September 18, 2020
The Small Hamlet of Guinea, NH
(North Richmond, NH)
There was once a thriving little hamlet north of Richmond, N.H. Occasionally referred to as “Guinea”, now known as North Richmond. The little settlement was at the juncture of Old Homestead Highway (Rte. 32) , Martin Cook Rd. and Fish Hatchery Rd.
This small community consisted of a store, a school house, a post office, a mill, a cemetery and numerous residences. Let’s endeavor to bring that scenario back to life by hiking through the area circa 1800 -1850.
We will begin our trek at the Richmond/Swanzey town line heading south on Old Homestead Highway. Right there, at the line sits the home of Abner Aldrich in about 1770. His wife was Elizabeth Cook, sister to Nicholas Cook of whom we will hear more. Just past the house on the same side and up on a knoll is the Aldrich Cemetery where most of the people we will describe are buried. Peacefully nestled in the woods, it is a restful place with trees growing among the gravestones.
Walking further south about a mile is a greek revival style house on the left whose history I have yet to learn. A little further we come upon twin houses on each side of the road. They were built by Cass people — probably brothers. Hiking to just after Fish Hatchery Rd. one would see the “Guinea” Post Office set back from the road on the left.— what is to become a charming yellow cottage home in the 21 century. At that juncture one crosses a small bridge over Trout Brook. You might witness a few boys fishing off the side as the little brook was widely known for its abundance of trout - thus aptly named. Mike Johnson who grew up visiting his grandparents on the Nick Cook Farm says it was one of the best trout fishing spots in the whole county.
On the right just before Martin Cook Rd., there were probably, a few small residences of people who worked across the road at the Mill - perhaps the Martins, Whites, or Starkeys. “Cook’s” mill, powered by Trout Brook, stood just after the Post Office and was, according to Wm. Bassett History of Richmond (1884) first built as a saw and grist mill in 1780 by brothers Nicholas and William Cook. As one of the many mills of Richmond it was reincarnated many times as a fulling or cloth dressing mill, and finally as a mill for manufacturing pails in1852. It also had a variety of owners — Cooks, Aldriches, Starkeys, Martins. Further research must be done to discover when this mill met its demise. It was still operating at the time of Bassett’s history in the 1880’s. Incidentally, Richmond at one point had 17 mills and was known to have the most mills of any town in NH.
As you continue with your stroll again on the left is Schoolhouse #8. You might see the various children of Samuel, Noah and Luther Curtis, Simpson Hammond, Artemas Aldrich, Nicholas and William Cook, Sarah and Wilderness Martin, Elijah White and Thomas Alexander at play in the schoolyard. (They might even be taking a cool dip in the millpond just behind.) The dam works and the pond will become today a picturesque scene of ruins covered with lilly of the valley and verdant grass. This spot would make an excellent little town park.
Next, across from the School, we will take a right and walk up Martin Cook Rd. Martin Cook Rd. was first laid out in 1770 and was then the main road to Keene. It couldn’t have been called that 1770 because Martin, Nick Cooks great grandson didn’t die until 1905. In 1784 a new connection was made linking the lower part of 32 to Fish Hatchery Rd. and the upper part of Rt 32. So Martin Cook Rd. became a side loop off Homestead highway. Walking up Martin Cook Road, one sees interesting stone work on the left. It is supposed that these were foundations for the William Cook house and for the James Cook Store that once stood in this vicinity. The people now living on this corner relate a story they once heard that these two buildings caught fire long ago. The buildings having wood shingle roofs were burning fast. When the fire leaped to the School house across the road, the local citizens, having limited manpower, were forced to choose which buildings to save. They decided to save the school house. “If the school house did not burn”, you may ask, “where is it today?” It was moved. It got taken to a property on Bullock Rd and incorporated into a modern construction there. There are now only two schoolhouses that remain standing. One is our town Library (schoolhouse #6) and the other is School house #2 which is on the west side town and in dire need of rescue/restoration.
When we walk up the road about a quarter mile past two modern houses, we come to the Nicholas Cook farm on the left—which is where I have lived since 2017. Nicholas Cook purchased the land from his brother William in 1773. This approximates the date of this house but we don’t know how many years before or after this the house was actually built. Nick Cook’s first child to be born in Richmond was in 1773. We do know that it was built in stages. It has the typical beehive chimney and fireplace construction. What is curious is that one of the fireplaces faces an exterior wall which was only about 2 feet away. Why would someone do this???! Obviously they planned to add on in the near future. They did so, thats why we have an exterior double wall inside the house --we don't know when.
This is the house where Nick’s granddaughter, Hannah Cook, grew up. She was the only person in Richmond to be killed by a lightning strike in1829. We were going to call the Nick Cook farm “Lightning Stuck Hannah House” when we first bought it and expected to encounter her ghost at any point. But alas! She did not die in our house. She was down visiting her brother Calvin who had recently built a little cape style house just across the road and over the brook on the right. Thats were she got struck — inside the house! So maybe she haunts that house. We have not seen her. Her marker at the Aldrich Cemetery bears a cryptic epitaph about the unpredictability of life.
Proceeding further, Martin Cook Rd. becomes “class 6” and is only frequented by dog walkers, hunters and four wheel drivers. There is no evidence of past habitation until you come to what looks like a little village green on the left. Surveying this area one finds evidence of what looks like a once ambitious undertaking of settlement, clearing, and high stone wall building. There is even what looks to be an animal pound. Here we find the foundation of the house of original builder Artemas Aldrich. He was the preacher of the 2nd Baptist Church of Richmond. He was related to Nicholas Cooks sister, —it is likely that all the Cooks and Aldriches were Baptist — equally reviled as the Quakers in early Massachusetts. They fled to settle in Richmond. (RI was filling up). From this little “village green” there is evidence of two roads leading up hill. I read somewhere that there were two more farms up hill from here. The Lot maps say Bolles and Buffum. Perhaps they were planning a village in 1774 when Martin Cook Rd. was the main thoroughfare. Last inhabitant was Joseph Newell whose wife was also an Aldrich.
