Old Meeting House at Derryfield

This Old Meeting House at Derryfield, engraving was published in the 1856 “History of Manchester” by C.E. Potter.

IN AUGUST 1851, leading citizens of Manchester got together to begin organizing the Centennial Celebration of the Incorporation of Derryfield.

Established in 1751, Derryfield was renamed Manchester in 1810 in honor of the great industrial city of Manchester, England. Committees were established to plan the event which was to take place on Oct. 22, 1851.

One committee was assigned to a related, and longer-term, project — the publication of a book that would tell Manchester’s history to that present day. The committee was made up of 40 prominent local men, among them ministers, lawyers, judges, physicians, businessmen, and politicians.

Chandler Eastman Potter was appointed as chairman. At the age of 44 he was a respected figure in the community, where he served as the Judge of the Police Court. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Potter was the former owner and editor of the Manchester Democrat newspaper. He was also an enthusiastic amateur historian.

The research and writing needed to produce the history was divided up among the committee members. Potter volunteered to take on a big part of the project by writing about much of the pre-Revolutionary War history of Manchester, including the story of the Penacook band of the Abenakis, which had been active at Amoskeag Falls on the Merrimack River.

He would also write about the earliest history of the province of New Hampshire, incorporating its border disputes with Massachusetts.

Once all of the 29 chapters were completed, Potter would assemble the text in its final form, and prepare the book for printing. The process was expected to move along quickly, but things did not go as planned. The book would not be published until 1856, and C.E. Potter would end up as its sole author as well as its publisher.

In his extraordinarily forthright preface to the book, Potter bared his disappointment and anguish over how the project had unfolded. He had diligently researched and written the first 11 chapters as he had agreed to, “amid a multiplicity of other cares...”

However, “When this had been accomplished, it was found that press of business had prevented the other members of the Committee from performing the duties assigned them, and the writer was forced from his position to continue the work, and the present volume is the result of his labors, the more difficult and perplexing, as he has had to grope his way in an unexplored region; not a scrap of the history of the town having been written…”

Potter was greatly aided by city librarian F.B. Eaton, and a handful of his committee members did help him in one way or another. He thanked these men in his preface and also extended his appreciation to others who had aided him in his research or who had provided engravings to illustrate the book.

Potter accepted responsibility for the “errors and imperfections” in the history, writing “Under the circumstances, many of them were inevitable. I was groping in the dark.”

He hoped that the “indulgent reader will excuse them … the more readily when he learns, that hundreds of the pages … were written, when the writer was suffering the most excruciating pain, or upon a bed of sickness.”

In an enigmatic statement, Potter hinted that he had been impeded in his efforts by unspecified individuals, writing “While so many in and out of our city, have done everything that could be asked of them in forwarding the work, a few individuals have thrown in the way of its progress and completion, every obstacle that invention could form, or malignity suggest…”

In the preface, Potter thanks the city government “…for the handsome appropriation of $500, towards defraying the expenses of the work. I should hope that it might be a profitable investment in furnishing knowledge for the present and future, of facts now rescued with difficulty from oblivion.”

That money, equivalent to around $16,000 today, likely did not adequately cover Potter’s expenses, which presumably included printing the 764-page book.

Potter ended his preface with, “And now to close, I can but hope, that the book will meet the reasonable expectations of the citizens of Manchester…” Despite Potter’s ordeal in producing the “History of Manchester,” it remains a remarkable work that has stood the test of time.

Next week: The record of the Centennial Celebration as told in the “History of Manchester.”

Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter