This Chadbourne House is part of South Berwick Historic District. Descendants of pioneer William Chadbourne, who helped build the first sawmill in South Berwick in 1634, built on this site in the early 1700s. This early Chadbourne house was expanded and altered by later owners, possibly a Humphrey Chadbourne who lived from 1678 to 1763. A Chadbourne Garrison was recorded about 1712, but the site is not known.
A hill near the house may have been named for an enslaved person and called Cato's Hill. In a history of the town, author Sarah Orne Jewett wrote in 1894, “A little sandy hill, just below the Landing, and above the old river path that leads to Leigh's, now Yeaton's mills, still bears the name of Cato's Hill, from the fact that the sunny sand bank near the top was the favorite retreat of an ancient member of the household of Gen. Lord. Cato was a native Guineaman, and the last generation loved to recall the tradition of his droll ways and speeches.” Gen. John Lord had been a merchant who lived from 1765 to 1815, not far from the river, and owned mill rights at the Quamphegan waterfall. He also built ships at Pipe Stave Landing, and was a partner of Jonathan Hamilton, shipbuilder and West Indies merchant who built the Hamilton House about 1785. Lord and Hamilton traded with island plantations for sugar and rum produced by slave labor.
Another neighbor was Judge Benjamin Chadbourne (1718-1799), nephew of the Humphrey Chadbourne who lived 1678-1763. Judge Chadbourne, who lived across the street at the Vine Street corner, had served in Sir William Pepperrell’s expedition against the French at Louisbourg in 1745. He later became a judge of the Court of Common Pleas and represented the Berwicks in the Massachusetts Congress in Boston from 1756 to 1771, as well as serving as a member of the Governor’s Council. He had inherited rights at the important sawmill and gristmill at the mouth of the Great Works River. Hundreds of surrounding acres, including this property, were then still in the Chadbourne family, and in 1791 the judge gave ten acres to initiate the founding of Berwick Academy, where he served as its first president.
In 1810, the estate was purchased by a Maj. William Hight (1773-1847), a member of one of the town’s wealthiest families that had owned property south of Leigh’s Mill Pond throughout much of the 1700s. Hight's father had been another ship owner and West Indies trader. Maj. Hight had married Abigail Goodwin, daughter of Gen. Ichabod Goodwin, in 1796.
After the Hights, the homestead was briefly occupied by Capt. John Holmes Burleigh, who owned the mills at Great Works, and by tin manufacturers Gilpatrick and Davis.
In the 1920s the property became the vegetable and dairy farm of the Isaac J. Gilliland. Born in Ireland, Gilliland and his wife, Annie, had moved here by the 1890s, when he worked as a teamster for the Tyson-Vaughan family at the Hamilton House, and Annie as their cook. He died on July 14, 1945.
(Written by Wendy Pirsig from archives of the Old Berwick Historical Society. Updated 2020.)
Wabanaki people have lived in the Dawnland since before recorded time. Known as those who greet the sun in this land of first light, their homeland is a network of waterways, connected by rivers that Wabanaki people still paddle, footpaths that underlie highways, and bonds of kinship. Long before European settlers arrived, the Piscataqua region hosted extensive agricultural communities. Fields of companion crops were cultivated by Wabanaki women near freshwater falls like Quamphegan, where fish were plentiful.
When English and French fishermen and explorers arrived in the early 1600s, Wabanaki people welcomed these traders into their exchange networks. But colonial impacts on their subsistence, including overfishing, logging, and damming, led to intense conflicts. European diseases, arising in part from urban crowding and animal husbandry in Europe, devastated Native communities throughout the eastern seaboard. Wabanaki people largely responded by rebuilding their kinship networks and cultivating diplomacy with newcomers until the 1670s, when Massachusetts settlers brought the confrontation known as King Philip’s War to their door.
Newichawannock—the “place between rapids”—was home to Sagamore Rowls, a Wabanaki leader who negotiated agreements with English settlers on behalf of his community. The name Newichawannock also applies to the extensive river (now the boundary between New Hampshire and Maine) that connected this coastal region to Wabanaki homelands in the White Mountains. Rowls cultivated relationships of exchange with neighboring communities, including English and French newcomers.
A deed from the 1640s illustrates an apparent agreement between Rowls and English trader Humphrey Chadbourne. Rowls, representing the people of Newichawannock, may have intended this agreement to allow a trading partner to continue to inhabit his homeland, while reserving the right to use traditional planting and fishing grounds.
In the 1670s, as encroachments on Wabanaki territory and violence from colonies to the south increased, the first war between the English and the Wabanaki erupted. Wabanaki people targeted water-powered mills erected on their planting grounds and fishing falls, defending the forests, fisheries and fertile land on which they depended.
(From the Old Berwick Historical Society exhibit, 2017-2018, Forgotten Frontier: Untold Stories of the Piscataqua by Emerson Baker, Project Scholar, and Nina Maurer, Curator.)