer, was carried on.

“Z.Z.” goes public

In a letter published in the July 1, 1768 issue of the New Hampshire Gazette, someone calling himself “Z.Z.” first brought the affair to the public’s attention. His purpose for writing was to expose the “abandoned character” of one “N—th—el S—fe G—fi—th of Hampton, who on the Night of [Saturday] the 11th of June…descended into some Sink for Human Excrements…and therewith freighting himself, proceeded to the Meeting-House in Hampton, and in a dirty, filthy and polluted Manner discharged the same upon the Linings and Cushions of a Gentleman’s Pew.”

The 12th of June being a Sunday, the deed was soon discovered, “to the Interruption of divine Service, and to the Discomposure of the whole Congregation.” According to Z.Z., “had the stinking Offender…Wit enough to have kept his own secret,” he would have gotten away with it, too.

Nathaniel responds

Two weeks later the Gazette published Nathaniel’s reply, in which he expressed “the greatest Surprize, Amazement and Astonishment”—not that he had been accused of smearing human excrement inside a church pew—but that such a “hard mouth’d scandalous Defamer, a Detractor…a most indelible Disgrace to the human Species, a Defamer of so black a Dye” actually existed in the world.

He did, however, “solemnly declare” his innocence, and he defied anyone to prove that he was guilty, because he knew that “only the circumstantial Evidence of a Girl…who for Ten Dollars more, and another green Gown, may be induced to swear” to his guilt. In short, the girl had been bribed to falsely accuse him, apparently at the behest of a person who had “found himself disappointed in all his former Attempts” to seize the property that was to be Nathaniel’s inheritance.

In response to Z.Z.’s impassioned outcries about defiling a house of God, Nathaniel shot back, “how dare you enter within the sacred Walls of that Meeting House where so many distress’d Persons, made so by your cruel Oppressions, present themselves to your View?” Clearly, Nathaniel believed that Z.Z., the briber, and the gentleman of the befouled pew were all the same person. Even if they were not, his revelatory remarks point, as we will see, to the one man in Hampton whose reputation fitted their blunt assessments.

A letter from “T.N.” and an apology

Several weeks later, a third writer calling himself “T.N.” (possibly Thomas Nudd, Esq., a Justice of the Peace in Hampton) entered the war of words. He chastised the editor for bothering to print such “personal, rude and indecent” missives, vouched for the reputations of both the girl and the gentleman whose pew had been fouled, and wholeheartedly agreed with the premise of Z.Z.’s letter. The “whole Neighborhood, if not the whole Town” of Hampton, he said, knew that Nathaniel was the one who had put the poo in the pew, and he likened the Griffiths to “lazy, idle People” who think they are “greatly abused if they are made to pay their debts.”

Mocking the “fine strain of Eloquence” that ran through Nathaniel’s letter, T.N. hinted that someone with more writing talent than young Mr. Griffith possessed had composed it. Like a well-aimed arrow shot, the allegation found its mark, and sure enough, toward the end of the year the Gazette published an apology from the anonymous scribe, who confessed that if he had known then what he knew now—notwithstanding Nathaniel’s claim of innocence—he “would sooner have cut off his right Hand, than have put Pen to Paper in behalf of the Author of that Piece.”

“Bitter cries and lamentable moans”

 If Nathaniel was the culprit, then surely revenge was his motivation. The clues lie in the words of his letter, which tell us that an “Oppressor” was attempting to get at his “Father’s Inheritance,” and in the county records—where a man’s secret failures and humiliations are unapologetically made public—which show that Nathaniel’s father, Hampton innkeeper Gershom Griffith, had gotten himself deeply into debt. By the summer of 1768 his creditors were closing in on his tavern and 26 acres of prime Hampton land. Unfortunately, Griffith’s principal creditor was his neighbor Jonathan Moulton, a prominent merchant and land dealer whose greed and deceitful financial dealings were the stuff of legend (and not a few tears). His takeover of Griffith’s property was imminent, and there was nothing that Gershom or Nathaniel could do—except perhaps take revenge on the heartless man (Moulton) said by Nathaniel to have caused the “bitter Cries and lamentable Moans of the distrest Widow and the helpless Orphan.”

“Devilish envy and revenge”

Had the vile prank satisfied Nathaniel’s need to get even, or was he planning more acts of revenge? As it happened, for some time Moulton had been the target of arsonists who had burned down three of his barns in Hampton Falls. He opined that his antagonists were “persons of bad character and shattered circumstances, who…when they cannot be discharged from their just debts in a course of law [will] give full scope to their devilish envy and revenge.” He brought charges against Capt. Jonathan Swett, a man of similar social rank whom he had bested in a contentious court case, and who was jailed for failing to pay a judgment levied against him in the arson case. But while Moulton was focusing his attention on Swett, he may have missed the fact that it’s not always the most obvious or strongest enemy who does the greatest damage. Swett seems to have left the area by early 1768, but a few months after the pew incident an arsonist struck again, torching Moulton’s home barn and hitting him right where he lived. Of course, anyone could have done it, but we could ask the question—since Nathaniel had the means, opportunity, and enough motive to fill a barn—had the “phew in the pew” been his gateway crime to arson? We may never know for sure.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, June 7, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.



Leora Philbrick Bristol of Hampton, New Hampshire


Leora Philbrick Bristol, c.1910. Courtesy of Julie Bristol Mortlock.

Leora Philbrick Bristol, c.1910. Courtesy of Julie Bristol Mortlock.

Leora Philbrick Bristol of Hampton, New Hampshire had a reputation in her family as “no shrinking violet.” Born in 1887, with bloodlines that stretched back to the town’s earliest years, on her 18th birthday she married Frank Bristol, a divorced man 12 years her senior. It was an act that most parents of the time would have found appalling. She had been one of the first women to conquer the complexities of the automobile in her hometown, and as early as 1916 had bought and sold real estate in her own name. In 1912, when Frank turned from house painting to cars and opened Bristol’s Garage at Hampton Beach, no doubt she was right there, involved in its operation. But the auto business, still in its infancy, was by no means a sure thing, at least in the minds of some folks—when Frank Brooks decided to open the Hampton Center Garage in 1915, his parents advised him to “get a decent job.” The World War took a toll on the auto industry as production was devoted to the war effort, with sales and repair shops inevitably taking a hit. Then came the deadly Spanish flu pandemic that killed 675,000 persons in the United States and some 50 million people worldwide. During the years 1918-1919, Leora’s grit was sorely tested as first Frank succumbed to the flu, leaving her with four small children and a business to run, and then Millard, her 13-year-old son, died of pneumonia.

The Bristol Garage

Bristol Garage and Wilbert Hotel, c. 1920

Bristol’s Garage and The Wilbert Hotel, c. 1920. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Shortly after Frank’s death Leora assumed sole ownership of the garage by buying her children’s inherited interest in the property. The family continued to live in their Marsh Avenue cottage, adjacent to the garage, and Leora continued to run the business with help from Walter Goss, a former chauffeur who managed the day-to-day operations of the garage. But she evidently had other plans for her life, as in early 1922 she put the garage up for sale and bought an undeveloped lot at the corner of Lafayette Road and Ann’s Lane on which she would build a house. The garage went unsold that year, and in March 1923 she once again advertised that it was for sale, and could be bought with or without the two adjacent cottages. Unfortunately, on a windless night in June the garage took fire and burned to the ground, two years to the day of the last great beach fire.

1923 Boston Globe front page

Front page of the Boston Globe, June 23, 1923.

Explosions rocked the garage as the fire spread from car to car, the night watchman making his escape from the burning building by breaking a window. While a “roaring mass of flames” shot high into the night sky, Leora and her family, and the pajama-clad guests at the Wilbert Hotel next door to the garage, fled for their lives as the fire quickly ignited the surrounding buildings. The Bristol cottages were utterly destroyed, two others badly scorched, but the Wilbert, by virtue of its fireproof shingles, was saved from total destruction, and was credited with helping to check the fire’s spread. Various culprits were assigned to the cause of the blaze; a short circuit in one of the 22 cars parked inside the garage, an unextinguished cigarette butt, an overheated engine. The following day the fire made the front page of the Boston Globe, which reported, somewhat fantastically, that some 100,000 people had arrived during the day to inspect the calamity.

Bristol's Garage in ruins, from Boston Globe image, June 25, 1923.

Bristol’s Garage in ruins. Boston Globe image, June 25, 1923.

Leora’s Bristol Cafe

Put out of her home by the fire, Leora rented an apartment in one of John Janvrin’s new houses across from the Odd Fellows Hall at the center of town. She and her family resided there until July 1925 when the Ann’s Lane house became ready for occupancy. Here she opened a cafe and rooming house (later known as the Lafayette Inn), which she ran until selling the property in late 1926. This house was later moved to the adjoining lot to make way for the Town and Beach Motel, and is still standing there today.

Later Years

Unlike many women of her time, Leora never remarried. After selling the Ann’s Lane house she turned to housekeeping, advertising for situations “in refined gentlemen’s homes.” Over the years she worked at a number of private homes in places like Kittery and Portsmouth, and later, until her death in 1956, she lived in Exeter with her daughter Charlotte Bristol Doyle, a former Carnival Queen (1927) who owned a real estate agency in Hampton for many years.

According to Leora’s great granddaughter, Julie Bristol Mortlock of Exeter, who is currently writing her family’s history and who contributed to this article, Leora loved cats, and kept many in her home. Not surprising, really, since I have it on good authority that “cat ladies” the world over are and have always been nonconformists who love challenging traditional roles. Leora Bristol certainly fit the description.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, May 3, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

When tea rooms were a thing


By the early 1920s, America’s tea room craze was on. A triad of cultural forces—women’s rights, automobiles, and Prohibition—had combined to make tea rooms as ubiquitous then as Starbucks is today. The first establishments were cozy little restaurants opened by women for women. They were socially acceptable for a woman to own, and at a time when ladies could be barred from entering a restaurant alone, they were places for unescorted females to dine. Department stores also capitalized on the trend. Filene’s in Boston invited women shoppers to sit a spell in their elegant tea rooms, blissfully apart from the “men’s” restaurants where cigars were sold and smoking was permitted. In the days before the 19th amendment was passed in Congress and ratified by the states, suffrage groups used tea rooms as safe places to gain signers for their petitions. 

On the New Hampshire seacoast, the first tea rooms were located in Portsmouth and Newcastle. In 1909 the Portsmouth Herald informed its readers that “Tea rooms are now quite the thing.” Familiar names in Portsmouth were The Colonial, Gray Gables, and The Jarvis, and in Newcastle, the White Cat and Wayside Inn. Farther down the coast in Rye was Virginia’s Tea Room, and at Little Boar’s Head, the exotically named Blue Dragon Tea Room.

Hampton was not far behind, and over the next four decades tea rooms were a common sight at the beach. In 1910 the Hampton Beach Casino opened one of the first tea rooms for which there is a record. Located in a former laughing gallery, the room had been “prettily fitted with Japanese hangings” in the latest fashion, and, just in case the tea thing didn’t pan out, it doubled as an ice cream parlor. Over the next half century at least 14 other tea rooms would operate at the beach, and at least two uptown, in the “village.” Some lasted only a few seasons, while a few survived until the beginning of the fast food era in the 1950s.

-tea rooms in the village-

 Stevens Tea Room

Around 1920 Phoebe Campbell Stevens and her husband Charles O. Stevens bought the site of the former Whittier Hotel, just west of their Hotel Echo, at the junction of Lafayette and Winnacunnet roads. In 1922 Phoebe opened a tea room in the building that Charles had built on the site. How long she welcomed patrons to her tea room with her soft Irish brogue is unknown. As a widow in 1934 she leased the property for use as a gas station, and after her death in 1939 the land was purchased by her nephew, Herbert Patterson of Lynn, Massachusetts.

East End School (1873-1922)

East End School, c 1910. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

East End Tea Room

In 1925 Eva Kamett Mason, originally from Madison, New Hampshire, opened a tea room in the former school house located at the corner of Locke and Winnacunnet roads, which from 1873 to 1922 had been the East End grammar school. Sitting in desks now redeployed as dining furniture, Eva’s patrons were served a menu of “salads, chicken fried or broiled, clams in all styles, sandwiches, and coffee par excellence,” and, of course, an English Tea from 3-5 p.m.

Situated on the trolley line to Hampton Beach, Eva’s tea room did a good business, until the following year when the town of Hampton discontinued the street railway. About 1930 she closed the tea room and opened a dry goods store on Lafayette Road. By 1940 she had relocated to Portsmouth, where she worked as the manager of the Women’s Exchange in that city.

 -tea rooms at north beach-


the Palmers

c. 1920 photo post card of Charles Henry and Ruth (Leavitt) Palmer. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

 Palmer’s Tea Room

In 1923 the small restaurant known as Palmer’s Clam Shell began life as a tea room under the ownership of Charles and Ruth (Leavitt) Palmer, both descendants of Hampton’s earliest families. That same year The Hamptons Union reported that “Mrs. Ruth Leavitt Palmer is doing a very thriving business at her tea room at North Beach.” Located opposite the fish houses where Charles was often employed as a fisherman, and renowned for its “home cooking and seafood specialties,” Palmer’s remained in business until 1944.


1925 Elsa Marie Aitken

Elsa Marie Aitken, proprietor of the Acorn Tea Room (Boston Globe, June 4, 1925).


Acorn Tea Room

In 1926 Helene Pabst Aitken and her husband Eli, a classically trained musician who for 16 summers had played the trombone and bass viol at Hampton Beach with the Charles Higgins Concert Band, bought three house lots on Acorn Road, in Frank Leavitt’s new Greenlands subdivision near Plaice Cove. Although their deed prohibited commercial enterprise on the premises for 20 years, that same year the Aitkens opened the Acorn Tea Room in a cottage on the lot nearest the beach road. No one seems to have minded.

 The Aitken’s daughter Elsa Marie, who had served in World War I as a U.S. Navy “Yeomanette,” was the Acorn’s proprietor. Her advertising slogan, “An Artistic Touch to the Surroundings as Well as the Food,” said that this might just be the kind of cozy tea room that ladies read about in magazines.

By 1930, the year Elsa married local milkman Homer Johnson, the Acorn Tea Room was called simply “The Acorn.” On the menu were chicken, steaks, and lobsters, with “tea and bridge parties a specialty.” In later years the Acorn morphed into the Acorn Village and Motel, and although Elsa’s main residence was the Johnson’s Park Avenue homestead, she continued to run the business with her parents.

B1 - 1926Jul27 HBNG Acorn Tea RoomBoth Eli and Elsa died in 1959. He was 93, she was 67. The motel, including the original “Acorn Teahouse” cottage, went on under other management until the 1980s when it was torn down and replaced by the Harbour Pointe condominiums.


-tea rooms at hampton beach-

Delta building Hampton Beach

Cozy Corner Tea Room in the Delta Building, corner of Ashworth Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, c. 1925. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

 Cozy Corner Tea Room

For years Thomas and Minnie (Brown) Hobbs of Manchester, New Hampshire had spent their summers at Hampton Beach. In 1908 they made the move permanent, and by 1920 Minnie was the proprietor of the Cozy Corner Tea Room, located on the boulevard between A and B streets. She was admired for her beauty and praised as a “wonderful cook” whose chicken dinners were “famous” with the social clubs that frequented her tea room. She earned a reputation for “endurance and ambition” when she worked out of a tent on the beach after her tea room was destroyed in the fire of 1921. And, as tea rooms were often venues for local women to sell their handcrafted items, Minnie did her part by selling preserved foods and homemade items for the Rockingham County Farm Bureau Women’s Exchange.

In 1922 the Cozy Corner reopened in the new Delta Apartments building at the junction of Ocean Boulevard and Marsh (Ashworth) Avenue.

In 1926 tragedy struck the Hobbs family when Minnie suddenly died. Although the newspapers reported that the culprit was food poisoning, the official cause of death was a cerebral abscess caused by an infection in the 56-year-old woman’s mouth. Thomas ran the tea room for a time, but later acquired other management. The tea room continued under the Cozy Corner name until 1946, when it became the William James Dining Room.

Chat Room staff

Waitstaff of the Chat Tea Room, c. 1930. Courtesy of Carole Wheeler Walles, granddaughter of Joseph S. and Clara Libby Dudley.

The Chat Tea Room

Opened in 1926, this tearoom was located in Joseph and Clara Dudley’s Hotel and Gift Shop building at the corner of C Street and Ocean Boulevard. Said to have been “one of the Dudley family’s great hobbies,” it became “a business second to none on the beach.” Then in 1931 Clara died and The Chat ceased to be a family hobby. The following year it opened under new management. A 1938 advertising supplement informs us that diners came from places as far away as Fitchburg and Hanover in Massachusetts “to enjoy the special attention of their favorite waitress”—picked from a stock of girls who had been “specially selected for their personality and appearance.” Oh, and the food was really good, too.

In 1947 George and Lea Downer of Southbridge, Massachusetts bought The Chat from George Fostie of Lawrence, and it may be this café that was later known as Lea’s Tea Room. Lucky for the Downers, the tea room survived the 1950 fire—which started in a shed at the rear of the building and eventually destroyed 19 businesses—and was still in business in 1958.

Colonial Inn

Postcard view of the Colonial Inn and Tea Room, c. 1930. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Colonial Inn Tea Room

After 20 years of managing the Hampton Beach Casino and Ocean House Hotel, in 1926 Frank Nason purchased and renovated the Central House on F Street. He fancified the exterior of the new but austere-looking building and rechristened it the Colonial Inn. The Central’s Surfside Café became the Colonial Inn Tea Room, which operated under the name into the 1930s. The Colonial Inn remained in business until 2005, when it became the Boardwalk Inn & Café.

Fairview Tea Room

Postcard view of Garland’s Ice Cream Shop, Fairview Hotel, and Tea Room. c. 1940. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Fairview Tea Room

Around the turn of the 20th century, Lemuel and Abbie Ring of Haverhill, Massachusetts built the Fairview House, a smallish hotel with an attached café. In 1908 they sold it to James and Lucy Garland of Manchester, New Hampshire. The Fairview burned in 1915 and again in 1921, and, like other beach hotels of the era, each time a more substantial building arose from the ashes of its predecessor.

In 1922 Charles F. Butler, the Garland’s son in law, opened the Fairview Tea Room on the north side of the new building (located at the corner of B Street and Ocean Boulevard, this structure is still standing, unfortunately with none of its former charm). As postcards will attest, the tea room was still in business in the 1940s.

Boar's Head Inn

Hylas and Almeria Wheeler’s rebuilt Boar’s Head Inn, 1929. Hampton Beach News-Guide, August 28, 1929.

Ye Boar’s Head Inn and Tea House

Located on Dumas Avenue on the north side of Boar’s Head, this inn and tea room—the former “Seldom Inn”—opened in 1927 under the ownership of Hylas and Almeria Wheeler. Before coming to Hampton Beach, Hylas had managed the St. James Hotel, his father’s venerable Washington, D.C. hotel, whose golden age had turned to rust by the 1920s and was demolished in 1928 to make way for the construction of Constitution Avenue.

In the early morning hours of January 23, 1929, the Wheeler’s Boar’s Head hotel was also demolished, not by the wrecking ball of progress but by fire. No one was hurt in the conflagration, and fortunately for the rest of the neighborhood, the wind was blowing offshore at the time, sending the flaming embers harmlessly out to sea.

Almost immediately the Wheelers built a larger inn, expanding from four bedrooms to fifteen, and from one dining room to two. “Tea House” was dropped from the name, but English Tea was still a specialty of the inn. Unfortunately, the fire and the Wheelers’ hopes for the future came at the worst possible time. The Wall Street crash and the economic depression that followed meant fewer paying guests, and in 1934 the inn was foreclosed and put to auction. Under new owners the Boar’s Head Inn became one of the most popular eating spots at the beach, but its days were numbered. In 1986 the inn was demolished.

-other beach tea rooms-

Williams Coffee and Tea Room—run by Mary Young Williams of Exeter, New Hampshire, this tea room had been in business on Nudd Avenue, perhaps as early as 1916.

Cutler’s Tea Room—started in 1923 at Cutler’s Sea View on Ocean Boulevard, this tea room seems to have been discontinued after only a few seasons.

Bobbie and Freckles Tea Room—just north of Cutler’s, this was another mid-1920s venture that seems to have had a short life span. Besides tea and “home cooking,” Bobbie and Freckles sold candy, gifts, and embroideries.

Martha’s Tea Room—located near the Dance Carnival at the foot of Boar’s Head, another mid-1920s tea room with a run of only a few seasons.  

Mahoney’s Lunch and Tea Room—this venerable boulevard eatery, “As Famous as the Beach Itself,” seems to have come late to the tea room party, advertising its tea room as late at 1948.

The Coffeecupinn Tea Room—opened in 1922 by Canadian immigrant Florence Munsey in her new Janvrin Building, after the fire of 1921 destroyed its predecessor. This tea room seems to have lasted only a few seasons.

The Renwod Tea Room—started in 1932 by brothers Frank and John Downer of Amesbury, Massachusetts. For nearly three decades they had run Downer’s Lunch on Hampton Beach, and their experience surely contributed to this tea room’s relatively long life, as the Renwod was still serving customers when it was destroyed by fire in 1948. (If you haven’t guessed, Renwod is Downer spelled backwards.)

White’s Tea Room Cafe—opened about 1927 by John C. White, the former partner of Joseph Dudley. This tea room was still doing business as of 1932, but the name may have been shortened to White’s Cafe shortly thereafter.

Looking back over the half century in which tea rooms were a common enough dining choice in Hampton and Hampton Beach, it’s clear that these eateries were more about exploiting a fad to turn a profit than immersing customers in a cozy, semi-exclusive, getaway atmosphere. Those that lasted long enough eventually dropped “tea room” from their names and became what they had been all along—small cafes and restaurants that served cheap comfort food. But the idea of the tea room has never exactly gone away, and with today’s fast casual cafés that feature “fully immersive experiences,” the tea room might be poised to make a comeback. Just last year a pink-on-pink Hello Kitty café—a bellwether of the changing food culture if ever there was one—opened in California. And it offers an afternoon tea.

Portions of this article were originally published in the Hampton Union on April 5, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Hampton History Matters, a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market in downtown Hampton. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.


The Silhouette Lady of Hampton Beach


After falling out of fashion in the 1970s, the black-paper silhouette portrait seems to be making a comeback, if its 6,200 search results on the handcraft site Etsy.com are any indication. With roots in ancient Greek pottery painting, silhouettes first appeared in the early 18th century as “shades,” an art form in which likenesses were quickly and easily cut with scissors from black paper. Initially adopted by European aristocrats, “having your shadow taken” became an inexpensive means of portraiture among the lower classes. The art form got its nickname from Etienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister whose unpopular frugality made his name synonymous with doing things fast and on the cheap. Anything deemed affordable was labeled “à la Silhouette.”

Silhouettes soon crossed to America. In 1802 the painter and inventor Charles Willson Peale installed a silhouette-making machine called a physiognotrace in his Philadelphia museum. According to the Smithsonian, the public loved it, with more than 8,500 silhouettes cut the first year. Peale’s slave, Moses Williams, earned enough money from operating the machine to buy his freedom.

 By mid-century, however, photography had eclipsed the shadow portrait. Yet the romantic allure of the flat black silhouette ensured that it would never completely disappear from popular culture, and in the 20th century silhouette makers recast themselves as scissor artists, cutting on-the-spot black-paper portraits at popular venues like fairs, sideshows, and vacation resorts. Traveling, “internationally renowned” silhouettists became all the rage, with some even appearing in vaudeville shows.

1946Jul24 Beachcomber 1st advertThe Silhouette Lady comes to the beach

The middle class popularity of silhouette portraits bred elitist detractors who questioned whether the making of silhouettes was an art form at all, since, as one writer put it, “there is so little art about them.” But then, the critics weren’t referring to the famous French painter Henry Matisse, who began “painting with scissors” when an illness confined him to a wheelchair in the 1940s—around the time that Lillian Clarke was snipping her way to renown as the “Silhouette Lady” of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.

Lillian was born in Massachusetts in 1900, just one year after the opening of the Hampton Beach Casino, where from 1933 on she would spend nearly 50 summers in a small shop on its promenade, cutting silhouettes portraits and drawing pastel profiles for the vacationing public. Before coming to the beach she studied at the Boston Museum School (now the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University), worked as a jewelry designer, and devoted a few years to teaching with the League of New Hampshire Arts and Crafts. In the off-season she snipped portraits all around the Boston area, at charity bazaars, home and flower shows, and Jordan Marsh’s Toyland.

1958-60 Lillian Clarke

Top: Lillian G. Clarke and husband John P. Bunker, c 1960. Bottom: Lillian at Hampton Beach studio, 1958. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

Lillian didn’t just work at the beach, she was literally invested in it. Over the years she had owned at least five properties, most with multiple dwellings and situated on Town or Hampton Beach Improvement Company leased land. Her first Hampton Beach cottage was The Gables on K Street, which she bought in 1943, one year after the death of her first husband. Others she would later buy with her second husband, John Bunker, who ran John’s Popcorn on the boulevard.

1959 Popcorn Stand 2

John Bunker and popcorn stand, Hampton Beach. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.


Lillian’s limericks

Lillian was also known to occasionally “cut a few shadow pictures in limerick form.” In 1934 the Hampton Beach News-Guide published her limerick about life at Hampton Beach.

If to the ballroom you wish to retreat
To do some dancing with nimble feet
Billy’s Arcadians are very good.
And so I think you really should
Spend lots of nickels to make it complete.

In Hal’s Hampton Beach Band is a sweet gracious man
Who’s admired by many a feminine fan
For it’s “IT” he possesses
And who ‘tis you’ve three guesses
Adolph Blazer’s the one who’s so grand!

Now Hal has a Daddy, in the band he does toot
He’s a little fat man from his hat to his boot.
When his son says “obey”
He ne’er tells him “nay”
Want to see him? He wears a tan suit.

Hap Rowell the “Sheriff” in the band is getting old
>He wears flannels and boots to keep out the cold.
I’ll be blest where he’ll go
When we get ice and snow
Let’s give him a cold range to hold.

On Monday nights at the bandstand is a very good show
And who thinks he’s Bing’s double? Why Lawrence you know.
After attempt number three
An endurance prize got he
Now we’ll endure him as long as he’ll go.

Last year Bill Stickney was a cop
And tagging cars kept him ahop
But he got a chance
For a little advance
As a captain now, he’s no flop.

Now we’ve Jim and we’ve John of the family Dineen
As two corking brothers as you’ve ever seen
Who own half the Casino
And no wives in Reno
Now, girls, you can’t make a real choice between.

If the future or past you wish to know
To Madame Cooper you want to go
She’s as clever as can be
Just take a try and see
She’s a whiz as a palmist ‘tis so.

This beach, it is great for Conventions of late
If you wish to have any be sure not to wait.
If all rooms are not taken
For vacations, you may be mistaken
And our transients think Hampton Beach is just great.

In 1936 the Hampton Beach Advocate gave us Lillian’s poem of wind-blown woe titled, “North-easter? Watch Out!” In 1955 the Beachcomber published her poetic testimonial to Bill Elliot, the town’s singing cop, of whom she had cut a full-length silhouette 19 years earlier.

No longer a thing

Not only had the Silhouette Lady cut an untold number of black-paper portraits in her forty-plus years at the Casino, but she had captured in silhouette and poem a piece of Hampton Beach history. She was as much a beach institution as the Singing Cop and the Carnival Queen, both of whom she outlasted. But by the 1970s hand-cut silhouettes were no longer a thing, and when the Casino’s new owners took over in 1976, they replaced old-timers like Lillian Clarke with a new generation of retailers.

Fortunately for us, her daughter presented to the Hampton Historical Society a set of Lillian’s silhouette portraits—which includes full-body profiles of all 17 members of the Hal McDonnell Band, the beach “house” band from 1925-1936. These original portraits can be seen at the Tuck Museum, 40 Park Avenue, Hampton. For anyone interested in the history of Hampton Beach, they are worth a look.

1934 Hal McDonnell Band members

Lillian Clarke silhouette of Hal McDonnell Band (1 of 6). Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, March 1, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

Uri Lamprey, “Old Seaweed” of Hampton


His political cronies called him “Old Seaweed.” The town historian lauded him as a man of “great business ability and forethought.” But to Uri Lamprey’s political enemies he was a dictator, thug leader, Copperhead, seller of Peruvian guano, a hard line Democrat who callously looked the other way at the issue of slavery.

It was once rumored that he had designs on the governor’s seat, but the Civil War was over, Reconstruction had begun, and the Democratic Party to which he had pledged his loyalty for over 30 years was on the ropes. His wish for the leadership of the state would remain just that.

His occupations were as many and varied as the names thrown at him—he was a farmer, justice of the peace, deputy sheriff, constable, collector of taxes, bank director, president and agent of the Rockingham County Farmers’ Mutual Fire Insurance Company. And when he was still young enough not to know any better, he had been the Hampton agent for a quack product called Dr. Holman’s Jaundice Powder.

Political career

Uri Lamprey, 1871

Uri Lamprey of Hampton, 1871. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Born in 1809, Lamprey became politically active during the Age of Jackson. He was drawn to the party of power in New Hampshire, the anti-federalist Democratic-Republicans, who saw as evil both the national bank and the “fanatical doctrines of universal emancipation.” He rose through the ranks as selectman, town meeting moderator, and state representative, and, as a delegate to the 1850 state constitutional convention, had tackled a slate of vexing issues, including a proposal to remove the provision barring any but Protestants from holding public office (in Hampton as well as statewide, voters soundly rejected this measure).

In the 1852 presidential election, three of the candidates were New Hampshire natives—Brigadier General Franklin Pierce, Democratic ticket; U.S. Senator John P. Hale, Free Soil ticket; and U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster; Union Party ticket (he, however, died a week before the election). Pierce had set up his campaign headquarters at the Ocean House in Rye, just a short carriage ride from Hampton, and Lamprey, who would be elected to the state Executive Council in 1853, was one of his most active campaigners. His relationship with Pierce went back a decade or more, and it was likely around 1842 that he received from then-U.S. Senator Pierce the gift of a black walking cane, which was said to have come to him “through the late Hon. Tristram Shaw.” Shaw, who died in 1843, is the only person from Hampton to have been elected to Congress, serving his term of office when Pierce was in the Senate, 1837-1842. In 1931 Lamprey’s granddaughter Caroline Lamprey Shea presented the Pierce cane to the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association (now the Hampton Historical Society).

