New Hampshire History

New Hampshire

New Hampshire, one of the New England states of the NE United States. It is bordered by Massachusetts (S), Vermont, with the Connecticut River forming the boundary (W), the Canadian province of Quebec (NW), and Maine and a short strip of the Atlantic Ocean (E).

Facts and Figures

Area, 9,304 sq mi (24,097 sq km). Pop. (2010) 1,316,470, a 6.5% increase since the 2000 census. Capital, Concord. Largest city, Manchester. Statehood, June 21, 1788 (9th of the original 13 states to ratify the Constitution). Highest pt., Mt. Washington, 6,288 ft (1,918 m); lowest pt., sea level. Nickname, Granite State. Motto, Live Free or Die. State bird, purple finch. State flower, purple lilac. State tree, white birch. Abbr., N.H.; NH


The continental ice sheet once covered the entire state, scraping the mountains, eroding intervening upland areas, and rerouting water courses into precipitous streams and beautiful lakes. Across the north central part of the state the residual White Mountains of the Appalachian chain form ranges abruptly broken by passes (called notches). Between the Carter-Moriah Range and the Presidential Range in the east, the Ellis River drops 80 ft (24 m) through Pinkham Notch. West of the Presidential Range (which includes Mt. Washington, highest peak in New England at 6,288 ft/1,917 m), the cascading courses of the Ammonoosuc and Saco rivers divide it from the Franconia Mountains at Crawford Notch. To the southwest, in Franconia Notch, are Profile Lake (formerly watched over by the Old Man of the Mountain), the Basin, and the Flume, the waters of which flow into the Pemigewasset as it tumbles on its way to join the Merrimack. The northernmost gap, Dixville Notch, is surrounded by rocky pinnacles that look down upon a wild, fir-covered country abounding in lakes and streams.

South of the mountains the lake and upland area is frequently interrupted by isolated peaks called "monadnocks" from the original Great Monadnock near Jaffrey. The land surface declines westward to the broad valley of the Connecticut River, and the upper Connecticut valley (known as Coos country) is pleasantly pastoral. Practically every part of the state is within sight of, and identifies itself with, some peak. The climate varies greatly, and occasional high winds and violent storms roar through the narrow valleys. Annual precipitation is about 40 in. (102 cm), with snowfall mounting to 8 ft (2.4 m) in the mountain regions.

Concord is the capital and third largest city; the largest city is Manchester, followed by Nashua. The state's only port, Portsmouth, on the estuary of the Piscataqua River, also serves as a commercial center.

New Hampshire has 142 state parks and forests, and the White Mountains National Forest, which extends into Maine, has c.724,000 acres (293,000 hectares) in New Hampshire. The state's scenic beauty and serenity have long inspired writers and artists. Hawthorne, Whittier, and Longfellow summered in New Hampshire. Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpted many of his finest works at the artist's colony at Cornish, and the MacDowell Colony at Peterborough is a summer haven for musicians, artists, and writers. The state is most intimately connected with the works of Robert Frost; Frost himself once said that there was not one of his poems "but has something in it of New Hampshire."


Agriculture in New Hampshire is hampered by the mountainous topography and by extensive areas of unfertile and stony soil, but farmers are helped by the cooperative marketing that has expanded since World War II. Their main sources of income are dairy products, greenhouse products, apples, cattle, and eggs.

Since the late 1800s manufacturing has been important in the state. The textile mills and factories producing leather goods (such as shoes and boots) that once lined the state's fast-moving rivers have given way to high-technology firms, many of them migrating from the Boston area and its higher tax rates. Electrical and other machinery, as well as fabricated metals and plastics, are also manufactured.

Lumbering has been important since the first sawmill was built on the Salmon Falls River in 1631. Most of the timber cut now is used in paper production. Although New Hampshire has long been known as the Granite State, its large deposits of the stone—used for building as early as 1623—are no longer extensively quarried, the use of steel and concrete in modern construction having greatly decreased the granite market. Mineral production, chiefly of sand, gravel, and stone, is today a minor factor in New Hampshire's economy.

Year-round tourism is now the state's leading industry. Many visitors come to enjoy the state's beaches, mountains, and lakes. The largest lake, Winnipesaukee, is dotted with 274 inhabitable islands, while along the Atlantic shore 18 mi (29 km) of curving beaches (many state-owned) attract vacationers. Of the rugged Isles of Shoals off the coast, three belong to New Hampshire. Originally fishing colonies, they are now used largely as summer residences.

In the winter skiers flock northward, and the state has responded to the increasing popularity of winter sports by greatly expanding its facilities. When the snows melt, skiers are replaced by hikers, rafters, and climbers. Folk crafts such as wood carving, weaving, and pottery making have been revived to meet the tourist market.

Government, Politics, and Higher Education

New Hampshire's constitution, adopted in 1784, is the second oldest in the country. New Hampshire is the only state in which amendments to the constitution must be proposed by convention; once every seven years a popular vote determines the necessity for constitutional revision. The state's executive branch is headed by a governor and five powerful administrative officers called councillors. The governor is elected for a two-year term and is traditionally limited to two successive terms. Perhaps the most unusual feature of New Hampshire politics is the size of its bicameral legislature (General Court), one of the largest representative bodies in the English-speaking world, with 24 senators and 400 representatives, all elected for two years. The state elects two senators and two representatives to the U.S. Congress and has four electoral votes.

