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Nelson’s History (The Short Version)

The settlement of what would become Nelson was established by a grant of land from King James I, who awarded John Mason a charter of land which included all the land between the Naumkeag (today called the Merrimack) and Pascataqua Rivers extending 60 miles inland. The place was to be called New Hampshire and Mason’s charge was to settle the area. Mason died in 1635 leaving only minor heirs. The title to the lands fell into dispute – a dispute resolved by a court case in 1746, which awarded the right to most of the original grant to John Tufton Mason who in turn sold his rights to a group of men who came to be styled the Masonian Proprietors. On December 6, 1751 the Masonian Proprietors granted “Monadnock Number Six” (as the area of Nelson was then identified) to another group of proprietors who would have the direct responsibility of settling the town. One of them was Thomas Packer, who never in fact lived here, but for whom the town was briefly named. The first settlers were Breed Batchellor and Dr. Nathaniel Breed, who arrived in 1767, and it is this year that has been chosen as the birth-date of the town, which was officially incorporated in 1773. The town changed its name to Nelson in 1814.


Our town wasn’t always called Nelson … find out more . . .

A load of chairs from the Colony Chair factory in Munsonville.

Like many small New England towns, Nelson had a steady growth in population through the first few decades of the 19th century. Population figures are somewhat misleading, as the town in those days also included what is now the northern part of Harrisville. However, with the opening of the west, a decline in sheep farming, and the Civil War (to which Nelson contributed significantly), the population fell into a decline which began a very slow reversal in the 1920s. A chair industry once flourished in Munsonville (a “suburb” of Nelson on the north side), and small mills dotted the landscape. But the town never had railroad service, and its hilly rocky terrain was a deterrent to aggressive settlement. Today there are no stores, and mostly just cottage industry. Nevertheless, the town has a rich cultural heritage of writers, artists, musicians and craftsmen, and a very vibrant community spirit.

Preparing for our holiday tables. Print by Fran Tolman

While this website endeavors to portray Nelson history accurately, the flavor of the town has been seasoned by flamboyant eccentric characters, and tall tales, most of which serve as smile or laughter-generating entertainment. We trust the explorers of this website to distinguish between the dry data and the more frivolous musings, though the latter does indeed say a lot about the history of the town.

While the history of the town by definition must start with those European settlers who stepped into an area designated by the British Empire, the history of the land, and its occupants, is an older story. As is noted elsewhere, this website is – and will always be – a work in progress. One of our goals in the coming months will be to fill in some of this older story, and we welcome suggestions and resources to help in this process.

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A New Discovery


Our neighbor Bill Dunn was out exploring with his metal detector the other day. After exploring a cellar hole he was returning home, with the machine still turned on, he got a signal of something just northeast of his house. The site seems to be the outline of a rectangular building about 12 x 18’. So far he’s discovered a George II coin, two musket balls, a buckle and a pewter spoon. With no proper cellar hole, we assume that this was a very early log cabin.

We researched the settlement surveys compiled by several people in support or in opposition to Monadnock #6 incorporation as Packersfield. An Ithamar or Ethimar Smith appears in two of those surveys. However, there is no information that could be found on Ancestry or Family Search so we do not know where he came from or where he went next.

By |October 23rd, 2020|Categories: 1: Featured Article, 1751 - 1800, History, Images, Life in Nelson, Rick Church|0 Comments

Randomly Selected Articles

Below are some randomly selected articles from this website. Refreshing your page will provide a new set of selections. Click on the title to read the full article or click here for a full listing of the articles that have thus far been posted on this website.

Ben Smith, an Interview

From Summer to Settler: This interview with Ben Smith is one of a series of interviews conducted by Tom Murray, his nephew. He is especially interested in talking with people who became “year-round people” after having spent time in Nelson as “summer people.”

After the Summer Folks Go Away…..

Where I live, everything gets quiet on the day after Labor Day. Where there was splashing at the dock, the thunk of tennis balls, and echoes of cocktail parties rising off the glassy water of later afternoon, suddenly there is only silence and space.

The Story of Nehemiah Flint

Nelson’s population had peaked by the time Nehemiah Flint bought his farm in 1827. The sheep craze had resulted in 85 -90% of the land being cleared. It was the height of the family farm producing surpluses sold into other states. But farmers were beginning to move west for more fertile, stone-free soils.

Live from the Tolman Pond Archives

Live from the Tolman Pond Archives is an iMovie, turned youtube. Karen Tolman merged the audio from her 2013 Library Forum presentation with photographs to help tell the story of an unlikely resort at Tolman Pond, a small neighborhood, in the small town of Nelson, in the small state of New Hampshire.

Dancing Forever

Not too long ago a piano tuner submitted a bill for work done on the piano in the Nelson Town Hall. With his invoice he included the following comment: “Because of the age of this piano and long abandoned construction practices, it is impossible to give this piano a highly accurate tuning. It has numerous false beats, inharmonicity, and heavy wear. Surprisingly, the overall tone is superior and the action is still fast and responsive. I suspect the piano is favored by those who play on it.”

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