1852 Pierce Campaign broadside

1852 Pierce Campaign broadside, Library of Congress.

After Pierce won the presidency, Lamprey resigned his agency with Farmers’ Mutual and went to Washington. It’s not clear what role he played there, but in 1854 we find him back in his old haunts, serving as State Insurance Commissioner and lobbying for Pierce’s agenda. Like his hero in the White House, he was fatally attached to the idea that for the sake of the Union slavery must be tolerated. The opposition press called him a “Thug leader,” one whose interest in politics started and ended with the spoils system. To criticize his lobbying efforts they lampooned him as an “agent of the New York Guano Company,” who had set out in the back room of a Concord hotel his samples of “Peruvian or Chincha Islands sugar, commonly called guano,” which some Democratic members of the New Hampshire legislature had liberally imbibed with their liquor.

During the early years of the Civil War, Lamprey threw his support behind the “irascible old physician” Dr. Nathaniel Batchelder of Epping, who had been arrested and temporarily imprisoned for leading a group of antiwar protestors in tearing down the U.S. flag at the Epping post office and “shouting hosannas to the Confederate regime.” Batchelder became an overnight martyr to the anti-Lincoln crowd, and Lamprey proudly introduced him at the next party convention (which opponents called “slaveholder rallies”), where Batchelder expounded his theory of the “divinity of human slavery” to an appreciative crowd.

Charges of jury tampering

The war was still ongoing when William Young, a Deerfield, New Hampshire physician, was indicted for the murder of Sarah Atwell, alias Fannie Morgan, a 24-year-old factory worker from Clinton, Massachusetts. Sarah had arrived at Dr. Young’s house in early August 1864, “in a condition of pregnancy” with the intention of “procuring an abortion.” She never left the house alive, and Young was arrested and charged with her murder.

Lamprey’s interest in the case is a mystery, but during the trial held in Exeter he was accused of attempting to influence a member of the jury. The judge ordered him arrested and held for trial, but later released him without charges. The trial ended with an acquittal for Dr. Young.

A legacy, of sorts

While he was loathed by his political opponents, Old Seaweed had the esteem of supporters who saw him as a “bigger man than Old Jackson.” Fifteen years after Lamprey’s death in 1881, Lewis K. H. Lane of North Hampton wrote the following edited anecdote, which serves to illustrate his iconic stature in the minds of his admirers, and the sort of men, in Lane’s opinion, they tended to be.

“One day in the autumn of a certain year, an advertising team drove through Hampton, painting the fences and rocks alongside the road with the letters T  L for the purpose of exciting curiosity and to cause people to inquire as to their meaning. A second team was to follow a few days later and supply the missing letters, which would then spell the name of a patent medicine. But before that could happen, two men, loaded with ozone blown over from the classic shades of Newburyport, came walking into town from a late night gunning trip off Boar’s Head. When they saw the mysterious first letters they wondered what they meant, and the mystery deepened as they continued up from the beach, encountering more and more of these strange symbols. At last one of them threw up his hands and shouted, ‘T is for Uri and L for Lamper! Oh holy, how plain I see it.’”

Lane concluded his story by saying that while the “days of Uri Lamprey are no more, the quaint saying T is for Uri, and L for Lamper is a common proverb in Hampton today.”

Originally published in the Hampton Union, January 25, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.


Lady Tavern keepers of Hampton


Lady Tavern Keepers of Hampton, New Hampshire

Hampton Tavern mapSecond only in importance to the meetinghouse, taverns in colonial New England were charged with meeting the public’s expectations of hospitality. To accommodate travelers, every town was required by law to provide a tavern, also known as a “public house of entertainment,” and those that failed to do so could be fined. And while taverns were meant to be places of rest and refuge, unless strictly controlled they could easily become dens of immoral (and therefore illegal) activity. To curtail such common sins as drunkenness, gambling, dancing, and singing bawdy songs, the town selectmen looked for tavern proprietors who were “meet and suitable” persons—those individuals who would maintain good order in their houses and prevent inhabitants from drinking away their livelihoods.

Tavern keeping was primarily a male occupation, but there were circumstances under which a woman could be granted a tavern license. In Hampton, as elsewhere, she was typically a widow who needed employment to keep her family out of poverty and off charity. In most cases, she had been running her husband’s tavern before her widowhood, and was trusted to continue the tavern after his death. From Hampton’s founding in 1638 to the late 18th century, the selectmen approved eight women to keep tavern with the town’s bounds—Joanna Tuck, Sarah Roby, Love Sherburne, Joanna Lane, Mary Leavitt, Rachel Freese, Anna Leavitt, and Rachel Leavitt—all widows save one.

Joanna Tuck

At the request of the town, Robert and Joanna Tuck established Hampton’s first tavern in the early years of settlement. By the time Robert died in 1664, they had been in business for over a quarter century. His death occurred suddenly, during the fall session of the court, which was held every October in the Hampton meeting house, and to keep the beer flowing legally the magistrates’ first order of business was to issue Joanna a license. She ran the Tuck tavern under her own name until the following year, when Henry Deering, a Portsmouth innkeeper, was hired in her place.

Sarah Roby

Sarah Roby was the third wife of Henry Roby, who had been granted his first tavern license about the year 1670. They married in 1678, but had no children together. When he died ten years later, she received little more than the use of the house she lived in.

Now a widow, Sarah was granted a license to run the Roby tavern in her own name. Over the next decade her health declined, and in 1698 she asked for relief from paying excise taxes on liquor. In her petition, she described herself as a “pore widow of about sixtie years of Age,” who had for “this ffower or five years lost the use of my limbs and hath not bin able for the above sayd time to stand on my feet nor to dress or undress myself no more than a child.” Her sole means of support was “by keeping a publick House of entertainment as I have done for neare twentie years,” and she was “very much streightned to pay ye person I keep to tend my house.” T


he colonial assembly in Portsmouth granted the suspension of the excise, “so long as she keep her license in her owne Hands but no longer.” With this concession Sarah was able to keep the tavern until her death in 1703.

Love Hutchins Sherburne

Born in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1647, Love was the wife of Captain Samuel Sherburne of Portsmouth. In 1678 they bought the old Tuck tavern and ran it together until 1691, when Sherburne was killed during a military expedition to Maine. Now a widow with eight children—four younger than thirteen and one not yet born—Love ran the Sherburne tavern under her own name.

In the fall of 1701, a man named Ebenezer Webster assaulted her at her tavern. Witnesses testified that Webster “did strike her some blows which was the cause of her sore eye, and took her by the neckcloth and was in danger of choking her,” and that she was “all bloody” from the attack. The reason for the assault is unknown, but a short time later she moved to Kingston, New Hampshire, having leased the tavern to Webster’s kinsman, John Lane of Boston. Love died in 1739 at the age of 91.


 Joanna Lane

Joanna Davidson Lane was the wife of John Lane, the new keeper of the Sherburne tavern. John was a military man, and in his absence in 1703 the Hampton selectmen gave Joanna permission to run the tavern under her own name. Because of John’s military duties, the Lanes moved around a lot, and probably did not stay in Hampton the full year.

Mary Carr Leavitt

With her husband Moses, Marr Carr Leavitt started what was to become a Leavitt family innkeeping dynasty, in which branches of the clan had entertained travelers and townsfolk from one end of Hampton to the other and at both ends of the beach for over 150 years.

Between 1700 and 1703, Moses and Mary sold illegal liquor from their home on Post Road (now in North Hampton), then ran a legal tavern from 1706 until Moses died about 1730. After his death, Mary ran the Leavitt tavern under her own name. A fire destroyed the tavern in 1733, but her neighbors pitched in to build her a new one. She was soon back in business, and, with help from her son John, continued to run the tavern until her death in 1747.

Rachel Chase Freese

In 1697, Joseph Chase bought a homestead at the riverfront Landing, where 59 years earlier the first Hampton settlers had come ashore. The spot would become a busy trading and fishing wharf, in part due to Joseph’s success as a merchant. He died a rich man, and his daughter Rachel, married to the merchant Jacob Freese, inherited most of his estate.

While Rachel did not need to work, her father had stipulated in his will that she was to entertain “Strangers, more particularly Quakers” in the house he had bequeathed to her. Widowed in 1727, by 1731 she saw a way to honor his wishes—by opening a tavern that would serve the salt marsh farmers. In approving her license request, the selectmen said that they were “very sensible of the hard labor and toil that many of our men have in hay time, some of them are from their houses twenty four hours at a time and want refreshment.” Rachel kept the Freese tavern until her marriage in 1737 to Andrew Wiggin, the Speaker of the New Hampshire House. She moved to Stratham and sold the Landing property to her son.

Anna Dole Leavitt

With the selectmen’s approval, in 1746 the court granted a tavern license to Ensign Jonathan Leavitt. Over the years he attained the status of a gentleman, and his tavern on the Country (Lafayette) Road became the most prominent, and at times the only, drinking establishment in Hampton. In 1755 he married his second wife Anna Dole, and they had one child, Thomas. In 1783 Jonathan killed himself, his body found hanging from a rope in the barn. Anna kept the Leavitt tavern in her own name, but eventually gave it over to Thomas. She lived to be 99 years old.

Rachel Philbrick Leavitt

Thomas’s wife Rachel was the last of the meet and suitable ladies of Hampton’s early history. When Thomas died in 1791, Rachel ran the tavern under her own name, with help from Philip Burdoo, a former slave, and her mother in law Anna, now in her seventies. When Rachel retired she sold the tavern to her son in law Josiah Dearborn, who rebuilt and renamed it Dearborn’s Inn.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on January 4, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. A Meet and Suitable Person: Tavernkeeping in Old Hampton, New Hampshire is available through amazon.com. Hampton History Matters, a collection of new and previously published essays, is available through amazon.com and at Marelli’s Market in Hampton.


The Hampton Saltworks


(Above: Mid-19th century view of a Cape Cod saltworks wind-driven pump, which supplied sea water to the evaporation vats. The Hampton windpump owned by David Nudd would have been similar. Library of Congress.)

In 1840 the Eastern Railroad was built through Hampton, New Hampshire, bringing a new era of commerce to the area. As it turned out, the first persons to ride the rails over the Hampton marshes on those early steam locomotives were also the last to see the local salt making industry in operation. Easy to spot, the saltworks were located just east of the tracks on a winding bank of the estuarine Taylor’s River. Owned and operated by local entrepreneur David Nudd, for 13 years the saltworks had annually produced some 1,200 bushels (approximately 48 tons) of salt crystals for Nudd’s fishing operations. Now, however, with cheaper salt from places like New York State supplying the market, the saltworks had outlived its usefulness and was shut down.

1841 Hampton Map

Location of the Eastern Railroad and Nudd’s house, saltworks, wharf, and canal. From the 1841 map of Hampton, courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

It was nothing new. Commercial salt making had never been a steady industry in the coastal environs between and around the Piscataqua and Merrimac Rivers. In the 1620s, men of the Laconia Company made salt at Odiorne’s Point to support their fishing operations, and when they left, so did the salt. In later times saltworks were built and eventually shuttered in Rye, Smuttynose Island, Kittery, and Salisbury. Local salt seemed like a good idea, but the reality was that without protective tariffs, it could never truly compete with the quantity and quality of salt from places like Liverpool, England and Turks Island in the Caribbean. Besides, foreign salt was a valuable trade item, as it provided a return cargo for Yankee ships carrying lumber and salt fish to the West Indies.

Nudd and his saltworks

“Liberty is power,” declared President John Quincy Adams in his First Annual Message to Congress in 1825. And the “tenure of power by man is, in the moral purposes of his Creator,” to improve economic and social conditions, not only for himself, but for his fellow men. Men who followed this creed were, in the 19th century, called “improvers,” and they took their responsibilities seriously.

Like Adams, David Nudd was an improver (he even named his son, born just eight days after Adams’s inauguration, in honor of the new president). While his sphere of influence was limited to a small geographical area, his commercial interests were large, extending to trade, shipping, fishing, a river canal, and several beach hotels. When he saw that he could make salt more cheaply than he could buy it, he literally tested the waters with his new idea.

As the tests showed that the salinity of Taylor’s River was higher than the waters nearer the seashore, Nudd laid out his saltworks on a two-acre tract adjacent to his wharf and warehouses. He modeled it on those operating on Cape Cod, where the salt making industry had begun in earnest when British embargoes during the Revolution had caused shortages of every kind of good, and it continued to grow until peaking at nearly 700 individual saltworks in the 1830s. Writing in the early 1930s, nonagenarian James Warren Perkins recalled Nudd’s works as a series of wooden vats (or “rooms” as they were called), each measuring fifteen feet square and 3 inches deep, standing 3 feet above the ground, and protected from the rain by a moveable roof. A windpump, “located about one hundred yards down river,” supplied salt water to the vats.

The salt making process consumed 350-400 gallons of seawater for every bushel of salt crystals produced, and, depending upon the amount of available sunshine, took anywhere from three to six weeks to complete. With a yearly output in the neighborhood of 48 tons, Nudd’s saltworks would have supplied a little over half the salt needed for the approximately 300,000 pounds of dried and pickled fish produced by the entire Hampton fisheries (1840 data).

1830 Hampton map.

Location of David Nudd’s house, saltworks, wharf, and warehouses. From the c.1830 map of Hampton, courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

Remnants and Revivals

With the shuttering of the saltworks, Nudd salvaged its timbers and used them to build the Granite House Hotel on Boar’s Head (later renamed the New Boar’s Head, this hotel was destroyed by fire in 1908). Remnants of the saltworks could still be seen in the early 20th century, languishing alongside the riverbank near the old Landing place.

Reinvented by the artisanal foods movement, salt has become the new beer. Cape Cod Saltworks, 1830 Sea Salt, and Wellfleet Sea Salt, small companies which provide specialty cooking salts to consumers, have revived the salt making tradition on Cape Cod. Who knows, beer came to Hampton, and someday salt might, too.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, November 30, 2018.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com, Tuck Museum, and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.


Pardoning Goody Cole


Hampton, New Hampshire, 1938. Three hundred years since its founding and 257 since the death of the accused witch Goodwife Eunice Cole, the town had grown to nearly 2,000 inhabitants. Almost everyone in this small, close-knit community was a descendant of at least one early settler, and some were descended from five or more founding families. As Hampton prepared to celebrate its 300th birthday, residents became intensely interested in the history and legends of the town their ancestors had founded.

But they also had to contend with the Great Depression, during which unemployment levels reached as high as 25 per cent. In New Hampshire, expensive government programs meant to fix the country’s economic problems were met with skepticism and more than a little apprehension by conservative newspaper editors and their vocal, middle class readers. In Hampton, welfare expenditures nearly doubled during the Depression years, giving local residents cause to voice similar concerns.

Americans also worried about the political machinations “over there” in Europe. They sensed that the world was on the brink of war, one that Secretary of State Cordell Hull observed would not be just “another goddamn piddling dispute over a boundary line.” Fears of renewed worldwide conflict, coupled with the never-ending march of economic misery, had a way of outstripping even the most optimistic person’s ability to cope. As the world went to hell in a handbasket, many Americans turned to escapist fantasies served up by Hollywood, while others turned to nostalgia for the good old days.


Founding members of The Goody Cole Society (l-r): James Tucker, Phyllis Tucker, William D. Cram, 1938. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

A ‘somewhat mystic society’ is formed

In Hampton, anticipation of the town’s 300th year exemplified the latter trend. In the 12 months leading up to the official celebration, scheduled for the week of August 21-28, 1938, the Hampton Union & Rockingham County Gazette regularly published stories about Hampton’s olden days. The first in the year-long series was “The Story of Goody Cole.”

It was no accident that this story of Hampton’s most famous witch had been written by William D. Cram, a newspaperman who penned a regular column called “Little Stories of Old New England.” With Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce employees Phyllis Tucker and her father James, Cram had recently formed The Society in Hampton Beach for the Apprehension of Those Falsely Accusing Goody Cole of Having Familiarity with the Devil (thankfully shortened to The Goody Cole Society). The trio’s objective for their “somewhat mystic society” was to draw attention to the town’s upcoming anniversary by “making restitution to Goody Cole and restoring her citizenship” of which she had been deprived by years of imprisonment in the Boston jail.

Besides the original threesome, other known members were district court judge John Perkins, “Singing Cop” Bill Elliot, Governor Francis P. Murphy, Highway Commissioner Fred Everett, and, from California, Beatrice Houdini, widow of the famous illusionist.

‘Vacillating Yankees’ make amends

While Cram worked up membership cards and fed stories to the press, James Tucker wrote and presented a resolution at the March 1938 town meeting, which read: “We, the citizens of the town of Hampton in town meeting assembled do hereby declare that we believe that Eunice (Goody) Cole was unjustly accused of witchcraft and of familiarity with the devil in the seventeenth century, and we do hereby restore to the said Eunice (Goody) Cole her rightful place as a citizen of the town of Hampton.” The resolution called for the destruction of certified copies of the original court documents, to be ceremoniously burned at the 300th anniversary celebration in August.

As the town’s legal counsel, Judge Perkins pointed out that while “the incident holds a strong warning for people of today concerning the conviction of innocent persons through mob hysteria,” Hampton in the 17th century was part of England, and it was therefore impossible for 20th century voters to reestablish Cole’s citizenship in a country to which they did not belong. Nevertheless, the resolution received unanimous voter approval, making Hampton the first community to publicly pardon an accused witch.

In the media, the vote was treated as a quirky publicity stunt. As columnist Howard Baker of the New Yorker magazine wryly observed, “The voters of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire are taking steps to absolve a woman who was imprisoned for witchcraft in 1656. That’s the way with those vacillating Yankees—always changing their minds.”

Boston Sunday Post illustration. October 3, 1937

Boston Sunday Post illustration, October 3, 1937. Judge John Wilder Perkins Collection, Hampton Historical Society.

‘A few bars of something weird’

Hollywood was not alone in its ability to concoct escapist fantasies. Two weeks after the historic (and somewhat silly) town vote, the NBC-Blue Radio Network broadcast a dramatized version of the event called The Witch of Hampton: A Tale of Early New England. Staged at the NBC studios in New York, the imaginative radio drama featured voice actors who portrayed the real-life persons of James Tucker, Margaret Wingate, and meeting moderator John Brooks. Having met them in person, the script writer advised the program director that “there is not the slightest suggestion of the ‘New England Rube’ about any of them,” and suggested how the actors were to play the characters. “Mr. Tucker,” he wrote, “is a well-educated gentleman who speaks with faultless diction and a Yankee accent barely discernible, Mrs. Wingate is a pleasant-spoken lady with a low, well-modulated voice,” and of Mr. Brooks he observed that “there is nothing of the political orator in his manner.”

With “a few bars of something weird…down behind” to set the mood, the live radio drama commenced. “The National Broadcasting Company presents a special program entitled…The Witch of Hampton!…A story of New England based on historical facts and legends.”

The program opens to a chatter of townspeople. The meeting moderator bangs his gavel, reads aloud the article, and asks Tucker to make the motion to accept.

“Mr. Moderator, fellow townsmen,” Tucker responds, “there has been some talk of opposition to this resolution on the grounds that in clearing the name of Goody Cole we smear the names of those who were her accusers. I feel certain when I say that if those men and women were alive today, they would vote for this resolution themselves.”

The drama then turns back to seventeenth century Hampton, where a fishing vessel has just gone down off Boar’s Head and all onboard are drowned. Sure that Goody had cursed the ship, an angry mob of villagers prepares to go after her.

“Pshaw!” she scoffs when a sympathetic townsman warns her of the impending danger. “The villagers are a lot o’ nincompoops! Is it Goody Cole’s fault if a ship is destroyed at sea?”

Apparently it was, as the “fear-maddened people of Hampton” drag her off to court, followed by a melodramatic retelling of her trials, imprisonments, lonely old age, and death, after which the villagers waste no time hammering a stake through her body and burying it.

Back in the present, the voters readily pass the resolution. The broadcast concludes with a question posed to Arnold Philbrick, the real-life descendant of one of Goody Cole’s accusers. “If Thomas Philbrick were alive today, how do you suppose he would react to what the people of Hampton have done?” To which Philbrick replies, “I’m sure he would congratulate them for proving that ignorance is a horrible thing, even if it does take nearly three hundred years to prove it.”

Goody Cole Day

Listening to the program from her home in California, Beatrice Houdini was inspired to write a letter to the “Mayor of Hampton Beach,” which read, “May I, in the name of Houdini, thank you for the honest and clear-sighted effort the officials of your lovely town are making to clear the name of one of your former citizens. For centuries the belief in witchcraft has permeated the nation. Definite action, such as yours, will go a long way to tear the veil from superstitious reaction. Your town has led the way; more power to you.—Sincerely, Mrs. Harry Houdini.”

She also traveled 3,000 miles to attend Goody Cole Day, which, as part of the tercentenary celebration, was held at the beach bandstand on August 25, 1938. As the day’s special guest and a member of The Goody Cole Society, Mrs. Houdini gave a short speech, then witnessed the selectmen’s ceremonial burning of the court documents that had so long ago sealed Eunice Cole’s fate.

As the now-pardoned woman’s symbolic tomb, the metal urn in which the papers were burned was to have been buried in an appropriate spot. Whether from forgetfulness, fear of vandalism, or a change of plans, the urn never made it into the ground. It remains to this day on display at the Tuck Museum, along with other Goody Cole Day memorabilia, as a physical reminder of, depending on how you look at it, a work of unabashed hucksterism, an absurd civic melodrama, a sincere effort to atone for a past wrong, or all of the above.

1938 GCS memorabilia

Goody Cole arrowhead coin and GCS membership card of Philip N. Blake, 1938. Harold Fernald Collection, Hampton Historical Society.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on October 26, 2018.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole” is available at amazon.com, Tuck Museum, and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.


More Than a Poet’s Fancy


John Greenleaf Whittier, 1852. Library of Congress.

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1852 (Library of Congress)

The poet John Greenleaf Whittier of Haverhill and Amesbury, Massachusetts, spent many a summer on the New Hampshire seacoast. Well-acquainted with its natural beauty, history, and local legends, he penned a number of ballads set in the Hampton area. His visits to the shore gave us “Hampton Beach” (1843) and “The Tent on the Beach” (1867), and the legend of Hampton’s witch Goody Cole was the supernatural inspiration for “The Wreck of Rivermouth” (1864) and “The Changling” (1867).

Another tale of the supernatural was “The New Wife and the Old,” published in 1843. It was, he wrote, “founded upon one of the marvelous legends connected with the famous General Moulton of Hampton, New Hampshire, who was regarded by his neighbors as a Yankee Faust, in league with the adversary.” The ballad recounts a visit to Moulton’s new wife on her wedding night by the ghost of his dead wife, who had come to reclaim the jewelry—her jewelry—that the new wife now wore.

“I give the story as I heard it when a child, from a venerable family visitant,” Whittier wrote in his preface to the ballad. As he was born in 1807, just 20 years after Moulton’s death, the original story could almost qualify as news, and his “venerable” visitor had likely known Moulton in the flesh. Equally fascinating, the story has a basis in discoverable fact, thanks in part to Winnacunnet High School history teacher Harold Fernald, who generously donated to the Hampton Historical Society his storehouse of local history, including several Moulton family letters.

The Story Behind the Story

In 1775, Moulton’s first wife Abigail died of smallpox. She left behind eight children, six under the age of fifteen. A year later Moulton married Sarah, the daughter of local doctor Anthony Emery. His choice, it seems, was not popular with his children, as one of Moulton’s sons, likely Josiah, a Harvard graduate who had assumed ownership of his father’s store, complained in writing that Sarah had wrongfully appropriated his mother’s belongings, “which of right belonged” to the oldest daughter, Nancy.

Sarah, he said, had taken Abigail’s gold necklace, had added to it more gold given to her by her husband, and had “worked [it] up to make herself a larger one.” She also took Abigail’s gemstone ring, monogrammed china, linens, and several items of costly clothing. She cut up the linens and clothing to disguise having taken them, and “at every opportunity” had robbed the house and conveyed items, including money, to her mother and others. Along with the list of items taken, the writer filled the page with his stepmother animus, saying that “Intermixed with lying deceit, backbiting, misrepresentations, every evil practice to answer her interest, and malevolent temper against the true heirs and children of the family and estate and their friends, [all] to such a degree that nothing short of a representation of images of Hell can represent her true conduct and character on Earth.”

In 1777, then-Colonel Jonathan Moulton of the 3rd New Hampshire militia was busy preparing his citizen soldiers for war, yet found time to engage in several ink-and-paper wars with his kinfolk. In a letter dated March 1, Moulton accused his father in law of reneging on Sarah’s dowry, and, with Sarah, of “Schem[ing] to defraud me by deed.” He implied that he might bring these actions into public should Emery not pay him what was due. Two days later he received Dr. Emery’s reply. “If you go into publick,” Emery warned, “I shall divulge those things which you never will wipe off, nor yours after you.” He closed by saying, “God forbid there should be such another on the face of the Earth as you are.”

That same day, Moulton wrote to his son regarding a situation that was just then “disturbing the Peace & Tranquility” of the family. His son replied on March 10, scolding him for his “evasive denials” and “indecent and malevolent reflections,” and warned that he would pursue “a more publick way for satisfaction” if the problem was not resolved. He signed the letter, “Your much injured, yet in all due respects, your Dutiful Son.”

These letters, of course, are only hints to a much larger story. But the accusations leveled by father and son against Dr. Emery and his daughter Sarah—the haunted heroine of Whittier’s ballad—make it plain that the Emerys were profoundly at odds with the Moultons, who, in turn, were at odds with each other. In consequence, their bitter, real-life family drama had fashioned for Whittier the perfect cauldron of greed and resentment in which the poet could brew his fanciful tale of ghostly (and righteous) retribution.

And the tenderest ones and weakest,
Who their wrongs have borne the meekest,
Lifting from those dark, still places,
Sweet and sad-remembered faces,
O’er the guilty hearts behind
An unwitting triumph find.
—from The New Wife and the Old by John Greenleaf Whittier


In grateful remembrance of Harold Fernald (May 18, 1931 – May 21, 2018), who in his day created a few legends of his own.

Harold Fernald

Harold Fernald as Franklin Pierce, c. 1995.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, September 28, 2018.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com, Tuck Museum, and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com

The Cold Water Army


Wine connoisseur Benjamin Franklin once said, “If God had intended man to drink water, He would not have made him with an elbow capable of raising a wine glass.” But for typical Americans of his era, drinking alcohol was more than a mere exercise of the joint between the humerus and ulna: it was becoming a national crisis. By the time of Franklin’s death in 1790, the annual consumption of distilled spirits by persons 15 and older was five gallons. By 1830, when solo and communal bingeing were common occurrences, it had exceeded nine gallons. Social and economic anxieties, cheap and plentiful rum, and the low-class, bland-tasting, and often polluted status of water were cited as reasons for Americans’ heavy consumption of alcohol. Whatever the causes, it led 19th century observers to conclude that the United States had become a nation of drunkards.

 Long before the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, mostly male groups such as the American Temperance Society, Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society, and Sons of Temperance had formed great armies of sober men to do battle with Demon Rum. All enthusiastically promoted the idea of cold water as a substitute for alcohol.

Most New Hampshire towns had a temperance movement. In Hampton, Rev. Josiah Webster spearheaded the anti-liquor crusade, scoring a temporary victory in 1830 when voters instructed the selectmen to stop issuing licenses for the sale of spirituous liquors. That vote was reversed the following month, but in 1833 selling liquor was again prohibited.

The temperance convention was the most popular method of delivering the anti-alcohol message to the masses. Like one big, catered camp meeting, it was a day long festival of marching, music, and speechifying by reformed drunkards. One of the first conventions in Hampton was held in 1841, for the purpose of organizing a Rockingham County chapter of the Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society, an early form of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose motto was “The Cold Water Army, conquering by love, the best mode of warfare.” The proprietor of the Railroad House carried the day to a roaring success by putting his stock of spirits “into the hands of the Washingtonians, who amused themselves by pouring them on the ground.” The most notable and well-attended conventions, however, were those held in 1844 and 1849.

1844 temperance convention

The local Washingtonians hosted Hampton’s first general temperance convention, held at Boar’s Head on July 4, 1844. The country’s birthday was favored by anti-alcohol forces of all stripes, because, they reasoned, by taking the “dry oath” on that day, participants would more strongly feel their abstinence as a virtuous act, akin to the Founding Fathers’ struggle for independence.

The day began with a march from Dearborn’s Inn at the center of Hampton to the beach, with Old Glory and the temperance banners unfurling in the breeze. The featured orator was future president Franklin Pierce, a man who struggled with hard drinking most of his life, eventually succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver in 1869. A choir sang such refrains as “The teetotalers are coming, the teetotalers are coming, the teetotalers are coming, with the Cold Water Pledge. We will stop the course of stilling, alcoholic drink for killing, and all fermented swilling, with the Cold Water Pledge.” To the objections by some temperance advocates that, since rum was sold there, Boar’s Head was the wrong place for the event, the Exeter News-Letter commented, “if anybody took rum or brandy [that day], they did it very slyly.”

1849 temperance convention

Hampton’s second and largest temperance convention, held on July 4, 1849, was hosted by the local branch of the Sons of Temperance. Led by a uniformed, mounted marshal and the Newburyport Brass Band, a parade of children with banners and flags, clergymen, and the Sons marched from the Congregational Church to the convention site on the Thomas Ward estate, just south of the main village. The featured speaker was John Hawkins of Baltimore, a rehabilitated drunkard and early member of the Washingtonian Society. The warriors were out that day, eliciting pledges of alcohol abstinence from among the estimated 2,000 attendees.

Cold Water Army

“Cold Water Army,” depicting temperance groups marching to Hampton, c. 1841 by unknown artist. The road sign reads “Hampton 2 mil.” The banners read “Cold Water Army,” “Hampton 1841,” and “Temperance Army.” Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

The hole in the dike

Cold Water armies not only encouraged abstinence, they agitated for mandatory prohibition, and in 1855 the New Hampshire legislature enacted a ban on the production and sale of most kinds of distilled spirits. The prohibition lasted until 1903, when it was replaced by local option. As it had in the 1830s, Hampton vacillated between yes and no on the liquor question.  New Hampshire had its share of flip-flopping problems, too, as pro- and anti-alcohol forces struggled for dominance in the state. In what would become the antis last big win, statewide prohibition was reinstated in 1918, two years ahead of national prohibition.

