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An Old Town by the Sea 5

OLD STRAWBERRY BANK by TB Aldrich (continued)

SEE RELATED STORY

 

John Mason, who never resided in this country, but delegated the management of his plantation at Piscataqua and Newichewannock to stewards, died before realizing any appreciable return from his enterprise. He spared no endeavor meanwhile to further its prosperity. In 1632, three years before his death, Mason sent over from Denmark a number of neat cattle, "of a large breed and yellow colour." The herd thrived, and it is said that some of the stock is still extant on farms in the vicinity of Portsmouth. Those old first families had a kind of staying quality!

In May, 1653, the inhabitants of the settlement petitioned the General Court at Boston to grant them a definite township -- for the boundaries were doubtful-and the right to give it a proper name. "Whereas the name of this plantation att present being Strabery Banke, accidentally soe called, by reason of a banke where straberries was found in this place, now we humbly desire to have it called Portsmouth, being a name most suitable for this place, it being the river's mouth, and good as any in this land, and your petit'rs shall humbly pray," etc.

Throughout that formative period, and during the intermittent French wars, Portsmouth and the outlying districts were the scenes of many bloody Indian massacres. No portion of the New England colony suffered more. Famine, fire, pestilence, and war, each in its turn, and sometimes in conjunction, beleaguered the little stronghold, and threatened to wipe it out. But that was not to be.

The settlement flourished and increased in spite of all, and as soon as it had leisure to draw breath, it bethought itself of the school-house and the jail -- two incontestable signs of budding civilization. At a town meeting in 1662, it was ordered "that a cage be made or some other meanes invented by the selectmen to punish such as sleepe or take tobacco on the Lord's day out of the meetinge in the time of publique service." This salutary measure was not, for some reason, carried into effect until nine years later, when Captain John Pickering, who seems to have had as many professions as Michelangelo, undertook to construct a cage twelve feet square and seven feet high, with a pillory on top; "the said Pickering to make a good strong dore and make a substantiale payre of stooks and place the same in said cage." A spot conveniently near the west end of the meeting-house was selected as the site for this ingenious device. It is more than probable that "the said Pickering " indirectly furnished an occasional bird for his cage, for in 1672 we find him and one Edward Westwere authorized by the selectmen to "keepe houses of publique entertainment." He was a versatile individual, this John Pickering -- soldier, miller, moderator, carpenter, lawyer, and innkeeper. Michelangelo need not blush to be bracketed with him. In the course of a long and variegated career he never failed to act according to his lights, which he always kept well trimmed. That Captain Pickering subsequently became the grandfather, at several removes, of the present writer was no fault of the Captain's, and should not be laid up against him.

Continue OLD TOWN BY THE SEA

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