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Seeking the Frances in Francestown

 

The Governor’s Lady

I then studied the history of Francestown published in 1895, reviewed several Web sites and read Thomas Raddall’s novel, The Governor’s Lady. All cite the alleged hanky-panky between Frances and John prior to Atkinson’s death. This speculation also inspired a poem written by Nora Perry in 1875. Perry wonders in verse why the two didn’t wait the traditional year and a day for mourning. Their hasty marriage and the birth of their son John seven months later cinches Frances’ infidelity in the minds of many. No one in that era appears to have questioned the equally inappropriate actions of the royal governor. John blamed the brief timing of the marriage on his parents and explained away the birth as premature, the result of Frances being frightened by a dog.

govlady.jpgFrances Deering Wentworth, of the Boston Wentworth’s, first met John when he was attending Harvard. She was a young girl and their early friendship may have culminated in marriage sooner had John not gone back to Portsmouth after graduation to learn the family business. He then sailed off to England to make his way into formal society and to protect Wentworth financial interests. Family obligations required him to stay in England for several years.

According to Historical Biographies of Nova Scotia: "Frances, probably to force the issue of marriage to John, engaged herself to their mutual cousin, Theodore Atkinson, and when John sailed off to England, Frances married Theodore."

After several years of building friendships withthe British aristocracy, John returned to New Hampshire to become the royal governor, replacing his Uncle Benning Wentworth, who had lost favor. John married Frances soon after his return. She became the First Lady of the colony of New Hampshire and soon afterwards Francestown was named in her honor on June 8, 1772. Also the town of Deering was incorporated on January 17, 1774 and named after the Governor’s Lady. Towns named Wentworth and Atkinson were already incorporated by former governor Benning Wentworth. (As a footnote, the town of Bennington that borders Francestown and Deering is named for the Battle of Bennington in the American Revolution, not the provincial governor.)

In 1891, historian Reverend Cochrane wrote: "It was said that the Governor had long been ‘flirting with her, and that when Atkinson died, she came to the door and waved her handkerchief to let him know of the sad event!’ Of course he would wish to perpetuate her beautiful name! … But though she never saw the towns that bear her name, it will be preserved by them till the mountains fall asunder."

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