With the repeal of national prohibition in 1933, New Hampshire again allowed local option, but reserved the right to issue licenses to hotels in “dry towns” that wanted to serve liquor to their registered guests. Hampton voted to remain dry, and social pressure ensured that no hotel in town or at the beach would seek a liquor permit. That changed in 1957, when Lamie’s Tavern in Hampton Center sought and received a license. Worried residents feared that the license was the first “hole in the dike” that would eventually flood the beach with liquor. From some points of view, the dire prediction has come true. For others, water remains the wettest thing at Hampton Beach.

 The free water custom

Humans have to drink something, and in the mind of temperance advocates, that “something” should be water. To lure drinkers away from liquor, they worked to make cold, clean water widely available, and in doing so created a tradition that is still with us today. So the next time a restaurant server presents you with a free glass of ice water, whether you’ve requested it or not, be aware that this faintly peculiar custom had its beginnings in the great temperance crusades of the 19th century.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, August 24, 2018.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com, Tuck Museum, and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

The unusual life of Chester Grady


Born in 1894, Chester Grady’s life spanned the first three-quarters of the 20th century. His prime years were pillared by world wars, shotgunned by economic depression, and energized by a dynamic new culture of music, films, and radio. He was a gifted tenor, a stage and club performer who lived and worked in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; traveled and studied internationally; and counted among his friends European royalty and Hollywood stars. He achieved minor fame in the early 1920s touring the country with Elsie Janis, a popular musical-comedy entertainer, with whom he remained friends until her death in 1956. His voice received the imprimatur of Ernestine Schumann-Heinke, a well-known German operatic contralto who encouraged him to study for the opera. And he was a psychic medium to boot.

Chester Grady 02

Chester Grady and Elsie Janis, 1922 (New York Herald).

Chester Michael Grady was born in Lakeport, New Hampshire and grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where his mother died in 1903 during a bout of diphtheria that left her young son unscathed. His father remarried and the family eventually grew to eight children, the last born when Chester was 32 years old. In his youth Grady waited tables at Hampton Beach, sang in church, and at age 23 did his first acting stint in a Detroit, Michigan theatre. He performed at venues around the Seacoast and, in winter, St. Petersburg, Florida, often accompanied on the piano by his lifelong friend, John Creighton. After settling permanently in Hampton, he founded the Hampton Players theatrical group, joined the local Kiwanis, and enjoyed antique collecting, crewel embroidery, and cooking. He lectured on extrasensory perception in the Seacoast region, where his reputation was as an authority on the subject.

If anyone should have written their life story, it was Chester Grady. He must have thought so, too, as he said in a 1970 interview that he was working on his memoirs. But when he died two years later, his work-in-progress went missing.


The Creighmore summer boarding house, Hampton NH, c. 1940. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

The Creighmore Boarding House

Maude Morey, a wealthy widow from Lowell, Massachusetts who liked to entertain guests at her Hampton Beach cottage, took a shine to the two young musical talents,  Grady and Creighton, and took them under her wing. In 1923 she bought the former High Street residence of Josiah Cate Palmer and converted it to a summer boarding house named Creighmore, a high-toned portmanteau of Creighton and Morey. That winter, while Grady donned a tux and sang for his supper around the Seacoast, he and Creighton got the 22-room house ready for the summer season. Grady purchased a small cottage from the Coast Guard and moved it to the rear of the property as his private sanctuary, which he expanded over the years by adding both new construction and existing structures. The old Little Boar’s Head post office became a dining room, the Creighmore ice house a bedroom. But it was not until his marriage to Rae Cannon in 1947 that he made the patchwork cottage his full-time home. Over the years, Maude conveyed pieces of her property to John and to Rae, who later conveyed them to Grady, so that by the late 1950s he was the sole owner of the Creighmore and its grounds.

A dead man and a flapper

Of all Grady’s interests, the most unusual was his involvement as a trance medium—communicating with the spirits of the dead. He was also interested in psychic research, and to that end joined the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) and participated in the psychic investigations of Duke University psychologist Joseph Banks Rhine and Columbia University psychologist Gardner Murphy.

His first published spirit encounter came in the spring of 1930, as he was attending an Easter Sunday service in New York City. While sitting in the balcony of the church, he was visited by a young man who had committed suicide and wanted Grady to tell his mother that he was doing fine in the spirit world. When the spirit showed Grady a vision of his mother, Grady recognized her as a woman who had sat with him a month earlier. Acknowledging his obligation, Grady wrote her a letter to tell her what her son wanted her to know.

His most famous instance of mediumship occurred in New York the following year, when he was contacted weekly throughout the spring and summer by the spirit of Olive Thomas, the original “flapper girl” and Hollywood silent film star who had accidentally ingested poison in a Paris hotel room and died four days later, on September 10, 1920. Fueled by her youth, fame, and the exotic setting of her demise, rumors swirled through the scandal sheets that she had committed suicide over her supposedly dissolute lifestyle and unhappy marriage to Jack Pickford, the younger brother of actress Mary Pickford. Like the young man at the church a year earlier, Olive wanted Grady to contact her mother; not only to reassure her, but to set the story straight about her death.

The story of their contact was told not by Grady, but a year after his death by J. Gay Stevens, a man who said he was present at the sittings and took notes of what the “golden-haired” Olive revealed through Grady. Armed with the intimate information provided by Olive’s spirit, Stevens contacted her mother and convinced the troubled woman of the reality of her daughter’s survival after death. Olive then came to Grady one last time, repeating loudly in his inner ear, “We did it! Now she knows the truth and she’s free. And thanks to you two, so am I.”

Early Stargate Project?

Beyond the psychological aspect of a man, whose mother had tragically died when he was a child, attracting the spirits of tragically-dead young people reaching out to their still-living mothers, the fact is that Grady believed in his psychic abilities, even listing himself in Hartmann’s Directory of Psychic Science as a “Trance Medium.” And then there’s this interesting intersection of facts: in 1942—the year he cited the ASPR as his employer on his draft registration—Grady revealed to a local newspaper that he was in the employ of the “United States Intelligence Service,” or OSS. It seems far-fetched to suppose he had been involved in some sort of early Stargate Project, attempting to use his psychic talent to sniff out Nazi spies or break German codes, but Grady himself said that he was “at his best in research concerning identification of unseen objects.” Perhaps if another unseen object—the memoir he was writing in the years before his death—ever resurfaces, we might know for sure.

Chester Grady

Chester Grady, 1952. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

End note: they had me at bacon

For nearly half a century, Marjorie Mills had been a staple personality on the women’s page of the Boston Herald and on WBZ radio. Known as “Dame Boston,” she had interviewed such noted celebrities as Lionel Barrymore and first ladies Grace Coolidge and Jackie Kennedy. Chester Grady, it seems, was one of her local favorites—she had interviewed him on her radio show multiple times and was fond of quoting his witty remarks in her newspaper column. In 1966, when she stowed the typewriter and microphone after a long career in media, he made the guest list at her retirement dinner.

In the spring of 1954, Mills invited Grady and John Creighton onto her radio show to talk about cooking. Dubbed by her the “inspired Comrades in Cuisine,” the foodies shared their recipes for crustless pecan pie and bacon-wrapped chicken, and, in true New England style, they recommended that cooks use grated cheese to punch up their favorite johnnycake recipes. Today we call these vintage dishes “comfort foods,” but in the ‘50s they were just delectable eating. To try them for yourself, no psychic awareness is required, just go online to https://lassitergang.com/comrades-in-cuisine.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, August 3, 2018.

Featured image (top) courtesy of Chester’s grandniece, Kate Norton Kelley.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

Horseless in Hampton


An anecdote passed down in the early 20th century by Reverend Edgar Warren of Hampton, New Hampshire, says that the first horseless carriage to appear on the streets of town was brought in 1878 by Loring Dunbar Shaw, a fireman with the Boston Fire Department and the son of local residents Dearborn and Clarissa Shaw. Loring was an up-and-coming inventor of mechanical devices, having received several patents for an automatic steam relief valve which he licensed to the fire department for use in its horse-drawn fire engines. His patents became the foundation for the Boston-based Shaw Relief Valve Company, formed in 1882.

1869 Roper Steam Buggy & Velocipede

Sylvester H. Roper handbill advertising, 1869.

Loring’s interest in motorized vehicles may have been sparked by the pioneering work of Sylvester Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts, an inventor who had exhibited a steam-propelled carriage and velocipede not far from Shaw’s engine house in South Boston. In any event, a steam carriage was a convenient way for Loring to demonstrate to prospective buyers and investors the effectiveness of his relief valves. He brought his carriage to Hampton by rail, and upon arrival at the depot “curious bystanders” helped him push it to a nearby water pump to fill the boiler. Once the steam was up, Loring started down the beach road “at the dizzy pace of five miles an hour.” He was seen jaunting around town for a few days in his “teapot on wheels,” until the selectmen deemed it a nuisance and ordered it off the road.

The Locomobile

The next horseless carriage of note in Hampton was an early Stanley steam car called the Locomobile, driven by its inventor and builder, Freelan O. Stanley of Newton, Massachusetts. As Stanley passed through town in August 1899, en route to the White Mountains to attempt the first-ever motorized ascent of the Mount Washington Carriage Road, he stopped to show off the Locomobile at the Whittier Hotel on Lafayette Road, where local resident Mary Toppan (Clark) photographed the man and his machine.

1899 Locomobile

Inventor Freelan O. Stanley with unknown woman and Locomobile in front of the Whittier Hotel, Hampton New Hampshire (August 1899). Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

Stanley and his twin brother and business partner Francis had been in the embryonic automobile industry for less than three years. They were better known for their photographic dry plates, which they manufactured through the Stanley Dry Plate Company of Lewiston, Maine. Miss Toppan must have been pleased to make Stanley’s latest invention the subject of her photographer’s lens, perhaps even using plates made by his own company.

 Hampton’s early auto laws

In 1904, a quarter century after the selectmen had banned Loring Shaw’s horseless buggy, the town posted its first ever automobile laws to combat the “reckless manner” in which the rapidly proliferating motor vehicles were running over the roads. The speed limit through town was set at 8 miles per hour and vehicles were required to stop when approaching a team of horses that seemed spooked (this was a serious problem, and some New Hampshire towns wisely arranged meet-and-greets at the town square where their horses could acclimate to the noisy contraptions before going under harness). For some years it appeared that the new speed limit law, while not always obeyed, was carefully enforced, with $400 in fines assessed in 1907 alone. But like the tramp laws of an earlier era, enforcement eventually fell by the wayside, and in 1910 and 1912 town meeting voters requested the selectmen to again enforce the speed limit laws.

Hampton’s first woman driver

Before Charles Kettering invented the electric starter in 1911, only a handful of women owned and operated cars. Kettering’s invention helped change all that by eliminating the need to hand crank, making cars much easier to operate. That is unless your car was a Ford, which didn’t begin installing electric starters until 1919.

1915 Bernice Glidden

Hampton’s first woman driver Bernice Glidden (Palmer) and grandmother Anna Victoria Glidden in a sporty Ford Model T Roadster (1915). Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

With that in mind, it was at the wheel of a hand cranked Ford Model T Roadster that 26-year-old Bernice Glidden took to the road in 1915, giving her the distinction of being the first woman in Hampton to drive a car. Bernice had been born in Medford, Massachusetts, grew up in Hampton, graduated cum laude from Tufts University in 1910, and worked as a designer in Boston before marrying Charles D. Palmer of Hampton. She was an artist, and a collection of her hand-drawn notecards depicting familiar Hampton scenes is owned by the Hampton Historical Society, of which she was a longtime member.

Get a decent job

Also in 1915—the year the one-millionth Tin Lizzie rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line—a 24-year-old former chauffeur named Frank E. Brooks opened the Hampton Center Garage, near the train depot, on land purchased from the Boston & Maine Railroad. The garage was one of the earliest service stations in Hampton, and, as Brooks Motor Sales, one of the first Ford dealerships in New England.

To Frank’s parents the horseless carriage was a passing fad, and they had urged him to get a “decent job.” But he knew automobiles were the future of transportation. The following year he expanded to Portsmouth, where, from the barn of his father in law’s residence, he started out as a sub-dealer for pioneering auto dealer and blacksmith Hiram Wever. “Your best friends in those days, if you owned a car, was the blacksmith,” Frank said in a 1966 interview. “They had the mechanical ability to replace broken springs and make other repairs in the days before there were garage service stations.”

Within a year Frank moved his operation to the old Portsmouth Forge building and became a direct dealer of Ford automobiles. At least four brothers and a brother in law found employment in the growing Brooks auto empire, with Frank’s brother John, who served as Hampton’s town moderator from 1937 until his death in 1952, as a sales manager. In 1961 Frank parted with the Hampton Center Garage, which reopened that same year as C&B Ford Village. In 1966 he sold Brooks Motor Sales, which reopened under the name Brady Auto Sales and is today Portsmouth Ford.


Top: John Brooks on right, in front of Hampton Center Garage (c 1930 Ford Model A). Bottom: Hampton Center Garage with a Model T at front of building (c. 1925). Photos courtesy of Hampton Historical Society.

Going, going, gone

In 1900, Hampton’s annual valuation included 270 horses—almost one for every four residents in town. By 1920 the number had dropped to 157, and by 1940, when a car could be found in most driveways, the number of horses had fallen nearly 90 per cent. By mid-century Hampton was truly horseless, with only 4 equines among the resident livestock counted in 1963, the last year they appeared in the records.

Early Horseless Humor

“Horseless vehicles may do well for long distance excursions on the road, but it is plain they will never answer for making neigh-borly calls.”

Originally published in the Hampton Union, June 22, 2018.

Featured (public domain) photograph: Sylvester Roper and his steam carriage, c. 1870.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

The Hampton Beach Secessionists


Hampton Beach in the 1890s was still enjoying its classic Hotel Era, with hats and gloves and German cotillions and everybody in bed and asleep by 10 p.m. Separated from the main village by three miles of farms, woodlands, and bumpy roads, the beach was usually left to its own devices, unless threatened by squatters, seaweed-stealers, or even another state. It then became the most important and most jealously guarded part of town. So even though Hampton was no stranger to its parishes going off to form new towns—she had nine daughter towns to her credit—no one at the time would have imagined that in less than 40 years Hampton Beach would be trying to form a tenth.

But everything changed with the coming of the electric railway. By the turn of the century, its trolleys were carrying thousands of day trippers from the inland cities of the Merrimack Valley to the New Hampshire seashore. Seemingly overnight, Hampton Beach had been transformed from a gently-used summer resort and fall gunning haven into a bustling tourist town operated mainly by out-of-towners, people with no sense of the ancient and unspoken ties between town and beach. Yet the town was happy to accommodate the newcomers, and those who wanted a more permanent relationship with the beach could sublease a 50’ x 100’ lot from the town or the Hampton Beach Improvement Company and build themselves a cottage. Rooming houses sprang up as businesses thronged the still-unpaved beach boulevard.


Trolleys bring a convention of Shriners to Hampton Beach, 1901. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

 Hampton didn’t know exactly what its old Ox Common would become in the new century, but it had definite ideas about what it would not become. As James Tucker liked to remind the readers of his Hampton Beach News-Guide, “There are no rattling rides, whirling whips, swirling swings, dizzy drones, silly side-shows or vociferous bally-hoo men” at Hampton Beach. Instead, “a splendid class of [strictly tee totaling] vacationists has been attracted to this resort.”

The beach became a victim of its own popularity. The protective sand dunes were destroyed to make room for more leased lots, roads, and automobile parking, and storm erosion became a serious problem. The town built a series of breakwaters using railroad ties and granite blocks, but they might as well have used matchsticks. The leased lots at White Island, a notoriously unstable section of land south of the main beach, were always hit the worst.

Winter nor’easters be damned, by 1912 the town had expanded the lots at White Island and added hundreds of new ones at Plaice Cove, North Beach, and along the Hampton River. The rent money flowed into the treasury, along with fees from licensing, parking, and the comfort station at the beach. Town reports from the time seem to confirm the common complaint that the mainly non-resident property owners of Hampton Beach were paying the freight for the rest of the town, yet were not receiving benefits commensurate with their tax burden. Certainly, the benefits were not equal to what was needed, especially where fire protection was concerned. After years of wrangling unsuccessfully with the uptown “farmer types,” in 1907 the beach communities formed a separate precinct to fund their own fire protection services. It was the first step toward what would ultimately become a move to secede from the mother town.

 While the new precinct solved the problem of hydrants and firetrucks, the town still controlled the money needed to maintain every other amenity at the beach. And so the dispute over adequate municipal services continued.


Hotel owner George Ashworth (l) and Hampton Beach News-Guide editor James Tucker, c. 1925. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

“Hampton Beach Wants Self Government”

 With this dramatic front page headline in the August 24, 1926 issue of the News-Guide, James Tucker ripped the scab off a long-festering rift between the new guard at the beach and the old guard of the town. The subheading “Town Officials At Odds With All The Beach Organizations” made it perfectly clear whence the pus had oozed—an elected board of selectmen that harbored “narrow, restricted, and even bigoted” viewpoints and “high-handed and arrogant” attitudes toward the beach and its needs.

Tucker set before the public a list of grievances against the selectmen, starting with their failure to attend a reception given for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture as part of Grange Day at the beach. They had refused to allow the town-funded band to play at an event, had dragged their feet on the hiring of a much-needed lifeguard, had declined to lay a sidewalk in front of the Chamber of Commerce building while laying other sidewalks nearby, and were unconcerned about the discourtesy and lax patrolling of the police force. And when the Chamber asked for permission to display its Carnival Week prize automobile in a location other than at the rear of the beach toilets, the selectmen had issued an emphatic no.

“A crying disgrace”

According to Tucker, residents and visitors alike were disgusted by the uncleanliness of the beach, and, when the wind was right, the odor of rotting swill and seaweed (alleged Town response: “Move if you don’t like it.”). Potholes were a regular feature of the North Beach road, and the dark and dangerous “Death Corner” (the accident-ridden intersection at Winnacunnet Road and Ocean Boulevard) was in dire need of proper lighting and signage. In a scene that might have inspired Li’l Abner’s creator, a motley collection of used peach crates and barrels had been tied to the utility poles along Ocean Boulevard as trash receptacles. Tucker said the appearance of the beach was a crying disgrace, and not at all in keeping with the sentiment of the in-town sign that read “Hampton, Cleanest Beach on the Coast.”

“White Rocks situation dangerous”

But the most conspicuous evidence of the town’s neglect was its lack of concern for the endangered White Rocks (White Island) section of the beach. Schley, Sampson, and Dewey avenues, named after heroes of the Spanish-American War, had completely disappeared and some 30 houses had been either washed away or moved. With winter’s destructive storms still fresh in his mind, Tucker hailed the town’s breakwaters as “monuments to waste, inefficiency and extravagance.”

White Island House

Storm-damaged house in the White Rocks (also known as White Island) section of Hampton Beach, 1926. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

“A legal and lasting separation”

The upshot was that by 1926 relations between the town and beach were “strained almost to the breaking point,” with a number of frustrated Hampton Beach businessmen calling for the Precinct to completely separate from the mother town. It would take another nine years—during which time Hampton made the heartbreaking decision to cede its beachfront to the State in exchange for a State-funded breakwater—but in 1935 Precinct chairman George Ashworth stepped forward to champion the creation of the new town of Hampton Beach. In a report to the State, Ashworth said that most of the uptown residents held “archaic ideas of recreational development” and were only interested in the beach’s revenue producing possibilities (the Town might have replied: “And we cut off a limb to please you, too.”). In a notice to property owners, the Precinct commissioners said that “in no other way is it possible to have complete control over the tax situation,” while failing to mention that non-resident owners without legal voting rights would remain non-resident owners without legal voting rights in the new town. It was a fiefdom disguised as a democracy. 

A tenth daughter town?

On January 22, House Bill No. 160, an act to divide the Town of Hampton, was introduced into the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Proponents had high hopes that Hampton Beach was about to become the State’s first new town since 1876 and its 234th municipality. The House referred the bill to a committee of Rockingham County delegates, which after public deliberations resolved that the proposal was “inexpedient to legislate.” The bill was defeated on March 7 when the House unanimously accepted their recommendation.

The Precinct never again mounted a serious attempt to divorce itself from the mother town. In fact, the use of tax money to promote the beach had caused an about-face in the move to separate. In the 1950s, James Tucker, who once supported an independent Hampton Beach, called for the Precinct to be disbanded. In 1979, the state legislature exempted single-family homeowners from paying the Precinct’s promotional expenses. In 1988, the North Beach and Boar’s Head neighborhoods returned to Hampton. In 2002, the Town of Hampton resumed responsibility for fire protection at the beach, and in 2012 the White Island neighborhood asked to be returned to Hampton (but was denied).  It seems a tenth daughter town will just have to wait.

 Originally published in the Hampton Union, March 31, 2018.

Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Hampton History Matters, a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.


A very good business, while it lasted


“Now for a while we shall buy & sell to get gain instead of trying to teach the young.”

Brave words for a young woman with no previous business experience in any era, but they were written in 1859, a time when the doorway to employment opportunities for women was as narrow as it had ever been. So it was with a risky leap of faith that the writer, Mary Page of Hampton, New Hampshire, and her sister Susan, gave up their jobs as school teachers to buy Elizabeth Odlin’s millinery and fancy goods shop in the nearby town of Exeter for $2,300 and reopen it in their own names.

 An independent income seemed an imperative for these two as yet unmarried women. Susan was 29 years old and Mary was 26, and by virtue of their ages, their chances of ever finding husbands were rapidly diminishing. Rather than panic at the prospect of becoming bothersome maiden aunts, they chose their path well, the decision to purchase shooting them right to the top of the custom millinery and dressmaking profession. Even in a small town like Exeter, they could now count themselves among the aristocrats of female needleworkers, able to enjoy a certain prestige and command the highest wages.

At the time, thirty-one of Exeter’s 3,309 residents worked in the needletrades, 28 women and 3 men. As tailors and hatters, the men occupied the top tier and were among the well-to-do of Exeter. The tailor Robert Thompson and the hatter Jeremiah Merrill had families and live-in domestics, with assets of $6,000 and $7,500 respectively. Women like Mary and Susan worked as lower-class seamstresses, dressmakers, and milliners; they were mostly single, lived in boarding houses, with assets that averaged $500. They could only dream of making the kind of money their male counterparts enjoyed.

Advert_01The Page sisters’ younger brother John approved of their venture. “I believe the girls will do well,” he wrote from Illinois to their mother in Hampton. “The millinery business is a very good business because the fashions change so very often. They are stepping into an extensive trade which will be of great service to them. I should advise them to expend a good sum each year in advertising. It will always be a profitable investment for them.”

The sisters generally followed John’s advice. Their first advertisement posted in the Exeter News-Letter in April 1860 and ran regularly for the ten years their shop was in operation.

S.L. and M.A. Page in Illinois

“Little transpired that was out of the daily routine of buying and selling and gathering gain, until August 21 [1860], when I diverged from the regular line and landed in the great west,” Mary confided in her diary while on a visit to John, who was teaching school in the Illinois town of Polo (named for the adventurer Marco Polo), some 110 miles west of Chicago.



The Polo Weekly Advertiser, April 8, 1861. Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

“Only a few years ago I was a teacher with 50 little children, all looking to me for direction and guidance, and watching my every action by which they would be influenced to either good or evil. Now here I am—and well may this land be called the Great West, for it has produced in me a desire to expand and enlarge my idea of things.”

Acting on that desire, and perhaps to “hunt a husband,” as John in his letters to their mother had hinted was eminently possible in the rapidly growing town, Mary decided to extend her visit into a residency. With Susan managing the Exeter shop, Mary opened a second shop, one that her brother believed would meet with success.

“There is not such a store within a dozen miles of Polo, one of the best business points in the State,” he told their mother, adding, “Mary is doing well for a stranger. I am inclined to think that bye and bye she will have as much as she can do.”

Soon after, Virginia “Jennie” Perkins, another young Hampton woman with a hankering for a little western adventure, joined her as a partner.



M.A. Page and Company

Two years later, Susan announced that she was “a-going to give up her single blessedness” and marry William Cole of Portsmouth, a widower with three small children. As marriage for women generally precluded work outside the home, Mary reluctantly sold her share in the Polo shop to Jennie and returned to Exeter. The partnership firm of S.L. and M.A. Page dissolved and Mary became a sole proprietor under the name M.A. Page.

Without Susan in the shop, Mary struggled to find and keep skilled employees willing to work for what she could pay them. To promising young ladies she traded her knowledge of the millinery and dressmaking trades for their unpaid work. But as often happened, once they were trained the good ones “got the fever” and struck out on their own. With so many new competitors entering the field of female fashion, profits were getting harder to come by.

Mary economized by living above the shop in a frugal flat she christened the “Old Maid’s Hall,” and scrupulously tracked every penny spent. She found working partners willing to invest in her firm, which became known as M.A. Page and Company.

MAPage&RATiltonAt some point, Mary became the object of attention of one Joshua Getchell, a wealthy but aging dry goods merchant whose nosing around the subject of her living arrangements she found offensive. But her opinion of him changed when his wife died, and, after observing a proper mourning period, they were united in marriage on August 3, 1869, thus ending her career as an independent tradeswoman.

Mary sold her share of the business to her partners and joined her husband, his daughter, and a servant in the Getchell home on High Street, only steps away from the Old Maid’s Hall. While nearly twice her age, acquired in the secondhand-husband market, he was a glorious catch for a woman whose parents fretted that she was too homely to get a man (foreseeing that Mary’s own single blessedness might accompany her to the grave, they had bequeathed her one-half of their Hampton homestead). 

The New Mrs. Getchell

For the new Mrs. Getchell, the timing couldn’t have been better. Small, female-owned millinery and dressmaking shops would provide women with employment for years to come, but the future was in ready-made garments, churned out in factories that competed directly with the independent, highly-skilled artisans. And marketers of the new “scientific” methods of garment making sold women on the idea that they could create their own fashionable clothing at home, using their own sewing machines and modest skills. Just one year after her marriage, many of Mary’s former partners and competitors were selling Singer sewing machines as their primary product offering. The victim of post-war industrial expansion, the “very good business” that Mary and Susan had entered a decade earlier was now teetering toward its deathbed.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, April 27, 2017.

A Page Out of History, based on the personal papers of Mary Page Getchell, is available for $10 through the Tuck Museum of Hampton History.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

Featured image (top): Susan Leavitt Page (left) and Mary Anna Page, c. 1860. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

Images (below): Jennie Perkins c. 1860. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society. Her advertisement in the Polo Press, May 16, 1863. Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.




First women officeholders in Hampton NH


In 1872 the adult male citizens of New Hampshire received from their government the right to vote for women candidates in local school board elections. It wasn’t an earth-shattering development, and the measure passed by with little attention paid to it. A few eyebrows were raised the following year when several citizens’ petitions for the right of women themselves to vote in school elections appeared before the legislature, but in 1878 this, too, passed into law. Between these two milestone years, women were elected to school committees in over twenty New Hampshire towns, a small but reassuring start to the larger woman’s suffrage movement.

Lucy Ellen Dow (1840-1896)

Lucy Ellen Dow

At the 1877 town meeting, Lucy Ellen Dow, daughter of retired school master and historian Joseph Dow, received the majority vote as Superintendent of the School Committee. She was elected to a second term the following year, but the new suffrage law giving women the right to vote in school elections was not enacted until August, five months too late for Lucy to cast a vote for herself.

 In 1888, while helping her father with his monumental History of Hampton, Lucy wrote and published The Beautiful Place of Pines, a historical monograph of the town. Said to have been very popular at the time, it remains a fine piece of writing. After Joseph’s decease the following year, she finalized his work and in 1893 arranged for it to be published. But the undertaking had left her exhausted. Her friend Lucy Godfrey Marston once remarked that her life had been considerably shortened by the effort of completing the two-volume work.

At the time of publication, Lucy and her sister Maria, both single women, were living in Warren, Massachusetts, where Maria taught school. They sold the Dow family house in Hampton and traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to live with their brother Joseph Henry, a minor inventor and father of Herbert Henry, the young, soon-to-be founder of the Dow Chemical Company. Unfortunately, Lucy died before her entrepreneurial nephew had become an icon in the chemical industry.

Shortly before her death on January 21, 1896, Lucy conveyed to Maria her interest in their remaining Hampton properties. Both she and Maria, who went on to live with the Herbert Dow family in Midland, Michigan until her own passing, are buried in the Dow plot in Hampton’s High Street cemetery.

Elizabeth Butler Norris (1864-1939)

Elizabeth Norris 03

Nottingham, New Hampshire native Lizzie Norris was the second woman elected to office in Hampton, and the first to sit on the High School Board. She was the namesake of her great-grandmother Elizabeth Butler, the daughter of Revolutionary-era General Henry Butler, one of the “Four Generals” memorialized by the 16-foot-tall Minuteman monument in her hometown square. She lived with her family in Texas and North Hampton, and in 1882 graduated from Putnam Free School in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Four Generals MonumentIn 1885, the year before the Norrises took up residence in Hampton with Lizzie’s aunt Laura Norris, a school teacher, the State replaced the local school districts and their superintending committees with a single, town-wide district overseen by a three-member School Board. Also that year the privately-held Hampton Academy merged with the public high school, giving Hampton an additional three-member board.

In 1887 Lizzie began her career as a Hampton grammar school teacher, and soon became the most highly paid teacher in the district. Pretty, popular, and smart, she made quite an impression on School Board Chairman Dr. William T. Merrill, who paid homage to her almost magical teaching abilities. “The degree of excellence our Grammar School has attained,” he declaimed, “is due to the experience, zeal, and ability of Miss Norris. Her earnest study had been to enlarge and make her work more fruitful. A systematic, thorough teacher, with dignity that commands love as well as respect, every word has a meaning which is perfectly understood and appreciated. We can but express our individual wishes that she may be induced to remain the teacher of the Grammar school for a long time.”

In 1891 Elizabeth was voted as a member of the high school board. Unlike Lucy, who had served the local schools for just two years before retiring to devote her time to other pursuits, she remained a board member for the next quarter century, and from 1911 until her retirement in 1915, served on both high school and school boards.

Elizabeth never married. After her retirement she traveled and spent time with her brother William’s family, becoming a director of his lumber company in Houston, Texas. She died in Portsmouth Hospital on November 22, 1939 and is buried in the High Street Cemetery.

