Much Ado About Merrimack: New Hampshire Spelling Errors

Misspellings [sic] happen…

and history is rarely straightforward.

Chris Dunham of The Genealogue reports on Char Olson’s crusade in Merrimac, Wisconsin to change the town’s name back to Merrimack.
Reportedly the name used to be spelled with the “k” at the end, (named after the county in New Hampshire), but the spelling got changed (the k was dropped) about a hundred years later.

HISTORICAL FACTS:Forsooth, Let us Merry Make….

1. According to the 1846 book, “History of the old township of Dunstable…” by Charles J. Fox, an entry on page 9 states: “”In 1604, years before the Landing at Plymouth, a French Jesuit, writing from Canada to France, could say: “The Indians tell us of a beautiful River lying far to the South, which they call Merrimac.”

2. According to the book, “History of Merrimack (township) New Hampshire” the native American Penacook tribe spelled the river “Monnomoke or Merramake,” meaning ‘sturgeon,’ a fish that was plentiful in the area.

3. When the town of Merrimack, New Hampshire was incorporated, it was named after the river flowing through it, but it was spelled “Merrymac” in the official paperwork.  In following years the town’s name was was spelled both with and without the last “k”.  Today it is spelled WITH the K. No one seems to know why the spelling changed, but then again no one in the town is actively trying to get it changed back.

4. An 1831 ad in the New Hampshire Gazette, shows the spelling of Merrimack County. [See more ads]

5. The current town of “Merrimac” Wisconsin is located in Sauk County. It was incorporated 14 November 1854 as “Merrimack.”

Now here is where the history gets additionally intriguing…

6. In one account, Walter P. Flanders took over the Ferry service in the town of Matt’s Ferry.  According to the news article, “His wife fell in love with the area, saying it reminded her of the beautiful shorelines of her native Merrimack, New Hampshire. With the approval of residents, the name was changed to Merrimack. Olson said over the years people gradually began dropping the “k,” perhaps to avoid confusing the town with others.”

7. In a second differing account, the town and village was named by Mrs. J.G. Train for the county of Merrimack in New Hampshire. “It should be spelled with the final k, the same as the New Hampshire name. The village of Merrimack was first called Matts ferry for Chester Mattson who operated a ferry there. When the postoffice was established it was called Collamer for the postmaster general. The name was afterward changed to Merrimack.” [Source: p. 35 of Cole – Baraboo and other place names in Sauk county, Wisconsin.]

8. Sometime around 1950 Assistant Postmaster General Joseph Lawler officially changed the name to “Merrimac

9. In 1999 Char Olson tried to have the name changed back to “Merrimack,” when the town celebrated its 100th year of incorporation, unsuccessfully.

“I am not bound to please thee with my answers.”–William Shakespeare

A. Both Walter P. Flanders’ wife, Susan Everett (Greeley) Flanders, AND Mrs. Emily [James G.] Train  are real people who lived at or near Merrimac, Wisconsin around the time that the town was incorporated.  According to census records, both families hailed from New Hampshire…
  Flanders – Before moving to Wisconsin, Walter & Susan Flanders lived in New London, New Hampshire, which happens to be in Merrimack County. The shoreline of beautiful Lake Sunapee is nearby. Susan, a daughter of Jonathan & Polly (Shepard) Greeley, grew up in and around Newburyport, Massachusetts, where she would, of course, been intimate with scenes of the Merrimack River.
Train – The Train family was not as easy to trace back to New Hampshire, although the name Train was popular since the 1790’s in Hillsborough (town) New Hampshire.
Conclusion – Based on the information at hand I could neither prove nor disprove that either the Flanders nor the Train family had anything to do with naming the township of Merrimac(k) Wisconsin, however they were both from New Hampshire, and living in Wisconsin, i.e. “in the right places at the right time.”

B.  The more ancient spelling of the river/area/town in New Hampshire is MERRIMAC (without the K at the end).  However by 1831 the spelling of the county name was MERRIMACK.

How use doth breed a habit in a man.” — William Shakespeare

When you think about how easily a name gets mangled, it is a wonder more haven’t been. The township/county/river/valley of Merrimack was not alone in the variety of ways that the name was spelled….

Some residents in Mont Vernon believe their town name should be spelled Mount Vernon (named after George Washington’s estate). An effort was made in 1855 to change the official spelling, but it did not succeed.

New Hampshire’s town of “Summersworth” was incorporated in 1754, although thereafter was spelled “Somersworth” due to a clerical error.

Although today the town name is spelled “Lyme,” the spelling on the original 1761 charter of “Lime” has been attributed to an error by Governor Wentworth’s secretary.

The current town of Hollis, was originally incorporated as “Holles.”

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet.” –From Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (II, ii, 1-2)

Name changes happened more frequently than you think, especially in the colonial period of New Hampshire–to both town names AND family surnames.  Sometimes the census taker just goofed.  Maybe a slightly deaf town clerk wrote down what he thought he heard. Illiteracy was not unusual. Name mutilation happened and unless someone documented why it did, in a surviving town record or personal diary, no amount of conjecture is going to help to you conclusively figure it out after the fact.

Advice: Live with it, embrace the error, don’t waste alot of time trying to figure it out. Changing a town name now involves alot more than a single stroke of the pen. Or, you can cross your fingers and just hope another error occurs…


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