Nomadic Abenaki tribes were the first settlers in the area, thriving on bountiful streams and forests, where they survived on fish, venison, turkey and other wild fowl, along with corn, squash, pumpkin and wild fruits and berries. Indigenous place names live on in the state, while the Abenaki themselves do not. The Europeans scouted the area in the early 1600s and first settled (around present-day Durham) in 1631. The economy of the early royal colony was based on timber and shipbuilding, with settlements largely confined to the coast until after the French and Indian Wars.
New Hampshire was among the earliest colonies (along with Rhode Island) to declare its independence, and it was the first to establish its own government. It contributed substantial troops to both the American Revolution and the Civil War. Following the latter, New Hampshire’s economy leaned toward industrial production, with a steady influx of immigrants (largely from Québec and Ireland) and a boom in textile manufacturing. In 1915 it boasted of having the largest producing textile mills in the world. As the local economy grew the forests shrank, with large tracts of woodlands channeling through the sawmills. Luckily, in 1911 the first of the conservation laws was passed, eventually leading to the creation of the vast White Mountain National Forest.
Manufacturing continued apace until the Great Depression dealt the deathblow and the state began the slow process of diversifying its economy. Since the 1980s the local economy has flourished, with an influx of high-tech and financial firms.
Today New Hampshire is known for the angst it brings to hopeful presidential contenders. Every four years – as it did in 2008 – the state hosts the country’s first primary election (both Democratic and Republican). Since candidates who do poorly in New Hampshire usually quit, this gives the tiny state an enormous role in deciding who will rule the world’s richest country – a role most Hampshirians rather enjoy.