Other Hampton ‘first’ ladies

1921—Library trustee, Sarah Hobbs Lane

Sarah Hobbs Lane

Sarah Hobbs Lane

1952—Town auditor, Wilma Toppan White

1953—Town clerk, Helen W. Hayden

Helen Hayden 1940s Blackout Warden

Helen Hayden

1962—Tax collector, Hazel B. Coffin

1972—Selectman, Helen W. Hayden; State Representative, Ednapearl Flores Parr

Ednapearl Parr c1979

Ednapearl Parr

1988—Town Moderator, Louisa K. Woodman

Louisa Woodman 1987

Louisa K. Woodman

(Thanks to Hampton Historical Society vice president Karen Raynes for research assistance.)

Originally published in the Hampton Union, March 30, 2018.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at nh.historymatters@gmail.com or through her website lassitergang.com.

Seacoast Citizens Soldiers at Saratoga


On the afternoon of September 6, 1777, Colonel Jonathan Moulton of Hampton received orders to ready his regiment of citizen soldiers to march to Bennington, Vermont, where they would place themselves under the command of the intrepid General John Stark. Since Moulton’s promotion to commander of the New Hampshire Third Regiment of Militia two years ago—when he and his family were still quarantined in their mansion house by an outbreak of smallpox that had taken the life of his wife Abigail—it had been his responsibility to guard the seacoast south of Portsmouth. Other than spotting a few ships, his men had little to do. Now, with the seemingly unstoppable British army marching south toward Albany with a plan to seize control of the Hudson Valley, all that was about to change. In less than two weeks the Americans and British would clash at Freeman’s Farm, just south of the village of Saratoga, New York. It was not a decisive action, but it forced British General John Burgoyne to dig in and wait for much-needed reinforcements and supplies.

Drake’s regiment

The Exeter-based Committee of Safety was in charge of New Hampshire’s war effort. Under pressure to provide troops to halt the British advance, the Committee authorized Moulton’s staff officer, 61-year-old Lt. Colonel Abraham Drake of North Hampton, to form his own regiment. It was a good decision. Drake was a former cavalry officer in the French and Indian War; by his first wife he was brother in law to New Hampshire President Meshech Weare; his regimental surgeon was Dr. Levi Dearborn, the cousin of Major Henry Dearborn, one of the future heroes of the Revolution; and his company captain, Moses Leavitt of North Hampton, would go on to become a general in the state militia. Also serving with Drake were six Hampton men, including Adjutant Nathaniel Batchelder and Quartermaster Thomas Leavitt.

In early September Drake’s regiment marched to Bennington, where they would come under the command of General William Whipple, whose own orders were to place himself under the command of General Gates of the Continental Army at Saratoga.

Moulton’s regiment

Colonel Moulton’s regiment set out for Bennington at the end of September. With the 51-year-old Moulton was his son Josiah, serving as adjutant, Captain John Dearborn of North Hampton (the brother of Major Henry Dearborn), Captain William Prescott of Hampton Falls, two lieutenants, four sergeants, four corporals, a drummer, a fifer, and 39 privates. Although Moulton’s command encompassed Hampton, North Hampton, Hampton Falls, Seabrook, Kensington, and South Hampton, the majority of his present force was drawn from the towns of Hampton and Hampton Falls.

Camp Now or Never

By the time Drake’s regiment arrived at the American encampment near Saratoga—dubbed “Camp Now or Never” by Colonel Alexander Scammell of the 3rd New Hampshire Continentals—the total patriot force had swelled to over 12,000 men, while the British force had dwindled to under 7,000. Separated by less than two miles, the two armies played a waiting game. After the realization dawned on Burgoyne that reinforcements were not coming, on the afternoon of October seventh he broke the stalemate by launching an attack on the Americans’ left wing.

Now attached to the brigade of General Learned, Drake’s regiment formed up at the center of the battlefield to support the Continental line. Colonel Moulton’s regiment was still with Stark, somewhere on the east side of the Hudson River. After six hours of chaotic fighting the British pulled back, the Americans moved forward, and in the days to come Stark’s militias crossed the Hudson to shut the door on a British retreat.

Surrender of Burgoyne

Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, October 17, 1777 (John Trumbull, 1821). New Hampshire officers Cilley, Stark, Dearborn, Scammell, and Whipple are present. Library of Congress.

Ten days and numerous negotiations later, the British surrendered their arms. The Seacoast militia regiments lined up with the Americans, muskets shouldered and bayonets fixed, to witness the Revolution’s first capitulation by a British general. To the defeated troops trudging by, militia officers like Moulton and Drake, who had fought without proper uniforms, appeared to them as prosperous businessmen in want of clean clothes.

Going home

Escorted by General Whipple and under guard, the British army marched to Cambridge. Burgoyne was eventually allowed to return to England, but his army would remain imprisoned in Massachusetts and Virginia until the end of the war.

At his headquarters in Saratoga, General Gates sat down to pen a letter to his wife about his victory. “If Old England is not by this lesson taught humility,” he wrote, “then she is an obstinate old slut, bent upon her ruin.”

Colonel Drake was ordered downriver to New Windsor, where his regiment received its Continental pay and mustered out in mid-December. While one of his four companies lost nearly half its men to desertion after Saratoga, Moses Leavitt’s company returned to the seacoast with a full complement of soldiers. Colonel Moulton’s regiment went directly home and mustered out on October 30, 1777, receiving State militia pay only. Their only casualty had been the loss of rank by a lieutenant, whom Moulton had busted to private.

In Paris, the American commissioners Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane were finally in the catbird seat, and when the British prime minister’s agent came calling to broker a secret deal to end the war, they politely declined. Soon after, France formally recognized American independence and took up sides against Britain. Saratoga had turned the tide to victory, and the citizen soldiers of the New Hampshire seacoast could be proud of their part in it.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, February 23, 2018.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at nh.historymatters@gmail.com or through her website lassitergang.com.


NH History Matters: February’s Birthstone


“Wear amethyst and from passion and care you will be kept free.”

Amethyst 2 FebruaryFebruary’s birthstone is the clear-headed sobriety stone, AMETHYST. Ancient Greeks associated its purple color with Bacchus, the god of wine, and they wore amulets of amethyst to prevent drunkenness.  So beware, if you’re planning a night of drunken debauchery, leave the amethyst jewelry at home. If, on the other hand, you wish to retain your sobriety, wear an amethyst in the spot on the body where the stone purportedly does its best work—the navel.

Amethyst is also believed to be a cure for drug addiction, gambling, and even pimples, and as a mystical healing stone it exudes a calming energy to relax the mind. The Hebrew word achlamah translates to “dream stone,” and sleeping with the stone is said to bring strong dreams. (these same powers are assigned to lavender, also purple-colored).

Amethyst in New Hampshire

Amethysts have been found in many places throughout the state, from the White Mountains in the north to the southernmost locales of Hampton Falls and the Isles of Shoals.

Geologists estimate that New Hampshire’s mineral deposits are between 350-400 million years old, long before plate tectonics pushed North America off as a separate continent. (Those beautiful rock ledges at the shoreline? They were once attached to Africa!)

A variety of quartz, amethyst owes its purple color mainly to the presence of iron. Formed deep within the earth, a single one-inch crystal, growing at the rate of one atomic layer per year, took some 10 million years to create.

NH banner


Origin of Birthstones


Birthstones are thought to have originated with the 12 gemstones embedded in the magic breastplate of the high priest of the Israelites. Amethyst, like January’s garnet, was one of the stones. The concept was later fused with the 12 signs of the zodiac, which led to the belief that a particular gem protected those born during a particular month.

The National Association of Jewelers created the modern list of birthstones in 1912.

Next month: Aquamarine

Brought to you by Cheryl Lassiter and History Matters New Hampshire. nh.historymatters@gmail.com

How Hampton Voted in the Revolution


First page of the Hampton Association Test with signatures, dated June 4, 1776. Courtesy of the New Hampshire State Archives.

In 1738, while Hampton was exercising its taxing authority upon residents no longer wishing to pay the minister’s portion of the town tax, America’s future egregious taxman, George William Frederick, was born in London. As King George III, he once commented that “everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor,” betraying the flawed and foolish nature that helped spur the American colonies to declare independence from Britain.

Angered by the 1773 Boston Tea Party, King George forced Parliament to enact a series of punitive measures known as the Intolerable Acts. While these acts were aimed mainly at Massachusetts, British intervention in colonial government was seen as a threat to all. In Hampton, as in many communities throughout the country, townsmen gathered at the meeting house to consider the “unseasonable and unconstitutional power and claims which the Parliament of Great Britain have assumed over the rights and properties of His Majesty’s loyal subjects in America.” Later they would send representatives to a convention in Exeter to choose New Hampshire’s delegates to the First Continental Congress, held in Philadelphia in the fall of 1774. That Congress responded to the Intolerable Acts by enacting the Continental Association, which required Americans to boycott British goods and declare their loyalty (or not) to the United Colonies.

Association Test

A few weeks after the opening salvos at Lexington and Concord, the Hampton men met again, this time to choose delegates to attend the provincial congress held at Exeter in May 1775. They chose Captain Josiah Moulton and Mr. Josiah Moulton, and empowered them to “adopt and pursue such measures as may be judged most expedient to preserve and restore the rights of this and other colonies.” Based on advice from the Exeter meeting, Hampton voted to station a nightly four-man guard at Hampton Beach and to create a thirteen-member Committee of Safety.

In 1776 the Committee of Safety conveyed the Continental Association declaration, or “test,” to the selectmen, who were to see that it was signed by every sane white male in their jurisdiction, twenty-one years and older, and, along with the names of those who refused to sign, return it to the Committee. Hampton’s declaration, dated June 4, 1776, bears the signatures of 174 men (whose names are commemorated on the Bicentennial Park monument at Hampton’s North Beach). Only two men, Captain Jeremiah Marston and Daniel Philbrick, refused to sign.

New Hampshire’s Constitutions

In late 1775, following royalist Governor John Wentworth’s hasty departure from New Hampshire, the provincial congress at Exeter voted to draft its first constitution. On January 5, 1776, six months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the New Hampshire representatives made history by enacting the first independent government in the colonies. Intended as a temporary framework and never submitted to voter approval, the hastily constructed constitution proved to be unpopular with the people of the state. On the Seacoast, Hampton was the only one of the twelve area towns not to formally object to the new form of government. 

The provincial lawmakers heard the message loud and clear. In 1778 they called for a second convention, to be held that June in Concord, to draft a permanent form of government. Hampton, which had originally dissented from the proposal, voted to send as their delegates Captain Josiah Moulton and Colonel Jonathan Moulton.

Once again, New Hampshire made history. The Concord convention was the first in history to meet for the sole purpose of framing a constitution, one that would be adopted only if ratified by the people. With only two dissents, Hampton voted to approve this second constitution as written, but the statewide result was a “total rejection of the new-formed constitution.”

In 1781 the state’s third constitutional convention met in Concord, with less than sixty members in attendance. Captain Josiah Moulton again represented Hampton. When the draft constitution was submitted for approval, towns that voted in the negative were asked to suggest amendments. At a meeting held on Christmas Day, Hampton townsmen appointed a committee of leading citizens to examine the convention’s latest effort and report back their findings. After consideration, the committee was not in favor, and as a result the town voted to reject the proposal.

1781 Meeting Notice

Notice to the Town of Hampton to elect one person to the General Assembly to be held at Exeter on December 19, 1781. Courtesy of the New Hampshire State Archives.

Rather than offer the requested amendments, the town gave three reasons for its rejection. First, although the American victory at Yorktown in October 1781 had effectively ended the fighting, the war had so agitated and disturbed the people that they were unfit at the present time to take “so important a matter under consideration.” Second, they worried that if the form of government should be accepted by so few towns, it would surely cause “great uneasiness in the State.” And third, they were concerned that the western towns that had seceded to Vermont were not represented. While some believed their secession was real and permanent, the men of Hampton felt that those “disaffected” towns would eventually “return to their duty,” and when they did, they would be “justifiably aggrieved” if they had to conform to a government in which they had no voice in framing. As it turned out, Hampton was not alone in its opinions; for similar reasons, voters across the state flatly rejected the constitution. 

Fourth time’s the charm

With the news that a preliminary peace treaty between the United States and Britain had been signed in November 1782, the State decided to try again. In April 1783 the towns had to decide whether to accept the new form of government “as it now stands,” or make recommendations for alterations. As before, Hampton townsmen voted a committee of their best citizens to reexamine the constitution and report their findings. The committee returned with six amendments, which were accepted unanimously by the 76 voters present, but as it turned out, only their recommendation that the chief executive of the state be styled “president” instead of “governor” was implemented at the state level. The other recommended amendments were 1) that the legislative and executive functions be vested in one body, 2) that civil and military officers be appointed by the Senate, 3) that the waiting period for amendments be shortened from seven to three years, and 4) that the wording of the 28th article in the Bill of Rights, which they felt erroneously implied that the power to lay and levy taxes was transferrable, be clarified.

Hampton voters approved the final version of the constitution, which went into effect on June 2, 1784, less than one month after the Treaty of Paris officially ended the War of Independence. Four years later, Christopher Toppan, Hampton’s delegate to the convention to adopt the federal constitution, was privileged to be among the men who cast their “Yeas” in a 57-47 vote—“in the name and behalf of the people of the State of New Hampshire”—thereby making the Constitution the new law of the land.

HHM BOOK COVERHistory Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or through her website lassitergang.com.



NH History Matters: January’s Birthstone


January’s birthstone is Garnet. Although not as sought after as the ruby gemstone, garnets are treasured for their protective powers. Even Noah carried a large carbuncle garnet aboard his Ark. Tradition says that when worn as an amulet, the garnet gemstone protects its wearer against poisons, fevers, wounds, bad dreams, and depression.

Garnet in New Hampshire

We usually think of garnets as red in color, but they can appear in a variety of colors, including green. They are formed under the same high temperatures and pressure that created the highly metamorphosed or granitic host rocks in which they are found.

With its reputation as the Granite State, it’s strange that New Hampshire has only one (previously mined) large deposit of garnet, in North Wilmot, north of Lake Sunapee. Still, small quantities have been found in mines throughout the state.

NH banner

Origin of Birthstones

HoshenBirthstones are thought to have originated with the 12 gemstones embedded in the magic breastplate of the high priest of the Israelites. The concept was later fused with the 12 signs of the zodiac, which led to the belief that a particular gem protected those born during a particular month. Garnet was one of the twelve.

The National Association of Jewelers created the modern list of birthstones in 1912.

Next month: Amethyst



Brought to you by Cheryl Lassiter and History Matters New Hampshire. nh.historymatters@gmail.com


Puritans to Parades – Christmas in Hampton


Of the 221 towns and 13 cities in New Hampshire, only the settlers of the original four—Hampton, Exeter, Portsmouth, and Dover—can claim to have once banned Christmas. For those 17th century Puritans, the holiday was a pagan ritual rife with excesses of merrymaking, drinking, dancing, and binge eating. Like the Pilgrims of Plimoth Plantation, they worked on the day instead.

By 1659, the immigration of Anglicans to New England had become as onerous to the Puritans as the influx of Quakers, so to prevent the disorders “ arising in several places” by their celebration of Christmas, the General Court of Massachusetts declared that anyone found keeping “such festivals” would be fined five shillings for the offense. After several decades of this law “derogatory to His Majesty’s honour,” in 1681 King Charles II forced the General Court to lift the ban. This didn’t matter much in New Hampshire, which had been made a separate colony with its own laws the year before. Instead, in 1682 the King ordered the new colony’s administrators to allow “liberty of conscience,” and to “particularly promote” the rites and rituals of the Church of England. For those who wanted it, Christmas was back on in the colony.

While Puritanism continued to shape the Yankee character well into the 19th century (some say it still does), the belief spread that it was “unchristian” to scorn Christmas. In 1817, an Exeter newspaper observed that denominations other than Episcopalian were warming up to the idea of public religious services on December 25. This was the year Governor William Plumer raised a few eyebrows when he declared that thanksgiving, traditionally a harvest time celebration, would be held on Christmas day that year. By the 1820s, advertisements for Christmas and New Year’s presents began to appear in New Hampshire newspapers, and by mid-century the phrase “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” was a common holiday greeting.

Lane Family Journal

daybook; Lane Family

Page from the Lane Family journal. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

An early reference to Christmas in Hampton comes from the Lane Family journal, now in the archives of the Hampton Historical Society. Drawing from prognostications whose origins date to the Middle Ages, the journal lists the seasonal and natal effects of Christmas for each day of the week. A Monday Christmas portended a dry winter followed by a wet, tempestuous summer, and those born on that day would have a strong constitution. A Sunday Christmas meant a moderate winter and a fruitful year, and luck to those born on that day. A Saturday Christmas meant “a dark and cloudy winter, thick foggy and unwholesome tempestuous spring. The fruit will be scarce, the corn dear and sickly.” Anyone unlucky enough to be born on that day would be “poor in disgrace,” and the chances of recovery from sickness were slim. Christmas on Tuesday yielded the opposite result.

 In 1856, our neighbor to the south boldly stepped forward to make Christmas a legal holiday. The holiday fell on Thursday that year, foretelling good things to come, but as Harvard professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow observed, not everyone was happy with the law. “We are in a transition state about Christmas here in New England,” he wrote that year. “The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.” New Hampshire made his point by waiting until 1899 to declare the holiday, making it one of the last states to do so. 

First Church Commemoration

Even as New England warmed to the tradition, the village of Hampton proceeded at its own conservative pace. In 1838 Christmas fell on Wednesday, which portended a very cold winter and a hot summer, with “fruit indifferent, not very plenty.” A person born on that day would be short lived, but projects started on any Wednesday would meet with success, auguring well for Hampton’s First Church, which commemorated its 200th anniversary on Christmas day.

No one knows why the church members chose that day. In his address, Hampton Academy principal Joseph Dow wasn’t particularly helpful to future historians, either, as he did not attribute any uniqueness to the choice of day. Perhaps the significance was so obvious to his audience that it didn’t merit special attention.

Other evidence of Christmas (or not)

In 1843, the year Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, December 25th was just another working day for the men who attended the public auction of Simon F. Towle’s estate, which included the mansion that once belonged to General Jonathan Moulton. With a high bid of $330 ($10,000 in today’s dollars), carpenter Jabez Towle took possession of the now-famous house.

Christmas was also a day of work for Charles M. Perkins, who kept a journal of his travels to the California gold fields in 1849 and again in 1857. In his journal entry for December 25, 1850, he notes that he earned $13.65 prospecting gold at Chilly Flat. Further entries show the same pattern of work: December 25, 1857, Blue Gulch. It froze this morning for the 10th time; December 25, 1860, Flintville, prospecting rock for the Merced Falls Mining Company; December 25, 1861, Rum Hollow, looking out for the mill. While Charles faithfully kept the commandment to rest on Sunday, it was pretty clear that he did not celebrate Christmas.

On Christmas day 1862, Lt. Simon Lamprey of Hampton was in Hilton Head, South Carolina with the Third New Hampshire Volunteers. “We had a very fine day here yesterday for Christmas and it was the pleasantest day I ever saw,” he wrote to his brother in Exeter. “But it was very dull, we did not have anything to do except dress parade. Wish you all a Happy New Year.” On Christmas day 1863, he wrote that besides “stirring up the Rebs a little in the morning with shell,” the day was a quiet one for his regiment. That Christmas, as it turned out, would be Simon’s last. He was killed in battle the following August.

Anna May Cole was a First Church member whose letters written from college in the 1880s reveal that Christmas was part of her family’s traditions. “What are the Christmas plans? I must send a note about Xmas to Hattie in this letter,” she wrote to her brother in 1885. “Just think, it is almost Xmas time and I’m not coming home! I’m almost homesick when I think of it,” she wrote in 1886. Two years later she wrote, “My big brother; Merry Xmas, and a week from now, Happy New Year!”

Into the 20th century

Bernice Palmer 02

Mid-20th century hand-drawn Christmas card by Hampton resident Bernice Palmer (1899-1985). Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Secular traditions took off in the early decades of the twentieth century, with the first Christmas Seals for tuberculosis issued in 1907 and the first White House holiday greeting, issued by President Calvin Coolidge, in 1927. The Hamptons Union newspaper, established in 1899, published a yearly holiday Souvenir Edition featuring photographs of the town’s leading citizens, along with Christmas advertising (as today, every new gadget was a must-have for holiday gift giving). With a speed that would astound even Santa’s magical reindeer, Christmas became its own season, with sales, clubs, cards, trees, vacations, bazaars, pageants, parties, and plays, in addition to holiday-themed decorations festooning the streets and homes of every town. But family togetherness, forgiveness, and charity were not forgotten, and Christmas became a special time of giving to others. A notable example was Luigi Marelli of Marelli’s Market, who honored the season by sending dozens of Christmas boxes each year to Hampton’s servicemen and women during World War II.

The Christmas Parade

In 1959 the Hampton Chamber of Commerce put on what is likely the first annual Hampton Christmas parade. That year Santa landed at Hampton Beach aboard the Coast Guard’s amphibious duck boat and joined the parade on its High Street route from the Academy to Depot Square. In 1960 Santa came to town on the Fire Department’s new ladder truck, and for an entire week he headquartered at the old railroad station in Depot Square, which that year was named for Luigi Marelli. For a time the parade switched between the High Street-Marelli Square route and one that marched down Lafayette Road to Centre School. As the parade grew in size and popularity, Lafayette Road became the permanent route.

In 1987, for the first time, Hampton taxpayers were asked to help defray the parade expenses, with the funds paid directly to the Chamber of Commerce. Since then, voters have denied their approval only once, in 1990.

From 2004-2006, the name of the parade was changed to “Children’s Christmas Parade.” In 2007, after the death of a child in the 2006 Portsmouth parade caused insurance rates to skyrocket, Hampton’s parade was replaced with a Christmas Carnival, which the voters chose not to fund. In 2010 Experience Hampton brought the parade back to town, and when the taxpayers were asked to contribute $3,000 the following year, they did so by a large margin, voting also to change the name of Holiday Parade to the traditional Christmas Parade.

Hampton celebrates the spirit of Christmas

Once shunned as a pagan ritual, now a beloved religious and secular tradition, Christmas has come a long way on the seacoast. Karen Raynes summed it up perfectly in her 2014 Marelli’s Market memoir. “Hampton,” she wrote, “is still one of those quaint New England towns that as a community comes together to celebrate the spirit of the Christmas season.”

So, to everyone in our quaint little town, may the true meaning of the holiday season fill your heart and home with many blessings. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Originally published in the Hampton Union on December 22, 2017.

Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl’s latest book is “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, available at amazon.com and at Marelli’s Market in Hampton. Her website is lassitergang.com.

Ephraim Marston, a New Hampshire Colonist


The supernatural horror film The Witch, written and directed by a southern New Hampshire native, follows a family of outcasts as they encounter forces of evil on their New England farm. Its strength lies in its realistic portrayal of Puritan culture poised on the knife’s-edge of wilderness, where fear of Indian attacks, long periods of darkness, and a strong belief in the Devil were all part of daily life. It offers a glimpse into what life must have been like in the early days of Hampton, when the witch Goody Cole touched the lives of men like Ephraim Marston.

For Marston, especially, the connection to Cole was a personal one. Born about 1655, Marston was a native born American whose family had settled in Hampton fifteen years earlier. He grew up with the knowledge that she had bewitched his sister and turned her into an “ape,” an affliction that resulted in the girl’s death and led to Cole’s first trial for witchcraft. While we’ll never know what frightening tales he may have passed along to his many descendants, just three generations stood between him and Edmund W. Toppan, the first Hamptoner to put the witch lore into written form.


The Marston family’s contact with the Devil’s minion did not interfere with their children’s ability to find mates. On February 19, 1677, twenty-one-year-old Ephraim married Abial, whose father John Sanborn was a leading citizen, and whose great grandfather Stephen Bachiler had been the town’s principal founder. One month later Abial, Jr. was born, and in October of that year the court convicted Ephraim and his wife of fornication (then defined as sex before marriage). The standard punishment was a public whipping, but in their case only a fine, to be paid in corn, was ordered. Judith, the unwed daughter of Henry Roby, another important townsman, seems also to have escaped with little or no punishment after she gave birth in 1671. Some convicted women, like Hannah Clement and Mary Rundlett, who were without important family connections, found themselves ordered to be “severely whipped.”

Vengeful father

In 1695, five years after he inherited the homestead that would remain in his family for the next two centuries, Marston disowned his then 18-year-old daughter Abial for marrying John Green, “contrary to her father’s wishes.” His pique was so great that he gave her name away to another daughter born two years later. The problem may not have been with Abial’s husband, but with his grandfather Justice Henry Green, who in the 1680s assisted the royal government in Portsmouth in its scheme to seize the land of dozens of townsmen. Marston eventually reconciled with his estranged daughter, calling her “beloved” in his 1736 will and giving her “one feather bed or four pounds in money,” the same inheritance allotted to the younger Abial.

Fence wrecker

Unlike his older brother Isaac, whose garrison stood at the outskirts of town, Ephraim was actively involved in Hampton’s civic life and military affairs. Often called upon to give testimony on important issues affecting the town and province, he served as selectman, boundary and road surveyor, constable, and a sergeant in the militia.

 One of his most memorable actions was in response to threats to the traditional communal use of the town’s pastures. In 1693, the freeholders of Hampton voted to make illegal the private fencing of the common land. The law was widely ignored, and for years the town issued warnings only. The situation reached a flashpoint in the summer of 1704, when a large posse that included Marston set out to enforce the law. Their first stop was the Exeter Road farm of Samuel Roby, where “in a hostile manner with force and armes etc. to the great Terror and Afrighting of her Majesties good subjects, [the posse] violently maliciously riotously & randomly did throw down burne and destroye a great quantity” of the fence that Roby had erected around his apple trees and hop vines. The posse then moved on to Francis Jenness’s farm near the beach, “pulling downe and destroying a considerable quantitie of his fence.” They also wrecked the fence of Francis’s son John, “to the indaingering” of his corn crop. Exposing these men’s food sources to predation by animals says much about their desire not only to enforce the law, but to make the violators pay for their lawbreaking in the worst possible way. Roby and Jenness sued Marston and the others for the damage to their property, but the jury found the defendants not guilty.

 Tavernkeeper and malt maker

When Love Sherburne ended her long career as the town’s central tavernkeeper, Marston was encouraged to take her place. In 1703 the Hampton selectmen readily approved his application for a license, and for over a decade he and his family ran the tavern. In 1712 the town granted him a quarter acre of land “by the fort in the [Ring] swamp to set a malt-house on.” (As a guard against Indian attacks, this fort had been built up around the meeting house during the period 1689-1692). Marston and his heirs were to “enjoy the same” as long as they would malt barley, used in beer making, for the town.

Marston built his malt house “on the knoll West & North of the Old burial place” (Pine Grove cemetery), and in 1722 the town made a road to it from the “common way” (Winnacunnet Road). By 1731 Ephraim’s “beloved son” Jeremiah was running the malt house, which had grown to an extensive operation that paid a yearly tax of three pounds. In 1736 Marston deeded the malt house to Jeremiah, in recognition of his son’s “immediate care of ye management of my outward affairs.” It was said that the malt house “stood there many years,” and was within the memory of the old-timers of the mid-nineteenth century.

1731 Tax List

1731 Town of Hampton assessments on “Trades & facultys mills Indian and Negro Slaves.” Ephraim Marston’s assessment was four pounds (right column, 3rd from top). His son Jeremiah’s malt house assessment was three pounds (right column, 5th from top). Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

After a long and productive life spent in service to his town, Ephraim Marston died of cancer in 1742. Although his headstone has not survived, he was likely interred in the Pine Grove cemetery.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on November 24, 2017.

Top image courtesy of the New Hampshire Archives.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl’s latest book is “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, available at amazon.com. Her website is lassitergang.com.

To Thanksgiving


As I reflect upon my blessings this Thanksgiving, please know that you – my readers – are at the top of my list, along with family and amazing friends, both old and new, near and far away. I enjoy hearing from you, to know your thoughts on my writing and the stories I’ve told. In the coming year I’ll continue to research and write those same kinds of stories, and hopefully the novel I’ve been working on for what seems like forever will finally see the light of day.

I’ll be spending my Thanksgiving reading Mayflower: A Story of Community, Courage, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick. I’ve read William Bradford’s amazing first-hand account, Of Plymouth Plantation, and am looking forward to deepening my understanding of those important early years in our country’s history.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Cheryl Lassiter



The King’s Evil in Hampton NH


In 1657, Mary Green of Hampton, New Hampshire developed a deep, running sore on her lower leg that at times robbed her of the ability to walk. The infection had to be treated, but, as her father Henry would soon learn, there was no one in town with the skill to diagnose, let alone cure, such a serious ailment.

Henry Green is best remembered as one of the New Hampshire justices who in 1684 convicted Reverend Joshua Moodey of Portsmouth for refusing to administer Anglican sacraments in his Puritan church. When Mary fell ill, Henry took her to Joanna Tuck, whose husband Robert ran the local tavern and dabbled in surgery. Joanna’s treatments proved ineffective, and Henry took his daughter to the home of Dr. Thomas Starr of Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she lived for the next several months while Starr attempted to heal her infected leg. When Starr failed to affect a cure, Henry took her to the “doctoress” Ann Edmonds, who with her husband ran a tavern in Lynn, Massachusetts. Ann diagnosed Mary’s disease as the King’s Evil, also known as scrofula, an infectious swelling in the lymph nodes and bones.

 The royal touch

Since the time of Edward the Confessor of England (1003-1066) it was believed that the King’s royal touch could cure the afflicted, and hence the disease was called the King’s Evil. Ceremonies were held in which hundreds of sick people stood in line to be touched by the monarch and to receive special gold coins called “touchpieces.” Some monarchs were known to have laid hands on more than a thousand people in a single ceremony. Queen Anne (1665-1714) was the last English monarch to apply the touch, but French monarchs would continue the healing magic for at least another century.

Kings Evil Cure

Scarred for life

In America, the scars left from lymphatic King’s Evil were used to identify fugitive criminals, servants, and slaves. In 1731 a Pennsylvania sheriff’s notice described an escaped prisoner as having “two scars upon his neck which came by the King’s evil.” In 1738 a master described his runaway servant as “an Englishman, bred to the sea, much disfigured on the Face and Throat from the King’s Evil.” In 1783 a Philadelphia jailer advised the public to be on the lookout for an escaped inmate who had “in his throat the marks of the king’s evil.” In 1825 a New Jersey slave owner advertised for the return of a slave named Bob, who could be known by his scar “from the king’s evil.”

