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Franklin Pierce at the Seacoast


Franklin PIerce souvenir medal

Homage to the Navy

In the evening there was a ball at the Navy Yard. Pierce returned to the Rockingham about midnight and was the last president to spend a night in Portsmouth until Harry S. Truman stayed over in October, 1952. Truman, however, slept aboard his private railroad car down at the depot, the same spot where Pierce had spoken nearly a century before.

No presidential trip to Portsmouth would be complete without a tour of the Piscataqua, a tradition begun by George Washington who spent four days in the city. The following morning, Pierce, Mayor Jenness, and friends of the president went to the Navy Yard landing, where they boarded Commodore Newton's boat for the trip down river to the frigate Wabash. Pierce did not tour the Yard, but received the traditional military salute as he passed by. The yards and rigging of the USS Wabash were fully manned, and the frigate and Ft. Constitution exchanged salutes before breaking out a goodly feast.

The Chronicle said:

"The Wabash weighed anchor and set sail about 5 o'clock p.m. She was heartily cheered by a large number of people who had collected on or about Ft. Constitution to witness her departure. The cheers were responded to by the sailors from the rigging of the frigate and salutes were exchanged between the Fort and the frigate. The President expressed much gratitude at his reception here, which indeed was a cordial one, and doubtless agreeable to all parties."

Ex-President Goes Tourist

As unpopular as he was elsewhere, Pierce held pleasant memories of Portsmouth. The summer after his presidency, Franklin Pierce and his wife came back to Portsmouth and put up at the Rockingham. The couple planned to spend only the month of August, but were still here in October when the Rockingham County Agricultural Fair was held on Auburn Street, now Richards Avenue. Ex-President Pierce took part in the fair parade and the local paper taunted local politicians when some rode in carriages while the former chief executive walked the full parade route.

In the years before his death (October 8, 1869) ex-President Pierce was a frequent visitor to Portsmouth and the Seacoast. The Civil War angered him; he saw it as a direct blow against his ideas of States Rights. As the war that many blamed on him came and went, Pierce found solace as he had done in his earlier years on the Seacoast and out on the peaceful Isles of Shoals.

By Ray Brighton, Edited by Reprinted by permission of the publisher. © 1994 Portsmouth Marine Society. First published on in 2000. Updated 2005.

Rambles About Portsmouth, by Raymond Brighton, Portsmouth Marine Society, Peter Randall Publisher, 1993

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