I suppose that every couple thinks they were the first to discover love. When spring comes, the minds of our young soon as the snows melt and the trees bud, love floats like a zephyr in the Derry air. Every June, churches become wedding chapels and melodies by Wagner and Mendelssohn remind the older folk of their own young love. Unfortunately for the historian, the sweet words, lovers’ quarrels, and pillow talk are usually kept private and almost never passed on to later generations. The following stories of love and weddings are the exceptions, and are made all the sweeter by their being so rare.
One of the oldest love stories was first put into print in 1831 by an elderly lady who had known the main characters. The scene is a parlor in the Woodburn home in Londonderry, New Hampshire, around 1764. Sitting in a chair is the very attractive Mary (Molly) Woodburn (1735-1823). She is the high-spirited daughter of the local squire. Into the room enters a young man. He is Lieutenant John Cochran (1729-1795) who had served with General Wolfe during the French and Indian War and was wounded at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. He has faced down the French muskets at Quebec but is very shy around this woman with whom he is smitten.
Both of our characters are the children of Scottish immigrants and speak in the burr of their ancestral home. There would remain a few Gaelic speakers for two or three generations after the town was settled in 1719. Although most of the first Londonderry residents spoke only English, they kept the pronunciations of the lowland Scots until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Irish-born patriot Matthew Thornton was nationally famous for his brogue. The Forest Hill Cemetery grave of Thomas Steele (1683-1748) has the epitaph that rhymes the personal pronoun me with the word die. This is because the Scottish pronunciation of the word for “death” was “dee.”
Building up his courage. Cochran turns to the woman; “Mary if I were you. I’d ha’me.”
Mary seemed not to hear him and takes no notice of his words.
Again he says: “I say, Mary, If I were you. I’d ha’ me and not ha’ that George Reid. He had been na’e where; he’s nathing at all and ne’er been out of the sight of his mither in his life, and I ha’e been all over the country. I’ve traveled and been to war. I’ve been to the Plains of Abram and faut there and bled there. Now Mary, Ha’me.”
Mary turns and looks squarely into the red face of her suitor. Firmly she tells him: I’ll na’ ha’e ye. John. ye mus gang hamme your mither wants ye, and I’ll ha’e Georgie Reid, dead or alive.”
In 1765 she did marry George Reid (1733-1815). He may well have been the only patriot officer to be at both the beginning of the war at the Battle of Bunker Hill and at its finish-as a member of Washington’s staff at the Battle of Yorktown.
During General Reid’s six-year absence, he trusted his wife to run the farm, oversee the construction of their new house, and raise their young children. In the male-dominated world of the nineteenth century, Molly Reid was looked on as the equal of any man. General John Stark said, “if ever there is a woman in New Hampshire fit to be governor, ’tis Molly Reid.”
This excerpt is from “Nutfield Rambles,” Richard Holmes’ fifth published piece on local history. Richard wasborn, raised and attended school throughout New Hampshire. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Keene State College and his Master’s Degree in History from Rivier College. In 2003 he founded the Derry Museum of History. In 2007 Richard Holmes received an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History. This is the most prestigious recognition one can receive for the preservation and interpretation of state and local history. Richard has also been a columnist for the Derry News, the Lawrence Eagle Tribune, Nutfield News, and the Manchester Union Leader.
Leave Richard a comment on the story. Copies of his book are still available at the Derry Public Library.