Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Steam Gristmill

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, May 20, 2016.

 At one time, Exeter could boast ten gristmills. This type of mill, which produced flour, was so vitally important to the English who settled here that it was the first mill erected at the falls in the center of town. Historian Charles Bell explains, “The first mill in the town was for grinding grain, and was built by Thomas Wilson at the foot of the main falls on the easterly side of the island now reached by String bridge, near where a similar mill stands to this day (1888 – when Bell was writing his History of Exeter, New Hampshire). The mill site and the island, on which Wilson also erected his house, were granted to him by the town, probably in the very first season of their occupation, and before any formal records that we know of were kept.”

A gristmill was important to Englishmen. Their basic diet was bread, ale, cabbage, peas and a bit of meat. The native population made cornmeal cakes, grinding the corn into meal using a mortar and pestle. But the new settlers found this method to be cumbersome. Olive Tardiff, in her book Exeter Squamscott: River of Many Uses, explains the rush to build a gristmill: “Grinding by hand was much too time-consuming for the hewers of logs and builders of homes. A gristmill could free busy hands for more important work.”

Wilson, and later his heirs, functioned as the town’s only gristmill until 1670, when enterprising John Gilman decided to get in on the action and set up his mill on the opposite side of the falls. The townsmen must have felt that Gilman’s mill was superior to the old Wilson mill because they voted to, “give all the right the town have in the stream and island to Captain John Gilman, where the said Gilman’s corn-mill now stands, with privilege for a bridge to go on to the island; and the abovesaid John Gilman doth oblige himself to grind the inhabitants’ corn when wanted, for two quarts in every bushel.” Millers worked for shares. Cornmeal and flour were very marketable, so this was a good deal for Gilman. Travelers through Exeter, including George Washington, mention 10 gristmills along the Exeter River before 1800.

Most likely, the early Exeter gristmills were primarily grinding corn, although it can be difficult to tell from the records. Englishmen used the word ‘corn’ to mean any type of grain, but maize or Indian corn was locally the most successful crop. Within a few years of settlement, they would branch out to grow rye, wheat and barley. Barley was needed for the production of ale and beer. Rye flour was used with cornmeal to create the most common bread, usually called ‘rye ‘n’ injun,’ which was eaten all across New England. If we traveled back in time to the 18th century we’d discover the bread to be darker, heavier and chewier than any we’re used to today. On the whole, it was quite healthy.

The Phineas Merrill map of 1802 – our earliest accurate map of the town – shows four gristmills clustered around the falls in the center of town. Their location at the falls indicates that all are using water power. Even the gristmill mentioned by Charles Bell in 1888 is on the river. But sometime before Bell wrote his history, Exeter had its first steam powered gristmill.

First appearing on the 1874 map on Arbor Street, the steam gristmill doesn’t list an owner. Placed by the B&M depot, the business was well-placed for modern transportation of both raw material and finished product. But somehow, it didn’t prosper. In 1889, the Exeter News-Letter remarked that, “the project is discussed of organizing a company with almost $1200 of capital for the purchase and operation of a long disused steam grist mill. Well managed, the business would pay good return.” Within three months they could announce, “The entire plant was purchased by Francis Hilliard Esq. of Kensington. He has associated himself with Mr. C.S. Button, senior member of Button Brothers who will run the mill.” The Button Brothers bakery was a thriving business on Union Street. It was no wonder one of the brothers would be interested in milling flour. Improvements were made and the mill reported a year later that, “business is steadily increasing, a new roller mill now being introduced will greatly cheapen the cost of production and enable the firm to do wholesale business to better advantage.” Christian Button would remain the mill manager until it was sold to William Jenkins in 1897.

Primarily a wholesale dealer, Jenkins expanded to become a dealer in hay, grain, straw and feed. A business directory from 1907 declared that, “it requires 150 carloads of grain annually to meet the requirements of their trade. Special features are made of White Witch and White Lily flours. These brands have come to be recognized in this vicinity as the leaders in the flour trade.” White Lily flour is still popular today in the southern parts of the United States, although it cannot be found (or is difficult to find) in New England. W.M. Jenkins closed up for good in 1924. The buildings were later used by the Rockingham Farmers Exchange and later the Merrimack Farmers Exchange, which existed as a farmer’s collective until an embezzlement scandal in 1982 closed it down. The Merrimack Farmers Exchange was later purchased by Blue Seal. By that time, it was no longer functioning as a gristmill. Exeter’s founding mechanical industry was no longer needed.

