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The Hood Farm

If you were to voyage back a hundred years in time, you’d find that most Derry residents were employed in the shoe industry. The Broadway section of the town was home to dozens of buildings devoted to the various aspects of the manufacture of leather products. The stores, schools, churches, and clubs of West Derry were there mainly to service the shoe-factory workers and their families. The second largest employer in Derry was the H.P. Hood and Sons Dairy Company.

The Hood Company was founded in 1846 by Harvey Perley Hood (1823-1900). In 1844 he had left his hometown of Chelsea, Vermont, to seek his fortune in Boston. His capital at the time consisted of “a horse, harness, wagon and pung.” He was soon employed as a driver for a bakery. He lived frugally and saved enough from his twelve-dollar-a-month salary so that in just two years he was able to start his own one-man milk route near Boston. He moved to Derry Village in 1856 to take advantage of the railroad, which had been built through Derry a few years earlier. Hood was an entrepreneurial genius who had the vision to see a way to economically connect the supply of dairy products with the urban market in Massachusetts.

His first Derry home was Murdock-White farm on the Route 28 bypass. This had been the site of the town’s common field where in 1719 was planted the first potato crop in America. (The farmhouse and barn were torn down about thirty years  ago by a developer, who replaced them with an apartment complex of 850 units.)

The farmers of New Hampshire were capable of producing lots and lots of milk. With Derry as a transportation hub, milk could be loaded onto rail cars and hauled to Boston in about an hour. Hood was also the first New England milk producer to employ pasteurization, which allowed him to advertise that his product was certified as safe for children. He was also a pioneer in the use of sterilized glass milk bottles.

Some church leaders criticized him for shipping milk on Sunday and threatened to have him excommunicated. H.P. countered that “babies don’t know the days of the week” and needed to be fed on the Sabbath just as much as on any other day. He also said cows needed to be milked seven days a week and that their milk would sour if not shipped to market in his refrigerated rail cars.

Each day H. P. loaded cans of milk onto a freight car at the Broadway Depot. In Charlestown, Massachusetts, the milk was sold from the door of the boxcar directly to the waiting milk peddlers. H. P. Hood’s office was a desk and chair in the middle of the freight car. On the afternoon train back to Derry, he would sit on his “office” and figure out the daily receipts.

In 1858, he purchased Redfield Farm on East Broadway and renamed it Hoodkroft Farm. This would be his home for the rest of his life. (The structure is now Chen’s Chinese Restaurant.) In 1880, his son Charles Harvey Hood graduated from New Hampshire State Agricultural College at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. This institution is now the University of New Hampshire. He was, in fact, the only graduate that year. By 1882 H.P. had the distinction of paying the highest taxes in Derry. His tax bill was $108; in second place was the Derry National Bank at ninety-eight dollars. Shoe factory mogul Colonel William Pillsbury was in twenty-first place with taxes of fifty-two dollars.

The Derry News article in 1881 described his cows with the old schoolboy definition: “two hookers, two lookers, four stiff standers, four down hangers and a wiskabout.” In the barn that year were sixty-eight white and red cows, black and brindled milk cows, and a huge “noble, full blooded Aryshire bull.” There were four men milking a line of thirty cows. Each cow averaged eight and a half quarts per day.

In 1883, H. P. Hood suffered a stroke, which caused him to be unconscious for several days. This “shock of apoplexy” forced the milk king to relinquish much of the corporation’s daily business into the capable, college-trained hands of his sons. In 1882 Charles became a full partner and the company was renamed H.P Hood and Son. In 1890, with Gilbert Hood joining the firm, it became H. P. Hood and Sons. In 1972 the company took its present name of H. P. Hood, Inc.

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A Local Stand Against the King, the Londonderry Riot

In honor of Independence Day, Londonderry News would like to offer a reprint of a Richard Holmes piece about the beginning of the American Revolution. This is the well researched story of how Londonderry showed the first signs of retaliation against the British army.

While today is our birthday, we may have been conceived right here in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

We have all grown up believing the American Revolutionary War started on the eighteenth of April in 1775. It was the events of that date that precipitated the battle at Lexington Green, where the “embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard round the world.” This would lead to the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Declaration of Independence, Valley Forge, Saratoga, and the surrender at Yorktown. All this is pretty straightforward.

