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She married her old flame just
days after her husband died

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By Charles W. 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.

Theodore Atkinson, Jr. - Marriage - Death - Funeral - Gov. Wentworth's attentions - Mrs. Atkinson a widow but ten days - Style of the times - Their town and country residences - Lake story - His character - Illustrative anecdote - Departure for England.

HON. THEODORE ATKINSON had but one child, Theodore Jr., who was born in 1736, and graduated at Harvard in 1757. He was a member of the Council of hich his father was President, and was for several years Secretary of the Province. On the 13th of May, 1762, he married Frances Deering Wentworth, daughter of Samuel Wentworth, of Boston, a lady of rare beauty and accomplishments. She was his cousin. Her earlier affections had been placed on another cousin, John Wentworth, who graduated at Harvard College in 1755. John soon after going to England to be absent for an indefinite period, she was wooed and won by Mr. Atkinson; who is described as a mild, obliging and devout man. They lived with his father's family in this old mansion. He was of feeble health, and in seven years after his marriage, at the early age of thirty-three, departed this life, leaving no children. Two years before his death her early lover, John Wentworth, returned clothed with the regalia of Governor of New Hampshire. Her early affection for him remained unabated, and the Governor frequently honored his uncle and cousin by a social call at this old mansion. At this time there was no building between Court and Pleasant streets to obstruct the sight between the houses of the Governor and Secretary Atkinson, and gossips used to say that signals from one to the other were passed. But as telegraphs have been used for good purposes since, why might they not have been then?

It was on Saturday, the 28th day of October, 1769, that Theodore Atkinson, Jr. departed this life. On Wednesday following the funeral took place. It was a day of public mourning. By order of the Governor, during the moving of the procession from this old house to the family tomb at the Episcopal church, minute guns were fired at the fort at Newcastle, and from on board the ship-of-war Beaver in the harbor. The widow was arrayed in the dark habiliments of mourning, which we presume elicited an intense shower of tears, as the fount was so soon exhausted. The next day the mourner appears in her pew at church as a widow, but that was the last Sabbath of the widow. On Monday morning there is a new call for the aid of the milliner--the unbecoming black, new as it was, must be laid aside, and the brighter colors which become a governor's bride, must take their place! There were no sewing machines then, but active fingers did wonders, and on Saturday morning, the 11th of November, just ten days after the funeral, everything was ready, and there was another movement from this old house to the same church. The blooming widow and the gallant Governor were the leading personages--and the same venerable pastor, Rev. Arthur Brown, who so solemnly had just conveyed "ashes to ashes--dust to dust," sealed the union of the new couple "for better or for worse!" The following extract from the Boston News Letter of Nov. 17th, 1769, of a letter from Portsmouth, dated Nov. 11th, gives a full account of the occurrence:

"This morning His Excellency JOHN WENTWORTH, Esq., our worthy and beloved Governor, was married by the Rev. Mr. Brown to Mrs. FRANCES ATKINSON, idow of the Hon. Theodore Atkinson, Jr. Esq., deceased,--a lady adorned with every accomplishment requisite to make the marriage state agreeable. Long may this amiable and illustrious couple live happily; blessings to each other and all around them in this world, may they be the crown of each other's joys in the next, when the great Governor of all worlds shall make up his jewels--

May this thrice happy, happy pair,
Be heaven's peculiar charge, and care;
Unerring wisdom guide their way;
Their joys increase with each new day,
To the top of bliss beneath the skies!
At some far distant, distant time,
Quit every scene in this low clime,
Rise to heayen's empyrean ground,
And with eternal life be crowned!

The day is spending in innocent mirth. The colors of the shipping in the harbor are displayed, all the bells in the town are ringing, and the cannon roaring; in a word, joy sits smiling in every countenance on this happy occasion. Happy, thrice happy the ruler! thus riveted in the hearts and affections of his people."

Of the appearance of Lady Wentworth in her wedding dress we have no particular record, but the style of the times would lead us to imagine her locks strained over an immense cushion that sat on her bead, touched with pomatum, and then sprinkled over with a shower of white powder; the height of this tower not far from a foot, perhaps bearing a white rosebud on its top; over her neck and bosom a lace handkerchief fastened in front by a large bosom pin; her form braced up in a satin dress, the sleeves as tight as the natural skin of the arm, with a waist formed by a bodice, worn outside, from whence the skirt flowed off and distended at the top by an ample hoop. The dress for church was not complete without a richly wrought apron and shoes of white kid, with peaked toes, and heels of two or three inches elevation, glittering with spangles. We have no record of the Governor's apparel. We have before us, however, some bills of merchandise, which he paid about that time, in which we find these items:

    To pair of white silk stocking breeches, L1 18 0
    To white cloth coat, unlined, 2 14 0
    To blue corded silk waistcoat, 50
    To a rich gold lace, 12 0
    To gold button and loop, and hat recockt, etc. 20
    To 3 yds. queue ribband, 13

Such are the items; the reader can array him to suit his own fancy.

