New Hampshire Missing Places: Temple’s Ferry in Merrimack

Aerial view of the Merrimack River in Merrimack New Hampshire in the 1930s. Taken by B.H. Webster. Copyright J.W. Brown.

Merrimack, Hillsborough County,  New Hampshire’s early history is complicated.  The area was first the residence of the Abenaki Native Peoples.  Later when Europeans arrived, it was part of the Massachusetts Bay colony, and for several years the town spanned an area on both sides of the Merrimack River. Later the area became part of New Hampshire, and the state and town boundaries changed yet again.

Brenton’s Farm (1655), Dunstable (1673), Naticook (1734-1746), Merrymack (1746), and Merrimack are all names connected with this town. As there has never been a bridge spanning the Merrimack River within the current town boundaries (and there still is not) during the area’s early  history travel necessitated the use of ferry boats to transport people, animals and supplies in all seasons.

Section of Map of Old Dunstable that shows the location of just one (Thorton’s) of the three ferries. From “History of the old towns of Dunstable (etc) by Charles J. Fox, 1846. Internet Archive.

There were in fact, three, not two ferries across the Merrimack River in what became the present-day town of Merrimack–Reeds Ferry, Thornton’s Ferry and last but not least, Temple’s Ferry.  The History of Merrimack (Book I) mentions briefly that Christopher Temple was one of the early ferry boat men, but does not provide details about his family connections, nor the ferry’s exact location.  Merrimack’s History Book 2 that covers the town history after 1800 does not mention this third ferry at all.

The locations of Thornton’s Ferry and Reeds Ferry are still well known, and those area villages are still called by these names.  The designation of Temple’s Ferry has disappeared into the mists of time.  June Stearns Butka (blogger Dame Gussie) has been researching this ferry longer than I, and believes (along with the Litchfield Historical Society) that Temple’s ferry spanned the Merrimack River some where near the Passaconaway Golf Club (on the Litchfield side) and Twin Bridge Park (on the Merrimack side). I think she is probably correct.  Depositions of the time (see later) describe the ferry as being within a 2 mile distance of Lutwyche’s Ferry (later being named Thornton’s ferry).  [Editor’s note: there were additional ferries south of the three I mention in this story, located in the original town of Dunstable that I do not write about here].

In 1899 The Granite State Monthly, a New Hampshire history magazine’ published a history of Merrimack’s ferrymen and ferry system by that great historian, Ezra Stearns, that details the story much better than I can, and so I present it here for you with my own comments and feedback from other researchers.  The following story contains depositions by some of Merrimack New Hampshire’s earliest residents.

[A Bit of History by Ezra Stearns, from the Granite Monthly, 1899, Volume 26]

Prominent among the early boatmen on the river was Christopher Temple, who owned and occupied the farm in Merrimack adjacent to the north of the farm later owned by Colonel Lutwyche, and later by Hon. Matthew Thornton. He settled on this farm about the year 1729 and after a residence there of twelve years he leased the farm to Zachariah Stearns of Bedford, Mass., and removed to Littleton, Mass. Mr. Stearns remained a tenant on the farm until 1744 or 1745. In the conduct of the ferry he employed a part of the time, a boat owned by the town of Litchfield, but moored when not in use on the west bank of the river. Later Thomas Mordough and John Usher were tenants on this farm and continued a ferry until about 1760.

About the time of the removal of Mr. Temple, Capt. Robert Richardson of Litchfield, for a year or more, was accustomed to ferry across the river, having a station on the west side at the Temple farm, and twenty years later, for a short time, Captain Parker, also of Litchfield, assisted his neighbors and strangers from other towns in crossing the river, but, from first to last, the ferries were almost exclusively conducted by residents of the west side of the river.

If Christopher Temple was the pioneer he early had a rival in Capt. Jonathan Cummings, who owned and occupied the Lutwyche or Thornton farm [before them], and there maintained a ferry nearly thirty years.

It will be remembered that Captain Cummings and Mr. Temple occupied adjoining farms in Merrimack. They were neighbors and friends. At the suggestion of Mr. Temple, Captain Cummings applied to the court of general sessions of the peace for the county of Middlesex holden at Cambridge, May 18, 1736, for a license to keep a ferry. The petition was granted, but, in 1741, when the jurisdiction of Massachusetts was ended, the license became void. After the removal from Merrimack of Mr. Temple, Captain Cummings, forgetful of the lapse of his license, contended for the exclusive right to maintain a ferry and there was a continue contention between him and the tenants of the Temple farm.

