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I need to know what Charles the First's last words were and preferably what Oliver Cromwell said afterwards.
The Execution of Charles I of England. Source: Wikipedia
King Charles' Last Words:
His address to the crowd, from the scaffold:
"[As for the people,] truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever; but I must tell you that their liberty and freedom consist in having of government, those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government, sirs; that is nothing pertaining to them; a subject and a sovereign are clear different things. And therefore until they do that, I mean that you do put the people in that liberty, as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves. Sirs, it was for this that now I am come here. If I would have given way to an arbitrary way, for to have all laws changed according to the power of the sword, I needed not to have come here; and therefore I tell you (and I pray God it be not laid to your charge) that I am the martyr of the people… "
Followed by his last words on the scaffold to the bishop:
"I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world."
And these are his very last words, spoken to the executioner:
"When I put out my hands this way, then -… Stay for the sign."
Source: The Execution of Charles I, 1649 (read the entire account on this link)
References for the information found on that link: The anonymous account of Charles' death appears in Robinson, James Harvey, Readings in European History (1906); Schama, Simon, A History of Britain vol. II (2001); Wedgwood, C. V, A Coffin for King Charles; the Trial and Execution of Charles I (1964).
Oliver Cromwell's Reaction:
Source: Reported remarks over the body of Charles I after his execution (January 1649), as quoted in Oliver Cromwell : A History (1895) by Samuel Harden Church, p. 321. Found on the Wikiquote page for Oliver Cromwell.
Richard Cromwell and the Protectorate
Richard Cromwell (1626–1712) was Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland after Oliver Cromwell’s death in 1658. Richard lacked his father’s authority. He attempted to mediate between the army and civil society and allowed a Parliament that contained a large number of disaffected Presbyterians and Royalists. His main weakness was that he did not have the confidence of the army. He summoned a Parliament in 1659, but the republicans assessed Oliver’s rule to be “a period of tyranny and economic depression” and attacked the increasingly monarchy-like nature of the Protectorate. Richard proved unable to manage the Parliament and control the army. On May 7, a Committee of Safety was formed on the authority of the Rump Parliament, displacing the Protector’s Council of State, and was in turn replaced by a new Council of State on May 19.
Proclamation announcing the death of Oliver Cromwell and the succession of Richard Cromwell as Lord Protector. Printed in Scotland, 1658. Courtesy of the General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. In 1660, Richard Cromwell left for France and later traveled around Europe, visiting various European courts. In 1680 or 1681, he returned to England and lodged with the merchant Thomas Pengelly in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, living off the income from his estate in Hursley. He died in 1712 at the age of 85.
Conflict with Parliament
In March 1625, Charles I became king and married Henrietta Maria soon afterward. When his first Parliament met in June, trouble immediately arose because of the general distrust of Buckingham, who had retained his ascendancy over the new king. The Spanish war was proving a failure and Charles offered Parliament no explanations of his foreign policy or its costs. Moreover, the Puritans, who advocated extemporaneous prayer and preaching in the Church of England, predominated in the House of Commons, whereas the sympathies of the king were with what came to be known as the High Church Party, which stressed the value of the prayer book and the maintenance of ritual. Thus antagonism soon arose between the new king and the Commons, and Parliament refused to vote him the right to levy tonnage and poundage (customs duties) except on conditions that increased its powers, though this right had been granted to previous monarchs for life.
The second Parliament of the reign, meeting in February 1626, proved even more critical of the king’s government, though some of the former leaders of the Commons were kept away because Charles had ingeniously appointed them sheriffs in their counties. The failure of a naval expedition against the Spanish port of Cádiz in the previous autumn was blamed on Buckingham and the Commons tried to impeach him for treason. To prevent this, Charles dissolved Parliament in June. Largely through the incompetence of Buckingham, the country now became involved in a war with France as well as with Spain and, in desperate need of funds, the king imposed a forced loan, which his judges declared illegal. He dismissed the chief justice and ordered the arrest of more than 70 knights and gentlemen who refused to contribute. His high-handed actions added to the sense of grievance that was widely discussed in the next Parliament.
By the time Charles’s third Parliament met (March 1628), Buckingham’s expedition to aid the French Protestants at La Rochelle had been decisively repelled and the king’s government was thoroughly discredited. The House of Commons at once passed resolutions condemning arbitrary taxation and arbitrary imprisonment and then set out its complaints in the Petition of Right, which sought recognition of four principles—no taxes without consent of Parliament no imprisonment without cause no quartering of soldiers on subjects no martial law in peacetime. The king, despite his efforts to avoid approving this petition, was compelled to give his formal consent. By the time the fourth Parliament met in January 1629, Buckingham had been assassinated. The House of Commons now objected both to what it called the revival of “popish practices” in the churches and to the levying of tonnage and poundage by the king’s officers without its consent. The king ordered the adjournment of Parliament on March 2, 1629, but before that the speaker was held down in his chair and three resolutions were passed condemning the king’s conduct. Charles realized that such behaviour was revolutionary. For the next 11 years he ruled his kingdom without calling a Parliament.
In order that he might no longer be dependent upon parliamentary grants, he now made peace with both France and Spain, for, although the royal debt amounted to more than £1,000,000, the proceeds of the customs duties at a time of expanding trade and the exaction of traditional crown dues combined to produce a revenue that was just adequate in time of peace. The king also tried to economize in the expenditure of his household. To pay for the Royal Navy, so-called ship money was levied, first in 1634 on ports and later on inland towns as well. The demands for ship money aroused obstinate and widespread resistance by 1638, even though a majority of the judges of the court of Exchequer found in a test case that the levy was legal.
These in fact were the happiest years of Charles’s life. At first he and Henrietta Maria had not been happy, and in July 1626 he peremptorily ordered all of her French entourage to quit Whitehall. After the death of Buckingham, however, he fell in love with his wife and came to value her counsel. Though the king regarded himself as responsible for his actions—not to his people or Parliament but to God alone according to the doctrine of the divine right of kings—he recognized his duty to his subjects as “an indulgent nursing father.” If he was often indolent, he exhibited spasmodic bursts of energy, principally in ordering administrative reforms, although little impression was made upon the elaborate network of private interests in the armed services and at court. On the whole, the kingdom seems to have enjoyed some degree of prosperity until 1639, when Charles became involved in a war against the Scots.
The early Stuarts neglected Scotland. At the beginning of his reign Charles alienated the Scottish nobility by an act of revocation whereby lands claimed by the crown or the church were subject to forfeiture. His decision in 1637 to impose upon his northern kingdom a new liturgy, based on the English Book of Common Prayer, although approved by the Scottish bishops, met with concerted resistance. When many Scots signed a national covenant to defend their Presbyterian religion, the king decided to enforce his ecclesiastical policy with the sword. He was outmanoeuvred by a well-organized Scottish covenanting army, and by the time he reached York in March 1639 the first of the so-called Bishops’ Wars was already lost. A truce was signed at Berwick-upon-Tweed on June 18.
On the advice of the two men who had replaced Buckingham as the closest advisers of the king— William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, and the earl of Strafford, his able lord deputy in Ireland—Charles summoned a Parliament that met in April 1640—later known as the Short Parliament—in order to raise money for the war against Scotland. The House insisted first on discussing grievances against the government and showed itself opposed to a renewal of the war so, on May 5, the king dissolved Parliament again. The collection of ship money was continued and so was the war. A Scottish army crossed the border in August and the king’s troops panicked before a cannonade at Newburn. Charles, deeply perturbed at his second defeat, convened a council of peers on whose advice he summoned another Parliament, the Long Parliament, which met at Westminster in November 1640.
The new House of Commons, proving to be just as uncooperative as the last, condemned Charles’s recent actions and made preparations to impeach Strafford and other ministers for treason. The king adopted a conciliatory attitude—he agreed to the Triennial Act that ensured the meeting of Parliament once every three years—but expressed his resolve to save Strafford, to whom he promised protection. He was unsuccessful even in this, however. Strafford was beheaded on May 12, 1641.
Charles was forced to agree to a measure whereby the existing Parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent. He also accepted bills declaring ship money and other arbitrary fiscal measures illegal, and in general condemning his methods of government during the previous 11 years. But while making these concessions, he visited Scotland in August to try to enlist anti-parliamentary support there. He agreed to the full establishment of Presbyterianism in his northern kingdom and allowed the Scottish estates to nominate royal officials.
Meanwhile, Parliament reassembled in London after a recess, and, on November 22, 1641, the Commons passed by 159 to 148 votes the Grand Remonstrance to the king, setting out all that had gone wrong since his accession. At the same time news of a rebellion in Ireland had reached Westminster. Leaders of the Commons, fearing that if any army were raised to repress the Irish rebellion it might be used against them, planned to gain control of the army by forcing the king to agree to a militia bill. When asked to surrender his command of the army, Charles exclaimed “By God, not for an hour.” Now fearing an impeachment of his Catholic queen, he prepared to take desperate action. He ordered the arrest of one member of the House of Lords and five of the Commons for treason and went with about 400 men to enforce the order himself. The accused members escaped, however, and hid in the city. After this rebuff the king left London on January 10, this time for the north of England. The queen went to Holland in February to raise funds for her husband by pawning the crown jewels.
A lull followed, during which both Royalists and Parliamentarians enlisted troops and collected arms, although Charles had not completely given up hopes of peace. After a vain attempt to secure the arsenal at Hull, in April the king settled in York, where he ordered the courts of justice to assemble and where royalist members of both houses gradually joined him. In June the majority of the members remaining in London sent the king the Nineteen Propositions, which included demands that no ministers should be appointed without parliamentary approval, that the army should be put under parliamentary control, and that Parliament should decide about the future of the church. Charles realized that these proposals were an ultimatum yet he returned a careful answer in which he gave recognition to the idea that his was a “mixed government” and not an autocracy. But in July both sides were urgently making ready for war. The king formally raised the royal standard at Nottingham on August 22 and sporadic fighting soon broke out all over the kingdom.
Cromwell was descended indirectly on his father’s side from Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, who had assisted Oliver’s great-grandfather and grandfather in acquiring significant amounts of former monastic land in Huntingdon and in the Fens. Oliver was the eldest surviving son of the younger son of a knight he inherited a modest amount of property but was brought up in the vicinity of his grandfather, who regularly entertained the king’s hunting party. His education would have presented him with a strong evangelical Protestantism and a powerful sense of God’s providential presence in human affairs.
