Nicholas Shapleigh and Allegiance


New Hampshire and Maine were established as independent colonies loyal to the king and the Church of England.  In the 1640s and 1650s Massachusetts, which opposed the English monarchy, seized control of the Piscataqua region to safeguard commercial access to fish and timber, ushering in decades of political intrigue and uncertainty.  New Hampshire would regain its independence in 1680, but Maine remained a part of Massachusetts for almost two centuries.  Amid these struggles, royalism became a potent symbol of resistance to the Bay Colony.

Political divisions were also stoked by the religious pluralism of the Piscataqua.  The region was a haven for non-Puritans, who comprised a majority of the population for most of the seventeenth century.  They supported the Stuart monarchs and their call for religious toleration.  Anglicans, Quakers, Baptists and others stood in direct opposition to Massachusetts Puritans, who believed that the Church of England was corrupt and that they alone practiced the true Christian faith.  Describing the local magistrates, planters and fishermen, one observer quipped, “some be royalists, the rest perverse spirits.”

Nicholas Shapleigh

The son of a wealthy West Country merchant, Nicholas Shapleigh arrived in the Province of Maine by 1644, probably sailing on one of his family’s ships.  The town of Kittery was named after the Shapleigh estate of Kittery Quay, in Kingswear, Devon.  He amassed great wealth as a lumber merchant, building a sawmill, gristmill, and a substantial manor house in the part of Kittery that is now Eliot.  In the 1650s Massachusetts authorities appointed Nicholas treasurer of the province and major in command of the Maine militia.

But Shapleigh was also a leader of the royalist movement that opposed Puritan rule.  He joined the Quakers, who believed in egalitarianism and pacifism, yet he was a slave owner and militia officer.  Nor did his strong royalist views prevent him from becoming business partners with Puritan merchant Humphrey Chadbourne, his niece’s husband.  And in his military role, he was designated to negotiate peace with Wabanaki sagamores during King Philip’s War.  In many respects, Shapleigh exemplifies the complex patterns of allegiance, kinship and belief that characterized the Piscataqua region. 

(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.)