Cocheco Indians

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Last Updated: 10 years The Cocheco Indians were a sub-tribe of Western Abenaki. They lived in an area known as Wecohamet. Today, we call it Dover, New Hampshire. Dover is the oldest permanent European settlement in New Hampshire, and the seventh oldest in the United States.

Dover once included the communities of Durham, Madbury, Newington and Lee. It also included Somersworth and Rollinsford,  which together, the Abenaki Indians called Newichawannock after the Newichawannock River, now known as the Salmon Falls River.

Settlers felled the abundant trees to build log houses called garrisons. The European town’s population and business center would shift from Dover Point to Cochecho at the falls, where the river’s drop of 34 feet (10 m) provided water power for industry. Cochecho means “the rapid foaming water.”

At the end of King Philip’s War, a number of aboriginal natives fleeing from the Massachusetts Bay Colony militia took refuge with the Abenaki tribe living in Dover. The Massachusetts militia ordered Waldron to attack the natives and turn the refugee combatants over to them. Waldron believed he could capture the natives without a pitched battle and so on September 7, 1676 invited the natives—about 400 in total, half local and half refugees—to participate in a mock battle against the militia. It was a trick; after the natives had fired their guns, Waldron took them prisoner. He sent both the refugee combatants and those locals who violently objected to this forced breach of hospitality to Boston, where seven or eight were convicted of insurrection and executed. The rest were sold into slavery in “foreign parts”,mostly Barbados. The local Indians were released, but never forgave Waldron for the deception, which violated all the rules of honor and hospitality valued by the natives at that time. Richard Waldron would be appointed Chief Justice for New Hampshire in 1683.

Thirteen years passed and settlers believed the incident had been forgotten when King William’s War began and members of the newly formed Wabanaki Confederacy arrived. When citizens spoke their concern to Waldron, he told them to “go and plant your pumpkins, and he would take care of the Indians.” On June 27, 1689, two native women appeared at each of five garrison houses, asking permission to sleep by the fire. All but one house accepted. In the dark early hours of the next day, the women unfastened the doors allowing native men who had concealed themselves to enter the town. Waldron resisted but was stunned with a hatchet then placed on his table. After dining, the Indians cut him across the belly with knives, each saying “I cross out my account.” Five or six dwelling houses were burned, along with the mills.

Fifty-two colonists, a full quarter of the entire population, were captured or slain.

During Father Rale’s War, in August and September 1723, there were Indian raids on Saco, Maine and Dover, New Hampshire. The following year Dover was raided again and Elizabeth Hanson wrote her captivity narrative.