Madbury, New Hampshire Settlement in Madbury | World Anvil

Madbury, New Hampshire

Madbury (/ˈmæd.bɛɹ i/) is a small rural town on the north shore of Little Bay in Strafford County, New Hampshire. Its population in 1960, according to the U.S. Census, was 3,918. The Winniconic River flows through the center of town before emptying into Little Bay at Coffins Landing. Winniconic Reservoir, now the town's largest lake, was created when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed the river in 1959, displacing 27 families to provide drinking water for the nearby cities of Portsmouth and Dover.

Since its founding, the town has prospered as a center of industry and commerce, while consistently maintaining its rural character. Farming, logging, lumber milling, shipbuilding and fishing, long the mainstays of local industry in Madbury, have declined somewhat in recent years, replaced by a wide variety of commercial interests that have moved into Center Madbury and the bustling wharf at Coffins Landing, revitalizing the town and contributing to the area’s thriving economy. Madbury’s proximity to the cities of Portsmouth and Dover makes it a popular residential community for commuters. But above all, Madbury is a college town – a center of education, research, culture, and social life.

Madbury is home to Litchmoor University. Founded in 1731, it is New Hampshire’s oldest institution of higher learning, and considered to be among the more prestigious universities in the country. Longtime rivals of cross-state Dartmouth, a new sports rivalry of increasing intensity has recently developed between Litchmoor and nearby University of New Hampshire (founded 1866).

The town is also home to The Drury Academy (founded 1801), an extremely exclusive college preparatory school for boys, said to be one of the most elite boarding schools in the United States.


The history of human activity in southeastern New Hampshire spans over ten millennia. The first inhabitants of the Madbury area were a 10,000-year-old culture known as the "Maritime Archaic," also called the "Red Paint People," a highly advanced hunting and fishing society identified by the copious amounts of red ochre with which they covered their grave goods.

Prior to the colonial period, the area between the Cocheco and the Shankhassick (now Oyster) Rivers was occupied by native Western Abenaki people called the Pennacook, who maintained well-established settlements at "Pennacook" (now Concord), "Amoskeag" (now Manchester), and as far east as the village of "Wecohamet" on the shore of Little Bay. It was from these people that the original plot was purchased, which would eventually become the Town of Madbury.

From a collection of wood-framed warehouses adjacent to a small wharf, the town developed as an agricultural and forestry center in the 17th and 18th centuries. With improvements in land transportation, it became a thriving college town that has grown into a modern cultural hub and a nationally recognized leader in higher education and research.

The Colonial Period

The town was founded in 1663 as a settlement known as “Coffin’s Landing” on a point of land southwest of Dover village at the mouth of the Winniconic River, by Peter Coffin (1630–1715), a sea captain who returned to New Hampshire after relocating to Nantucket Island for several years. The son of Tristram Coffin (founder of the Nantucket whaling family), Peter Coffin would go on to serve in the New Hampshire Colonial Assembly (1682–1683, 1689), as a member of the Royal Governor’s Council (1684–1688), and as a Provincial Court judge (1690–1694), before finishing his career as Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court (1695).

In addition to his shipping business, Captain Coffin also held a license to operate a sawmill on the Winniconic River, which he developed into a lucrative logging and lumber concern, shipping its products throughout New England from his wharf and warehouses at Coffin’s Landing. He sold lumber to his relatives and their associates in Nantucket, which was devoid of trees, for use in constructing houses and the other buildings, wharves and docks necessary for their fast-growing whaling enterprise. To this very day, over 30 of the original wood-framed structures on Nantucket, made of Madbury lumber, are still standing.

In 1703, Captain Coffin submitted a petition for a town charter to John Usher, Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and Royal Administrator for the Province of New Hampshire. He proposed to establish the new town of “Coffinsport” on land between the Cocheco and Oyster Rivers, which proposal was vigorously opposed by the town of Dover, titleholder to much of the land pursuant to a grant issued in 1623. Despite his ongoing efforts until his death in 1715, his hopes for an independent township would not be realized in his lifetime.

In 1716, less than a year after Captain Coffin’s death, the area was included as part of the Parish of Durham, which became the town of Durham in 1735. The name “Madbury Parish” was first recorded in a grant issued by Governor Benning Wentworth in 1755, intending to name the town after the village of Modbury in southern Devonshire. However, an unfortunate error in transcription resulted in the town receiving its current name, which appears to be unique in all the world. Governor John Wentworth granted the parish full town privileges in 1768, and it was finally incorporated as a town in 1775.