On the day of the wedding, soon after the ceremony, the Rev. Arthur Brown, whether excited by the rapid movement, or in a moment of aberration from wonder at what might come next, in going out of a door unfortunately fell over a number of stone steps and broke his arm.

For six years the Governor and his lady continued residents at the house now occupied by Eben. Wentworth, on Pleasant street, spending a portion of the summer at the Governor's farm at Wolfborough. The Governor was a large owner in that town, his farm extending over twenty-three hundred acres in that town and fifteen hundred acres in the adjoining towns of Brookfield and New Durham. The mansion house was one hundred feet by forty-five, and other buildings corresponded. A journey to Wolfborough before the revolution, was no small undertaking. When the Governor and his lady made a summer visit to his farm. Dr. Cutter was usually one of his company, to be in readiness to attend if any disaster occurred on the way. The Governor's mansion house was on the border of Smith's pond, (east of the Winnipiseogee,) about a hundred rods from its shore. A story has been told of an adventure of the Governor and lady which we give as we have heard it. It was said that his lady when at the farm would sometimes have her own way, and one evening attending a husking without him, was not a little irritated to find the door closed on her return. Hearing her threaten that she would jump into the lake, he rushed from his chamber in a fright to the rescue. She was out of his sight when the door opened, and he dashed on the path to the water, while she, standing close to the side of the door, quietly stepped in, turned the key, and left him rather thinly clad to get in as he might be able. There is an improbability about the story; but as it is not more strange than the hasty wedding proceedings, we let the tradition pass as apocryphal.

Gov. John Wentworth had many good traits of character, was liberal in his charities, and did much to benefit the town aud state. He was active in the establishment of Dartmouth College, and did much in improving the roads of the state and for the advancement of agriculture. He was a man of sound understanding, refined taste, enlarged views and a dignified spirit, and with the people became as one of them. One anecdote will illustrate.

Recently in a walk down Pleasant street, we met an old gentleman bordering on a century, who well remembered the events of the revolution. Did you ever see Governor Wentworth! we inquired. 0 yes, that I have, he replied, as his countenance brightened with the remembrance. He has patted me upon my shoulder many a time when a boy, and bestowed on me his coppers and his ninepences liberally. The boys then used to pay respect to their ministers and their honorable men. We never passed one of them without removing our hats--and if we were playing marbles, all play was left to do our manners.

The people thought a great deal of the Governor, and strangers who came in from the country would strive to get a sight of him. The Governor was a great lover of horses. That old stable in front, on the corner of Washington and Pleasant streets, long called "Hall's stable," was the Governor's. He kept there sixteen horses for his own use, and gave them much personal attention. One morning, soon after five, a stranger from the country who had never before been in Portsmouth, wandered down near the Governor's seat, hoping to get a glance at his Excellency. After dodging around the premises for a time, he looked into the stable to see the horses. He asked a man who appeared to have charge, many questions about the Governor, and told him what they said about him in his neighborhood. "They say Johnny is short and thick, that he is fond of his wine, but on the whole a pretty clever sort of a fellow--how I should like to see him." "Well," said the one he was conversing with, "I'll try to give you a sight of him--walk into the house." They enter -- the splendor of the furniture as they pass from room to room is opened to his wondering gaze. After being shown into this room and that, the stranger whispered --" I should like to get a sight of the Governor." "Oh sir, here he is!" said the Governor offering his hand.

Dumbfounded at the fearful disclosure, nothing but the good nature of his excellency prevented his hiding his shame in a speedy retreat.

In 1775, when the Revolutionary troubles compelled Governor John Wentworth to seek refuge in England, his lady accompanied him, and they never again returned to New Hampshire. They had one son born here in 1774, named Charles Mary. He acquired much wealth, was never married, and died at Kingsand, England, in 1844, aged seventy. To the time of his death he was by entailment owner of the property on which our high school house now stands.

Lady Wentworth was distinguished in England for her beauty, was conspicuous at court, and one of the maids of honor to the Queen. A portrait by Copely, now in the possession of Asa Freeman of Dover, (who married a daughter of Hon. William K. Atkinson,) is regarded as an excellent likeness and a rare picture.

Gov. John Wentworth was Governor of Nova Scotia from 1792 to 1800, and had a pension of L500 a year till his death, which occurred at Halifax in 1820. Lady Wentworth died at Berks, England, in 1813.

Thus have they all passed away, leaving as an apt memento of the stability of earthly grandeur, the half demolished mansion which is the text of our ramble.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
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