Artist's Rendition of Early Settlers Facing Danger on Bear
Reprinted from Bear Island
Reflections published by the Bear Island Conservation
The second largest of Lake Winnipesaukee's
274 islands. Bear Island is situated within the town of
Meredith, New Hampshire, less than half a mile from mainland
at its nearest point, but not connected by any bridge.
Nearly three miles long and up to three-quarters of a
mile wide, it is part of lands granted by England to John
Mason as early as 1622. Though it does not have an Indian name as do many places
in the area. Bear Island is believed to be the only island
in Lake Winnipesaukee with a name suggested by Indians.
The story of how Bear Island got its name comes from an
early Boston Globe article, which recounts reminiscences
of James Hersey, the man delegated to officially survey
and name the islands granted to Governor John Wentworth
and those associated with him before the Revolutionary
Having completed the survey of the Wentworth Islands the
previous Fall, Hersey, five other men and a few Penacook
Indian assistants were employed to survey and name that
which has since been known as Big Bear Island, and embarked
on that undertaking early in 1772 before the snow and
ice had disappeared. The North half of the island had
been granted to Theodore Atkins and the South half to
Crossing on the ice the narrow channel that separates
the island from Meredith Neck, they worked southward and
deliberated upon an appropriate name. Very soon the dogs
gave unmistakable signs of the proximity of wild game
and the Indian assistants in the lead began to exclaim
"Big Bar!" "Yes, that's a good name,"
the surveyors agreed, so "Big Bear" was adopted
then and there as the name of the island. Excitement became
more intense and the Indians began to call out, "Much
bar! Much bar!"
Investigation disclosed not only one but several bears
being chased by the dogs. The bears had been routed out
of the vicinity of the old "Carry," where they
had probably been feeding on scraps of food left by Indians
or trappers, and were now treed on a point of land a little
to the westward. Evidently they had tried to escape across
the ice to the mainland. The men, after a hard winter,
were hungry for bear meat and there was no hesitation
in going after the bears. Just awakened from their Winter's
nap the bears might be expected to be hungry, too, and
in good fighting trim.
It was found that there were four full-grown bears in
the group and just half that number of guns in the party.
Each of the surveyors, however, was armed with a hunting
knife. The Indians were loathe to participate in the prospective
fight and retired to a safe distance. The presence of
the dogs was sufficient to keep the bears treed under
ordinary circumstances, but if wounded it was realized
they would likely come down and fight. So the six men
laid their plans carefully. Each of the men with guns
selected his bear, and all fired simultaneously.