Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Reuben Shapley House

The Reuben Shapley House, sometimes called the Shapleigh House, is located at 420 Court Street, at the southeast corner of Court and Atkinson Streets, on the property of Strawbery Banke Museum. It is directly across Atkinson Street from the William Pitt Tavern.

Captain Reuben Shapley was a Portsmouth mariner, merchant, and shipbuilder born on the Isle of Shoals’ Star Island in 1750. He was married to Lydia Blaisdell Shapley, and they had one daughter, Nancy, who died in 1802 at the young age of 17.

In 1789, Captain Shapley purchased a three-story home next door to this house – a building that no longer exists – on the lot just east on Court Street. He subsequently bought this lot in 1790 and constructed either a workshop or a store here.
On the evening of August 13, 1811, a sailing ship owned by Captain Shapley, the Wonolanset, caught fire. According to Nathaniel Adams' 1825 book, Annals of Portsmouth, the ship “had arrived from sea about an hour before, laden with hemp, cotton, molasses, naval stores and flour, and lay at Shapley’s Wharf.” Although townspeople tried to extinguish the blaze, the fire persisted, and they were forced to cut the vessel loose and let it drift safely out into the river and away from other vulnerable ships and warehouses. Captain Shapley’s loss was estimated at $12,000.

By the year 1813, he had converted this workshop or store to the house that exists today. Captain Shapley died in 1825, but the house continued as part of his estate until 1831.
A devout member of St. John’s Parish, a marble tablet in the church in tribute to him reads:

“Whatever virtues could command respect and insure attachment were united in the character of this estimable man. Kind, liberal, and humane, his good deeds have erected a monument to his name more lasting than marble, and now that he rests from his labors his works do follow him.”

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