New Hampshire Tidbits: Merrimack’s Old Passaconaway Tree

Sketch of an ancient tree from “Nonatum and Natick,” by Sarah S. Jacobs, page 8; pub 1853; Hathi Trust.

The old trunks of trees rise round, Like pillars in a church of old; And the wind fills them with a sound As if a bell were tolled.” — The Angler’s Song — Isaac McLellan, Jr.

The Nashua Telegraph of 18 May 1939 reported on the village of Thornton’s Ferry in Merrimack, New Hampshire.  “Many will remember the old Passaconaway tree which grew on the line of land of J. Martinkus and H.C. Welch and which blew down in the hurricane. It was an old landmark which marked the end of the North Ferry road which turned east to the river. In olden times a ferry was maintained at this point to cross to Litchfield. The tree was 85 feet tall with a circumference of 17 feet with a spread of branches of over 500 feet.

On 21 Sep 1938 one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit New England made landfall in Connecticut. It caused widespread damage there and in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and northerly in Canada. In addition to the tremendous property damage, this storm killed 600 people in New England.  This was the storm that felled the glorious ancient tree in Merrimack NH.

Passaconaway, the Bashaba from “Passaconaway in the White Mountains,” by Charles Edward Beals Jr., Boston, 1916, Richard G. Badger Printer.

The newspaper article doesn’t mention the species of tree, but with such a great spread of branches, one would surmise that it was of the oak variety (probably white oak). Since it was named after Passaconaway, the great Penacook sachem and first ruler over the land where the tree stood, it may be presumed that the locals believed the tree was growing during his time.  Indeed with a circumference of 75 as described in the story, the formula of multiplying by 5.0 (if a white oak) would have made the tree’s age 375 years in 1938.

Much has been written about Passaconaway (or Papasiquineo, Papassaconaway) “the child of the bear,”and Sachem or Sagamore of the local indigenous people.  Between 1662 to 1673 he specifically was known to have lived on land granted to him, on both sides of the Merrimack River–on land now known as the towns of Merrimack and Litchfield New Hampshire.  It would have been a large and imposing tree even in Passaconaway’s time.  Did he ever sit beneath it, catching the cool breeze off the river.  Or perhaps he rested there with his children and grandchildren.

The book, “Early History of Nashua [N.H.] for fourth grade children,” by James H. Fassett, printed by Telegraph Pub Co. in 1906, page 50: “At length the old chieftan sent a request to the people of Boston to grant him a piece of his own lands, and so a farm was set off for his use extending on both sides of the Merrimack river near Reed’s Ferry and including an island in the river. There on this island Passaconaway built his house and lived and died.:”  [Editor’s note: my grandmother always said that Passaconaway lived on the island in the middle of the Merrimack River near her home (on the corner of Depot Street), NOT on the island further north near Bedford and Manchester, as some believed].

*****ADDITIONAL READING*****

Hurricane: The greatest storm on earth, U.S. Environmental Science Services Administration, U.S. Govt Printing Office, Washington DC. 1969

TreeHugger: 15 of the Most Remarkable Trees

Photos of 1938 Hurricane Nashua area

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1 Response to New Hampshire Tidbits: Merrimack’s Old Passaconaway Tree

  1. Virginia Penrod says:

    Fascinating! I remember the hurricane! I was six years old and walked to school, climbing over blown down trees all along from Pynenburg’s to our schoolhouse on the hill. The day before we watched trees flying by our windows. Never feeling afraid! Simply Amazed!

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