Humphrey Chadbourne and the Atlantic World

Edge of the Atlantic World

English settlers were drawn to the Piscataqua by its rich natural resources.  Fish, game, and timber abounded along navigable rivers with fertile valleys, powerful waterfalls and safe harbors.  Fur traders bargained with Natives for beaver pelts, which supplied the soft underfur to make fashionable felted hats.  Fishermen landed cod and mackerel to feed Europeans, as well as planters and slaves in the sugar islands of the Caribbean. 

The ancient and massive trees of the Piscataqua were a prized commodity in England, which was largely deforested by 1600.  By the late 1660s timber merchants had built fifteen sawmills on local waterfalls and tidal inlets, powering the first clear cuts in the New World.  The harvest of oak, pine, hemlock and cedar was used to make everything from barrel staves and sawn boards to the ships that carried cargoes to distant ports of the Atlantic rim.  Fortunes could be made by those who ventured in the high-stakes enterprise of maritime trade.  Yet, in a speculative business with sweeping reach, lives and fortunes could easily be lost.

Humphrey Chadbourne

Humphrey Chadbourne came to Newichawannock (now South Berwick) in the 1630s as a young man seeking his fortune.  He bought a large tract of 500 acres from Sagamore Rowls at the confluence of the Salmon Falls and Great Works rivers, where he would establish a fur trading post and later a sawmill and farmstead worked by indentured servants. 

Through his fur and lumber exports, Chadbourne was actively involved in the trading networks of the Atlantic world.  His enterprise, business acumen, and an advantageous marriage to Lucy Treworgy enriched his estate.  When he died in 1667 he was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the region. 

In his will Humphrey took pains to detail bequests to his family to secure their wealth and social rank.  Yet the Chadbournes would lose almost everything in 1690, when their estate was destroyed by French and Wabanaki assailants during the Salmon Falls Raid.  Archaeological excavations at the Chadbourne homesite document the family’s former wealth and connections and provided many artifacts in the Old Berwick Historical Society's "Forgotten Frontier" exhibit.

(From the Old Berwick Historical Society exhibit, 2017-2018, Forgotten Frontier: Untold Stories of the Piscataqua by Emerson Baker, Project Scholar, and Nina Maurer, Curator.)