Sunday, May 26, 2013

Portsmouth's First 'Memorial Day'

Monday, April 28, 1783, must have been an amazing day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Residents awoke to the clanging of church bells all over town. The War of Independence was officially over, and America was free from their British overseers.


At six o’clock in the morning, thirteen cannons – one for each colony – fired a salute from Fort William and Mary (soon to be renamed Fort Constitution), Liberty Bridge (on Marcy Street over Puddle Dock near the Liberty Pole in Prescott Park), and from Church Hill (beside Queen’s Chapel, soon to be renamed St. John’s Church). HMS America, a 64-gun British warship in Portsmouth harbor, returned the salute.

Worship services were held at ten o’clock in the North Meetinghouse – the “Three Decker” – where the North Church is located today. Along with joyous singing by the church choir and the congregation, Reverend Doctor Haven, the leader of the South Parish, gave the sermon. He thanked God for the end of hostilities and for their newly-won independence. Reverend Buckminster, the North Parish’s minister, gave the closing prayer.

The President of the State of New Hampshire, Meshech Weare of Hampton Falls, and other government officials walked to the Parade (now called Market Square) at noon. From the balcony of the State House, surrounded by a joyful crowd of celebrants, the Sheriff of Rockingham read the proclamation of peace. That evening, there were celebratory banquets, a magnificent ball, and fireworks. Today, 230 years later, we still remember that 'Freedom is Not Free' and commemorate those who have given their lives for this country.

Friday, May 17, 2013

North Church

The North Church is in the center of Market Square, on the southeast corner of Market Square and Pleasant Street, opposite the Portsmouth Athenaeum.

Portsmouth residents built the first North Church, which also served as the town meetinghouse, at this location in 1712. The opening of this new building divided the congregation into two parishes: the South Parish, which had worshiped at the original location near the South Mill Bridge since 1671, and the North Parish, which began worshiping here.

The first North Church was affectionately known as the ‘Three Decker’ because it was three-stories high. Town meetings were held here until 1762. The parish remodeled the church in 1837, removing the third story at a cost of $5,828.29. They demolished the original church in 1854 and replaced it with the current North Church, which opened in 1855, for a cost of $30,000.

The weathervane atop the North Church steeple dates from 1732 but was not gilded until 1796. The first clock was mounted in the steeple around 1749 and replaced by a more modern timepiece in 1856. A bell that was first mounted in 1764 to signal a nine o’clock curfew rang news of the end of the Revolutionary War on April 28, 1783. In 1856, however, It was lost in a shipwreck during a voyage to England for refurbishment. The bell that replaced it, which can still be heard clanging the hour over Market Square, rang for thirty minutes on August 29, 1905, to herald the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the Russo-Japanese War. A major renovation of the North Church in 1890 added the memorial stained glass windows and the current organ.

The many famous worshipers included President George Washington, who attended services at the North Church during his visit to Portsmouth in 1789, and President James Monroe in 1817. Local parishioners have included General William Whipple, signer of the Declaration of Independence; Governor John Langdon, signer of the United States Constitution; Daniel Webster, the famous orator; and Captain John Paul Jones, who twice visited Portsmouth to supervise construction of his warships.

Twenty-one ministers have served this parish, including Reverends Nathaniel Rogers from 1699-1723, and Jabez Fitch from 1725-1746. Samuel Langdon was ordained in 1747 and left in 1774 to become President of Harvard College. Ezra Stiles succeeded him from 1777-1778, but then became the President of Yale. Joseph Buckminster served the North Church from 1779 until his death in 1812; Israel W. Putnam in 1815; Rufus Clark in 1842; and Lyman Whiting in 1855, the year the present North Church was dedicated.

The North Church of Portsmouth is now a United Church of Christ and has been served by the Reverend Dawn A. Shippee since 2000.