For many years two ferries were continued, and at this late day it is impossible to determine which party secured the greater profit or got the best of the quarrel.
In 1760 there were important changed to be noted. Strangers appear in place of the old boatmen, and as the profits of the rival ferries increase with the growth of the settlements, the bitterness of the contention is intensified. At this time, or to be more exact, in April 1760, Edward Goldstone Lutwyche, having leased the farm of Capt. Jonathan Cummings, removed from Boston to Merrimack. About the same time James Matthews purchased and removed to the Temple farm. These newcomers continued the ferries and the fight and each had loyal friends and patrons.

In 1763 Mr. Lutwyche purchased the Cummings farm and three years later he secured a decided advantage over his neighbor Matthews. Appealing to Gov. Benning Wentworth, he secured a grant, as it was styled, giving him “the sole privilege of keeping a ferry and of keeping, using, and employing a ferryboat and ferryboats for transporting men, horses, carriages, good, and things from the shore of Merrimack aforesaid, where the said Edward Goldstone Lutwyche now dwells, across River Merrimac to the opposite shore of Litchfield “–“and for the encouragement of the said Edward Goldstone Lutwyche to keep such boats and give such attendnace as aforesaid we do strictly forbid our loving subjects to interfere with the same ferry or setting up of any other ferry within the space of two miles above or below the same granted ferry.” This grant is dated July 8, 1766. The two-mile reservation included the Temple farm ferry, at this time owned by Mr. Matthews. Fortified with this grant from the governor, Mr. Lutwyche surveyed the situation with complacency, but Matthews was of stubborn material and was not ready to peacefully surrender a right which had been an adjunct to his farm for more than thirty years. He said many things not complimentary to Mr. Lutwyche or Governor Wentworth, and he attested his sincerity in the continued maintenance of his ferry.

In August of the same year Mr. Lutwyche sued Mr. Matthews for trespass upon his exclusive right under his grant to keep a ferry. In the inferior court of common pleas the plaintiff secured a verdict that the defendant appealed to the superior court of judicature, and after an animated trial the verdict was reversed. The plaintiff then obtained a review and was finally successful. Mr. Lutwyche and his ferry were triumphant. The rival ferry was suspended, but Mr. Matthews was angered and belligerent. At the time Mr. Lutwyche was appointed colonel of the fifth regiment of the royal militia, and Mr. Matthews not only derided the colonel, but he made many ungracious remarks of the “whole crew,” as he styled them, of the colonel’s household.

It was a hot time on the lower Merrimack, and growing decidedly warmer until Mrs. Sarah Lutwyche, the widowed mother of the colonel, sued Mr. Matthews for slander. The testimony in the case represented that Mr. Matthews was rude and coarse, in conduct and abusive in speech. This had three trials, and Mr. Matthews, in the end, was again defeated. The written testimony in these cases, preserved in the court files, furnishes the material for the foregoing narrative.

The remainder of the story of the ferry runs in more peaceful lines and is soon told. It remained in the control of Colonel Lutwyche until his sudden departure from the state in the spring of 1775, and immediately the towns of Litchfield and Merrimack took possession of the ferry on the allegation that Colonel Lutwyche was unfriendly to the cause of the American patriots, and Sarah Lutwyche, the mother of the absent colonel, petitioned the provincial congress for redress. In November following it was ordered that the committees representing Litchfield and Merrimack surrender the ferry to its proper owner.

By the act of 1778 the estates of several Tories, including that of Colonel Lutwyche, were confiscated, and thus the farm and ferry became the property of the state. In 1780 the farm was sold for the benefit of the state to Hon. Matthew Thornton, who procured, in 1784, a new charter, for the ferry, and while he lived continued in the peaceable possession of the farm and the ferry.

During the years of the early settlement of Litchfield and Merrimack, the frequent changes on town lines and the close alliance that existed between the dwellers on the east and west side of the river have easily led to many erroneous statements concerning the residence of the first settlers of those towns.  The dispositions used in the lawsuits between Lutwyche and Matthews incidentally afford considerable information of the residence of the deponents.

