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By Charles W. Brewster

Brewster paints two colorful sea characters

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.

The site of the Manor House is today, not known for certain. The Odiorne family lost the land to the U.S. government as a military site in the 20th century.


The Old Spring Market -- The Neptune and River Nymphs of the Piscataqua.

IN 1761, the town built a Market house on Spring Hill .  The site was that now occupied by Mr. Blaisdell's store, No. 2 in Merchants' Row, next to the south store.

On the south side of the Market was a pump in a well, and a dipper attached. Between thirty and forty years after, when the block of brick stores was erected on the spot, the Market was removed to the wharf east, its present site.  In digging for the basement story of the southern store, the well was brought above ground, and a log was then laid to the boat-landing under the market, through which pure water has continued to flow in an uninterrupted stream to the present day.

Ceres Street

What a host of recollections cluster around that old site, and how grateful the remembrance of that old awning like shell, which used to be open on three sides,--that map of business life which fifty years ago and up to a later date gave a town attraction to the old Spring Market.  About fifty years ago, an attic was built over what had been a simple board awning, and the Market was extended perhaps twenty feet on the east over the water, to give better accommodations for the sale of fish.  And twenty years since the progress of  the age seemed to require a new market house, so the old one was sold and removed to Noble's Island, where in front of the Noble house it still stands in all its ungraceful proportions.  It was a great mistake to change the form of the old free market; where every one who had anything to sell could find a location, and any one who was desirous of purchasing could obtain supplies from first hands.  The present arrangement of the building for fish dealers has driven the market women from their old favorite location--and the paltry sum received by the city for the rent of stalls, is lost ten times over by the prices which individuals by monopoly have the chance of obtaining.

One day several years ago on a solitary seat in the centre of the Spring Market, with fish rooms on the water side and the butchers' stalls on the other, sat two of the old market women of fifty years ago.  Spread around them were their baskets of beans, peas, berries, cucumbers, &c. as of yore -- but as their old companions in trade had ceased to appear so had also their old customers -- and we stood alone before them, the sole inquirer for a peck of peas. 

"Well, Mrs. Flanders, you have been a long while here." 

"Yes, I am now eighty-four, and I've traded here since the war times of 1812."

"Well, this young lady at your side is Mrs. Furbish, I think" --

"Oh, yes, she is only seventy-four.  Our old associate Mrs. Carter, now ninety-two, is at her home, as sprightly as either of us."

Mrs. Flanders and another female had come down from Eliot that morning in their boat, through the bridge, in the style of former years, -- all but the substitution of a modern wherry for the old style canoe.  They conducted their craft in seaman-like manner, and landed their cargo in good order.  Their boat was then the only one which was plied by females to the old market landing.

Fifty years ago, the canoe was the boat used almost exclusively by our market folks on the river.  On a Saturday morning in summer, as well as on other days, might be seen what was called the Kittery fleet, consisting of some twenty canoes, deeply laden with provisions of all kinds, mostly rowed by women, coming down the river, or up, as the tide served.  These canoes were handsomely brought in to the stairs near where the spring was pouring out its unceasing libation into the river.  As the boat-rings became occupied, the painters of the last canoes which arrived were fastened to the other boats, and over a bridge of canoes, the intrepid boat women bore their baskets and boxes to the landing -- and to the seats they were to occupy under the canopy of the old market roof.  This movement was not easily done in silence.  The upsetting of a basket by the careening of a boat, or a slip on the wet stairs as the heavy loads were borne over them, would call forth many a loud exclamation.

