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An Old Town by the Sea 4

A STROLL ABOUT TOWN by TB Aldrich (continued)

Gov Wentworth Mansion, Portsmouth, NH / SeacoastNH.com

The house is an architectural freak. The main building -- if it is the main building -- is generally two stories in height, with irregular wings forming three sides of a square which opens on the water. It is, in brief, a cluster of whimsical extensions that look as if they had been built at different periods, which I believe was not the case. The mansion was completed in 1750. It originally contained fifty-two rooms; a portion of the structure was removed about half a century ago, leaving forty-five apartments. The chambers were connected in the oddest manner, by unexpected steps leading up or down, and capricious little passages that seem to have been the unhappy after thoughts of the architect. But it is a mansion on a grand scale, and with a grand air. The cellar was arranged for the stabling of a troop of thirty horse in times of danger.

The council-chamber, where for many years all questions of vital importance to the State were discussed, is a spacious, high-studded room, finished in the richest style of the last century. It is said that the ornamentation of the huge mantel, carved with knife and chisel, cost the workman a year's constant labor. At the entrance to the council chamber are still the racks for the twelve muskets of the governor's guard -- so long ago dismissed!

Some valuable family portraits adorn the walls here, among which is a fine painting -- yes, by our friend Copley -- of the lovely Dorothy Quincy, who married John Hancock, and afterward became Madam Scott. This lady was a niece of Dr. Holmes's "Dorothy Q." Opening on the council-chamber is a large billiard-room; the billiard-table is gone, but an ancient spinnet, with the prim air of an ancient maiden lady, and of a wheezy voice, is there; and in one corner stands a claw-footed buffet, near which the imaginative nostril may still detect a faint and tantalizing odor of colonial punch. Opening also on the council-chamber are several tiny apartments, empty and silent now, in which many a close rubber has been played by illustrious hands. The stillness and loneliness of the old house seem saddest here. The jeweled fingers are dust, the merry laughs have turned themselves into silent, sorrowful phantoms, stealing from chamber to chamber. It is easy to believe in the traditional ghost that haunts the place --

"A jolly plaee in times of old,

But something ails it now !"

The mansion at Little Harbor is not the only historic house that bears the name of Wentworth. On Pleasant Street, at the head of Washington Street, stands the abode of another colonial worthy, Governor John Wentworth, who held office from 1767 down to the moment when the colonies dropped the British yoke as if it had been the letter H. For the moment the good gentleman's occupation was gone. He was a royalist of the most florid complexion. In 1775, a man named John Fenton, an ex-captain in the British army, who had managed to offend the Sons of Liberty, was given sanctuary in this house by the governor, who refused to deliver the fugitive to the people. The mob planted a small cannon (unloaded) in front of the doorstep and threatened to open fire if Fenton were not forthcoming. He forthwith came. The family vacated the premises via the back-yard, and the mob entered, doing considerable damage. The broken marble chimney-piece still remains, mutely protesting against the uncalled-for violence. Shortly after this event the governor made his way to England, where his loyalty was rewarded first with a governorship and then with a pension of L500. He was governor of Nova Scotia from 1792 to 1800, and died in Halifax in 1820. This house is one of the handsomest old dwellings in the town, and promises to outlive many of its newest neighbors. The parlor has undergone no change whatever since the populace rushed into it over a century ago. The furniture and adornments occupy their original positions, and the plush on the walls has not been replaced by other hangings. In the hall -- deep enough for the traditional duel of baronial romance - are full-length portraits of the several governors and sundry of their kinsfolk.

There is yet a third Wentworth house, also decorated with the shade of a colonial governor - there were three Governors Wentworth - but we shall pass it by, though out of no lack of respect for that high official personage whose commission was signed by Joseph Addison, Esq., Secretary of State under George I.

CONTINUE ON TO CHAPTER FIVE

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