Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Francis House

The Francis House was “the second house from Middle Street on the east side of Union Street” in 1902. It no longer exists.

During the War of 1812, John Francis was a black crewman aboard a merchantman owned by Nathaniel A. and John Haven. On the ship’s homeward journey to Portsmouth after a successful voyage early in the war, the ship was captured by privateers sailing out of South Carolina or Georgia. When a prize crew boarded the ship, Francis agreed to help them sail the empty merchantman back to port. During the voyage, he managed to hide $15,000 of the cargo’s proceeds in a slush tub, a large bucket filled with animal grease that was used to ‘slush’ the masts. The money, an enormous amount for the early 1800s, consisted of sixty pounds of gold coins. When the ship reached land, the privateers allowed him to have the slush tub, not knowing that it contained a small fortune. Francis banked the money and returned it to the Haven family.

To thank John Francis for his service, John and Nathaniel A. Haven built the Francis House for him shortly after the War of 1812 ended. At the time, there were a number of free African-American homes clustered on Union Street, on the west side of Middle Street. He lived here for many years.

Nathaniel A. and John Haven were sons of Reverend Samuel Haven, a pastor of the South Church. Dr. Nathaniel Appleton Haven graduated from Harvard College in 1779 and became a physician. He was a surgeon in the navy during the Revolutionary War, became a merchant after hostilities ended, served as the first President of the Portsmouth Savings Bank, and was elected to Congress in 1809. John Haven was a shipmaster who partnered with his older brother, Nathaniel, to form the N. A. and J. Haven merchant company. They were successful and became enormously wealthy. Legacies of the Haven family include Haven Park, the Haven Block in Market Square, and the Haven School.

Charles W. Brewster, in Rambles About Portsmouth, wrote in 1859 that the Francis House was a “two-story dwelling on the east side of the street, numbered four from Middle Street.” The exact location of the house was in dispute by 1902. C. S. Gurney required the help of two elderly gentlemen, George W. Haven and Peter Emery, to locate it. When he published Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, he gave the following location for the Francis House:  “the second house from Middle Street on the east side of Union Street, next north of the stable, which was formerly a stocking factory.”

Gurney included the black-and-white photograph of the Francis House shown above. Based on several descriptions of the location, my best guest is that the house was located around 233-235 Union Avenue. The house currently in this location is somewhat similar, but I believe the original Francis House was demolished a number of years ago. 

1 comment:

  1. I live on the street and have done a bit of research on the addresses and building on that block of Union. In 1859, that house was numbered #4 Anthony Street. Union has been alternately Union and Anthony a couple of times between the early 19th century and 1872 when it was changed back to Union for the last time. So the modern photo would be correctly placed at the old #4 if you took a few steps to the left, more in front of the big brick building.