Images: C.S. Button’s steam gristmill – taken from the 1896 Birdseye Map of Exeter (an illustration) and Jenkin’s steam gristmill – from a 1907 Business Guide to Exeter (a photo, admittedly quite fuzzy and dotty). It should be noted that these are the same gristmill on Arbor Street. Only the owners changed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Our May 2016 Exeter History Minute

In the early 1900s, most nurses were educated at hospital-based schools and Exeter’s nurses were no exception. From 1906 to 1935, Exeter Hospital ran a successful training school for nurses – not only were the young women prepared for a career in nursing, but they were housed and paid during their training. In this episode of the Exeter History Minute -- click here to watch -- Barbara delves into the history of this local program that launched early 20th century women into careers while providing nursing staff for hospitals nation-wide. This history minute is generously sponsored by Exeter Hospital, www.corephysicians.org.

We have dedicated this Exeter History Minute to Pauline Fifield Kenick, a 1933 graduate of the Exeter Hospital Training School for Nurses. In 2006, Mrs. Kenick provided the majority of the photos for the history wall at Exeter Hospital, and donated her uniform – and other items – to the Exeter Historical Society. She died May 2, 2016, at the age of 106. 

In 2005, the NH Commission on the Status of Women conceived of the Women’s Heritage Trail to give visible recognition to the significant participation and contributions of women in the life and culture of the state since its founding. The Exeter Hospital Training School is featured on the trail. Visit their website to learn more: www.NHWomensHeritageTrail.org.

To help us continue to produce Exeter History Minutes, go to http://bit.ly/DonateEHS to make a gift of any size. To learn more about Exeter history, visit our website, www.exeterhistory.org. #ExeterHistoryMinute


Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Sidewalks

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, May 6, 2016.

Of course, people used to walk a great deal more than we do today. Walking was how one got around town and did the marketing. But the walking wasn’t always that great. “The mud is ankle deep,” lamented B. Judkins Perkins in March of 1860, politely not mentioning that the roadway was a mix of mud and manure. Perkins lived a mile outside the center of town, he wouldn’t expect there to be any kind of sidewalk out in the sticks. Exeter’s business district was slightly better for foot traffic. Providing a safe and clean walkway for customers was considered necessary for the merchants of the town.

The first sidewalks were probably constructed of wood. Individual shop keepers constructed boardwalks to prevent people from tracking in too much crud from the street and, as they were raised higher than street level, to serve as a barrier for road traffic. You might think that a horse would know enough not to crash into a shop window, but you’d be wrong. Horses and oxen often went out of control. Wagons had only the most rudimentary brakes and sleighs had none. Keeping road traffic away from pedestrians and buildings was very important.

The downside of wood, of course, was that it needed to be repaired and replaced often. In some parts of town this wasn’t much of a problem – Court Street retained its plank walkways through the end of the nineteenth century. Planking was also used as seasonal walkways at the Robinson Female Seminary and Phillips Exeter Academy. If you’ve ever tried to shovel snow from a gravel driveway you’ll understand why it was easier to clear a planked sidewalk.

Sometime in the early nineteenth century the boardwalks in the downtown of Exeter began to disappear. Walkways were set apart from the street by the installation of curbstones. This was enough to stop an errant wagon. Granite hitching posts were added to create a psychological barrier most animals needed to keep them off the sidewalk. The path itself was then filled with ‘cinders,’ the crunchy residue left after burning coal. Once stomped down by enough pedestrians, it made a hard surface. Holes and divots could easily be filled with more cinders.