Curing the disease

During the second half of the eighteenth-century only four cases of death by the King’s Evil were recorded in Hampton, while many more were attributed to “consumption” (pulmonary tuberculosis). Ancient remedies such as bloodletting, expectorants, and purgatives were the usual treatments. With no real cure, enterprising quacks of a later era looked to profit from the disease. A Dr. Evans advertised his “superior method” for curing scrofula, William Swaim peddled his eponymous Panacea, A. Stewart offered Compound Vegetable Systematic Pills, and Dr. S. N. Niderburg’s “galvanic machine” was touted for its curative abilities. It was not until the late nineteenth century that scientists discovered the pathogen responsible for the King’s Evil: mycobacterium tuberculosis, passed to humans through the consumption of raw milk from an infected cow. In 1921 a vaccine was introduced to prevent the disease.

Although Ann Edmonds had at her disposal the practices of bloodletting, purges, and vomits, she concentrated instead on giving Mary a healthy diet of fresh vegetables and meat and applying poultices to the infected leg. No record exists to show what ingredients she used in her poultices, but one contemporary recipe called for goat dung mixed with honey and vinegar. Another was a mixture of barley meal, pitch, frankincense, and the urine of a child. At one point Edmonds removed a six-inch piece of rotted bone from the leg, and from then on Mary’s condition improved. After eleven months of care, Edmonds declared her cured and ready to return home.

 A dispute arises

For the expense of Mary’s room and board, Henry Green paid Edmonds a cow, and for the treatment he gave her a colt. A legal suit arose when Edmonds claimed that the colt was not the same one as originally promised. This one was “small, thin, and lowsey,” and certainly not worth the twenty pounds value of her treatments. Green responded by saying that the treatments had not cured his daughter, whom he taken to the tavern in Salisbury, Massachusetts to get the opinion of the lady of the house. She was said to have observed a “running sore” on the girl’s leg.

In 1659 the suit was presented to the Hampton court. Green’s witnesses—including Dr. Starr of Charlestown, Dr. Crosby of Rowley, and Robert Tuck of Hampton—testified that Mary’s leg had not been cured. Edmonds brought in witnesses to testify that it had. The court ruled that Green had lied and dealt fraudulently with Edmonds, but the following year the Ipswich court overturned the decision when Ann’s husband William inexplicably agreed that they had made no bargain with Green for the more valuable colt.

Mary Green survived the King’s Evil and the attempts to cure her leg. A quarter century later she faced another evil, as one of the many persons accused and imprisoned during the Salem witchcraft trials. After nearly four months in jail, she was released on bond and allowed to return home, never having stood trial.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on October 20, 2017.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of several books of local history, including “Marked: the Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole," available at amazon.com, Marelli's Market, and the Tuck Museum in Hampton. Her website is lassitergang.com.


Constables of Hampton


Up until the second decade of the twentieth century, constables were a regular feature of civic life in Hampton. They were ordinary men from the community, chosen each year at the town meeting to keep the peace and collect the taxes. Originally an important official, the constable eventually became obsolete as his duties were taken over by professional tax collectors, organized police forces, and sheriff’s departments.

Constables in the 17th and 18th centuries

In 1639, when the Great and General Court of Massachusetts allowed Winnacunnet (the original name of Hampton) to be a town, it gave the town founders liberty to choose a “constable and other officers.” The first constable was John Moulton, who not only kept the King’s peace, but collected the town and colony taxes—which were more likely to be paid in hogshead staves and corn rather than actual coinage. At the town meeting in 1641, the freemen chose Abraham Perkins to succeed Moulton in the office of constable.

Constables were the enforcement arm of the court, first in apprehending and bringing law breakers before the justices, and after, when punishments were meted out for crimes committed. In 1656, 1657, and again in 1661, constables carried out whippings on the suspected witch Unise Cole. In 1662, Constable William Fifield whipped three Quaker women, convicted of being vagabonds, through the streets of Hampton. Not comfortable with the task, Fifield offered to whip them before daylight, but they refused, saying that “they were not ashamed of their sufferings.” He offered to whip them with their clothes on, but they refused that, too.

In June 1732, the Hampton court found a man named John McVickers guilty of forging and passing counterfeit bills. He had been involved in the schemes of Tamsen Tibbits of Dover, who had convinced an artistically inclined schoolteacher to forge paper bills. McVickers was fined seven pounds plus costs, pilloried at Hampton for one hour, and suffered the cutting off of an ear by the constable at the time, Benjamin Towle. McVickers may have been the first man put in Hampton’s pillory, which had been erected just that month upon order of His Majesty’s Court of Sessions.

Constables were allowed to deputize men when they needed assistance. Constable Henry Dow’s deputy was Nathaniel Batchelder; together they transported Unise Cole to Boston to stand trial for witchcraft in 1673. The roundtrip took eight days and cost the taxpayers two pounds four shillings.

Constables were also empowered to make arrests and serve summonses on inhabitants, including other town officials. In 1684, Constable Nathaniel Batchelder arrested and incarcerated his old boss Henry Dow, now the town clerk, for refusing to pay his province taxes. In 1701, Constable Ephraim Marston served his fellow constables, Thomas Roby and Benjamin Fifield, with a summons to appear at the court in Portsmouth to explain why they had failed to deliver money owed to a man for work he had done on His Majesty’s fort at Newcastle. As this illustrates, the constable himself could be brought before the court if he neglected or refused to perform his duties. In 1662, when Constable Henry Roby failed to deliver notorious troublemaker Edward Colcord to the Boston jail, he was fined and ordered to complete the mission at his own expense.

Warning out

A 1659 Massachusetts law stipulated that any newcomers who resided in a town for more than three months (extended to twelve months in 1701) without being notified that the town was unwilling to have them stay, would be accounted a legal inhabitant and entitled to poor relief if they became indigent. Selectmen were therefore keen to “warn out” strangers before they could become a burden on the taxpayers. While the warning did not necessarily mean removal, the constable was obliged to advise strangers that should they become penniless, they could count on no help from the town. In 1691 a man named William Penny was warned to leave town unless his host, John Garland, would post a bond for his “security.” In 1726, a woman named Deborah Brown was warned to “forth remove out of the town or get security for her staying here,” otherwise the town would “proceed with her as the law directs in those cases.” In 1797, Constable Henry Dearborn Taylor issued a warning to a man named John Towle and a boy named Sylvester Miller, giving them two weeks to get out of town.

A crisis of constables

Unlike the offices of town clerk and selectman, men who were chosen constable rarely served more than one term. The office was fraught with immense and often horrendous responsibilities, for which there was no fiscal remuneration beyond reimbursement for travel expenses. It’s no wonder some men flat out refused to serve when chosen, preferring to pay a hefty twenty pound fine instead. It was a trend with roots in the pre-Revolution, Stamp Act generation of young men who resented “the man” taking their labor free of charge.

At the town meeting in 1766, the voters chose as constables Jonathan Dow and Nathaniel Towle. In what was by then a familiar scene at the yearly meeting, both men refused the post and paid a fine. William Lane, Samuel Brown, and Josiah Dearborn were chosen next, each one refusing, and each one paying his fine. At an adjourned meeting the following month, voters agreed to award the one hundred pounds of fine money paid by the five refusers to the man “that shall serve as constable for the whole town.” Not even that large sum of money could entice Jeremiah Dow, the next man chosen, to accept the post. The crisis was resolved when Simon Dow, Jeremiah’s brother, agreed to serve in Jeremiah’s place.

The following year, after the first candidate had refused, Simon was again chosen to serve. This appears to be the first time that the town offered the constable a true salary, promising Simon seven pounds ten shillings for his service.

Later, in the 1790s, the office of tax collector was separated from that of constable. For the next seventy years, however, it was a general rule that the man hired as constable was also employed to collect taxes.

Constables in the 19th century

Early Hampton police force

Early Hampton police force. Some of these men may have served as constables. Image courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Hampton had begun to replace the constable with full-time, salaried police officers. In 1869 the town expended money on a police station, and by 1880 the names of the policemen had been added to the list of officers in the town report. Policemen wore badges to denote their office, and the position of “special” policeman began to appear in the records. What roles these men filled is not always clear, but in 1892 and 1893 policeman Curtis DeLancey was paid an additional five dollars as a special policeman to enforce the dog laws.

The constable had not been killed off quite yet, as the title continued to appear sporadically in the records of this period. In 1887, John W. Dearborn earned fifteen dollars as a policeman, ten dollars as constable, and another fifteen dollars as special constable. Clearly, the job had been absorbed into the police department, its duties most likely restricted to civil matters.

The last Hampton constables

The last constable to be mentioned by name in the town reports was Charles A. Weare in 1891. Constables were not mentioned again until the second decade of the new century, when for several years voters left the appointment of a constable to the selectmen, a sure sign of the office’s impending demise. The selectmen seem to have declined to exercise their privilege, and from 1914 on the constable disappeared from the records—and so apparently from the town.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, September 22, 2017.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl’s latest book is “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Her website is lassitergang.com.

Ode to Joe Billy Brown


When wealthy Boston carpet dealer Joseph Ballard bought the Lafayette Road estate of his Leavitt in-laws in 1831, he had no idea that a future namesake would one day become one of the most popular and controversial selectmen ever voted to office in Hampton, New Hampshire.

Ballard and his wife Clarissa, the daughter of tavern keeper Thomas Leavitt, spent their summers in Hampton. From mid-century on, Irish-born Mary Johnston accompanied them as a servant. In 1858, she married John Gilman Brown of Hampton, and in 1862 their first child Joseph Ballard was born. Mary held a special place in the Ballard household, and when her employer died in 1877, he bequeathed to her the house and property at 393 Lafayette Road.

A one-man government

Mary’s son Joseph, or Joe Billy, as he was called, was a market gardener who sold his produce from a cart at the beach. A lifelong bachelor, he was first elected to the board of selectmen in 1887, at the age of twenty-four, and held the office for the better part of the next three and a half decades, eventually becoming board chairman. A 1921 Hampton Union article reported that he was “on the job from six o’clock in the morning until nearly midnight,” and that “no job is too big for him to tackle and no request of too little consequence to escape his attention.” In fact, Brown seemed to have had his nose in everything, and he performed so many jobs around town—from cleaning the Town Hall and caring for transients, to collecting rents on leased town land and personally overseeing public works projects—that calling his time in office a “one-man government” was not far from the mark.

Brown vs. the police force

 James Tucker of the Hampton Beach News-Guide described Joe Billy as “spare and wiry with a drooping gray moustache,” dressed in a “familiar” gray suit, and looking like a “character out of Winston Churchill’s novel Coniston (Churchill was a novelist and New Hampshire politician; his 1906 book about the state’s politics was a best seller). According to Tucker, Brown was “accustomed to leading,” and wasn’t the kind of man “that lags behind in a community like Hampton.” His personality was pleasant, his disposition stubborn, and although his “argumentative facilities might prove futile in a close debate,” at town meetings he was a “master of repartee.”

Tucker penned his biographical sketch in 1922, at the end of a contentious summer at the beach. With the assistance of Hampton police chief Sherburne “Sherbie” Blake and his officers, overzealous Federal prohibition agents had set up liquor roadblocks at the bridge end of the beach and on Lafayette Road. This angered business owners and cottagers, who worried that the liquor arrests were giving the town a false reputation as a bootlegging center. Even trolley operator Massachusetts Northeastern Street Railway complained of the inconvenience of the searches.

The complaints did not go unnoticed by the selectmen, and in September (well after the tourist season had wound down), Joe Billy Brown fired twelve of the fifteen officers on the force, including the chief. Spared from the axe were Officers Marvin Young, Uri Lamprey, and Robert Tolman.

 One of the unexpunged officers was Brown’s friend and “anxious to wear the chief’s badge,” leading Tucker to believe that “petty jealousy and local politics” were at the root of Brown’s decision. Despite Blake’s refusal to vacate his office, the ruling stood and Tolman took over as chief.

Twenty years younger than Joe Billy, Sherbie Blake was the son of Hampton fisherman Eri P. Blake. At sixteen he joined the Navy, later working as a clerk in Boston, Massachusetts and Concord, New Hampshire. He ran a liquor store in Manchester, New Hampshire, and had a marriage, two children, and a divorce, all before returning home to Hampton to try his hand at police work. After his dismissal, he found work at the Coast Guard station on North Beach.

The following year the town elected Lemuel C. Ring as chairman of the selectmen. With Brown declining to participate, Ring and selectman Harry Munsey voted to reinstate Blake. Some locals didn’t like the change, but they must have been happy with the board’s decision not to allow their police officers to work the Federal “dry squad” roadblocks. This meant a loss to the police department of a share of the municipal court revenues earned from the prosecution and conviction of rumrunners, which in 1922 had amounted to over thirteen hundred dollars. For the town’s promoters, this seemed like a fair exchange.

Other problems arose, however, and Blake abruptly resigned after an altercation with the “occupants of an automobile” that had occurred over the Independence Day holiday. He never returned, and selectman Harry Munsey took over as chief.

Old political ring broken

Munsey was the third selectman on the three-man board, but at the time of Blake’s resignation, he and Ring were operating as a two-man board. On April 29, Brown died after surgery at Anna Jacques Hospital in Newburyport. With his passing, the “old political ring” was broken. It didn’t take long before the public learned of irregularities in the town’s business, including a report that Brown had kept the town’s money in his own personal bank accounts. The selectmen promised a thorough audit of the books, along with fairer and more businesslike governance in the future. 

JBB Park

In his history of the town, Peter Randall called Joe Billy “an unusual town official.” That he certainly was. He was also an admired public servant, who, as James Tucker wrote, had “at heart the welfare of the town he serves so faithfully.” In recognition of his many years of service, North Side Park at Plaice Cove was informally called Joe Billy Brown Park. In 1964, voters made the memorial official.

Ode to Joe Billy Brown

Have you seen my Billy Brown?

He’s the man who runs our town,

I will never rest ‘til he am found.

I have looked all over town,

Down to the beach and all around.

On my knees I ask please,

Have you seen my Billy Brown?

—as remembered by Horace Hobbs (1899-1999),

courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.


Originally published in the Hampton Union, August 25, 2017.

Photo of Joe Billy Brown courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society. Colorized by the author.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl’s latest book is “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, available at amazon.com and at Marelli’s Market in Hampton. Her website is lassitergang.com.

The Queens of Hampton Beach 2017


Congratulations! to the 2017 Miss Hampton Beach, Emily Durant of Hampton, who received a $200 photo package courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society. Congratulations also to the Junior Miss winner, Lauren Brophy of North Hampton, and the Little Miss winner, Siena Szarek of Pelham, Massachusetts. Karen Raynes and I wish them the best of luck in the coming year.

Thank you! to everyone who came out to support our showing of the documentary video 100 Years at the Beach and book signing for The Queens of Hampton Beach last Sunday at the Seashell Pavilion. Thanks to Josh Silveira for running the video, Betty Moore and the Hampton Historical Society for sponsoring the event, and Maryanne from the State Parks department for making it possible for us to show the video in the Pavilion.

About The Queens of Hampton Beach book ~

Painstakingly researched and written by local historians Cheryl Lassiter and Karen Raynes, The Queens of Hampton Beach is a fascinating, year-by-year, winner-by-winner portrait, not only of these iconic summertime contests, but of Hampton Beach itself. The book’s stories and historic photos are guaranteed to bring back happy memories to long-time beachgoers, former contestants, their families, and fans, as well as bring delight to those whose own history with the beach is just beginning. This book belongs on every library and bookstore shelf in New England!

Available through Amazon.com, BN.com, and Baker & Taylor book distributors.


 Praise for The Queens of Hampton Beach

“A fitting tribute to all those involved in creating, sustaining, and participating in one of the seacoast’s longest running and most cherished traditions. Let’s have a warm round of applause for The Queens – the very jewels that adorn the crown – of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.” – Don McNeill, The Continentals.

 “A must-have for anyone who loves Hampton Beach! Packed with great photos and interesting stories, not just about the evolution of our local beauty queens, but about the development of the beach itself.” – Betty Moore, Tuck Museum Executive Director.


“This book, a true treasure, not only chronicles the rich history of Hampton Beach but of the pageant that has touched so many and set the stage for success in many endeavors of my life. I remain forever grateful.” – Sheila T. Scott, Miss Hampton Beach 1964.

Back Cover Copy

      Like fried dough, henna tattoos, and the arcade, choosing a queen to represent Hampton Beach has always been an important part of the summer rituals at this popular seaside resort. What started out in 1915 as a way to sell raffle tickets with the Carnival Queen contest, open to all women, had by the late 1940s evolved into the Miss Hampton Beach beauty pageant, for which only young, single women were eligible. In 1959 the pageant moved indoors to the glitzy Casino Ballroom, and for the next three glamour-filled decades groomed New England girls for national pageants like Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss America. Tastes changed and interest waned over the years, and in 1996 the pageant was canceled—only to return to its roots the following year as a free community event, held on a Sunday afternoon, outdoors at the epicenter of the beach, the Seashell Stage. The tradition continues today, with beach queens chosen not only for their beauty and poise, but for their willingness to participate in community activities and to promote Hampton Beach as a family-friendly vacation destination throughout their reigning year.



The Mysterious Sadie Belle Lane



This wonderful photo of Sadie Belle Lane and that of her house (below) were found in the collections of the Hampton Historical Society. No one knows how or when they were acquired, but a note on the digital version states they were once in the possession of a woman who was doing research on historic area houses. The guess is that they were saved from Sadie’s house when it was replaced by a block of business condos in the 1980s.

Other than these photos, Sadie Belle left precious few trails for future historians to follow. About her life I have only been able to find the basics – she was born in Hampton, New Hampshire on September 4, 1876, the youngest child of wealthy merchant Joshua Lane and his wife Lydia Emery. Her siblings were Howard G. and Ida. She graduated from Hampton Academy in 1894 and lived at 387 Lafayette Road in the house which she would eventually inherit from her parents. She was single her entire life, spent time in Boston, joined ladies’ clubs, vacationed in the White Mountains, and, rumor has it, she employed a chauffeur. She left a bit of money in her will to the Lane Memorial Library, a library created in 1910 by her brother Howard to honor the memory of their father Joshua.

Her name doesn’t appear in the census records after 1880, nor in the SSDI or New Hampshire death records. Her Rockingham County probate record is #41313, which I hope to research in person some day.

We might never know any more than we do right now about Miss Sadie Belle Lane, but we can enjoy her intriguing photograph, and wonder what sort of lady she really was.


Hampton Beach Hotels


The Great Boar’s Head bluff, rising prominently above the shoreline at the northern end of Hampton Beach, was once part of the Great Ox Common, an area of land that in 1641 the founders of Hampton reserved “to the world’s end” as common pasturage for their oxen. But times and traditions changed, the Common passed into private hands, and the bluff went under cultivation. When visitors from the inland cities began gravitating to this “invigorating and delightful spot” for fishing, fowling, and “the purpose of inhaling the country and sea air,” Boar’s Head farmers realized a new use for their land: cows and corn were out, vacation hotels were in, and so began the early hotel era at Hampton Beach.

Hotels01The Winnicumet (1819-1854)

As in today’s world of business, it was the twenty-somethings who led the charge to exploit the new trend. In 1819, twenty-three-year-old Amos Towle and twenty-five-year-old Abraham Marston built a two-story, hip-roofed hotel on Towle’s Boar’s Head land. In 1822 Towle leased his “pleasant Stand” to tavernkeeper Richard Greenleaf of Hampton, and in 1828 he sold it to Thomas Leavitt, also of Hampton, for the mortgage plus $1,320. Thirty-four years old at the time, Leavitt enlarged the hotel with a three-story Greek Revival-style addition at the front of the original structure, and built his own home nearby. For the next two and a half decades the Winnicumet received visitors during the summer tourist and fall gunning seasons; then, in the early morning hours of July 21, 1854, a fire in a shed attached to the rear of the building burned the house to the ground. Some said it was a suspicious fire, but with the science of arson investigation still far into the future, no one would ever really know the cause.

Hotels02Boar’s Head Hotel (1827-1893)

With the growth in tourism and the popularity of the Winnicumet, constructing a second hotel on Boar’s Head must have seemed like a sure thing to 45-year-old David Nudd, a man who was the embodiment of the young, fast-moving Republic—a merchant, moneylender, and prolific builder of ships, roads, salt works, a ship canal, and three hotels on the Boar’s Head bluff.

Nudd’s eagerly awaited Hampton Beach Hotel, which critics dubbed “Folly Castle,” opened for business on June 20, 1827. Built near the top of the promontory, the three-story hotel offered spectacular views of the Isles of Shoals, the summit of Agamenticus, Cape Ann, and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean. Nudd maintained ownership but hired a succession of managers to run the hotel: Nathaniel G. Tyler of Newburyport, followed by “Sleepy” David Brown of Hampton, then, in 1836, Levi Shaw of Dover. In 1840 George W. Cheney was managing the recently renovated, enlarged, and renamed Boar’s Head Hotel. In 1844, Nudd’s son Joseph and son in law Alfred J. Batchelder ran the hotel, followed in 1849 by Dudley S. Locke, another Nudd son in law. In the mid-1850s the manager was Henry T. Nichols of Manchester, New Hampshire.

In 1866 Stebbins H. Dumas of Concord, New Hampshire purchased the hotel. With enterprising flair—and twenty years’ prior experience at the Phenix Hotel in Concord—he “entirely disemboweled and remodeled” the hotel; adding piazzas, a three-story ell, and a 26-room, mansard-style fourth story, in addition to a private cottage, bowling alley, billiards hall, and expanded carriage house and stables. Dumas operated the hotel until October 23, 1893, when the structure was destroyed by a chimney fire.

Hotels03Eagle House (c. 1830 – present)

In 1806, local farmer Daniel Lamprey built a one-story beach getaway on Boar’s Head. About 1810 his son Jeremiah and family moved into the house and kept the first public house in that part of the world. Years later, apparently unaware that “Uncle Jerry” was slipping into dementia, a Portsmouth newspaper writer complained about the “absence of all accommodation at the public houses” at Hampton Beach. Some weeks later the paper printed an apology to “Mr. L,” noting that his patrons were “fully aware of the difficulties under which he labours.” Jeremiah was eventually declared insane, and his property wound up in the hands of David Nudd, who built his second hotel, the Eagle House, on the property. Three generations of Nudds would own the hotel: David’s son Willard, Willard’s son Lewis, and Lewis’s daughter Caroline Belle. Of the seven hotels included in this article, only the Eagle has survived, still standing as part of the Century House Motel at the foot of Boar’s Head.


Granite House/New Boar’s Head (1847-1908)

In 1840 David Nudd closed his then-unprofitable Hampton River salt works, saving its timbers to build a third hotel on Boar’s Head, the 32-room Granite House. In 1848 he leased it to hoteliers Hoyt & Richardson, who boasted that their hotel was closest to the “best places for bathing” and featured a new bowling alley, a new “fine toned” piano, and a good stable. The following year Nudd’s daughter Martha and her husband Alfred J. Batchelder, previously of the Boar’s Head Hotel, took over the management.

In 1854, four months after the Winnicumet burned, the Granite survived a fire, with only its stable destroyed in the blaze. The Batchelders, however, were not as lucky in their financial affairs. Martha inherited the hotel when her father died in 1858, but in 1880, with Alfred sick with cancer, they lost it all to a creditor.

In 1883 Stebbins H. Dumas of the Boar’s Head Hotel bought the hotel, naming it The Rockingham. After his first hotel burned in 1893, he set up shop here, renaming it the New Boar’s Head Hotel. As he neared retirement in 1901, he made plans to subdivide and sell his Boar’s Head properties, but died before the plans could be realized. The hotel went into the hands of a Boston firm and was managed by James Fuller of Amesbury, Massachusetts. In 1908 it burned down, on the same day (October 23) and under the same circumstances (chimney fire) that had destroyed the old Boar’s Head Hotel fifteen years earlier.

1998.382.4Ocean House (1844-1885)

Built by David Nudd’s oldest son Stacy, the Ocean was the first hotel south of Boar’s Head. Even though it was favorably situated “in front of the broad, smooth and hard Beach,” Nudd assured potential guests that his prices “shall be as low as at any other boarding house on the seaboard anywhere.” Because alcohol was banned on the premises, the Ocean was popular with temperance types. When Nudd died in 1866, the hotel was sold to Philip Yeaton of Lawrence, Massachusetts, who catered to an upscale clientele, some who paid a daily rate of $25 (about $500 today). With a reputation for lavish food and services, the Ocean House was considered one of the best summer resort hotels in New England.

When the hotel burned in the early morning hours of May 7,1885, it was a sprawling four-story with 170 rooms, several detached cottages, a bowling alley, and stables with carriages and horses for let. The wind-blown fire, which started to the north in the unoccupied, 50-room Atlantic House, consumed John G. Cutler’s Sea View Cottage and several smaller dwellings before reaching the Ocean House.

Hotels06Leavitt’s Hampton Beach Hotel (1871-1921)

In a minor correction to the historical record, the year was 1871, not 1872, when the Leavitt brothers, Joseph, 33, and Thomas, Jr., 39, built the four-story, 40-room Hampton Beach Hotel on the site of their deceased father’s Winnicumet House. With Joseph as its principal proprietor and the patronage of Judge Thomas Leavitt’s political friends, the hotel became one of the most popular on the beach. Five years after Joseph’s death in 1914 the Leavitt family sold the hotel, and in 1921 it was torn down to make way for Armas Guyon’s Dance Carnival.

Hotels07Cutler’s Sea View/Hotel Allen (1875-1985)

In 1875 former Exeter businessman John G. Cutler bought the Sea View Cottages at Hampton Beach. He improved the property and operated a small hotel and billiard hall until 1885, when the buildings were destroyed in the fire that burned Yeaton’s Ocean House. Less than a month later a second, larger Sea View rose like a phoenix from the ashes to become one of the most well-known hotel and dining establishments on the seacoast. Like Leavitt’s, it was frequented by the political class, led by Cutler’s good friend, Congressman Cyrus A. Sulloway.

After Cutler’s death in 1913, his wife Hattie continued as proprietor, with John B. Rich as manager. When Hattie died in 1921, Rich inherited a life interest in the hotel, which he sold in 1924. That same year it was acquired by Dance Carnival owner Armas Guyon. When Edgar Lessard of Hampton bought the hotel in 1945, he renamed it the Constance. In 1949 Herbert and Helen Allen of Amesbury, Massachusetts bought Lessard’s hotel, and, for the next 35 years and under six different owners, it was known as the Hotel Allen. In October 1985, the now 100-year-old hotel, recently sold and renamed Rock Harbor Inn, burned and was never rebuilt.
1816 Philip Carrigan MapThe end of the early hotel era

The summer of 1884 marked the high tide of the pioneer hotels at Hampton Beach. After the demise of the Ocean House in 1885 and the Boar’s Head Hotel in 1893, wealthy tourists moved on to more exclusive resorts on the Maine coast and the White Mountains. It could be argued that the moneyed class had been moving on anyway, which (along with a lack of organized fire protection) might explain why these lovely old hotels were never rebuilt. Yet with smaller, cheaper hotels, boarding houses, and private cottages cropping up each year, and a turn-of-the-century railway link to the cities of the Merrimack Valley, it was all but inevitable that Hampton Beach would become a favorite summer resort of the working- and middle-classes.

Not very surprising, really

Readers of Coastal Living Magazine recently voted Hampton Beach the Best Boardwalk in America.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, June 23, 2017. Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society and the author.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book, with co-author Karen Raynes, is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is lassitergang.com.


Early Fire Companies of Hampton


The founding of Hampton, New Hampshire’s fire department rightfully belongs to the early twentieth century, with the formation of a beach fire precinct in 1907, a village fire precinct in 1909, and, in 1912, a volunteer company comprised of a chief, captain, lieutenants, clerk, and twenty “members.” These century-old associations, however, were not the town’s first attempts at organized fire protection. That happened over four decades earlier, in 1822, when voters authorized a committee of thirteen persons “to take into consideration the expediency of purchasing a fire engine for the use of the town and organizing a company.” The committee was to report on the costs of an engine and a “suitable building” in which to house it.

The thirteen men were appointed, but what became of their committee and its findings has not been recorded. Some sort of action regarding fire protection must have gone forward, since voters were asked at the 1823 town meeting to choose men to fill the newly-created post of “fireward.” This position, the forerunner of the fire chief, was modeled after that of Portsmouth, whose fire department dates to 1744, and Exeter, which had public and private forms of fire protection since 1774. But Hampton voters, who were getting along just fine with the community bucket brigade, chose to “pass by” that part of the warrant article.

Also in 1823, a group of men organized a fire company in Hampton Falls. According to Warren Brown, who wrote the history of the town, the company—which never fought any fires—was formed solely for the purpose of exempting its members from military duty (up to eighteen men per engine could claim an exemption). This was not unusual at the time, Brown said, as “similar companies were formed in other towns for the same purpose.”

May 2017 Image 01

1830’s-style hand-drawn fire wagon.

The exemption was still in force in 1833, when a group of fifty-one Hampton men purchased a fire engine from the American Hydraulic Company of Windsor, Vermont. The early 1830s was a relatively peaceful period in which the “Era of Good Feelings” still lingered across the country, and it seems unlikely that these men formed their company for any purpose other than firefighting; rather, they were doing what the town had declined to do a decade earlier, and they asked for permission to erect a building on town land to house their new engine. The 1841 map of Hampton shows the Engine House that the voters allowed the “Owners of the Fire Engine” to build “on the School lot in the Centre District.”

May 2017 Image 04 According to historian Joseph Dow, fires were rare in Hampton, and “after a few years, in which little service was required,” the fire company and its engine were abandoned. Afterwards the town kept “several sets of fire-hooks in different localities,” but those, too, were eventually abandoned. Writing the town’s history in the late 1880s, Dow observed that at the time there was no public means of extinguishing fires.

In 1891 the town installed a fireproof safe to protect its public records, some of which were over 250 years old, but voters still refused to concede the necessity of organized fire protection. The success of the bucket brigade in extinguishing and preventing the spread of fires, and watchmen paid to make sure they didn’t break out again, hindered the passage of proposed measures, including the purchase of a chemical wagon in 1900 and the installation of a water system and fire hydrants in 1905.