The fact that in 1734 Christopher Temple was one of a committee to build a meeting-house in Litchfield has let the annalist to count him among the dwellers of the town. In his deposition, dated July 7, 1767, he testifies that he built the first house on the farm then owned by James Matthews, and that he lived there about twelve years, remaining a short time after he had leased his farm to Zachariah Stearns. From other testimony it is shown that he lived on the west side of the river from about 1729-41. He was selectman of Naticook, embracing territory on both sides of the river, 1734, 1735, 1738, 1739, and 1741.

John Chamberlain testified that in 1733 he bought a farm and removed to Merrimack, and has resided there until the present time (1767). He was foremost among his townsmen.

Benjamin Hassel
declared “he was the first person that lived in the town which is called Merrimack, on the west side of the Merrimack river, and that some time afterwards, Captain Cummings and Christopher Temple moved into said town.” He was a son of Joseph Hassell, Jr. and was born August 19, 1701.

Capt. Jonathan Cummings was born July 3, 1703. He was a son of Thomas and Priscilla (Warner) Cummings of Dunstable. He married Elizabeth Blanchard, a daughter of Joseph Blanchard, and was one of the early settlers on Brenton Farm, in Merrimack. he was a selectman and one of the first deacons of the church.

John Stearns, then of Merrimack, testified that about 1739 or 1740, his father Zacharaiah Stearns, removed to the farm of Christopher Temple, later owned by James Matthews and lived there two years, then moved away in the spring, returning the next fall, and then remained two years and a half. Zachariah Stearns, a son of John and Mercy (Davis) Stearns, was born in Concord, now Bedford, Mass., February 6, 1701-02. After his removal from the Temple farm he was a selectman 1746-47.

Robert Usher testified that his father, John Usher, leased the farm later owned by James Matthews about 1748, and lived there six years. This family probably lived in Merrimack a few years previous to their removal to the Temple or Matthews farm.

Thomas Mordough testified that about 1754 he moved to the Matthews farm and lived there a few years. According to his testimony the farm was then owned by Mr. Gordon of Boston.

James Nahor testified that he resided on the east side of the river since 1734, and that the proprietors of Brenton Farm reserved a road four rods wide through the farm to the river, and on the west side of the road of equal width was located between the Lutwyche and the Temple or Matthews farms.

William Richardson testified that he had lived on the east side in Litchfield since 1729.
Benjamin Blodget testified that he had lived in Litchfield since 1732 or “thereabouts.”
John Harvell said he had lived in Litchfield since 1737 or earlier.

Bridget Snow testified that in the month of July 1766, she removed with her goods from Londonderry to Hollis and crossed the Merrimack river in the ferryboat of James Matthews.

In one of the depositions mention was made of Mingo, a negro servant of Colonel Lutwyche.

Of James Matthews, who has been frequently named in this article, very little information is available. April 1, 1761, he purchased the Temple farm of James Gordon of Boston. In the deed he is styled “of Bedford.” At this date he had several children, some of whom were accustomed to manage the boats on the river.

It has been asserted in the New Hampshire prints that Colonel Lutwyche was a gentleman of wealth, a retired lawyer and an Englishman. The facts do not warrant these assertions. Edward and Lawrence Lutwyche were brothers and were born about 1700 in the county of Radnor in Wales. They came to America and settled in Boston previous to 1728. Edward Lutwyche was a taverner in Boston, having license from year to year to conduct his business on Linn, King, and Ship streets. Lawrence Lutwyche was a distiller and accumulated a moderate estate. He was chosen a constable of Boston, 1739, and the following year he made return of the warrant for the town meeting which granted leave to erect Faneuil hall. In 1739 he was one of the vestrymen of Trinity church. He married May 6, 1735, Sarah Lindall, born June 17, 1712, daughter of Dea. James and Mary (Higginson) Weed Lindall of Salem. The intentions of marriage are recorded in Boston, March 24, 1735. He died in 1740. His will is dated September 2, and was probated October 15, 1740. He left an estate in equal shares to his widow, Sarah, and his only child, Edward Goldstone Lutwyche. In the will of Caleb Lindall, an uncle of Sarah, wife of Lawrence Lutwyche, who died November 13, 1751, mention is made of his niece, Widow Sarah Lutwyche, and her son, Edward Goldstone Lutwyche. Dea. James Lindall was one of the original proprietors of Weare and of Lyndeborough, and he owned land in Merrimack.

