02 – Cochecho Massacre

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In the early 17th century, Dover’s early settlers lived in relative peace with the local Pennacook tribe, learning hunting, fishing, and farming skills from the natives. Passaconaway, highly respected leader of the Pennacook Confederacy, forged a respectful co-existence. In 1665, tribe leadership passed to Passaconaway’s son Wonalancet who carried on his father’s peaceful traditions.

The leader of the colonists at Cochecho was Richard Walderne (Waldron), an English immigrant. In 1642 he built a sawmill at Cochecho Lower Falls and by 1666 there were 41 families living in what is now downtown Dover. Walderne was the largest employer and taxpayer and also ran the trading post. In 1675, the colonists and Native Americans in southeastern NH were still living peacefully, but in Massachusetts a bloody war had erupted among the tribes of the commonwealth. Led by Wampanoag chief “King Phillip”, over 3000 Native Americans were killed, with hundreds more sold into slavery. Many others fled to New Hampshire, hoping to escape death or capture. By September 1676, over 400 Indians were at Cochecho, half of them strangers and the other half Wonalancet’s people.

On September 6, 1676, Massachusetts soldiers arrived at Cochecho with the orders to recapture the escapees. They were ready to battle, but Major Walderne intervened.  Not wanting the loyal Pennacooks harmed, he invited all to a nearby field (see map) for war games and a mock battle. Unsuspecting, there they were surrounded by the soldiers. The locals were freed but the rest were taken back to Massachusetts. Walderne felt he had saved Wonalancet’s people from harm but the Pennacooks saw it as a betrayal. Tensions mounted further when Chief Kancamagus, a warrior, replaced Wonalancet as Sagamore of the Pennacook.

There were ca. 50 garrisoned homes within 15 miles of downtown Dover. The five at Cochecho were Richard Walderne’s, Richard Otis’s, Elizabeth Heard’s, Peter Coffin’s and Tristam Coffin’s. (see map) On June 27, 1689 several female Native Americans asked for refuge inside each of the garrisons (not unusual during peacetime). In the early morning hours these women opened the gates and admitted several hundred Penacooks. Richard Walderne was brutally murdered and his family members were killed or taken captive. His garrison was looted and burned. The Otis garrison suffered a similar fate. Richard Otis, son Stephen and daughter Hannah were killed. His wife, daughter Margaret, and two grandchildren were taken captive before their garrison was burned. (In 1911, artifacts from the Otis garrison were found and are displayed in the Damm Garrison at the Woodman Museum.) The other three garrisons were pillaged but not burned and those families escaped captivity. 23 people were killed and 29 were taken captive, about 25% of the population. For the next 60 years there were skirmishes, but by 1770 Native Americans had mostly disappeared from the area.

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