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THE FOUNDING OF A TOWN.
The civil and political history of Manchester, though the town had not been yet dignified with that time honored name, begins on the 23d of September, 1751, when at the call of John MacMurphy the "proprietors, freeholders and inhabitants" of Derryfield assembled at the inn of John Hall for the purpose of laying the foundation of self government. This was twenty days after the granting of the town charter, as given in the Records.
This charter had for its prime object the incorporation under suitable control of what had long been debatable grounda tract of land three miles in width, lying along the east bank of the Merrimack river from the southern line of Suncook or Lovewell's town, now Pembroke, to the northern boundary of Litchfield, anciently known as Harrytown, but more recently (1735) included in the Massachusetts grant to Major Ephraim Hildreth and others under the name of Tyng township, so called in honor of the memory of Captain William Tyng, the leader of the "snow shoe expedition" to Lake Winnepesaukee, made in the winter of 1703-04. As this territory was not deemed of suflicient size to make a "respectable township,” enough was taken from the adjoining towns to make up the desired area with the same unconcern that the claims of the sister province of Massachusetts had been ignored a few years before. Those were the days and this the scene of grants and counter-grants, of claims and contrary claims.
Thus the Derryfield charter covered about thirty-five square miles of country from the following sources: eight square miles of Tyng township, nine square miles of the northwestern portion of Londonderry, formerly Nutfield, and seventeen and three-fourths square miles of Chester, erstwhile called "the chestnut country.” The name of Derryfield is claimed to have originated from the practice of stock owners of Londonderry in allowing their herds to graze on the clearings within its limits, and arising from the term "Derry's field.”
The first town meeting was held in a house builded by John Hall, on what was the land of the late Isaac Huse, and with repairs and alterations from time to time stood until destroyed by fire in 1852.
There is no record of the number of votes cast at this meeting, though there were probably between fifty and sixty polls at the time.
The development of the town made the laying out of new highways and the improvement of those already built the foremost duty of the selectmen. The officers of the new town had barely entered upon their work before the people in all parts of the province were thrown into consternation over renewed depredations of the Indians, who had been giving the colonists a temporary rest in their long continued series of warfare. A hard fougls struggle with the red men followed. If Derryfield escaped being the battleground, her inhabitants met with their proportion of perils and hardships on the war trail, until through the breaking of the French power in Canada a season of peace again settled upon the valley of the Merrimack.
The tenor of politics and something of the qualification necessary to gain the right of franchise is illustrated in the warning for the annual meeting March 5, 1753.
In 1756 is found the first vote on record taken relative to the matter of education, when it was voted not to raise any money for school. It was not until Dec. 25, 1781, that it was voted “to hire a schoolmaster 9 months this year comeing."
An era of prosperity had dawned upon the province, but unfortunately for the harmony and welfare of the new town two combative elements of human life made up the minds and sinews of the men of Derryfield. Its inhabitants consisted of two distinct races, the Scotch-Irish who had begun to settle within the bounds of its territory as early as 1720, with others following from time to time and settling mostly in the vicinity of Amoskeag falls and what has since become known as the Centre; while the grant of the Tyng township in 1735 called thirty or more families of the English colony of Massachusetts, the latter largely along the banks and at the mouth of Cohas brook. The Scotch Presbyterians, who somewhat outnumbered their contemporaries, were imbued with their set, vivid views of what constituted their civil and religious liberties, while the English in their belief were as rigid and dogmatical as they. We see the coloring of this difference of opinion coming to the surface almost immediately, for within a year of the granting of the charter a controversy arose relative to the building of a meeting-house and settling of a minister. It is not necessary to enter into the details here of the long and intense struggle of the rival factions, which nearly fills the town's record for fifteen years. The crisis of this contention was reached at the annual meeting in March, 1766, when two sets of town oficers were elected, both boards acting zealously upon what they considered their duties. Inevitable confusion and excitement followed. Happily, good rather than evil, resulted from this untoward state of affairs. At last those of calmer judgment had begun to realize the folly of continuing this stubborn quarrel, which was having a disastrous effect upon the welfare of the town. Newcomers were not only being kept out, but many of the more conservative inhabitants were beginning to move away in disgust. For the preceding year the population had decreased over thirty. The taxes for 1757 had amounted to 106 £ 6s 4d, while in 1766 it was only 40£ 17s.
