Hard lives for the Puritan pioneers of new state New Hampshire

SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: The name ‘Croydon’ has travelled the world and here DAVID MORGAN tracks the 18th Century founding of a frontiers town in New Hampshire

New Hampshire view: there’s been a church at the centre of life in Croydon, NH, since it was founded in the 1760s

The practice of migrants from these islands naming their new settlements after the home town in England that they had left is shown at Croydon outside Philadelphia and Croydon, Utah.

And there is also a Croydon in Sullivan County, New Hampshire, one of the original 13 states which broke away from Britain and formed the United States of America.

In Elmer Munson Hunt’s book New Hampshire Town Names and Whence They Came he writes: “Croydon, unlike so many towns in this state which were named for historic personages, got its name from Croydon, a well-known suburb of London, England. Founded in the 9th century, the English Croydon is famous for its palace under which several archbishops of Canterbury are buried.”

It’s not quite accurate – the Archbishop burials were in the Minster church – but it’s good that the Archbishop’s Palace gets a mention.

Back in the 17th and 18th centuries when people were pouring into America from many European countries, there was no “immigration debate” as we are having in Britain today. There was only one group of people who objected to mass immigration, and that was the indigenous tribes, but they had no voice.

Croydon, New Hampshire, became the home of pioneers from families who had previously settled in a new land. Originally living in coastal areas of Massachusetts, some second or third-generation families sought an opportunity to venture inland to start a new life from scratch.

Brought to book: Croydon is noted in Hunt’s work

This often meant living in a temporary shelter until a permanent home could be erected, and clearing the dense forest so that crops could be planted.

One man even used a hollowed out tree trunk to sleep in while he spent six weeks clearing his newly purchased land.

Croydon, New Hampshire, traces its history back to 1766 – just a decade before the Declaration of Independence. When the town celebrated its centenary on June 13 1866, events were organised including inviting speakers who were descendants of the town’s founding families. Their memories and recollections have provided a valuable record of life in those pioneering days.

In April 1766, the very first group of settlers who were from Grafton, Massachusetts, arrived for the purpose of marking out the plots of land. Setting out from Claremont, the party had to cross the Sugar River, where the waters were swollen by rain and melted snow.

Having battled to get across on a raft, they successfully reached the other side only to discover that they had left the plan of the new town behind! The raft was swept out of reach, so they were left with no means of returning for the parchment.

One of the party, Ezekial Powers, volunteered to swim back to retrieve the document. This he duly did, making the return swim with the map between his teeth. For this brave deed, Powers was given a pistareen, an old Spanish silver coin which was still used as legal tender in America at that time.

Mapped out: how Croydon is part of Sullivan County, NH, close to Grantham, Newbury, Sutton, Bradford and Enfield…

Powers’ bravery and strength epitomised the attitude of many of the settlers. Speakers at the centenary remembered the back-breaking work that had been undertaken in the first 50 years of the settlement.

“Their farms were covered with a heavy growth of trees; the soil was hard and forbidding; their implements were few and rudely made; their resources small, save for their own strong and persevering wills,” said one speaker.

Another said: “No exposure, no danger or privation could detain them from the accomplishment of their high purpose. Relying upon the God of their Fathers they were hopeful amidst discouragement, and patient in tribulation. They were of the Puritan stock and inherited their love of justice, their devotion to principle and their contempt of toil and danger.”

After the initial building of homes and clearing of land for planting, the plots were separated with stone walls, roads were created and bridges were built to cross the rivers and streams. The first community buildings would have been the schoolhouse and the church. The first church in Croydon was Presbyterian and was completed in 1778. A new church building was erected in 1826.

All mod cons: rural New Hampshire’s Croydon’s store and post office in a photograph taken early in the 20th Century

Memories about the old church were shared during the celebration speeches. One man remembered that the pulpit was much elevated. There was a wooden box on which the pastor, who couldn’t have been very tall, would stand and be seen by the congregation! Overhanging the pulpit was a canopy, or sounding board. There was no point in delivering a lengthy sermon if people couldn’t hear it.