The next sidewalk idea was concrete. As the current sidewalks are excavated there has been some surprise as layers of old concrete are found. There is some written evidence that downtown businesses were installing concrete sidewalks as early as the 1860s. Concrete is not a new technology, although it has been greatly improved since the Romans used in in 70 AD to build the Colosseum. Nineteenth century concrete was prone to cracking and buckling as our wild temperature variations shift the ground beneath the sidewalks. By the late 1860s, our sidewalks were a mess of old concrete, cracked brick, packed cinder and old planking. In 1870, the local businesses and churches decided to pool their resources and have the whole job done by one firm – W.K. Stratton and Company. Each business paid a fee of 65 cents per yard. The town paid for sidewalks in front of public property – total cost for the project (both public and private) came to $1475.96. The whole thing was viewed favorably. Not only did the walking improve, but it spruced up the town. “We notice with pleasure the laying of a fine curbstone on Front Street from the Methodist Church to Water Street in front of the Town hall. The sidewalk is being widened in places and narrowed in other, thus giving it a desirable uniformity,” crowed the Exeter News-Letter.

These sidewalks lasted nearly twenty years before they inevitably cracked and were patched piecemeal with cement or brick. The next wave of sidewalk improvement happened in the 1920s. By this time, the rise of the automobile made the public far more aware of the need for smooth surfaces. The town approved the installation of granolithic concrete sidewalks – similar to old concrete, but with more stone imbedded for durability. Nancy Merrill tells us, in her History of Exeter, NH 1888-1988, that in 1925, “the Chamber of Commerce convinced the merchants along Water Street to purchase sidewalk flags. Sockets were drilled in the sidewalk along Water Street by the flag company. The new granolithic sidewalk on the northern side of water Street between the Merrill Block and the Janvrin Block was finished in mid- August. The chamber suggested ‘one more band concert’ to celebrate and to have all the new flags flying. It was a beautiful day for the celebration, and the square was thronged with those who enjoyed the ‘spectacle of great beauty;’ the band concert from 8:00pm to 9:00pm was followed by dancing in the square from 9:00pm until 10:00pm.” Exeter is possibly the only town that ever threw a party for new sidewalks.

Of course, those beautiful sidewalks also cracked, but they took longer to crack than earlier ones. Post World War II austerity patched the walks with asphalt – a quick fix, if imperfect. Our new sidewalks won’t last forever, but newer mixes of concrete and the inclusion of expansion joints should prolong their lifespan considerably. In the meantime, the improvements are pure joy to the walker. It’s practically a party just to navigate the downtown without tripping over loose pavement. Perhaps we should throw a second great sidewalk party and call it an Exeter tradition.

Image: The piecemeal condition of Exeter’s sidewalks before the installation of granolithic concrete in 1925 is evident in this photo of Haley’s Meat Market on Water Street.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Singing School

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, April 22, 2016.

The Puritans who settled New England were not known for their singing talents. Music during a worship service was just a bit too close to entertainment, and so they had banned musical instruments and restricted music to a Capella singing. Psalms and other poetry from the Bible were considered prayer when sung, so the requirement was there – but apparently not the talent. With few psalm books available and no instrument to play the melody, hymns at church were sung using a system called lining-out. A clerk would read a line of the psalm and then the congregation would sing it in response, the tune differing from week to week and from church to church. Without guidance from a songbook or musical notation, the music was frequently garbled as it was easy to mix-up one tune with another.

In 1721, Reverend Cotton Mather of the Massachusetts Bay Colony preached (and later published) a sermon called, “The Accomplished Singer” encouraging the revival of ‘regular singing.’ Linda Ruggles, Lecturer of History at the University of Maryland, tells us that, “a number of ministers preached and wrote during the 1720s of the deplorable state of singing in the New England churches and strove to institute Regular Singing as the accepted style in worship.” But unsurprisingly, there was resistance from the congregation. Learning proper singing took effort and seemed like a frivolous endeavor. The pace of improvement was glacial. Still, Harvard was teaching its divinity students proper singing, and the practice and acceptance of singing schools slowly began to spread.

An early notice of a singing school in Exeter was placed in the Constitutionalist, a newspaper published in town in January of 1813. “William M. Butler would respectfully inform those from whom he has received encouragement and the young Ladies and Gentlemen in town and vicinity, that he should commence upon a second term on Tuesday Evening the 26th at the Centre School House. All those who subscribe to this school will be carried through the first principles of Musick, for the purpose of facilitating their future progress.” Mr. Butler’s singing school tuition was, “one dollar, to be paid at the end of the quarter; the Scholars furnishing the School with lights.”

