Author Archives: Heather Rojo

Family History Day, Boston, 16 October 2010

NEHGS and announce their second Family History Day on Saturday, October 16th at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center Boston. If you ever wanted to visit Boston at the height of the autumn foliage season, this is the event for you!

The registration fee for this all day event is $38. You can register online.

I attended the last Family History Day in February 2010, and I was impressed with all the classes I attended, the people I met, my private consultation and the vendors. Again, will be providing free large scale document scanning, and the famously talented NEHGS staff will be providing private fifteen minute consultations for just an additional $5, preregistration required.

Some of the workshops (final class schedule will be posted in September) will include topics such as:

Organizing Your Family Tree
Researching Your New England Ancestors
Finding your Family in Immigration Records
Discovering the New England Historic Genealogical Society
Getting the most out of your membership

For more information see the website (also for Hotel discounts and transportation links)
Questions? Email


Matthew Thornton- Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Matthew Thornton's gravesite

Matthew Thornton's gravesite in Merrimack

Today, on the Fourth of July, we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Londonderry has an interesting link with this historical event.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, when my daughter was in elementary school, we visited Philadelphia Pennsylvania. We toured the city, saw the Liberty Bell and Ben Franklin’s house, and ate some cheese steak sandwiches. Of course we didn’t miss Independence Hall, either. The tour was guided, and when we came to the room where the Continental Congress delegates met, my daughter raised her hand and asked to see in which chair Matthew Thornton sat. The guide smiled and said “YOU must be from New Hampshire!”

Not as famous as Thomas Jefferson, or John Hancock, or Benjamin Franklin, nonetheless little Londonderry, New Hampshire produced Dr. Matthew Thornton. Like many other Nutfield Settlers, he was born in Northern Ireland, and immigrated when only three years old first to Wiscasset, Maine and then to Worcester, Massachusetts before settling in a part of Londonderry now known as Derry in 1740. He was a physician, justice of the peace, and a member of the militia. Locally, he was a Londonderry selectman, a representative to the Provincial Assembly, and the first President of the Committee of Safety which produced New Hampshire’s first draft of its constitution after the royal government was dissolved.

Later he was elected to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He arrived too late to participate in the debates, but he did sign the Declaration of Independence. He became the first president of the new New Hampshire House of Representatives. He retired from his medical practice in 1780 and removed across the river to the part of Merrimack, New Hampshire known as Thornton’s Ferry. He died on 24 June 1803 whilst staying with his daughter in Newburyport, Massachusetts, but he is buried in the Thornton Cemetery in Merrimack with his wife and other members of the family.

According to myth, Dr. Thornton had promised Hannah Jack he would marry her when she was a child unwilling to take some nasty medication. She was 18 and he was 46 years old when they married. Her family members were also Scots-Irish Presbyterians.

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, six arrived in time to only sign (not participate in drafting the document), eight were foreign born (three were born in Ireland), and four were doctors. Matthew Thornton was all three of these! There is a memorial to Dr. Thornton along Rt. 3 in Merrimack, a plaque in front of his home in Derry, and a school named in his honor in Londonderry. There was a tavern style restaurant in Merrimack named “Hannah Jack’s” but it is now part of the Common Man Restaurant chain. The town of Thornton, New Hampshire was named for Dr. Matthew Thornton.

Matthew Thornton’s family tree:
Generation 1: James Thornton, born about 1684 in Northern Ireland, died 7 November 1754 in Londonderry, New Hampshire; married to Elizabeth Jenkins, arrived in Boston on 17 August 1718 from Northern Ireland. Eight children, including:

Generation 2: Matthew Thornton, born about 1714 in Northern Ireland and died 24 June 2803 in Newburyport, Massachusetts; married in 1760 to Hannah Jack, daughter of Andrew Jack and Mary Morrison of Chester, New Hampshire, born 1742 and died 5 December 1786, Five children:

1. James, b.20 December 1763 in Londonderry and married to Mary Parker
2. Andrew, b. about 1766 in Londonderry, died 22 April 1787
3. Mary, b. 1768 in Londonderry, married to Hon. Silas Betton of Salem, New Hampshire
4. Mathew, b. 1770 in Londonderry and married to Fanny Curtis
5. Hannah, b. 25 Jul 1774 in Merrimack, married to John McGraw, of Newburyport, Massachusetts

