Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wheelwright House

The Wheelwright House, once referred to as the John Clark House, is located on the northwest corner of Jefferson Street and Horse Lane and belongs to the Strawbery Bank Museum.

I am confused about the history of this house. The old photographs included in this article were taken in 1961 as part of an Historic American Building Survey (HABS) by the National Park Service, and are part of the Library of Congress's Online Digital Collections.

According to the HABS report, this house was built around 1750, and they refer to it as the John Clark House, named after a Portsmouth mariner.

Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African-American Heritage, a book by Mark J. Sammons and Valerie Cunningham, call this the Wheelwright House. They wrote that Jeremiah and Demaris Wheelwright moved to a previous home on this lot when Jefferson Street was known as Jose’s Lane. The Wheelrights lived here for a number of years with their children, John and Mary, and three slaves: Cato, Nero, and Jane. When Jeremiah died, John inherited the house and probably replaced it with the current structure around 1780.

According to Strawbery Banke Museum, John Wheelwright, like his father, was a Portsmouth mariner. Captain Wheelwright lived here with his wife, Martha, and two children, Elizabeth and Jack. He commanded the brig, Abigail, on eight voyages to the West Indies prior to the Revolutionary War. His ship was hauling lumber off the New Hampshire coast when the British Navy captured and confiscated it in September, 1775.

During the war, he served as a Second Lieutenant onboard the USS Raleigh, the ship that appears on the N.H. state seal, and he later commanded privateers out of Boston. He died at sea in 1784, a poor man whose house was sold at auction to pay his creditors. His wife and their children were forced to move out.

I do not know the connection between the Wheelwrights and Captain John Clark. It is possible that Clark was the person who purchased the home at auction from Captain John Wheelwright's estate.

1 comment:

  1. Make an appointment to visit the Strawbery Banke Museum library and ask to see Durrell's dissertation (John Durrell, I believe). It lists every owner of every lot in what is now the museum grounds, from the 17th century into the 20th century, including this plot where this house stands. The disseration may not be cataloged and shelved in the usual way; it may be in the file cabinets called the "House Files." There may also be a copy of the dissertation in the Portsmouth Athenaeum collection. There should also be, in the house files, a copy of a paper circa 1997 or 98 by a UNH college student that dissected the fate of Mrs. Wheelwright -- and to some degree the house -- upon Captain Wheelwright's death.
    There is also a probate itemization of all the items in the house at the time of Wheelwright's death. It hints that the house was almost but not quite finished, or just barely finished, habitable, but still piles of lumber in the street. The house was sold to pay debt. Abigail was given the legal right to use 1/3 of the house during her lifetime, in spite of the change of ownership. This was a typical protection of widows at the time, so typical that it appeared in many wills, and was encoded in law for those who died intestate. She sold that right for what must have been much-needed cash.
    I suspect you will find in the Durrell listing of lot owners that Clark was one in the sequence of owners of the lot, but I don't remember if he came before or after Wheelwright. It has been too long since I looked at these materials -- at least 17 years! -- so I can't remember the exact sequence and detail. If I were there, I'd happily look it up for you, but I now live 3,000 miles away. Nice collection of historic photos. Good luck! - Mark Sammons