SeacoastNH Home

Seacoast New Hampshire
& South Coast Maine

facebook logo

facebook logo

SEE ALL SIGNED BOOKS by J. Dennis Robinson click here
Portsmouth Builds Rare HMS America in 1749


HMS America model in 1963 

The Smithsonian connection

In 1820 the newly formed Portsmouth Athenaeum put out a call for local curiosities to add to its planned museum. John Langdon's daughter Elizabeth Langdon Elwyn donated the model, making it the first item in the collection.

Noted maritime historian Howard I. Chapelle was head of the Transportation Division of the Smithsonian Museum In Washington D.C when he learned of the Portsmouth model. Obsessive about details, Chapelle wanted to measure the precise dimensions or "take the lines" of the model for one of this many history books on American sailing ships.

Chapelle made a deal with the Athenaeum in 1963. In exchange for borrowing the model, the Smithsonian would make repairs to the aging artifact, then over 200 years old. John Knowles, a Smithsonian technician, packed the HMS America model in foam rubber and drove it off to Washington.

"If I have to stop at a motel on the way back," Knowles told the Portsmouth Herald in 1963, "I'd better get one with twin beds, and put her in the other."  Three years later Knowles returned the model in significantly better shape. His repairs made half a century ago are clearly visible on the model today.

After being studied and showcased in an exhibit in 2014, the HMS America has been returned to its  humble position in the downstairs reading room where only Athenaeum proprietors and special guests have access. Athenaeum curator Elizabeth Aykroyd has seen to it that the 265-year old artifact now rests on a new beautifully-crafted wooden table.

"Perhaps now that we know more about it," says Portsmouth Athenaeum Keeper Tom Hardiman, "we will appreciate the first artifact in our collection more than ever."


Copyright © 2014 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site He is the author of 11 books including UNDER THE ISLES OF SHOALS. 


Please visit these ad partners.

News about Portsmouth from

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 
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