The Sheafe Warehouse was built in the early 1700s, probably around 1740 but possibly as early as 1705, by Sampson Sheafe. The problem for the historian is deciding which Sampson Sheafe built it.
The first Sampson Sheafe was born in London in 1646 and was a merchant and landowner. He moved to Great Island (Newcastle) around 1693. He was the first of many Seacoast N.H. Sheafes, one of the most significant families in Portsmouth history. The original Sampson was a deputy collector of customs. In 1698, he was named Clerk of the Superior Court, a member of His Majesty’s Council, and Secretary of the province. In 1711, he was Commissary of the New England military forces during an ill-fated expeditionary force against Quebec. He died in 1725.
The first Sampson Sheafe had five children and named one of his sons Sampson. The second Sampson Sheafe was born on Great Island (Newcastle) in 1683 and graduated from Harvard in 1702. Like his father, he was a merchant involved in the fishery business and the West India trade. This Sampson Sheafe was appointed a member of His Majesty’s Council in 1740 and served until 1761. He would have been fifty-seven years old in 1740 and is likely the Sampson Sheafe who built the Sheafe Warehouse. He died around 1772.
The second Sampson Sheafe had ten children, and he named his second son, (what else?) Sampson Sheafe. The third Sampson Sheafe was born in 1713. He would have been twenty-six years old when the Sheafe Warehouse was constructed, so he may have been the builder.
The third Sampson Sheafe had two children during his lifetime: a girl named Mary Sheafe and a boy named (you guessed it!) Sampson Sheafe, probably born in 1750. The fourth Sampson Sheafe had one son named (wrong!) Samuel Sheafe. There are an amazing number of texts and records about Portsmouth’s early history; unfortunately, they do not distinguish between the Sampson Sheafes by adding Roman numerals at the end of their names.
The old photographs of the dilapidated Sheafe Warehouse on this page are from the Library of Congress and were taken in 1935, before the structure was moved to Prescott Park.
Whichever Sampson Sheafe built the Sheafe Warehouse, the original location was on a pier opposite the corner of Mechanic Street and the Pierce Island Road. It faced north in the old location but today faces east. The second floor overhangs the river for easier loading and unloading of small merchant ships, like the gundalow that is often docked nearby. Historians believe that the U.S.S. Ranger, a sloop-of-war built at John Langdon’s Portsmouth shipyard and commanded by Captain John Paul Jones, was probably equipped at the Sheafe Warehouse in 1777.
The Sheafe Warehouse in Prescott Park is sometimes confused with a Sheafe Wharf that stood on the waterfront opposite the east end of Deer Street. Thomas Sheafe, the grandson of the second Sampson Sheafe, owned this wharf, and it is best known as the origin of a yellow fever epidemic of 1798.
Here is a fact that may only interest me:
Sheafe Wharf is my 100th posting to
the WalkPortsmouth blog!