For more information: Family Trees of Merrimack, New Hampshire from the Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo- originally published at the website


General John Stark

You know he said “Live Free or Die” but what else do you know about John Stark? You can learn all about Londonderry’s famous general on June 9th at the Folsom Tavern in Exeter, New Hampshire. The lecture begins at 7PM, admission is $3 for members, $5 for non members. Author Ben Z. Rose, who wrote the book John Stark: Maverick General will discuss Stark’s battlefield history. This is part of a series called “Conversations with Authors” by the American Independence Museum of Exeter, which will continue on September

Stark Memorial in Manchester

29th with John P. Resch’s discussion on his book Suffering Soldiers: Revolutionary War Veterans, Moral Sentiment, and Political Culture in the Early Republic. For more information, call the American Independence Museum at 603-772-2622 or the website at

John Stark was born 28 August 1728 in Nutfield (now Londonderry) to parents from Scotland and Northern Ireland. When the family home in Londonderry burned in 1736 they moved up to the Merrimack River, above Amoskeag Falls. Several other families followed them and it became the town of Derryfield (now Manchester). The Stark family home is now a museum run by the local Molly Stark chapter of the DAR.

In 1752 John, his brother William and two neighbors were ambushed by Indians whilst out hunting. William escaped, and later ransomed John. He became a member of the famous Roger’s Rangers in the frontier. Two years later John led an expedition for Governor Benning Wentworth to explore western New Hampshire. He was commissioned an officer in January 1757, just before the French and Indian War. These frontier experiences would give him an insight into the colony’s borders and northern defenses that other officers of the time period lacked.

After seeing action at the siege of Fort Ticonderoga he returned home to marry Elizabeth “Molly” Page. They had eleven children. Molly was a tomboy who was an excellent marksman and considered “too much for any man to handle.” There is a statue of a gun carrying Molly overlooking the Deerfield River at the Molly Stark State Park in Vermont. Molly served as a nurse to her husband’s troops, and opened the home in Manchester as a hospital during the Revolution.

When he heard of the attack at Lexington, John Stark was supposedly on his horse within ten minutes, and on his way to Massachusetts. Twelve hundred men from New Hampshire joined him at Medford, Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress appointed him Colonel of the 1st New Hampshire Regiment, which defended Bunker Hill at the infamous battle. They fought the rear action of the battle during the British retreat.

Stark went with George Washington to New Jersey, at the Battle of Trenton. He predicted that the next British attack would come out of Canada, and he was correct when General Burgoyne and 10,000 troops came down from Lake Champlain toward Fort Ticonderoga. He was ordered to Saratoga, but refused and instead he mustered men for the battle at Bennington on August 16th, defeating the British and Hessian forces and greatly affecting Burgoyne, who was forced to surrender on October 17, 1777.

The war lasted six more years. After the war John Stark returned to Manchester and private life with Molly. Washington summoned him to headquarters in 1783 for a personal “thank you”, and given the rank of Major General by brevet. He lived to age 94, the last surviving Revolutionary War general.

Perhaps Stark’s greatest contributions to history are his famous quotes, such as:

“There they are, men! We’ll beat them before night or Molly Stark’s a widow.”

Or “Live free or die- Death is not the worst of evils.” Which he wrote for the anniversary of the Battle of Bennington, and the first four words live on as the motto of the state of New Hampshire. Of all the license plate mottos in the United States, this is perhaps the most famous! Most folks don’t know the second part, which I think is the most visionary. Most folks also think he said it at the battle, which is not true.

There is a New Hampshire state roadside marker to General John Stark on the side of Route 28 in Derry, about 2.3 miles south of the Derry Rotary. Nearby is a furniture store called “The General Stark Store”. There is a John Stark Regional High School in Weare, New Hampshire. Flag Hill Distillery in Bennington, New Hampshire is now producing fine vodka named “General John Stark.” Molly is memorialized by the DAR chapter, the Vermont State Park, and a cannon in a New Boston park. There is also a Molly Stark Inn in Bennington, Vermont. A tuberculosis sanatorium in Canton, Ohio was named for Molly Stark in 1929.


