History of Nineteenth Century New Hampshire

New Hampshire Early History

New Hampshire is the traditional homeland of the Abenaki people; the “People of the First Light,” or “People of the Dawnland,” connecting them to the people living in the east where the sun rises. According to archaeological evidence, native people have been living in New Hampshire for over 13,000 years. European settlers first arrived in the New Hampshire region in the early 17th century, bringing genocide, disease, and warfare with them.

In 1623, John Mason, a merchant from England, received a land grant in New England and developed base camps for mariners to begin fishing and trading. The area was named New Hampshire, after Mason’s home county of Hampshire, England. Seven years later, Mason helped establish the state’s capitol, the town of Portsmouth. 

New Hampshire was among the original 13 colonies and played a role in American independence from England, sending troops and supplies throughout the Revolutionary War. In 1776, it was the first colony to declare its independence from England as well as the first colony to have its own state constitution. In June of 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state in the Union, as the final state needed to ratify the US Constitution. 

New Hampshire from 1800-1815

At the turn of the turn of the nineteenth century, the people of New Hampshire were living in an exciting time. The state was growing rapidly following the establishment of both the state itself and the entire nation. In 1796, the New Hampshire turnpike was built, connecting Concord to the seacoast and connecting the state in new ways. Known as the turnpike era for New England, between 1790 and 1840, states across New England acquired extensive road networks. 

Agriculture was flourishing and manufacturing was developing quickly. Water powered textile mills were built along the fast flowing rivers across New Hampshire. In 1803, the first cotton spinning factory in the state was established in New Ipswitch. It was among the earliest in the country. 

During these years, industrialization was rapidly expanding across all of New England and changing the very nature of work by deskilling tasks and breaking down the process of production into basic steps. Throughout the nineteenth century, life in New England changed dramatically and labor shifted towards wage based factory work. The state’s roots in slave labor was quickly forgotten as the establishment of New Hampshire’s first industrial mills and massive influxes of immigrants created a new laboring lower class. 

The beginnings of industrialization transformed the standard of living as well, leading to a growing disparity of wealth between the rich and poor. Attitudes surrounding poverty and how the poor should be cared for were transforming as care of the poor became part of a rising tide of general social reform; the town became responsible for their support. Town “selectmen” and “overseers of the poor” were made responsible for administering to the needs of the poor.

History of Slavery, Indentured Servitude and Labor in New Hampshire

Advertisement posting the escape of an Indentured Servant in Keene, NH.
Advertisement Identifier: 18100804_01, Image Source: Digital Archives of the New Hampshire State Library

In the neighboring state of Massachusetts, slavery was abolished in 1783. In Vermont, slavery was abolished in 1790. It was not until the year 1857 that New Hampshire would officially abolish slavery through the state legislature. 

Enslaved Africans were noted in New Hampshire by 1645, concentrated in its seacoast communities. Portsmouth traders participated legally in the slave trade until 1807. New Hampshire was also one of the few colonies with no tariff on slaves, and due to Portsmouth’s close proximity to Boston, it became a base for the importation of enslaved peoples into America. Enslaved people contributed greatly to New Hampshire society, working on mercantile operations, domestic work, farming, or in warehouses and shops. Slaves and servants greatly contributed to the building of New Hampshire’s prosperous communities. 

Native Americans and others who occupied precarious social positions were enslaved in New Hampshire and across the Northeast. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the terms “slave” and “servant” were used interchangeably to describe Africans, poor Europeans, and Native Americans, who made up the lowest class of laborers; those subservient to wealthy settlers. Colonists in New Hampshire had a choice between wage labor, indentured servitude or slave labor. A wage laborer was expensive. An enslaved laborer provided a permanent labor force and status, but was often considered as exceeding the cost of an indentured servant given the cost to purchase a human for life versus a contracted time period. 

Indentured servitude in New England began as early as 1607, born out of a need for cheap labor. Indentured servants were often working off some form of debt, bound in their servitude by a legal contract or document. Servants would enter into a term of labor for a set amount of years in exchange for free passage to the New World, and/or free lodging. Over half of the original population of the North American colonies came as indentured servants. They would become vital to the economy. Indentured servants lived harsh lives, with contracts extended for breaking an employer’s rules, which included running away.  