May 2017 Image 03

 Lemuel C. Ring, Chief of Hampton Beach Fire Department

It was a different story at the more densely populated and rapidly growing Hampton Beach, where concerned residents were growing tired of waiting for the town to act. With the State’s permission, they formed their own fire precinct in 1907, under Chief Lemuel C. Ring. Not to be outdone, the town formed its own precinct in 1909 (the two precincts remained separate entities until 2002, when the town assumed responsibility for fire protection at the beach). The town also approved the purchase of a horse-drawn chemical wagon, built by blacksmith Nelson J. Norton, painted by house painter George Johnson, with ladders supplied by farmer J. Austin Johnson and firefighting chemicals by the American Lafrance Engine Company. Three years later, Hampton’s first fire department was organized under Chief Elmer C. King, a forty-year-old piano and cabinet maker originally from Massachusetts, who had married Ella, the daughter of Horace and Elizabeth Hobbs of Hampton.

Horse Fire Truck is20041qtr_95

c 1910 Hampton’s first chemical wagon at the Town Hall.

Carefully balancing the town’s Yankee frugality with a need to grow his department, in his first report, submitted on February 1, 1913, King asked for the funds to build a second wagon, one that his men had volunteered to build themselves, and a house in which to store his anticipated fleet expansion. According to the 1914 town report, he didn’t get his new wagon, but the town did appropriate twelve hundred dollars for the proposed fire house. From then on, expenditures for the Fire Department became a regular line item in the town’s yearly budget.

1830’s firefighting humor

The lawyers of Penobscot, Maine have petitioned for a fire engine, to be called the “Spouter,” which they propose to man and work themselves.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on May 26, 2017. Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book, with co-author Karen Raynes, is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is lassitergang.com.

THINGS TO DO THIS SUMMER: GO TO BEACH, GET A TAN, READ AT LEAST ONE OF CHERYL’S BOOKS! Available at amazon.com, and in Hampton at Marelli’s Market and the Tuck Museum.



Tramps in Hampton NH


“I knocked softly at the kitchen door.”

“The successful hobo must be an artist,” wrote Jack London in The Road, a collection of stories about his life as a teenage tramp in the 1890s. London’s “artist” was a man who could spin a convincing tale of misfortune and woe in exchange for a handout at the doors of America’s kitchens. The writer credited his successful career as a novelist to his own tramping artistry, since, if he wanted to eat, he was “compelled to tell tales that rang true.”

In contrast to London’s uncritical, often humorous portrayal of hobo life, Hampton’s historian Joseph Dow had a scathing opinion of the drifters who yearly descended on his town and beach: they “strolled idly from town to town, begging or stealing their support, and often committing deeds of violence and lust. No picnic grove or berry pasture, no secluded road or lonely house was a safe resort for the unprotected.” This annual “trampaign” of vagabonds reached its peak in the summer months and fell off with the coming of winter. As the Portsmouth Herald observed in 1899, “only working men out of jobs or amateurs tramp in the latitude of Portsmouth after Thanksgiving.”

According to Dow, itinerant vagrants began appearing in town around the year 1850, and their ranks swelled after the Civil War. Town reports referred to them somewhat sympathetically as “strangers” and “transient paupers” until 1874, when the word “tramp,” with its connotations of idling and drunkenness, entered the lexicon. The economic panics of 1873, 1884, and 1893 guaranteed the jobless tramp a permanent place in the American scene, and his ne’er-do-well mode of living was caricatured in every newspaper across the country.

The Tramp Houses

In New Hampshire towns like Exeter, Nashua, and Manchester, tramps were lodged overnight in the “bum room” at the city jail. Hampton, however, did not have a dedicated police station until 1900, when the town paid one hundred dollars to erect at the beach a 12’ x 16’ building, with three cells and an officers’ room. To deal with its growing transient population, in 1870 the town established what was facetiously called a “tramp’s retreat.” It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the retreat attracted “hordes of vagabonds,” and in some years taxpayers spent over one hundred dollars for their care and feeding. While the tramps were pleased with the arrangement, the town demanded a cheaper, less inviting alternative.

In 1874 the retreat was shuttered and a second house, “somewhat better than a dog-kennel,” was placed on land leased for ten dollars per year from Simon P. Towle, who lived at 495 Lafayette Road. The town paid $13.50 in materials and labor to S. J. Drake, Joseph Johnson, and John Dearborn to move a shack onto the property and fit it with a stove and funnel. Yet still they came. Over the next decade, Jeremiah Marston, a bachelor who lived on his ancestral homestead at the corner of Winnacunnet and Mill roads, was paid by the town for his “care of tramps,” but it’s unknown whether his efforts were in conjunction with or in addition to the tramp house. Otis Whittier of the Whittier Hotel was also paid to lodge vagabonds, and, in the 1890s, men associated with Hampton’s nascent police force—Abbott Young, Clinton J. Eaton, John I. Dow—took care of the transient population.

Related image

Gilman Marston of Exeter NH

General Marston’s Tramp Law

In 1875, New Hampshire enacted legislation to send vagrants to the county jail or town farm for a maximum term of six months, but enforcement ended when “loafers” began filling local facilities to capacity. A better solution was needed, and Exeter lawyer Gilman Marston, a battle-hardened Civil War general, was just the man to provide one.

Born in 1811 in Orford, New Hampshire, Marston had served in the United States House of Representatives before, during, and after his military service. In 1878, as a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, he drafted a bill to sentence tramps to a maximum of five years hard labor in the State prison. After exempting women, minors, and blind persons, the bill was passed into law that August.

Dow wrote that the effects of Marston’s law “were immediately apparent throughout the state.” Hampton’s tramp house was shuttered and sold to Otis Whittier for five dollars. In 1879 the town’s annual “trampaign” charges fell to under ten dollars.

The law was so effective that enforcement eventually fell by the wayside, prompting social reformer Frank B. Sanborn of Hampton Falls to caution that if the law wasn’t diligently applied at all times, then “tramps, like other migratory creatures, will again return.” In Hampton, at least, the “wandering willies” were proving Sanborn right. In 1887, Hampton resident Flora Shaw wrote that she would not venture alone into the woods for fear of encountering tramps; in 1894 voters agreed that the selectmen should enforce the tramp law; in 1898 they agreed to study the “possible construction of a tramp house.” Meanwhile, the town was giving aid to hundreds of tramps each year. We can only guess how many hundreds more of London’s artists received handouts at the kitchen doors of Hampton’s housewives.

Hampton RR Station

Paying customers only, no tramps allowed. – Train depot, Hampton NH, c. 1915.

Tramping by the Numbers

In the decade after the Civil War, the town spent an average of $105 per year on tramp care. From 1875 to 1892, with the second tramp house and Marston’s law deterring itinerant vagrants, the average cost was $18. With the economic depression of 1893, Hampton’s costs for tramp care rose, and did not return to their previous levels until 1905. During the period 1893-1907, when an estimated 1300-1500 transients passed through town, the average cost was $44 per year, with a high in 1898 of $90 and a low in 1905 of $2.25. Again, we can only speculate as to how many men received handouts outside of “official” relief channels.

By 1910 tramp care had been institutionalized at the local and county level. Replacing the traditional system of provisioning by private individuals whose expenses were reimbursed by the town (and the town by the county), police took transients to the station for the night or sent them before the local judge, who might order them to the county jail at Exeter or the county farm at Brentwood. No doubt the artists still made good at the kitchen doors.

19th Century Tramp Humor

Old Lady: Well, here’s ten cents for ye, but I should hate to feel that I was encouragin’ ye to drink.
Tramp: I don’t need no encouragement, mum.

Originally published as a History Matters column in the Hampton Union, April 21, 2017. Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society. Image of tramp at the back door from The Road by Jack London, 1907.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to thehistory of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is lassitergang.com.


Early Women’s Rights Advocate Nancy Towle of Hampton NH


“She is an instrument of much evil in the world,” wrote Nancy Towle, an itinerant evangelical preacher from Hampton, New Hampshire. Towle was referring to women in general, and laid the blame for their condition squarely at the doorstep of an educational system that taught women to see themselves as “subordinate beings.”

Towle was born in 1796 and came of age during the Second Great Awakening, a Protestant religious revival in which millennialism played a dominant role. She attended Hampton Academy and taught school in North Hampton. In 1818 she was religiously “saved” at a woman-led revival meeting, was baptized, and three years later, having “felt the word of the Lord as a fire shut up in my bones,” she set out to become a traveling preacher.

The Awakening changed the lives of millions of Americans, but women preachers like Towle were not always welcomed by those whose souls they sought to save. By her own reckoning, she had traveled more than 15,000 miles delivering the word of God’s salvation to the masses, but in many places was turned away on account of her sex. From these encounters with bigotry she formed a body of opinion about the right of women to enter the pulpit. Her 1832 self-published book, Vicissitudes illustrated, in the experience of Nancy Towle, in Europe and America, is as much about women’s rights as about religion.

 Towle’s first opportunity to speak before a congregation came in 1821 in Stratham, New Hampshire. Over the next eleven years she expanded her horizons in ever-widening circles, traveling first to nearby towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, then north to Canada, west to New York and Ohio, south as far as South Carolina, and as far away as England and Ireland. At the conclusion of her preaching tours she declared herself a “citizen of the world,” not so much for her travels as for her refusal to commit to any established sect.

Towle possessed a serious, gloomy disposition, which she may have inherited from her father, who had suffered from night terrors and once planned to kill himself. She was also highly sensitive to what she termed “impressions,” and was frequently visited by premonitions of death. She foresaw her father’s death, and on the day he died experienced an auditory hallucination, which she ascribed to a gathering of angels come to take him to heaven. On the day of her brother Philip’s death, hundreds of miles away, “a darkness and strange disorder seemed to pervade [her] heart” and her spirit left her body. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Towle experienced a vision of a “death-like shadow” standing beside her bed, and informed her hosts that someone in the house was about to die. When she returned to Portsmouth some months later, she learned that the man of the house had disappeared and was presumed dead.

Towle was intolerant of views that differed from her own. She heaped opprobrium on sects she believed were in error—Jews were “pharisaical and blind;” otherwise good Mormons had been “duped” by a charlatan; Irish Catholics, Episcopalians, Friends, and Bible Christians were “enveloped in the grossest darkness, ignorance, and superstition.” She once attacked a group of congregants, saying they were so “stupefied by sin” that she doubted they could be saved at all. She issued dire notices to male preachers who refused to allow her to speak to their assemblies, warning that if souls were not saved as a result, the “blood be upon” them, not her. At each point of denial, she detailed her unreimbursed expenses and complained that male itinerants, unlike their female counterparts, were never expected to wash or mend their own clothes or to help with the housework at the homes of their hosts.

To read Vicissitudes is exhausting. With a sledge hammer as a favorite tool of persuasion, Towle met bigotry with bigotry and self-righteousness with self-righteousness. Every page is a holy war against the forces of conformity. Yet the book is an important early marker along the path to greater freedoms for women. Besides documenting her own experiences, she wrote about the experiences of fellow female travelers, and addressed objections against women speaking in church by citing Biblical passages that assumed equality between both male and female speakers. She exhorted her God to “raise up a host of female warriors that shall provoke the opposite party from their indolence.” The book’s final line echoes the sentiments of early English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft: “I wish to deliver up my life as a sacrifice, for one, towards remedying these evils; and seal my testimony, as with my blood, in vindication of the rights of women!”

Little is known of Towle’s life after the publication of Vicissitudes. In 1834 she published a short-lived journal titled The Female Religious Advocate. It’s believed she returned to Hampton in 1840 after the death of her brother Simon. She lived on the family homestead (495 Lafayette Road) with her mother Betty, Simon’s widow and children, and her unmarried brother David. Family letters suggest that she may have taught at Hampton Academy, as a niece wrote that when she went to school there in the 1850s, she was “always terribly afraid I should come across Aunt Nancy.” Before her death on January 1, 1876, Towle suffered “delusions” and “sought death as a joyful release.” She was buried in the High Street Cemetery, where her tombstone can still be visited today.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, March 17, 2017.

Image courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is lassitergang.com.


The Party Boss of Hampton


Back in an era when Republicans ruled the political roost in New Hampshire, John Garrison Cutler of Hampton Beach was one of the party’s leading bosses. Born in Exeter in 1833 to free blacks Rufus E. and Anna Cilley Cutler, he began his working life at his father’s Water Street store, later opening a billiards parlor in the same building. After the building burned in 1873, Cutler bought the Sea View Cottages at Hampton Beach and converted the property to a hotel, with dining facilities and stables. When the hotel burned in 1885 he rebuilt and expanded the property. By the turn of the 20th century, Cutler’s Sea View was a renowned summer resort hotel.

jgcutler-04John’s grandfather was Tobias Cutler, once a slave of Colonel Enoch Hale of Rindge, New Hampshire. Tobias served in the Revolutionary War, and at age 21 was received as a free inhabitant in the town of Rindge. He married Dorothy Paul and moved to Exeter, where their sons Nathaniel and Rufus would become business proprietors. John’s mother Anna was born in Nottingham and may have been associated with the family of General Joseph Cilley of that town. Cilley was known to have owned four enslaved persons, one of whom was named Chloe Cutler, who was perhaps related to the Exeter Cutlers. On July 29, 1873, with no state anti-miscegenation laws to bar the union, John Cutler married Harriet A. Brewster of Stratham. They had two sons, George and Charles. (Note: an 1893 obituary for Nathaniel Cutler says that Tobias and Rufus were brothers, not father and son, but birth records transcribed in 1906 indicate otherwise).

 Politics, As Usual

jgcutler-02Even as a boy Cutler had been interested in politics. Certainly he followed the activities of Congressman Amos Tuck of Exeter, who in the early 1850s organized the Republican Party around anti-slavery principles, and he was likely present on March 3, 1860 when Abraham Lincoln gave his anti-slavery speech at the Exeter Town Hall. Although Cutler never ran for political office, over the years his active participation in the New Hampshire Republican Party gained him a reputation as a kingmaker. He preferred to deny it, yet pointed out that office seekers came to Hampton Beach to gain his support for their causes. Known by the nickname “Bunkey,” he counted among his friends United States senators and congressmen, among them Senator William Chandler and Congressmen Frank Jones and Cyrus Sulloway, all men who had helped his career in state and local politics.

Of Chandler, Cutler said that he was a “great worker and organizer” from whom he had received his “best lessons in politics.” Of the wealthy Portsmouth brewer Frank Jones, Cutler remarked that “He was a great man. When he left the Democratic party in 1896 the party lost its brains and its money.” But Cutler’s favorite politician was Cyrus Sulloway, called the “Tall Pine of the Merrimack” for his gaunt, six-foot-eight frame. During the summer season Sulloway could often be found lounging about the piazza of Cutler’s hotel, holding forth impromptu strategy sessions with compatriots. In part because of his frequent presence, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire newspaper posed the question: “Is Hampton Beach the summer capital of New Hampshire?”

 jgcutler-03Liquor at the Beach

Under a state liquor law passed in 1903, Hampton voted to issue licenses for the sale of alcohol. Cutler’s Sea View received a license, but was later charged with selling liquor on Sundays. In his defense Cutler told the state liquor board that he thought he was permitted to sell to registered guests who took meals at his hotel. Three other local inns were also charged, and all but Cutler’s had their licenses revoked. The following year Hampton changed its mind and voted no to licenses, although hotels like the Sea View could still be granted a restricted license. Cutler was not pleased with the new arrangement, which, as he said, allowed the liquor board to arbitrarily revoke a license without a hearing, and it was thought that he had a hand in the no vote. “It’s a bad law,” he later said. “It was no such law as we would have had, had Frank Jones lived.”

 Charges of Racism

In 1904 Democrat John Worthing Dearborn won Hampton’s state legislative seat, while every other elected position had been filled by Republicans that year. Proud that he had helped his party gain a small foothold in the Republican bastion of Hampton, to a reporter he crowed that he was a “rather rare bird in these here parts—an office-holding Democrat” (the last Democrat win had been in 1897). He attributed his election to what he believed was the growing racism within the rival party, saying that the “young fellows” of the Republican Party didn’t like taking orders from a “colored man,” and they voted for him instead of Cutler’s man, the carriage maker George E. Garland. Other men interviewed by the reporter who had captured these provocative remarks agreed with Dearborn’s assessment, with one saying that the biased young men “ought to be ashamed of themselves…but the truth is the truth.” And while others thought that Dearborn’s win had put Cutler into political hot water, they weren’t altogether sure that he could be permanently beaten.

From this far remove it’s impossible to know if the charges of racism were politically motivated or had some basis in truth, but after Dearborn’s two-year term and for the remainder of Cutler’s life, which ended on February 7, 1913 after a bout of pneumonia, Republicans controlled Hampton’s legislative seat. Despite opposition, and despite his self-effacing claim that “I’m not the boss people would have you think I am,” John Cutler had remained party boss to the end.

February is African American History Month. To learn more about the history of African Americans in Cutler’s hometown of Exeter, go to http://www.seacoastnaacp.com/WalkAMileRouteExeter.pdf.

Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.



A Fundamental Flaw (Part III)


In this final installment, Roby’s checkered career as a justice.

Justice of the Court of Sessions

New Hampshire received its name with the grant to Captain John Mason on November 7, 1629. Mason poured his own money into improving his grant, but when he died unexpectedly in 1635, his widow informed his tenants that they would have to shift for themselves. These men, who had built the settlements of Portsmouth and Dover, looted the entire property, selling off the cannon and cattle and dividing the land among themselves. Other groups encroached on the southern end of Mason’s grant to settle Hampton and Exeter. By 1643 all four towns were under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but when Mason’s heir Robert came of age in 1650, he began pressing his claims of ownership. Nothing came of it until 1679, when, to break the power of Massachusetts, Charles II chartered the Royal Province of New Hampshire. The King appointed a locally-constituted president and council, but would later send Lieutenant Governor Edward Cranfield to oversee the affairs of the colony and to intervene between the inhabitants and Mason. Cranfield favored Mason, and he aggressively used the executive and judicial powers of the government to help him turn landowners into tenants.

From the start Henry Roby supported their schemes; his loyalty rewarded with an appointment as a justice of the peace and a seat on the highest court in the Province. His unpopularity among the locals was guaranteed when Mason granted him 100 acres of Hampton’s common grazing land, but it was his part in the trial of Reverend Joshua Moodey of Portsmouth that sealed his fate. Moodey, a Puritan, was convicted of administering the sacraments contrary to the laws of England and for refusing to administer them according to the rites of the Church of England. This was clearly a political hit engineered by Cranfield to silence Moodey, who was a vocal opponent of the Cranfield-Mason regime. To his credit, Roby was at first for acquittal, but after a night of threats and hectoring he changed his mind, as did Justice Henry Green, also of Hampton. Both were intensely aware of how their neighbors would react to a guilty verdict, and even as they sought to appease their masters, they contrived their rulings to leave a bit of wiggle room. Or they may have been truly conflicted, unsure of which ruling took precedence: Parliament’s laws governing the sacraments or the King’s commission that allowed liberty of conscience. It was “very clear,” Roby stated, “that the statutes are clear against the said Moodey, if the commission that gives liberty of conscience doth not take away the force thereof.” Apparently it did not, and Moodey served a six-month sentence in the Great Island prison.

Although Justice Green was “much afflicted” by what he had done and would later beg Moodey’s forgiveness, Roby was decidedly unapologetic. Had he been otherwise, his position of authority might not have crumbled so quickly beneath his impenitent feet.

Justice of the Peace

If we could drop in on Roby’s public house around noon on January 2, 1685, we would find an incensed 65-year-old justice of the peace furiously scribbling out arrest warrants for Samuel Leavitt and Moses Gilman, two impudent Exeter men who just moments earlier had dared to utter “seditious” words right to his face. Roby had summoned the men to answer to the provost marshal’s complaint of abuse and for treasonous remarks made against the Governor—to which Leavitt was now cheerfully admitting his guilt.

The trouble had started four days earlier, when a gang of club-wielding Hampton men accompanied Marshal Thomas Thurton and his deputy John Mason as they went to Exeter to enforce a court-levied fine on the town constable, who had refused to collect the province tax. Since the Governor had dissolved the representative assembly, no one felt obliged to pay his unlawfully raised taxes, and men were understandably vexed at attempts to collect them. The marshals were harassed everywhere they went; goodwives threatened them with buckets of scalding water and the minister came out with a club. Their unwelcome escorts “jostled them in a very rude manner,” called them names, made fun of their swords, and turned their horses loose. When Thurton called for order, the crowd bragged that even if Cranfield himself had shown up they would not obey.

In reporting the incident to Roby, Thurton identified Leavitt and Gilman as the ringleaders. Now, as the two agitators were making their appearance at Roby’s house, the marshal was a short distance away, attempting to enforce a fine levied on Captain Samuel Sherburne for his assault on the town doctor. When Sherburne refused to pay, Thurton placed him under arrest and brought him before Justice Roby.

With a house full of hot-headed men, Roby’s quill continued fly, now scratching out a warrant to commit the insolent Leavitt to prison. When Thurton attempted to make good the arrest, Leavitt punched him. Roby tried to intervene, but was “violently” prevented from doing so by Sherburne, who then took the opportunity to escape Thurton’s custody. Moses Gilman joined the melee, striking Roby and saying that Leavitt would not be going to prison. Roby managed to abate the chaos long enough to order Thurton to put both Leavitt and Gilman in prison, but Thurton was not in need of any more prisoners. It was left to Roby’s son Ichabod to deliver the men while Thurton tramped out to reacquire the one who had just escaped.

Leavitt and Gilman refused to go along, peaceably or otherwise, until Sherburne’s young son came in and whispered to them. Amazingly, Roby saw nothing fishy in their sudden change of heart (or was relieved to be rid of them in whatever way presented itself), and Ichabod escorted them across the meeting house green to the prison. As they passed Sherburne’s tavern, several men ran out to knock Ichabod to the ground and relieve him of his prisoners.

Thurton was inside the tavern, trying to convince Sherburne to pay his fine. As he recalled it, at Sherburne’s signal a “great number of men” grabbed hold of him, beat him up, and with a rope tried to strangle him. Afterwards, under cover of night, they hogtied him and took him across the border into Massachusetts, where they left him in Salisbury at the house of a man named Smith. Meanwhile in Hampton, Gilman and four others returned to Roby’s house, and, according to Roby, for the next five hours they banged on the door demanding to be let in. Only when Roby threatened to shoot them did they ride away.

And these were just the incidents that fixed the court’s attention. Under such a cloud of hostility, the next three years could not have been pleasant ones for Roby and his family. According to Reverend Joshua Moodey, Roby became a “common drunkard,” never repenting for his part in the minister’s politically motivated conviction. Reverend Seaborn Cotton, whom Roby had publicly denounced in the 1660s, prophesied that “when he died he would not have so honorable a burial as an ass.” Cotton’s bitter soothsaying may have proved true. Moodey wrote that Roby was excommunicated from the church, and when the end came in 1688, his friends buried him in a secret location to prevent creditors from ransoming his body for outstanding debts. It was an ill-starred end for one of Hampton’s most interesting early settlers.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on February 3, 2017.

Image courtesy of Harold Fernald and the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is lassitergang.com.


A Fundamental Flaw (Part II)


Roby’s brushes with witchcraft, role as a father in trying circumstances, and a risky confrontation with the church.

Brushes with witchcraft           

Soon after settling in Hampton, Roby and his family encountered the purported maleficium of their neighbor Unise Cole, with whom they were already acquainted from their days in Exeter. From early on, Cole may have seen Roby as an antagonist. In Exeter, her husband and others had to pay Roby and another man “a peck of corne for harm done to them by swine.” From a modern perspective this seems like mild restitution, but those were starving times in the young settlement, and men were given the authority to search houses for surplus corn to feed the poor. While the Coles were poor, the Robys were not, and it must have rankled Unise to give up a portion of her precious store of food to a young man whose circumstances were far better than hers.

By the 1650s Unise Cole’s reputation as a witch had been firmly established, based partly on testimony the Robys had given against her in 1652-53. Nor did she help her cause when, in 1655, she interrupted a selectmen’s meeting at Robert Drake’s house to badger them for wood and “other thinges.” When they refused her demands, she told them, “They could help Goodman Roby, being a lusty man, and she could have none. This should not do.” The men were concerned that her words had conveyed more than just the worries of an old woman in need of charity. Witnesses reported that a few days later Roby lost a cow and a sheep “very strangely,” which they attributed to the devilish works of Unise Cole. Then when Cole was put on trial for witchcraft in 1656, Roby’s wife Ruth testified that Unise had tried to “insinuate” herself into the lives of her children. Ruth herself had been tormented by Cole, who appeared to her in “many ways” and in “many forms.” We don’t know what supernatural horrors Mrs. Roby had been witness to, but some of Cole’s forms were said to be those of a dog, an eagle, and a gray cat.

In 1680, in the midst of the threat of Indian attacks and the uncertainty brought about by the separation of Hampton and her sister towns from Massachusetts, Roby was foreman of a jury of inquest impaneled to investigate the death of John and Mary Cox Godfrey’s infant son. The jury decided that the boy had been murdered by witchcraft, and they named Rachel Brabrook Fuller, a young woman with children of her own, as the witch who had done the deed. In the court depositions that followed, a witness repeated Rachel’s story of a great row at Goodman Roby’s in which Dr. Reed, one of Roby’s lodgers, was pulled out of bed by witches, who “with an enchanted bridle did intend to lead a jaunt.” Roby’s strange mojo, which caused these reputed witches to call him out by name, could afflict others, too—throughout the summer of 1682 his kinsman and business partner George Walton was plagued by “stone-throwing devils” at the tavern that he and Roby owned on Great Island (Newcastle, New Hampshire).

 In Judith’s defense

According to the historian Joseph Dow, Judith was the third child and first daughter of Henry and Ruth Roby. Born about 1650, she would have been old enough to work in her parents’ public house by the time Roby received his first tavern license in 1669. In March 1671 she became pregnant by John Young, an Exeter man with whom her father was acquainted through his legal work for the town of Hampton. In December 1671 Judith gave birth to a son, naming him John after his father. There is no record that she was ever called to court to answer for her sin of fornication, unlike the experience of many young men and women of the time. John refused to accept the child, and Roby sued him for support. Young then promised to pay two shillings six pence per week, but he was so lax with payments that Roby had to complain to the court on several more occasions. To make matters worse, during this time his wife died, leaving him with three minor children to care for, and his unmarried sister-in-law became pregnant, for which he had to post a bond for her appearance on charges of fornication (she was eventually found guilty and sentenced to 15 stripes if she could not pay her fine). Roby began drinking heavily, to the detriment of himself, his family, and his tavern.

In October 1674, at the last court appearance of which there is a record for the “maintenance of the bastard child,” Roby’s new wife Elizabeth Garland caused such a scene that the justices ordered her committed to prison. Elizabeth was not a woman to be taken lightly, and she was not afraid to stand up for her rights. After she had successfully sued a man for roughing up her teenage son Jacob at Roby’s tavern, she hired Roby to sue the town of Hampton for seizing a load of wood staves that belonged to her son John (Roby won the case, and two months later he and Widow Garland were married). But Elizabeth was also smart enough to know when she had overstepped her bounds. After she confessed that she was “very sorry” for her “contemptuous carriages in open court,” the justices remitted her sentence.

Roby’s sister-in-law married her child’s father, but Judith did not. She and her son continued to live at the Roby homestead. Although she had committed a grave sin, it’s clear that Roby kept his daughter in his heart. In his 1687 will he bequeathed to her a feather bed, all the apples she wanted from his orchard, and ten pounds money, “so long as she lives single unmarried.”

We don’t know what became of Judith’s son John Young Roby, but in 1693 she married the widower Samuel Healey. In 1697 John Young, Sr., still living in Exeter, was slain by Indians.

 Confronting the Church

In 1662 the “half-way covenant” was introduced into New England’s churches. The object of this covenant was to bring more members into the fold by allowing the baptism of children whose parents were not in full communion with the Puritan church, thereby passing on the “benefits of godliness” to those children. The new covenant was not universally accepted and remained a contentious issue for many years. As late as 1678, Frances Jenness of Hampton (later, Rye) was presented at court for saying that some children recently baptized “had received the mark of the beast.”

Henry Roby, who considered himself one of God’s elect (and therefore his place in Heaven was assured), publicly disapproved of the new covenant. He declared to Hampton’s congregation that their minister Seaborn Cotton “would baptize all ye heathen in the country if there were water enough.” To a friend he said that Cotton “might as well have cast ye water upon a beast’s face standing by as upon these children.” In his journal Cotton wrote of another occasion when Roby turned his back on the sermon, departed the meetinghouse, and refused to return. Cotton’s supporters accused him of the serious crimes of “reviling the ordinance of baptism and reproaching the minister,” and he was put on trial. No doubt Roby, like his courtroom nemesis Edward Colcord, had a way with words, as the justices merely admonished him and bound him for good behavior. As we will see in the next and final installment, Cotton never truly forgave Roby for the incident.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on January 27, 2017.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is lassitergang.com.

A Fundamental Flaw (Part I)


drunk_woodcut Henry Roby of Hampton, New Hampshire stands out as one of the most intriguing minor figures in 17th-century New England. The fragmentary record of his life portrays an industrious colony-builder who demanded respect, but through some fundamental flaw in his character had failed to actually earn it. He abused the power of his position, disregarded his sworn oaths, and arrogantly transgressed the authority of the church. His encounters with smarter and more determined men revealed him to be a weak and ineffectual authority figure, easily flustered and prone to violence, which opened the way for disobedience to his orders and derision of his character. Drunkenness clouded his judgment and acquisitiveness made him an easy target of bribery.

In the end, it was written that he had been excommunicated from the church as a “common drunkard,” and that when he died his friends buried him in a secret location near his house, fearing that his creditors might ransom the body for his outstanding debts. Whether these stories are true or not, they illustrate the level to which he had sunk in popular opinion.

An English Immigrant

Roby was born in 1618-19 at Castle Donington, Leicestershire, England. In 1639 he and his nine-year-old brother Samuel were swept up in the great western migration of an estimated 20,000 English men, women, and children, most of whom had left the country of their birth for religious reasons. After landing at Boston, the Roby brothers whisked through the towns of Dorchester and Salem before setting down in Exeter, a new settlement whose lands had been bought from the local Indians by Reverend John Wheelwright. Roby arrived in time to sign his name to the town’s first charter for government, and while many of the signers eventually left for places like Maine and Rhode Island, he remained to take an active role in the governance of the small settlement.

Roby married Ruth Moore of Ipswich, Massachusetts sometime before the birth of their first child in 1646. After publicly disparaging Exeter’s minister, who happened to be the son of the Massachusetts governor, Roby thought it prudent to find another place to live. He bought the Hampton homestead of Isaac and Susanna Perkins, located on the north side of the meeting house green (near the present day Baptist Church on Winnacunnet Road), and moved there with his family, which by then had grown to include three children, Thomas, John, and Judith. In his lifetime he would have three wives, the last of which survived him, and would father nine children.

