NEW HAMPSHIRE'S BOUNDARIES: BACKGROUND
New Hampshire was shaped by the Great Ice Age. The mountain tops were scraped off. The glacial melt made streams that changed the surface. Boulders were moved to other places. The Connecticut and Merrimack Rivers were great glacial lakes as were many other rivers. The lowlands were pushed down due to the weight of the ice. Therefore, the ocean was further inland than today. "The glaciers did more than any other one thing to shape the land we know today." (Bailey, 1960)
Political boundaries have
changed over time. The Abenaki tribes seasonally roamed over territory
encompassing present day Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and part of Canada.
Sub-tribes had distinct territories within New Hampshire. When Europeans
came to settle, they defined the boundaries of the different colonies.
Sometimes the boundary decrees made little sense because of ignorance of
the geography of the land. When John Mason received his charter, he assumed
that the southern end of the Merrimack River continued westward instead
of turning north, and thereby the stage was set for continuing border disputes
with Massachusetts. Massachusetts understood their boundary to include
all land three miles south and west of the Merrimack River and three miles
north of its headwaters (at Lake
The boundary between Massachusetts and New Hampshire was "settled" under the King's Decree of 1740the southerly boundary was drawn due west from the most southerly curve of the Merrimack River at Lowell. Both States approved a later survey, made between 1885 and 1898. " Starting from the sea, it runs in a wavy line for thirty miles, north of and roughly paralleling the Merrimack River at a distance of three miles therefrom, and follows a straight, if not absolutely due western, course to the Connecticut River." (Murphy, 1938)
There were also disputes with New York. There was a great deal of argument about where the boundaries of New Hampshire were. In fact. Governor Benning Wentworth thought New Hampshire included all of what is now Vermont, and started chartering towns there. However, the governor of New York also claimed Vermont and started chartering towns in the same area. The dispute was sent to the king to be settled. He decided in 1764 that all land beyond the western bank of the Connecticut River belonged to New York. (Bailey, 1985) The boundary between New Hampshire and Vermont runs from a point on the 45th parallel, for about one and three-fourths miles to the west bank of the Connecticut River. The boundary then follows the river for 168 miles. The west bank of the river was set by the Supreme Court in a decision in 1934. (Murphy, 1938) Again, this is an interesting story, as the western boundary changed depending on court cases fought with neighboring Vermont.
The commissioners of the king made a survey in 1737 to originally establish the eastern boundary between Maine and New Hampshire. "By this original survey, the eastern boundary line passed through the mouth of the Piscataqua Harbor and up the Newichwannock, part of which is now called Salmon Falls, and through the middle of the same up to the farthest head thereof and from thence two degrees westerly until 120 miles be finished from the mouth of Piscataqua harbor aforesaid or until it meets his majesties other governments; and that the dividing line shall part the Isle of Shoales and run through the middle of the harbor between the islands to the sea on the southerly side, and the south- westerly part of said islands shall lye in and be part of the providence of New Hampshire."(Murphy, 1938)
Other surveys were done to establish the eastern boundary. A "final" survey was done in 1874. This survey established the line through the northern forests, the White Mountains, and south through the Salmon, Chocheco, and Piscataqua Rivers to the ocean. In this survey, the three southern islands in the Isle of Shoals are within the New Hampshire boundaries. The shoreline became the southern end of the eastern boundary. (Murphy, 1938) In the last decades of this century. New Hampshire and Maine have disagreed over where their boundary is located in relation to the Piscataqua River. As of 1997, that dispute was not settled.
The boundary between Canada and New Hampshire was established on August 9, 1842, by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. "Commencing at the 'Crown Monument,' so called at the intersection of the New Hampshire, Maine, and Providence of Quebec boundaries, . . . thence by an irregular line along the divide to the head of Halls Stream and down the middle of that stream to . . . the 45th parallel of latitude." (Murphy, 1938) The story that led up to this treaty is well-worth relating to the students, as it involved part of New Hampshire seceding from the United States to form what was known as the Indian Stream Republic!