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State Street Before the 1813 Fire

Ramble 124, State Street before the 1813 Fire / SeacoastNH.comBREWSTER’S RAMBLES #124

Modern merchants of State Street in Portsmouth, NH may be amnused to see how different the shops were at the turn of the 19th century. A portrait painter, a tea shop, a goldsmith – hey, that’s not very different. But it was all wiped away one Christmas when a raging fire blasted the city.




Early Shops of Portsmouth, NH
ABOUT Charles Brewster 

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values. -- JDR

Central Portsmouth before the Fire of 1813 -- North side of Buck street
FOR MORE READ: The Three Fires of Christmas  

On the north side of State street we have progressed from the river to Mulberry street, and we will continue our route west. Next to Rousselet's premises came the bake-house of Silas Hunt, at the time of the fire occupied by Robert Yeaton. This location still remains a bakery, owned by George W. Plumer. Next was the dwelling house and grocery of Nathaniel Marshall, owned at the time of the fire by Robert Eaton.

BrewsterThe next was a two-story gambrel-roofed house owned by Major Seth Tripe, the great-grandfather of Mr. Seth W. Tripe of Portsmouth. This house stood on the corner of Chapel and State streets, fronting on the latter, with a shop in the western end. This shop at one time was occupied by the widow Shores, the mother of James F., and at another by George Dame as a music store. On the arrival of Major Tripe's son Samuel with his family from Bristol, England, he vacated the house and moved into Deer street, where he resided till his death, leaving his house in State street in the occupancy of his son.

On the opposite corner of Chapel street was a two-story gambrel-roofed dwelling house in the form of a T, fronting on State street, the easterly end of which was owned and occupied by Capt. Gregory, the grandfather of Mr. Albert Gregory. The western end was owned by Major William Gardner, and occupied by Mark Chadbourne, hatter, Benjamin Drowne, gold and silver smith, Joseph Clark, gold and silver smith, George Ham, watchmaker, Joseph Akerman, Jr., collector of taxes, and others at diffrent periods.

After the decease of Capt. Gregory, his widow was distinguished as an instructor of small children. With the aid of her two daughters she furnished for several years the shipping of this port with their colors and national flags.

Next was the one-story shop of Mr. John Beck, hatter, whose daughter was the wife of Mr. Mark Chadbourne. He was the father of the late Henry Beck.

Next to the hatter's shop was a large two story gambrel-roofed house owned by Major Gardner, connected with a two story store endwise on the street. This Major Gardner disposed of when he purchased the estate of Ichabod Nichols, Esq., in Gardner street, who removed to Salem, Mass. The house in State street, after Major G. left it, was occupied by Capt. Gilbert Horney, and at the time of the fire by Mr. Phillip W. Currier. The store was occupied by Mr. George Dame as his studio, from which point of view he painted a very striking likeness, (full stature) of Benjamin Rowe Quint, a tall man who resided in Newington, but who frequently was employed as a stone mason, in building cellars and laying stone side pavements. At that time he was laying stones in front of the dwelling house of Capt. Timothy Mountford, nearly opposite. The position of the painter's subject was that of a stooping posture -- his arms towards the ground, his hands clinching and adjusting a flat paving stone, his back towards the painter, his feet wide apart, and his aquiline Roman nose (which was of such extended dimensions that it would have placed him in the highest estimation of Bonaparte,) was visible beneath his body, extending like the point of a plough approaching the ground. The

picture when finished, which was previous to the original having finished his labor in the street, was exposed to view in the window of the painter; and so perfect was the likeness that no one familiar with the face of Mr. Quint failed to recognize him as the original of the picture; and being greatly enraged, the subject threatened to demolish the window with his stone hammer if it was not removed forthwith. This was done, but it was afterwards exhibited in a private manner. The ludicrous position and exact likeness of Mr. Q. caused much merriment at his expense.

The store attached to the Horney house in State street, was also occupied as the post office by Mark Simes until 1805, when the post office was removed to the Bass house in Broad street, on the spot where the hay scales now stand.

Next westerly was the two-story dwelling house of Capt. William Edwards, standing end to the street with the front door on the westerly side, approached through a passage-way about eight feet wide. This house was also the residence of Misses Ann and Mary Lanagan, sisters of Mrs. Edwards, and of Mrs. Furniss, mother of William P. Furniss, Esq., now of New York.

Next was a two story-dwelling house standing end to the street, the building of which was commenced by Joshua Pike, "barber and peruke wig maker," but was completed by Mr. John Stavers of mail-stage renown. It was occupied by his son William, and afterwards by his son-in-law Capt. John H. Seawards. It was from this house that the hostler, mentioned in Ramble 101, page 18, stole the bucket of rum, for which he paid the penalty at the town pump.

