SeacoastNH Home

Seacoast New Hampshire
& South Coast Maine

facebook logo

facebook logo

SEE ALL SIGNED BOOKS by J. Dennis Robinson click here
The Devil With Jonathan Moulton


Moulton House in mid-20th century tourism brochure /

Indeed Jonathan Moulton has been so completely consumed by tabloid folklore that it's hard to imagine him outside the context of a Halloween campfire tale. His second house, restored at the turn of the century and privately owned, still stands in Hampton. The Moulton legends were so strong after his death, that the next owner had the building officially exorcised by clergymen. It stood abandoned through much of the 19th century and was known to locals as "the haunted house."

The historical Jonathan Moulton, for the record, seems more heroic than devilish. He was descended directly from the colonial settlers of Hampton. He spent his entire childhood as an indentured worker, and purchased his own freedom. The flesh and blood Moulton marched hundreds of miles to fight with Yankee forces in the siege on Louisbourg, Nova Scotia in 1745 and fought at Saratoga. Like wealthy John Langdon of Portsmouth, Moulton organized the raid of Fort William and Mary, served on the Committee of Safety, at the Continental Congress and held office consistently in state government. Moulton owned mills, a store and lots and lots of land. When George Washington visited the Seacoast two years after Moulton's death, according to Hampton legend, the President made a point of stopping to see the house of his former general. Moulton was one of the country's first big real estate speculators, turning ten's of thousands of acres of Lake Region land into New Hampshire towns in what is today the Moultonborough area.

Why this Revolutionary War hero should be singled out for public disgrace remains a mystery, but we can tease out a few likely reasons. Moulton apparently reached too far when he and a business partner negotiated salvage rights to a beached British ship that was loaded with salable goods. Whether they paid off the pilot who wrecked the vessel is unknown. (When he returned to England two decades later, the ship captain was reportedly drawn and quartered.) Poor Hampton citizens apparently rushed to claim items from the wrecked ship, but Moulton rigidly enforced his right to keep all the booty. This act apparently alienated locals who were forced to give up what they had taken from the wrecked ship. Angry Hampton citizens are dangerous as the elderly Goody Cole found out a century earlier when she was declared a witch, then jailed and stoned to death by locals. Moulton was also highly litigious and never missed a chance to sue for money he believed was due him. That ticked people off too. The lesson? Be careful who you step on as you climb the ladder of wealth and political success.

The second lesson of Moulton’s demise offers a warning to future millionaires and leaders -- don't suck up to the wrong people. With the American Revolution in the wind, most locals were not terribly fond of wealthy British Governor Benning Wentworth of Portsmouth. Moulton, however, curried his royal favor, naming his fifth son Benning. In another grand gesture, Moulton marched his fattest ox all the way to Portsmouth as a gift to the governor. The 1,400-pound beast, draped in flowers, led by slaves and wearing a flag between his horns could not have been missed by the jealous locals. In return Moulton got an additional 18,000 acres of land near Moultonborough. A recent granite memorial was erected to Moulton at Hampton's Pine grove Cemetery, but his remains remain missing.

Thirdly, don't flaunt it. Moulton's Hampton mansion was the most amazing house in town. It was reportedly the first of its kind in the region decorated with costly white paint, imported from Britain. Amazingly, after toadying up to the English royal governor, Moulton managed to become a dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary. He was among the first to sign a patriotic loyalty oath and fought with distinction in the American Revolution. Yet he is the only high-ranking NH war hero of that era whose grave site remains unknown. It is assumed he was buried near his first wife Abigail, in a field that was later plowed up by farmers and covered with a railroad track.

A final lesson -- honor the dead. When Abigail Moulton died of smallpox after nursing local victims of the disease, she was buried not far from the mansion. Legend says her husband neglected to raise a tombstone in her honor, and turned her considerable jewelry collection over to his second wife. Although Moulton was just 14 years older than Sarah, poet Whittier exaggerated her youth and his age in the famous poem. Considering that Gov. Benning Wentworth was 40 years older than his second wife, Moulton’s indiscretion seems forgivable – but not for the good folks of Hampton.

The Yankee message, drawn from its medieval English heritage, is inevitably the same. Life, like the seasons, should be an exercise in balance. Don't get too cocky, too happy, too rich, too lucky. If you do, the neighbors will gossip, the poets will write and the historians will get the facts wrong. Then the townsfolk will bury you without even a tombstone -- and the devil will have his due.

Copyright © 2006 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.

Much more on Jonathan Moulton of Hampton 

Please visit these ad partners.

News about Portsmouth from

Sunday, December 17, 2017 
Please update your Flash Player to view content.
Please update your Flash Player to view content.
Please update your Flash Player to view content.

Copyright ® 1996-2016 All rights reserved. Privacy Statement
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Site maintained by ad-cetera graphics