During his early married life, Cromwell, like his father, was profoundly conscious of his responsibilities to his fellow men and concerned himself with affairs in his native Fenland, but he was also the victim of a spiritual and psychological struggle that perplexed his mind and damaged his health. He does not appear to have experienced conversion until he was nearly 30 later he described to a cousin how he had emerged from darkness into light. Yet he had been unable to receive the grace of God without feeling a sense of “self, vanity and badness.” He was convinced that he had been “the chief of sinners” before he learned that he was one of God’s Chosen.
In his 30s Cromwell sold his freehold land and became a tenant on the estate of Henry Lawrence at St. Ives in Cambridgeshire. Lawrence was planning at that time to emigrate to New England, and Cromwell was almost certainly planning to accompany him, but the plan failed.
There is no evidence that Cromwell was active in the opposition to Charles I’s financial and social policies, but he was certainly prominent in schemes in East Anglia to protect local preachers from the religious policies of the king and Archbishop William Laud. He had strong links with Puritan groups in London and Essex, and there is some evidence that he attended, and perhaps preached at, an underground conventicle.
In 1625, Charles became king of England. Three months later, he married Henrietta Maria of France, a 15-year-old Catholic princess who refused to take part in English Protestant ceremonies of state.
Charles&aposs reign was rocky from the outset. His good friend George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, openly manipulated parliament, creating powerful enemies among the nobility. He was assassinated in 1628. Charles had to contend with a parliament that disagreed with his military spending. Religious tensions also abounded. Charles, a High Anglican with a Catholic wife, aroused suspicion among his Protestant countrymen. As a result of these tensions, Charles dissolved parliament three times in the first four years of his rule. In 1629, he dismissed parliament altogether. Ruling alone meant raising funds by non-parliamentary means𠅊ngering the general public. Meanwhile, religious oppression in the kingdom drove Puritans and Catholics to the North American colonies.
The protectorate at work, 17-20 th December
The new Protectoral Council gathered again on Saturday 17 December to draw up and sign orders to ensure that the document proclaiming the new government, agreed the day before, would be proclaimed in London on the following Monday. Although the order books have no record of a formal Council meeting on the Saturday, at least one of the newspapers picked up on the meeting, for Severall Proceedings of State Affairs reported under 17 December: “This day his Highness the Lord Protector met with those named of his Council in the Council Chamber at Whitehall…and several things were transacted in order to a settlement”
On the morning of Monday 19 December the Council gathered for what appears to have been quite a brief meeting which decided various procedural matters, including the form of address to be used by petitioners, ambassadors and others, and the appointment of Henry Lawrence as chairman and president of the Council. Several Councillors then attended the formal proclamation of the new government in the City of London. The newspapers reported that “this day with sound of Trumpet and great solemnity, his Excellence was proclaimed Protector of the Three Nations…by a Serjeant at Arms at the Exchange in London, the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Common Councel being present, and in several other places of the City of London and in Westminster”. A slightly different account records that “The Lord Maior and Aldermen…on Monday went in their scarlet gowns to meet the Herauld of Armes and to proclaim the Lord Protector which was accordingly done by 12 Trumpets both in Cheapside and at the Royal Exchange, where the ensuing Proclamation was publikely read, to the end that all men may conform and submit themselves to this present government”. The Venetian ambassador reported that the proclamation met with a very poor response, but how far his sour report genuinely reflected the public mood and how far it was coloured by his antipathy to the new regime is questionable:
“With no Council of State and everything depending on the will of the new Protector, the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs and some officers of the army without loss of time proceeded to proclaim him, preceded in state by 3 heralds in rich tabards, with a cavalry escort and a number of coaches, at the usual thoroughfares, charging all to tender respect and obedience to the actual government. But I noticed that the people seemed rather amazed and dashed than glad, and no shout of public or private satisfaction was heard. Men shrug their shoulders and all admire the address and cleverness by which this man has reached so far as to become the absolute master of the country and to give the law to the people here. These regret the past but cowed by force and spiritless, one may say, they no longer show the courage for determined action and submit tamely to grievances which in the past they would not have tolerated even in imagination, a case of human fallibility, which snatches at the evil in mistake for the good, and spurns the latter for the former. Some have been heard to mutter, We deserve this for our foolish action, putting to death our legitimate king in order to submit to a base born fellow of no standing. This is the opinion of more than one and as it chimes in with the universal feeling it is impossible to say as yet what it may lead to in the course of time, which has brought about these events and is preparing other great changes of which this is the foretaste. It is true that the strength of the army upholds Cromwell in his position, but if this took things ill, or some party were formed in it, that might give a turn to his fortunes and make his fall even more precipitous than his rise has been easy and astonishing.”
Having attended the proclamation of the new government in the City during the morning of Monday 19 December, the Councillors returned to Whitehall to join the Protector at a religious service, with Thomas Goodwin preaching. Then in the afternoon the Protector and his Councillors held an informal, unminuted meeting, at which Cromwell made a brief speech, summarised in Severall Proceedings of State Affairs and other newspapers: “his Highness the Lord Protector and the Council…met in the Council Chamber at Whitehall, where his Highness in a sweet speech to them pressed the Council to act for God and the peace and good of the Nation, and particularly recommended to them to consider and relieve the distress of the poor and oppressed”.
On Tuesday 20 December the Councillors held their first, full, working session, beginning to tackle some of the realities and intricacies of everyday government. Cromwell again was not present – this was not unusual, for during the Protectorate as a whole he attended just under 40% of formal, minuted meetings – but thirteen Councillors gathered to handle a considerable quantity and variety of business, producing a long list of decisions and orders which were duly entered into the order books. Thus Secretary Thurloe was ordered to draw up a fair copy of the new written constitution to go to the printers and several items of conciliar legislation were initiated, including regulations to renew the excise and the probate of wills, to extend the powers of various financial commissioners and officers and to alter the form and wording of patents and writs to correspond to the new government. The Council also ordered a proclamation drawn up announcing that judicial procedures should continue, despite the recent change of government. It was read, amended, passed and ordered printed the following day:
“A Proclamation of His Highness, with the consent of his Councel, for continuing all Persons being in office for the Execution of Publick Justice at the time of the late change of Government until His Highnesse further declaration.
Oliver, Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland, considering that whereas the exercise of the chief Magistracy and the administration of Government within the said Commonwealth is invested and established in his Highnesse assisted with a Councel. And lest thereupon the settled and ordinary course of justice in the Commonwealth (if remedy were not provided) might receive interruption, his Highnesse in his care of the state and publick justice thereof (reserving to future consideration the reformation and redress of any abuses of misgovernment upon better knowledge taken thereof) is pleased, and doth hereby signifie, declare and ordain, by and with the advice and consent of his Councel, who have power until the meeting of the next Parliament to make Laws and Ordinances for the peace and welfare of these Nations, which shall be binding and in force until order shall be taken in Parliament concerning the same, That all persons who on the tenth of this instant December were duly and lawfully possessed of any place of Judicature or Office of Authority, Jurisdiction or Government within the Commonwealth, shall be and shall so hold themselves continued in the same offices and places respectively as formerly they held and enjoyed the same, and not otherwise, until his Highnesse pleasure be further known. And all Commissions, Patents and other Grants, and all proceedings of what nature soever in Courts of Common Law or Equity or in the Court of Admiralty or by Commissioners of Sewers shall stand and be in the same and like force to all intents and purposes as the same were on the said tenth day of December, until further order given by his Highnesse therein, And that in the meantime (for preservation of the publick Peace, and necessary proceedings in matters of Justice and for Safety of the State) all the said Persons of whatsoever Place, Degree or Condition, may not fail every one severally according to his respective place, office or charge, to proceed in the performance and execution of all Duties thereunto belonging, as formerly appertained to them and every of them, whilest the former government was in being.
Given at Whitehall, 21 December 1653”
Meanwhile, at the meeting on 20 December the Councillors further ordered that all prisoners committed by the Nominated Assembly were to remain in custody. Two forestry commissioners were appointed to negotiate the repurchase of parks and lands around Hampton Court, which had been designated for the use of the new Lord Protector. The Council assured the late customs farmers that the new government would honour the terms and conditions agreed with them by the Nominated Assembly, including a deal whereby they would gain some ex-forest land in return for advancing £250,000 to the government. This assurance was made in response to a petition which the customs farmers had addressed to the Lord Protector, the first of many thousands of petitions which were to come before the Council during the Protectorate. Business had begun in earnest.
It will be 350 years ago in January that Oliver Cromwell was convicted of treason and posthumously beheaded. But who was this reluctant republican – and could he be the greatest politician in our history?
Wednesday 30 January 1661: the Old Bailey, London. At the Bar, four bedraggled men await sentencing for treason. As the judge pronounces the death penalty, they show not a flicker of emotion. Not even a muscle twitches to show their fear. But why would it? Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton, John Bradshawe and Thomas Pride are dead already. Wrapped in shrouds, their corpses have been propped up against the Bar in a ghastly parody of justice.
When the judge orders them taken down, they are hauled back to their coffins and dragged on sledges through the streets to Tyburn. There, in front of a vast crowd of men, women and children, the bodies are hanged by the neck, dangling limply in their rags. At sunset they are taken down and their heads are cut off and stuck on poles above Westminster Hall.
The head of the most controversial figure in British history, severed from his dead body almost 350 years ago today, remained one of London's more grotesque attractions for several decades. Some time in the late 17th century it was recovered by a soldier, became a bizarre collector's item, and was finally buried in Cromwell's old college, Sidney Sussex, Cambridge, in 1960. For a man who had been Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, victor of Naseby, Worcester and Marston Moor, one of the architects of British sea power and the only commoner in history to serve as our head of state, it was a demeaning end.
And yet, in some ways, the strange story of Cromwell's head - which may not even be his, as some still think that his body was switched for another before the gruesome ritual at Tyburn - is an appropriate epilogue to an extraordinarily ambiguous career. The king-killer who toyed with wearing the crown, the hero of liberty who shot down the Levellers, the champion of religious toleration who loathed Catholicism, the practical joker who became a symbol of joyless Puritanism, he remains one of the most bewildering figures in British history.
By any standards, the former yeoman farmer from Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire is one of the most notable - perhaps the outstanding - figure in our national story. If, as the celebrated Marxist historian Christopher Hill wrote in his splendid God's Englishman (1970), "the 17th century is the decisive century in English history", then Cromwell is its dominant player.
In Ireland he is still hated in Britain, however, he has admirers at both ends of the political spectrum. Michael Foot used to write irate letters to newspaper editors whenever his hero was criticised, while the right-wing columnist Simon Heffer ranks Cromwell next to Gladstone and Thatcher as one of the greatest leaders in British history.
