Monday, August 8, 2016

Maps, poetry and other musings on West Running Brook in the History of Nutfield, New Hampshire

The map of Nutfield from Willey's Book of Nutfield

The appearance of the settlement along the banks of the Westrunning brook in 1720 must have been romantic.  Imagine the thick growth of forests largely composed of walnut, chestnut, butternut and oak.  Wild game, some of it unpleasantly fierce and dangerous to encounter alone or without arms. It required some time for each family to clear away timber enough to let in the sunshine and build a log cabin.  The cabins dotted the slopes a little back from the brook, probably concealed from each other by the forests, and reached by private paths hastily cut among the trees.  On a frosty morning the white curling smoke from the cabins along Westrunning brook rising over the tops of the trees may have been a pleasing feature of pioneer life.  In order to have corn and beans and other garden crops before fields could be cleared around each cabin, the settlers combined their strength and cleared a tract of land together, and all joined in planting and cultivating this tract, and the name by general consent became the Common Field.  It is easily recognized now on the west side of the turnpike about a mile below Derry Lower Village, and just north of the brook.  The map will enable the reader to locate the Common Field of the settlers at the south end of the Gregg land.  The engraving is intended to give a view of the homesteads in their position and relative proportions.”

The passage above is from the introduction of the book Early Records of Londonderry, Windham and Derry, NH 1719 – 1745: Volume II Proprietor’s Records, edited by George Waldo Browne, Manchester Historic Association, 1911, pages vii and viii.   Browne was referring to the map above, which shows West Running Brook right down the center of the page, in a vertical line since the map is oriented with north to the right side of the page.  This was the location of the homes of the first Scots Irish settlers in Nutfield in 1719, later known as Londonderry (now located in the town of Derry, New Hampshire). 

The first 20 settlers were:

James McKeen                       John Barnard
James Gregg                           Archibald Clendennen
Samuel Graves                       James Clark
David Cargill                          James Nesmith
Robert Wear                           John Goffe
John Morrison                        Elias Keyes
James Anderson                     Joseph Simonds
Thomas Steele                       James Alexander
Allen Anderson                     James Sterrat
John Gregg                            Samuel Allison

West Running Brook

Image wood block print by Julius John Lankes (1884 – 1960) for the book West Running Brook, by Robert Frost,  New York: Henry Holt, 1928 contained the poem, “West Running Brook”.  The Robert Frost Farm is located just down the road from this brook, near the tiny Hyla Brook, which is also the name of another one of his poems.

“Fred, where is north?"

"North? North is there, my love.
The brook runs west."

"West-running Brook then call it."
(West-running Brook men call it to this day.)
"What does it think it's doing running west
When all the other country brooks flow east
To reach the ocean? It must be the brook
Can trust itself to go by contraries
The way I can with you—and you with me—
Because we're—we're—I don't know what we are.
What are we?"

"Young or new?"

"We must be something.
We've said we two. Let's change that to we three.
As you and I are married to each other,
We 'll both be married to the brook. We'll build
Our bridge across it, and the bridge shall be
Our arm thrown over it asleep beside it.
Look, look, it's waving to us with a wave
To let us know it hears me."

"Why, my dear,
That wave's been standing off this jut of shore—"
(The black stream, catching on a sunken rock,
Flung backward on itself in one white wave,
And the white water rode the black forever,
Not gaining but not losing, like a bird
White feathers from the struggle of whose breast
Flecked the dark stream and flecked the darker pool
Below the point, and were at last driven wrinkled
In a white scarf against the far shore alders.)
"That wave's been standing off this jut of shore
Ever since rivers, I was going to say,
Were made in heaven. It was n't waved to us."

"It was n't, yet it was. If not to you
It was to me—in an annunciation."

"Oh, if you take if off to lady-land,
As't were the country of the Amazons
We men must see you to the confines of
And leave you there, ourselves forbid to enter,—
It is your brook! I have no more to say."

"Yes, you have, too. Go on. You thought of something."

"Speaking of contraries, see how the brook
In that white wave runs counter to itself.
It is from that in water we were from
Long, long before we were from any creature.
Here we, in our impatience of the steps,
Get back to the beginning of beginnings,
The stream of everything that runs away.
Some say existence like a Pirouot
And Pirouette, forever in one place,
Stands still and dances, but it runs away,
It seriously, sadly, runs away
To fill the abyss' void with emptiness.
It flows beside us in this water brook,
But it flows over us. It flows between us
To separate us for a panic moment.
It flows between us, over us, and with us.
And it is time, strength, tone, light, life and love—
And even substance lapsing unsubstantial;
The universal cataract of death
That spends to nothingness—and unresisted,
Save by some strange resistance in itself,
Not just a swerving, but a throwing back,
As if regret were in it and were sacred.
It has this throwing backward on itself
So that the fall of most of it is always
Raising a little, sending up a little.
Our life runs down in sending up the clock.
The brook runs down in sending up our life.
The sun runs down in sending up the brook.
And there is something sending up the sun.
It is this backward motion toward the source,
Against the stream, that most we see ourselves in,
The tribute of the current to the source.
It is from this in nature we are from.
It is most us."

"Today will be the day
You said so."

"No, today will be the day
You said the brook was called West-running Brook."

"Today will be the day of what we both said."

The Robert Frost Farm, Derry, New Hampshire
To hear the poem "West Running Brook" read by Robert Frost himself, with his lovely Yankee accent, click on this YouTube link: 

Derry Topgraphic Map, 1985, Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.   You can see the position of West Running Brook (where the first settlers built homes), the Robert Frost Farm and East Derry (the location of the First Parish Church).  Today there is a West Running Brook Middle School just off Route 28, too.  

For more about the original Nutfield map, with a transcription of all the names of the early Scots Irish settlers granted land before 1723, see this link:  


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Maps, poetry and other musings on West Running Brook in the History of Nutfield, New Hampshire", Nutfield Genealogy, posted August 8, 2010,  ( accessed [access date]).