Great Boar's Head

from "Little Stories of Old New England"
By William D. Cram

Hampton Union and Rockingham County Gazette, Thursday, April 21, 1938

Few of those who visit Hampton Beach realize what a historic and interesting story could be related were it possible for Great Boar's Head to tell its history from the time it started its journey until now. A commanding feature of the landscape, those familiar with geology recognize that the explanation of its presence at Hampton Beach is accounted for by the movement of the great ice covering of this continent ages ago. In the intervening years, nature has written a story of change in mark of erosion, strata deposits and other ways readable by scientists, and generation after generation has retold and added to the legends centered around this place.

Almost the earliest of these began with the story of the admiration which Great Boar's Head and the adjacent country caused Thorvald, brother to Lief Erickson, to feel as he came southward, exploring further the new lands about 1,000 A.D. Just what it looked like we do not know, but about 600 years later when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth we are told that the New England coast was lined with a great growth of pines, and when the pioneers settled at Hampton, they first gave it the name of Winnacunnet, or beautiful place of pines because of that feature.

Until recently almost nothing has been done to preserve the almost amazing number of legends of this locality and it can hardly be hoped that it will be possible to learn many that passed only from mouth to mouth.

The story of Thorvald's visit to Boar's Head and the nearby beach, his saying of the Indians asleep under canoes on the sands, the later fight with the Indians who came out the Hampton River mouth, his subsequent death and burial and the placing of the marks or the stone which guards his final resting place off the Winnacunnet road has come down through Indians and white men of many generations.

About it also took place many incidents, recorded in part in history and with more color and detail in legend. Eunice Goody Cole, Hampton's most publicized reputed witch, was said to have passed more years of happy life, nearby at the Willows or the Island, as it was variously called, where her well of remarkable water brought such a multitude of mariners there to fill their butts that when to save her own supply she began to refuse them the privilege some of the disgruntled began to spread ill words which finally grew into downright accusations and later formal charges of witchcraft.

And even before witchcraft charges had vanished from New England, the pressure of unjust officials representing the King of England and the vested interests, beneficiaries of his grants of land, stirred the blood of those who had by their own efforts built up the land, who had bought of the Indians - even if at little cost - the land itself, and here at Hampton made the first armed resistance to England of American history, though it was quickly subdued and unavailing. It gave however, a most dramatic episode and a recorded verdict of extreme cruelty and severity; the like of which does not otherwise exist in all New England history.

Storms and waves beat about and against Great Boar's Head and while they scarred and tore away from the head itself, they did greater damage to ships and nearby shore. So we have the stories of the strange fates of small and large trading and even pirate crafts, and boats, the shipwrecks of fishing, out of one of these emerges the personality of a Hampton man, first noted for his ability as a fighter against the Indian attacks, a shrewd, energetic ambitious man who seizes the wrecking of the well laden supply ship to advance his own in crests by getting appointed to supervise the recovery of the goods and their sale thus making enemies who little by little spread tales about him. A colonial of the provinces, he becomes after the Revolutionary War, the General Jonathan Moulton, now famous for allegedly selling his soul to the devil and other lesser things.

But barely scratching the surface for the things that have happened or are alleged to have happened here abouts is all that can be done at this time as we take up likewise with briefness, some of the odd history of Great Boar's Head itself.

Brought here as scrapings in the movement of the mighty ice pack or which at some time halted and then melted, Great Boar's Head has nothing in common with its immediate surroundings. Of it, Hitchcock in his Geological History of New Hampshire says in part: "In the middle of Hampton Beach is a mound of drift about fifteen hundred feet long and forty-five high. Though small, it may be regarded as a true lenticular moraine. Isolated from all visible connection with any other mass of till by a distance of two miles between the nearest points. It has been exposed to the wearing action of the sea from time immemorial and consequently has lost a considerable portion of its mass." Numerous others have written about this eye catching portion of Hampton Beach, but Albert F. Dow has given us facts and figures as well as theories inspired by long years of familiarity with the place and brightened by the fond attachment of a native of the section.

In an effort to determine the area that Great Boar's Head originally covered, or at least covered as far as any trace now remains, Mr. Dow spent considerable time being rowed around the head in a small boat dragging a heavy sledge hammer with a cod line tied to the end of the handle which he says he found a sensitive instrument for the purpose of locating the line of boulders which mark the outline of the drumlin as it existed in times past.

He found the boulder line extended off southeast 8000 feet, northeast 1,600 feet and off the point 2,000 feet. From his studies, he concluded that the Boar's Head drumlin had its northwest side originally practically the same as it now is and in the form of a rough oval or egg shape extended somewhat to the southeast about 3,500 feet with its greatest width about 2,400 feet. He says: "There were conditions in the early life of the drumlin, the effect of which we cannot closely estimate. Boar's Head, like all drumlins, was formed under the ice sheet, near the front. Before it was uncovered, there was a subsidence of the land, estimated at 150 feet in southern New Hampshire. In other words, the sea was 150 feet higher. There is a difference of opinion as to when this occurred. Upham thinks it just before the recession of the front. Winchell believes that is was coincident with the dissolution of the glacier. Shaler regards the depression as due directly to the weight of the ice, and the re-elevation to its removal.

"Considering this diversity of opinion as to the period of subsidence, it would not seem advisable for an amateur to express an opinion on the subject. And yet one who has lived on Boar's Head and seen the destructive action of the sea cannot conceive that Boar's Head would not have been leveled long before our time if there had been any considerable substance of the land after the drumlin was uncovered by the ice. After this submergence, there was an emergence of the coast. How long this continued we do not know, but it continued until the New Hampshire coast was at least 20 feet higher than at present.