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Hannah Mariner: Commander of the "Kittery Fleet"

In our earliest recollection, there was one master spirit in that company, whose voice was law, and whose decision must be respected, or fearful would be the consequences.  HANNAH MARINER was called "the commander of the fleet on the Kittery station."  Our good old master Turell came near receiving a flogging from her once for giving her this respectable title.  She was the regulator of the position of the market occupants, and from her decision there was no appeal.  One day a man at the market did not speak respectfully, as she thought, so seizing a whip from the hands of a truckman, she administered blows with no sparing hand.  The man fled, and Hannah, with whip in hand, fire in her eye, cursing on her tongue, pursued up spring hill, lashing him as he went.  Hannah was of a noble as well as an independent spirit.  She was the saleswoman of the products of the Rev. Mr. Chandler's garden -- and of course as she did so much towards the support of the ministry in Eliot, she felt a right to sustain her position elsewhere.  There was Mrs. Wherren, who kept her knitting always by her, and Mrs. James, and Mrs. Gould, and Mrs. Tripyear, and Mrs. Remick, -- but to give the names of the market women of that day would be a record of the mothers of many of the enterprising men and thrifty housewives of the present day, located on both sides of the river.  It was before the times when the girls found employment in factories--and when they aided their mothers not only in the dairy, and the garden plot, but also in rowing the canoes to market, while their fathers devoted their attention to their fields.  No slight dexterity was often exhibited when the mother took the paddle for steering, while tbe daughter plied the oars cross-handed.  We should like to put one of those old canoes under their management, against the shells of Harvard or Yale.  Don't think the canoe would run in the shortest time really, but think it might relatively; and taking all disadvantages into account we might hope to see an Eliot boat nymph bearing off the silver cup.

One large sail-boat from Sturgeon creek, with twelve women, could sometimes be seen, with their market cargo, all handsomely arranged.  When the wind did not serve for their sail they would be seen standing manfully at their oars. 

But the market women were not all that gave life to the old market house.  It was a time when sailors were seen at our wharves -- and they would make no small excitement among the baskets scattered around the premises.  They would buy liberally -- not always because they wanted the articles, but because they liked to please the market girls.  Old Ben was in the habit of always getting boozy when he came to market, and on him the roguish sailor boys loved to play their pranks.  Never shall we forget one of them.  The old man was quite happy, and his jug quite empty.  Huckleberries were three cents a quart, and pretty ripe and juicy.  The tars borrowed the old man's hat, to give him a treat.  On returning it filled with about two quarts of berries, one roguish fellow put it on his head, and then placing both hands on top forced it down with all his might!  The dark streams came running down on every side, leaving it a matter of no doubt that Ben had become a black as well as a blue man!  His empty jug they then tied to the wheel of a dray going up the hill--and the ridiculous object was seen in pursuit of his dear companion, exclaiming at the top of his voice, "Stop that jug! -- stop that jug!"  Such was some of the Spring Market life in former times.

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Cap Spinney, or "Old Neptune"

Sailor Ben

There was also a fish department in the old market--and the fishermen, not hucksters, sold in person the avails of their labors.

It has been thought that Neptune had only an existence in heathen mythology -- but fifty years ago there was a personage here who so nearly resembled the fabled sea-king, that he bore the name.  "Old Neptune" and "Cap Spinney" were the names given to John Spinney, a veteran of the Revolutionary stock, who became of age in the time of the old war.

It is said that Thomas Spinney was the first of the name who came to this country from England, about two hundred years ago.  He settled in Eliot, on the spot now occupied by Wentworth Fernald.  About thirty years after, Joseph Spinney took up his residence at Spinney's Neck on the river.  They were some months residents before one day Joseph in an excursion in the woods called at a house for refreshment.  They found in the course of conversation that they were of the same name, and that they were brothers!  Thomas had left home when Joseph was an infant, who knew not in what part the country his brother had located.  From Thomas Spinney the families of Thomas and Joseph Spinney in this city descended.  Our "Neptune" was a descendant of the first Joseph, and lived on the family homestead.