Likewise, in 1818, Reverend Hosea Hildreth, an instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy, announced his singing school would open in February. “At the desire of several friends Mr. Hildreth will open a school on next Tuesday evening for instructing young Ladies and Gentlemen in Sacred Musick; provided twenty should previously apply for instruction.” Hildreth charged two dollars for his singing school.

Those who had presumably worked their way through a course in regular singing could join the Rockingham Sacred Musick Society, which met in Exeter or Portsmouth. Each year, at their annual meeting, the Society hosted an esteemed speaker – usually a local minister – to explain why choral singing, particularly good quality choral singing, was considered a form of prayer. North Hampton minister Jonathan French, in his 1816 address, made the case that music was always sacred, “we infer the fondness of the ancients for music from the wonderful effects they ascribe to it. It is said that by music diseases were cured, strong propensities controlled, seditions quelled, and passions raised and calmed.” But he was concerned that modern secular music was too profane for Sunday. “Does not performance of some, necessarily resemble the jargon of Babel, and the confused noise of the discordant assembly at Ephesus, some crying one thing, and some another?” Stick to sacred music, he encouraged, and not “modern fugueing tunes.”

Fuguing tunes were hardly gangsta rap. They were still hymns, but were set to four-part harmony. Both the Exeter singing masters taught this type of singing as evidenced by their use of the songbook, “Village Harmony.” This classic New England songbook was published in Exeter and went through multiple editions. Butler instructed his students, “It is earnestly recommended, that the scholars be furnished with the Eleventh Edition of the Village Harmony, a book containing a correct and pleasing variety of Psalmody.” Who wouldn’t want to learn from a book that advised: “Never sing through the nose, for that will spoil the voice, make the musick disagreeable, and have a disgusting effect upon the hearer.”

Whether singing schools improved the music in church was debatable. Elizabeth Dow Leonard remembered the music of her youth unkindly. “The volunteer choir troubles were often very amusing and always perpetual. The tune used to be started or ‘pitched,’ as it was termed, with a pitch-pipe, the leader and such of the choir as were supposed to be masters of music ‘beating time’ with the hand instead of a baton.” “The singers performed their parts with spirit and understanding also, making up what was deficient in science and harmony with unction and noise.” By mid-century, the co-educational nature of singing schools facilitated a shift from worship to courtship, and for this they were still a valuable occupation.

Image: New England singing schools used The Village Harmony as the songbook. This edition was published in Exeter by J.J. Williams in 1819, and was sold throughout the region.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Carriage Industry in Exeter

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, April 8, 2016.

A visitor to Exeter in the early 1800s would have quickly noticed that one of the busiest industries in town was carriage manufacturing. Today we’re used to a landscape peppered with businesses associated with our cars. There are gas stations, repair stations, glass repair, body shops, muffler and oil change shops, car dealerships and tire sales. It’s not uncommon for our car to be serviced at three or four different types of establishments. Although it may seem like the horse and buggy days were a simpler time, the carriage industry required similar numbers of diverse support services.

Before the nineteenth century few people owned their own carriage. People traveled by walking, riding horseback or paddling across water. Goods were moved from one place to another largely with two-wheeled carts, either pulled by people or a single horse. It was so uncommon for individuals to own a light carriage that most towns in New England documented the first person to have one. Indeed, Exeter is no exception as historian Charles Bell notes in History of the Town of Exeter, New Hampshire, “The first light carriage used in the town, according to tradition, was introduced by the Rev. Daniel Rogers, about the year 1754. It was of two wheels, and without a top, much like what in later times, was termed a gig. Before that time Mr. Rogers always rode to his meetings on horseback. A few years afterwards, Brigadier Peter Gilman brought into town the first fall-back chaise with a square top.”

The chaise (sometimes spelled and pronounced ‘shay’ as in the ‘one-horse shay’) was well suited to the rough roads of the early nineteenth century. The wheels were quite large, lifting the rider well above the mud and slush of the unpaved roadway, and two wheels allowed it to bump along fairly easily. The names chaise and gig are often used interchangeably, but the distinction is that a gig, as Bell mentioned, did not have a top. A chaise had a retractable cover called a calash, which could be pulled overhead in case of rain or to provide shade. These early vehicles were purchased primarily by the wealthier people in town or, as in the case of the Rev. Rogers, those whose livelihoods required a great deal of travel such as ministers or doctors. Carriages were made slowly by local craftsmen and could be quite expensive.

