On April 11, 1719, members of 16 families knelt on the shores of Beaver Lake in Derry to thank their God for His providence. They had survived persecution in their homeland, a rough voyage across the Atlantic, and rejection in Puritan Boston before finally reaching what would be home.
Derry, Londonderry and Windham, as well as Chester, will pay homage to those brave pioneers and what they built in a joint 300th Anniversary celebration in 2019.
In 1718, a small Presbyterian congregation in Aghadowey in what is now Northern Ireland emigrated to the New World to escape religious persecution. Sixteen families, led by the Rev. James McGregor, landed in Boston in August of 1718. Unwelcome in Boston, the group secured a 100-mile-square land grant in the north, an area known as Nutfield. They arrived in Nutfield in April 1719.
They later renamed the town Londonderry, after their old home, and it incorporated what are now Windham, Derry and Londonderry, as well as at one time parts of Salem, Manchester and Hudson.
Debra Paul, publisher of Nutfield Publishing, which publishes the Londonderry Times, Nutfield News and Tri-Town Times, is involved on the Londonderry end of the celebration and said it is a loose coalition of the four towns. They have had three or four meetings, one every three months.
Paul described the concept as “They do their thing, we do ours.” Each town is responsible for its own events, Paul said. But they meet together to coordinate their activities, so there will be no duplication or redundancy.
Chester is planning an activity for every month of that year, while Windham is planning to incorporate the 300th in its June 2019 Strawberry Festival. “Right now they’re busy with their 250th,” Paul said.
Paul said all the festivities will be brought together in one commemorative booklet, with a section for each town and one large map locating all the sites.
Londonderry will embrace the theme with enhanced activities at Old Home Day in August 2019, including programs at the Historical Society’s Morrison House and the Grange. In addition, she said, all four towns will come together at the Saturday Londonderry Old Home Day event for a grand, four-town finale. There will be a proclamation read from the bandstand on the Town Common, speeches by dignitaries, and more, she said.
“Right now we’re looking around and seeing what we can do,” Paul said.
“The whole goal,” Paul said, “is to promote the cultural and historic features of the area, to preserve the past and embrace the future.”
Paul Lindemann, a member of the Derry Heritage Commission, is coordinating the events for Derry and said two key concepts will be involved. “Instead of a single weekend, every group will do what they want to without competition, all under the umbrella organization ‘Nutfield 300th,’” Lindemann said.
For Derry the observance will begin where it all began, at the First Parish Church in East Derry, the church that grew out of that original congregation. “The first sermon of Pastor McGregor was given April 12, 1719,” Lindemann, a member of that church, explained. “That was the founding date of ‘Nutfield.’”
Lindemann predicted that many local groups will want to get involved, including the Daughters of the American Revolution, Derry’s two libraries, and the Friends of the Forest Hill Cemetery.
The other key element, he said, is that they want to celebrate not just the founding, but 300 years of history. “It’s not just the literal historic founding,” he said. “We want to celebrate 300 years of the communities existing.”
This could tie in Derry’s busy past as a textile center and later home of several shoe factories, the residence of poet Robert Frost, the H.P. Hood milk company, and the childhood home of Astronaut Alan Shepard, among other things.
They are working on a logo and branding materials, according to Lindemann. And they will have to present their ideas to the Town Council.
Fortunately, Lindemann said, “We have a long lead time.”