The Wentworth name is synonymous with Colonial Portsmouth. William Wentworth, the first Wentworth to live in Portsmouth, is mentioned in Nathaniel Adams’ Annals of Portsmouth as a resident in 1629. His son, John Wentworth (not the one who resided here), was the first Wentworth to hold office. He served as Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of New Hampshire from 1717 until his death in 1730.
Lt.-Governor John Wentworth’s son, Benning Wentworth, served as New Hampshire’s Royal Governor and Surveyor of the Woods in North America from 1741 to 1767. Britain released Governor Benning Wentworth in 1767 because he was sympathetic to the patriot cause in America. To replace him, they appointed his nephew and Lt.-Governor John Wentworth’s grandson, John Wentworth.
The Governor John Wentworth mansion was constructed around 1763 for Portsmouth merchant Henry Appleton. The following year, Appleton sold the mansion to Mark Hunking Wentworth for 4000 pounds.
Mark H. Wentworth purchased the home for his son, the newly-appointed Royal Governor John Wentworth. The property included a parcel of land diagonally across Pleasant Street where the new governor kept a stable and coach house with sixteen exceptional horses.
Governor John Wentworth was in office when the Superior Court of New Hampshire found Ruth Blay guilty of concealing the birth of her illegitimate child. He could have pardoned her but did not, and she died on the gallows on December 30, 1768.
The following year, Governor Wentworth married his cousin, Francis Atkinson, at Queen’s Chapel (now St. John’s Church) on November 11, 1769. On December 13 of the same year, he chartered Dartmouth College and established the school in Hanover.
In 1771, Governor Wentworth authorized the construction of the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse off New Castle Island. He also divided New Hampshire into five counties, which he named after his British friends: Rockingham, Strafford, Grafton, Hillsboro, and Cheshire.
At this time, he appointed Captain John Fenton to the positions of Clerk of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and Judge of Probate for Grafton County. Fenton, a former captain in the British army, was a devoted Royalist who spoke heatedly against the American patriot movement. In 1775, patriot sympathizers chased him out of Grafton County.
He found temporary sanctuary at Governor John Wentworth’s mansion; however, when Portsmouth patriots found out, a mob formed in front of the governor’s house. They aimed a cannon at the front door and threatened to fire unless Captain Fenton surrendered to them. When Fenton did surrender, the mob broke in and ransacked the house.
Governor Wentworth and his household escaped through the back garden to Fort William and Mary and later to England.
John Wentworth was the last Royal Governor of the Province of New Hampshire. He became a Baronet in England, and the British government appointed him Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia in 1792. He died at Halifax in 1820.
The Governor John Wentworth Mansion is now named the Mark Wentworth Home and functions as a senior living community that provides Assisted Living.
Many Wentworth mansions still exist in Portsmouth, but a few have been lost:
- Benning Wentworth lived on Little Harbor, in the home now known as the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion.
- His brother, Mark Hunking Wentworth, lived in Thomas Daniel’s mansion on Daniel Street, where the old High School and City Hall are located today.
- Another brother, Hunking Wentworth, lived in a house beside the North Church, on the southwest corner of Congress and Church Streets, that has been demolished.
- John Wentworth, the son of Mark Hunking Wentworth, lived in this mansion on Pleasant Street.
- Thomas Wentworth, Governor John Wentworth’s brother, resided in the Wentworth-Gardner House on Mechanic Street.
- A seventh-generation Wentworth, Mark Hunking Wentworth, lived from 1813-1902 and owned the Captain Thomas Thompson home on Pleasant Street, next door to the Governor John Langdon mansion.