Rural Village to Suburb / Population

Chapter 13 -- Part 1

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Joseph Dow estimated that the population of Hampton in 1680 was about 700 people, one quarter of the population of the whole province of New Hampshire. The other population centers were Exeter, Dover, and Portsmouth. Hampton appeared to be on its way to becoming one of the larger and more important towns in the province, but just 93 years later, the Town had only 917 residents. By 1800, it had dropped to 875 people. During the next 100 years, the population increased to 1,320 in 1840, dropped to 1,177 in 1870, and rose to 1,330 in 1890, but at the turn of the century, there were only 1,209 residents, and Hampton was just a large town midway between the larger communities of Newburyport, Exeter, and Portsmouth. These fluctuations were caused by various factors, including the Industrial Revolution, which lured Hampton young people to cities, the Civil War, and the westward migration after the war.

The newspaper correspondents of the day liked to comment on the longevity of Hampton's citizens. According to a News-Letter article, in 1878 there were 100 people age 70 or older, or about one-twelfth of the population. Thirty people were between 80 and 90, and two over age 90. The checklist had 380 names of which 38 or one-tenth were over age 70 and nine over age 80. In 1882, the Portsmouth Chronicle wrote, "The population of Hampton in 1800 was 875; and there are now living of that number 26 persons. The present number of inhabitants is nearly 1,200, more than 1/12 of whom are upward of 70 years of age. There are in town 64 persons between the ages of 70 and 80 years; 30 between 80 and 90 years; and 7 over 90." By the next year, however, the newspaper reported that nine octogenarians had died during the year. One of the reasons for this disproportionate number of elderly persons and for the fluctuation of population in the mid-nineteenth century was the Civil War. Of the 111 Hampton men who served, 26 were killed or died of disease, lowering the population with their own loss and the potential loss of wives and future children and grandchildren. (By way of comparison, in 1980, when the population was 10,493, Hampton had 1,275 people age 65 or older. Of this total, 318 were householders 75 or older and 175 were 75 or older and living alone.)

In 1901, in speculating that Hampton had 45 or more people over age 80, the News-Letter correspondent proclaimed, "No town in this county can beat it. Now what did it? Brown bread and 'taters,' raised on a sea weed dressing, cod fish and haddock out of the briny deep, and now and then a little of that tother, had something to do with it. But temperance in eating and drinking and prudence and patience in their daily duties and a cheerful spirit have been the mainstays of life, for these things make contentment .... Those ... elderly people were temperate in the consumption of food and spirit, not a glutton or drunkard in the lot." The 1933 town report said the average life expectancy in the United States was 55 years, but the list of 25 Hampton deaths showed the average over 70 years old.

Between 1900 and 1920, the population increased only by 42 people, although by 1930 the total was 1,507, and in 1940 it was 2,137. With the end of the war, servicemen returned to Hampton and began families. They also needed new housing, and a building boom started the town on a growth spiral that continues to the present. In 1950, Hampton had 2,847 people, and just 10 years later, the total nearly doubled to 5,379. The total for 1970 was 8,011, a 48 percent increase in 10 years. In the same decade, Exeter grew only 22 percent. By 1980, Hampton had 10,493 people and Exeter 11,024. In 1987 the Office of State Planning estimated Hampton's population at 12,114 (and Exeter at 12,030), a growth rate of 13 percent since 1980, the same rate of growth as recorded for the state as a whole, and the highest growth for the six New England states. The state agency also predicted in 1985 that Hampton's population would be 13,460 in 1990, 15,510 in 2000, and 16,980 in 2010. (The agency's 1987 report increased its Hampton 2010 population estimate to 20,970 and predicted Exeter would have 25,703.)

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