In this dilemma a petition signed by seventeen prominent men from both factions was placed before the legislature, claiming irregularity in the recent elections and praying that a regular town meeting be granted, "that we may have town offecers choisen as the law directs and that our Confusion may be brought into order,” etc. The request met with a favorable consideration and the March elections were declared null and void, and John Shepard, Esq., of Amherst, was empowered to issue a warrant for a new election, which he did immediately. At this meeting, August 13, the Scotch-Irish, under the lead of John Hall, were successful, he being elected again as clerk and one of the selectmen. The following year, however, a compromise was effected and officers elected from both parties, Mr. Hall retiring from active participation in the town's business. It was claimed by his rivals that he had misapplied some of the town's money, when a lawsuit ensued. This suit cost the town more than the amount of the taxes for that year, which were twenty-nine pounds, the case costing forty-three pounds. The matter was then ended by the town settling with Mr. Hall at "his own figures.” The intensity of feeling was beginning to give way to calmer reason, though it is doubtful if the prime movers of the rival factions ever fully lost their bitterness of heart. Nearly twenty years had now elapsed since the incorporation of Derryfield, and its civil record was far from being satisfactory to those of more sober judgment. The population was decreasing rather than gaining, the valuation of property was depreciating, nothing had been done for a school and worse than nothing for the church. The people were generally dissatisfied, and the fortune of Derryfield was most assuredly at ebb tide.
In 1771 Governor Wentworth carried into effect his plan of having the province divided into five counties, named respectively Rockingham, Strafford, Hillsborough, Cheshire and Grafton. Derryfield was attached to the county of Hillsborough, thus designated in honor of the Duke of Hillsborough, England; Amherst being made Shire Town it was much easier for its inhabitants to attend court than it had been previously, when they had been compelled to go to Portsmouth. Courts of general session, common pleas and of probate were speedily established. September 28, of the same year, Captain John Stark was chosen the first grand juror from the town, while on the same day the names of Ensigns Samuel Moore and Samuel Stark were drawn as petit jurors. The Honorable Samuel Blodget of Goffstown was appointed a justice of the court of common pleas of the peace of the county.
The next act of importance occurred on the 16th of January, 1775, when we find the townspeople holding a special meeting and voting that the "town will bear their proportion of money that shall hereafter arise towards paying the cost of the General Congress as any other town in the province." So it will be seen that Derryfield was not backward in helping on the cause of the colonists financially, while she was not less prompt in lending the aid of her arms. It was a critical period in the history of the province and Derryfield, like her sister towns, stood in imminent danger of losing her civil existence. Alarmed at the outlook Governor Wentworth threw up his commission and the provincial government quickly collapsed, leaving the "little republics” to look out for themselves. The towns of Hillsborough county proved themselves equal to the situation, delegates being sent to Amherst at once and a county congress organized. The records for Derryfield show that on February 20, 1775, a special town meeting voted "to pay Captain John Stark two pounds, eight shillings Lawfull money, for his attandances at the Countey Congress.”
The population of the town at this time was 285, consisting of 140 free males, 142 free females and three slaves. There were two free negroes in town, Cesar Harvey and Cæsar Griffin. The tax list for this year (1775) contained 64 names, with an aggregate of taxes of 22 £-75-0d-2f, denoting, as Judge Potter says, “that the taxpayers were men of small means or that their taxes were very small.” The highest individual tax in town was only nineteen shillings. A little matter connected with this period is worth mentioning, as it shows the growth of the gradual breaking away from old customs and forms and paving the way for the new system of government. In the warning for a special meeting December 5, 1775, instead of opening “In his Majestie's name," as had been the previous form, we find “In the name of America.” Another step is seen in the call for a special meeting for October 23, 1776, when "State of New Hampshire” succeeds “Colony," as the latter had superseded “Province." Then in the warning for a meeting November 20 is made