Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: Winnacunnet

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The grants to Gorges and Mason, and to Mason alone, both included the place, which the Indians called Winnacunnet. This name seems to have been used by them to designate the river, afterward called Hampton river, flowing into the Atlantic, a few miles north of the Merrimac, and a tract of land in the vicinity of the river, whose limits are not well defined, but which appears to have been extensive enough to embrace the Indian population, accustomed to resort to the river for shell-fish and game, and to make it, for their canoes, a thoroughfare to the ocean.

This Indian name Dr. Belknap writes Winicumet. and Governor Winthrop, Winicowett. The name was probably written according as the sound struck the ear of the persons attempting to give it a visible form. The orthography here adopted is the uniform spelling in the Records of the General Court of Massachusetts. The earliest town records also have unn, never um nor ow; and this is most likely to represent the Indian utterance. Hon C. E. Potter, sometime of Hillsborough, N.H., gives the meaning of the word thus: Pleasant Place of Pines, or The Beautiful Place of Pines. Rev. Edward Ballard, sometime of Brunswick, Me., would translate it, The Beautiful Long Place.

This tract, lying along the sea-shore and only a few miles distant from the lower settlement on the Piscataqua, was probably sometimes visited by persons from that settlement, some of whom may have been temporarily employed here as fishermen. But nothing of this kind appears from history. The earliest notice of the place that we have found, is in the Records of the General Court of Massachusetts, where, under date of March 3, 1636, is found the following order:

"That there shalbe a plantacon settled at Winnacunnet & that Mr Dumer & Mr John Spencer shall have power to presse men to builde a house forthwth, in some convenient place, & what money they lay out aboute it, shalbe repaide them againe out of the tresury, or by those that come to inhabit there."

Agreeably to this order, a house was built for the purpose of securing Winnacunnet to Massachusetts, though, by a fair construction of its charter, the place was evidently beyond its jurisdiction. The house thus built was afterward known as the Bound House, though it seems to have been intended by the General Court, as a mark of possession, rather than of limit.

The Bound House
Bound House, built 1636 in that part of old Hampton
which is now Seabrook. Painting by Helen Philbrick, 1880
(Seabrook Historical Society)
It is not known with certainty where the Bound House stood, and it is hardly probable that any future researches will serve to identify the spot. That was a disputed point more than a century ago. Some then located it on, or near, the Meeting House Green; some on Easton's Points, and others on Sargent's Island. There are reasons for believing that no one of these opinions is correct. That the house was not at either of the two places last named, appears probable from Governor Winthrop's History of New England, in which it is incidentally mentioned as being on the way, or path, from Newbury to the Piscataqua settlement. Other circumstances lead to the belief that it was farther south than the Meeting House Green. Rev. John Wheelwright, in his testimony taken by the commissioners of Charles II, in 1665, and embodied in their report to the King, stated that it was "erected three large miles from the Merrimac." This statement favors the opinion held by some, that the Bound House was somewhere within the limits of the present town of Seabrook; but it fails to settle the question, for it does not appear what distance is meant by a large mile, and in the same report it is stated that Mr. Wheelwright, when banished from Massachusetts, "settled just beyond the Bound House," whereas Exeter, the place of his settlement, is more than six miles from the Merrimac.

It is probable that the Bound House was occupied soon after it was built, but by whom, history fails to inform us; nor do we know how long it remained standing, unless by inference from Mr. Wheelwright's testimony, that it "was for seventeen years called and known to be the bounds of Massachusetts."

About two years after the settlement of the town of Newbury had been commenced near the river Parker, the inhabitants, for some reason "haveing been moved to leave their plantation," received from the General Court, November 2, 1637, a conditional grant of Winnacunnet, and such as should "remove wthin one yeare" were to "have three years imunity" from the first day of March, 1638.

About this time, April 3, 1638, Rev. John Wheelwright and others bought of the Indians a tract of land around Squamscott Falls, included in the following boundaries, viz.: "Within three miles on the northerne side of ye river Meremake extending thirty miles along by the river from the seaside and from the sayd river side to Piscataqua Patents thirty miles up into the countrey northwest, and so from the ffalls of Piscataqua to Oyster river thirty miles square every way." This purchase included Winnacunnet, and thus was "obtained a right to the soil from the original proprietors, more valuable in a moral view than the grants of any European prince could convey." (Judge Smith)

Early in 1638, two persons, at least, were at Winnacunnet, where they had already built, or were then building houses for themselves. Whether they thought themselves authorized to proceed thus by the grant to the people of Newbury the autumn before,--for one of them, and perhaps both, had been living in that town,--or whether they supposed themselves beyond the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, is uncertain. One of them, Nicholas Easton, had, with many others, remonstrated against the harsh treatment shown to Mr. Wheelwright, and had in consequence been disarmed by an order of the General Court made November 20, 1637. This order, Mr. Easton probably considered arbitrary and unjust, and it may have led him to resolve to leave the colony. Still, it could not have been unknown to him that Winnacunnet was claimed to be within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, and that the Bound House had been built to denote that claim. It has even been said that Mr. Easton was the architect employed to build the house. If so, he might thus have become acquainted with the advantages that Winnacunnet possessed as a place for settlement. But this is very doubtful. The Bound House had been built under authority to "presse" men for the purpose, and, though it might not require much architectural skill to build a log-house, yet the persons authorized by the court to see to the execution of their order, would have been more likely to impress a carpenter than a tanner; and Mr. Easton was a tanner.

But whatever may have been the motives of Mr. Easton; whatever his opinion relative to the northern limit of Massachusetts, we find him and a Mr. Geoffrey at Winnacunnet early in the year 1638. But they did not long remain unmolested. The former, at least, was obnoxious to the government, and both were here without authority from the General Court. They must therefore be removed. To effect their removal, the following order was passed, May 17, 1638: "That the magistrates of Ipswich shall have power to discharge Mr. Eason and Mr. Geoffry from building at Winnacunnet, and if they will not take warning, to cleare the place of ym." It does not appear whether they did "take warning," and go away peaceably, or whether the magistrates were obliged "to cleare the place of ym;" nor is it certain to what place Mr. Geoffrey next went. Mr. Easton was soon after in Rhode Island. He is said to have built the first house at Newport, the place selected for his residence. In the years 1672 and 1673, he was governor of Rhode Island. He died in 1685 at the age of eighty-three years.

For more about the Bound House and the first white men in Hampton, look here.

For more about the name "Winnacunnet", look here.

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