Milton Militia Dispute – 1820

By Muriel Bristol | April 3, 2022

[Editor: Here follows Ms. Bristol’s description of the Milton militia dispute of 1820. It contains references to several petition documents which will be published separately over the coming months. It will serve then also as a sort of index to those documents].

New Hampshire relied upon a militia system for its defense from colonial times through 1847.

Each and every free, able-bodied white male citizen, between the ages of 18 and 45 years, is liable to do military duty (Lyon, 1824).

Militiamen were required to present themselves – to “muster” – with their weapons once or twice a year for company-level drills, as well as a final time in the Fall for a larger regimental-level drill.

The [Rochester regimental] muster field at its best presented a gay appearance. The various companies drawn up in line, with muskets and accouterments bright and clean, the officers scattered between the lines with fine uniforms and stately plumes, the Light Infantry much like the officers but with shorter plumes, and the Artillery Company with their formidable cannon, together with the motley crowd on every side must have been an attractive and interesting scene. Gingerbread carts, candy stands, and all sorts of variety shows, with an occasional fight between heated partisans from different towns afforded abundant merriment and diversion. Liquor and gambling booths grew more and more frequent so that one year Captain Samuel Jones and his company from Farmington made a charge upon them and pitched them and their belongings over the fence. The brisk step, the martial dignity and the clear distinçt orders of the morning had in those days generally become somewhat limp, languid and indistinct toward the close of the day. Many still living can remember the great contrast between the inspiriting, clear cut, exactly timed strains of fife and drum as the companies came marching to the field in the morning and the slip shod timeless whistle and fumbling taps as they started on their homeward way (McDuffee, 1882).

NH Militia Order Blank
NH Militia Muster Order Form. This example is blank, with its spaces to be completed by the company sergeant at the request of the captain.

Old Fashioned Muster Gingerbread. One cup of molasses, 2 large spoons of butter, 1 teaspoon of soda dissolved in 3 tablespoons of boiling water, 1 teaspoon of ginger and flour enough to knead well but not hard. Roll into 3 sheets, mark with a fork, and bake quickly; after baking, while hot, mix 1 teaspoon each of milk and molasses and wet the top. I have sent this recipe by request of Mrs. G.L.D. of Chelsea. Portland, Me. E.E.E. (Boston Globe, November 24, 1894).

[A woodburning “quick oven” would have a modern oven temperature of between 425 to 450 F. It would take about 20 minutes to bake. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean when done].

Muster ginger bread. Boil 1 pt. molasses and 1 tablespoon ginger; let cool, add ½ pt. shortening, mostly butter, 2 teaspoons soda dissolved in ¼ cup hot water, ½ teaspoon alum dissolved in ¾ cup cold water, flour to make a dough that can be handled. Roll about two inches thick. Mark the top with back of fork. Bake quickly, take out as soon as done, as too long baking spoils it. Put away in jar and keep a week or so. The longer it is kept the moister becomes. Somebody try in and report. Von Edirb (Boston Globe, August 24, 1906).

Milton’s militiamen and those from southern Wakefield made up the Seventh Company of New Hampshire’s Second Regiment of militia at this time. It was led then by Captain Jeremy Nute (1788-1879), with James Hayes, Jr. (1790-1845), as its Lieutenant, and Norton Scates (1790-187[?]) as its Ensign.

The Seventh Company’s area encompassed all of Milton and that part of neighboring Wakefield that lay south of Lovell Lake. Depending upon where one lived in this company area, travel to militia musters might be rather burdensome. (Milton Mills was at least a 15-mile hike, if not more, to the regimental muster location in Rochester, where one would then spend the day drilling and marching around, before making a weary 15-mile return hike. Union village in Wakefield was at least 13 miles distant (for a round-trip of at least 26 miles)). The militiamen traveling furthest to drills and musters grew restive.

Some 134 Seventh Company militiamen took a vote on May 30, 1820. They were likely assembled together for a company-level militia drill. By their vote, 69 [51.5%] militiamen chose to seek a division of their company into two parts, while 22 [16.4%] of them preferred to leave the situation as it was. The remaining 43 [32.1%] did not express a preference either way.

