Merrimack New Hampshire Celebrates 275 Years: From 1746 To 2021

Single frame of a stereoview photograph, by Deloss Barnum (1825-1873) of Abenaki Indian camp in NH White Mountains. Circa 1850-70. Property of and colorized by the blog editor.

During the month of April, 2021, Merrimack celebrates its 275th Anniversary, based on the date of the incorporation of the town of ‘Merrymac’ on 2 April 1746 (when it separated from Old Dunstable).  There are lots of places where you can read about the history of Merrimack New Hampshire, so there’s no need for me to rehash some past events in this article.

Instead I’ll give you the anniversary highlights through time.  In upcoming days I’ll write a series of short stories about the town.


—The Indigenous People lived here first—
Even though we celebrate 1746 as Merrimack’s starting point, we should not forget some important facts. Way before the Europeans landed upon the shores of what is now New Hampshire, the indigenous people lived here for thousands of years. They were part of a confederacy of Algonquin tribes.

The names they gave to our local places and rivers remain. They called this area [the southern part of the town of Merrimack] “Natukhog” or Naticook. The word “Merrimack” comes from the river on Merrimack’s eastern border– a borrowed Abenaki word whose meaning is somewhat disputed.  Some say that the local Penacook dialect is not longer spoken, and so the words are now borrowed from other Abenaki tribes.  In any case the meaning of the word, “Molodemak,” is Deep River.  Other variations and to me the most credible is that the area was called “Merramake” and “Monnoomake” that signifies a sturgeon. (Editor’s note: Sturgeon are a fish species once common in the Merrimack River, but were decimated in the 1900s by over fishing. You won’t see them above the Essex Dam in Lawrence MA).    Passaconaway, the great Sachem of the Penacooks was granted land in, and lived at the northern part of Merrimack during the 17th century. [see story].

—Merrimack’s Earliest Settler (Temporary) —
By 1675 (and possibly earlier in 1665) John Cromwell, a fur trader built a trading-house on the bank of the Merrimack River, below Thornton’s Ferry.  There are stories, none substantiated that he was unfair in his dealings with the native peoples.  He probably did not bury any treasure, as he simply moved south to Tyngsboro MA where he built another trading post.  He had been “squatting” illegally (without any right or purchase to the land), and so was probably warned off by later legal arrivals and surveyors.

1740 sheepskin map of Merrimack NH. Additional copies at the Nashua Historical Society and in the front of “History of Merrimack NH” book, Vol. 1

— Benjamin Smith requests a grant just north of Dunstable, does not stay—
On 20 June 1733 Benjamin Smith, requested in exchange for his services during the Indian War, to be granted 100 acres of land on the west side of the Merrimack River, about a mile above Souhegan River to including an island “whereon he has built and House, & made Improvements.” The Court noted his acknowledgement that he had no rights to live there, and ordered the petition be allowed by a survey, with the chainmen on oath and for him to return a Plat to the court within twelve months for confirmation. [Editor’s note: this land appears to be some of the land, west of the Merrimack River that had formerly been granted to Passaconaway, who was now dead].

—The incorporation of the town of Merrimack, 2 April 1746, from Dunstable—
The earliest European settlers arrived in the area in 1655, but for various reasons, they did not stay long. Dunstable, incorporated on October 15, 1673, once comprised 200 square miles (128,000 acres) including what is now the town of Merrimack.    In 1746 a group of some 300 settlers desired to be set apart from the larger grant. Therefore, they petitioned King George of England “that they be incorporated into a township and enfranchised with the same powers and privileges other towns in the province enjoyed.” The petition being granted, they were given a charter April 2, 1746 signed by then Governor Benning Wentworth. The town was called ‘Merrymac’ for the river upon which it is situated.

—4 March 1746: The first Merrimack Town meeting—
The copy of the first town meeting on March 4, 1746 includes the names of Capt. Jonathan Cumings (moderator); Phinehas Underwood (Town Clerk); Phinehas Underwood, Mr. John Usher, Mr. Zechariah Stearns (Selectmen), William Datton (Constable), Ephraim Powers (“Tithinman”), Jonas Barrat (“Savaier” of Highways [sic Surveyor]), William Lund and Jonathan Powers (Field Drivers), James Karr and Timothy Underwood (Fence “Veears”) [sic Viewers]. It was signed by Joseph Blanchard, Justice of the Peace. [LOOK here for biographies and genealogies of these and other early families].

Jenkins Brothers store, Reeds Ferry section of Merrimack NH, circa 1920. This store was built  after former Fessenden & Lowell store burned down.  Original provided by Rick Price. Colorized by the blog editor.

—–1750 Petition to expand town’s boundaries—
In 1750 we find the settlers were dissatisfied with their holdings. They sent another petition to the King asking that an addition of land be given to them, saying “that they had found the land very mean and ordinary and incapable of supporting such a number of inhabitants as will enable them to support a town without a further addition of land and inhabitants.” The second petition was also granted and the present boundaries of the town were fixed. At that time the surveyor’s report indicated that the center of the town was at “a marked tree, on a knoll, about thirty rods southerly from Turkey Hill bridge.”

—-9 April 1754: Petition to create a new County—-
9 April 1754 the residents of Merrimack and Bedford, accounting the difficulties of “travill & expence” to Portsmouth, NH, requested consideration of creating a new county to contain those towns west of the Merrimack River. Merrimack men who signed this document include: Jonathan Cumings Jr., James Cowans, Samuel Spaulding, Thomas Vickere Jr., William Patten, James Moore, Zachariah Stearns Jr., David Thomson, Ebenezer Hills, Thomas Barns, John Stearns, Samuel Vose, Daniel Stearns, John Hanry, William McCluer, Joseph Farmer, John McClencke, Thomas Farmer, Hugh Giles, John Roby, Robert Murdough, Ephraim Powers, James Mathays, Robert McCluer, Timothy Taylor, Philip Underwood, Reuben Grele, Jonathan Cumings, John Hutchison, Simeon Cumings, Thomas Cowan, William Usher, Moses Trull, Jonas Barrett, Benjamin Auger, Francis Dimon, James McClaer, William Alld, James Morr Jr., and William Howard.

—3 April 1846, Merrimack’s Centennial Celebration—
April 3, 1846 the town celebrated its one hundredth year of the town’s corporated existence. Robert McGaw was the president of the day; Nathan Parker and Samuel McConihe, vice-presidents; Joseph B. Holt and Capt. Ira Spalding, marshals. The historical address of the day was delivered by the Rev. Stephen Allen, pastor of the First church. It was an able discourse and contained much of the early history of the town up to that date.  [READ: Address delivered on occasion of Centennial Celebration, Town of Merrimack NH, April 2, 1846, Rev. Stephen T. Allen]

Some organizers and presenters of Merrimack’s bicentennial. 29 June 1946: Augusta Bean, Mattie (Kilborn) Webster, Gov. Charles M. Dale., Rev. Charles S. Haynes, Rev. John W. Wright, Colorized by the blog editor.

—29 June and 4 July 1946, Merrimack NH’s Bicentennial Celebrated—

Merrimack’s Bicentennial Anniversary was held June 30, 1946, and 4 July 1946 — and included historical presentations, plays, speeches and a parade. (Scroll through photographs of the 1946 pageant from Danny Ryan on FaceBook).

[SEE additional stories about this event as they are published].


–In 2006 Merrimack celebrated its 260th Anniversary–


—In APRIL 2021, Merrimack celebrates its 275th Anniversary—

(Merrimack NH’s 275th Anniversary Planning Committee web page)

The Merrimack (NH) Historical Society has two history books and other town-related items for sale.  You can find them on FaceBook.

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