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Preserving the History & Heritage of Lake Winnipesaukee & Vicinity
 

 

“Big Bar! Much Bar!”
 

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AN EARLY HISTORY OF BEAR ISLAND



Artist's Rendition of Early Settlers Facing Danger on Bear Island.

Continued from page 1

Down came the four maddened bears almost in­stantly, wounded and prepared to fight. There was no time to reload guns, so they were cast aside. Knives were the only weapons that could be used. The bears were met with long hunting knives. Some of the men were struck and sent sprawling, but were up again quickly and others were seized in the bears' terrific embrace and bitten and clawed unmercifully.

Fortunately there were more men than bears, so the men were able to assist each other. Within a few minutes there were three dead bears lying around. The fourth bear got away and started across the ice toward Meredith Neck, but the ice was rotten; [the bear] broke through and floundered around in the water. The men finished him with a bullet and dragged his body ashore.

There was bear meat in abundance now to appease the wounded surveyors. They decided that the island had been appropriately named "Big Bear."

The first settler on the island was Robert Bryant, a resident of Palmerstown, as Meredith was known in those days. Prior to serving as an Ensign in the Revolutionary War, he built a house on the high ridge of North Bear in 1770. Though little is known of him following the war, Robert and his wife, Abigail, are buried in the Meeting House Cemetery on Meredith Neck Road.

In 1799, Bear Island was annexed to Meredith. By this time, the Dockham, Bickford, Nichols and Maloon families had come to settle and farm the central and southern parts of the island. Theirs was an austere existence, isolated and rigorous—raising crops, grazing sheep, fishing and trapping. Clothing was woven from homespun flax and wool; several garments and accessories made by these pioneers are on display at the Meredith Historical Museum.

They planted maples to provide sugar, along with apple trees, that still bear fruit today in a small orchard on Jerry Point. The original plan, including the botanical names of the various or­chard species, is kept in the cottage of William Puffer, who bought this property in 1913, now owned by his granddaughters, Eleanor Ernst Thompson and Dorothy Ernst Bean.

An article written by E.H. Maloon, the village blacksmith appeared in the December 20, 1922, Meredith News, describing early life on Bear Island:

Going way back in time we find Uncle Jimmie Bickford bringing up a large family of children there. We find Capt. Eleazer Bickford who was long pilot of the steamer Lady of the Lake, as one of the chil­dren of another family of Bickfords. Also, Waldo Maloon and family, who were

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