As the walk continues, we notice huge boulders strewn down the hillside on the left. This is evidence of glaciers moving down the side of the Franconia Mountain Range (Not to be confused with Franconia Notch of White Mountain Fame). As we descend at a somewhat steep pitch we come upon the a large cellar hole on Dixie Gurian’s property. If it was a half cellar the house would have been large and may have been the Noah Curtis Inn that is spoken of in Bassett's history. And lastly continuing downhill and on the left we come to a red cape house which may have been original settler Richard Peters’ place. He owned up to three lots of land in North Richmond — making him the largest land owner.
Just a little past this location the road levels out and we reach the old granite post marking the Richmond /Swanzey town line concluding our historic hike through Guinea/North Richmond, New Hampshire.
The Curious Maturian Ballou
Deed Transfer of 1773
In the Cheshire County Registry of Deeds, I was researching early land records for the Cook Farm when I came upon a fascinating record that has me up at 5:30 am trying to write about my confusing findings. It concerns a record of a transfer of two lots of landin Richmond in 1773. The reason it came to my attention is that William Cook, the brother of Nicholas Cook, who built my house was one of the recipients of the deed. When I say one, I mean one of many. The deed reads like a census of the early Richmond land owners of 1773. There were so many that it was a laborious undertaking to type all their names using a magnifying glass to decipher the work of this calligraphic scrivener, (a fellow named Bellows who didn’t get around to making a copy of the deed until 1790).
Why would one man, Maturin Ballou, deed two lots of land to so many grantees for the sum of 45 pounds lawful tender?! The lots mentioned were Lot #1 in the 12th range and Lot# 11 in the 12th range. Exploring Bassett’s History of the Town Of Richmond, I found some hints to the origins of this strange document.
Matturian (many spellings) Ballou was the first minister of Richmond. Explicitly, he founded the Baptist Church in 1768. He, like most of Richmond’s early settlers, came from Bellingham, Massachusetts. Key to the mystery is the fact that he was the first minister —and Baptist. When colonial America made the law that the first minister of every town receive a lot of land and
a minister’s fee, they were assuming that would mean a minister of an “orthodox” church like the Church of England or at least something Congregational or Presbyterian — certainly not a Baptist! But Richmond never had an “orthodox” church and no preachers who expected pay from town taxes. (Basset called Richmond the least puritanical town in New England outside of
Rhode Island). The trouble arose from the part of the law that required that a lot of land be given.
When Maturian Ballou, with the support of his congregation, made claim to that land, there arose a substantial controversy. Some of his own congregation even thought he had no right to the land and as a result the First Baptist Church split in two. According to Bassett, the claim was also disputed by members of other denominations. I suspect this strange deed had to do
with settling this dispute. At any rate, all this points out a very unique quality
of early Richmond, New Hampshire. It was religiously unique.
To understand this, one must have some knowledge of Bellingham, MA, where many of the settlers came from. Bellingham was, in early times, considered a part of Rhode Island. As you may know, many early Quakers, (and Baptists!) escaped the persecution of the
Massachusetts puritans by moving to Rhode Island. What you and I may not have known is that the Baptists were equally persecuted by the puritans. A large part of the persecution consisted of the fact that the towns in colonial New England had laws that taxed citizens for
the cost of maintaining a church and a minister in each settlement. If you were not of that religion, you were expected to pay anyway, having your property seized if you refused to pay taxes to support a religion to which you did not subscribe — in extreme cases even getting put to death! As one can imagine, confusion arose as religious diversity increased through early America. Baptists and Quakers moved away from Massachusetts to escape the Puritans. As land became more scarce in RI, where did they chose to move next? Southern NH. The law before the formation of the United States and the writing of the constitution still specified that land! The Curious Maturin Ballou Deed Transfer of 1773 should be given to a town’s first minister. It didn’t specify what “kind” of minister, and didn’t reckon on rapidly unfolding religious diversity.
It didn’t reckon on a town like Richmond. As Basset points out, Richmond never had strong religious prejudices. The Quakers were renown for their religious tolerance, and at the time, apparently so were the Baptists. He says that many in the town were simply
agnostic (omg!). So Richmond could be envisioned as an early model for religious diversity and religious tolerance that became the standard for separation of church and state throughout our country. It should be noted that Maturin Ballou was the father of Hosea Ballou, one of Richmond’s most illustrious citizens. Hosea Ballou is known as the “father”of Unitarian Universalism in America. He strove to erase every trace of Calvinism from Universalist religion. This is unique in that current Baptist are reputed to be somewhat Calvinistic. If you are wondering what Calvinism is, think “Hellfire, Brimstone, and the Wrath of God.” Hosea crusaded the “God is Love” concept. The possibility that people don’t go to Hell must have somewhat gone against the teachings of his Baptist father. But from my readings, I suspect that early Baptists, as the objects of persecution themselves, were not as Calvinistic as they later seemed to become. So in conclusion, and back to the strange deed, and why one man sold two tracks of land back to the almost entire population of Richmond, I suspect somehow this deed had to do with settling the dispute that arose from a Baptist minister owning land that was granted to him
by this arcane colonial law, that was not expected to favor Baptists. What did all these men do with these two tracts of land owned in common and bought for 45 pounds? Perhaps it will remain a mystery.