I would like to add one minor adjustment to that old, old story. Despite what every schoolboy (or -girl) knows, I am about to present my argument that the first attack on British troops didn’t happen in that fine state to the south of us. I will hypothesize that Derry is the site of the first armed resistance against the king’s army – and that it happened fully six years before Paul Revere’s ride. The incident to which I refer was not a battle in the classic sense, with one army attacking another army; rather it was a spontaneous armed insurrection against an isolated segment of the British army.

So here, my children, you shall read of Jimmy Aikin and his heroic deed: how on a cold winter’s day in ’69, we first attacked the redcoat’s line.

A painting of The Battle of Bunker Hill

This article is the result of more than two decades of research. Back in 1984, when I was doing research for another book, I found a two-sentence reference to the Londonderry attack in Jere Daniell’s Colonial New Hampshire. In 1995, I was doing background for another book and discovered a paragraph about the incident in Reverend Edward Parker’s History of Londonderry (1851). Parker’s account was slavishly retold in Willey’s Book of Nutfield in 1895. The author, George Franklyn Willey, concludes that the Londonderry attack was the “first act of open resistance to British authority and arms in the colonies.”

Another reference to the attack was printed in Historical New Hampshire in 1947. Dr. Kenneth Scott in his excellent article “Colonel Stephen Holland of Londonderry” retells the basic facts of the incident as reported by Parker and Willey. Though he doesn’t date the incident, he links it to one in “June or July of 1774.” A couple of years ago, I was looking through the back issues of the Exeter News-Letter for a new history of Derry. In the September 20, 1849 edition was a long article on the incident at Londonderry. The author, who signed his story with only the initial G, dated the incident to “a short time before the actual outbreak of the Revolutionary War.”

A depiction of Americans throwing tea over the side of boats during the Boston Tea Party

A depiction of Americans throwing tea over the side of boats during the Boston Tea Party

The alleged attack took on the certainty of truth in 2006 when I discovered a set of letters in the New Hampshire State Archives. In a file set up by the venerable state archivist Dr. Frank Meevers, I struck gold! Dr. Meevers had found an unpublished copybook that contained the manuscript of letters written by Royal Governor John Wentworth of New Hampshire. Here at last was confirmation of the story that had been written about by Parker, “G”, Scott, and Willey. The correspondence also added much flesh to the skeleton of their story and established a definite date for the event.

The events of the Londonderry attack begin in January 1769. Those were definitely the times that tried men’s souls. All over the thirteen colonies, anti-British sentiment was reaching the boiling stage. The newly imposed Townsend Acts, which allowed the quartering of soldiers in private home, were being debated through out the colony. Tavern talk centered on James Otis’ incentive that “taxation without representation is tyranny.”

The surrender of British General John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga as depicted by John Trumbull

One of the major problems for the British rulers of America was the ever-increasing number of cases of desertion from the ranks of their army. Many a young man decided that life as a New World yeoman farmer would be far better than a career in the military. Army pay was low and discipline was harsh. It wouldn’t take much planning or smarts to successfully go AWOL in America. It would be relatively easy to establish a new life concealed in the great American wilderness.

Early in January 1769, a group of deserters were living in Londonderry. Parker says there were a total of four such defectors here. The writer “G” says there was only one and the Wentworth letters refers to two escapees. The first two writers believed that a local Tory had secretly reported their presence to the royal authorities. It is now known with certainty that our local judge and taverner Stephen Holland was a British spy and was in communication with General Howe. The three authors are in agreement that a detachment of British regulars was quickly dispatched to our town and that the AWOL soldier(s) was (were) quickly rounded up. Even in those pre-telephone days, it didn’t take long for news of the apprehension to spread through town.

The squad of British regulars quickly marched their prisoners out of town. “G” reports that the lone deserted was an Irishman named Phelim O’Shaughnessey. This frightened son of Erin was told by his captors that the standard punishment for desertion from the British army was hanging – “and nothing else.”

As soon as the word got out, a group of Londonderry men left their homes and farms to attempt to free the prisoners. “G” identifies the leaders of the rescue party as “Major G.” and “Captain A.” He wrote that both men were veterans of the French and Indian War. Parker identifies only one individual in the mob – its leader, “Captain James Aiken” (1739-1830). Governor Wentworth identifies the brothers Thomas and James Atkin as the leaders but writes that a third brother, Edward Atkin, was not involved. It is almost certain that Wentworth was actually referring to members of the Aiken family and not the Atkin’s family. Wentworth also wrote that there were eleven Londonderry men involved in the incident.

