Early Settlers of Gilsum NH

Of the first settlement in Gilsum, Silvanus Hayward, in his History of Gilsum, speaks as follows:

” The Kilburns have always claimed to have been the first settlers in Gilsum. So far as I know every Gazetteer or similar work names Josiah Kilburn as the first settler. A counter tradition has been met in looking up, materials for this history. It is believed the following record gives a full and fair statement of the case : Josiah Kilburn was in company with a Mr. Ford in a large tannery and shoe manufactory in Glastonbury, Conn. They were prosperous in business, and had accumulated considerable wealth for those times. Mr. Kilburn having the old English idea that real estate was the only property to give a man a position, was very anxious to buy land. Hearing of this township for sale, he sent up men to look over the ground. When they got here, they were taken in hand by agents of Colonel Bellows, who first bewildered them by wandering in the woods, and then kept them traveling three days in Surry meadows. Thinking they had gone over a large tract of country, they returned and reported that it was a level town, “without a stone large enough to throw at a bird.” Encouraged by this report, Mr. Kilburn joined with Samuel Gilbert and others in the purchase of 18,000 acres, May 1, 1761. In a deed given by him, the same year, he calls himself of Hebron, Conn- In November, 1762, he writes himself John Kilburn of Keene. Before finding this deed, I had met the tradition that he supposed the log cabin that he first built was in Keene. It was within a few rods of the town line, on the spot marked i on the map. This deed fixes the time of his coming from Connecticut, in the fall of 1762. His son Ebenezer came with him. They spent the winter and the following summer in clearing the land, building a barn, and preparing their cabin to receive their families. They then returned to Connecticut, and in the spring of 1764, brought up their families, with a large herd of cattle and sheep and several horses.

“The following tradition of a still earlier settlement is from George Hammond, Esq., of Bennett’s Corners, N. Y., who received it from his Aunt Rachel (Bill) Baxter, a niece of Deacon Kilburn’s wife, and an ‘extremely particular and accurate person.’ In that first winter of 1762-63, the Kilbums not having raised any crops the summer before, came near starvation. Guided only by the marked trees of the beaver hunter, they went through the heavy forest near where Ebenezer Isham settled, to a spot the beavers had cleared in the lowland known as the old Hammond meadow, where they cut some swale grass for their oxen. Hearing afterwards that a settler in the northwest part had raised some rye, Mr. Kilburn started on snow shoes to visit his neighbor and purchase a bag of rye. He followed the Indian trail to near where Calvin May once lived, and then struck for the high land and tried to discern the smoke of the settler’s cabin, but could see none, and became nearly discouraged. He finally halloed at the top of his voice, and great was his joy to hear an answer, and in a short time, hungry and fatigued .he found the cabin, got the bushel of rye, and after rest and food, returned to his home.”

“This cabin was that of Jonathan Bliss, on the farm now owned by Dennis Keefe. From this tradition the claim is made that Jonathan Bliss was the first settler in Gilsum. * * * The conclusion I have reached, (of the substantial accuracy of which I have no doubt,) is the following:

Mr. Bliss came early enough to get a crop of rye in 1762, while Mr. Kilburn came the fall after. Jonathan Bliss was therefore the first settler by a few months; but returned to Connecticut, remaining there several years, and permanently located in Gilsum in 1769.”

Settlers must have arrived quite rapidly, for in 1767 the town had a population of 128 souls, 139 in 1773, and 178 in 1775. Sketches of some of the early settlers of the town will be found in the sketches of the several towns which received part of Gilsum’s original territory. The date of the first town meeting is not known, as the early records were lost. The first of which there is any knowledge, however, was held at the house of Jonathan Smith, August 26, 1766. Josiah Kilburn built the first framed house, near the present residence of E. Nelson Gunn. The first death was that of Jemima.. wife of Ebenezer Kilburn, June 24, 1765. The first road laid out was on April 16th and 17th, 1764, which is now the principal road running from Keene to Alstead, through what is now Surry. The first wheeled carriage that ever came into the town, was Dr. Adams’s of Keene, about 1810, and the first owned here was by Mr. Hammond, two or three years later. The -first grist-mill was built by Aaron Chapin previous to 1765, where the mill now stands below Shaw’s Corner, in Surry. The first store was kept by John Mark, who also kept the first tavern. In 1792 his charge for lodging was 6d, and for keeping a horse over night, 9d. The first blacksmith in what is now Gilsum was Theodore Preston, who located here in 1776. The first physician was Dr. Abner Bliss. The first postoffice was established at Gilsum in 1828; with Chilion Mack, postmaster. The first school-houses were built in 1794.


Hurd, Duane Hamilton. History of Cheshire and Sullivan counties, New Hampshire. Philadelphia: J. W. Lewis. 1886.

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