One of the original 13 colonies, New Hampshire was the first state to have its own constitution. It was the 9th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution–the final state needed to put the document into effect. The state's spirit of independence is epitomized in its motto: “Live Free or Die.”
The state plays a vital role in national elections, as it is the first state to hold national primaries, and its primary election results are thought to influence those in the rest of the nation. This gave rise to the saying, “As New Hampshire goes, so goes the nation.” It is the site of the White Mountains and the famed Mount Washington, one of the windiest places in the nation.
New Hampshire’s Native American History
The first people arrived in what would become Keene, New Hampshire, roughly 13,000 years ago. They lived in villages along rivers and lakes and organized into numerous tribes, including the Cowasuck, Ossipee, Penacook, Pigwacke, Sokoki and Winnipesaukee. Because they all spoke related dialects of the Abenaki language, they are collectively known today as the Abenaki—or “people of the dawnland.”
When the first European settlers arrived in New Hampshire in the early 17th century, Native Americans generally lived peacefully alongside their new neighbors. However, settlers often stole from Indigenous people and captured and sold them into slavery. Europeans also brought diseases, including smallpox epidemics from 1615 to 1620 and again in 1633, that wiped out an estimated 80 to 90 percent of New Hampshire’s Native American population.
As more villages cropped up in New Hampshire, many Native Americans fled. A large part of the population resettled to the north, primarily in the Canadian St. Francis, Quebec. By the end of the century, many remaining Indigenous people had blended into the settlers’ society, often marrying into European families.
During Queen Anne's War (1702-1713), a clash between the British and French over New England territory, Native Americans sided with the French. At the war’s end, the Native Americans surrendered to the British with the 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth, signed at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The treaty’s harsh terms for land ownership, control of trade and commerce and submission to British law further curtailed the few remaining Indigenous people’s rights and freedoms. The British settlers’ control of the territory was further strengthened in 1763 with France’s loss in the French and Indian War.
There are no federally- or state-recognized tribes in New Hampshire, although several Abenaki groups continue to struggle for recognition.
New Hampshire Exploration and Colonial History
The Vikings may have been the first Europeans to visit the area now known as New Hampshire. The first recorded visitor was English mariner Martin Pring, who sailed up the Piscataqua River in June 1603, followed in 1605 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain. In 1614, English Captain John Smith—famous for allegedly being saved by Pocahontas—sailed and mapped New England, calling the area “North Virginia.”
In 1623, English merchant John Mason received a land grant in New England and sent mariners to set up base camps for fishing and trading. He named the area New Hampshire after his home county of Hampshire, England. Scotsman David Thompson created a settlement at Odiorne's Point, which was abandoned within the following year. London fish merchants Edward and William Hilton established the first permanent settlement in New Hampshire at Dover—now the seventh oldest continuous settlement in the United States. In 1630, Mason helped establish the town known as Portsmouth, which was established as the state’s capitol.
New Hampshire was named a royal province in 1679, then became part of the Massachusetts colony from 1698 to 1741. From 1741 to 1766, it became a British province again. Throughout this period, France and Great Britain contested ownership of land in the New World—culminating with the French and Indian War. Great Britain’s victory in 1763 helped consolidate the country’s power over the territory, and the British government offered land grants to attract settlers to New Hampshire. The 1760s was the greatest decade of growth in New Hampshire’s history, as settlers arrived from Massachusetts and other neighboring states.
A State of Firsts in the American Revolution
New Hampshire was among the 13 original colonies and played an important role in America’s fight for independence from England. On December 13, 1774, four months before his famous “midnight ride” to Lexington, Massachusetts, Paul Revere embarked on a 55-mile ride from Boston to Portsmouth to warn of Fort William and Mary’s imminent seizure from British troops. In one of the first acts of rebellion leading up to the revolution, a group of nearly 400 townspeople responded by raiding the garrison’s gunpowder to prevent the takeover, lowering the fort’s British flag upon their return to Portsmouth.
In 1776, New Hampshire became the first colony to declare its independence from England and the first colony to have its own state constitution. Throughout the Revolutionary War, New Hampshire sent the colonists critical troops and supplies. In the Battle of Bunker Hill, nearly all the colonists' troops who fought were said to have come from New Hampshire. New Hampshire troops again played an important role during the Battle of Bennington in 1777—a decisive victory for the colonists.
At the war’s end, New Hampshire was the ninth and deciding state to ratify the United States Constitution. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state in the Union.
New Hampshire residents then played important roles in the new country’s first government. John Langdon was the United States’ first acting vice president and the first president of the Senate during George Washington’s first term. In 1789, Portsmouth resident Samuel Shelburne became the first attorney general of the United States.
Slavery and the Civil War
The first African slaves were brought to Portsmouth by the British in 1645. There were very few slaves in New Hampshire, although there were up to 700 Black people living in the state around the time of the Revolution, some part of a free society.