What makes Cromwell's rise to power so fascinating is that it came so late. When the civil war broke out in 1642, he was already 43 and had achieved virtually nothing of note. A distant descendant of Henry VIII's reforming minister Thomas Cromwell, he spent most of his first four decades hovering on the fringes of the gentry. "I was by birth a gentleman," Cromwell said later, "living neither in any considerable height, nor yet in obscurity." But because his father was a younger son in an age that rewarded seniority, the Cromwell family suffered from perennial money troubles, and although Oliver entered Cambridge in 1616 and married a merchant's daughter, his status remained precarious.
In 1631, when he was in his early thirties, he sold most of his properties in Huntingdon and became the tenant of a small farmstead in St Ives - clearly a step down the social ladder. Even years later, his royalist opponents could barely contain their horror that such a man had once been the ruler of all Britain. He wore "a plain cloth-suit, which seemed to have been made by a poor tailor", sniffed the Old Etonian Sir Philip Warwick, recalling Cromwell the young man. "His shirt was plain, and not very clean and I remember a speck or two of blood upon his collar . . . His face was swollen and red, his voice sharp and untunable, and his speech full of passion."
One of the many misconceptions about Cromwell is that he was a dull, dour man, the kind who liked nothing better than smashing up stained-glass windows and banning Christmas. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a boy, writes Hill, Oliver was "rough, boisterous and practical-joking", and even as MP for Cambridge he was generally regarded as outspoken, impetuous and politically naive.
Far from being solemn, he was an ebullient, fun-loving man who wore his hair long, smoked tobacco and enjoyed a drink. At the wedding of his daughter Frances, after he had become Lord Protector, Cromwell reportedly tossed wine over his guests, danced until dawn and "dawbed all the stools where they were to sit with wet sweet-meates", rather like some early-modern Benny Hill. Given his wild mood swings between jubilation and gloom, some biographers have suggested that he suffered from manic depression, which might explain why he laughed "as if he had been drunk" after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, or why, at the signing of Charles I's death warrant, he relieved the tension by flicking ink at his colleagues' faces, like a naughty schoolboy.
To modern eyes, however, Cromwell can often seem almost an alien figure. In many ways, what defined him was his burning religious passion, the kind of thing we now associate with the drive-in churches of the American South rather than the flat world of the East Anglian fens. It seems clear that around 1629 or 1630, when his financial woes were at their worst, Cromwell came close to a mental and physical breakdown. His doctor in Huntingdon said later that Cromwell had a "strong fancy" that "he was dying". In any case, he went through a process that we would call being "born again", becoming convinced that God had marked him out for eternal salvation.
“Oh, have I lived in and loved darkness and hated the light," he wrote a few years later. "I was a chief, the chief of sinners . . . I hated godliness yet God had mercy upon me. O the riches of His mercy!"
To describe Cromwell as a religious fundamentalist slightly misses the point. Fundamentalism originated as a response to secular modernity by contrast, Cromwell was born into a premodern world that took religious assumptions extremely seriously.
What marked him out was not so much that he was very religious, but that he belonged to a particular group - the "godly", whom we call Puritans - who believed that Charles I and his courtiers were betraying the potential of the Protestant Reformation.
To men like Cromwell, the sinister armies of international Catholicism were permanently poised to strike across the Channel and extinguish English Protestantism for ever. We might well regard them as paranoid but to those who could recall the Spanish Armada and the Gunpowder Plot, and who were horrified by news of the Thirty Years War, such fears seemed all too realistic.
By the summer of 1642, the fears that had built steadily over so many years were near their peak. A Scottish revolt at his proposed new prayer book in 1637 had been followed by rebellion in Ireland, and Charles I was forced to summon parliament to raise new taxes. Relations soon broke down, however, and in January 1642 his half-hearted coup, in which he led troops into the Commons in pursuit of his chief critics, had destroyed any chance of a compromise.
Even at this stage, Cromwell was a relatively obscure figure. His financial woes were over, thanks to an inheritance from his uncle which allowed him to rejoin the ranks of the East Anglian gentry, and in 1640 he was elected MP for Cambridge. But although he was identified with the opposition to the king, he was hardly a household name, merely a backbencher with good contacts. What marked him out was his sheer belligerence. Ten days before war had even started, he seized the arms store at Cambridge Castle and intercepted an armed escort taking money from the university to the king. Had the conflict fizzled out, he would have been guilty of robbery and treason. Not for the first time, he had gambled -and won.
War was the making of Oliver Cromwell. Like many other Puritan MPs, he was raring to take the fight to the enemy, recruiting a cavalry troop in Cambridgeshire and taking part in the first battle at Edgehill, Oxfordshire, in October 1642. Despite his lack of military training, he proved a highly successful cavalry officer, rising to lieutenant general in the army of the Eastern Association and then second-in-command of the New Model Army. Besides giving him a national presence, the war shaped his career in two decisive ways.
The first was his unusually close relationship with his men. Renowned for his stern discipline - not for nothing were his troopers nicknamed Ironsides - Cromwell took his responsibilities to his men very seriously indeed, championing their demands for better pay.
Unlike other commanders, he refused to promote men for reasons of birth and breeding his officers, sneered the Earl of Manchester, were "common men, poor and of mean parentage". Cromwell was unrepentant, however: as he famously wrote in 1643, "I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows, than that which you call 'a gentleman' and is nothing else." Many of his officers were humble yeomen, picked for their religious zeal. "I have a lovely company," he told a friend, calling them "honest sober Christians". They were holy warriors: if they were "well armed within by the satisfaction of their conscience", he thought, "they would as one man stand firmly and charge desperately".
The second effect of the civil war was to strengthen Cromwell's sense that he had been chosen to do the Lord's work. Unlike Tony Blair, he had no compunction about avowing his sense of divine mission, and with each victory his faith in "God's providence" deepened.
Cromwell's biographer Barry Coward thinks that the turning point came in July 1644 in Yorkshire, at the Battle of Marston Moor, where the Ironsides smashed royalist strength in the north of England. "Truly England and the Church of God hath had a great favour from the Lord," Cromwell enthused in a letter to his brother-in-law after the victory. "God made them as stubble to our swords."
The parliamentary press - for this was a conflict played out in print as well as on the battlefield - also saw Cromwell as an instrument of God. For the newspaper Perfect Diurnal, he was "one of the Saviours (as God hath miraculously manifested him to be) of this Israel". And from this point onwards, Cromwell's sense of mission never wavered. "Thus you see what the Lord hath wrought for us," he wrote ecstatically after another battle a year later. "Now can we give the glory to God, and desire all may do so, for it is all due unto Him!"
Yet there was another side to Cromwell's fervent religiosity. Though popular memory often casts him as the intolerant destroyer of church decorations, we ought to remember him as the champion of religious liberty. All "men that believe in the remission of sins through the blood of Christ", he once said, "are members of Jesus Christ and are to him as the apple of his eye". Naturally his idea of toleration only went so far: "popery and prelacy", which he associated with the corrupt Cavaliers, were definitely beyond the pale. But the fact remains that, by the standards of his day, he was exceptionally tolerant: during the Protectorate, there was far more freedom of conscience than under James I, Charles I or Charles II.
“I had rather that Mahometanism were permitted amongst us," Cromwell said in 1650, "than that one of God's children should be persecuted." This was an extraordinary thing for a 17th-century Protestant gentleman to say. No wonder he was regarded as "the darling of the sectaries [dissenters]". Yet when Charles I gave himself up to parliament's Scottish allies in May 1646, Cromwell was still a long way from the top of the political ladder. Like most of his comrades, he found it hard to imagine a settlement without the king. Within just a few months of the end of the war, the winners had fallen out among themselves.
Parliament and the Scots wanted a settlement that would disband the army, restore Charles to the throne and impose Presbyterian uniformity on the Church of England but to the New Model Army, parliament's proposals were a sell-out. As so often, the soldiers had been made radical by the years of bloodshed: furious at the endless delays in getting their pay, they were outraged at the thought of having to endure yet another kind of religious authoritarianism. Cromwell, by this point their deputy commander, faced a historic choice: his Presbyterian allies in parliament or his "Independent" comrades in the army. He chose the army.
History can too often seem like the clash of Machiavellian personalities, so it is worth remembering that, like many other leaders before and since, Cromwell was essentially the prisoner of events. He seems to have been taken aback by the radicalism of his men - at one stage he retired from political life for a month with a psychosomatic illness - and only reluctantly left Westminster to join them. Torn between the social conservatism of a country gentleman and his impassioned commitment to the Independent cause, Cromwell tried to play the mediator. When the radicals in the army - the Levellers, later reinvented by the likes of Tony Benn as proto-socialists - met with their officers at Putney to discuss the way forward, Cromwell acted as ringmaster, hoping to find common ground. As so often, he fell back on religion when the debate got out of hand, suggesting at one point a break for prayer. "Perhaps God may unite us," he said, "and carry us both one way."
Then everything changed. On 11 November 1647, Charles escaped from his guards at Hampton Court and fled to the Isle of Wight. By the summer of 1648 the country was engulfed in a second civil war, this time with the Scots on the king's side. It was the decisive event in Cromwell's life. At Preston, in Lancashire, he smashed a royalist army twice the size of his own, strengthening his view that he was God's chosen instrument, and that the Lord wanted him to "call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to an account for that blood he had shed, and mischief he had done".
The irony was that, far from being a republican, Cromwell always believed that only a monarchical system would ensure stability - but the king's duplicity, he told a friend, left them with "no other way". In December 1648, Colonel Thomas Pride led his men in to parliament, arresting wavering MPs in what became known as Pride's Purge. Six weeks later, Charles was put on trial. Ten days after that, he was dead.
Even after the king's execution on 30 January 1649, Cromwell's position remained strikingly ambiguous. Although he was, in effect, head of the army, he was no dictator in theory, power had passed to the new Council of State, of which he was only one member.
In any case, the revolution still looked decidedly shaky. In Ireland, Catholic rebels had reached a deal with the royalists, an alliance that reawakened many English Protestants' worst fears. As Christopher Hill puts it, Ireland had long seemed "an open back door to foreign invasion". Even now, Charles's nephew Prince Rupert was hovering off the Irish coast. Hungry for a quick military victory, the so-called Rump Parliament told Cromwell to solve the Irish problem for good.
What happened next is probably the most divisive incident in the long and unhappy history of Anglo-Irish relations. There is no doubt that, like most Englishmen of his generation, Cromwell loathed Irish Catholicism. Transfixed by the memory of the rebellion of 1641, he was determined to exact revenge. Yet as John Morrill, the dean of 17th-century scholarship, puts it, the Irish campaign has become a "legend rooted in half-truths". Would the massacres at Drogheda and Wexford in late 1649, where perhaps 7,000 people were killed, have happened in England? Almost certainly not but, as Morrill notes, Cromwell was following "the laws of war as they had operated in Ireland for the previous century".
