"Forgotten Frontier"

Closing soon - admission fall 2018 by appointment only

Watch Bill Green's Maine segment, "Scots of Dunbar" click here

Inspired by the richness of its archaeological collections and the approaching anniversary of New England’s founding, the Old Berwick Historical Society has created a groundbreaking exhibition that recasts the founding story of this region. Open from June through October, other times by appointment, the exhibit will continue through October 2018. Admission is free; donations are welcome.

Forgotten Frontier: Untold Stories of the Piscataqua explores the turbulent century of the 1600s through the lives of eight diverse characters vying for control of the landscape and their destiny on the far reaches of settlement in New England. The exhibit brings to light long-buried clues about our regional identity—our origins in diversity and our resilience in adversity.

Encounters between four divergent cultures who occupied this region—Native American, African American, French and English—are the heart of the story.  The exhibit recounts the dramatic conflicts that characterized this period, as well as attempts to negotiate and compromise represented in peace treaties, the redemption of captives, and the release of slaves.  

The exhibit features objects excavated from local archaeological sites as well as loan objects from throughout the region, some displayed for the first time. 

What was the "forgotten frontier?"

The colonies founded in our region in the 1600s are often called Puritan New England, but settlements along the Piscataqua were not Puritan colonies.  The first English settlers were Anglicans, loyal to the Church of England—people who ventured here for profit, not religion.  Nor was this a “new” land, having been occupied by the Wabanaki for thousands of years.  And much of the population was not even English.  Aside from indigenous people, there were African slaves, Scottish prisoners of war, and other Europeans.  Ironically, it would become a religious refuge for some—those Quakers, Baptists, Antinomians, and others unwelcome in Puritan Massachusetts. 

Some were drawn here by the region’s extraordinary timber and fish resources. Others came by force or stayed because they had no choice.  All would face adversity in their drive to persist on the margins of a daunting, forested frontier, a place where rivers and peoples converged.

Meet the eight characters featured in the exhibit:

Sagamore Rowls and the Dawnland

Humphrey Chadbourne and the Atlantic World 

Patience Spencer and Kinship

Nicholas Shapleigh and Allegiance

William Black and Diversity

Thomas Holmes and Adversity

Jean-Baptiste Hertel and Contest

Mehitable Goodwin and Resilience

A Distant Mirror

At first glance, the lives of people explored in this exhibit seem to have little in common with us in our modern world, aside from a geographic connection.  Yet these distant lives sound strangely familiar.  They were caught up in times of enormous change and recurring conflict.  Many were immigrants to the region, bringing diverse faiths and traditions with them.  Some would arrive in bondage and others would leave in captivity.  All would struggle to remain or return, drawing on the natural bounty of the Piscataqua to build lives amid cultural and political divides.

In our own unsettled times we face challenges these earlier people of the Piscataqua would surely recognize.  How do we safeguard what we hold dear?  How do we as diverse natives and newcomers find common purpose?  What role will we play in defining the future of our region?    

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