Still, there was demand for less expensive models and this, combined with improvements in roads, created a strong market for four-wheeled carriages. By mid-century, the industry took off in Exeter. Bell says, “Chaise, carriage and harness making became subsequently a very considerable business in Exeter, for a long period, extending from the latter part of the last century down to near the present time (1888).

Records at the Exeter Historical Society tell us that in the 1872 town directory, when the population of Exeter was about 3,440, there were 41 men connected with the carriage business, and this doesn’t include apprentices. The businesses associated with the industry are described as: carriage manufacturer, carriage maker, carriage works, wagon maker, carriage trimmer, harness maker and trimmer, carriage woodworker, machine and carriage blacksmith, carriage painter, sign and carriage painter, carriage and sleigh painter, carriage painter and builder and carriage dealer. Nancy Merrill, the curator until 2000, wasn’t able to locate any wheelwrights in 1872, but there had been wheelwrights in town in previous decades. Perhaps the carriage makers in 1872 were securing the wheels from another town.

This diversification of the industry into select parts may seem inefficient, but it actually brought down both the price and production time of carriages. The basic frame and assembly might be completed in one shop and the paint job – and the paint was important to protect the wood and add an esthetically pleasing look – in another. Iron parts were produced and repaired in the same blacksmith shop that shoed one’s horse. And speaking of the horse, this was an entirely separate industry. The family horse needed to be housed either in the barn at home or boarded at the local livery stable. It needed medical care, proper shoes and a harness suited to its personal needs. Just as we have to put gas in the car and make sure the oil is changed regularly, a horse needed feed, water and regular stall cleaning. You couldn’t just park it for the season and forget about it.

With all the carriage manufacturing that went on in town, it’s a bit odd that we don’t have any examples of Exeter carriages to look at. They’re probably out there, but carriage makers didn’t commonly sign their work and unlike other craftsmen, they didn’t leave detailed plans describing their designs. Most of the wagons and carriages made in Exeter were produced before the 1890s and were simply allowed to decay in the following decades. By the turn of the century, carriage making in Exeter was on the decline. Bell’s theory was that there weren’t enough young men willing to take up the craft. This might be true, or it could be that the rise of the mail order catalog - the Amazon of its day – cut into local production. A lightweight carriage could be ordered from Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Ward and it would arrive by rail. Either way, as we look back on the era from modern times we know that the carriage industry was doomed as soon as automobiles were invented. Who wants to muck out the horse stall when you can simply buy a few gallons of gas instead?

Fear not, however, the entire horse and buggy industry converted to the modern era. Livery stables and blacksmith shops became the mechanics garage. Gas stations popped up all over the place. As technology changes so does the commercial landscape. We no longer have video stores and travel agencies are waning, but smart phone repair shops are doing well. Soon we’ll all be lining up for self-driving car rental services and we’ll wonder why we ever bothered with car payments.

Photo: George Green poses in front of his carriage painting shop on Court Street in the mid 1870s. As both a blacksmith and painter, Green was part of the large carriage producing industry that once thrived in Exeter.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Journey of the Giddings House

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, March 25, 2016.

Of all the houses that have been moved in Exeter, the one that has moved the farthest is the John Giddings house. Erected in the 1750s overlooking the Squamscott River, it now resides in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The story of its journey involves the visions of two industrialists and their nostalgia for New England village life.