The Revolution

Madbury played an important role in the War for Independence. As early as December 14, 1774, in one of the first military actions of the American Revolution, men from Madbury Parish raided Fort William and Mary (later Fort Constitution) in Portsmouth Harbor, seizing all of the garrison’s powder and shot, consisting of 100 barrels of powder, 200 pounds of lead shot and 500 flints, which they distributed among the local villages in anticipation of conflict with Britain. The following night, the Madbury men returned to the poorly guarded post, this time taking 30 flint-lock rifles and numerous cannon, which they secretly brought by gundalow to Coffins Landing. The guns would later be used by colonial forces against the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Along with the guns and powder secured in the raids on Fort William and Mary, Madbury also contributed nearly a full company, commanded by Capt. John Demeritt (promoted to the rank of Major on November 9, 1775), to the militia that was organized in May 1775 after Lexington and Concord. Known as the Eleventh Continental Foot, the militia regiment was placed under command of Col. Enoch Poor of Exeter.

According to local tradition, nearly the entire town of Madbury turned out to escort Capt. Demeritt’s company as far as the Durham town line, where a prayer for the safety of the men in their noble undertaking was offered by Rev. Ephraim Tuttle, brother of Capt. Demeritt’s wife Betsy. At the conclusion of the Rev. Tuttle‘s benediction, it is reported that more than half the volunteers had been moved to tears by his inspiring words.

Originally deployed to the seacoast near Newburyport, Col. Poor’s forces were ordered to march to Charlestown in early June, where they, along with the William and Mary guns, took part in the June 17 Battle of Bunker Hill under the command of Maj. Gen. John Stark. After the cessation of hostilities, two of the William and Mary cannon were returned to Madbury, where they stand proudly on the village green today.

Nineteenth Century

During the nineteenth century, Madbury continued to thrive as a commercial center, expanding inland from Coffins Landing. New roads were laid out, connecting the town’s scattered settlements to each other and to surrounding towns. In 1841, the Boston & Maine Railroad extended its line through Madbury from Exeter to Dover. The village of Center Madbury grew up around the station that was built near the trestle that carried the line over the Winniconic River. It would eventually become the commercial center of the town.

Throughout the century, Madbury furnished more than its quota of brave young men to defend their country in time of war. From the War of 1812-15, through the War of the Rebellion (1861-65) and the Spanish War of 1898, scores of Madbury men unflinchingly served their nation with honor and distinction. Of particular note in this regard is Maj. John Demeritt, who served with the U.S. Army in the Philippines in 1898. He was the great-great-grandson of the Maj. John Demerit (mentioned above) who led the Madbury militia during the Revolutionary War, and the fourth John Demeritt, in succession, to achieve the rank of Major through service in the military. The Demeritts remain to this day a respected and influential family in the town of Madbury.

Recent History

Since the turn of the century, Madbury has become a renowned cultural, educational and research hub, artists’ colony, and tourist destination. After a devastating fire in 1911, nearly all of Coffins Landing had to be rebuilt. For the most part, the historical layout and appearance of the village were maintained, while formerly dilapidated and rundown areas were redeveloped and many infrastructure improvements were made, so that after the reconstruction the village appeared much more inviting to the general public, resulting in a marked increase in tourist traffic to the area.

Of course, the town has also continued its long tradition of service to our country's defense in time of conflict, sending, and losing, more than its fair share of young men to the trench warfare of France in the Great War, and the carnage of Europe and the Pacific in the Second World War. Not to be forgotten are those who recently fought communism in Korea and continue that fight today in southeast Asia. The names of all the Madbury men who fought for our country in this century are memorialized on the imposing War Veterans Memorial monument that has graced the Town Common since 1920.


Madbury is conveniently located on N.H. Highway 108, 68 miles north of Boston, 65 miles southwest of Portland, 35 miles east of Manchester, and 15 miles northwest of Portsmouth. Bounded on the northeast by Dover, to the southeast by Little Bay, southerly by the towns of Durham and Lee, and to the west by Barrington, its gently rolling countryside is roughly equally divided between forest and cleared areas. The town includes the constituent villages of Coffins Landing, Center Madbury, and Drury Grove (formerly called West Madbury). The erstwhile village of Madbury Falls was inundated when the Winniconic was dammed in 1960.

Three prominent hills surround the town's central valley, through which flows the Winniconic River. To the east is Garrison Hill, site of the Coffinhurst Estate, home to the town's founding family. To the northwest rises College Hill, formerly called Massacre Hill, but renamed in the early 1700s when the Litchmoor campus was established there. Madbury's highest point, called Moharimet Hill for the great Pennacook Sachem who held sway from there during early colonial times, is located in the western part of town, near the Barrington line.

The town center is the village of Center Madbury, located along the Winniconic River, approximately 10 miles upstream from its mouth on Little Bay. Main Street runs generally east-west along the north bank of the river. The village center surrounds the Town Common, and features the Town Hall, the Old Meetinghouse, which is now a Congregationalist Church, the town Library, the historic Madbury Tavern and its adjacent hotel, a local branch of the Merchants Savings and Loan, the historic Aeon Theater (at which Abraham Lincoln spoke on February 29, 1860), two art galleries, and several restaurants, stores, offices, shops and other businesses. Numerous small bed & breakfasts line the road leading into the center from both directions. Bridge Street runs south from Main Street at the Common to an old iron bridge, built in 1916, which carries the road across the Winniconic River to the south side of the village.