Next was a long two-story dwelling house fronting the street and elevated six or eight feet above its level. It extended from the yard of Mr. Stavers' house to a narrow passage way at the western end of it, which terminated in a goldsmith's shop, occupied by Capt. Martin Parry, who also occupied the other western part of it as his dwelling house. Capt. Martin Parry died of yellow fever in 1802, which was prevalent in this vicinity at that time and swept off some of our best citizens. He was a merchant of honored standing, and the agent of William Gray, Esq., of Salem, whose ships then were loading at our pier for Calcutta, Russia and other places. Capt. Parry left an only daughter, Ann, who was the first wife of our respected townsman, the late William Jones, Esq., who after the fire built the house now occupied by Rev. James DeNormandie, near the spot. The eastern half of the house was the residence of Madam Bettenham, so favorably known and respected as a lady who never failed to make all happy who had the privilege of her company. Her mother, who was the daughter of George Meserve, ship builder, occupied the same house before her. Capt. James Christie, who married the daughter of Mrs. Bettenham, occupied this house till his death at Philadelphia in 1812. His children John and Mary were born here. The late William Simes, gold and silver smith, was an apprentice of Capt. Parry, and after his master engaged in mercantile pursuits, occupied the shop.

The next building was the long two-story store of Jacob Sheafe, Jr. Esq., standing end to the street and fronting on Washington street. Many amusing reminisences of this store might be mentioned. It was once occupied by Mr. William Neil, an emigrant from Ireland, a gentleman beloved and respected by all who knew him. He was the friend of man in the full and true sense of the word. He had a very pleasant manner of address, and at times was quite amusing, and made very many sensible remarks to those who traded with him in the store, in which he exposed for sale a great variety of goods. He was distinguished as the seller of Irish linens, of which he was an excellent judge of quality, so that who bought linen of him was sure it was wholly of flax. In teas he was also renowned as a good judge, so much so that the remark was frequently made when tea of the right flavor was served at table, "this is Mr. Neil's tea." Mr. Neil took a hint from this, and had some nice wrapping paper prepared for putting up the tea he sold, and the following neatly printed upon the package:--

"This is very good tea. And where did you buy it? At Mr. William Neil's store, Buck street, Portsmouth. You will call and get some of the same."

William Neil was a native of Belfast in Ireland, and a graduate of Glasgow College. His children were three sons and four daughters. Thomas, Charles and Robert G.; Ann, married George Andrews of Dover; Elizabeth, married Mr. Wheeler of Dover; Sarah, married Daniel Melcher of Boston, and Margaret was the first wife of John Nutter, of Rochester. The children of his son Thomas (who married Sarah, daughter of Capt. Hector McNeil of the Navy,) were William, who died single; Mary A.; Jane, widow of S. H. Sise of New York, and Thomas, now of this city. The latter, of the firm of Neil, Tarlton & Co., is the only descendant which now bears the name of Neil.

The same store was previously occupied for a short period by Pomroy & Maynard, from England, for the sale of hard-ware goods. They soon returned to England.The venerable William Neil was very sensitive to any remark which unfavorably reflected upon the Irish or his native land, Ireland. So sensitive was he to the publication of any Irish bull, that for many years when Mr. Turell had charge of the Oracle, he never admitted any of the amusing aneodotes of this class, assigning as a reason that he would not injure Mr. Neil's feelings. His memory is still pleasant to those who knew him.

Next was the spacious dwelling-house of Jacob Sheafe, between which and the store occupied by Mr. Neil, was a large paved yard, and in the rear of the whole was a fine garden reaching back to the lane. Reminisences of much interest might be related of the occupant of these premises, and of his hospitalities to strangers of distinction who visited the town, and also of his estimable lady, particularly of her kindness and hospitalities to the distressed, sick, poor and needy. Mr. Sheafe, after the fire, occupied his large brick block on the corner of Market and Daniel streets, where he died. Of his large family, Mrs. Charles Cushing, of Little Harbor, only survives.

Next on the east corner of Ark Lane, now called Penhallow street, was a square, one-story hipped-roof building occupied as a retailing piece goods store by William Sheafe, brother to Jacob, and afterwards by Ward Gilman as a brass foundry.

On the opposite side of Ark Lane, on the corner of State street, stood the Ark Tavern, kept by John Davenport. It was originally a two-story single house, fronting on State street. Mr. Davenport was a silver smith and buckle maker, and had removed to Portsmouth from Boston, where he was born. He had occupied the building on the corner of Fleet and Congress streets, now owned by the Mechanic Association, and had served the town as constable several years. He made several additions to the house in State street, one of which, one-story high, covered a small gore of land on the eastern end, about eight feet in width at the widest end, in which he himself worked at his trade. A connection of Mr. Davenport's wife, (Mr. Welch,) having at Lynn acquired a knowledge of the ladies' cloth slipper manufacture, he with him commenced the making of them in copartnership; at the same time continuing the buckle making business, which soon afterwards became unprofitable by the introduction of shoe strings. Mr. Davenport then opened his premises as a public house, with the sign of Noah's Ark, and denominated his house the "Ark

Tavern," exhibiting in front a fanciful sign of the picture of the Ark.Mr. Davenport's wife died in this house while the Superior Court was sitting in Portsmouth, in the month of February, and as his house was crowded with boarders, which made her burial very inconvenient, she was kept until the court closed its business about three weeks after.

The artist who painted Mr. Davenport's sign, went by the name of James Still. His proper name was James Ford. Under his real name he had been guilty of an offence which cost him a part of his ears. Although he dropped the Ford as he did the long hair over his ears, yet as his baptismal name was not changed, it remained, he said, James still. Thus in the exercise of his good talent as a delineator and painter he continued till the time of his death under the name of James Still.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
This digital transcript  © 1999

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