Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jude Hall and his Family

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, February 28, 2014.

Just off Drinkwater Road, on land owned by Phillips Exeter Academy, there’s a small body of water called ‘Jude’s Pond.’ This picturesque spot was once the home of Jude Hall, a former slave and Revolutionary War veteran. His life story reflects the difficulties that most New England African Americans had to bear in the early republic.

Hall was born in 1747, most likely in Newmarket, and was enslaved first to Philemon Blake and later to Nathaniel Healy. When the Revolution broke out, Hall ran away and joined the Continental Army. George Quintal’s “Patriots of Color,” which studied the battles of Bunker Hill and Battle Road, remarked, “This study confirms what the Revolutionary soldiers knew first-hand: the great mass of the 1775 army, excluding officers, was completely integrated. This level of integration did not occur in the Civil War, or for that matter World War II, but only reached similar levels in the Vietnam Conflict nearly two hundred years later.” Jude Hall remained with the Continental Army for seven years, and participated in fighting at Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, Trenton, Hubbardton, Saratoga and Monmouth. Injured several times, he reenlisted and was discharged in 1783.

Granted his freedom and some land, he settled in Exeter. Exeter’s free-Black population swelled after the war, eventually comprising nearly 5% of populace in town. Jude Hall married Rhoda Paul in 1785 and together they had twelve children. Locating records for the family is difficult. Births were not always registered, so it can be difficult to document what happened to their children. Rhoda was descended from a noted Exeter family beginning with her father, Caesar Paul. Caesar had been enslaved in his youth to Major John Gilman and accompanied his master during the French and Indian War. On returning to town, he was freed in 1771 and shortly thereafter married Lovey Rollins, the daughter of Stratham lawyer Caleb Rollins. Rhoda was one of Caesar and Lovey’s ten children. Three of her brothers became noted Baptist preachers.

We know little about the everyday life of Jude and Rhoda. He is described as a ‘yeoman,’ or land-owning farmer, but it is doubtful that he was ever wealthy. When asked to describe his property to reapply for his military pension in 1820, he listed only: “One small one story house two rooms in it, a few plates, earthen shovel & tongs, a few other articles of furniture of small value.”

Hall served as a witness in the murder trial of John Blaisdell in 1822. The murderer, Blaisdell, had brought the victim, John Wadleigh, to Hall’s house. Jude assisted the injured man back to his own place and stayed with him through the night until he died. The trial transcript allows us to hear Hall’s voice, “After Wadleigh got over his chill and shuddering he said Captain (meaning me) how long have you been here - - and then he gave a sithe and was gone again.”

Although Jude Hall was trusted enough to testify in court, it was still not possible for free people of color to live unthreatened. Robert Roberts, who had married Jude and Rhoda’s eldest daughter, Dorothy, would later testify about the fates of three of the Hall children. James was kidnapped at the age of 18 from the Hall home. David Wedgewood, of Exeter, claimed that James owed him four dollars and that he was justified in dragging him away from his mother. He was sold into slavery and never returned to Exeter. Roberts said, in 1833, “He was seen, not long since, at New Orleans, by George Ashton, a colored man, from Exeter; he said he was chained up in the calaboose or jail, at New Orleans, as a run-away; and, in the mean time, his master came, and commanded him to be punished severely, and carried him back.”

Aaron, another son, put to sea in Providence and signed a promissory note for $20.00 to pay for his sea clothes. On his return, the merchant demanded $200.00. Roberts related his fate, “he started from Providence to carry his money to his father, and was overtaken to Roxbury, on his way home, and carried back, sent to sea, and has not been heard of since.”

William also thought a seafaring life would offer independence and income and sailed out of Newburyport. “After arriving at the West Indies, was sold there as a slave; and, after remaining in slavery ten years, by some means run away, and is now in England, a captain of a collier from Newcastle to London. About three years ago, his mother heard of him, the first time for upwards of twenty years.”

Jude Hall didn’t live long enough to hear from William. He died in 1827 at the age of 80. Rhoda moved to Belfast, Maine, to be with their daughter. She applied for and received the widow’s pension due her for her husband’s loyal service in the Revolutionary War. Jude Hall had fought to free a nation, but was ultimately unable to see his own children granted freedom.

Photo: Jude’s Pond, named for former slave and Revolutionary War veteran Jude Hall, off the Drinkwater Road in Exeter.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Exeter History Minute - The Mysterious Doctor Windship

Dr. Windship's name appears on the 1802 Map of Exeter, indicating that he occupied the house that sat approximately where the Folsom Tavern is now. For years, Dr. Windship mystified the staff of the Exeter Historical Society. He doesn't appear on either the 1800 or 1810 census, and did not own the house in which he lived. So, who was he? Tune in to this Exeter History Minute to find out! Click here to view. This Exeter History Minute is sponsored by Commonwealth Dynamics, Inc.

