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A Noted Woman of Dover, Christine Otis Baker

From Scales, John, History of Dover. Manchester, N.H.: Clarke, 1923.

Christine Otis, who married Capt. Thomas Baker of Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1715, was born in Dover March 1689 in her father’s garrisoned house which stood on the north side of where is now Milk Street, about half way between Central Avenue and Mt. Vernon Street. She was the daughter of Richard Otis Esq. and his second wife, Grizel Warren, daughter of James and Margaret Warren of Kittery, Maine. The Otises and Warrens have an excellent ancestral record but I will not stop to give it here. When her father’s garrison was burned and he was killed on June 28, 1689, Christine was an infant and was taken prisoner with her mother to Canada by the Indians, as were also her half sister Rose, and her half brothers Stephen and John (October 15, 1693). Christine’s mother having been converted to the Romish faith was married to a Frenchman named Philip Robitaile and never returned to New England, dying in Montreal at the great age of 90 years. Her daughter had been baptized in the First Church at Dover by the pastor Rev. John Pike, as Margaret Otis, but when her mother joined the Roman Catholic Church and married a Frenchman, the priest rebaptized the daughter and gave her the name Christine, which name she retained to the end of her life, although good Parson Stoddard of Dover baptized her again when she returned and married Capt. Thomas Baker in 1715 and gave her the old name Margaret.

In Montreal she was placed in a nunnery and educated in the Romish faith, until she was 15 years old. They tried to induce her to become a nun and take the veils of the church, but she would not be persuaded; then they compelled her to marry a Frenchman, named La Beau, June 14, 1707. the recode of her marriage is on file in Montreal. As the education of women went, she was well-educated. She and her husband lived together about 7 years and then he died, leaving her with two or three children.

The first that she saw of Thomas Baker was in 1707, the year she married the Frenchman. Baker had been brought to Montreal a prisoner from Deerfield, Massachusetts. He was a frisky young fellow and tried to escape; the guard caught him and he was about to be shot, a Frenchman intervened and paid a suitable ransom to save his life and permit him to return to his home in Massachusetts. Somehow during the affair- which of course, made a great commotion among the inhabitants, both French and English- Christine Otis Le Beau made the acquaintance of the young man and gave him her sympathy and probably expressed her admiration for his courage in attempting to escape. It may have been her husband who paid the sum for Baker, a ransom. Anyway, they became close friends then and did not forget it in the seven years that followed.

Thomas Baker returned home and, in time, became a Captain, and won fame in the public service. Christine remained in Canada and in the course of seven years became the mother of three children and a handsome widow of twenty-five years. Then it came to pass that Thomas and Christine met again and under circumstances entirely difference from those under which they had parted in 1701.

Massachusetts sent a commission to Canada in 1714 to arrange for ransoming the English prisoners there; Major John Stoddard being at the head of it and Captain Thomas Baker a member- being famous now from his leadership of the Indian campaign in the White Mountain region, in which he secured the scalp of the famous Indian Sachem, Wattanummom, and by the deed perpetuated his name forever in Baker River which joins the Pemegewasstt north of Plymouth, New Hampshire. It was near the junction of these rivers that the battle with the Indians took place. Moreover, besides, having the river named for him, the General Court of Massachusetts gave Baker a reward of £20, summa cum laude.

Captain Baker, with the rest of the Commissioners, was in Montreal in March 1714; they met the prisoners and the officials and commenced negotiations. It does not come within the scope of my paper to speak further of the negotiations than to say that Christine Otis Le Beau then and there met Captain Thomas Baker. She was a handsome widow of twenty-five yeas in the bloom of health, sparkling with wit and womanly attractions; he was a bachelor a few years older- tall, stalwart, and handsome in his military bearing. After they met and exchanged the usual formalities of such and occasion, she resolved in her own mind to return to New England; he resolved in his mind to rescue that handsome widow from the thralls of popery and the hated and detested Frenchmen.

Thus matters stood for awhile; negotiations made slow progress. The French would not consent for her to go; if she went, she must leave her children and lose all of her property. She attempted to smuggle her personal property into a boat to carry them to Quebec- the French priests discovered her work and took everything from the boat.

About this time in the negotiation, Capt. Baker was ordered by Major Stoddard to return to Boston and report progress and ask for further instructions. He attended to these duties and returned. The French continued as obstinate as ever in their refusal to let the captives go. The Caption and the widow held a council of war; she decided to leave her children and all her property, except her wearing apparel and what she could carry in her hands. They secretly embarked on a boat and started on the voyage to Quebec, where Major Stoddard and other Commissioners were then stationed, Just imagine that trip of 160 miles in an ordinary boat! Talk about romance! Why romance pales before the true story of the heroism of this woman who so loved Old Dover which she had seen only as a babe, and so loved the gallant captain, that she forsook all and trusted her life and her fortune to his care, It is easy enough to look back over 175 years, but what a struggle it must have been for her to look ahead sixty years.

Major Stoddard chronicles their arrival at Quebec in the summer of 1714; later they sailed with others for Boston, where they arrived 21 September of that year.

From Boston she accompanied the Captain to Deerfield, and good Parson Stoddard took her in hand and soon made a good protestant of her. He rebaptized her with her baby name Margaret, and took her into the church.

The townspeople became interested in her welfare and enthusiastic in the praise of her noble qualities. December 14, 1714, the town granted her a valuable lot of land on the condition that she marry Capt. Thomas Baker. She accepted the land and the conditions.

