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From its start as a remote fishing outpost on the tidal waters of the Piscataqua River, Dover held on to become the seventh-oldest permanent settlement in the United States and the third-oldest in New England, beating the arrival of the Puritans.
Just forty years later, a third of the town’s population was defiantly worshiping as Quakers, a new movement that sharply challenged those Puritans, to the point that anyone who merely listened to such radical views could be heavily fined, jailed, whipped, or have an ear cut off. Maybe worse.
This is the story of that minority, living out a stubborn faith and peaceable lifestyle that in many but not all ways resemble today’s Amish. Quakers, for their part, were more outspoken.
Why Dover? Early on, deep schisms ran through the settlement, including skirmishes over the town pulpit, leadership scandals, provincial charter conflicts, and cultural differences with the Puritans to the south even before they briefly took control of the New Hampshire colony.
And then, when Quaker envoys arrived from England, two were hanged in Boston less than a month after visiting Dover. A third who suffered the gallows had been in the settlement the previous year. More notoriously, three women were subsequently ordered stripped to the waist, tied to an oxcart, and ordered whipped in every town to the south, per order of Dover’s ambitious and already wealthy Richard Waldron. That was a death sentence they were spared in a neighboring town, and it didn’t deter them from returning.
Waldron is a story unto himself, leading to the enslavement of Native women and children and the revengeful raids that devastated much of New England for decades. Quakers were not exempt from the violent consequences. Elizabeth Hanson’s captivity after witnessing the slaughter of two of her children is one heartbreaking example.
What they established has endured, spreading out across New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont and even to the West Coast.
It’s nothing like the New England history you were taught.