As usual, Cromwell justified himself in terms of religion: the massacres, he said, were "a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbued their hands in so much innocent blood and . . . will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future. Which are the satisfactory grounds to such actions . . ."
More than a few historians have compared them to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - to some observers, they are atrocities to others, regrettably harsh measures that spared more bloodshed later on. Cromwell's more sweeping critics often forget that, in the next few months, he offered remarkably generous terms for surrender at towns such as Macroom, Kilkenny and Clonmel. At the very least he deserves to be judged by the standards of his own time rather than to be caricatured by the simple-minded products of ours. Like so many generals after him, from the Duke of Wellington to Dwight D Eisenhower, he returned to find that military success abroad had made him a star at home. By now his sense of divine providence was at its height. "You can scarce speak to Cromwell about anything," said a hostile pamphlet, "but he will lay his hand on his breast,
elevate his eyes and call God to record he will weep, howl and repent even while he doth smite you under the fifth rib."
After he smashed the Scots again at Dunbar, he seemed to observers to be in some sort of frenzy, laughing like a madman while his eyes "sparkled with spirits".
Now more than ever, Cromwell was convinced that God had plucked him from obscurity to lead England into a golden age of Protestant virtue. And by April 1653, infuriated by the Rump Parliament's endless squabbling and religious intolerance, he had had enough. Perhaps his words should be etched above the doors to the Commons as a reminder to modern MPs not to get above themselves.
“Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defiled this sacred place, and turned the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices?" he shouted. "Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation you who were deputed by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance." And as his soldiers cleared the chamber, he said: "Take away that fool's bauble, the Mace . . . Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"
As Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, Cromwell was now in an extraordinary position. Nobody in British history, perhaps not even a monarch, has ever held so much power. Despite the crude caricatures by his opponents, he was no dictator: three times in the next five years he called parliaments of one kind of another, striving to achieve a lasting constitutional settlement.
Even his critics noted that he still wore a cheap coat, "plain black clothes" and "grey worsted stockings". And though he gradually acquired the trappings of monarchy, he remained at heart the same anxious, driven, plain-speaking man, tortured by his own failings, craving signs of God's approval.
Perhaps the most revealing moment in his whole career came in 1657, when the Protectorate Parliament urged him to take the crown and thereby ensure a lasting settlement. A more ambitious or self-interested man would probably have accepted it. True, some of his fellow officers hated the idea, but King Oliver would have been strong enough to endure the pressure. Yet after six weeks of agonising - during which he was so sick with doubt that he missed meetings and even presented himself to visitors "half unready in his gown" - he turned it down. As so often, his sense of divine providence had been decisive. "I would not seek to set up that which Providence hath destroyed and laid in the dust," he explained, "and I would not build Jericho again."
The irony is that, in just a few years, Cromwell proved a far better head of state than almost any other incumbent in our history.
Absurdly, he is remembered today for "banning" Christmas - though it had nothing to do with him but had been instituted by parliament in the 1640s as an attempt to eliminate crypto-Catholic superstitions. By any sensible standard, however, the Protectorate was a great success. Given the bloodshed and turmoil that had gone before, it is easy to imagine Britain sliding into anarchy, repression or renewed civil war. After repeated harvest failures, and with food prices rising sharply, thousands starving on the streets and the press full of hysterical warnings about Ranters and radicals, there was a great risk of total social collapse. Yet Cromwell's achievement - a reflection of his political moderation, his modest temperament and his relatively tolerant religious vision - was to give Britain stability after years of chaos. Even the much-mocked Barebones Parliament, an assembly of hand-picked godly reformers, was much more moderate, efficient and effective than is often remembered.
Where Cromwell scores unexpectedly highly is in his foreign policy. Largely forgotten today, the first Anglo-Dutch war in the early 1650s was a watershed in British history, ending Holland's domination of international trade and marking the emergence of the British navy on the world stage. For Hill, Cromwell's administration was "the first in English history to have a world strategy". Until the 1650s, Britain had been a backwater a decade later, with its security assured and its sea power rising inexorably, the transformation was "astonishing".
Cromwell died peacefully in his bed in September 1658, carried off by malaria, pneumonia and exhaustion in the middle of the greatest storm that anybody could remember. Within 18 months, the Protectorate had collapsed, the monarchy had been restored and Charles II was back in England.
Yet we often forget that Cromwell had the last laugh. In the decade after his death, as Charles II danced and dithered, even royalists sometimes wished the Protector was back in charge. "It is strange how everybody do now-a-days reflect upon Oliver and commend him, what brave things he did and made all the neighbour princes fear him," wrote Samuel Pepys in 1667. The Dutch ambassador told the king to his face that "Cromwell was a great man, who made himself feared by land and sea".
“His greatness at home," admitted the royalist Earl of Clarendon, "was but a shadow of the glory he had abroad. It was hard to discover which feared him most, France, Spain or the Low Countries, where his friendship was current at the value he put upon it."
In the long run, as Hill notes, the reigns of Charles II and James II were mere interludes: after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Catholic James was kicked off the throne to make way for William of Orange, "the policies of the 1650s were picked up again". In the two centuries that followed, the things Cromwell had come to represent - the rule of parliament, the importance of commerce, the rise of sea power, tolerance of religious diversity and perhaps, above all, the moral, cultural and economic energy of the Protestant "middling sort" - came to define Britain itself.
To complacent modern eyes, much that we associate with Cromwell - his burning religiosity, his ruthlessness in battle, his instinctive patriotism, his sense of mission - can seem unsettling. Yet not only did he pave the way for the "great commoners" who ruled Britain in the next century, but he can be seen as a forerunner of the ordinary men who became presidents of the United States - a quasi-monarchical, self-consciously virtuous republic that was inspired directly by the Good Old Cause of the 1640s and 1650s. But the story that as a young man Cromwell almost fled to New England is probably a myth for one thing, he believed that God had chosen England to be his "firstborn", his "delight among the nations".
For those who like their heroes to stay two-dimensional do-gooders, he probably seems a disturbingly abrasive figure. In many ways he remains a difficult man to love, but, unlike so many political leaders after him, he was a recognisably rounded, human figure, painfully aware of his own flaws. "A larger soul, I think, hath seldom dwelt in a house of clay than his was," wrote John Maidstone, steward of Cromwell's household, after his master's death. His words make a fitting epitaph for the greatest man in our history, warts and all.
Dominic Sandbrook's latest book is "State of Emergency: the Way We Were - Britain, 1970-1974", published by Allen Lane (£30)
Cromwell, Oliver. The Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell. Edited by W. C. Abbott. 4 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1937 – 1947.
Allen, William. A Faithful Memorial of That Remarkable Meeting of Many Officers of the Army in England, at Windsor Castle, in the Year 1648. London, 1659.
Buchan, John. Oliver Cromwell. London, 1934.
Coward, Barry. Oliver Cromwell. London, 1991.
Davis, J. C. Oliver Cromwell. London, 2001.
Firth, C. H. Cromwell and the Rule of the Puritans in England. London, 1901.
Fraser, Antonia. Cromwell, Our Chief of Men. London, 1973.
Hill, Christopher. God's Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution. London, 1970.
Morrill, John. Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution. London, 1990.
Paul, Robert S. The Lord Protector: Religion and Politics in the Life of Oliver Cromwell. London, 1955.
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(1) Sir Philip Warwick, a Royalist, made these comments on Oliver Cromwell in about 1640.
He wore. a plain cloth-suit, which seemed to have been made by a poor tailor his shirt was plain, and not very clean and I remember a speck or two of blood upon his collar. his face was swollen and red, his voice sharp and untunable, and his speech full of passion.
(2) Oliver Cromwell, speech to the people of Dublin after his arrival in Ireland (16 August, 1649)
God has brought us here in safety. We are here to carry on the great work against the barbarous and blood-thirsty Irish. to propagate the Gospel of Christ and the establishment of truth. and to restore this nation to its former happiness and tranquillity.
(3) Earl of Clarendon wrote about Oliver Cromwell in his book History of the Rebellion (c. 1688)
Without doubt, no man with more wickedness ever brought to pass what he desired more wickedly.
(4) John Lilburne was a Leveller who was imprisoned by Oliver Cromwell. In 1649 Lilburne wrote a letter to Cromwell.
We have much cause to distrust you for we know how many broken promises that you have made to the kingdom.
(5) In about 1660, Edward Burrough, a Quaker, wrote down his thoughts on Oliver Cromwell.
He loved the praise of men, and took flattering titles. He allowed tithes and false worship and other popish stuff. He persecuted and imprisoned people for criticising things that were popish.
(6) Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary these comments on Oliver Cromwell in July 1667.
Everybody do nowadays reflect upon Cromwell and praise him. what brave things he did and made all the foreign princes fear him.
(7) Nathaniel Crouch, A History of Oliver Cromwell (1692)
Many people in our times. have a great respect for the memory of Oliver Cromwell, as being a man of devout religion and a great champion for the liberties of the nation.
(8) Richard Overton, Hunting the Foxes (March, 1649)
O Cromwell, O Ireton, how hath a little time and success changed the honest shape of so many officers! Who then would have thought the army council would have moved for an act to put men to death for petitioning? Who would have thought to have seen soldiers (by their order) to ride with their faces towards their horse tails, to have their swords broken over their heads, and to be cashiered, and that for petitioning, and claiming their just right and title to the same?
Was there ever a generation of men so apostate so false and so perjured as these? Did ever men pretend an higher degree of holiness, religion, and zeal to God and their country than these? These preach, these fast, these pray, these have nothing more frequent than the sentences of sacred scripture, the name of God and of Christ in their mouths: you shall scarce speak to Cromwell about anything, but he will lay his hand on his breast, elevate his eyes, and call God to record, he will weep, howl and repent, even while he doth smite you under the first rib.
(9) Oliver Cromwell, writing to the Speaker of the House of Commons after defeating the Catholics at Drogheda. (September, 1649)
Every tenth man of the soldiers were killed and the rest sent to the Barbados. I think we put to the sword altogether about 2,000 men. about 100 of them fled to St Peter's Church. they asked for mercy, I refused. I ordered St Peter's Church to be set on fire.
(10) Message sent by Oliver Cromwell to Sir Arthur Aston, commander of the Irish forces in Drogheda (10th September, 1649)
I have brought the army belonging to the Parliament of England to this place, to reduce it to obedience. if you surrender you will avoid the loss of blood. If you refuse. you will have no cause to blame me.
(11) Oliver Cromwell commenting on the activities of the Levellers and the Diggers (1649)
What is the purport of the levelling principle but to make the tenant as liberal a fortune as the landlord. I was by birth a gentleman. You must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces.