Henry Ford was not from New England. Born and raised in Michigan by parents of immigrant stock, he early rejected his father’s hopes that he would take over the family farm. Drawn to the intoxicating world of machines and technology, Ford made his fortune manufacturing automobiles. His groundbreaking use of the moving assembly line allowed cars to be manufactured for the mass market. But even though he was credited with the creation of the modern industrial lifestyle, in his later years he was overcome with sentimentality for the pastoral life he had earlier renounced. He began collecting Americana in an effort to recreate a typical pre-industrial village as a kind of study center. His creation, Greenfield Village, became part of the larger Henry Ford Museum. Dedicated on October 21, 1929 – a week before the big stock market crash that marks the beginning of the Great Depression – the museum was dedicated to the work of Thomas Edison. A bit like Walt Disney’s fabricated “Main Street U.S.A.” Greenfield Village creates a dreamscape of American life on the cusp of modernity. The heroes of Ford’s imagined village are the sturdy independent thinkers – the farmers who accepted innovation, the craftsmen who perfected their ironwork and pottery and glassmaking. Unlike Disney, Ford wanted authenticity and sent agents throughout the country, mainly New England, to purchase examples for his village. Ford was quoted in a promotional article published in the Exeter News-Letter, “The farther one can look back, the farther he can look ahead.”

“An antique village, built around an old New England town common, will contain houses and shops of various periods since colonial days,” continued the article. “Handicraft trades will be perpetuated in them.” What better example of an ‘antique village’ could there be than Exeter, New Hampshire? Ford’s agents arrived as early as 1927 to rummage around for possible exhibits. The Lamson Pottery, which could trace its origins in Exeter back to 1771, sold much of its equipment to the museum. The Exeter Machine Works provided an old steam engine and the Exeter Gas Works sold them an old coal gas machine to demonstrate how the gas for old fashioned gaslights was manufactured.

The largest purchase Ford made in Exeter was locally called the old Batchelder house. Standing at the top of a hill on outer Water Street at the corner of Salem Street, the house didn’t look like much to most Exeter residents. Even the Exeter News-Letter editor John Templeton seemed a bit perplexed, noting: “The Batchelder house on Secretary Hill has been purchased by Henry Ford. It will be carefully taken down and the material shipped to Dearborn, Mich., for rebuilding in the Ford museum village. Exeter has much older houses and others of greater interest, but in this one there is much fine woodwork.” What most Exeter residents missed was that this particular house had more historic value than they assumed. Just the fact that it was located on ‘Secretary Hill’ should have been a clue about its importance. That particular hill is named for Joseph Pearson who served as New Hampshire’s Secretary of State from 1786 – 1804. The house came to him upon his marriage to Dorothy Giddings in 1795. Dorothy’s father, John Giddings built the house sometime in the 1750s and ran a small mercantile business from his wharf below on the Squamscott River. His account book, which reveals transactions primarily through barter, is in the collections of the Exeter Historical Society. Most of his goods were shipped through the West Indies, indirectly bringing textiles from Great Britain and, good lord, an amazing amount of sugar and rum. Had the teetotaling Henry Ford known how much rum came through the warehouse of John Giddings, he may have thought twice about the building as an example of stoic New England.

Nevertheless, in August of 1929 the entire house was carefully disassembled, numbered and shipped to Dearborn. There it was reassembled, although it wasn’t quite finished at the time of the museum’s big dedication in October. Various Exeter citizens have travelled out to the Ford Museum to visit the house and have reported back that it’s in good shape. You’ll find it in Greenfield Village’s “Parlors and Porches” district.

The empty place on Secretary Hill didn’t stay empty very long. Another nostalgic industrialist, Ambrose Swasey, was intent on creating a pastoral New England village. But Swasey was actually from Exeter and he was tired of the old dump on the west side of the Squamscott River. In 1929 he donated the funds to create the Exeter Shore Parkway, later renamed Swasey Parkway in his honor. To make room for this treasure, numerous buildings had to be torn down or moved. The elegant Furnald House was relocated to the top of Secretary Hill on the site of the old Giddings house. Today it looks like it has stood there forever.

Photo: The John Giddings house being carefully disassembled in August of 1929. The building was reassembled in Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Historic Dudley Gravesite

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, March 11, 2016.

You’ve probably passed it on the way out of town on Newfields Road – a marker that looks a bit like a gravestone with the words, “Historic Dudley Gravesite” deeply carved onto the surface. The name “Dudley,” like the name “Wheelwright,” is an important one in Exeter’s early history. But who was this historic Dudley?