In April 1760, Colonel Lutwyche and his mother removed from Boston to Merrimack, where he resided fifteen years. In 1763 he was chosen chairman of the board of selectmen, an unusual compliment to one of his age. In later years he is not frequently named in the records of the town, and the measure of his popularity among his townsmen is not easily determined. In regard to his contention with Matthews over the ferry, the sentiment of the community was divided, and it is presumable that the people objected to a monopoly of the business under his charter. If he experienced any loss of esteem at home he was fully compensated by the potent influences at Portsmouth. He was regarded with favor and kindly remembered by Governors Benning and John Wentworth, who gave him the charter of the ferry and named him an original grantee of the towns of Acworth and Enfield, and of Guildhall, in Vermont. He was early commissioned a captain, and was the colonel of the Fifth regiment, succeeding Colonel Zaccheus Lovewell, from 1767 until his sudden departure from the province.

The house of representatives, in 1768, appointed him, with two others, to hear and report upon a petition of the collectors of Amherst in regard to taxation, and the following year, in an act providing from the construction of a road from Boscawen to Charlestown, by the concurrent vote of the council and the house he was appointed one of the agents to construct the road, and in the prosecution of this work, he took a prominent part, and two years later he appears as an agent of the Masonian Proprietors in the building of a road near Sutton. In 1771, upon the organization of five counties in the province, he was one of the justices of the peace for Hillsborough county, but the date of his commission can not be determined.

At the beginning of the Revolution, and while his townsmen were pledging life and fortune to the American cause, he adhered to the mother country and fled to Boston. It is said that he took his departure from his province during the night, succeeding the memorable 19th of April, but I do not know on what authority this statement was originally founded. At the evacuation of Boston by the British in March, 1776, he accompanied the army to Halifax, and later he appears in New York, where he married, Jane de Repalje, a daughter of John d Repalje. They had one daughter, Catherine, who became the wife of Col. Peter Walden, of Norwich, Eng.

(Christopher Temple JR. was the ferry owner)

CHRISTOPHER TEMPLE (Sr.) born about 1660, probably a son of Richard and Joanna Temple of Concord, MA. He came to Dunstable soon after 1680, and here married December 3, 1685 to Alice Hassel, youngest daughter of Richard and Joan Hassell. [see Hassell family]. He was a constable in 1691, and was killed by the Indians September 28 of the same year. The History of the old town of Dunstable: Nashua, Nashville, Hollis, Hudson, by Charles James Fox, 1846, on page 62 states: “On the morning of the 28th, Sept [1691] the Indians made another attempt and killed Obadiah Perry and Christopher Temple. There is a rock in the channel of Nashua River now covered by the flowage of the water about 30 rods above the upper mill of the Nashua Corporation, which was called “Temple’s Rock,” and was reputed to be near the spot of his murder. It is aid that they were also buried about the spot just described.”   His widow, Alice, married 2nd, January 10, 1694 to Jacob Kendall, born January 25, 1661, son of Francis Kendall of Woburn. This was the second marriage of Jacob Kendall and of this union there were eleven children born in Woburn. Of Christopher and Alice (Hassell) Temple there were three children:
1. Jeremiah Temple, born Dunstable, October 6, 1686. He probably lived in Westford MA. He died about 1750 at the age of 64. Probable Child: Jeremiah Temple Jr., b abt 1750; service in the military during the American Revolution; From Littleton MA. The Westford MA List of Paupers in March 8 1799 and Feb 23 1807 includes Jeremiah Temple.  Another source of info on this line: Temple, Albert R. and Danny D. Smith, The Rise of the Temples: A Millennium of Power and Progress, 716 AD to the Present, # 82A, p. 23.–
And yet another possible source of info here.
2. Alice Temple, born Dunstable, October 3, 1690; married Jacob Kendall, born in Woburn MA, January 12, 1686, son of Jacob and Persis (Hayward) Kendall. They lived in Woburn, Billerica, MA and after 1717 in Litchfield NH where he was a selectman. He died in 1742. Their children were Christopher, Amos, Daniel, Alice, Persis, Elizabeth
3. Christopher Temple Jr. , born Dunstable October 3, 1690. Conveys land in Dunstable February 1716. He lived in Dunstable several years. In 1725 he was a corporal in Capt. Eleazer Tyng’s Company, Dunstable. After 1728 he lived in Merrimack, and owned a farm and ferry next north of Matthew Thornton farm at Thornton’s Ferry. In 1747 while living in Merrimack NH he buys land in Westford MA paying L2591. In 1749 living with wife Jemima in Westford MA, where his daughter Jemima is born 19 Aug 1749. About 1760 he sold the Merrimack farm to James Matthews and removed to Littleton, MA, where he is living in 1768. During the years of the union of Litchfield and Merrimack, [when Litchfield and Merrimack were one town] he was a selectman 1734, 1735, 1738, 1739 and 1741. He married in Andover MA December 13, 1743 Jemima (Russell) Hunt, born 1704 daughter of Thomas and Phebe (Johnson) Russell, and widow of Joseph Hunt. He died in Littleton MA May 8 1782. His widow died 1790. [another source states she married 3d, Mr. Reed] Their daughter, Jemima Temple married May 21, 1768 to Israel Read, born June 16, 1747, son of Israel and Hannah (Wyman) Read. She died in Littleton MA November 18, 1783. He married 2nd, Mary Davis and moved to Walpole, New Hampshire.

