The Vikings in Hampton
"Our Town" By James W. Tucker
Thursday, July 26, 1951
A couple of weeks ago we mentioned the fact that Hampton's unusual background of history and tradition began with the era of The Norsemen in America. A good friend, who occasionally reads this column, asked us the other day, "Are you foolish enough to believe that stuff about the Vikings having been in New England before Columbus discovered America ?" And we told him that we were. Moreover, we told our friend that we believed that a colony of Norsemen had lived for a while in what is now Hampton and that the time was approximately 500 years before Columbus made his epochal voyage of so-called initial discovery.
Our friend walked away, the patent look of disgust on his face indicating more plainly than words, his feeling that we were indeed foolish to believe anything of the kind. So, in order to re-establish our belief, as stated above, we started out to locate Norseman's Rock, as it is called hereabouts, and trace again with our finger tips the Runic inscription which was chiseled on its rough face some 1,000 years ago by a Viking wanderer, as proof that he and his venturesome comrades had actually been in a strange country, far away from their homeland.
So we drove into the west entrance of Surfside Park, and turned east onto Thorwald Avenue, the first street on the right. We looked eagerly at all the cottages on the left and at the areas immediately back of these cottages, hoping to find a spot that resembled the site of Norseman's Rock as we remembered it on our last visit which must have been more than ten years ago. But nothing looked the same. Women, knitting and chatting on cottage verandas, had never heard of Norseman's Rock and neither had a couple of small boys whom we accosted.
So we drove the length of Thorwald Avenue and out again onto Winnacunnet Road, dismayed, but not exactly defeated. The next time we entered the west entrance to Surfside, we took the second street on the right and drove all the way down to Fred Cook's home. Yes indeed, Mrs. Cook knew how to get to Norseman's Rock and following the direction she so graciously gave, we were at the site in a couple of minutes.
But where is the Rock? Here, right in the middle of a small, newly gravelled area, is something that may be the cement cover of a recently installed septic tank. Good heavens! Has somebody who didn't know its significance, blasted away Norseman's Rock to make room for sewage equipment? It might well be, for our Town has never taken the simple and inexpensive steps necessary to preserve this priceless monument of antiquity.
Maybe that's the rock! And we floundered into a little declivity, more closely to examine an outcropping of granite which was just barely visible in the tall grass. Parting the grass, we gazed again on that well-remembered rock surface into which the runes had been chiseled centuries ago by a Viking hand.
The last time we examined Norseman's Rock, we had to move accumulation of cans and other debris with which the slight hollow, adjacent to the rock had been filled. Now, with new cottages and rebuilt streets in the immediate vicinity, the litter and the trash has disappeared, but it is very probable that even the owner of the land, wherein Norseman's Rock is situated, knows nothing of the significance of the rough, granite boulder that is almost hidden in a small declivity in his backyard.
Among those experts who have made it their business to examine the runic inscriptions left by Norsemen in ancient times along the Atlantic coast, our so-called Norseman's Rock is known as the "Hampton Stone." This inscribed stone was first mentioned in Babcock's "Early Norse Visits To North America." In his book, Mr. Babcock quotes a "New Hampshire judge" who wrote as follows to the "Philadelphia Times" of July 27, 1902: "The rock is a large granite stone lying in the earth, its face near the top of the ground, with crosses cut thereon and other marks cut by the hand of man with a stone chisel and not by the owner. That field came into the possession of the author's ancestors 250 years ago."
The New Hampshire judge was, in all probability, Municipal Judge Howell M. Lamprey of Hampton, who died twenty odd years ago. This was substantiated by his daughter, Mrs. Marion Penniman, who remembers that on many occasions when she was a small girl, her father had taken her to see Norseman's Rock, a spot for which he had a very special regard.
Then, in the spring of 1936, Mr. Harry Cheney of Hopkinton, Mass., and Malcolm D. Pearson of Upton, Mass., came to Hampton with the help of Rev. Edgar Warren and other Hampton residents, rediscovered the Viking marker. Photographs, drawings and rubbings of the inscription were made and submitted to Olaf Strandwold, one of the world's best known experts on the interpretation and translation of runic inscriptions. In his brochure, entitled "Runic Rock Inscriptions Along the American Atlantic Seaboard," Mr. Strandwold described the "Hampton Stone" and offers the following transliteration of the two rows of runes appearing on the stone: "bui reis stein." Translated into English this means, "Bui Raised Stone."
Bui was a famous name among the Norsemen in the 10th and 11th centuries. He was the heroic leader of the dreaded Jomsvikings who lost his life in the Battle of The Hampton. Bui was undoubtedly Hjorungavaag in the year 986 A. D., a namesake, or perhaps a descendent of the famous Viking who died before Leif Erikson made his first landing in America, which he called Vinland, probably in the year 1000 A. D. or possibly in 1003. Thorwald, Leif's brother, headed the second Norse expedition to America.
Now, what do you think? Must one necessarily be foolish to believe that Vikings may have lived in Hampton before Columbus discovered America? And, of course, there's the "Healey Stone," perhaps a Norse grave mark, picked up in her own door yard in the early 1930's by Miss Frances Healey of Hampton Falls. And we have other reasons why we believe implicitly that the Norsemen lived here eighteen centuries ago and we know where to look for addition evidence of the fact. Who, among you, would like to join an exploring party? And do you not think it would be an excellent idea for our Town to preserve Norman's Rock for posterity?
[Postscript: Vandals and artifact-seekers have chipped off pieces of the stone; so to protect it, the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association moved the rock early in 1989, to the Meeting House Green, where is was placed in a stone and cement enclosure and covered to prevent further damage.]