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Early Settlement of Keene, New Hampshire

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Up to the winter of 1736 no person had remained in the town during that season. Those who came in the summer to clear their lands brought their provisions with them, and erected temporary huts to shelter them from the weather. But during that summer, Nathan Blake and Seth Heaton, from Wrentham, and William Smeed, from Deerfield, made preparation to pass the winter in the wilderness. Their house was at the south end of Main street. Their stock consisted of a yoke of oxen and a pair of horses, one of the latter belonging to Heaton and the others to Blake. During the winter Blakes horse was drowned in Beaver brook while drawing logs to the saw-mill which had been erected the previous year. In the beginning of February their provisions gave out, and Heaton was sent to Northfield for a new supply, but was unable to make his way back through the snow. The others, when they saw he failed to return, turned the cattle loose where they might have access to the hay, and started for Massachusetts on snow-shoes. When they returned in the spring they found their cattle safe, but very, hungry and glad to see them. In 1740, however, there were in the town the following landowners – Rev. Jacob Bacon, Josiah Fisher, Joseph Fisher, Nathan Blake, William Smeed. Seth Heaton, Joseph Ellis, Ebenezer Nims, Joseph Guild, Joseph Richardson, Isaac Clark, Edward Dale, Jeremiah Hall, Ebenezer Force, Daniel Haws, Amos Foster, Ebenezer Day, Beriah Maccaney, Jabez Hill, Obed Blake, Jeremiah Hall, Jr., David Nims, Timothy Puffer, Ebenezer Daniels, Nathan Fairbanks, John Bullard, David Foster, Solomon Richardson, Abner Ellis. Benjamin Guild, Asa Richardson, Ebenezer Hill, Samuel Fisher, Ephraim Dorman, Timothy Sparhawk. Jonathan Underwood, John Andrews and Samuel Smith.

Although at peace with the Indians, the settlers were aware of their treacherous characters, and made preparations for resisting any sudden onslaught, by the erection of a fort, which was done in 1738, and stood near the present residence of Hon. Edward Gustine. This was ninety feet square, and contained two ovens, and two wells. It was built of hewn logs. In the interior, next to the walls, were twenty barracks, each having one room. On the outside it was two stories high; in the inside, but one, the roof over the barracks sloping inwards. In the space above the barracks were loop-holes to fire from with muskets. There were two watch-houses, one at the southeast comer, and one on western side, each erected on four high posts set upright in the earth. And for greater safety the whole was surrounded by pickets.

This fort proved of great use to the little settlement a few years later. In 1744 war was declared between England and France, and the whole frontier was in a state of excitement and alarm. To this was added, to check the prosperous growth of the new township, the dread scourge of a throat distemper, fatal in its attacks, which wrought sad havoc within the fort and consigned many to the grave. Dea. Josiah Fisher fell the first victim to the Indians, July 10, 1745, about where Gen- S. G. Griffins garden now is. Early on the morning of the 23d of April of the following year, Ephraim Dorman was openly attacked near the settlement, but by a vigorous resistance made his escape to the fort. Mrs. Maccaney and John Bullard were less fortunate and perished during the assault. Mrs. Clark escaped capture by her agility, being closely pursued nearly to the gate of the fort. Nathan Blake was taken prisoner and carried to Canada, to be treated there with considerate kindness. His enforced visit with the red-men formed quite a romantic incident in that dreary war. He returned in safety, after an absence of about two years. and lived-to recall his adventures to numerous descendants. The Indians were beat off, with a loss of about nine. In the spring of 1747, after an uncomfortable winter spent within the fort, the inhabitants resolved to abandon the settlement, and a strolling party of Indians soon after burnt all the buildings in the town, possibly with the exception of one or two. Thus ended the first settlement of Upper Ashuelot.

In 1749 a treaty of peace was made with the Indians, and the following year the settlers made preparations to return to their deserted homesteads. In the next French war, the Indians again renewed their hostilities, compelling the rebuilding of the fort, in 1754. In June, 1755, Benjamin Twitchell was captured and carried to Canada, and died there. The savages were seen but twice afterwards in the vicinity, committed no remarkable depredations, and so disappear from the annals of Keene. From this time onward the growth of the town was steady, the first authentic enumeration of the inhabitants, taken October 7, 1767, showing a population of 427 souls.

 


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