In Hampton, Roby served as selectman, lot layer, constable, militiaman, grand juror, attorney, justice of the peace, and a justice of the Court of Sessions. He accumulated wealth through his endeavors, which included farming, land dealing, and tavernkeeping. By 1680 his tax was over 13 shillings, one of the highest rates in town. Balancing out this stellar reputation were behaviors that landed him before the court as a defendant on numerous occasions— negligence as constable, assault on a neighbor, reproaching town ministers and a member of the court, selling wine without a license, public drunkenness, and keeping a poor public house. Even the town witches knew his character well enough to call him out by name.

Roby and the Vexatious Edward Colcord

If the Essex County court of the 17th century had been a business, lawyer Edward Colcord would have been its best (and most colorful) customer. He was constantly before the court, representing himself and others, and was accused of using subtle contrivances and underhanded practices to cheat dozens of men out of their property. He cursed, drank excessively, and was prone to violent outbursts, yet he was also the darling of the courtroom, as the justices gave him a very long rope with which to hang himself. Over a decade would pass before they dealt seriously with the complaints piling up against him, but finally, in 1661, they screwed their courage to the sticking place and sentenced him to prison in Boston—not for his fraudulent dealings, but for his needless and vexatious suits.

As Hampton’s constable at the time, it was Roby’s job to deliver Colcord to prison. He either wouldn’t or couldn’t, and through some cleverness Colcord was allowed to post a bond to avoid prison time. The situation was brought before the gentlemen of the General Court, who affirmed the Hampton court’s sentence on Colcord. They also voted unanimously that Henry Roby, “for his unfaithfulness in not duly attending his warrant,” would have to personally bear the charges of transporting Colcord to Boston.

This affair caused permanent animosity between the two men, and Roby would later sue Colcord for calling him a “base rogue” and for troubling him with many vexatious suits. The court fined Colcord for his abusive language, but did not agree with Roby’s second contention. Colcord then sued Roby and Norfolk County marshal Abraham Drake for assault and battery, claiming that they had “wounded him and endeavored to break open his house when he was peaceably at his calling with his family.” The defendants countersued Colcord for “illegally and vexatiously prosecuting” them, but even as the justices agreed that their darling had “violently resisted with weapons the marshal in execution of his office,” they determined that he had merely broken his bond for good behavior. Their reluctance to take strong measures against Colcord was especially maddening for men like Roby and Drake, who risked being fined if they did not enforce the law.

Roby the Tavernkeeper

Roby’s career as tavernkeeper began rather ingloriously, with an illegal tavern in Exeter. This tavern was eventually discovered and shut down, and he was fined 20 shillings. He later acquired an interest in the Great Island tavern of George Walton, but there is no record to show that he was anything more than a silent partner. Then in 1669 he applied for his first tavern license—which was granted to him with the proviso that he would not “suffer any townsmen’s children or servants to lie tippling in his house.” This may have been a caveat crafted specially for him, as not all tavern licenses were issued with this warning. Sometime before 1674 Roby leased Robert Tuck’s former public house from fellow townsman John Sanborn, who as the deceased Tuck’s son-in-law managed the estate for his wife. When Roby had a disagreement with Sanborn, perhaps over the terms of the lease, or perhaps over the way Roby was running his tavern, Roby knocked his landlord down with both words and fists. Sanborn sued in court, and Roby was ordered to pay reparations for his abuse. The men patched up their differences, and Roby continued to lease the house until it was sold to Captain Samuel Sherburne of Portsmouth in 1678. Roby then moved his tavern to his own dwelling.

Also in 1678, Roby married his third wife Sarah. While he pursued his occupations as attorney and justice of the peace, she ran the tavern (and would continue to run it under her own name after his death). License renewals that year were issued under a new law which made it illegal for tavernkeepers like the Robys to serve the inhabitants of their town. Needless to say, the result was much riding out to the taverns in neighboring towns, but this, too, was made illegal. Staff-carrying tythingmen were enjoined to search public houses and private homes for evidence of local tippling, for which they received one-third of any fines collected. Nevertheless, the crackdown on drinking went largely unenforced and the law was eventually repealed.

Roby was a pious man, in full communion with the Hampton church, but his strict Puritanism offered no immunity from the temptations of the tavern. He was convicted of the sins of “excessive drinking” and “drinking to the abuse of himself,” which led to later accusations and fines for keeping a sloppy tavern. These convictions gave the selectmen ample reason to refuse his yearly license renewals, but they did not, because in the 1670s Henry Roby had not yet become the guy everyone loved to hate. That would come later.

To be continued…

First published in the Hampton Union on January 20, 2017.

Sources for this series of articles: Essex County Court Files Vols. 1-3, New Hampshire State Papers Vol. 1, The History of Hampton by Joseph Dow, Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire by Noyes/Libby/Davis, Seaborn Cotton’s Journal (Massachusetts Historical Society), and Henry Dow’s Journal (Hampton Historical Society).

 History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015,” available at Amazon.com. Her website is lassitergang.com.


A fascinating, year-by-year, winner-by-winner portrait, not only of these iconic summertime contests, but of Hampton Beach itself. The book’s stories and historic photos are guaranteed to bring back happy memories to long-time beachgoers, former contestants, their families, and fans, as well as bring delight to those whose own history with the beach is just beginning. This book belongs on every library and bookstore shelf in New England!

Available through Amazon.com, BN.com, and Baker & Taylor book distributors.


 Praise for The Queens of Hampton Beach

“A fitting tribute to all those involved in creating, sustaining, and participating in one of the seacoast’s longest running and most cherished traditions. Let’s have a warm round of applause for The Queens – the very jewels that adorn the crown – of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.” – Don McNeill, The Continentals.

 “A must-have for anyone who loves Hampton Beach! Packed with great photos and interesting stories, not just about the evolution of our local beauty queens, but about the development of the beach itself.” – Betty Moore, Tuck Museum Executive Director.

“This book, a true treasure, not only chronicles the rich history of Hampton Beach but of the pageant that has touched so many and set the stage for success in many endeavors of my life. I remain forever grateful.” – Sheila T. Scott, Miss Hampton Beach 1964.

Back Cover Copy

      Like fried dough, henna tattoos, and the arcade, choosing a queen to represent Hampton Beach has always been an important part of the summer rituals at this popular seaside resort. What started out in 1915 as a way to sell raffle tickets with the Carnival Queen contest, open to all women, had by the late 1940s evolved into the Miss Hampton Beach beauty pageant, for which only young, single women were eligible. In 1959 the pageant moved indoors to the glitzy Casino Ballroom, and for the next three glamour-filled decades groomed New England girls for national pageants like Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss America. Tastes changed and interest waned over the years, and in 1996 the pageant was canceled—only to return to its roots the following year as a free community event, held on a Sunday afternoon, outdoors at the epicenter of the beach, the Seashell Stage. The tradition continues today, with beach queens chosen not only for their beauty and poise, but for their willingness to participate in community activities and to promote Hampton Beach as a family-friendly vacation destination throughout their reigning year.

Winnacunnet Remembered


Winicowett, Winnicummet, Winnacunnet. However you spell it, this Abenaki place name has a skeleton in its wigwam. Although variously translated as “beautiful place of pines,” “pleasant place of pines,” and “beautiful long place,” no one really knows what the word signifies, or—judging by the variant spellings—how it was pronounced by the Native Americans who passed it along to the English colonists. All we can be sure of is that it was the original, untamed-wilderness appellation of Hampton, New Hampshire, which the town’s founders very soon replaced with a name more in harmony with their English heritage.


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Top: Winnicummet Road sign, Lafayette Road intersection, c. 1930; Lucy Dow’s Beautiful Place of Pines, 1888. Center: Hampton Town Seal and artwork, Tercentenary souvenir program cover, 1938. Bottom: Winnacunnet Plantation Restoration buildings, 1970. All images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Winnacunnet remembered

Although Winnacunnet was short-lived, the memory of it was not, and it has been used with some frequency and diversity over the years. In 1819 the name reentered town history when the Winnicumet House Hotel opened for business on Great Boar’s Head. In 1838 local historian Joseph Dow also spelled the name as “Winnicumet” (later adopting the original Massachusetts spelling of “Winnacunnet” in his History of Hampton). In 1860 the name was picked up by local militiamen who called themselves the Winnacunnet Guards. Perhaps to honor these men, most of whom fought in the Civil War, Winnacunnet does not appear in use again until the 1880s, when local chapters of the Daughters of Rebekah and the Junior Order of United American Mechanics established their lodges under the name. In 1888 Joseph Dow’s daughter Lucy wrote and published a historical sketch of the town titled “The Beautiful Place of Pines: Winnacunnet Shalbe Called Hampton.” Also from this decade comes the story of Winnicumet the turtle, an inhabitant of Meadow Pond who was found and marked by various men in 1840, 1857, and 1888 (in a continuation of the story, Winnicumet was found and marked again in 1905, 1910, and 1928).

In the late 1920s the town renamed Beach Road, which ran between the town center and the ocean, to Winnicummet Road. This arrangement of letters displeased members of the Historical Society, and in 1934 they petitioned to have the signposts at either end of the road changed to the “proper” spelling of Winnacunnet. Even so, for decades after newspapers continued to use both versions when referring to the road.

In 1938, Hampton’s tercentenary year, the name was etched on the town seal, was versified in Lucy Godfrey Marston’s “Winnacunnet: Beautiful Place of Pines,” and memorialized in Eloise Lane Smith’s “The Drama of Winnacunnet,” a historical pageant performed by local residents. In 1958 Winnacunnet lent its name to the new high school. In 1961 a restored 1853 fire engine, owned by the Hampton Firemen’s Relief Association, was named Winnacunnet No. 1 (now on display at the Tuck Museum).

 Winnacunnet Plantation Restoration

In the late 1960s a man named Cleon Ross had an idea to erect a privately-funded living history museum on Meeting House Green, which the project’s marketing brochure fancifully described as the site of an Abenaki village that had been “deserted since the smallpox epidemic of 1616.” The broad mandate of this “Winnacunnet Plantation Restoration” was to demonstrate daily life on the seacoast during the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Ross convinced the Historical Society’s board of directors, along with the town clerk, tax collector, a newspaper publisher, and two high school history teachers, to put their stamp of approval on his plan. To help finance the project Ross sold $10 non-stock certificates to the public.

building-collageWith help from the high school history club, Ross restored Ervin Philbrick’s old smithy, naming the renovated building Philbrick’s Blacksmith Shop. Retired Winnacunnet High School history teacher and former police officer Harold Fernald remembered escorting the building in his squad car as it was trucked to the site from Rye, New Hampshire.

From a building donated by the Toppan family, Ross created the colonial-themed Woodbury Print Shop. He added a General Store and a small replica of Hampton Academy that had been built in 1938 by then-82-year-old George F. Savage. The Historical Society’s 1850s-era one-room school house, the town’s three memorial stones, and a set of stocks and pillory were included in the site. Planned but never completed were a law office and a woodworking shop.


Winnacunnet Plantation was opened to the public on July 11, 1970, with a parade from Hampton Academy to Tuck Field, lunch at the Ashworth Hotel, speeches by local dignitaries, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony with New Hampshire Governor Walter Peterson. From there the project went downhill rather quickly, a good idea executed poorly, received unfavorably by residents who felt that Meeting House Green, the site of Hampton’s first church, should remain forever free of buildings. Winnacunnet Plantation lost the support of the Hampton Historical Society and was permanently closed after the 1973 season.


Winnacunnet’s future

Through the town seal, high school, and road to the beach, Hampton’s not-so-super-secret Indian name lives on in the everyday life of the town. But with the most recent tributes going back nearly 30 years—to a local reenactor group that called itself the Elkins Company Winnacunnet Guard Colonial Militia and “Winnacunnet,” the name of the town’s 350th anniversary souvenir program—it’s past time for a new homage. How would you like to see the name remembered? As for me, a tasty Winnacunnet brew—made at that other place of pleasant pines, Four Pines Brewery—sounds just about right.

Originally  published in the Hampton Union, December 30, 2016. All images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

queens-front-coverHistory Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book, “The Queens of Hampton Beach,” will be published in 2017. Her website is lassitergang.com.

Prince of Winnacunnet Road


anna-may-1883-graduateAnna May Cole was a favorite Hampton Academy teacher. Born in Maine in 1865 and brought to Hampton, New Hampshire as an infant, she lived for much of her life on the Winnacunnet Road homestead of her Page ancestors who had settled in Hampton in 1639. Teaching ran in the family line—her mother Susan Page Cole had taught at the North End School in Blakeville (a Hampton neighborhood abundant with Blake family members), aunt Mary Page had taught in Exeter, great-aunt Matilda Leavitt Harris had been Preceptress of Hampton Academy, grandfather Josiah Page had trained as a teacher, and, like Anna May’s great-grandfather James Leavitt, had been a trustee of the Academy.

After high school in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Anna May attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Before coming to the Academy in 1892, she taught at schools as far afield as Connecticut and as close to home as East Kingston, New Hampshire. Single her entire life, she was a fizzy cocktail of spunky, early twentieth century adventurer and prim Victorian schoolmarm—who once recoiled in horror at being present on election day in the all-male domain of the town hall. When she retired from teaching she funneled her love of botany into a greenhouse business, for which she cheekily advertised to the flower-loving public, “Come and See My Bloomers.”

ernest_0As she completed her degree at Mount Holyoke, her younger brother Ernest enrolled in the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Hanover. The siblings promised to write to each other once a week. We know that Anna May, at least, kept her end of the bargain, because Ernest faithfully saved her letters, which are a treasure trove of social commentary on daily life in 1880s Hampton. Once, after tagging Ernest with the soubriquet “erythrocephalus” (red-headed), Anna May chided him for his “gloomy letters,” his meanness to his friends, and, in a day when fashionable young men loaded their hair with Macassar oil, his disgusting laundry (“especially the pillow cases”), which he sent home 100 miles by stagecoach to be washed and returned.

 Prince Rules the Kingdom

Anna May was born, as she put it, “with a properfied streak.” This didn’t stop her from accepting Ernest’s offer to teach her to ride Prince, the handsome but spoiled Cole family nag, whose job it was to pull a buggy for their father. In a series of letters which ran from the fall of 1888 to the summer of 1889, Anna May—recently graduated and not yet employed full-time—reported her progress in the equestrian arts.

“My dear Ernie boy,” as she would often start her letters, “I have not tried riding yet, but [our brother] Wes wants me to ride with him tomorrow if we can have Prince.” She would soon find out that Prince greatly resented this gnat of a girl who dared to perch on his back, kick his ribs, and issue foreign orders.

In October the weather turned foul. Anna May could only write that “I’ve not been riding horseback at all, for it has rained most of the time, and when it hasn’t father has been using the horse. I’m looking for a chance now, though.”

The rain turned to heavy falls of snow. There was no riding, but Anna May kept an eye on Prince. “I saw him go trotting out of the yard today when he was sent for a drink,” she reported. “As no one went after him and the snow was deep, he decided it was no fun to run away and so returned.”

pagecolehouse2_bwIn March fair weather returned. Anna May was ready to ride, but with spring in the air Prince proved to be a mighty contrary piece of horseflesh. One day, just as she had worked up the nerve to ride him to the other side of the road, a visitor arrived at the house. Anna May managed to get Prince turned around (a maneuver he had inexplicably forgotten how to execute over the long winter), and then asked him to walk just a little faster. Whatever sense of control she gained by crossing the road rapidly deteriorated. “He began to trot,” she wrote. “I began to say ‘whoa!’ I tried to stop him, but he went all the faster.”

The visitor fled to the porch as Prince sped toward the barn at the back of the house. Luckily, someone had closed the low door while they were out, otherwise Anna May would have been smashed in his rush to get inside the barn.

“I felt glad and he sorry when I found the barn shut up,” she wrote with relief. “I had quite a shaking up and bounced up and down like a rubber ball. I did not dare to ask him to walk faster when headed toward home afterward.” Score round one for Prince.

From then on, Anna May’s “private opinion” was that Prince was an unmanageable tyrant. But she was determined to succeed, gathering the courage to ask for the trot, but not too far, “for I can’t stop him.”

In April as she was riding “quite a while” and trotting “enough to shake my hair down,” her friend Edith Livingston was just learning to ride. The Livingston horse, named Baby, bucked and kicked and slammed her down on the horn of the saddle so hard that, as Anna May reported, “It rather discouraged her.”

 Prince must have picked up some behavioral pointers from Baby. With Anna May’s friend Bessie astride he bolted “from the bushes on one side of the road to the ditch on the other.” Bessie, an experienced horsewoman with her own saddle, afterwards decreed that “she would not be hired to ride him.” But Anna May refused to give up on the only horse available to her. She got the “fidgets,” as she called her youthful restlessness, and at those times she wanted to ride a “fast horse.”

Anna May Cole - Ernest Cole - Edith Livingston - Prince the horse, c1890

 Prince’s Rule Is Overthrown

Over spring break Ernest gave Anna May another riding lesson, which she later wrote “had done me good. I now venture to ride without holding myself on with the reins. I let Prince canter all the way from our house down to Lawyer Charles’s and several other stretches nearly as long.” She had a proper riding dress of blue broadcloth made, “so I am that much nearer being fitted for riding.”

Ever the optimist, she held out hope that Prince would willingly cooperate, but the chances of that grew slimmer every day. Sterner measures were called for. “I am getting to the point,” she wrote in May, “where I want to have a stick he can feel. When he insists on drawing up before some house where father calls and I never do, I’d like to be able to insist on my view – which is that he shall canter straight by – and a good whip would enforce my opinion.”

In mid-June she wrote triumphantly, “I cleaned him and saddled him; I knew I’d make him look as well as father did. I have a new whip which does quite well.” Prince’s rule had at last been overthrown.

As anyone ensnared by the equine mystique knows, it doesn’t end there, nor did it for Anna May. “I want a hat next and then a saddle,” she wrote. “After that I’ll want my own horse I suppose.” We don’t know if Anna May ever got that horse. If she did, hopefully he was easier to ride than Prince.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on November 18, 2016.

Images — (1) Anna May Cole high school graduation, 1883, (2), Ernest G. Cole, c. 1890, (3) Page-Cole house on Winnacunnet Road, c. 1880, (4) Anna May Cole, Ernest Cole, Edith Livingston, and Prince of Winnacunnet Road, c.1890. Photos courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

 History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of several books of local history, including Marked: the Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole and The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015 (coming summer 2017). Her website is lassitergang.com.

The Enticing of Ann Smith



The consequences of bad mothering are subjects of ancient and enduring interest. The all-consuming and overbearing mother—who is at heart a terrifying hag—is a staple leitmotif of folktales like Beowulf, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. One of the finest modern examples is the 2009 animated film Coraline, in which an evil beldam known as the Other Mother deceives eleven-year-old Coraline by pretending to be caring, fun, and outrageously indulgent—the exact opposite of Coraline’s busy, preoccupied real mother. When Coraline realizes that the Other Mother’s attention comes at a dreadful price, she inquires of a world-wise talking cat, “Why does she want me?” To which the cat replies, “She wants something to love. Something that isn’t her.”

Cast off ghost children, trapped in the Other Mother’s netherworld, tell Coraline that the beldam targeted them because “she saw that we weren’t happy,” and were thus susceptible to her sugar-coated wiles. It’s a familiar fairy tale theme, and one that directly relates to the story of nine-year-old Ann Smith of Hampton.

 Ann Smith’s Unhappy Childhood

Ann Smith was born in the neighboring town of Exeter in 1663. She and her brother Nathaniel were farmed out to Hampton families not long after their mother died and their widowed father married Mary Deale, who was the embodiment of the wicked stepmother. Before engineering the Smith family’s breakup, Mary had ignored various court orders, refused to administer her first husband’s estate, sued the court-appointed administrator for trying to cheat her, and had been twice convicted of fornication and sentenced to a whipping.

Nathaniel was placed with the family of William Godfrey and Ann was given to John Clifford, a Godfrey kinsman by marriage. If the seven-member Clifford household ever enjoyed a serene existence, that all changed when Clifford married the widow Bridget Huggins, who brought at least six children of her own to the marriage. Little Ann Smith and her needs would have been lost within this great horde of humanity. She would also prove too great a temptation for the childless Goodwife Unise Cole—Hampton’s version of the Other Mother—who sensed in Ann a need for the same thing she herself desired, to love and be loved.

 Goodwife Cole’s Tragic Life

Unise Cole and her husband William emigrated from England to Massachusetts in 1636. They lived at Mount Wollaston, south of Boston, until 1638, when they were among the first settlers of Exeter. In 1640 they were granted land in Hampton and settled there about 1644.

By all accounts Unise was a highly disagreeable woman. Stormy relations with her Hampton neighbors began almost immediately, spilling into clashes with the authorities and eventually resulting in her first public whipping in 1656. As the constable carried out the whipping, he discovered witch-marks on her naked body. The terrified magistrates arrested her on charges of witchcraft and sent her to Boston to stand trial.

Twenty-six witnesses, mostly from Hampton, testified against her at the trial, yet the jury found her guilty of a lesser crime, for which she spent four years in the Boston prison. When she returned to Hampton she resumed her cantankerous ways and was again whipped and imprisoned. After her husband died in 1662 she petitioned for release, which the court granted, on condition that she leave the Bay Colony’s jurisdiction forever. Unable to comply with the court’s order, she was sent back to prison, where she remained for the next eight years.

Goodwife Cole was reviled by a community whose religious and legal codes bound them to provide for her, even during her imprisonment. To do so, the town selectmen sold her property, leaving her homeless upon her return to Hampton in 1670. The usual method of caring for the indigent was to board them with a family, but no one dared take a witch into their home. Instead, the selectmen put her alone in a dwelling near the meetinghouse and ordered the townspeople to take turns providing her with food and wood. Shunned by her neighbors, Cole grew desperately lonely, setting the stage for the next episode in her tragic story.

 Cole Sets Her Sights on Ann Smith

Beginning with John Clifford’s complaint in October 1672, extant court records tell the story—from the accusers’ point of view only—of Goodwife Cole’s attempts to snatch nine-year-old Ann Smith away from her adoptive family.

Ann’s foster sister swore under oath that one day when she and Ann were “a-coming by the place where Goody Cole lives,” the old woman came out and invited Ann to live with her, saying that there was a “gentleman within” who would give her some plums. When Ann refused, Cole tried to grab hold of her.

Ann herself told a fantastic tale of being led into the Clifford’s apple orchard by an old woman dressed in a blue cap and apron and wearing a white cloth about her neck. The woman offered her plums and a baby if she would consent to live with her. When Ann again refused, the woman knocked her on the head, threatened to kill her, and, in Ann’s own words, “turned into a little dog and run upon the tree then she flew away like an eagle.” An adult kinswoman testified to finding Ann in the orchard with a bloody mouth.

Bridget Huggins Clifford testified that Ann later became frightened by what she said was a gray cat (visible only to her) that had come to the Clifford house to entice her to live with “Her.” Ann fell into a frenzy, shrieking long into the night that the cat was pinching her and pricking her with pins.

 The Witchcraft Trial

Witchcraft trials in 17th-century Massachusetts were long, drawn out affairs that kept court officials busy for months. After an initial grand jury indictment, the prosecutor took witness depositions and brought his findings to the next sitting of the quarterly county court. As the name suggests (somewhat mistakenly because it wasn’t exactly true) these courts were held four times a year. In Essex County the towns of Hampton, Salisbury, Salem, and Ipswich took turns hosting the court, and in theory any person from any town could bring his complaints to the court that was next to convene. Because of the distances involved, however, complaints that arose in Hampton rarely made it to Salem or Ipswich. As it evolved (with some overlap), Hampton and Salisbury functioned as shire towns for the northern district and Salem and Ipswich as shire towns for the southern district of the Essex County court system. The Hampton court was held in October and the Salisbury court in April. While these lower courts could judge whether sufficient evidence existed to put a suspect on trial in capital punishment cases such as murder, sodomy, striking one’s parents, and witchcraft, the trial itself could only be held before the Court of Assistants in Boston, which met during the months of March and September.

It was not until April 1673 that the Salisbury court heard the case against Cole. The magistrates ordered the Hampton constables to transport her to the Boston jail, where she would remain until her trial in September. By then, nearly a year had passed since Goodwife Cole had first tried to coerce Ann Smith.

The Boston jury that heard the case seemed less interested in a nine-year-old’s fanciful stories than in the evidence of three respected townsmen, who testified that eleven years earlier they had heard Goodwife Cole conversing with the Devil in her house and had seen something red glowing in the corner near her fireplace. Yet even with that damning evidence the jury could only find “vehement suspicion” of witchcraft and she was set free. Only in 1680, the year Ann Smith married her foster brother Israel Clifford, was she again accused of being a witch, this time by a woman newly accused of having murdered her neighbor’s infant with witchcraft. Such was the repute of Goodwife Cole, now in her 80s, that the magistrates ordered her locked in leg irons and put in jail. One month later she was dead.

As for Ann Smith, she would go on to produce seven children (without the help of the Devil), never again tormented by the threat of witchcraft.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, October 20, 2016.

 History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of several books of local history, including “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole.” Her website is lassitergang.com.

The Checkered Past of Hampton’s Trolley Tycoon



Wallace D. Lovell, c. 1895. From Trolleys to the Casino by O.R. Cummings.

Wallace D. Lovell of Newton, Massachusetts holds a special place in the history of the development of Hampton Beach. Lauded as an ambitious man with “imagination and vision,” he was the driving force behind the construction of the street railway in 1897, the Casino in 1899, and the wooden ‘mile-long’ Hampton River bridge, which opened for traffic on May 14, 1902. The street trolleys brought in the tourists, the Casino entertained them, and the bridge opened up a new vein for travel along the seaboard.

At first Lovell’s trolley system, the Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway, did well financially, but in 1907, just one year after his death, it went into receivership and struggled along until 1918 when the New Hampshire Public Service Commission authorized its permanent closure. Concerned townspeople, who used the trolley for commuting to work, school, and shopping, protested the closure. The towns of Hampton, Exeter, and Hampton Falls agreed to buy the line for the sum of $55,000, but at the last minute the latter two backed out. Hampton went at it alone, and, after a somewhat lengthy period of time when those opposed to the purchase tried to stop it, took possession of the railway, paying more than $80,000 for the privilege. That was in 1921. Burdened by high overhead costs and made irrelevant by the popularity and affordability of the automobile, by 1926 the line had shut down and its assets sold for junk. 

 Lovell’s early life

Lovell was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1854, a descendant of Elder William Brewster of Mayflower fame. By the age of eighteen he was commuting to Boston to clerk at a boot and shoe wholesaler. Temporarily put out of work when the great Boston fire of 1872 destroyed his place of business (along with 775 other buildings), he later found similar work at a boot and shoe store that had survived the conflagration.

By 1880 he was a bookkeeper at a bank and was residing in a Boston rooming house with his new wife Josephine. The country was on an economic Gilded Age tear, and with the exception of his wife’s death, so were Lovell’s fortunes. By 1885 he had gone into partnership as a bond broker with a rather mysterious man named Walter Potter. When Josephine died in 1886, leaving Lovell with three small children, he married the daughter of wealthy Boston merchant Charles Whitten, took up residence in a grand house in Newton, and joined the Hull Yacht Club. The latter half of the 1880s saw the firm of Potter & Lovell aggressively buying and selling private company bonds, making a specialty of the commercial paper of dry goods distributors and footwear manufacturers.

 Lovell is arrested

Then came the day in 1890 when calls for redemptions at the brokerage could not be met. In September President Walter Potter and Treasurer Wallace Lovell were arrested and booked on charges of embezzlement and larceny, accused of stealing $70,000 in bonds from a Philadelphia company. They were released on bail, but it was soon discovered that the brokerage was bankrupt. The dominos began to fall. One of the victims was the clothing company of Lovell’s father in law. Eventually, over 120 firms across the country would be affected, and the media would derisively dub the pair of brokers the “Napoleons of finance.”

 Lovell goes on the lam

As the investigation into the thefts deepened, Potter and Lovell were brought up on new charges of embezzlement. Potter was again arrested and booked, but Lovell and his family were nowhere to be found.

Years passed without word of Lovell’s whereabouts. His case was all but forgotten with the financial panic of 1893. Then in July 1895 a police inspector inadvertently discovered him living in Mexico. According to the inspector, who was in Mexico on unrelated business, Lovell was living large on a cattle ranch outside the city of Monterey, a known playground for wealthy American businessmen. Some weeks later the assignee for Lovell’s ruined Boston brokerage charged a Chicago firm with having received $500,000 in stolen securities from the Potter & Lovell Company and of carrying them out of Massachusetts. This information came to light when Lovell was in New York City earlier in the year, apparently for the purposes of giving a deposition in exchange for having the charges against him dropped. The way to redemption was paved by his influential father in law, who no doubt wanted to bring his daughter and grandchildren home to Massachusetts.

 Lovell returns

Now absolved of the embezzlement charges hanging over his head, Lovell returned to his old life in Newton, greatly enriched by his earlier adventures. His shady past was never mentioned again (his obituary in the April 6, 1906 issue of the Street Railway Journal had him politely retiring from business to pass “some time” in Mexico). Lovell became fascinated by the possibilities of interurban rail transportation, recreated himself as an electric railroad promoter, and set his sights on Hampton Beach. The rest is history.

 postcard; Casino; photocard Notebook 5B two lines of trolley tracks.

Hampton Beach Casino and Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury trolley, c. 1900. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

First published in the Hampton Union on September 9, 2016.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of several books of local history, including “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole.” Her website is lassitergang.com.

The Traveling Bowling Alley


Writing in the Hampton Union newspaper in the 1930s, historian Caroline Lamprey Shea informed her readers that the Puritans of Hampton, New Hampshire had kept a bowling green in a field near the lower end of the road to the sea (Winnacunnet Road). Now, Puritans aren’t remembered for their tolerance of games and other time-wasting pursuits, but Mrs. Shea, who was the first secretary of the Meetinghouse Green Memorial and Historical Association, and whose ancestral roots sprang from the bedrock of the town’s earliest history, seemed sure of her information.

While it’s true that 17th-century immigrants brought games like English lawn bowles, card-playing, and shuffleboard to America, a reading of the Bay Colony’s laws, written by strict religionists, leads one to conclude that it wasn’t the Puritans who were doing the bringing. In England the game of bowling, along with most sports, was illegal for the poorer classes, and in Puritan Massachusetts (which until 1680 included Hampton) it was banned from inns and taverns—places where people were most likely to squander their time on such idle recreation. The Hampton bowling green, then, must have been in private hands, and its owner of sufficient wealth and status to silence any would-be critics.