(12) Edward Sexby, Killing No Murder (1657)
To his Highness, Oliver Cromwell. To your Highness justly belongs the Honour of dying for the people, and it cannot choose but be unspeakable consolation to you in the last moments of your life to consider with how much benefit to the world you are like to leave it. 'Tis then only (my Lord) the titles you now usurp, will be truly yours you will then be indeed the deliverer of your country, and free it from a bondage little inferior to that from which Moses delivered his. You will then be that true reformer which you would be thought. Religion shall be then restored, liberty asserted and Parliaments have those privileges they have fought for. We shall then hope that other laws will have place besides those of the sword, and that justice shall be otherwise defined than the will and pleasure of the strongest and we shall then hope men will keep oaths again, and not have the necessity of being false and perfidious to preserve themselves, and be like their rulers. All this we hope from your Highness's happy expiration, who are the true father of your country for while you live we can call nothing ours, and it is from your death that we hope for our inheritances. Let this consideration arm and fortify your Highness's mind against the fears of death and the terrors of your evil conscience, that the good you will do by your death will something balance the evils of your life.
Early Exeter History 1638-1887
Exeter is a small town in southeastern New Hampshire centered around the falls where the fresh-water Exeter River meets the salty, tidal Squamscott. The location of an early settlement at the fall line is probably no coincidence because the natural resources found there suited the needs of the early settlers so admirably. The falls provided water power, which the English settlers were quick to utilize the river furnished a relatively easy mode of transportation, which remained an important factor in the economy of Exeter until the mid-nineteenth century, and to a gradually diminishing extent until the last coal barge left the McReel Docks in the 1930's and the Exeter Manufacturing Company shut down its water-powered generator in the 1950's. The river was bordered with salt marshes, which supplied readily available fodder to keep the settlers' cattle alive moreover, the Exeter area was favored with a significant acreage of natural meadow. These features, when added to the great stands of timber nearby, supplied much that a new settlement needed to take root and prosper.
The area had another attraction for a band of exiles hounded into the wilderness by the Massachusetts General Court in the late 1630's: it was without any kind of central government. It lay within the bounds of grants given by the Plymouth Company to John Mason in 1622 and 1629. Mason, however, had died his grandson and heir, Robert Tufton Mason, was a minor in 1638 and could not pursue his claims. The English government was too preoccupied with the troubles that eventually resulted in the Civil War to listen to complaints by Mason's advisors. As a result, the area and the earlier settlements, such as Portsmouth and Dover, were without any central government.
Although there were a few scattered settlers in the area that became Exeter before the Reverend John Wheelwright arrived, the title of Founder belongs to him because he brought a number of settlers with him and provided an organized government. The kind of people Wheelwright and his followers were and the religious beliefs that drove them were central to their reasons for coming to Exeter and to their ability to make a success of the new settlement.
Wheelwright and those who came to Exeter with him from the Massachusetts Bay Colony were English Puritans who had left England to escape religious persecution and who, from necessity or choice, had left Massachusetts after Wheelwright was exiled. In England they had been members of the middle and lower middle class, small landowners, merchants, and craftsmen. In other words, they came from the stratum of English society that was the backbone of the Puritan movement, which was eventually to overthrow the monarchy and make Oliver Cromwell the head of an English republic. They had preferred to give up their relatively comfortable and secure lives in England for the life of hardship and insecurity in an unknown land rather than to keep quiet in the face of church authority. They also made Exeter the only New Hampshire town settled for reasons of religion.
Wheelwright, his second wife, and his five children had arrived in Boston on May 23, 1636, to find the colony in a state of near crisis. The religious teaching of Anne Hutchinson (Wheelwright's sister-in-law), combined with political and economic disputes, had split Massachusetts into a Boston faction and a country faction. Mrs. Hutchinson and her Boston supporters welcomed Wheelwright as one of their own and helped him find a parish. He therefore became the clergyman most closely identified with Anne Hutchinson and so was the natural target of former Gov. John Winthrop, who led the country party and who was assembling his forces to return to political power.
Wheelwright, who seemed to have been oblivious to his danger, played into Winthrop's hands with his Fast Day sermon of January 19, 1637. The General Court had proclaimed a fast day to reconcile the opposing factions in the colony. Wheelwright, however, preached an inflammatory sermon that cast scorn on the teachings of most Massachusetts ministers. In March the Massachusetts General Court tried him and declared him guilty of sedition and contempt. On November 7, 1637, it disenfranchised him and told him to be gone by the end of two weeks. Wheelwright's supporters were given harsh penalties by the court, and Mrs. Hutchinson was also banished. Wheelwright had to go into exile in a bitterly cold winter, which had begun in early November.
We have no description of Wheelwright's feelings no firsthand information of how he managed the move-where he got the money for transportation, the chattels and livestock he would need in a wilderness settlement no mention of the arduous trip, except one line in his book, Mercurius Americanus - "I confess it was marvelous he got thither at that time, when they expelled him, by reason of the deep snow in which he might have perished." We can speculate that he chose the Exeter area because there was no church established there to dispute his authority and because, as mentioned earlier, there was no central government in the area. We can guess that he used the months between his trial in March and his banishment in November to make some plans, because he must have realized, at least by May 1637, when Winthrop was reelected governor, that he was going to have to move.
Independent Republic: 1638 - 43
Our only information about Wheelwright's earliest activities in the Exeter area comes by inference from the two deeds, dated April 3, 1638, that he obtained from the local Indians. From them we learn that he was sufficiently acquainted with the Piscataqua region to have made friends with Darby Field, Edward Hilton, and Edward Colcord, who were already there to have chosen the area near the falls as the spot to settle and to have negotiated with Wehanownowit, Sagamore of the Piscatoquake, for the deeds. These two deeds gave to Wheelwright and his fellow settlers such rights as the Sagamore could bestow (which in English law were none at all) to an area thirty by thirty miles. Both deeds ran thirty miles inland from the ocean, but while one set the southern boundary at the Merrimac River, the other set it three miles north of the river.
There about thirty-five heads of family, estimated at perhaps 175 souls in all, proceeded to erect a settlement, which survived and grew into present-day Exeter. Aside from the few Europeans who had been in the area before Wheelwright, most were either Wheelwright supporters from Massachusetts or friends, neighbors, or relatives of his or the Hutchinsons who had arrived in Boston in early July 1637 and had been excluded by the Alien Act (an act of the Massachusetts General Court designed specifically to exclude newly arrived friends of Wheelwright and Anne Hutchinson).
The first settlers accomplished a great deal in their first five years in Exeter, despite the enormous difficulties they faced, with no outside financial backing and Massachusetts' continuing animus against them. Wheelwright organized a church sometime in 1638, one would expect immediately after arriving. He wrote the Exeter Combination (it is considered to be in his own hand), which on July 4, 1639, thirty-five freemen of Exeter signed. That document declared the settlers' intention of establishing their own government. The government consisted of three elders, the chief of them called "ruler", who had judicial and executive functions. The whole body of freemen chose the elders and served as a legislative body, with their enactments subject to the approval of the ruler. The government thus set up endured for five years. It never had recognized jurisdiction over the whole of the area covered in the Indian Deed, but it did control the area of the present-day towns of Exeter, Newmarket, Newfields, Brentwood, Epping and Fremont.
In the winter of 1639 Exeter parceled out to its inhabitants its salt marshes, natural meadows, and upland lots for planting. The government functioned: it passed regulations controlling lumbering and the pasturage of swine in 1640 it authorized Thomas Wilson to operate a grist mill it ordered the owner of swine that had damaged and Indian's corn fields to make restitution in kind it made provisions for a "band of soldiers" and it passed a number of other regulations, which give us some idea of life in earliest Exeter. We know little about how the town looked but can assume that some of the settlers built substantial houses because there were two carpenters among the first settlers, and because we know that at least two of their houses were in use many years later. Most of the first settlers, including Wheelwright, lived on the west side of the river, but a few lived on the east side. The settlers raised cattle and swine they made barrel staves and shakes entirely with had tools they did some planting and they exploited the abundant fish in the rivers.
Under Massachusetts Jurisdiction: 1643-80
In 1643 Exeter twice petitioned the Massachusetts Bay Colony to take Exeter under its jurisdiction. The second petition was accepted in September thus Exeter joined Dover and Portsmouth, which had already accepted Massachusetts' jurisdiction under favorable terms. (Hampton had been part of Massachusetts since its founding in September 1638.) No doubt the pressure of being alone on the frontier and the influence of new families that had settled in Exeter since its founding overcame the opposition of Wheelwright and others who were under the ban of Massachusetts. Wheelwright and a number of his followers went into exile once again, this time to Wells, Maine. The remainder of Wheelwright's life was long and eventful. Massachusetts lifted its sentence of banishment against him in 1644 he accepted a call to the Hampton Church in 1647, remaining there until going to England in 1657. There he was warmly received by his college classmate Oliver Cromwell and his friend from Boston days, Sir Harry Vane. He returned from England to the pulpit of the Salisbury, Massachusetts Church in 1662, where he remained until he died at about eighty-seven in 1679.
The change from independence to Massachusetts jurisdiction did not greatly alter the day-to-day government of the town. The assembled freemen still acted as the legislature and chose three men, now called "townsmen" rather than elders, to serve as the town's executive and judiciary. (The town records are not consistent on the term and after 1660 usually used the present-day designation of "selectmen.") Massachusetts did require, however, that major legal cases be tried in Massachusetts courts and that Exeter submit to general laws and regulations that pertained to the colony as a whole, such as those requiring towns to maintain trained bands (militia units) and watch-houses (fortified places) and those regulating fishing rights.
The loss of Wheelwright and the prominent citizens who went with him was of great consequence to the town. The town's growth and economy both seem to have slowed after they left. Perhaps the best indication of the town's difficulties was its inability for seven years to replace Wheelwright with a permanent minister. Wheelwright appears to have arranged for a replacement, Thomas Rashleigh, but he stayed only about a year. Several attempts to secure a minister for the town failed. Wheelwright, who was free to return in 1644, refused the town's invitation. The cause of these failures remains unclear, but not having a minister must have caused grievous worry to the religious-minded townspeople. Exeter historian Charles H. Bell, with good reason, dates the beginning of the town's return to growth and prosperity to the arrival of Edward Gilman Jr., in 1647 and the Reverend Mr. Samuel Dudley in 1650.
