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Governor John Wentworth

Gov Wentworth by Copley


Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s last British leader did his best to keep peace, but John and Frances Wentworth had to flee. Royal Governor at the breaking point of the Revolution, Wentworth was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Despite his friendship with his citizens, Wentworth and his family were driven out of Portsmouth in 1775, never to see his homeland again.

READ: The Other Lady Wentworth

In 1778 as war raged in America, John Adams was in France attempting to obtain military and material aid for the infant United States. One May evening he left his box at a Paris theater. Suddenly, as he later wrote, "a Gentleman seized me by the hand. I looked at him.--Governor Wentworth, Sir, said the Gentleman.-- At first I was somewhat embarrassed, and knew not how to behave towards him. As my Classmate and Friend at College and ever since I could have pressed him to my Bosom, with the most cordial Affection. But we now belonged to two different War with each other and consequently We were Enemies."

John Wentworth / Nova Scotia Public History ArchiveAdams, aware that the French police were watching their every move and unsure of how to respond, was visibly relieved when Wentworth took the initiative and made small talk inquiring after his father and friends whom he had left behind in America. He then asked Adams about the health of Dr. Franklin and said he must come out to Passy to pay his respects. After Wentworth's visit several days later, Adams seemed pleased to be able to say of his old friend, "Not an indelicate expression to Us or our Country or our Ally escaped him. His whole behavior was that of an accomplished Gentleman."

John Adams was a man of volatile passions and maintained a bitter resentment against those Americans who had remained loyal to England. Yet here, in 1778, with the United States in the depths of a struggle for survival, Adams had kind words and an obvious warm feeling for exiled Governor John Wentworth of New Hampshire. Adams' reaction was not unusual, for John Wentworth engendered less ill-will among Americans than almost any other highly placed British official in the colonies. Yet, in spite of favorable sentiment, Wentworth could not avoid the decree of history and became one of the tragic figures of the American Revolution.

Among Portsmouth Royalty

Born in Portsmouth in 1737, John Wentworth came from New Hampshire's most politically prominent and powerful family. In 1751 at the age of fourteen John entered Harvard College, where he first met John Adams. Each class was ranked according to family social standing. Of twenty five members of the class of 1755, Wentworth was placed fifth; Adams, the son of a Braintree farmer, was fourteenth. Wentworth seemed to have little affection for Harvard and could not even generate enthusiasm for commencement, one of the few great regional holidays in New England. As his college days neared an end he wrote to a friend, "I shall promise myself the pleasure of your company to see me perform a number of ridiculous Ceremonies, which custom has rendered necessary if we intend to keep on good Terms with the World, & you know that is very necessary." With graduation out of the way, John returned to Portsmouth to work in the business of his father, Mark Hunking Wentworth, merchant, mast contractor and one of the wealthiest men in New Hampshire.

John Wentworth spent the next eight years establishing himself in Portsmouth's mercantile aristocracy. He had done so well by 1763 that when circumstances demanded the presence of someone in England to protect Wentworth family interests, he was chosen to go. John welcomed the opportunity, for it also provided a chance to round out his education. A trip to England was for young Colonial gentlemen the equivalent of the European "grand tour" enjoyed by sons of the English aristocracy.

In England, it was not long before John Wentworth made the acquaintance of Charles Watson-Wentworth, the second marquis of Rockingham, reportedly while betting on the noble man's horses at the racetrack. The two, who were distantly related, got along well and John soon became a frequent visitor at Wentworth-Wood house, Rockingham's country estate in Yorkshire.

As time went on, this friendship became increasingly important, not only for John but for the entire Wentworth family. When it became apparent that his aging uncle, Governor Benning Wentworth, was in trouble with the English government and about to be removed from office, John wrote a defense of his uncle's actions for Rockingham. As a result, the old governor was allowed to resign in dignity instead of being ignominiously dismissed.


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