John Stark’s Family Tree:

Generation 1: Archibald Stark, b. 1697 in Glasgow, Scotland, d. 25 June 1758 in Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire; married to Eleanor Nichols, b. about 1697 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Archibald Stark is buried at the old burial ground in Manchester where his stone reads “Here Lyes The Body of Mr. ARCHIBALD STARK. He Departed This Life June 25, 1758, Aged 61 Years.”

Generation 2: General John Stark, b. 28 August 1728 in Londonderry, New Hampshire, d. 8 May 1822 in Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire; married on 20 August 1758 in Dunbarton, New Hampshire to Elizabeth Page, b. 1737 in Haverhill, New Hampshire, d. 29 June 1814. General John Stark is buried at the John Stark State Park, Manchester, New Hampshire. Eleven children:

1. Caleb Page Stark b. 03 Dec 1759, Dunbarton, New Hampshire, d. 26 Aug 1838, Oxford, Ohio
2. Archibald Stark b. 28 May 1761, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. 11 Sep 1791
3. John Stark b. 17 Apr 1763, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. 24 Nov 1844, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire
4. Eleanor Stark b. 04 Mar 1765, d. 20 Aug 1767
5. Eleanor Stark b. 30 Jun 1767, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. Abt 1843
6. Sarah Stark , b. 11 Jun 1769, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. 29 Jan 1801
7. Elizabeth Stark b. 10 Aug 1771, d. 13 May 1813, Ryegate (Caledonia County), Vermont
8. Mary Stark b. 09 Sep 1773, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire
9. Charles Stark . 02 Dec 1775, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. Nov 1796, At Sea
10. Benjamin Franklin Stark b. 16 Jun 1777, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. 19 Jul 1809
11. Sophia Stark, b. 21 Jun 1782, Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire, d. 18 Jun 1870, North Reading, Massachusetts

For more information:

History of Manchester (formerly Derryfield), by C. E. Potter, 1856, Chapter 24
John Stark: Maverick General, by Ben. Z. Rose, Hobblebush Books, Brookline, New Hampshire, 2007
Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


The Zimmerman House- A Historical House from the 1940s!

When you think of historical houses in New England, are you thinking of saltbox style colonial era houses built in the 1600s and 1700s? There are plenty of houses from all historical eras here, Greek Revivals from the 1830s, stately Victorian “Painted Ladies” from the 1880s, shingle style cottages from the 1910s along the coastline, but what about contemporary architect built houses by Frank Lloyd Wright?

I had the good luck to stay overnight in a Frank Lloyd Wright house about fifteen years ago, and it was then that I began to appreciate historical houses from all eras. This house was charming with its warm wood trims and built in furniture. At about this time the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire acquired a Frank Lloyd Wright house and opened it to the public for tours.

The Zimmerman House, Manchester

At the Zimmerman house, Frank Lloyd Wright designed everything, not just the house. He drew up the plans for the gardens as well as making all the furniture, even the mailbox. The Zimmerman family was made up of musicians, so Wright created a four way music stand so they could play together. People travel from all over the world to see the Zimmerman House.

I don’t really appreciate modern architecture much, but I imagine that at one time even the houses of colonial America were criticized. I can imagine two Puritans having this conversation:

“What thinkest thou of the pediment Ezekiel hath placed above his door?”

“Me thinkest he believes himself above his station in life! Such a fancy doorway!”

Now you can not only visit the Zimmerman house, but there are new tours open just for photographers and photography. Just in time for the lovely gardens that the museum maintains around the house to burst into bloom! The photographer’s tours are only on Saturdays from now until June at 10:30 AM. The photographer’s tour costs $25 instead of the usual $20, and includes an extra half hour to take photographs. Price includes general admission to the Currier Museum. The tour begins at the museum where a bus brings you to the house, which is only accessible through the museum. Please make advance reservations at least one week ahead of time.

For more information: or (603) 669-6144 ext. 108 at the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH

This Photography Tour of the Zimmerman House was featured in an article in “Let’s Go”, a supplement to the Derry News, April 16, 2010, pages 8-9.


Jim Henson’s Fantastic World

There is a fantastic new exhibit at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts and it is completely FREE! “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” will run through June 27, 2010. It is an exhibit that will delight the young and the old, since it showcases Muppets and puppets from the 1950s until Henson’s death in 1990.