The company officers petitioned the regimental field officers above them, on May 31, 1820, seeking to divide the Seventh Company into two companies. There would be a northern company, encompassing Union Village, Milton Mills, and Milton south to a certain east-west division line – the Milton town meeting house would have been north of the proposed line – and a southern company from that division line to the Rochester line, encompassing Milton Three Ponds, as well as South and West Milton. (See Milton Militia Division Request – May 1820).

The field officers rejected this proposition, although their reply has not come to hand. (They likely rode horseback to the muster). But they seem to have been unaware that “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” If the field officers refused to divide the town militia company into two parts, there was another, more drastic solution available to the petitioners. The town itself might be divided into two parts, which might achieve the same thing.

... in 1820 an effort was made by the people living in this [Wakefield] town below Lovell’s pond with others living in the Northerly part of Milton, to have that part of Wakefield south of Lovell’s pond and the northerly portion of Milton incorporated into a new town, Luther Dearborn of this [Wakefield] town and John Remick, Jr., of Milton headed petitions to the legislature for the new town which was to be called Lisbon. The Rev. Mr. Piper favored the project and suggested the name Milfield for the new town (Thompson, 1886).

Dearborne-Piper Signatures - Wakefield - 1813
Signatures of Luther Dearborne and Rev. Asa Piper on an earlier June 1813 petition by the citizens of the “pleasant village at Wakefield Corner” recommending William Sawyer (1774-1860) as a Wakefield justice-of-the-peace.

Wakefield’s three selectmen became aware that there was trouble in paradise, so to speak, at some time after their annual March town meeting and before June 1820.

We are aware that Petitioners for the new Town will point out by Carrigain’s Map, or some other Survey, what a handsome, beautiful five-mile square Town may be made out of Wakefield and Milton, and then attempt to show and make it believed, that the remaining part of those two Towns will be equally as good as the whole and in a better form.

Carrigain Survey Map - 1816 (Detail)
Carrigain Map of New Hampshire in 1816 (Detail). Division advocates pored over this map with prospective signers. The “Lisbon” or “Milfield” they envisaged would have run from Lovell Lake in Wakefield south to Meetinghouse Pond in Milton. It would have included what is now Union village in Wakefield, as well as Milton Mills and Plummer’s Ridge in Milton. Milton Three Ponds, South Milton, and West Milton would have been the remaining “rump” of Milton after such a division.

The “Carrigain map,” the most famous of New Hampshire maps, is named for Philip Carrigain (177[6]-1842), secretary of state of New Hampshire, who was granted much of the responsibility of compiling it. The map was authorized by the New Hampshire legislature in 1803. Carrigain may have engraved the cartographic portions, and he held the copyright. The map is based upon many individual surveys, and in its early stages, Carrigain, a lawyer, depended heavily upon the technical skills of Phinehas Merrill (1767-1815), a professional surveyor (WhiteMountainHistory, 2021).

Neither the Milton nor Wakefield pro-division petitions, although mentioned in other documents, have come to hand. If ever they were actually filed, they might have been withdrawn. Luther Dearborn (1771-1844) of Wakefield, NH, and John Remick, Jr. (1777-1840) of Milton, were said to have headed their respective lists of petitioners. (Remick was a Milton selectman and both men were justices-of-the-peace in their respective towns). Wakefield’s lifelong Congregational minister, Rev. Asa Piper (1757-1835), is said to have been also a proponent of division.

Some 127 Milton men filed an anti-division remonstrance petition intended for the June 1820 session of the NH legislature. Company officers Jeremy Nute, James Hayes, Jr., and Norton Scates all signed this remonstrance, as did former company officers Levi Jones and Jotham Nute, and future officers Theodore C. Lyman and Bidfield Hayes (1789-1842). One may note that none of Milton’s selectmen signed. (See Milton Anti-Division Remonstrance – June 1820).

Wakefield selectmen Jonathan Copp (1792-1869), Henry L. Wiggin (1791-1844), and Elias Wentworth (1774-1852) filed their own anti-division remonstrance petition intended for that same June 1820 session. It was signed also by 199 Wakefield inhabitants (See Wakefield Anti-Division Remonstrance – June 1820).

