Charlestown is a historic small village in the southwestern corner of the state—the "Quiet Corner"—lying peacefully along the Connecticut River for 13 miles. Within the boundaries of the town are the smaller hamlets of North Charlestown and South Charlestown. Today Charlestown is a community of 4800 people with many churches, civic groups, and businesses.
Charlestown's early history was anything but peaceful, however. The area now comprising the town was chartered by the Colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1735 as Plantation No. 4, the northernmost township along the Connecticut River. It was the first line of protection for Massachusetts' villages further south—and the first place to be attacked by marauding French troops and Indians intent on driving the English colonists from this area. As the French and Indian Wars became more intense, the early English inhabitants formulated a plan for safety. The settlers pulled six houses together, joining them into a compound, and surrounding the compound with a picket fence of tall logs. This fortified village became known as the Fort at No. 4.
A little known fact of history is that, if it had not been for Captain Phineas Stevens and his small band of militia withstanding a siege of the fort by superior French and Indian forces in 1747, the whole history of the northern part of New England might have been altered. If the English colonists had been driven out, this area might be French-speaking today.
In 1753, the Fort and surrounding area was acknowledged to be in the Colony of New Hampshire, and the settlers had to re-charter their property under New Hampshire. A new name for the village seemed desirable, and in choosing one, the settlers looked back to the siege. The news of the victory of Captain Stevens and his brave men had traveled throughout the colonies. Sir Charles Knowles, a British admiral, then in port at Boston, had been so impressed that he had sent a sword to Captain Stevens to express his esteem. Knowles' action, in turn, had so impressed the local populace that they named their new town Charlestown, in his honor.
During the Revolution, Charlestown was a supply and recruiting town, as well as the jumping off point onto the Crown Point Road across Vermont. In 1781, unhappy with treatment by New Hampshire, Charlestown actually joined the state of Vermont briefly, only returning to New Hampshire by the intervention of George Washington himself.
Charlestown became known as a center of law and lawyers second only to Boston. Two governors of New Hampshire, Henry Hubbard and Ralph Metcalf, were born here. With the flat, fertile meadows along the river, farming also prospered. Lovely Federal homes were built along Main Street, and sturdy farmers' homes, many of them "Capes" (Cape Cod style) dotted the countryside. They remain to this day, many dating back to the 1700s. Charlestown's Main Street is the longest National Register of Historic Places District in the state, and the hamlet of North Charlestown will soon also be placed on the National Register.
The inhabitants of Charlestown today are a mixture of the old Yankee stock--some tracing their roots back to original settlers, together with descendants of Canadians who migrated south, and those relative newcomers who have arrived from all over the country, drawn to the area for many reasons.
Charlestown has the charm of antiquity, beautiful scenery and rural surroundings, a small-town atmosphere, low crime, reasonable housing costs, and convenience to excellent medical care and larger metropolitan areas to the south. Add to that cool, pleasant summers, snowy winters, every variety of outdoor sports, and the re-creation of the Fort at No. 4, a source for historians and an opportunity to become personally involved in history.
A pleasant, relaxing place to visit, Charlestown has been an appealing destination for over two centuries.