(Note that some of the names below rented rather than owned the land, and that each either operated or had the ability to operate a ferry.  What the owner/renters called the ferry (did they name it after themselves) is not known in some cases.

TEMPLE’S FERRY: Christopher Temple Jr. (c1728); Capt. Robert Richardson;  Zachariah Stearns(c1739); Thomas Mordough (1748);  John Usher (1754); James Gordon; James Matthews;


THORNTON’S FERRY: First called Cummings Ferry, Capt. Jonathan Cummings; William Spooner, Edward Goldstone Lutwyche (1760) and named changed to Lutwyche’s Ferry; Mrs. Sarah Lutwyche; Hon. Matthew Thornton (1780) and name changed to Thornton’s Ferry


READ’S FERRY: Apparently Capt. William Read ran a ferry between Litchfield and Merrimack New Hampshire beginning about 1743-1768. He died abt 1768. In 1772 his widow Lucy (Spaulding) Read petitioned for a license to run this ferry. It was still running in 1781 when Matthew Patten noted in his diary that he paid 4 dollars for the use of that ferry.

A petition of 1772 enlightens us about this ferry.
Petition for a grant of a Ferry
To His Excellency John Wentworth Esq. Captain General Governor and Commander in Chief in and over His Majesty’s Province of New Hampshire, In Council.
The humble Petition of Lucy Read of Litchfield in the County of Hillsborough and Province aforesaid, Widow.,
Sheweth, That your Petitioners late Husband, Capt. William Read, was in his Life time Seized and possess’d of a Considerable tract of land on the Eastward side of Merrimac River in Litchfield aforesaid and did (without any Grant from His Majesty) improve a Ferry about three miles and a half Above Col. Lutwyches, called & known by the name of Reads Ferry, for about Twenty five years before his death, which happened about 4 years ago.
That the said William Read in his life time, and the said Lucy since his death, have been at a Considerable Expence in Boats & attendance to Expedite the same Ferry, & make it commodious agreeable to Law.
Notwitchstanding which premises your Petitioner is advised That the sd Title under the said William is precarious and short. Any stranger obtain a Grant thereof it wod Embarrass and greatly hurt your petitioner who has also six children by said William all now under age to maintain.
She most humbly intreats your Excellency wise tender regard of the premises to Confirm unto her the aforesaid improved and accustomed Ferry by Grant from His Majesty.
And your petitioner as in Duty bound will every pray &c.
LUCY READ Litchfield 18th May 1772.

Matthew Patten’s Diary of May 9, 1781 states “I sent his boy and horse with it to Reads ferry, my ferriage was 4 Dollars…”

The children of Capt. William & Lucy (Spaulding) Read include:
1. Lucy Read, b 20 March 1754 Litchfield NH; she m 22 June 1780 in Litchfield NH to James Lyons.
2. Zadock Read/Reed/Reid, b 28 Aug 1751 Litchfield NH. In 1790 living in New Boston NH. Military service 1778- 1781 (for New Boston NH). Served at Valley Forge PA; 1st NH Regiment, aged 23.   Additional service 30 Sep 1818 (In Hillsborough NH). He died 24 February 1827.   He is buried in Meeting House Cemetery, Antrim NH.

There was no formal name changed from Read’s Ferry to Reed’s Ferry any more than there was a formal change when Zadock’s last name was printed as REED and REID rather than REED.  It was a common occurrence in those days for a name to change its spelling based on the writer.


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