The New Hampshire presidential primary is among the first to be held in election years and has often forecast national trends or influenced election outcomes. The primary is itself a major New Hampshire "industry." Republicans played the dominant role in New Hampshire politics for more than a century after the Civil War, but Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, was elected governor in 1996 and reelected in 1998 and 2000. In 2002, Republican Craig Benson was elected to the office, but he was defeated by Democrat John Lynch in 2004. Lynch was reelected in 2006, 2008, and 2010. In 2012, Maggie Hassan, a Democrat was elected governor; she was reelected in 2014. Republican Chris Sununu was elected governor in 2016.

Among the state's institutions of higher learning are the Univ. of New Hampshire, at Durham; Keene State Univ.; Dartmouth College, at Hanover; and Franklin Pierce College, at Rindge.


Early Settlement

The region was first explored by Martin Pring (1603) and Samuel de Champlain (1605). In 1620 the Council for New England, formerly the Plymouth Company, received a royal grant of land between lat. 40°N and 48°N. One of the Council's leaders, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, formed a partnership with Capt. John Mason and in 1622 obtained rights between the Merrimack and Kennebec rivers, then called the province of Maine. By a division Mason took (1629) the area between the Piscataqua and the Merrimack, naming it New Hampshire. Portsmouth was founded by farmers and fishermen in 1630.

Through claims based on a misinterpretation of its charter, Massachusetts annexed S New Hampshire between 1641 and 1643. Although New Hampshire was proclaimed a royal colony in 1679, Massachusetts continued to press land claims until the two colonies finally agreed on the eastern and southern boundaries (1739–41). Although they were technically independent of each other, the crown habitually appointed a single man to govern both colonies until 1741, when Benning Wentworth was made the first governor of New Hampshire alone.

Wentworth and his friends purchased the Mason rights in 1746 (see Masonian Proprietors under Mason, John, 1586–1635), laying claim to lands east of the Hudson and thereby provoking a protracted controversy with New York (see New Hampshire Grants). Although a royal order in 1764 established the Connecticut River as the western boundary of New Hampshire, the dispute flared up again during the American Revolution and was not settled until Vermont became a state.

Growth and Independence

The French and Indian Wars had prevented colonization of the inland areas, but after the wars a land rush began. Lumber camps were set up and sawmills were built along the streams. The Scotch-Irish settlers had already initiated the textile industry by growing flax and weaving linen. By the time of the Revolution many of the inhabitants had tired of British rule and were eager for independence. In Dec., 1774, a band of patriots overpowered Fort William and Mary (later Fort Constitution) and secured the arms and ammunition for their cause.

New Hampshire was the first colony to declare its independence from Great Britain and to establish its own government (Jan., 1776). New Hampshire became the ninth and last necessary state to ratify the new Constitution of the United States in 1788. New Hampshire's northern boundary was fixed in 1842 when the Webster-Ashburton Treaty set the international line between Canada and the United States.

The Slavery Question

The Democrats remained in political control until their inability to take a united antislavery stand brought about their decline. When Franklin Pierce, New Hampshire's only President of the United States (1853–57), tried to smooth over the slavery quarrel and unite his party, antislavery sentiment was strong enough to alienate many of his followers. During the Civil War, New Hampshire was a strong supporter of the Northern cause and contributed many troops to the Union forces.


After the war New Hampshire's economy began to emerge as primarily industrial, and population growth was steady although never spectacular. The production of woolen and cotton goods and the manufacturing of shoes led all other enterprises. The forests were rapidly and ruthlessly exploited, but in 1911 a bill was passed to protect big rivers by creating forest reserves at their headwaters, and since that time numerous conservation measures have been enacted and large tracts of woodland have been placed under state and national ownership.

Depression and Diversification

The Great Depression of the 1930s severely dislocated the state's economy, especially in the one-industry towns. The effort made then to broaden economic activities has been continually intensified. The recent establishment of important new industries such as electronics has successfully counterbalanced the departure to other states of older industries such as textiles.

In the 1980s, New Hampshire produced many new jobs and had one of the fastest growing economies in the United States. The state benefits from its close proximity to the Boston metropolitan area with its many high-technology firms, but when Massachusetts experiences a recession like that of the late 1980s and early 90s, New Hampshire is similarly affected.


See D. Delorme, ed., New Hampshire Atlas and Gazetteer (1983); L. W. Turner, The Ninth State: New Hampshire's Formative Years (1983); R. N. Hill, Yankee Kingdom (1984); W. G. Scheller, New Hampshire: Portrait of the Land and Its People (1988).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

New Hampshire History: Selected full-text books and articles

New Hampshire: A Bicentennial History By Elizabeth Forbes Morison; Elting E. Morison W. W. Norton, 1976
The Ninth State: New Hampshire's Formative Years By Lynn Warren Turner University of North Carolina Press, 1983
The Manchester Union Leader's Influence in the 1996 New Hampshire Republican Primary By Farnsworth, Stephen J.; Lichter, S. Robert Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 2, June 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
In Pursuit of the White House 2000: How We Choose Our Presidential Nominees By William G. Mayer Seven Bridges Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. Three "The Changing Face of the New Hampshire Primary"
Interest Group Politics in the Northeastern States By Ronald J. Hrebenar; Clive S. Thomas Pennsylvania State University, 1993
Librarian's tip: Chap. 7 "New Hampshire: Tradition and the Challenge of Growth"
Yankee Kingdom: Vermont and New Hampshire By Carl Carmer; Ralph Nading Hill Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated, 1960
The New England Town Meeting: Democracy in Action By Joseph F. Zimmerman Praeger, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "The New Hampshire Open Town Meeting"
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