The Hennikers visit Henniker: A descendant of namesake tours the town
A descendant of Sir John Henniker, namesake of the only town on Earth named Henniker, crossed the Atlantic from England to visit last week.
Henniker was the first stop on John and Mary Henniker-Major’s two-week tour of New England, which also will include visits to art galleries and a Bruce Springsteen concert.
The couple was interested to see the town after hearing about it from John Henniker-Major’s uncle – Lord John Henniker – who came in 1993 for the town’s 225th anniversary celebration. More than 20 years ago, Lord Henniker and his wife met with town residents and presented them with a portrait of the original Sir John Henniker, for which the town is named. In return, New England College gave him an honorary degree and the fire department inducted him as an honorary member.
“He loved it all,” said Mary Henniker-Major. “As far as we know he was the first Henniker ever to go there.”
Sir John Henniker, a London fur and leather merchant, never visited the town himself. A friend of his, the governor of the province of New Hampshire, John Wentworth, named the town Henniker in his honor in a 1768 order.
“It was quite a scheme,” John Henniker-Major said smiling. Since the official visit in 1993, a few other relatives have passed quietly through town, including the Henniker-Majors’ eldest daughter and niece.
On Wednesday, the Henniker-Majors flew into Boston and drove up to New Hampshire, to stay the first night of the trip at the Henniker House Bed and Breakfast.
In the morning, the couple had breakfast with Martha Taylor, a former president of the town’s historical society, and the innkeepers Kate Bartlet and Phil Ryan. Over a breakfast of quiche, fruit and muffins the group talked about the town’s history and the present.
The Henniker-Majors were surprised to hear that the town has a population of roughly 5,000 residents.
“We’re what some call a bedroom community,” Taylor explained in the dining room that overlooks the Contoocook River.
The Henniker-Majors live in a small, 300-person village in Leicestershire, right in the middle of the United Kingdom.
“I love village life,” Mary Henniker-Major said.
Taylor and Bartlet explained the history of the Shakers and Quakers in the region. Ryan talked about the river and wildlife, at one point pointing out a mink scurrying in some brush across the river. And the Henniker-Majors explained how their name morphed to include a hyphen. Several generations ago a Henniker son married a Major and took on her name, as well as her land. The new name stuck.
“It was nice they had some history about the family,” Taylor said.
“They were classic, gentle English folks. They were lovely,” Bartlet said after the gathering.
Before the couple hit the road, residents gave them a book on the town’s architecture and yards and then snapped several group photos in front of the Henniker House sign. Taylor also gave the couple a brief tour of the Henniker Historical Society Museum. She showed them the original town map, some of the first marriage certificates and made sure they signed the guest book.
John-Henniker Major said he was delighted to find Henniker is such a friendly place.
“When my children come, we will have to tell them where to visit,” said Mary Henniker-Major. The couple hopes to plan their next visit for fall.
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)