In the seventeenth century the Piscataqua region was occupied by a small number of scattered settlements bound together by family and business connections. Colonization began in 1623 when David Thomson established a fishing station at present-day Rye, but the population grew slowly. By 1680 there were only about 3,000 settlers in the region. Many of these immigrants came from southwestern England—the coastal vales and granite headlands of the West Country. Most were fishermen, farmers and tradesmen who came for economic opportunity, not religious motives.
Many immigrants came to New England with family and neighbors, and their connections increased as children married. Before banks were established, marriage ties could extend a local merchant’s network of credit to England, Newfoundland, the Caribbean and other Atlantic ports. Kinship networks also buffered the economic and political reversals of fortune that occurred on a frontier distant from civil authority and military protection.
Patience, sister to Humphrey Chadbourne, was born in Tamworth, Warwickshire, England in 1612. She probably married Thomas Spencer in England and may have arrived in the Piscataqua on the Pied Cow in 1634. Soon after, her father, William Chadbourne, deeded the Spencers his house and land at Old Fields, on the south side of what is now the Great Works River in South Berwick. In 1650 Thomas Spencer bought the land called Quamphegan, where the Counting House Museum stands, from Sagamore Rowls. Living across the river from her merchant brother Humphrey, Patience had access to goods he imported from around the Atlantic world.
At first Thomas worked in lumbering and sawmilling with his brother-in-law Humphrey. But he later turned to farming, and he and Patience operated a tavern at their home. The Spencers were Quakers as well as royalists who supported the English monarchy. In 1659 Thomas was one of several Kittery men who were stripped of their right to vote by authorities in Massachusetts simply because they were Quakers. Nevertheless, the Spencers and Chadbournes remained at the center of a kinship network that spanned the region.