Slavery was officially abolished by New Hampshire in 1857. Throughout the Civil War, New Hampshire sent 35,000 troops to fight for the Union—or about 11 percent of the state’s population.
Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled in Nutfield in April 1719 planted the first potato crops in North America. The settlement, later renamed Londonderry, is now the town of Derry.
Throughout the 19th century, New Hampshire’s major textile manufacturing state attracted French-Canadian workers from Québec and New Brunswick. At the time, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company was the country’s largest textile manufacturer, located in Manchester, New Hampshire. About 900,000 French Canadians came to the U.S. between 1840 and 1930. As of 2021, up to 20 percent of New Hampshire’s population still has French ancestry.
French Camisards and the Quakers contributed to the formation of a Protestant sect called the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing in New England in 1747. The group is more commonly known as the Shaking Quakers, or simply Shakers, due to their euphoric dancing.
The Shakers believed in communal living or the sharing of all property. They didn’t believe in procreation, instead adopting or converting people from outside of the community. A utopian society, the Shakers had a progressive vision for racial and gender equality and lived in simple agrarian communities.
The Shakers established several villages throughout New England, including the Canterbury Shaker Village in 1792. The village reached its peak in the 1850s when 300 people lived and worked in over 100 buildings across 3,000 acres. The village became a museum when the last Shaker resident passed away in 1992.
Date of Statehood: June 21, 1788
Population: 1,377,529 (2020)
Size: 8,954 square miles
Nickname(s): Granite State; Mother of Rivers; White Mountain State; Switzerland of America
Motto: Live Free or Die
Tree: White Birch
Flower: Purple Lilac
Bird: Purple Finch
- The “Old Man in the Mountain,” depicted on the New Hampshire state quarter, was a rock formation in Franconia Notch made up of five distinct granite ledges that lined up perfectly into the shape of a man’s profile. Formed by a series of geologic events that occurred over millions of years, the profile extended nearly 40 feet from forehead to chin. On May 3, 2003, the Old Man in the Mountain collapsed from its perch 1,200 feet above Profile Lake.
- New Hampshire was home to the first American astronaut, Alan Shepard Jr., and first private civilian, Christa McAuliffe, to travel into space. Shepard’s 15-minute flight onboard Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961, launched him 116 miles into the atmosphere before landing safely. McAuliffe, a schoolteacher from Concord who applied to participate in the legendary mission, perished aboard the Challenger space shuttle on January 28, 1986, 73 seconds and 48,000 feet after liftoff.
- In July 1944, financiers from 44 countries gathered at the luxurious Mount Washington Hotel for the Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference, during which the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were established and the American dollar was designated the standard of international exchange.
- New Hampshire is one of only nine states that does not require its residents to pay state income tax.
- New Hampshire is the only state to have hosted the formal conclusion of a foreign war. In 1905, the treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War was signed in Portsmouth.
- The first modern free American public library was established at Peterborough, New Hampshire, in 1833.
- Franklin Pierce was born in New Hampshire and was a member of the United States Senate and House of Representatives before serving as president of the United States from 1853 to 1857.
National Conference of State Legislatures, Federal and State Recognized Tribes
New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources, Native American Organizations With Geographical / Cultural Interests in New Hampshire
Historical Society of Cheshire County, Abenaki History for Kids, Abenaki History for Kids
New Hampshire Public Broadcasting Service, Our New Hampshire: People of the Dawn
Historical Society of Cheshire County, A Deep Presence: 13,000 Years Of Native American History
Seacoast of New Hampshire and South Coast Maine region, What About the Indians?
New Hampshire Public Broadcasting Service, Early Settlements
Dover Public Library, Dover History
Yale Law School, Constitution of New Hampshire – 1776
New Hampshire Public Radio, 1763: A Landmark Year In New Hampshire History
American Battlefield Trust, Bennington
Bennington Battle Monument, The Battle of Bennington
State of New Hampshire, A Brief History of New Hampshire, New Hampshire Almanac
United States Census Bureau, Quick Facts: New Hampshire
Rye Historical Society, Slavery in Rye
Black Heritage Trail NH, Our African Heritage
University of New Hampshire, Confronting the South: New Hampshire People During the Civil War
American Library Association, Before 1876
State of New Hampshire, New Hampshire History in Brief
New Hampshire Historical Society, Timeline of New Hampshire History
New Hampshire Union Leader, Celebrating Nashua's Francophone culture with a raising of the flag
Smithsonian Folklife Festival Program Book, Franco-American Heritage in New Hampshire
New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs, Division of Travel and Tourism Development, NH Facts and Firsts
Marianopolis College, French Canadian Emigration to the United States, 1840-1930
Canterbury Shaker Village, About
National Park Service, History of the Shakers