At the start of the exhibit, if you turn to the left along the wall, there is a bin with magnetic boards for the little ones to enjoy during the exhibit. They can look for the Muppets on the board and place a magnet over each face. This will entertain the younger crowd whilst the adults take advantage of reading all the signs and art work over the display cases. I was surprised to learn that Jim Henson started his career as a cartoonist, and there are plenty of fun examples of his cartoons to examine.

The exhibit starts with Henson’s childhood. I loved the first Kermit he fashioned out of his mother’s green coat and a ping pong ball! Throughout college he designed posters and cartoons. There are examples of these on exhibit, as well as monitors showing his early television work and some old television commercials. Be sure to check out an early puppet he did for a spray starch company. The puppet spray can looks like the Londonderry Lancer!

The exhibit progresses through the Sesame Street years, the Muppet Shows and movies, and the later films like “The Dark Crystal.” All along are glass cases with Muppets, costumes and paraphernalia from the movies. It is a film buffs delight!

At the museum’s website (click here), you can download an audio tour for your iPod, so you can enjoy a narrated tour of the exhibition. While we were there last Saturday, a guide gave a guided tour.

There are several upcoming events at the museum related to this exhibit including a concert of family friendly Henson related music on May 2nd, a puppet workshop on April 29th, and on May 9th a presentation by Heather Henson, Jim’s youngest daughter. Check the website for more events running along with this exhibit. Some of these special events require preregistration, and there may be a fee.

The National Heritage Museum is located at 33 Marrett Road in Lexington, Massachusetts. Complete driving directions are on the website and there is plenty of free parking. The museum is operated by the Scottish Rite Freemasons, and there are four other exhibits on art and history at the museum. It is located nearby other historical sites from the American Revolution, and from May to October the museum also runs a 90 minute bus tour of Lexington and Concord. Donations are appreciated by visitors.


Londonderry School District Number Eight

I recently explored the Internet Archive website at This website provides free books, moving images (from film and video), audio and text images. From their home page “The Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public.” It is full of scanned images and primary source documents that are a genealogist’s dream!

I put the word LONDONDERRY into the search box and I found the 1908 book “School District Number Eight” at Here you can page through the book, left or right, and even download the book or print it out. It is only 60 pages, but it loaded with lots of good Londonderry trivia, including names and other genealogical gems.

School House number 8 was located on Bartley Hill Road. A District Number Eight Old Home Association of former teachers, pupils and residents was formed, and on August 24, 1906 about twenty five people showed up at a meeting in the schoolhouse to consider writing up the history of the school, and to have a celebration. Adults paid 25 cents, children 10 cents to belong to the association.

According to this little booklet, the first schoolhouse in this district was built in 1794 as Number 17 in Londonderry, until the town of Derry broke off in 1829. The author Daniel Gage Annis lists some historical facts, such as in 1800 it was voted that every pupil should bring 4 feet of wood to school, or in 1812 it was voted to give the school 40 cents for a “pale and mug.” In 1829 it was voted to sell the stove ashes to give the scholars “some refreshments- No rum brought into school.” In 1839 $25 was raised to buy a new stove. In 1856 $1000 was voted to build a new schoolhouse, and in 1858 $136 was voted to finish the school house, with another $100 voted for outbuildings (an outhouse? Woodshed?) In 1894 the cost per scholar was $10.63 and there were 26 children. Compare this to this month’s town meeting where the 2010-2011 school budget is expected to be $63,472,328.00, for about 5,300 students.

Also included in the booklet are lists of teachers, board members and donors. There is a short chapter on the history of the Adams Fund, which came from the estate of Mr. Edmund Adams, a resident of the school district. He formed this fund out of the sale of two shares of Manchester and Lawrence Railroad stock in 1870. His sons were students in the district, one becoming a graduate of Dartmouth, a grandson graduating from Harvard, and a granddaughter graduating from Johns Hopkins.

At the end of the booklet, there is a chapter describing the celebration of the Old Home Association for the school on August 21, 1907. There are several letters of regret from former teachers and students, which are interesting to read. They include the names and their 1907 addresses, mostly out of state.

If you would like to examine the original copy of this book, it is available at the Londonderry Leach library, filed under HIS REF 974.2b LON, School district number eight, Londonderry, New Hampshire. Concord, N.H: Rumford Printing, 1908.

This story was previously posted at Nutfield Genealogy at on March 18, 2010 by Heather Wilkinson Rojo