Half way up the pulpit was the first landing were the “Deacons’ seats”, where the local worthies sat. Some of the deacons were the original men who founded the town. In the front gallery were the choir who had a conductor and were accompanied by the organ or a seraphine, a cross between a wind organ and an accordion, or sometimes with a “big fiddle”.

The conductor would give the choir their note on a pan pipe and off they would warble, reading music using the tonic sol-fa notation. The church was surrounded by a wild flower meadow containing mayweed, milkweed and huge fragrant thistles. The first minister was Reverand Jacob Haven, who moved to Croydon on June 18 1787, staying at the church until his retirement in January 1834.

Religion was a key part of those early settlers’ lives. Even before the church was built and people could gather together for worship, the sabbath was strictly observed by that first, god-fearing generation. Their offspring, however, had a less strict and rigid outlook on life, which was criticised by the older folk.

Jubilee: how local newspapers reported the centenary celebrations

New England rum was given as one reason for this laxness, together with a rise in horse racing and gambling.

Another of the speakers at the centenary told movingly about his own family’s history and their link with Croydon. The man’s father, Benjamin Barton Jnr, was born in Sutton, Massachusetts, in 1755. He had little formal schooling, learning to write on birch bark.

When he was 18, he joined up with the Revolutionary Army, seeing action at Bunker Hill and Bennington, part of the Saratoga campaign. He returned to Royalston, Massachusetts, in 1779 where he married Mehitable Fry. It was in March 1784 that the young family set off for their new home in Croydon.

The young Mrs Barton sat atop an ox sled with her three young children; on one side a daughter of four years, on the other a son of two, together with a babe in her arms. On the sled were all their household goods, while tied to the back was the cow. The 65-mile journey took them nine days to complete.

Not long after they arrived in their new home, the family were forced to leave their farmhouse as the bark roof was blown off in a storm. The family had to struggle through snow that was waist deep to reach their neighbour’s house, three-quarters of a mile away.

Benjamin and Mehitable Barton had a further nine children in Croydon. Benjamin Barton went on to play a major part in the life of town, carrying out the roles of town clerk and justice of the peace, a position he held from 1798 until his death in 1834.

Those early days were often fraught with unseen and unknown dangers. In 1770 a son of one of the original settlers wandered into the forest and was lost. The lad’s mother was frantic and would, herself, have run off into the trackless forest to search for him had she not been restrained. First thing next morning, the whole community turned out to search the forest but no trace of the young boy was ever found.

Pioneer memorial: the gravestone of Mehitable Barton, one of Croydon’s earliest settlers, and the mother of 12 children

At the centenary, after the celebratory speeches and reminiscences were over, the local band led a procession to where everyone was to share a meal. It was quite a spectacle. The trestle table, some 1,000 feet in length, was divided into seven sections.

One section was “sponsored” by the Hon Lemuel P Cooper, a local dignitary. His section was decorated in a most elaborate fashion and in the centre of it was a “fatted calf”, roasted whole.

The town had been divided up into six districts, so each one of them was responsible for their part of the trestle. A great rivalry between all the districts ensured that each section of the table groaned under the amount of food and the size of the decorations. And after they had been fed, many families took away baskets of food with them at the end.

New Hampshire is often in the media spotlight these days because it is the first state to declare in the US Presidential election primaries. The independent nature of the people who live in the state make it a battleground for the two main parties.

In August 2019 Joe Biden stopped off in Croydon to give a speech to whip up Democratic support. It must have had some impact as Biden beat President Donald Trump in 2020 by 7per cent in the state vote.

Look out in the upcoming American election campaigns. You might see Croydon, New Hampshire on the television.

  • David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours or illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups

If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or want to book a school visit, then ring the Minster Office on 020 688 8104 or go to the website on www.croydonminster.org and use the contact page

Other articles by David Morgan:

  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com
  • As featured on Google News Showcase
  • Our comments section on every report provides all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content
  • ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named among the country’s rottenest boroughs for a SIXTH successive year in 2022 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Croydon Minster, David Morgan, History and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Hard lives for the Puritan pioneers of new state New Hampshire

  1. chris myers says:

    Great piece from, one of, your top contributors. Thanks. There’s also a Croydon in New South Wales – a suburb of Sydney. I visited recently and guess what – it’s a bit of a dump!

Leave a Reply