The old photograph above is from the Library of Congress's Online Digital Collection. Taken around 1907, it shows the North Church, Congress Street, and part of the Haven Block on the right.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

North Cemetery

The North Cemetery is on the west side of Maplewood Avenue, between the intersections with Vaughan Street and Raynes Avenue.

Portsmouth’s main burial ground during the early Colonial period was the Point of Graves, south of Mechanic Street near Prescott Park. The land was donated to the town by the Pickering family in 1671. Additionally, several families had private burial grounds, such as the Cottons' Burying Ground, which is now part of the South Cemetery.

Governor John Langdon, 1741-1819
In 1753, Portsmouth purchased an acre of land from Colonel John Hart for the sum of £150. Colonel Hart commanded New Hampshire’s provincial troops and died at the 1758 Siege of Louisburg. Located on the banks of the North Mill Pond, the new burial ground was expanded with the purchase of adjoining plots of land north and west of the original acre from Dr. William Cutter.

General William Whipple, 1730-1785
Many of the Revolutionary War-era residents are buried here, including patriot and New Hampshire Governor John Langdon who signed the U.S. Constitution; his wealthy brother, Judge Woodbury Langdon; General William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; Captain Thomas Thompson, who commanded the ship Raleigh, which appears on the New Hampshire State Seal; Dr. Hall Jackson, who tended the wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill; Sheriff Thomas Packer who hanged Ruth Blay in South Cemetery; and James Stoodly, owner of Stoodly’s Tavern.

Reverend Joseph Buckminster, pastor of the North Church from 1779-1812, is also buried here, as well as African slaves, including Prince Whipple and his daughter, Esther Whipple Mullinaux.

Judge Woodbury Langdon, 1739-1805
The northern area of North Cemetery was established in 1844 and is known as Union Cemetery. Prominent residents include George Raynes, who built fifty-three merchant ships across the street from the cemetery, and the grandparents of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, who wrote about his days living with them in Portsmouth in his book, The Story of a Bad Boy.

The vintage photograph above is the oldest I can find, from C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. I have been unable to verify its exact location, probably because some gravestones have aged, been moved, or fallen. Both photographs are of the original North Cemetery, with the railroad tracks bordering on the left.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Episcopal Chapel

The Episcopal Chapel, also known as St. John's Chapel, stood on the south side of State Street, just west of the former Rectory of St. John’s Parish, between Pleasant and Penhallow Streets.

Reverend John Emerson, controversial leader of the South Church from 1715 until his death in 1732, lived in a home on this lot. Jacob Sheafe then purchased the property and moved here from Newcastle. Later, Sheafe built a larger mansion for his family across the street, where the Rockingham County Court House once stood. 

The Great Portsmouth Fire of 1813 destroyed both buildings.

John Fisher Sheafe, a descendant of Jacob Sheafe, donated the land to the parish of St. John's Church. In 1832, a master builder named William Tucker constructed an Episcopal Chapel here using a Greek Revival design chosen by Reverend Dr. Charles Burroughs. Reverend Burroughs was minister of St. John’s Church from 1812 until 1857 and lived in the Governor John Langdon House on Pleasant Street.

The Brattle Organ that is now in St. John’s Church, probably the first pipe organ in America, made its Portsmouth debut in this chapel. It was built by John Preston of York, England around 1708. The name is derived from its original owner, Thomas Brattle, who donated the organ to King’s Chapel of Boston, where it remained until 1756. After entertaining the congregation of St. Paul’s Church in Newburyport for eighty years, the Brattle Organ was purchased by Rev. Burroughs for $450 in 1836. Portsmouth has been its home ever since, except for a brief stint at a Boston musical exhibition in December, 1901.

The vintage photograph above was taken from C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. The location is now retail space, currently occupied by Orange Leaf frozen yogurt and the Canine Cupboard, purveyor of gourmet dog treats.

My recent photograph to the right shows the St. John's Rectory building today, with "Schoolhouse Hill" on the left where the Old Brick Schoolhouse once stood, and what remains of the hill on the right, where the Episcopal Chapel was constructed.