We knew Cap Spinney many years, and time and again witnessed his arrival and departure from the spring market.  He was portly in person, upright in posture, of dark skin, long beard, and was invariably clad in petticoat trowsers, and a pea-jacket so covered with patches of every color that it was a matter of doubt what was the original--a blue knit cap was drawn close to his head, and red edging and ear pieces turned up around.  His adhesion to this cap gave him the above designating name.  He was a man of system and
independence, and his routine for business was strictly adhered to.  He would leave his home at Eliot at any hour between midnight and day-light, that the tide served, and alone in his canoe proceeded to the mouth of the river.  When the tide required him to leave before he had done up his sleep, on reaching the fishing ground he would bait his hooks, giving one turn of his line around the thole-pins, and then another turn around his wrist, compose himself to sleep.  When the fish bit, the check at the thole-pin would secure it, and the slight pull at his wrist would notify him to take it in.  He would then rebait, redrink, and continue his nap,--and in due time he might be seen coming up the river and rowing into the Market landing.  To the calls, "Have you any fish," no reply would be made.  As soon as his painter was fastened, he would raise his cuddy cover, take out his cocoanut shell, visit a particular shop near the market, get it filled with "O-be-joyful," then return to his boat, take his seat, raise his cocoanut to his mouth and take two or three swigs, resting between each with a smack of his lips -- then depositing it safely in the cuddy, he uncovers his fish and gives notice, "Now, gentlemen, I am ready for business."  By the time his fish were sold, his shell would need replenishing, and then with another swig he would push off into the stream, and his boat proceed almost intuitively to his home.  Thus year after year he went through the same routine, until in 1832, on the 4th day of July--a day which he regarded as worth a particular observance in his way, his boat struck against Portsmouth bridge, and at the age of 73 he closed his life in that river in which he had almost lived for three score and ten years.  He left about fifteen hundred dollars as the results of his labors, and the reputation of a friendly disposition to man and beast, as well as to his cocoanut shell.  His like we have never since looked upon.

This is the last of the Neptune and the River Nymphs of the noble Piscataqua.

As an additional item to this account of our Piscataqua Neptune, an eye-witness describes the following scene:

It was nearly high water on a very pleasant day in autumn, when to save the tide it was usual for old Neptune to return from his fishing ground to the Spring Market, dispose of his fare, replenish his cocoanut shell, and return to his domicil, that his cap-covered head, and the upper portion of his body were seen from the wharves, about midway between the Navy-Yard and our shore gradually ascending the river without any exertion or any use of his arms excepting occasionally to lift his nut-shell to his mouth while his head was thrown back sufficiently to receive its contents into his mouth.  Every beholder was satisfied that the veritable Neptune of Spinney's Creek, was the object of their vision.  But, where was his craft?  Had he lost his canoe?  And how could he walk in the water? were questions they could not solve.  All were astonished till a wight at hand, suggested that the object of their wonder and astonishment had by spiritualization so diminished his specific gravity, that it had become less than that of ocean water, so that he could not sink if he would! and that although he was not the fabled Neptune, he could occasionally imitate his ocean feats.  But when he neared the port of destination it became necessary for him to use his paddle, which he did successfully, and before "breaking bulk" proceeded to his Custom House to enter his craft and return with evidence of his legal entry, by the replenished condition of the far-famed cocoanut.

The mystery was now satisfactorily solved.  A gondola laden with wood on the preceding ebb tide had been filled with water, and a large quantity of the wood with which it was laden was spilled and floated down to the mouth of the river.  Taking advantage of this mishap, he piled as much of it on board of his canoe as it would hold, which brought it down to the gunwale, so that all was under water, and himself leisurely setting on the after seat as the flood tide gently carried him and craft up the river.  It is needless to say the
salvage decreed to him by the Court was the whole amount of the property saved.

We append to this Ramble the following sketch by Mr. Bowles:

No feature of the busy life of Portsmouth, thirty to forty years ago, is more agreeably impressed upon the memory of the youth of that period who yet survive, than Spring Market.  The native, whether his home be still at his birth-place or far away, remembers with heartfelt pleasure, the time

"When with pole, and hook and string, He fished for pollock at the Spring."