Edward Gilman Jr., was welcomed as a citizen with a grant of land and the right to establish a sawmill, the first in Exeter. His father and his brothers, John and Moses, followed him. Although Edward Jr., was lost at sea in 1653, the remaining Gilmans prospered as lumbermen, shipbuilders, and merchants. They served in prominent positions in the town, colonial government, and militia. John, in particular, with ninety-four grandchildren, played no small part in repopulating the town, which had declined in number with the departure of some of its more prominent residents to Wells with Wheelwright. Whether prompted by the example of the Gilmans or not, other men began to seek and receive rights to erect sawmills, until most available sites were occupied.
In early Exeter, lumber and the industries dependent upon it, such as shipbuilding, were the basis of the economy. Not for some time, was agriculture, on land that had been reclaimed from the forest, important to the economy or even indeed a sure source of subsistence for the townspeople themselves. Fish were abundant and an important source of food for the local inhabitants, but the river, unlike the ocean, could not supply enough fish for a major export trade. Town records show that the town's herds of swine increased greatly in number over the years. Beef and milk herds, however, could have increased only very slowly because herds had to be built up from the few animals that survived the long, grueling voyage across the Atlantic in little ships ill-suited to the health of man or beast, and because seventeenth-century farmers had not developed adequate ways of feeding cattle over the winter. The money obtained from the sale of the increased amount of lumber and lumber products consequent to the growth of the sawmill industry would eventually give impetus to the general economy of the town. Town records, however, show that prosperity came only slowly.
In 1650 Samuel Dudley accepted Exeter's invitation to be its minister. He was a vigorous and able man who soon made himself popular in the town. His importance to the town went beyond his ministry. He was the son of Governor Thomas Dudley of Massachusetts and the son-in-law of John Winthrop, thereby giving Exeter some influence where it counted. He also contributed to the town's economy with his sawmills and other business activities and to its population with his numerous progeny.
The town records of 1643-80 show the town constructing a twenty-by-twenty-foot meeting house, which recent research indicates was Exeter's first meeting house, not its second as some writers have concluded. They show the town trying to force reluctant taxpayers to pay their taxes, especially those supporting the minister settling boundaries with its neighbors legislating to control lumbering activities dividing land among the inhabitants maintaining a trained band appointing jury members trying, through laws and fines, to force inhabitants to keep their cattle and swine from straying into planted areas and struggling to maintain bridges and roads. The records also show that the town magistrates settled a surprising number of litigations and judged an equally surprising number of crimes. Massachusetts records show that Exeter maintained a force of sixty soldiers under the command of Lt. John Gilman, indicating that Exeter's population had grown from about 175 in 1639 to about 300 in 1669.
Exeter probably had several garrison houses by the end of this period. Exeter had been presented at the Ipswich court on January 30, 1647, for the lack of a watch-house, but there is no further reference to that lack in court records. A deed of 1667 refers to High Street above the falls as Fort Hill. The Hiltons had a garrison in what is now Newfields in 1664 the town built a watch-house on the back of the meetinghouse town records of 1696 mention the great fort (near the present Congregational Church) and both the Gilman Garrison House at the falls and the Sewall Garrison on the Park Street Common were built before 1690.
The restoration of the Stuarts to the throne of England in 1660 and the outbreak of King Philip's War in Massachusetts in 1675 had far-reaching effects on the lives of Exeter's inhabitants. The Indian war, which broke out in Massachussetts in fierce bloody battles and massacres, ended there with the death of King Philip in 1676. It continued until 1678 in New Hampshire and Maine. Not much happened in Exeter there were alarms and some ambushes of isolated travelers, such as John Robinson, who was the first Exeter resident killed by Indians. No doubt there was much disturbance of the normal routines of farming and lumbering. Farther to the north, in Dover and the Maine settlements, much fiercer Indian raids and equally fierce retaliation by the settlers, which sowed seeds of bitter hatred, took place. The goodwill that had existed between the Indians and the settlers in New Hampshire vanished forever.
Province of New Hampshire, Dominion of New England, Massachusetts Again: 1680-92
By the late 1670's Charles II was free enough from problems in England and Europe to begin to implement his colonial policies. Thereafter the New England colonies, which had been saved from direct royal interference by events in England, were bound closer and closer to the London government and exposed to the consequences of England's policies on the Continent. Charles II created the Royal Provinces of New Hampshire, effective January 1, 1680, partly to weaken Massachusetts and partly to help Robert Tufton Mason, Mason's heir, assert his claim to land in New Hampshire, which had been granted to his grandfather, John Mason.
At first the change in government was felt in Exeter mainly because Mason's heir was able to reassert his land claims. The English courts and the king agreed that Mason had never had a valid claim to rule in New Hampshire, but had upheld his rights to the land granted to him. His heir was directed to pursue them in the New Hampshire courts. He got nowhere while the New Hampshire government was controlled by local landowners, as it was until 1682. Then Mason persuaded the Royal Government to send Edward Cranfield to New Hampshire as governor, after he had mortgaged the potential revenues from his land claims to Cranfield. At the same time the new governor used the broad powers granted to him by the Royal Charter to pack the local courts and seems to have thereafter won all the suits brought against those in possession of lands claimed by Mason. The landowners who lost their cases (sixteen of them in Exeter alone) were supposed to pay a quit rent of six shillings per pound of revenue from the land (at a time when four shillings was considered exorbitant) or be foreclosed. However, Cranfield was never able to collect a penny in rent and was never able to find buyers for the foreclosed property.
In 1683, Governor Cranfield dissolved the Provincial Assembly (Exeter had two members and twenty qualified voters), and some rash Exeter and Hampton men, led by Edward Gove of Hampton, tried and failed to raise a revolt against him. Next, Cranfield suspended three councilors, including John Gilman of Exeter, and tried to raise money through an illegal tax. His attempts to collect the tax met with resistance throughout the province. In Exeter Constable John Folsom refused to cooperate, threatening the provost marshal of the province, who tried to collect the tax, with red-hot spits and scalding water if he tried to collect at his house. Two Gilman wives let the marshal know that they too would greet him with hot water, and a crowd hustled both him and his deputy from house to house until they left empty-handed.
Governor Cranfield, discouraged by his failure to recoup his finances, left for England in 1685. He was followed as governor in quick succession by Walter Barefoote and Joseph Dudley. In 1686, however, James II, Charle's successor, included New Hampshire in the Dominion of New England. The Dominion collapsed in 1689 with the news that James had been replaced by his daughter Mary II and her husband William III. For a brief time New Hampshire had no central government then it voluntarily became part of Massachusetts again and finally William and Mary established it as a separate province once again in 1692.
During this turbulent period, Exeter continued to grow. By 1680 the little twenty-by-twenty church had been enlarged by three galleries. the beloved Samuel Dudley died in 1683 and could not be replaced with a permanent minister until 1694. Not much else is known about events in Exeter because the town records between 1682 and December 1689 are missing. Those records that remain for the eighties and early nineties are primarily concerned with land allotments and the same activities of the town government as reflected in earlier years.
Royal Province: 1692-1775
William and Mary ascended the English throne in 1689, but they did not re-establish the Royal Province of New Hampshire until 1692. William, however, was quick to bring England into the anti-French alliance he had put together as Prince of Orange. Consequently the English colonies were for the first time embroiled in English wars against the French. The long series of wars - King William's, Queen Anne's, King George's, and finally the French and Indian War (as they called it in the colonies)-stretched on for seventy-three years of raids, massacres, pitched battles, and amphibious expeditions. New England contributed heavily in men and money and suffered terribly, some frontier areas being totally depopulated. Yet New Hampshire and the other colonies grew in wealth, population, and self-confidence.
Exeter was not attacked directly in force in King William's War, as were Dover and Durham, but isolated Exeter men were killed in ambush, and Exeter had to maintain a substantial number of men to protect itself and to assist other towns. The disruption to normal life and the fear of attack, which lasted until the European peace of 1697, must have been very wearing to all the people of Exeter. Peace did not last long. Once again events in Europe brought blood and fire to the New Hampshire frontier. Queen Anne's War (known in Europe as the War of the Spanish Succession) lasted from 1702 to 1713. This time the Indian raids were even fiercer than before and Exeter suffered much more heavily, although not as much as settlements farther east in New Hampshire and in the more exposed Maine settlements.
For eleven years garrisons had to be kept on alert and militia companies raised to go to the relief of other towns or to pursue the Indians into the wilderness. Colonel Winthrop Hilton was Exeter's most notable Indian fighter. The Indians revenged themselves for his successes when, no July 22, 1710, they killed him and two others in an ambush. A number of Exeter people were killed in ambushes at other times, and some were captured and taken to Canada. (The French encouraged their Indian allies to bring English captives to Canada, where they might be converted to Roman Catholicism.) Some of these captives died enroute, some were ransomed by relatives, and others made a new life in the French territories. One of the most interesting of them was Esther, great-granddaughter of John Wheelwright, who was taken captive in Wells in 1703 and ultimately became Mother Superior of the Ursuline Convent in Quebec.
The end of Queen Anne's War in 1713 was followed by a period of uneasy peace with the Indians until 1722, when Indian raids struck Dover and Oyster River again. Exeter suffered its last Indian raid in August 1723. The Rollins family at Lamprey River had neglected to go to a garrison house for the night. The husband and one child were killed the wife and two children were carried off to Canada. By then, however, the settlers in New Hampshire were beginning to gain a distinct advantage over the Indians. The ₤100 bounty offered by New Hampshire and Massachusetts for an Indian scalp, regardless of age or sex, made Indian hunting profitable. (As an illustration of bounty inflation, Hannah Dustin had been paid only five pounds a scalp by Massachusetts in 1697, and the Exeter minister's salary in 1713 was eighty pounds a year.)
By 1725 the great majority of New Hampshire Indians had fled their traditional homes for St. Francis in Quebec. For Exeter's citizens, the withdrawal of the Indians and the growth of frontier settlements between Exeter and Canada meant that the next two English-French wars did not bring the fighting directly to Exeter. Neither King George's War, from 1744 to 1748, nor the last great war, the French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years War), from 1754 t o1763, were fought in the Exeter area.
Exeter, however, had continually to provide soldiers for expeditions in northern New Hampshire and such major undertakings as the capture of the great French fort at Louisburg on Cape Breton Island, the 1746 expedition against Canada, and the Crown Point expeditions of 1756 and 1757. It was in the course of the 1757 expedition that Fort William Henry (featured in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans) was surrendered to the French. A New Hampshire regiment, with a number of Exeter men, were in the garrison. We do not know how many Exeter men served at any one time. There were at least eighty-four on the first Crown Point expedition, and others were under arms at other places at the same time. New Hampshire raised regiments in 1756, 1757, and 1758, with Exeter men in all of them. Obviously a large proportion of Exeter's able-bodied male population was away from home at any one time, and a good many never returned.