The men from Londonderry overtook the British about an hour’s march outside of town. The location of the conflict was in the town of Atkinson on a steep slope called Providence Hill. The eleven Londonderry men concealed themselves just back from the British.The energetic James Aiken managed stealthily to run around the side of the column of marching soldiers and cut them off from the front. With pistols drawn, James leaped out in front of the surprised redcoats. With authority, he ordered the squad to halt. He kept his weapons pointed at the head of their leader, “Sergeant Henderson.” The British were ordered to throw their guns onto the dirt road and not pick them up on penalty of having Henderson’s “brains scattered.” The Londonderry men now surrounded the soldiers and freed their prisoners. Captain Aiken kept his pistols trained on the sergeant until he, his men, and the rescued deserters were safely on their way back to East Derry.

John Wentworth, New Hampshire State Governor during the Revolution

Word of the events at Londonderry quickly spread to the highest levels in the British army. Governor Wentworth, however, was in Vermont and didn’t get the news until January 20, 1769. In his reply letter to Brigadier General John Pomeroy, the commander of His Majesty’s Sixth Regiment in Boston, he argued that the incident probably happened in Massachusetts so it was not his responsibility. By way of consolation, Wentworth does offer sympathy over “this reprehensible violence, which is universally disapproved and resented throughout the whole province.”

Four months after the incident at Londonderry, Wentworth announced that all the deserters in New Hampshire had now fled to other colonies or were so well “concealed and disguised” that they could never be found. The case was closed!

There does not seem to be any evidence that the Londonderry eleven were ever brought to justice. The writer “G” relates that “Major G.” and “Captain A.” hid in the town of Londonderry and were never caught. He said that both men would later serve as members of the local Committee of Safety during the Revolutionary War. He further wrote that they “both died peacefully in their own beds – one at the advanced age of ninety-two years.”

General George Reid from Londonderry, NH; General during the Revolutionary War

During the Revolutionary War we would contribute about six dozen men to the patriot army. More than two centuries ago, our town’s fathers, husbands, brothers, and friends would fight bravely in such battles as Bunker Hill, Saratoga, and Yorktown. We were also the hometown to Generals John Stark and George Reid. Doctor Matthew Thornton of Derry Village signed the Declaration of Independence. General John Sullivan went to school on East Derry Hill. The courage we showed in 1769 when our townsmen surrounded the British soldiers was thus further validated by the honors we earned in the war of 1776.

Let Massachusetts glory in her tea party and the “shot heard round the world”; may Valley Forge be forever a memorial to the determination of General Washington; may Philidelphia be a hallowed shrine to the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Here in Derry we have among our heroes that small, brave band of eleven nameless men: those patriots, who in 1769, helped start our country on its trek down the road to independence.

This excerpt is from “Nutfield Rambles”, Richard Holmes’ fifth published piece on local history. Born in New Hampshire, Richard was raised and attended school throughout the state. 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 is also a regular columnist for the Derry News and a frequent contributor to the Nutfield News, the Lawrence Eagle Tribune and the Manchester Union Leader.


The Barrington Beggars

Barrington is by all accounts a nice little town which is less than an hour’s drive from Derry. It was settled in 1722, the same year Nutfield was incorporated as the town of Londonderry. Its early settlers raised flax as did our first inhabitants.

Although the Nutfield towns have always had a sterling reputation for honesty, such was not the case with Barrington. During the first half of the nineteenth century, that town was known as the home to a wandering tribe of vagabonds called the Barrington Beggars. Most of these vagrants bore the surname Leathers. Their existence is even the topic of a short story by John Greenleaf Whittier.

No one really knows the origin of the Barrington Beggars. They were described as having “dark, piercing eyes and Asiatic countenances,” indicating to some that they were of Gypsy origin. This ethnic background seems unlikely as the Leathers family first appeared in America in 1667. The family was and is a credit to the New World producing generation after generation of hardworking honest citizens.

There was, though, the black sheep branch of Leatherses who settled in the Granite State during the mid-seventeenth century. Regrettably, this is the side of the family that has gained the most notoriety and soiled the window through which we view all members of the Leathers family.In our state they settled in Barrington, where they lived on a sandy plain by a lake in the center of a desolate pine barren. Most locals called this area Leathers City. Here they dwelled in a cluster of about thirty small shacks, having little contact with the rest of this farming community. They all appeared to be related in some way and all shared the family name Leathers somewhere in their family tree. They were probably a matriarchal society, with their leader being an old hag named Patricia Leathers.