The scene is sadly shorn of its old-time glory since the Kittery fleet, under the command of another "ancient mariner" than Coleridge's, were wont to fill the dock from side to side; and the substantial modern structure that has taken its place, does not compensate for the loss of the

"Grey, honored, worn Venitian pile,"  (quoting Mrs. Partington again) once serving the purposes of a market-house. Another change, by no means for the better, is the absence of the thriving grocery trade that in former days surrounded the market, and extended the wharf towards Church Point.  The exhaustless crystal fount, from whence so many generations have slaked their thirst, and the lobsters, good and cheap as ever, are about all that remain to remind one of Spring Market in bypast time.

It was a pleasant scene of animation, truly, when those sun-browned specimens of the feminine popultion of Kittery gathered there in such large numbers.  No fruit to the schoolboy of that day will ever taste so good again, or the vegetables that relished the "Cape Ann turkey" on Saturdays ever bear such a flavor, as those that came from their capacious baskets.  The whortleberries, too, each as plump and round, and almost as large as buck shot--if memory, which perhaps it may, does not magnify them through its perspective glass -- are not forgotten.  Bartlett pears were not then known in the world of horticulture, but there were the St. Michael's, and plenty of the more common sorts, all as good as they were cheap.  A school-boy could fill the pockets of his round about, or the youngster taking his first lessons in trade, those of his "long-tailed blue," for less than it costs now-a-days, in some seasons, to buy a single specimen of the choicer pear varieties.  Those semi-aquatic ladies, who, from all points on the Kittery shore between Boiling Rock and Pepperell's Cove, drove their light barks so skillfully across the Piscataqua, have all passed away.  Another branch of the Kittery trade, distinct from that at the market, was in the line of stocking yarn and milk.  Queer tricks were sometimes played by young rogues upon the venders of these necessary articles, as they journeyed, through town, stopping from door to door to dispose of their goods.  One was to attach a torpedo to the rapper of a door when one of them was seen approaching, and enjoy from a distance, the start of surprise that followed the explosion sure to occur. (Portsmouth boys were always sad rogues.) 

Foremost among the fishermen was that venerable individual known as "Cap Spinney."  His peculiar taste in dress, including his woolen cap, and a pea-jacket, that like the garment of the "Shepherd of Salisbury Plain," had been patched with so many different colors it was difficult to decide which was the original, rendered him at all times an object of interest.  He might readily have been taken, indeed, from his stalwart figure, and rough, weather beaten visage, as he landed from his boat, for old Neptune himself, had he
not brandished, instead of a tridant, his cocoa-nut shell.  It was a fixed principle with him, as you state, unalterable as the laws of the Medes and Persians, never to sell a fish until that vessel had been replenished with "Santa Croix" or "Old Jamaica," and he had fortified himself with a refreshing draught of its contents.  That pleasant exercise performed, he was then ready for business; and as he was generally very successful in his piscatory excursions to the ocean, his pockets were well lined with cash on his return home.  An intelligent traveller from the South, who had visited the market with the landlord of the Eastern Stage House, (now the Franklin House,) gave a sketch of him in a letter to a Southern journal, which was
copied into Turell's Commercial Advertiser.  When it was read to him on the morning it appeared, by a grocer in the neighborhood, he chanced to be in an unusually good humor, having had remarkable luck in his fishing the previous night, and promised to "give the feller a drink from his cocoanut," if he ever came again to Portsmouth.

More Childhood Market Memories

Another of the fixtures of the fish market was Lewey, an Italian, I think, by birth, a small man, and always, from some infirmity, seen in a stooping posture.  One day when the market was rather bare of fish, and Lewey's stock consisted only of a few perch, that inveterate wag, George Schaffer accosted him with the enquiry, "Why do you have so many of these sharp fins in your fish?  One might as well undertake to eat a paper of pins." 

"I no put de fins in de fiss -- I no make 'em," was the reply.  "If you want 'em, I cut 'em

And George having had his joke, and willing to pay a trifle for it, acceded to his proposal to the amount of a dozen, which he gave away a few minutes later to a worthy old lady, with a very light purse, who had come to market in pursuit of a dinner.

