Hunter Stetz | History Naturalist, Seacoast Science Center
While we acknowledge the lengthy Indigenous presence at what is now Odiorne Point State Park, it is David Thomson’s arrival in 1623 that frames the 400 years of European settlement that is being commemorated this year. Narratives encompassing the first half of the 1600s are oft rife with romanticization and embellishment. We must be mindful to parse out the facts from the stories that fill gaps in records while also generally oversimplifying events and their context. Interactions between Europeans and Indigenous peoples around what is now the New Hampshire Seacoast region predates Thomson’s settlement by roughly a century, but explorers and fishermen are not known to have erected any permanent dwellings before 1623.
David Thomson (sometimes spelled Thompson) was born to Scottish parents near London, England, in 1592. He lived in Plymouth, England before coming to the New World. His settlement efforts were backed by three prominent merchants affiliated with the investment company, Council for New England. The company endeavored to establish commerce footholds in coastal areas along the modern-day northeastern United States. The primary condition of Thomson’s efforts was that he and his crew must operate a profitable fishing and trading enterprise for five years, at which point they would receive 6,000 acres of land and an island of Thomson’s choice.
The average American is very familiar with Plymouth Colony’s establishment in 1620, but there were also a few other short-lived European settlements prior to this date elsewhere in the Gulf of Maine, such as Popham Colony and St. Croix in what is now Maine and Wessagusset Colony in what is now Massachusetts. Plymouth Colony ended up being the only permanent settlement prior to 1623 that persisted for more than a few years.
Arriving in the spring of 1623, Thomson was joined by his wife, Amais, son, John, and 7-10 indentured employees. He quickly erected a fortified trading outpost, a house, and fish drying stations. This compound was known as “Pannaway Plantation” or “Pannaway Manor.” While Pannaway may derive from the Abenaki language, thorough research suggests that the settler-colonists picked the name themselves, as opposed to being a name Indigenous locals used to describe the location.
David Thomson’s fishing operation wasn’t exceptionally lucrative. He disclosed his doubts that England’s various colonization efforts were on track for success. He relocated to the Boston area around 1626, settling on an island that still bears his name (Thompson Island). He died by 1628 under circumstances that have been lost to time.
Thompson’s departure from Pannaway means that uninterrupted, permanent European occupation within New Hampshire’s current boundaries cannot be confirmed until ca. 1628-1630, when Edward and William Hilton settled in what is now Dover. It is unclear whether or not any of Thomson’s employees remained at Pannaway after he moved south. Records indicate that Pannaway was periodically re-occupied over the subsequent decades by various fishermen, but the lack of permanent occupants meant that the buildings likely fell into disrepair. The exact whereabouts of Thomson’s buildings have not been identified. A few primary and secondary source documents provide clues as to its location, but none have been confirmed or denied. There is a good chance that later uses of the land have long since destroyed any archaeological record of his buildings.
To learn more, stay tuned for J. Dennis Robinson’s upcoming book David Thomson, 1623: The Forgotten Arrival and Sudden Disappearance of NH’s Founding Family.