Nevertheless, during these war years Exeter grew from a frontier village of scarcely more than 300 people to a prosperous town of about 1,700, secure behind a barrier of villages farther north. (According to the New Hampshire census of 1775, Exeter had a population of 1,741, not including Newmarket, Epping, and Brentwood, which by then had separated from Exeter.) The old meetinghouse proved too small by 1696. It was replaced by a new one near the present-day Congregational Church. A still larger one was required by 1731. Located near the previous church, it was sixty by forty-five feet, with two galleries and a steeple and bell. The allotment of desirable pews In the 1696 meetinghouse had caused great dissension in the town. There is no record of such disputes over pews in the 1731 house. Forty-one pews sold at prices ranging from ₤11 to ₤21. (The steeple had cost ₤115 to build.) The lumber from the old meetinghouse was used to construct a forty-by-twenty-five-foot combined townhouse and courthouse building, thus making Exeter one of the earlier small towns to provide a building distinct from the meetinghouse for town functions. The townhouse, across the street from new meetinghouse, was flanked by stocks and a whipping post. In 1707 the town had voted to erect a schoolhouse of thirty by twenty feet near the new meetinghouse. From that time onwards it appears that Exeter maintained one or more elementary schools and a grammar school.
The town meeting-selectmen form of government has remained constant throughout Exeter's history. The executive lost its judicial function when Exeter became part of Massachusetts in 1643, but since then the only significant change has been the very recent addition of a town manager to assist the selectmen. (Curiously, the town has never been incorporated and has no charter.) The principal town officers have remained the same: three or five selectmen, a town clerk, a tax collector (until 1986), a treasurer, a moderator, and supervisors of the checklist. The town constables were elected and, despite the impressive rod of office supplied them by the town, most men tried to avoid the office because it involved the onerous and sometimes dangerous task of collecting taxes. In the eighteenth century a five pound fine was levied for refusing the office.
Increases in population and wealth brought some other important political divisions. In the eighteenth century, as in the seventeenth, all town taxpayers were taxed to support the minister and build and repair meetinghouses. As population centers grew in outlying parts of Exeter, their inhabitants naturally resented paying for a minister when they could rarely, if ever, attend the services or receive a visit from the minister. New parishes could be set off from older ones only by an affirmative vote by the old parish, which never was happy to lose a source of revenue, or by approval of the provincial assembly. Despite the difficulties put in their way, Newmarket (including Newfields) in 1727, Epping in 1741, and Brentwood in 1742 all received permission to form separate parishes and become towns as well. Fremont (Poplin) was set off from Brentwood in 1764, and South Newmarket (now Newfields) from Newmarket in 1849.
Other problems also afflicted the town. The provincial government had met the heavy cost of wars between 1689 and 1763 by two issues of paper money in 1709 (old tenor) and 1741 (new tenor). This paper currency rapidly depreciated in value, causing inflation and other impediments to commerce in an economy that had never had enough currency. For instance, when Exeter had engaged John Odlin as minister in 1705, his salary had been set at 70 pounds a year. By 1766 his son Woodbridge's yearly salary was 1,500 pounds, old tenor. In 1767 it was set at 100 pounds specie.
The Exeter church itself was split into two inimical parishes. The religious movement inspired by the preaching of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and labeled the Great Awakening had reached Exeter in the late 1730's, filling with religious enthusiasm one-third of the parish members, among them many of the richest and most prominent families in town. These "new lights" were not satisfied with the staid conservative religious service provided by the Odlins, father and son. So in 1743 they formed a new parish, erecting a sizable meetinghouse on the site of the present Dow House at 75 Front Street, although they had to pay their taxes to support the first parish until the State Assembly authorized the new parish in 1755.
During this period from 1692 to 1775, the people of Exeter were always ready to resist direct interference to their affairs by royal authority. In 1734 the King's Surveyor General, David Dunbar, tried to reclaim boards that had been illegally sawed from mst trees claimed by the king for the Royal Navy. His men were roughly treated by a group of Exeter men dressed as Indians. Exeter also actively supported every colonial protest against Parliament's attempt to levy taxes on the colonies. There were demonstrations against the stamp tax in 1765. In 1770, after the Boston Massacre, the town voted to boycott imported goods, such as tea, on which Parliament had imposed duties, and to encourage local manufacturing.
In 1771 the town built the powder house (whether in anticipation of the war to come we do not know). In January 1774 a special meeting of the citizens of Exeter passed a series of resolutions that in effect declared their readiness to fight for their rights against the London government's interference, to set up a Committee of Correspondence to keep in tough with other such committees in the colonies, and to make sure that no tea dealers in town purchased any more tea (Parliament having repealed all duties except the one on tea).
All thirteen colonies reacted with intense opposition to the "Five Intolerable Acts" passed by Parliament in 1774 to punish Boston for the Tea Party. A partial text of the acts reached New Hampshire in May 1774. On May 28 the Provincial Assembly appointed a new Committee of Correspondence, whereupon Gov. John Wentworth dissolved the assembly, believing that the committee would then have no legal existence. The committee did not agree and called an extra-legal session of the assembly. The governor would not permit it to meet in the Portsmouth assembly rooms. As a result, the First Provincial Congress of New Hampshire met in Exeter on July 21, 1774. It sent Nathaniel Folsom of Exeter and John Sullivan of Durham to represent the province at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. A Second Provincial Congress met in Exeter in January 1775. (Just prior to that meeting, New Hampshire men had taken the first military action against the English government in December 1774 when they forcibly removed the powder and cannon from Fort William and Mary in New Castle.)
The news of the Battle at Lexington and Concord brought swift reaction from New Hampshire. On April 20, Exeter sent Capt. James Hackett with 108 men to join the New Hampshire contingent , which soon totaled 2,000 men. On April 21 the Third Provincial Congress met in Exeter, and on May 27 the Fourth Provincial Congress met there. That body, on May 17, 1775, created the New Hampshire Committee of Safety, which became the de facto executive of New Hampshire until mid 1784. The Battle of Bunker Hill occurred on June 17, 1775 Governor Wentworth fled from Fort William and Mary on August 23, 1775 and at that point New Hampshire was without a legally constituted government.
The Fourth Provincial Congress, meeting in Exeter, asked advice from the Continental Congress on setting up a new government. Acting on that advice, it drafted the first written state constitution, which the Fifth Provincial Congress meeting in Exeter on January 5, 1776, adopted. This New Hampshire constitution, which lasted until 1784, established a council and house of representatives, but no executive. A joint committee of the two houses drafted a declaration of independence from Great Britain, which was adopted on June 11, 1776. Exeter, therefore, has the honor of being the site of the adoption of both the first state constitution and the first declaration of independence from Great Britain.
The town in which these stirring events were taking place was a busy lumbering and shipbuilding center of 1,741 people. (At that time, Portsmouth's population was 4,590, Brentwood's was 1,100, Epping's was 1,569, Newmarket's was 1,289.) The Squamscott river was lined with wharves and lumberyards there were sawmills or gristmills at every source of water power but there were as yet no other kinds of mills. There were two meetinghouses, a townhouse, a schoolhouse, and over two hundred residential houses. The houses were clustered on lower High Street, on Water Street as far as present-day Park Street, and along Front Street, thinning out beyond the present-day academy grounds. Spring and Center Streets and Governor's Lane were there, as were Main Street, Cass Street, Carpenter's Lane (now Green Street), and another cluster of houses around the Park Street Common. There were several taverns, and they must have been very busy when the Provincial Congress, sometimes with as many as 133 members, was in session in Exeter. The town had made its last division of public lands in 1740.
Revolution and Confederation: 1776-88
The years from 1774 through February 1788 were the years of Exeter's glory. Events of national and international importance took place there. As previously described, the first written state constitution and the first declaration of independence from Great Britain had been created in Exeter. The state government continued to meet in the old townhouse (sometimes in the meetinghouse) throughout the war and until 1782, after which most sessions were held in Concord. (Concord was officially declared the state capital in 1818.) The Committee of Safety, which functioned as the state's executive when the state legislature was not in session, met in Exeter. All of New Hampshire's considerable military endeavors during the Revolution were managed from Exeter. Exeter's Nicholas Gilman, Sr., was the State Treasurer in the difficult years of 1776-83 when insufficient revenues and depreciating paper money required great skill on the part of the treasurer to enable the state to meet its heavy military expenses. The younger Nicholas Gilman was one of New Hampshire's representatives at the Constitutional Convention and was one of the influential politicians whose political maneuverings made New Hampshire the crucial ninth state to ratify the Constitution in June 1788.
Exeter, like the rest of New Hampshire, furnished many men and officers to the State Militia and the Continental Army. In addition to the dislocation caused by the absence of men in the armies, Exeter suffered considerable economic hardship from the war. the thriving lumber and shipbuilding businesses were severely depressed by fear of British sea power, and the paper money inflation ruined many residents, rich and poor alike.
By 1781 the paper currency had depreciated so drastically that the General Court reestablished gold and silver as the only legal tender. The shortage of specie, however, was so great that many people, especially farmers, clamored for a reissue of paper currency. In 1786 a mob from farming communities marched on the General Court, then meeting in Exeter, to compel the issue of paper money. They were met with firmness by the legislators and the chief citizens of Exeter and forced to disperse the next day.
The war had some beneficial effects on Exeter's industries. It encouraged diversification from an economy based mainly on lumber and the products derived from it to a more broadly based industry, which was to characterize Exeter throughout the nineteenth century. A powder mill was constructed at King's Fall (near Kingston Road) in 1776, where it operated until the end of the war, when it was converted into a slitting mill for making nails. In 1777, Richard Jordan built a paper mill the falls above King's Fall it was bought by Eliphalet Hale in 1787. In 1776 the Tory Robert Fowle published what was possibly Exeter's first newspaper.
In April 1781 John Phillips founded Phillips Exeter Academy with an endowment of about $60,000. The school, which opened in May 1783, was fortunate in attracting to its earliest classes a number of talented young men - Lewis Cass, Daniel Webster, Edward Everett, and George Bancroft, to name but a few. Thereby, the academy almost from its beginning became well known and has since been an important element in the town of Exeter.
County Seat and Manufacturing Town: 1789-1887
After the Constitutional Convention that met in Exeter in February 1788 adjourned to Concord, few events of statewide or national importance took place in Exeter. Nevertheless, Exeter did not sink into an obscurity commensurate with its small population. The financial genius of some of its sons, the industrial achievements of others, and the eminence of Phillips Exeter Academy kept it from becoming just another mill town. According to the U.S. Census of 1790, Exeter had 1,722 inhabitants, nineteen fewer than in 1775. By 1830 its population had risen only to 2,759. While New Hampshire's population had increased more than three times between 1775 and 1830, Exeter's had not quite doubled.