It was believed by most outsiders that all members of the Leathers tribe in Barrington shared an aversion to work and instead preferred to avail themselves of the fruits of other people’s labor. They reportedly had in common a love of the outdoor life and of singing. In their defense, it must be said that many Barrington Leatherses lived off honest labor. A number of the family members went door-to-door selling hand-made split-ash baskets or skillfully woven coverlets. Other Leatherses were into fortune-telling.

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Sally McMurphy: Thrift, Pluck and Luck

According to Economists, America is no longer a nation of savers. One month last year, our saving percent rate was negative 0.2 percent- in other words, we spent more than we earned! We are now socking away less than at any other time since the Great Depression. The citizens of Canada, Japan, and France save three times as much as do we Americans.

I am offering the story of Sarah (Sally) Reid McMurphy as an example of the benefits of hard work, frugality, listening to sound advice, and careful investments. Her life reads like a rags-to-riches novel by Horatio Alger. You might want to read this article to your children when they ask for a raise in their allowance.

Sarah Reid was born in Londonderry (now Derry) in 1809 and was orphaned as an infant. She was brought up in the home of David Gilcreast and later by her uncle David Reid. Both households were already crowded with children, so at a young age Sally moved out to be on her own. It was likely she didn’t want to be a bother.

At the age of seventeen, she found full-time employment in the house of Deacon

The cog railway in Mount Washington, NH, photo circa 1870s, was something Sally Reid may have invested in. Image courtesy of Library of Congress, Washington DC

James Pinkerton, who lived at what is now the Pinkerton Tavern Restaurant. Deacon James owned a number of farms, and many of his laborers lived with him in his home. In addition, the house was combination general store and tavern. Sally’s wage as a housekeeper was fifty cents a week plus room and board. Despite such a meager salary, she was happy to be in a safe, christian home.

Sally lived very frugally and asked Elder Pinkerton to hold her earnings in trust for her. If she needed anything, she would ask him for the money. She was such a hardworking, cheerful housekeeper that Pinkerton thought of her as almost a daughter. He even gave her clothing from his store without charge so she could more easily live on her salary. It is almost unbelievable but at the end of two years, she had saved fifty dollars. In 102 weeks, she had spent just two dollars on herself!

Pinkerton advised her to find a way to invest her money. He lectured her on the wisdom of letting your money work for you. He thought that maybe her old benefactor, David Gilcreast, might be persuaded to borrow her fifty dollars and pay her interest.

After serving supper, she walked two miles to the Gilcreast home but David said he didn’t need any money at the moment. As it was late in the day, he allowed her to sleep there overnight. With tears in her eyes, she went into the kitchen to help Mrs. Gilcreast. The next morning after Sally had helped with breakfast chores, David decided he should help the hardworking girl. He took her money and gave her a promissory note in exchange. Sally didn’t want to take the receipt, saying she trusted him, but he insisted that everything would be done properly. In parting, he told her that the interest would allow her to buy a new pair of shoes every year.

The Lowell Mills looked something similar to this when Sally Reid worked at them in 1838.

In around 1838, Sally Reid joined many other local girls working in the mills in Lowell. As a factory girl, she lived very carefully with “plain food and cheap lodging.” Within a few years she was able to return to Derry with a savings on $250. She accepted the advice of storekeeper Richard Melvin and bought five shares of stock in the Concord Railroad. She returned to Lowell and soon earned enough money to buy even more shares. This turned out to be a good investment, as the company annually paid a dividend of over ten percent. In addition, the value of the stock rose and a stock split would eventually increase the number of shares she controlled.

In 1841 she returned to Derry and taught in a one-room schoolhouse. The next year, at the age of thirty-one, she married forty-four year old James McMurphy. He was a farmer who had recently bought from his father a large house on Franklin Street Extension. In time they would become parents of two children. Their son, Henry, attended Dartmouth College on a scholarship and became a school teacher. He died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five. Their daughter, Abbie, graduated from the Pinkerton Academy and became a teacher in Lawrence. She died at the age on twenty-eight.

For the next six years, Sally and Jim lived all alone in their big house, mourning the loss of their children; the house had become “very desolate and cheerless.” James McMurphy died in 1881 when he was eighty-two. Sally would remain in the house “meditating upon the best means of doing good with her money and perpetuating the memory of her children.”

In 1888, widow Sally McMurphy sought the advice of experts in law and public service to assist her in drawing up her will. She had stock investments worth about seven thousand dollars. This was the money she had saved and invested from the time she earned fifty cents a week at the Deacon Pinkerton’s to her years as a mill girl in Lowell and a teacher in Derry. This sum would be equal to several hundred thousand dollars today.

