The Lost Jaffreys Come Home at Last
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
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They were welcomed back as royalty. Dozens of Portsmouth Athenaeum proprietors raised a wine glass last month to toast the return of George and Clementina Jaffrey, a hip young Portsmouth couple of the early 1800s. (Continued below)
The Jaffreys have returned in spirit, not in the flesh. Their handsome portraits now hang among historic artifacts in the old Reading Room of the Athenaeum in market Square, just inside the magnificent arched doorway and between the two upturned cannon.
George Jaffrey IV was a founder and early librarian of the Athenaeum and the last of his name in what had been a prominent Portsmouth family. In a rare move, the ancient membership library obtained the Jaffrey portraits for $15,000 with contributions from members. The Jaffrey story, all but forgotten, still rumbles just beneath the surface of the city we know today.
The Jaffrey lineage
There were four George Jaffreys in all, spanning over two centuries of Portsmouth history from 1667 to 1856. George I (b. 1638) moved from Newbury, MA via Boston to Great Island, where he and others successfully agitated to separate the parish from Portsmouth and create the town of New Castle in 1693. George II (b. 1682) attended Harvard, became a Portsmouth merchant, and also served in the Provincial government. He built the family mansion on Daniel Street behind where the post office now stands. His wife Sarah Jeffries Jaffrey gave birth to George III (b. 1716). When Sarah died, George II married Sarah Wentworth MacPhaedris, sister to the New Hampshire royal governor Benning Wentworth. George’s daughters also married in to the wealthy Wentworth oligarchy cementing a powerful bond.
The third George Jaffrey was also a merchant, a member of the Governor’s Executive Council, and a wealthy land speculator in the growing NH province. The town of Jaffrey is named for him. George lived a swinging bachelor’s life into his 40s. He was briefly and unhappily married, and left no heirs. George III was among the effete upper crust of Portsmouth as the American Revolution loomed. After Independence, according to historian Bruce Ingmire, George III still dressed in his flowing burgundy cape, red velvet cap, and high-heeled buckled pumps -- a walking symbol of the corrupt British regime recently ousted. The aging royalist considered leaving his fortune to a number of Portsmouth men, including Joshua Wentworth (whose privy was recently discovered under the new luxury apartments at Portwalk on Hanover Street.) But George did not like the young man’s fervent patriotic politics. Ignoring locals who named their children “George Jaffrey” in hopes of currying his favor, he gave his estate to a grand-nephew from Boston.
CONTINUE JAFFREY STORY
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