They were married in 1715 and set up housekeeping and farming in Deerfield; they remained there two years, leading a peaceful, quiet and happy life. Their first child was born June 5, 1716; in due time Parson Stoddard christened it Christine, having previously baptized the mother by her baby name of Margaret.

In 1717 they removed from Deerfield to Brookfield where they resided on their farm until 1732. In 1718 she made a trip to Canada with the object in view of getting her French children and bringing them to New England. Her efforts were unsuccessful. The Romish priests would not permit her to see them, much less bring them away; on the other hand, they tried to persuade her to stay there. She would not listen to them and so returned grieved in heart, but determined in spirit. The women are few who could have endured what she did and not yield to the wily talk of the priests.

In 1719 Capt. Baker was elected Representative at the General Court of Massachusetts by the freemen of Brookfield, being the first to serve that town. He served his town in that and various capacities, honorably and ably during the next ten years. It was in this town that most of their children were born; one of whom became one of Dover’s most distinguished men, Col. Otis Baker.

In 1727, Christine received a letter from the prelate who had been her priest in Canada, in which he urged her to return there and reunited with the Romish Church, presenting many theological reasons why he thought she ought to do so.

Instead of returning to Canada, she turned the letter over to Gov. Burnet and he wrote an elaborate answer to the theological statements of the priest; both the letter and the Governor’s answer are in print in the Massachusetts archives of that period. The Governor had the best of the argument, as you all can see by reading the letter and the answer. The Kanuc priest never ventured a reply, nor made further endeavors to get her back to Canada.

In 1732 they sold their Brookfield property, which was a comfortable estate to a speculator, who in some way cheated them out of the whole amount of the sale, and left Capt. Baker and his family in very straightened circumstances.

They lived awhile at Mendon, and next at Newport, Rhode Island. On account of the high standing of Captain Baker and his wife, the general court of Massachusetts very generously aided them to help them recover their fortunes. The Court was furthermore inclined to do this as Captain Baker’s health had given out so that he could not do any hard work that required manual exertion. The Court granted Christine 500 acres of  valuable land in York County, Maine. She sold this land for a handsome sum of money with which she built a house in Dover to which they removed in 1734.

This house stood at the corner of Silver Street and Central  Avenue, where now is the brick block. After she had built and furnished it, she petitioned the general court of New Hampshire for a license to keep a public house, which petition can be found in the unpublished Provincial Papers of New Hampshire. Here she kept a public house for many years, and prospered in her business affairs, although her husband was an invalid all the rest of his years, until his death in 1753 while on a visit to friends in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The record says he died of “the lethargy”, which I supposed the doctors in the twentieth century would call apoplexy.

Christine died February 23, 1773, aged 85 years, and her remains were interred in the Col. Baker burial lot on Pine Hill. I know not whether the spot can now be found; be that as it may, a marker of some kind ought to be placed near the spot- if not on her grave, so that future generations may know and honor the spot.

Her record in Dover is of the best. Her house was a model of neatness, comfort and good cooking. When the Royal Governors passed through Dover they honored themselves by calling at her tavern; they always left with a feeling of good cheer and the highest respect for their hostess.

May 11, 1735 she united with the First Church, Parson Cushing being pastor. She remained a devout member of this organization to the end of her life; during her last few years she was an invalid, but all her wants were kindly administered to by her son Col. Otis Baker and his family, Rev. Dr. Belknap, who was then pastor gave her that spiritual consolation which her four score years must have made her greatly enjoy; and when she closed her eyelids forever at four score and five, he performed the last sad rites over her remains.

Her son, Col. Otis Baker, lived in a house that he built several years before the Revolution where the Whidden house now stands at the corner of Silver and Atkinson streets. Of course, then Atkinson Street did not exist and Silver Street was simply the Barrington Road. It was in this house that Christine Baker passed her old age; Dr. Belknap was her next door neighbor, living where now is the Belknap School House.

Several members of this Society are relatives of her; all of the Baker family in Dover are her descendants. Her career as a whole is undoubtedly the most remarkable of any Dover woman previous to the Revolution. Dover People in the past have been inclined to make too little account of heir heroes and heroines, while they looked up to those in Massachusetts because great writers and lecturers and Boston newspapers have for a hundred years continually talked about them and their great deeds. Even the heroine Mrs. Baker is rarely spoken of by Massachusetts writers as a Dover woman, though forty years of her life were passed here; and here her distinguished son and grandson lived, and their worthy descendants.

Her husband, Capt. Thomas Baker, seems not to have taken an active part in public affairs after he came to Dover. He was broken in health before coming here, and appears to have been an invalid during the nearly twenty years he lived here, coming in 1734 and dying in 1753. He assisted his wife in running the tavern, but from the first it was her tavern, not his. His record during his vigorous years is that of an active and honorable man and he was held in high esteem by the authorities in Massachusetts, as was also his wife.

There ought to be a marker placed on the brick block at the corner of Silver Street and Central Avenue, designating that as the spot where Christine Otis Baker kept a tavern.

The reason she had to petition the General Court to grant her a license to keep a public house is supposed to be that the Selectmen of the town refused to grant it because they favored the proprietors of the old Dover Hotel. You see, the officials of Dover one hundred and seventy years ago were not so much superior to those of the modern city; they were afraid Mrs. Baker would hurt the business of old resident. But the General Court gave her the required license and she kept a first class old-fashioned tavern.

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