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The Old South Church

1850 Portsmouth map shows South Church between Water and Pleasanst Street/


Modern residents will recall when the North Church steeple was repaired in Market Square. But in the 19th century Charles Brewster watched the deconstruction of the old South Church, now gone. Inside, under the altar, were the deteriorated remains of two ministers buried there. (see page three for this story)



The Old South Church.

Editors Note: This can be confusing stuff even for local historians. See the update at end of article. C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth, New Hampshire columnist and editor in the early to mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values. From Brewster’s Rambles About Portsmouth, 1859 exclusively on – JDR

TO GET ORIENTED: Read this first

THE departure of time-honored edifices creates a feeling of regret, however dilapidated they may have become, or by however superior buildings they are to be supplanted, -- or there are associations connected with the old which the new will be long in giving.

Brewster on SeacoastNH.comIt was about twelve years since that the steeple of the Old South Church, that prominent point in our city landscape, was cast upon the ground, after having occupied its position 132 years. The oak posts around the belfry which supported the steeple, were as sound as when first put there. The

house was vacated by the society in 1826, when the Stone Church was prepared for occupancy. For a short time the old meeting house was occupied by a portion of the Society who did not wish to leave the place in which their fathers worshipped. It subsequently became the property of a member of the Free-Will Baptist Church: and was occupied at several different periods as a place of worship by that denomination, which afterwards erected the church on Pearl street. In the intervals of this occupancy, it had been for a considerable portion of the time, kept open for religious worship, sometimes by series of Sunday afternoon or evening services, arranged by the clergymen of the city; sometimes by regular services conducted by the city missionary. Several years before its destruction a floor was laid between the two tiers of windows. The second story was converted into an audience-room, with a pulpit, while the lower story was divided into a ward-room and two school-rooms.

The first pastor settled after the house was erected was Rev. William Shurtleff, in 1733, who died in 1747. His remains, the record says, were "deposited in a grave under the communion table." It appeared on the removal of the upper flooring, that a hole the size of the coffin was cut in the under boards about ten feet west of the communion table, and that here his remains, with those of his successor, Rev. Job Strong, had lain for more than a century. It was not a matter of great importance, but the discrepancy of the record and the fact we will explain.

On going from the house about the time it was taken down, we met standing on the hill, the venerable Captain Daniel Fernald, who seemed to look with much interest upon the departure of the place of worship of his early days. Among his interesting recollections of the house, he said, that originally the house was some twenty feet shorter than it now is. Nearly a century ago it was cut in two, the eastern half moved about twenty feet, and a new piece put into the centre of the house. This was at once an explanation of the position of the pastors' graves, which were actually beneath the communion table when buried, but by the enlargement of the house, the pulpit, to be in the centre, was removed several feet towards the eastern end.

CONTINUE to read about Portsmouth's OLD SOUTH CHURCH

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