When our ancestors traveled the Merrimack River and explored north, they finally arrived in Pennycook in 1727. The original colonists built primitive structures and lived with fear as they progressed with their settlement. There were crude structures built in our town, always within near distance to a garrison for safety. They feared the Native Americans; they feared the long cold New Hampshire winter; and they feared starvation and the basic comforts. Each year saw Pennycook grow as new settlers arrived and the name was changed to Rumford in 1733.
With the arrival of new people, there were opportunities for early shopkeepers to sell goods, mills were established with waterpower along the brooks, streams and rivers to saw wood and process grains to make nutritional foods. With food, safety in numbers and the power to saw the harvested timbers the community witnessed more building. Livestock grew and barns were needed. In 1765, the town of Rumford was renamed Concord and the growth continued.
With the further development of this primitive commerce, there was a flourish of activity when blacksmiths, cobblers, tavern keepers and others arrived. Our ancestors realized the need to work together to accomplish the basic objectives needed to survive so they helped one another with shelters, farming and protection. With farms providing the livelihood to many, there was a need for additional dwellings and to build barns to provide shelter for livestock, feed and farm implements.
As the 18th century progressed, the town of Concord continued to see many community barn raisings where the people would gather and build a barn in a very short period to help neighbors. The men would work long hours and the work would continue for days until the structure was completed. At the conclusion of the construction of these early barns there were many festivities as the people of Concord celebrated with many types of food and lots of spirits. They were celebrating the completion of each barn as well as interacting in this highly social activity. The winter in Concord was long, cold and very lonely during this period. When the opportunity to socialize at a barn raising was available the participation was enjoyed by all
When you bring many young men together in a social setting such as a barn raising, add food and plenty of spirits, there is much rivalry. It was in jest and good-hearted, but rivalry is rivalry. Competition was keen at the barn raising and fueled by one another. The celebrations and rivalry led to structured bouts of wrestling with each barn raising. Soon every community had a local wrestling champion to boast.
Wrestling was popular sport that grew in popularity during this colonial period of American history. Our ancestors arrived in America and found that the art of wrestling already existed with the native inhabitants, though techniques certainly varied depending on the location. Some of our forefathers participated in wrestling as a sport at a very young age and continued into adulthood. At the age of 18, George Washington held a “collar and elbow” wrestling championship countywide. Washington embraced the sport of wrestling for decades. It is said that he was still wrestling at the age of 47, just ten years before he became president. While commander of the Continental Army, he was known to have defeated several consecutive challengers from the Massachusetts Volunteers.
Abraham Lincoln was known as the wrestling champion from his county in Illinois as early as 1830. Lincoln was very strong from working in the fields and with a height of 6’ 4” proved to be a very imposing competitor in the sport. History states that Lincoln only lost one wrestling match while serving as captain of a group of Illinois Volunteers. Lincoln preferred the “free for all” style of wrestling as opposed to the more structured “collar and elbow.” Lincoln practiced his wrestling techniques, very close to hand-to-hand combat, well into adulthood and was known as one of the roughest and toughest wrestling presidents.
Many additional United States presidents also participated in the sport of wrestling. Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and Chester Arthur all enjoyed the sport. In later years both Howard Taft and Calvin Coolidge were also avid fans and participants in the sport.
The sport of wrestling has enjoyed peak periods of popularity as well, such was the case in the 1950s when wrestling publications became popular and widely read by the young. It was not until the late 1970s that the United States participated in World Championships and Olympic Games. This participation certainly added to the respect the sport commands today.
The next time you are fortunate to be a Concord High School wrestling event spectator take a few moments to reflect. You are viewing a wonderful sport just like your ancestors did centuries before you. Our forefathers not only admired the sport of wrestling, they participated on every level.
Wrestling brought our forefathers together and replaced fear with comfort. Perhaps the long New Hampshire winters, starvation and Native American aggression could be put aside for a day and replaced with competitive local wrestling champions, fine food, spirits and companionship on a cold winter’s night in Concord.