Service could be limited to a certain amount of time or last a lifetime. Some enslaved individuals bought their freedom, some were willed freedom, some earned freedom through military service and others escaped. All had to navigate the hierarchical and racist world of New England. Slavery left a long lasting legacy of oppression in New Hampshire. These individuals, free and unfree, lived across the state, building families, relationships, communities, and full lives. Many participated in active resistance to oppression. 

National Events from 1800 to 1815

What events were people reading about in their weekly copies of the New Hampshire Sentinel?

In 1803, the United States nearly doubles in size with the purchase of 128,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River in what is known as the Louisiana Purchase Treaty.

In 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition begins.

In 1806, the African American Meeting House is opened by a small but powerful community of free African Americans living in Boston. It served as a spiritual and religious center for the community as well as an important gathering space for the Black community. In the following decades, Abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas would speak at the meeting house.

In 1807, the Embargo Act of 1807 closes U.S. ports to all exports and restricted imports from Britain; an act by Thomas Jefferson to keep US merchant ships neutral during the Napoleonic Wars. It imposes restrictions on New England merchants and exporters.

In 1812, the War of 1812 begins, a U.S.-British conflict over oppressive British maritime practices in the Napoleonic Wars. The war becomes increasingly unpopular in New England.   

In 1814, a New England separatist movement considered secession at the Hartford Convention

In 1815, the War of 1812 officially ends.


Inventing New England: History, Memory, and the Creation of a Regional Identity, “Timeline,” https://legacy.sites.fas.harvard.edu/~hsb41/Timeline/

Whidden, Jenny and Burch, Kelly, “‘We have Always Been Here’: Despite Misconceptions, Native Americans Have Long History in New Hampshire” Concord Monitor, https://www.concordmonitor.com/-We-have-Always-Been-Here–Despite-Misconceptions-Native-Americans-Have-Long-History-in-New-Hampshire-48337154 

Historical Society of Cheshire County, “Abenaki History for Kids,” https://hsccnh.org/education/resources-page/walldogs-kids/abenaki-for-kids/#:~:text=The%20Abenaki%20people%20are%20a,homeland%20for%20over%2010%2C000%20years 

NH.gov, “A Brief History of New Hampshire, New Hampshire Almanac,” https://www.nh.gov/almanac/history.htm 

New Hampshire Historical Society, “Timeline of New Hampshire History,” https://www.nhhistory.org/Timeline 

Industrial Transformation in the North, 1800-1850, “Early Industrialization in the Northeast,” https://pressbooks-dev.oer.hawaii.edu/ushistory/chapter/early-industrialization-in-the-northeast/ 

Fernald, Jody R, “Slavery in New Hampshire: Profitable godliness to racial consciousness”  (2007). https://scholars.unh.edu/thesis/68

Black Heritage Trail New Hampshire, “NH History,” https://blackheritagetrailnh.org/nh-history/ 

Hardesty, Jared Ross . Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth Century Boston. NYU Press, 2016.

Herndon, Ruth Wallis, and Murray, John E., eds.Children Bound to Labor: The Pauper Apprentice System in Early America. Cornell University Press, 2009.

Harper, Douglas, “Slavery in New Hampshire” (2003),  http://slavenorth.com/newhampshire.htm 

National Geographic, “New England Colonies’ Use of Slavery,” https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/new-england-colonies-use-slaves/5th-grade/ 

History Detectives, “Indentured Servants in the U.S,” https://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/indentured-servants-in-the-us/  

Old Sturbridge Inc., “Historical Background on the Poor and Poor Relief in Early 19th-Century New England” (2003), https://www.osv.org/content/uploads/2018/02/Historical-Background-on-the-Poor-and-Poor-Relief-in-Early-19th-Century-New-England.pdf 

Eastman, Dean W., “The Overseers of the Poor: Who Were They?” https://primaryresearch.org/who-were-the-overseers/