I must relate some recent events.
In the summer of 2006, I was visiting my in-laws – I had come over to lend a hand with the removal of wallpaper from their living room – and during lunch, I took the opportunity to browse my father-in-law’s modest, yet very interesting, library. His books are arranged by subject, and having an interest in history, I perused those books first.
Amongst books about the American Civil War, World War II, Army Training Manuals and colonial life in New England, I found a thick volume bearing the title, “History of Bedford, NH, 1737-1971.” My father-in-law lived in Bedford (had since the early 1960′s, though he was raised in Manchester, just to the east). At the time, I resided in Hooksett, north of Manchester, though the events I am about to relate caused my relocation in the following years.
I asked if I could borrow the book about Bedford, along with the other volumes relating colonial life (all of which were written in the 1950′s for school children), with the hope that I would learn something of early New England life. The response was, “Yes.”
The school books taught me nothing new and two pages into the History, I knew that I would be disappointed. The book, published in 1971, relied heavily on an earlier history of Bedford, published in 1903, for its beginning chapters. The bulk of the 782 page 1971 history dealt with the 20th century. The 1903 history (which the 1971 book lists at 1,128 pages!) was reduced to about 100 pages in the newer history. Gone were the first-hand accounts of people who remembered the Bedford of the mid-19th century. Gone were the reams of Town Meeting minutes. Gone were the most extensive genealogical tables of any town in New Hampshire. Gone was the detailed information I sought!
Angered, I became determined to find a copy of the 1903 history.
It proved to be an impossible task in the following years.
The Bedford library no longer had any copies available to the public. Their one remaining copy was in such a state of decomposition that no one but professional historians were allowed to view it, and then only sparingly. None of the libraries in the surrounding towns (Manchester, Merrimack, Amherst and Goffstown) had copies. Book retailers (both new and used) as well as internet searches turned up nothing.
I soon gave up my search, read the 1971 history, and then forgot the whole ordeal.
In the fall of 2008, I took the family for a drive up Mount Uncanoonuc to observe the foliage. Uncanoonuc is located in Goffstown, just north of the northwest corner of Bedford and is actually two mountains, both very rounded. In fact, Uncanoonuc is a Pennacook word that means “woman’s breasts.” Many of the place names in Hillsborough County are, or are derived from, Pennacook words. During the early 18th century when Scottish settlers were claiming land in southern New Hampshire, the Pennacooks were the only Native tribe that were friendly with the Europeans – relations have remained good throughout the centuries.
While driving north along Joppa Hill Road, just before crossing into Goffstown (we could see the twin peaks of Uncanoonuc before us), we saw that there was a yard sale going on at one of the old farm-houses. My wife suggested we stop and take a look for any antiques. I agreed and we went.
It was there that I found a decent copy of the 1903 History. It was in a box with a number of other books. The kind old lady who owned the house sold me the lot for five dollars.
It was the most important five dollars I ever spent.
I was unable to investigate the box of books over the next three days (children have an uncanny ability to ruin the best plans of their parents). When I finally had the time, I was astounded at what I had in my possession.
Apart from the 1903 history, there were five leather bound books measuring roughly 8×5 inches and each about one inch thick. The leather was dried and cracked – it was obvious the books were very old. I made sure to wear surgical gloves while handling them (I keep a box with my tools in the garage – they’re very handy at keeping my hands clean while working on my cars or other smaller engines).
It took some time to get used to the thin, spidery hand in which the books were written. They were a journal or diary of a man named David McClary. From what he wrote, it seems he built the house from which I bought the books in 1778. The first book was nothing more than a ledger of sorts he started in February 1779 in order to track the day to day business of his farm with a few unimportant notes about his family and neighbors.
I assumed that the other four books were much the same and decided to turn the lot over to the Bedford Historical Society (BHS).
Over the next two weeks I enjoyed reading of the exploits of the inhabitants of early Bedford via the 1903 history. It satisfactorily fulfilled my need for knowledge. Recounting all I learned from those pages would take too much time, but I will quote one entry from the Bedford Town Meeting Minutes of 1780 as it pertains to my tale:
March 28, 1780: “To see whether the town will allow the constables for the year 1780 any reward for their extraordinary trouble.” $1,780 was given (odd that it is the same number as the year – also a sizable amount for the time!) though there is no mention at all – anywhere – of what the “extraordinary trouble” was.
Satisfied with the history, I turned to McClary’s journals for reading material before surrendering them to the BHS.
As I said before, the first book (which dates from February 20, 1779 to March 2, 1780) was rather dry reading throughout until the last entry.
It reads: “March 2, 1780 – While at the Town Centre today, in order that I might buy seed, I did meet one Peggy Littlefield, a spinster, so she said, also a mulatto. God forgive me for what I did! A spell she laid, an she must, for next I knew, I was in Riddle’s barn, with no knowledge of getting there, and laying there with her in a carnal way. Lord, forgive this poor soul and Damn Peggy Littlefield and her infant, Hager, as she called him, who did watch us from the shadows.”