At its southeastern edge, the town meets the shore of Little Bay. There at the mouth of the Winniconic River sits the original maritime village of Coffins Landing, with its three wharves and bustling waterfront businesses. Many cafes, art galleries and nautical-themed shops catering to the tourist trade have opened up along the village's narrow winding lanes. Coffins Landing is home to "The Pearl," the century old, ever-popular landmark chowder house, currently owned and operated by Audley Boothe.

West of Coffins Landing lie the Madbury Marshes, an extensive cedar swamp along the shore of Little Bay that extends nearly a mile inland, creating a nearly impenetrable tidal bog filled with rare Atlantic white cedar, surrounded by dense hemlock groves, thickets of giant rhododendron and stands of ancient black gum trees. The area provides a safe habitat for moose, deer, coyote and bobcat, along with waterfowl and aquatic creatures like fish and turtles, as well as beavers, muskrats and otters.


Madbury is located in New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district, currently represented by Louis C. Wyman (R) of Manchester. It is part of the second Executive Council district, currently represented by Fred W. Hall, Jr. (R) of Rochester, and the twenty-first State Senate district, represented by Paul G. Karkavelas (R) of Dover. Madbury’s sole delegate to the New Hampshire House of Representatives is Eli T. Adams (R), who has been unopposed in the position for over ten years.

Madbury, New Hampshire


Madbury Town Hall

Madbury Town Seal.jpg

Madbury Town Seal

Location within Strafford County, N.H. Coordinates: 43°10’09”N 70°55’28”W

Map of Center Madbury.jpg
Map of Center Madbury

United States
New England
New Hampshire


• Selectmen
Harlan Coffin
Linwood Styles
Audley Boothe
• Administrator
Douglas Colby

• Total
23.5 sq mi
• Land
21.7 sq mi
• Water
1.8 sq mi

120 ft (mean)

Population (1960)
• Total
• Density
167/sq mi

Time zone

ZIP code

• Area Code
• Exchange
PIlgrim 2 (742)


Madbury operates under the traditional New Hampshire "town meeting" form of government, whereby eligible registered voters of the town meet on "town meeting day" in March of even-numbered years to approve a biennial budget, vote on warrant articles, and elect the three-member Board of Selectmen who oversee town affairs for the following two years. Current selectmen are Harlan Coffin (chair), Linwood Styles and Audley Boothe. Day-to-day matters are managed by the Town Administrator, Douglas Colby.

Emergency Services

Police Department

Madbury employs a small, full-time police force consisting of two sworn peace officers and a dispatcher/clerical support person, with offices on the lower level of Town Hall. Overnight and weekend coverage is provided to the town by the New Hampshire State Police, Troop A out of Epping, and the Strafford County Sheriff’s Department, based in Dover. The current Police Chief is Merrill Rowe. He is assisted by his son, Officer Samuel Rowe, and Clerk/Dispatcher Abbie Cosgrove.

Fire Department

The Madbury Volunteer Fire Company was formed in 1911 by Warren Harley Rogers and seven other volunteers. Currently, the company consists of twenty volunteers, and operates two pump engines along with a ladder truck, housed at the Central Fire Station on Main Street. The current Fire Chief is Warren Rogers, Jr. who succeeded his father in the position.


Emergency ambulance service is provided by the Dover Fire Department pursuant to a mutual aid agreement.



The towns of Madbury, Barrington, Durham and Lee make up the Oyster River Cooperative School District, one of the first such districts in the state, established in 1954. Madbury students attend Moharimet Elementary School locally, before advancing to Oyster River Junior High School and Oyster River High School, both in Durham.

Many Madbury students have chosen to attend nearby University of New Hampshire, the flagship university of the state's higher education system. The coeducational institution offers undergraduate degrees in arts and sciences, as well as post-graduate degrees in a variety of disciplines.


Catholic parochial school education is offered at Saint Barbara’s School on Church Street. The school serves grades 1 through 8 and is administered by the Sisters of Mercy in association with Saint Barbara Parish.

Madbury is also home to The Drury Academy, located in Drury Grove. The highly respected and elite boys boarding school has been educating the scions of America's finest families since 1801.

The main campus of Litchmoor University, the oldest institution of higher learning in New Hampshire and recognized among the most prestigious universities in the country, is located in Madbury. Many Litchmoor alumni have gone on to achieve national and international acclaim in a variety of fields, including archaeology, business, chemistry, diplomacy, finance, law, literature, medicine, and politics.

Image Credits:
1. Laperkins, CC BY-SA 4.0 < >, via Wikimedia Commons, adapted by the author.
2. Town Seal by the author.
3. Map by Andrew Sawyer - Created from Boundary/Border Outline Files of the Libre Map Project which held a BY-SA creative commons license. Data originally from 2000 US Census boundary data., CC BY 2.5,, adapted by the author.
4. Map of Center Madbury by the author.


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