Exeter, however, did continue to grow in the nineteenth century. Many inland towns that had surpassed Exeter in population after 1763 when the frontier became safe, declined. These towns had prospered on farming, but farmers began to move west in ever greater numbers after 1830. The future belonged to manufacturing towns. Although Exeter's supply of water power was not sufficient for it to become a major manufacturing center like Nashua or Manchester, the number of new enterprises established in Exeter during the nineteenth century was sufficient to keep Exeter prosperous and growing.
The paper mills at King's Fall remained in operation until 1870. Powder-making was revived in a large way in 1838 by Oliver M. Whipple at the site of the first powder mills. It continued despite fires and explosions until after 1850. In 1817 at the two dam sites between great bridge and String Bridge, there were a fulling mill , two oil mills (linseed oil), a sawmill, a gristmill, and a woolen mill. In 1824 Dr. William Perry built a mill at the upper dam to manufacture starch from potatoes. He had perfected a method of making sizing from the starch and sold large quantities to the Lowell cotton mills until his process was stolen. The Exeter Manufacturing Company, for a long time Exeter's major industry, began its operations in 1830, using waterpower from the upper falls. It manufactured cotton sheeting in a brick mill containing 5,000 spindles. In 1876 it built another building adjacent to the first one, adding auxiliary steam power to use when the river was low.
The river, so important in the early economic life of the town, began an inexorable decline in importance when shipping and shipbuilding nearly ceased during the Revolution. After the peace of 1783, shipbuilding and shipping on the river revived somewhat, but they never reached prewar levels. Samuel Tenney wrote in 1795 that four or five ships of various tonnages were built in Exeter in a year and the same number of Exeter-owned ships sailed I foreign commerce. President Jefferson's embargo and the War of 1812 put an end to the revival. A schooner was launched in 1836, but after that Exeter ceased to have a regular shipbuilding industry. The river also declined in importance as a highway of commerce after the railroads arrived in the 1840's. However, some products, principally coal, continued to come up the river until the twentieth century.
A variety of other industries independent of waterpower also were created in Exeter between 1788 and 1888. These included a pottery works, a duck (sailcloth) factory, tanneries, a saddlery works, carriage manufacturers, and a hat factory, to name only a few. More substantial industries were the brickyards, the Brass Works, the Exeter Machine Works, and the Rockingham Machine Company. The Exeter Boot and Shoe Company, established in 1884, was the first of the shoe factories, which were to become an important element of Exeter industry in the early twentieth century.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Exeter became a thriving publishing center. The firms of Henry A. Ranlet, his partner and successor, Charles Norris, the J. and B. Williams Company, and others published many fine editions of all kinds of books, from some of the earliest music published in this country to nineteenth-century novels. Some of these publishers also produced short-lived newspapers. Exeter's first lasting newspaper, The Exeter News-Letter, was established in 1831 and is still being published.
Exeter had no banks until 1803, when the Exeter bank was chartered. After that, Exeter usually had two or three in operation at any one time, under varying names and charters. (the Exeter Savings Bank went into receivership in 1873 when its cashier, N. Appleton Shute, absconded after having embezzled a large part of the bank's funds.) In the 1830's Exeter also became a center of mutual insurance funds. By 1887, however, only two such companies remained in operation.
During the period of industrial growth and diversification described above, The United States engaged in two international wars and the Civil War. The first two, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, were unpopular in Exeter. Exeter men were in the militia units sent to guard Portsmouth in 1812 against British attacks that never came. Like most New Englanders, Exeter citizens were more concerned about their reviving commerce with England and their shipbuilding interests than the British insults to the United States' national pride that aroused the rest of the country. In his History of Exeter, Bell does not even mention the Mexican War, perhaps because to most northerners it was a southern slaveholders' war and perhaps also because it brought fame to a New Hampshire Democrat, Franklin Pierce. Exeter men, however, volunteered freely for the Union Army in the Civil War.
In the fifty years between 1830 and 1880, Exeter's population increased by 881 to 3,640, making it the eleventh largest town in New Hampshire. Many of the farming communities that had had a larger population in 1790 had declined, while Exeter had grown steadily, if slowly. It was surpassed by those towns and cities where greater waterpower resources had given greater impetus to manufacturing. (Portsmouth with its port, was an exception to this rule.) Exeter had lost its eminence as state capital, but it remained the Rockingham County seat. A new courthouse-townhouse was built in 1791 where the bandstand now is it was moved to the corner of Court and South Streets in 1834, was destroyed by fire in 1841, and replaced by a new building which still exists in truncated and much-altered form. The present brick town hall was built in 1855. It also served as the courthouse until 1893. A county records building was built in 1826 on Front Street, later the site of the 1894 public library.
By 1887 Exeter had acquired some of the amenities expected in a modern town, but was still essentially a village. Streets were not yet paved Water Street still retained many of the old wooden buildings of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the town had one steam-operated fire engine (the other engines were pumped by hand). Yet some people had piped-in water since 1801, when Benjamin Clark Gilman's company began bringing spring water in underground wooden pipes to some houses. The Exeter Water Works, ancestor of Exeter's present town-owned facilities, instituted a modern system intended to provide for the whole town in 1886. The town started a poor farm for its indigents in 1817, established a police force in 1823, made its first appropriation for a public library in 1853, put in gas lights in 1863 (the Exeter Gas Lighting Company had gone into operation a few years earlier), and began upgrading its gravel sidewalks with paving in 1871.
The town itself, in its center, had taken on a shape and appearance not much different from what they are today. Most of the town lay in an area bounded by the river, Park Street, the railroad tracks, and Court Street as far as Pine. There was a small concentration around the Park Street Common and another across Great Bridge bounded by High Street, as far as Buzell Avenue, thence to Prospect Avenue and down to the Exeter Manufacturing Company on Chestnut Street.
The town government in 1887 had changed not at all from the town meeting-selectmen type. Many of Exeter's 1887 problems are still with us, such as the cost of new town buildings, of maintaining roads, and of buying new fire engines. One concern that arose frequently throughout the nineteenth century has probably vanished forever. In 1812 and 1838 town meeting passed measures to encourage temperance in 1842 it voted to restrict the sale of spirituous liquors to one "apothecary" and then only for medicinal purposes and for "art".
After 1800 a number of new churches had come to Exeter to dispute the monopoly of the First and Second Parishes. There were the Baptists in 1800, the Universalists in 1810, the Christian Society from around 1830 to about 1860, the Methodists in 1830, the Advent Society in 1842, the Roman Catholics in 1853, the Unitarians in 1854, and the Episcopalians in 1865.
There were changes in the schools also. In 1847, town meeting voted to add a high school to the elementary schools and the grammar school. William Robinson had left money to found Robinson Female Seminary in 1865. When it opened in 1867, it gave Exeter the rare if not unique distinction of separating the sexes in school from the fifth through the twelfth grades. The Phillips Exeter Academy had grown from about 40 pupils during its first twenty years to 320 in 1887. It still had only two dormitories, and most students still boarded in town.
The people in Exeter, who in 1887 were preparing to celebrate the 250th anniversary of their town's founding, were rightfully proud of the town's past. They could look back fondly on the heroic achievements of the founders, who had established a successful wilderness settlement without having the backing of the Royal Government or English merchants, which other early settlements had enjoyed. They could justifiably claim the two Wheelwright Indian deeds and the Exeter Combination as uncommon achievements of the founder. They could say that their ancestors had done perhaps more than their share in fighting the French and Indians and defending the province's rights against British encroachments. They could glory in the conspicuous part Exeter and its citizens had played in the Revolution and in founding the nation. They perhaps were aware of the decline of Exeter's importance on the political scene, but they could take some comfort in that secret political meeting Amos Tuck had called at Blake's Hotel (the Squamscott Hotel/Gorham Hall) in Exeter on October 12, 1853. At that meeting Tuck had suggested that a group of antislavery splinter parties unite under a new name: the Republican Party. Horace Greeley published the facts about the meeting months before the Ripon, Wisconsin, meeting, the one often credited with naming the new party thus, Exeter can claim that the Republican party was named here. The town certainly has given the party its undying loyalty ever since.
One suspects that Exeter citizens of 1887 were somewhat smug about their town. They certainly regarded it as an attractive and healthful place to live, with fine institutions, substantial buildings, and a prosperous future of growth ahead. They were not far wrong but how would they have regarded the four times larger, bustling, traffic-ridden, and ever-growing town, the emergence of which will be described in the chapters to come?
CROMWELL THE HERO
When Oliver Cromwell sat for a portrait, he instructed the artist to "paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me."
That's Cromwell in a nutshell. No nonsense, blunt, and unsentimental, always ready to accept the ugly realities of life. And this underpins and explains even those acts which we may regard as beyond the pale today. What we always have to remember is the time in which he lived, and the enemies he faced.
Oliver Cromwell to portrait artist: "remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me." pic.twitter.com/4oviV9x5sN&mdash Yesterday TV Channel (@YesterdayTweets) March 10, 2016
Take the Ireland question. This is undeniably a black mark against him, and will always cause fists to be shaken at the very mention of Cromwell's name. But let's think like Cromwell for a moment - unsentimental and pragmatic. Let's consider the fact that the Royalists and Catholics in Ireland did present a genuine threat to Cromwell's new republic. Remember that Charles I had only just been executed, and the "Commonwealth of England" was vulnerable to reprisals at any moment. Cromwell did the only thing a leader could do. He defended his nation without hesitation.
It's simply wrong to judge a military leader of the 17th Century, and the defender of a born-again nation no less, by today's standards. Besides, was he really guilty of what we would call "war crimes" today? There's contradictory evidence about the massacres. One historian, Tom Reilly, who actually hails from Drogheda, has questioned the official narrative, claiming that Cromwell actually avoided killing civilians during the Ireland campaign, and negotiated reasonable surrenders in other towns. At the very least, the story of Cromwell in Ireland is a lot more complicated than the lurid mess of legends and historical hearsay would have us believe.
As Lord Protector, Cromwell was a leader genuinely motivated by his sincere religious convictions. Contrary to popular myth, he wasn't a rabid advocate of killing Charles I, and sought to compromise before events spiralled out of control. While he certainly embraced some of the trappings of power, he never forgot that he headed a republic - even when he was literally offered the crown in 1657.
He could easily have accepted it and become "King Oliver", but instead he agonised for weeks over the philosophical and moral implications before turning it down. Doesn't sound like the act of a proto-fascist or dictator, does it?
On the contrary, his efforts kept the country together when it could easily have descended into all-out anarchy. He believed in meritocracy and the will of the people, and he laid the foundations for Britain as we know it today. For all of this he should be praised as a hero.