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Memoir of a Clever New England Girl

Charlotte Haven of Portsmouth, NH ?

In an unfinished memoir dictated in her dying days, Charlotte Haven (1819 –1900) of California told of growing up in Yankee society in Portsmouth, NH. Selections from her revealing, but brief autobiography are published here for the first time courtesy of Ruth Given.


Memoirs from the early days of Portsmouth are rare. Rarer still are the recorded lives of women, especially talented writers like Charlotte Ann Haven. Charlotte moved to Wisconsin in the 1850s to join a utopian community. Years earlier, she met Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, and recorded her impressions.

Charlotte made her way to California soon after the Gold Rush days, and just before her death in 1900, she dictated a few precious pages of her early memories to her daughter. Ruth Given of California, a descendant, sent me a transcript after she saw one of my Portsmouth history articles online. Bursting with enthusiasm and detail, this 37-page memoir has never been published – until now. Here are a few samples.

A Shaefe Haven

Charlotte Haven was born in 1819 in a house on Vaughan Street previously occupied by a young Daniel Webster and his wife. Across the narrow street was the ornate Assembly Rooms that 30 years earlier George Washington had called "one of the best I have seen anywhere in the United States." In fact, before dining there with the "very handsome ladies" of Portsmouth in 1789, Washington visited privately with Rev. Samuel Haven, Charlotte’s grandfather. She was also descended from the Shaefe family whose ancient warehouse still stands in Prescott Park.

The grand Assembly House is gone, and Vaughan Street fell to urban renewal in the 20th century. But back in the early 1800s, Charlotte’s mother recalled watching the fancy parties and dancing classes across Vaughan Street from an upper window. Charlotte’s brother Henderson, according to family legend, "would take a huge fan that my father brought back with him from the East Indies and pace on the top of the house fanning himself, to the great amusement of the people attending the dancing school."

Soon after her birth, Charlotte’s family moved to the expanding residential neighborhood on Middle Street. Her wealthy uncle Charles Haven owned a three-story house with 17 rooms, a brick carriage house, two "water closets" and 10 storage closets, some as big as bedrooms. The parlor contained a Russian fireplace – "an indescribable affair of soap-stone, eighteen feet by fifteen feet". Candles were the primary lighting source. Silver and green paper imported from France covered the walls and a Grecian window opened and led down to the garden. Charlotte, the seventh of 12 children, lived here until she migrated West.


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