The Reverend John Wheelwright is credited with leading a group of religious dissenters out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the relative wilderness of Exeter in 1638. Caught up in a controversy about the very nature of their faith, this small group of people had been excommunicated and exiled. But within five years of settling on the Squamscott, more people had arrived and they voted to become part of Massachusetts for protection. Wheelwright and his followers left by 1643, leaving the town slightly depleted in population and, more importantly, without a minister to act as leader.

For seven years, the town had no settled minister. The aptly named Hatevil Nutter agreed to be the town’s “exhorter” – not quite a minister, more like a spiritual advisor - providing the townsmen erected a fence around his land on the Lamprey River. He served his time until the fence was completed in 1650, at which point, Nutter and the town seemed satisfied that the agreement had been met. A new minister was recruited from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Who could be better than the Reverend Samuel Dudley – son of Massachusetts governor, Thomas Dudley?

Samuel Dudley was the man the town wanted. He had the education and pedigree everyone craved and he was in no way a theological liability. It took a fair amount of bargaining to lure Dudley to Exeter. Most towns found it difficult to pay their minister, and Dudley was taking no chances. He received land, firewood, a home (the one Wheelwright had left) and payment in the form of valuable lumber. During his time in town he was able to renegotiate his holdings and died a rich man. Surely his grave is worthy of a roadside marker labeled “historic.”

But Samuel Dudley is not buried on the edge of the Squamscott River where the marker directs us. He’s buried just off of Green Street. The marker on Newfields Road points to the grave of James Dudley, one of the Reverend Samuel’s 18 children. James was born in 1663, to Samuel’s third wife, Elizabeth. He was one of the younger children, born when his father was 55 years old. Little is known about James. He received a grant of land from the town, as most men did in the 1600s. He married Elizabeth Leavitt of Exeter, but died at the age of 57 “s.p.” – Latin for sine prole “without descendants.” Genealogists typically don’t spend a lot of time on the part of the family tree that didn’t branch forward. A note from Exeter genealogist Elizabeth Knowles Folsom lists him as a shipmaster and merchant, so perhaps he was at sea a great deal and that’s why he doesn’t show up in the town records as a selectman or town clerk or measurer of wood and bark.

The grave was mentioned in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register Vol. 16 in 1862. The Rev. Elias Nason described the stone as “resting on some rude masonery about two feet from the earth.” The inscription reads, “Here Lyes Buried the Body of Mr. James Dudley who departed this life Nover the 14th 1720 in the 57th year of his age. He was the son to the Rev Mr. Samuel Dudley, Minister of the gospel in Exeter and grandson to the Honourable Thomas Dudley, Esqr one of the first Governours of New England.” By the 1930s, when Walter Pennell was researching Exeter graves, the stone was in poor condition. His description: “the slab, about 31” x 67” is of red stone of a similar kind to that used for his father’s grave, and the shape is also somewhat similar. About the slab are some field stones which may have been used at one time to support it.” He also noted, “It has been said that at one time there were other graves here of the Lyford family. Rebecca, the sister of James Dudley, married Francis Lyford and she inherited from her father’s estate, the field in which the grave is located.” Today there is no trace of additional graves.

The land was eventually purchased by the Swasey family and came into the possession of Exeter industrialist Ambrose Swasey. Swasey left the land to his niece, Leona Henderson, in 1937. The Henderson family, with the advice and assistance of the Exeter Historical Society, made repairs to the gravesite in 1971, and erected the roadside marker seen today. Concerned that even these upgrades might be lost, they wrote up a document explaining how they’d gone about the work, encased it in a brass tube and had it buried beneath the concrete in front of the slab. Warren J. Henderson, Leona’s husband, noted in the document, “It is to be hoped that this gravesite will be allowed to remain unto eternity, but though possible, it might not be probable, and if ever dug up, this capsule under the slab should be intact and legible.” He signed the note, “Most Humbly, Warren J. Henderson.”

James Dudley was probably buried beneath his somewhat elaborate grave marker because of his lineage. It’s certainly telling that his birth date is not listed, but his parentage is. His wife, Elizabeth Leavitt, married twice after his death. It is unlikely that hers was one of the other graves on the Lyford property. With no direct descendants, it is unusual that the tiny cemetery survived the centuries. The Swaseys and the Hendersons proved to be the adopted family James Dudley needed to cherish his memory. Humble indeed.