Town of Rye – Overview

OVERVIEW:        Town of Rye


In 1605, Samuel de Champlain landed at Odiorne Point. In 1614, Captain John Smith landed at the Isles of Shoals. In 1623, the Town of Rye was the first European settlement in New Hampshire, established by David Thompson under the name Pannaway Plantation at Odiorne Point. A stockade fort was built on the site. The Europeans began a fish drying business. The area at the time was teeming with Abenaki peoples. The settlement located at Odiorne Point was originally part of Portsmouth.

In the 1630’s the settlement of Sandy Beach occupied an area in the vicinity of what is now known as Foss Beach. The New Hampshire settlements were annexed by Massachusetts for a period of time from 1641 to 1679. In 1692, the Indians massacred settlers in the location of what is 605 Brackett Road today. Within that century, most Abenaki natives succumbed to illness or had been driven inland. Rye had been further settled by William Berry and other founding families who moved inland to what is now Rye Center. In 1641, Rye (or Sandy Beach as it was then known), was part of Portsmouth. When New Castle incorporated in 1693, Rye/Sandy Beach became part of New Castle. According to Langdon B. Parson’s History of the Town of Rye, New Hampshire from Its Discovery and Settlement to December 31, 1903, Rye was part of New Castle until 1726 when it successfully petitioned the Legislature to become a separate parish. It was still known as Sandy Beach. In that year it acquired its first church.

Until 1730, the southern boundary of Rye was at Locke’s Neck (Straw’s Point), the northern-most boundary of Hampton. The current southern boundary was established by the state legislature by vote on September 21, 1730.

Rye did not become entirely separate until 1776 during the Revolutionary War and was finally incorporated as a town in 1785. Rye’s namesake is in England on the Channel.

During the War of 1812, at the Battle of Rye Harbor on April 3, 1814, a barge, from one of two warships of the British Navy which were anchored offshore, entered Rye Harbor. It was driven off by locals under the command of General Thomas Goss. In 1874, the first totally undersea transatlantic cable was run from Europe to New Hampshire and terminated at the Cable House on Old Beach Road in Rye.

Since 1876, Rye has been the only town in New Hampshire to encompass islands in the Atlantic. Two leagues from the shore, the four Isles of Shoals included in the jurisdiction of the Town of Rye are White Island, Star Island, Seavey Island and Lunging Island (once known as Londoner’s Island). The border between Maine and New Hampshire cuts across Gosport Harbor and the breakwater between Cedar and Star Islands. The Isles, five in Maine and four in New Hampshire, were first described by Champlain in 1605. In his publications at that time, Champlain is reported to have called Rye Harbor Beauport. Champlain and his men encountered 200 Native Americans in the area of Rye Harbor. The natives were cultivating corn, green beans, pumpkins, winter squash and sunflowers for their roots.

From Rye’s early settlement days, its livelihood was based upon agriculture and fishing. Fishing and farming sustained the population of a thousand well into the 1800’s. Rye Harbor was a thriving coastal port for a variety of goods.

In mid-1800’s boarding houses and hotels attracted tourists from afar to the scenic beaches of Rye. The Golden Age of Rye resorts lasted well into the 20th century. The farming and fishing continued to thrive.

Rye is thirty-five and a half square miles of land located in the County of Rockingham which runs along the Atlantic Ocean bounded by North Hampton, Greenland and Portsmouth. Of that acreage, nearly 65% is under water. The highest natural point in the town is only 151 feet above sea level at Breakfast Hill. The Town’s beaches and natural landmarks carry familiar names of early settlers: Jenness, Wallis, Foss, Seavey, Brackett, Garland and Locke. Three great crescent beaches continue to lure people today as Rye retains its coastal heritage.