The region was first explored by Martin Pring (1603) and Samuel de Champlain (1605). In 1620 the Council for New England, formerly the Plymouth Company, received a royal grant of land between lat. 40°N and 48°N. One of the Council's leaders, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, formed a partnership with Capt. John Mason and in 1622 obtained rights between the Merrimack and Kennebec rivers, then called the province of Maine. By a division Mason took (1629) the area between the Piscataqua and the Merrimack, naming it New Hampshire. Portsmouth was founded by farmers and fishermen in 1630.
Through claims based on a misinterpretation of its charter, Massachusetts annexed S New Hampshire between 1641 and 1643. Although New Hampshire was proclaimed a royal colony in 1679, Massachusetts continued to press land claims until the two colonies finally agreed on the eastern and southern boundaries (1739–41). Although they were technically independent of each other, the crown habitually appointed a single man to govern both colonies until 1741, when Benning Wentworth was made the first governor of New Hampshire alone.
Wentworth and his friends purchased the Mason rights in 1746 (see Masonian Proprietors under Mason, John, 1586–1635), laying claim to lands east of the Hudson and thereby provoking a protracted controversy with New York (see New Hampshire Grants). Although a royal order in 1764 established the Connecticut River as the western boundary of New Hampshire, the dispute flared up again during the American Revolution and was not settled until Vermont became a state.
The French and Indian Wars had prevented colonization of the inland areas, but after the wars a land rush began. Lumber camps were set up and sawmills were built along the streams. The Scotch-Irish settlers had already initiated the textile industry by growing flax and weaving linen. By the time of the Revolution many of the inhabitants had tired of British rule and were eager for independence. In Dec., 1774, a band of patriots overpowered Fort William and Mary (later Fort Constitution) and secured the arms and ammunition for their cause.
New Hampshire was the first colony to declare its independence from Great Britain and to establish its own government (Jan., 1776). New Hampshire became the ninth and last necessary state to ratify the new Constitution of the United States in 1788. New Hampshire's northern boundary was fixed in 1842 when the Webster-Ashburton Treaty set the international line between Canada and the United States.
The Democrats remained in political control until their inability to take a united antislavery stand brought about their decline. When Franklin Pierce, New Hampshire's only President of the United States (1853–57), tried to smooth over the slavery quarrel and unite his party, antislavery sentiment was strong enough to alienate many of his followers. During the Civil War, New Hampshire was a strong supporter of the Northern cause and contributed many troops to the Union forces.
After the war New Hampshire's economy began to emerge as primarily industrial, and population growth was steady although never spectacular. The production of woolen and cotton goods and the manufacturing of shoes led all other enterprises. The forests were rapidly and ruthlessly exploited, but in 1911 a bill was passed to protect big rivers by creating forest reserves at their headwaters, and since that time numerous conservation measures have been enacted and large tracts of woodland have been placed under state and national ownership.
The Great Depression of the 1930s severely dislocated the state's economy, especially in the one-industry towns. The effort made then to broaden economic activities has been continually intensified. The recent establishment of important new industries such as electronics has successfully counterbalanced the departure to other states of older industries such as textiles.
In the 1980s, New Hampshire produced many new jobs and had one of the fastest growing economies in the United States. The state benefits from its close proximity to the Boston metropolitan area with its many high-technology firms, but when Massachusetts experiences a recession like that of the late 1980s and early 90s, New Hampshire is similarly affected.