The Rise of the Ten-Pin Alley

By the early 19th century, the game of bowling had crept indoors. The wooden lanes, scornfully referred to as “ten-pin alleys,” were cropping up everywhere, although the old Puritan mistrust of frivolity was still a strong deterrent. It wasn’t the game that detractors found objectionable, but the infernal rumbling and crashing noises that tended to interfere with Sunday sermons. Or so they said.

To address the issue, in 1845 Mr. Marston of Exeter proposed a bill in the New Hampshire House of Representatives to suppress bowling alleys once and for all, with a rather cranky Mr. Quimby of Danville moving that all bowling alleys should be deemed public nuisances. More moderate heads stepped in to satisfy the ministers, specifying that alleys were to be kept at least 25 rods (412.5 feet) away from any house, store, shop, school house, or church. The amended bill became law and was given to the towns as a local option. It’s unclear whether Hampton adopted its provisions, but the neighboring town of Portsmouth did, and over the next several decades the congested Old Town by the Sea spent much time and energy trying to rid itself of its alleys, with little to no success. Newspapers of the day were filled with salacious reports of the shootings and stabbings that occurred in and around the alleys, which had become “the resorts of loafers, gamblers, and drunkards.”

The First Alley on Hampton Beach

The earliest known Hampton bowling alley was located on the premises of the first Ocean House Hotel. Built in 1844 by a member of the Nudd family, this hotel was an impressive four-story structure with an encircling piazza, full dining facilities, and room for 250 guests. It was operated on “strict temperance principles,” and there were no incidents of weapon-wielding troublemakers in its entire 41-year lifespan. Hampton, it seems, had more luck attracting a better class of people than her rowdy seaport neighbor.

Bowling Alley move June 1990

The Village Gets an Alley

In spite (or because) of the regular bouts of bad press, the game steadily gained acceptance, and by 1900 had become an approved activity in the village of Hampton. Otis Whittier, the proprietor of the Hotel Whittier, felt confident in buying a two-lane alley, building and all, from an estate owned by Mrs. White of the Little Boar’s Head district in North Hampton. In June, local contractor Curtis Delancey used some three dozen horses and two yoke of oxen to transport the 60-foot-long building to the hotel on Lafayette Road, a distance of four miles. This alley, the first in Hampton village, was welcomed as a “healthful exercise” for the people of the town.

Moving the Bowling Alley June 1900

On a frigid winter’s day in 1917 the Whittier went up in flames, an apparent victim of arson (a common ending for tired old buildings). Firemen were able to save the bowling alley and other outbuildings, but, like Melzar Dunbar’s curiously round pool table at the Franklin House, the fate of the alley is lost to history. Was it moved to another location or torn down? Its lumber may have been salvaged to suit a different purpose, such as the “refreshment parlor” and cottages that were built on the site of the old hotel a few years later.

The Carnival Cottage Cold Case Solved

Some mysteries are never solved, especially where old buildings are concerned, but in this case, where one mystery began another one came to an end, as the question of the whereabouts of the missing “Carnival Cottage”—the subject of my April History Matters column—has been lately laid to rest.

As part of the Carnival Week celebration in 1923, the Hampton Beach Board of Trade awarded the cottage, a fully furnished and functional five-room house, to the holder of the winning Carnival Queen raffle ticket, one T. W. Litchfield of Lexington, Massachusetts. The winner had to move the house off the beach to a new lot, but news of its removal from the beachfront or the location of its eventual resting place never made it into the newspaper. A search for the deed of sale in the Rockingham County Registry of Deeds turned up empty.

Recently however, Hampton Historical Society President Candy Stellmach discovered a 1930s deed of sale for the cottage in the old Hampton Personal Property registers that are now part of the Society’s collections. According to the deed, the cottage was located on the south side of C Street, on a leased lot owned by the Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway. A little more detective work found that the L-shaped house and the leased lot on which it stood had changed hands several times, finally passing into the possession of the Hampton Casino Associates—who in 1979 sold it to a former Vermont couple, Henry E. and Golda Campbell Farr. Through their efforts, what was once known as the Carnival Cottage became one of the most beloved summer eat shacks on the beach: Farr’s Famous Fried Chicken.

Originally published in “History Matters,” Hampton Union, August 12, 2016.

 Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of several books of local history, including THE QUEENS OF HAMPTON BEACH and MARKED: THE WITCHCRAFT PERSECUTION OF GOODWIFE UNISE COLE, both available from amazon.com and at Marellie’s Market in Hampton. Her website is lassitergang.com.

The Dudley Dynasty of Beach Queens


Beauty contests, it seems, have always been with us. The ancient Greeks gave us the story of Hera and her stepdaughters Athena and Aphrodite, three goddesses who wanted to know which of them was the fairest of all. Hera’s husband Zeus wisely refused to get involved, and instead appointed a shepherd prince to settle the matter. Not willing to trust the outcome to beauty or the Fates, each goddess bribed the young mortal with promises of wisdom, power, and love. He ultimately chose Aphrodite, who had offered the sweetest reward: the hand of the beautiful (but very married) Helen of Sparta – and as a result sparked the Trojan War.

The Carnival Queen contest at Hampton Beach never ignited any wars (that we know of), perhaps because the contestants sold raffle tickets instead of competing on comeliness. The contenders didn’t possess the cunning of those ancient goddesses, but they were just as determined to win, as some had sold over 10,000 tickets for the honor of being crowned Queen of the Carnival. Starting with the first Carnival Week in 1915 and ending in 1940, the contest produced a total of 26 winners, and was the forerunner of the summer beauty contests that continue today as Miss Hampton Beach.

The Dudley dynasty of beach queens can trace its origins to husband and father Joseph S. Dudley, one of the pioneer businessmen at Hampton Beach. Around the turn of the 20th century, Joe became intrigued by the tourism opportunities of a beach that boasted a first rate trolley system and a spacious new Casino. He and his wife Clara set up a tintype photography business in a tent on the corner of C Street and Ocean Boulevard. The store they operated at the time of Joe’s death in 1942 was located on the same site, which is still owned by members of the Dudley family.

The Dudleys went into partnership with fellow beach business pioneers John and Daisy White. Together they ran Dudley and White, a combination photography studio and variety store. They later added White’s Café, a restaurant that became one of the most popular eating places on the New Hampshire seacoast.

Clara, with two daughters under the age of ten, entered and won the second annual Queen of the Carnival contest in 1916. Her crowning at the bandstand followed a costumed Mardi Gras-style parade down Ocean Boulevard that was attended by an estimated 20,000 spectators. The Hampton Beach Board of Trade presented her with a diamond ring and a bouquet of flowers, and aviator Farnum Fish treated her to an airplane ride, of which she “expressed her experience as delightful.”

In later years her daughters would also compete for the title. Mildred, a Hampton Academy student, was named Queen in 1924. She won a free trip to New York City, to be accompanied by “a chaperone of her own choosing.” She later married orchestra musician Arne Autio and ran Dudley’s Hotel, Gift Shop, and Tea Room at the beach.

Younger sister Dorothy won the contest in 1930, and was crowned amid the same carnival atmosphere as her mother fourteen years earlier. As Mrs. Dorothy Cheney, she owned and operated a clothing and gift shop in the Seagate Hotel on Ashworth Avenue.

Carole Wheeler

Carole Wheeler c. 1950.

The last ticket-selling Carnival Queen was crowned in 1940, and the first Miss Hampton Beach contest was held eight years later. Dorothy’s daughter Carole Wheeler (Walles) continued the family tradition when she became a contestant in 1952, making it to the semi-final round before being eliminated. That was the year Gaynor Jenkins of Montreal, Canada was crowned queen, and the second year in a row that a Canadian had won the contest. Some in the crowd of 15,000 were furious with the judges’ choice, claiming she had been chosen only to promote tourism from Canada. They made their dissatisfaction loudly known, causing the teary-eyed winner to apologize “for not being as popular as I should be.” It was the closest the contest ever came to emulating the ruinous rivalry of the Greek goddesses, or, for that matter, outside at a Trump rally.

Carole didn’t win the coveted crown, but in a contest held in Boston she was voted Miss Saleslady of New England (the Dudley women, needless to say, were pretty good at selling things). Eager to try for the beach title again, she was the first girl to apply in 1953. Joan Ahearn of North Chelmsford, Massachusetts won that year, and Carole participated in the Grand Carnival Ball held in the Casino Ballroom.

I met Carole while doing research for “100 Years at the Beach,” a documentary film on the Queen of the Carnival and Miss Hampton Beach contests. She generously contributed photos and personal stories of her dynastic relatives, adding another rich layer of history to the project.

Sponsored by the Hampton Historical Society, the film will be shown free to the public at the St. James Masonic Lodge in Hampton on Thursday, August 18 at 6:30 p.m. Please join us and decide for yourself which queen was the fairest of them all.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on July 29, 2016.

Family photos courtesy of Carole Wheeler Walles. Dudley & White postcard courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of five books of local history, including THE QUEENS OF HAMPTON BEACH and MARKED: THE WITCHCRAFT PERSECUTION OF GOODWIFE UNISE COLE, available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market in Hampton. Her website is lassitergang.com.

100 years of Carnival Queens & Miss Hampton Beach


O face 2

Photo courtesy of John Kane

Like fried dough, henna tattoos, and trips to the arcade, Beach Queens have long been an important part of the summer rituals at Hampton Beach. What started out as a way to sell raffle tickets with the Queen of the Carnival contest, open to all women, had by the 1940s evolved into the Miss Hampton Beach beauty pageant, for which only young, single women were eligible.

Spanning the decades of the 1950’s and ’60’s, the Golden Age of beauty pageants saw the rise to prominence of the Miss America and Miss USA pageants. During this era local promoters endeavored to bring a sophisticated, Atlantic City vibe to the beach and launch the contest into the national spotlight. Yet, despite their efforts, the contest stubbornly remained (and remains) a small, not-quite-regional affair, one that valued its independence from the larger pageants. The winner was the Hampton Beach ambassador, chosen not just for her looks, but for her willingness to attend community activities and promote the beach as a family-friendly vacation destination throughout her reigning year.

Don’t forget – the Little & Jr Miss Hampton Beach contest is this Saturday, July 30 – which I will be judging! – and the Miss Hampton Beach contest is Sunday, July 31- both at the Seashell Pavilion.

11x17 MHB Poster 2

The Franklin Hotel Round Pool Table


In the 18th century the game of billiards, or pool, was popular with the colonial gentlemen of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and billiards tables were commonplace in their taverns. In New England, however, the general attitude about the game was summed up in a letter to the Boston Evening Post in 1757. Every sort of game, the writer warned—cards, dice, shuffleboards, billiards—all were “thieves that rob the journeyman and laborer of their precious time, their little Property, and their less Morals.”


Franklin Hotel trade card, c. 1900. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

Over the years the New England colonies, then states, reinforced their bans on gaming in taverns. They increased the penalties for tavern keepers who broke the law, and also imposed fines on players themselves. In 1799 New Hampshire even made possession of a billiards table illegal. Eventually, similar laws intent on curbing the “pernicious evil” of gaming crept into the southern states. But these laws fell out of step with an increasingly diverse, secular society that saw no harm in amusing itself with games. By the early 19th century advertisements for the New Pocket Hoyle, with rules for all sorts of games, billiards included, began appearing in Boston newspapers.

Still, the opposition did not go gently into that good night. In 1816, the determined selectmen of Portsmouth found it necessary to repost the 1791 state law regulating public houses—which included a ban on all gaming—since the law, they said, “had been for some time past grossly neglected.” A decade later, during the last dying gasp of the public’s aversion to gaming, the Adams administration created a minor moral scandal by spending fifty dollars of taxpayer money to repair the White House billiards table. By the 1850s, however, the famous pool player Michael Phelan wrote and published the first book on billards in the United States. He also manufactured his own line of tables and ran an elegant billiards parlor that was the talk of San Francisco.

In New Hampshire, Portsmouth and other towns began issuing licenses for the keeping of billiards rooms and bowling alleys. In Massachusetts the legislature finally threw up its hands and sought to repeal the law against billiards, bowling, and card playing, on the grounds that these entertainments were not necessarily harmful, “and that whether so or not, the present law is essentially a dead letter, except when used for annoyance.”


Franklin Hotel round pool table, c. 1900. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

 Billiards saloons

By the time of the Civil War, billiards saloons were commonplace in the cities of New Hampshire. The popular game presented a lucrative source of government revenue, and in 1878 the legislature allowed town clerks to issue yearly billiards table licenses to proprietors.

The game slowly gained acceptance in the smaller, more conservative towns. In Hampton, the building at 457 Lafayette Road—when it was located west of the railroad tracks on Exeter Road—was home to a billiards hall. Just across the road was the Franklin House, once the Loring Dunbar Inn, but reopened under its new name in 1898 by Loring’s son Melzar. This new generation Dunbar put in a billiards room, furnishing it with a standard rectangular table from Exeter and a round pool table that he had found moldering away in the barn of a Portsmouth butcher named Jack Young. Dunbar was proud of his unique “curio” and featured it prominently on his trade card.

 Good for strabismus-afflicted southpaws

It’s hard to imagine why, but according to an article in the December 20, 1901 issue of The Rockingham Record, “cross eyed, left handed persons more easily become proficient players upon this style of table than others.” The salvaged table was said to be a “hit” with pool players, with many pairs of shoes having been worn out circumnavigating its bounds. But apparently there weren’t enough strabismus-afflicted southpaws interested in playing the game hereabouts to justify keeping the table—Dunbar sold it in early 1902 to Portsmouth saloonkeeper John H. Galloway, who installed it in his saloon on McDonough Street. From then on the fate of Melzar’s curio, like its origins, is lost to history.

 The round pool table is reinvented

By the mid-twentieth century the country had forgotten that round tables had once dotted pool halls from San Francisco, California to Hampton, New Hampshire. They became a novelty once again. In 1964 a billiards table “believed to be the world’s first completely round pool table” was installed in a San Francisco restaurant. Built by a longtime patron of the restaurant, placed in a special room called The Loser’s Room, and dedicated to the memory of W.C. Fields, who, it was said, had once sipped martinis on the premises, the table was “calculated to bring nightmares to even the most accomplished experts in the art of pocket billiards.” Which might be why Dunbar got rid of his.

 1880s gaming humor: “Billiards resembles matrimony, inasmuch as kisses and scratches are common to both.”

A History Matters column originally published in the Hampton Union, June 3, 2016.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of three books of local history, including “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole.” Her website is lassitergang.com.


Hampton’s Country Doctor


MFS 01

 A merchant tailor at the turn of the 20th century said he could tell a man’s profession by the clothes he wore. A doctor’s clothes, he stated, were “generally clean and well preserved” but reeked of iodoform (an antiseptic) and more often than not a small vial of morphine tablets could be found tucked into one of the pockets.

Dr. Marvin Fisher Smith of Hampton no doubt fit the description, although with 200-plus patients, 12-hour-long working days, and a reputation for being “heavy set,” it’s hard to imagine that his clothes were as neat and tidy as the tailor’s observations suggest. During the periodic contagions that scourged the town, Smith was said to have lived in the same clothes for days, getting in his winks while driving his buggy from one house to the next. He was a man of amazing stamina, for whom three horses were not enough to keep up with rounds that could exceed 50 visits a day. How many times he stopped to water his horses at the town pump is anyone’s guess, but surely he must have been its most frequent user. For nearly thirty years, regardless the season, he could be found driving his horse and buggy over the roads of Hampton, delivering $1-a-visit bedside medical services to his patients.

The son of a shoemaker, Smith had been born in Newbury, New Hampshire in 1852, and graduated from Dartmouth Medical College in 1882. Before coming to Hampton in 1888, he doctored in places like Pittsfield and Epsom, perhaps following the migration of shoemakers from the nearby towns of Strafford and Barnstead, who themselves had followed their employers, V.K. & A. H Jones, to the new shoe factory on High Street.

With wife Mary and their two children, Smith took up residence on Beach Road (now Winnacunnet Road) and soon made himself indispensable to the townspeople. It was said that when he fell ill during an outbreak of diphtheria, a fatal gloom descended over the town, as the disease bloomed unchecked without the ministrations of its faithful sawbones. Other physicians carried on Smith’s work, but compared to the doctor who treated even the most baffling diseases with surefire ability, their treatments met with little success.

Smith’s treatments were not always successful, either. In 1890, when a gun exploded in the hand of 12-year-old Valentine Marston, Smith amputated the boy’s arm, but too late to prevent lockjaw from setting in. Valentine died not long after, and, according to legend, his ghost still haunts his childhood home.

First Responder and Coroner

In an era before the advent of professional emergency medical services, Dr. Smith was called on to perform first responder duties, sometimes even on himself. In the early summer of 1897 he was called to attempt resuscitation (without success) of a drowned Harvard college student who had been pulled from the water at North Beach. In 1898 he could be found helping victims of the Independence Day cyclone that swept Hampton Beach and killed several people. When he took a spill and broke his arm, he set the bone himself. After a few days’ rest he was back at work.

As coroner, Smith left the world of the living sick to attend to those who had died under strange circumstances. But with forensic science still in its infancy, there was little to do except offer opinions based on what the eyes could see. In 1892 he examined the body of a harmless old man named Josiah Wasson, found washed up on the bank of the Hampton River, and deduced that the man had been murdered by blows to his head. The sheriff and county coroner were called in, an inquest was ordered, but without eye witnesses, the crime remained unsolved.

Smith was not part of the case of Mary A. Marston, the despondent mother of Valentine, who in June 1899 waded fully-clothed into the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean to drown herself, but that November he investigated the death of William Cockburn of Hampton Falls, a young shoe factory worker found dead in a boat anchored in the Hampton River. Newspapers reported that Cockburn’s face had been battered and bruised, which, one reporter said, “disturbs the people of Hampton,” who still remembered the unsolved murder of Wasson seven years earlier. That no one knew who owned the boat added to the mystery. Smith’s autopsy revealed that the man had died, not of “foul play,” but of heart failure “resulting from exposure.” His findings only seemed to encourage the mystery-mongers who insisted someone had been with Cockburn and had left him alone to die.

1900Dec3 Bos JournalIn December 1900 another mysterious death aroused the town. Hunters had stumbled across a badly decomposed body in the swamp near the site of the Hotel Leonia, which had burned to the ground five months earlier. Only the carriage house, what is now the Victoria Inn, was saved. An immediate suspicion of murder hit the newspapers with headlines like “Hampton Excited At First By A Suspicion Of Foul Play.” The body, dressed in a blue overcoat and carrying a silver pocket watch, wore a cap inscribed with the words “basque” and “lassaillette.” Memories were jogged, and someone remembered having seen a “queer”-acting foreign marine hanging around the Leonia months earlier. At the undertaker’s rooms in the village, Dr. Smith examined the remains and found no evidence of foul play, but could not determine the cause of death, either. The man’s identity was never discovered, leaving his family to forever ponder his fate. Perhaps his is the ghost that haunts the Victoria Inn to this day.

Two days later, during the fiercest gale of the season, the Gloucester fishing schooner Mary A. Brown wrecked off Hampton Beach, killing the crew of five. In the early morning darkness of December fifth, as the storm still whipped the sea, the Coast Guard brought the first body from the water. Dr. Smith examined the body, identified as Captain Arthur Aldrich, and ruled the death an accidental drowning. Three days later the bodies of crew members Charles Green and Abraham Pennery were discovered. When the body of a fourth man, Benjamin Johnson, or Benson, washed ashore at Hampton Beach on December 19th, Smith took it to the village to await “disposition by relatives.” The body of the fifth and last fisherman, Thomas Saulnier, was apparently never found. As a news report from the time stated, “all that is left of the little fishing schooner Mary A. Brown of Gloucester is lying on Hampton Beach” (and would remain so for years to come, the subject of photographs, paintings, and postcards).

In 1901 Smith examined the body of a 38-year-old Kensington farmer who had taken a fatal dose of morphine, imbibed through a drugstore patent medicine or given to him by a well-intentioned physician. Although its habit forming properties were well known, with overdose deaths frequently reported, morphine was not illegal at the time, and was even sold in children’s preparations. Smith ruled the farmer’s death accidental.

Dr. Marvin Smith

Dr. Marvin Smith making his rounds. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

The following spring he was called on to examine the mangled body of another mystery man—this one had been lying on the street railway tracks near the lifesaving station on North Beach when he was run over by a trolley. After viewing the man, who had been found wedged between the rear wheels of the trolley with his brains protruding from the back of his crushed skull, Smith “pronounced him dead.” (A no-brainer if ever there was.)

Flivvering Dr. Smith

Smith was one of the first men in Hampton who could afford to put away his horse and buggy and embrace the newest form of transportation, the automobile. Perhaps he had been encouraged to do so by his son, Police Chief Gerald A. Smith, who no doubt saw that his aging father would be safer behind the wheel of a car than holding the reins of a horse frightened by one. Instead of wrangling with indisposed horseflesh, Dr. Smith faced the novel challenges of hand cranking and gear shifting.

Now equipped to go “flivvering” around town at the heady rate of 20 miles per hour, Hampton’s country doctor continued to treat the living and examine the dead until shortly before his death in 1916 at the age of 64.

A History Matters  column published in the Hampton Union, May 6, 2016.

 History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of five books of local history, including The Queens of Hampton Beach and Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole. Her website is lassitergang.com.


The 1923 Carnival Cottage


…where’d it go?

During the thirty-nine years from 1915 to 1953, Carnival Week at the beach was a Labor Day holiday tradition. Created by the Hampton Beach Board of Trade to extend the summer season, it was a week-long exhibition of vaudeville, games, parades, fireworks displays, and, until 1940, the Queen of the Carnival contest and coronation.

For the young ladies who vied for the title of Queen, the only requirement was the ability to sell “popularity votes” at ten cents apiece. The one who sold the most tickets was declared the winner, and the selling was amazingly sharp—in 1915 seventeen-year-old Blanche Thompson of Haverhill sold 3,000 tickets to win the title of Queen of the Carnival; in 1922 sixteen-year-old Constance Block of North Hampton sold 11,000 tickets to win.

1917 Carnival Queen

1917 Queen of the Carnival Madeline Higgins of Haverhill MA. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

The nexus of the first twenty-six Carnivals was the Mardi Gras crowning of the Queen, a fanciful affair held on a temporary, open-air stage set between the police station and bandstand. Led by the Hampton Beach concert band, hundreds of costumed revelers—including the Queen, her chosen king, and a retinue of ladies-in-waiting, heralds, pages, and court jester—paraded down the boulevard to the stage. The royalty-elect were crowned with as much pomp and circumstance as King Carnival and his “bold, bad pirate gang” of merry-makers could muster. Thousands of spectators crowded the hotel verandas, the boulevard, and the beach to witness the splendiferous pageantry and the confetti battles that followed.

Once the Queen was safely crowned and the contest-ticket connection severed, the Board of Trade was free to recycle the tickets into a drawing for a new Ford or Chevrolet car. It was a clever way to get around the state’s lottery laws, and only once, after complaints by local church groups in 1920, was the contest shut down as an illegal raffle.

1923 Carnival Cottage Front

The 1923 Carnival cottage. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society (HHS).

 The Portable House

In 1923, rather than give away another $500 automobile, the Board of Trade offered a five-room “portable” house worth several thousand dollars, which they managed to squeeze in between the entertainment stage and the police station. Contractors plumbed and electrified the house, and the Atherton-Peoples Furniture Company of Haverhill, Massachusetts furnished it. The Queen of the Carnival contestants sold twenty-five cent admission tickets for a tour of the interior, although the Board of Trade hardly bothered to disguise the fact that the price of admission also bought a chance to win the house. The winning ticket holder would have to move the prize to his or her own lot, at an estimated cost of $100.

The presence of this “carnival cottage” was not welcomed by everyone. “Do You Know,” pondered the editor of the Hampton Beach News-Guide in his usual tongue-in-cheek style, “That many beach residents believe that the town authorities are absolutely wrong in allowing a summer house to occupy a choice space on the beachfront merely because the house happens to be mounted on wheels and is propelled by a gasoline engine?”

Despite grumblings that the house took up too much prime real estate at the height of the summer season, it remained in place on the beach. The ladies continued to sell their tickets, even enlisting family and friends to help. The winner that year was Bertha Dupleissis of Manchester, who chose as her king James Coffey of Portsmouth.

1923 Carnival Cottage Back

Hampton Beach bathing beauties with a rear view of the Carnival cottage in the background. Courtesy HHS.

At the close of Carnival Week a ticket was drawn in the name of T. W. Litchfield of Lexington, Massachusetts. What happened to the portable house after that is a mystery. Did Litchfield take the house or walk away? Was it moved to a lot on Hampton Beach? We may never find out, but I’m hoping some wise reader might know the answer to the question: “Where’d it go?”

 100-Year History of the Hampton Beach Queens

Please join me at the Tuck Museum, Thursday, August 18, 6:30 p.m., when Karen Raynes and I will present a program on the 100-year history of the Carnival queens and Miss Hampton Beach.


Originally published in the Hampton Union, April 7, 2016.

 History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach. Cheryl Lassiter is the author three books of local history, including “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole.” Her website is lassitergang.com.


Splendid Articles of Baseball


Twenty-first century baseball historians are an unromantic lot. By exposing as myths Abner Doubleday’s invention of baseball and Alexander Cartwright’s “father” status, they’ve altered our view of the game and stripped away some of its mystery.

Lucky the fans of 100 years ago, their joy undisturbed by the modern day historian’s dull realities. By the post-WWI era, baseball and its creation myths had seeped into the national consciousness like a bubblin’ crude, the game solidly fixed as America’s favorite pastime, deserving of the nickname “Old King Baseball.” From the sandlot, the shoulder steak circuit, on up to the bigs, this era saw the number of leagues and teams nearly double. Baseball was played in every hamlet, town, and city across the country, and no matter the regional accent, fans everywhere thrilled to the game’s simple, onomatopoetic language—the dry crack! of a swung bat that sent a little cork-filled orb of awesomeness sailing for the fences.

2 - Ball Field Behind Casino 01

c.1900 postcard image, ball game at the rear of the Hampton Casino. Hampton Historical Society.

Baseball had been played as an organized sport in Hampton since at least the 1880s. When the street railway rolled into town in 1897 and spurred the startling transformation of Hampton’s quiet strand into an overcrowded vacation resort, it didn’t take long for the town, as crazy about baseball as any in New England, to field a team in the new Trolley League to compete against teams from Newburyport, Haverhill, Amesbury, South Groveland, and Lawrence. Jim Delancey was the team’s manager, its ace hitter a member of the Godfrey clan, and its pitcher, a man named Gladding, went after batters “like a savage.” Touted out-of-towners like Perley Elliot of Andover and George Woods of Portsmouth had come over to play for Hampton. But something about the league rubbed Delancey the wrong way, and many of the players were reportedly “very sorry” when the team suddenly and inexplicably dropped out. They found other teams to play, Exeter and Newfields among them, and their triumphant 10-2 record in 1899 earned them a fete at Whittier’s Hotel, compliments of John Hobbs, an appreciative fan from North Hampton. Picture postcards of the time memorialize the games played at the beach.

4 - 1922 Bandstand Signboard

A notice for the July 29, 1922 baseball game between Hampton and Fremont posted on the Hampton Beach bandstand signboard. Hampton Historical Society photo.

In 1922 another Hampton nine dominated the game, their resolute mugs captured for posterity, not on postcards sold to visitors, but in a team photograph taken that year by Blake Roberts of the Currier Studio in Depot square (see below). They played Saturdays and holidays on the “Casino oval,” the spacious lot behind the Hampton Beach Casino. Summer sunshine and cool salt breezes made it an enviable location, but it had its drawbacks, too. The beach businesses burned their garbage in a depression out in deep left field, so the outfielder, if he expected to check a run, needed a broad jumper’s leap to clear the smoldering refuse pit (not sure what it signals, if anything, but the Hampton Academy ball field had been located near a dump, too). Without bleachers to sit on, spectators crowded the sidelines, the Casino verandas, and the porches of the Hampton Inn across Marsh (Ashworth) Avenue, making admission tickets out of the question. A beach cleanup man nicknamed “Johnny Doodle” passed the hat for donations to support the team, but the fans weren’t as generous as they might have been; the following year the team humbled itself before the Hampton Beach Board of Trade, asking for their financial support.

The players were mostly working men, organized and managed by Jim Eastman, who worked as a starter for the street railway at the beach. Some lived in town, while others hopped the Saturday morning trolley from places like Exeter, Greenland, and Ipswich. Their captain was acrobatic second baseman Clyde “Brownie” Brown, who had played for the Hampton Academy team, as did center fielder Leston Holmes, whose childhood home fronted on the old Academy Green ball field (while this field shared no dirt with a dump, it was a byway for the cows that were driven to and from pastures up Drakeside Road, making it a minefield of cow pies).

Charlie Kierstead, who in future years would run Charlie’s Lunch from an old trolley car near the town center, was the team’s shortstop and utility player. The guy who could produce the “fireworks with the willow” was Bill Bigley, a Boston College student and King of the 1919 Hampton Beach Carnival. Teammate and left fielder Paul Hughes of Greenland once said that Bigley, whose family ran the Olympia Theatre at the beach, could “smack a ball with a vengeance,” and his .478 batting average made him a crowd favorite. The third baseman was Horace Hobbs of Hampton, who once worked as a conductor for the street railway. As an octogenarian “Hobsy” talked up his boyhood days in Hampton in letters to the Hampton Union, sent from his home in Warwick, Rhode Island, where he had served several terms as mayor during the 1960s.

Beginning with a 1-0, thirteen-inning loss to Newmarket, the Hampton Beach nine played a total of fourteen games in 1922, ending the season on September 9—Mardi Gras Day at the close of Carnival Week—with a 2-1 win against East Manchester AA. With a final record of 10 wins and 4 losses, the team didn’t exactly make it to baseball Valhalla, but for a bunch of guys whose only practice as a team was during the pre-game warmups, they “put up”—as newsman, beach booster, and Board of Trade president James Tucker remarked in 1923—“a splendid article of baseball.” As Horace Hobbs put it in one of his letters, “Nuff said.”

Here’s to this year’s boys of summer; may we witness another splendid article or two.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on March 18, 2016.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of three books of local history, including “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole, 1656-1680.” Her website is http://www.lassitergang.com.