Among the habitues of the market, was a lady, of elephantine dimensions, bearing the name of Gillett, who was famed as a vender of unusually long sticks of candy, the advantage of which quality, was thought by a portion of her youthful customers to be more than overbalanced by the amount of sediment they contained.  Her family mansion was situated not far off, on the rear of a lot on Bow street, where she kept a boarding house of a not very ambitious order.  Her name was pronounced Gillett, but in the fancy that some at present have for altering both the spelling and pronunciation of the names of their ancestors, it would now, probably, be styled Gillette.

Besides the activity visible about the market, in strange contrast with its present deserted aspect, the descent of the hill from Bow street was occupied on both sides for business purposes.  At the left, near Slade's corner, Eunice Hoyt could be seen with her baskets of fruit and other notions.  The very first of the earliest fruits of summer, and the last of the latest to be had in the spring, could be found among her stock.  She knew the contents of every fruit garden in Portsmouth and vicinity, and was always on the alert,  with the ready cash, to tempt some one of the owners to dispose of a portion of their earliest products.  Her store of luxuries had a powerful attraction for the youthful fraternity, who, when finances permitted, often went far out of the way to pay her a visit on their way to school.  She did a thriving business, too, in the essence trade, of her own and Barsantee's famous manufacture; also in the line of the two-penny ballads--termed "vairses" by the good people from the rural districts--any one of which she could furnish, from that peculiarity touching ditty, "The Major's Only Son," to "Barbara

On the other side of the hill was a range of bakers' carts--small vehicles, drawn by hand--bearing the names of Plumer, Clapham, and Barry, kept there with an eye to the country trade.  While the general mauufacture of the two former was most in favor, the latter had a monopoly of the bun trade, being the only producer of that article.  "Berry's Buns" were in high favor with the boys, and in after years, in connection with the foreign accent of the manufacturer, were inseparably associated in memory with those red-letter days of their youth, the "general musters" at the Plains.

Farther down the declivity, upon a primitive style of table, was a display of New York oysters, which could be had until a late hour of the evening.  The proprietor of this establishment, were he still living, could bear testimony, in one instance at least, to the roguish propensities of Portsmouth boys.  A party of a half-dozen youngsters were in the habit of meeting together for social chat at a second floor room in Market street, and at one of their gatherings, when they were in a greatly depressed state for want of some
species of excitement, a member suggested that one of those mammoth packages, a New Orleans sugar hogs-head, which emptied of its contents stood at a grocer's door at the summit of the hill, should be started downward in the direction of the oyster stand, which was unanimously agreed to; and, groping their way through the Egyptian darkness of the evening, they proceeded to put the project into execution.  Some minutes afterward, the ringleader who chanced to go down to the Spring for a drink, found the unfortunate dealer in
bivalves in an unwonted state of excitement, and after uniting with him in bestowing sundry anathemas upon the perpetrators of the outrage, volunteered to assist in re-gathering his stock in trade, which lay scattered over a large space upon the ground.  One lad, numbered among the conspirators, has still, I think, a residence at Portsmouth, who will be reminded of this, among the youthful indiscretions of his early life.

The last of my schoolboy remembrances of the neighborhood, is that of a scene of merriment that occurred there one afternoon at the expense of one of a couple of the hangers-on about the market, who had devised a novel mode of catching fish in a basket, by means of the hoisting apparatus connected with one of the packet landings.  On the return of one of them from dinner, he was very sarcastic at the want of success, during his absence, on the part of his partner, in adding to their stock of the finny tribe, recommending that he
should devote his talent unless he could do better, to some other pursuit.  The other took it very good-naturedly, and suggested that he should try himself, which he proceeded to do, re-adjusting the bait and ballast, and letting down the basket with considerable flourish into the water.  On raising it again, to his chagrin and the infinite amusement of a dozen by-standers, all it contained was a mammoth sculpin, with a block of wood attached by a string to his tail, and one of those worthless flounder-shaped fish, with three caudal appendages, known as three-tailed bashaws.

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