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How Harvard Helped Portsmouth and Vice Versa

Six years after the first Strawberry Bank settler arrived on the Piscataqua River, Harvard College was born. The two colonial experiments strugged along together in the New World, growing up and sharing the wealth. Then the Portsmouth economcy flagged and faded as the elite Boston school hit its stride. But that wasn’t the end of their connection. (Read full article below)


My father went through Harvard. Or at least, that’s what he told us kids. We knew it was a gag. It was cheaper to get into Heaven than Harvard back then, and at $55,000 per year today, little has changed.

To be precise, my dad walked from one side of the Cambridge campus to the other one afternoon. Then he enlisted in the Marines right out of high school and fought at Iwo Jima in World War II. He’s 88 this week and still sticking to his Harvard story.

In my father’s footsteps, I lectured to Harvard students last week. To be precise I spoke to the Harvard Club of New Hampshire. These august alums meet annually. This year they gathered on the Seacoast and invited me to give the keynote address. I was surprised to discover how often the histories of Portsmouth and Harvard overlap.

Crimson vs Big Green

Nathaniel Adams mentions Harvard 34 times in his Annals of Portsmouth (1825), the earliest written history of the Port City. Adams graduated from Dartmouth, so it is fair to assume that his first reference to the nation’s oldest college contains a whiff of sarcasm. It reads:

"On the second of June (1638) there was a severe shock of an earthquake. It appeared at first like distant thunder; as the sound approached the earth began to tremble and with so much violence as to throw down dishes and plates which stood upon the shelves. Many were afraid that their houses would fall. Harvard College may date its origin from this year."

Ivy League rivalries never die. When I mentioned to my Harvard hosts that I had previously spoken to the Dartmouth Alumni Club, one of them quipped, "We’re exactly the same, except that our group will understand the jokes."

In fact, it was Portsmouth-born John Wentworth who helped found Dartmouth College in 1769. John Wentworth held both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard, but that didn’t save him from the American Revolution. Five years after kick-starting Dartmouth, New Hampshire’s last royal governor was kicked out of the country, never to return.

His predecessor, Gov. Benning Wentworth (Class of 1715), was quite the party animal. According to an article in Harvard Magazine, "Wentworth evidently stood out mainly for his high spirits; he set a college record of fines for broken windows and other damage consequent upon undergraduate hell-raising." Wentworth must have learned something from his alma mater. He went on to become one of the richest men in New England. His rambling 1760s mansion still stands at Little Harbor.

HARVARD IN NH continued  

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Thursday, January 18, 2018 
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