"Then the movement changed and another subsidence began, and this subsidence is now taking place from New Jersey to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Prof. G. H. Cook estimates the present rate of subsidence on the New Jersey coast at two feet in 100 years. Dr. Charles Townsend says: "In a cove near Bass Point, Nahant, stumps of trees may be seen covered with from 13 to 16 feet of water at high tide. There are remains of submerged forests in the harbors of Lynn, Swampscott, Marblehead and Salem and at Kennebunkport, Me.'

"A Boston newspaper said about 1925: 'Our coastwise skippers have lost many an anchor in the submerged forests off Cape Cod.'

"There is evidence of subsidence at Rye near the Cable station. There is a field of cedar stumps visible only at lowest water, and then only when the sand is out. In 1877, more than 75 were counted at the station, the largest being two feet in diameter and 3 feet high … On the other hand, Prof. Cleland doubts much of the evidence offered of the recent subsidence in New England …

"Still another influence of the wastage of Boar's Head has been the great storms. Of this there is very little data. No one appears to know very much about how the head suffered in the great storm of '51 or that of '61. Mr. Eugene Nudd says that in the storm of 1898, a great mass of earth was washed out of the south bank near the stairs. A boat drawn up two thirds of the distance to the top and tied to a juniper was brought down by a wave and smashed. The storm of '51 lasted four days. Water was five feet deep in the road in front of Mr. Lewis Nudd's house. Mr. Oliver Nudd, Thomas Nudd's father, boarded up his front door and windows and went ashore for fear of being drowned. The sea came entire over Plum Island. The News Letter of that day says: 'The roar of the sea was plainly heard in Exeter, where the water was four feet over the wharves'. Old Mr. Philbrick, of Hampton who remembers the storm, in speaking of it said: 'If we should ever have another like I wouldn't give 15 cents for all the buildings beyond Jenkins'. I told Capt. Perkins, then the oldest inhabitant, what Mr. Philbrick had said and he replied: 'I wouldn't give 15 cents myself.'

"As most of the buildings within the last 30 years has been beyond Jenkins, which means land on 'The Delta' now stands, the ominous comments of the old inhabitants are not to be laughed at.

"The wastage of Boar's Head has also been modified by the vegetation which undoubtedly covered it at some period. The loam on the head is from 10 inches to 14 inches deep and black as your boot. Saler says" 'The soil coating of the earth's surface is in the main, the product of forest action.'

"Dr. Townsend says some of the drumlins of the Massachusetts coast are known to have been forested. When the Mayflower sailed up Massachusetts Bay, Cape Cod was covered with forest growth.

Within the memory of men living, the banks of the head were mostly covered with red cedar, which strong winds have caused to grow nearly prostrate. Capt. Perkins says they were burned, although he could not state the exact date of the event. Those remaining saw that they offered considerable protection to the slopes.

Investigation of traditions relating to Boar's Head shows a surprising discrepancy of statements particularly about the wearing of the point; concerning this there is a marked disagreement of common opinion with facts. Judge Leavitt, a native says: "There is a ridge extending off the point two or three miles, showing how far the land probably extended." But the government maps of soundings show no ridge there. Mr. Redmond, 91 years old, said he could remember when Gunner's Rock was a gunshot from the point. That is not very definite. Gunner's Rock is now 250 feet from the top of the point (1925). Gunner's Rock came out of the bank between 600 and 700 years ago, say 250 years before Columbus discovered America.

Mr. Joseph Dow in his history of Hampton says: "According to surveys made me the point receded about one rod from 1826 to 1875. Mr. Dow's statement is undoubtedly reliable and agrees closely with that of Mr. Lewis Nudd regarding the rate of erosion."

Mr. Dow tells many facts and quotes numerous old residents on the erosion. He says: The greatest destruction of the land is done in the spring when frost is coming out and the ground is full of water. The softened clay, having the consistence of molasses, runs out of the north bank at numerous places. And at times huge wrinkles of clay or soil roll or slide to the bottom in masses of 100 carloads.

The sea is the most destructive factor, but it seldom works. The ordinary flood tide has no effect on the slopes, because it does not reach them. But a great storm which brings high tide and heavy sea removes the talus which has been accumulating for months. The cliff is left in some places perpendicular. The clay, in spots, is laid bare where once there was protecting sod, and in many places the base is undermined. It thus becomes an easy prey for the elements.

If 800 feet have gone from the south side at a rate of 1 foot in eight and one-quarter years, it is it has required 7,000 years. 1600 feet have gone from the north side. At the rate of 1 foot in four and three-eighths years, this has taken 7,000 years. 2,000 feet have gone from the point; if at the rate of 1 foot in three years, it has required 6000 years…"

Around Boar's Head the first hotels of the beach were built and on Boar's head for many years all the large were held. [Sic] The building of the Ocean House and Cutler's Sea View house as well as a number of private summer homes around the section of what is now Church Street, with the burning of the Boar's Head Hotel and the transfer of the top of the head to a number of private owners shunted off crowds to the southern part.

C.C. Witham at his summer place at the North Beach has a memento of the days when Hampton sailing vessels landed surreptitiously cargos of sugar and molasses and other dutiable goods on the landing at Boar's Head, the location affording view of British revenue vessels coming from north or south in time to allow the smuggler time to get away if the cargo had not been unloaded. The memento was a piece of the landing with a ring for the boats hawser, probably dating between 1740 and 1760.