A Brief History of Merrimack, New Hampshire
Merrimack was originally the home of the Penacook Indians. These Native People were part of a confederacy of Algonquin tribes that occupied the basin of the Merrimack River and adjacent regions in New Hampshire. They called this area “Natukhog” or Naticook. The word “Merrimack” comes from an Abenaki term meaning either “the place of strong current” or “a sturgeon.”
Passaconaway, the famed sachem signed a treaty with the General Court of Massachusetts on April 9, 1662, and was granted a tract of land (in what is now Merrimack NH) three miles long and one and a half miles wide north of the Souhegan River. This tract included the two river islands in Reeds Ferry. The formal request, made to Governor Endicott of Massachusetts was granted for 25 English pounds. After Passaconaway died, this same land was granted to Benjamin Smith in 1731.
European colonists settled here as early at 1655. In that year the Massachusetts General Court laid out land in current-day Merrimack to the town of Billerica. John Cromwell is mentioned as having a trading house here that he built on the bank of the Merrimack River about a mile below current day Thornton’s Ferry. The next permanent settler is believed to be Jonas Barrett in 1722. In June of 1731 Benjamin Smith petitioned for a grant of land on the Merrimack River near Naticook, that would include an island “whereon he has built a House.”
In 1658 the town became part of ‘Brenton’s Farm,” and even later, became a part of the town of Dunstable. In 1734 the General Court of Massachusetts separated and granted the Town under the name of Naticook (which included the current-day town of Litchfield and the southern part of Merrimack). In 1741 the boundary line dispute between Massachusetts and New Hampshire was settled, changing several township boundary lines. On April 2, 1746 a petition was granted which incorporated “Merrymac”–the current Town of Merrimack.
The original meeting-house was built in 1751 at the corner of Turkey Hill and Meetinghouse Roads. This was considered the first Town center. The west wing of Merrimack’s current town hall was built in 1872, and has been built on, and expanded several times.
During the American Revolution, Merrimack furnished eleven of the men who participated in the battle of Breeds Hill (often called Bunker Hill), and at least ninety-four men participated between 1775-1783. Reuben Cummings, a sixteen-year-old drummer was the only Merrimack soldier known to have died during that war, on September 13, 1776. Captain Caesar Barnes of Merrimack, a slave of Thomas Barnes, was an African American veteran of the American Revolution.
There were 17 known veterans of the War of 1812. During the Civil War, or “War of the Rebellion” [1860-1865], one hundred and twenty men [115 in a second source] were called: 83 volunteered, 25 citizens sent substitutes, 9 substitutes were hired by the town, and 7 citizens re-enlisted.
Merrimack’s Centennial Anniversary was held on April 3, 1846, and included historical addresses, dinner at a local hotel, speeches, and the planting of centennial trees. Merrimack’s Bicentennial Anniversary was held June 30, 1946, and included historical presentation, plays, speeches and a parade. In 2006 Merrimack celebrated its 260th anniversary, and in 2021 it celebrated its 275th.
Many volunteered to serve during wartime.
- During World War I: The two who made the supreme sacrifice were James Herbert Ferguson and Gilbert Duncan Fraser.
- Merrimack New Hampshire sent many of its young men and women to serve in various branches of the military during World War II. Warriner Playground at Veterans Memorial Park honors Weston L. Warriner, killed during World War II, on December 28, 1944 at Leyte in the Philippines.
- In more recent history, SP4 Richard N. Rivard was killed on 15 April 1968 when hit by rocket fire at his base camp, Da Nang, Vietnam. Marine Cpl. Timothy M. Gibson died on 26 January 2005 when the CH-53E helicopter he was in crashed near Ar Rutbah, Iraq. An athletic field was named in his honor. NOTE: 32 Merrimack women have served in the military, though none are known to have died in service.
Merrimack’s history is not all about its involvement during wartime. There were many people, both women and men who contributed every day: from the Burnap sisters who created and sold an early type of woven bonnet, to creative writers and poets, business and manufacturing innovators, and the food and beverage industry.