Some 88 Milton men filed a company division petition intended for the November 1820 session of the NH legislature. Company Captain Jeremy Nute signed this proposal, as did former company officers Levi Jones and Jotham Nute, future company officers Theodore C. Lyman and Bidfield Hayes, and Milton selectman Hopley Meserve (1789-1875). (See Milton Militia Division Petitions – November 1820).

Some 27 Wakefield division petitioners later thought better of their having signed the division petition. They signed a retraction and anti-division petition, November 1, 1820. (See Wakefield Pro-Division Renunciation – November 1820).

One should note that Fourth (1820) Federal Census enumerations for Strafford County have not been preserved (although the aggregate totals have). They would have had the names of the household heads and age-based tick marks for the members of their households. The various petitions related to dividing or not dividing either the militia company or the towns are valuable in that they provide us with the names of a plurality at least of Milton’s adult male inhabitants of 1820, including many of its household heads.

Obviously, the proposed splitting of the towns never took place. Milton’s militia company was divided instead into two companies. The Milton company was reassigned to a newly-created Thirty-Ninth Regiment of militia in 1822. The new regiment included also companies from Rochester and Farmington, NH. Wakefield’s south company, which appears to have included also Milton Mills, was assigned to the Thirty-Third Regiment of militia, along with those from Alton, Brookfield, Middleton, and New Durham, NH. Its north company was assigned to the Twenty-Seventh Regiment of militia, along with those from Effingham, Ossipee, Tuftonboro, and Wolfeboro, NH.

The general muster of the militia at the same [Fall] time of year was a holiday of no less interest and importance to the people of two preceding generations. By a state law of 1792, able-bodied citizens between the ages of eighteen and forty-five were required to meet twice a year for military drill. To these spring and fall trainings for each company in its own town was afterwards added the annual muster of the Thirty-ninth Regiment. This regiment consisted of five companies of regular infantry, one from each of the villages of Farmington, West Farmington, Milton Three Ponds, Gonic, and Rochester, together with one Light Infantry Company collected from all parts of the district and the Rochester Artillery Company (McDuffee, 1892).

Luther Dearborn received a reappointment as a Wakefield justice-of-the-peace, June 14, 1828. His wife, Sarah “Sally” (Pike) Dearborn, died in 1831. His term as justice would have expired in June 1833. Instead of a reappointment, the court roster bears a marginal notation that he had “moved to Somersworth,” N.H. He was living there at the time of the Sixth (1840) Federal Census.

See also Milton Militiaman’s Petition – 1807 and Milton Seeks a Magistrate – 1820


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Find a Grave. (2007, October 15). Jonathan Copp. Retrieved from

Find a Grave. (2012, June 19). Luther Dearborn. Retrieved from

Find a Grave. (2016, September 13). Col. Bidfield Hayes. Retrieved from

Find a Grave. (2022, March 22). Capt. James Hayes. Retrieved from

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Find a Grave. (2013, October 3). Col. Jeremy W. [Nute] Orange. Retrieved from

Find a Grave. (2012, June 19). Rev. Asa Piper. Retrieved from

Find a Grave. (2012, June 24). Henry L. Wiggin. Retrieved from

McDuffie, Franklin. (1892). History of the Town of Rochester, New Hampshire, from 1722 to 1890. Retrieved from

NH Department of State. (n.d.). New Hampshire, Government Petitions, 1700-1826: Box 47: 1819-1820

Lyon, G. Parker. (1824). New-Hampshire Annual Register, and United States Calendar. Retrieved from

Secretary of State. (1920). Laws of New Hampshire: Second constitutional period, 1811-1820. Retrieved from

Thompson, Rev. Albert H. (1886). Memorial of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Organization of the First Church, and Ordination of the First Settled Town Minister of Wakefield, N.H. Retrieved from

WhiteMountainHistory. (2021). 1816 Phillip Carrigain Map. Retrieved from

Author: Muriel Bristol

"Lady drinking tea"

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