To learn more about Exeter history -- or to support the Exeter Historical Society -- visit our website, #ExeterHistoryMinute

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Exeter Dam

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, February 14, 2014.

The dam seems like it has been here forever, but we know it has not. The native people who lived in Exeter for thousands of years before the English arrived did not dam the river. They set up fishing weirs to trap the migratory fish, but these allowed a free flow of water and not all the fish were impeded on their trek up and over the falls for breeding. Englishmen, led by the Reverend John Wheelwright, arrived in 1638 and were attracted to the waterfalls on the river for commercial reasons. River water could be harnessed and used for all manner of mechanization. Mill wheels could be erected on nearly any type of moving water.

Pinning down the exact date of construction for the Exeter dam has always been difficult. The reason the Exeter Historical Society and the recent study completed by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. for the Town of Exeter cannot provide a specific date is that we simply don’t know. The records are sparse on the origins of the dam. The first mill erected on the river was Thomas Wilson’s grist mill, which produced flour or cornmeal on shares. Wilson was granted the right to build his mill in 1639 on the east side of the river at the lower falls. It’s entirely possible that Wilson’s was the first dam on the river. Dams located at Kimball’s Island can be seen on the earliest map of Exeter, made in 1802 by Phineas Merrill. There seem to have been dams on either side of String Bridge well into the 20th century, but they have been removed before the 1924 Sanborn maps were printed.

The upper or ‘Great Dam’ – the one that still exists today – is located on roughly the same place as many earlier dams. Edward Gilman, Jr. was granted the right to build a much needed sawmill on both sides of the Exeter River in 1647. Although there is no direct evidence, it is presumed he constructed the dam at about this time. It is well recorded on the Phineas Merrill map of 1802 when there are any number of small mills located between and just below the two sets of dams. George Washington, during his 1789 visit to Exeter, noted, “in the town are considerable falls which supply several grist mills, two oil mills, a slitting mill and snuff mill.” For a time, there was great diversity in the type of production coming from the Exeter River.

It was noticed as early as 1795 that the dam was impeding the annual fish runs. Dr. Samuel Tenney, in a written account of the town, noted, “there was formerly, at the falls in this town, an alewife fishery, which afforded an abundant supply of that kind of fish, for the inhabitants of the town and vicinity. But for want of sluices in the dams, by which they might ascend the fresh river, and gain proper places for spawning, they have, for many years, almost disappeared.”

All this would stop when the industrial revolution came to town in the form of the Exeter Mill and Water Power Company in 1827. After a careful assessment of the river, it was determined that a large textile factory could be built if water rights could be secured. The Exeter Mill and Water Power Company bought out all the small mills and water rights along the river to supply power to the newly created Exeter Manufacturing Company. The dam was mentioned at a meeting held on January 30, 1828 granting the Exeter Manufacturing Company use of “the water in Exeter River raised by the present dam erected across said River at the upper falls in Exeter village, or which may be raised by a dam to be erected at or near the same place and of the same elevation and height as the present dam, and to be erected and forever repaired and maintained by the grantors and their successors.” This doesn’t tell us the state of the dam or how it was constructed, but it is an indication that it was commercially valuable. In 1861, the Exeter Mill and Water Power Company signed over all rights to the Exeter Manufacturing Company.

From here, the history of the mill becomes the story of the Exeter Manufacturing Company. We’ve puzzled over what type of dam it was – the only hints came from reports of spring floods when the flashing boards are reported as being scoured away by ice floes. The top of the dam, at least, seems to have been of wood. Four huge water wheels supplied all the power for the mill until the 1870s when a steam plant was erected. The wheels were fed water through a penstock that snaked underground below Chestnut Street. Sometimes referred to as a ‘flume’ the penstock needed frequent upkeep and repair.

In 1913, the Exeter News-Letter reported that “The Exeter Manufacturing Company is about to build a concrete dam and flume to replace the similar structures of wood” and we finally get an idea of what the old dam was made of. It wasn’t uncommon to have a dam made of wood, but concrete made the structure much sturdier, and indeed this is the same dam that stands today. It was topped with an extra 14 inches of concrete in 1943, “to give more water and consequently more power – thus displacing the flashboards used to raise the level of the water.” The Exeter Manufacturing Company continued to supplement electric and steam power with water power until it was sold in 1954.

In 1968, to address the problem of fish migration, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department installed a fish ladder and weir, which has proved to be only marginally successful. It seems the fish have suffered since the first dam crossed the Exeter River in the mid-1600s.

The Town of Exeter has owned and controlled the dam and water rights since 1981, when Milliken, the parent company of Clemson Manufacturing Company determined water power was no longer necessary for production, thus ending the river’s industrial use. The dam stands today as a reminder of our manufacturing past.

Photo: The Exeter Dam during a spring freshet, March 1, 1902. This dam was replaced in late 1913 with a more permanent concrete structure that took over four months to construct.