Remembering her years as an orphan, she bequeathed one-thousand dollars to the orphans home in Concord. The remainder of the estate was left to Dartmouth College to provide three scholarships for students of limited means.

She died on Christmas Eve in 1894 in her eighty-fifth year. Her funeral was held at her Franklin Street home. Pastor Samuel French, of the Londonderry Presbyterian church, spoke to Sally’s piety, Christian character, and renunciation of her own interests in favor of helping others. She is buried at Forest Hill cemetery along with her husband and two children. Her home was torn down in the 1960s to make way for an apartment complex.

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.


Nutfield’s First Lawyer

Today in Derry, Windham, and Londonderry there are somewhere around two dozen lawyers. Some of these are in general practice; others specialize in bankruptcy or corporate law. If you were in our towns in the years around the Revolutionary War, your choice of attorneys would number exactly one: the Honorable John Prentice-and his legal specialty was doing whatever his client asked him to do.

John Prentice was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1747. His father was barrel maker and had to struggle to support his large family. To make ends meet, his mother, Susanna, had to work outside the home. She labored as a “sweeper” at Harvard consisted of the sons of New England’s wealthiest families including the future baronet William Pepperell. It must have been difficult for the teenage boy to move in such a high social environment while his mother was in public view as the school’s janitor.

For the rest of his life, he would always acknowledge that any success he achieved was the result of his mother’s sacrifices. He is remembered as saying, “She was one of the best of mothers, and I loved her tenderly. No woman ever possessed a sweeter disposition or discharged the duties of her station with prudence or greater fidelity.” When he received word of her passing, he stayed in bed for many days in deepest depression over his loss.

After college, he studied law under the royal governor’s Attorney General Samuel Livermore, who lived in the section of Londonderry that would in 1827 become Derry. For a while, he practiced law in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where in May 1774 he signed a public letter of support for the royal governor. For such actions, he always remained under suspicion by the supporters of the patriot cause. He would later twice recant his brief espousal of the Tory governor. Five months later in October 1774, he publicly ate crow by posting a letter that announced: “Whereas I the subscriber, signed an address to the late Governor Hutchinson, I wish the devil had the address before I had seen it.”

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The Great Broadway Fire of 1882

For the first 175 years of the history of Derry, there wasn’t much offered in the way of fire protection. In 1828 the voters at Town Meeting authorized the appointment of six fire wards.  Their responsibility was to direct bucket brigades and to ring the church bells to bring out the neighbors.  The voters rejected paying for fire hooks and other such equipment for the wards.

On August 1, 1882, the Goodwin family barn in western Derry was razed by fire.  In reaction to this calamity, an anonymous resident wrote to the Derry News on August 4 to propose that the town provide fire protection in West Derry.  The writer also suggested outward, as law required. The next week, editor Charles Bartlett, of hand-tub fire engines for Derry Village and Derry Depot.  Bartlett prophetically told his readers that “it is better to be prepared for fire even if we don’t anticipate any immediate danger-for it is likely to come when we least expect it”

Derry at the time consisted of three villages-East Derry, Derry Village, and West Derry.  The latter was also known as Derry Depot.  The town’s population was twenty0-three hundred residents. (This is about 7 percent of the population in 2007.) Derry Village and West Derry were economic rivals, with each claiming part of town, having been established only after the railroad came though in 1849.

West Derry was by every definition a classic self-contained village. Economically, it could stand by itself and was surrounded  by large tracts of farmland and forest. If you left the village and walked east toward present traffic circle, you would have to hike nearly a mile before you could cross a road or see another house. Broadway was a dirt road-as were all the other roads in town. It would be another eighteen years before the first automobile visited Derry.

The Village was centered on the depot of the Manchester and Lawrence Railroad. In the Broadway area there was Colburn, Fuller shoe factory, run by Colonel William Pillbury; three blocks of stores; hotel, post office, and livery stable; a one-room school house; a sawmill at Horne’s Pond’ and H. P. Hood icehouse. There were probably a dozen homes in the neighborhood. The lodge of the Odd fellows met on the third floor of one building and the newly formed Baptist church met int he auditorium of Smith Hall.  During the summer of 1882, Miss Bradford’s Ice Cream Parlor at the Railroad House hotel used three thousand pounds of ice, two hundred gallons of cream, and five hundred eggs.

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