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.
In this episode, Brewster strolls from the first settlement at Rye back to the first settlement in Portsmouth.
An hour's walk from Market Square, over Sagamore bridge, will find us on the seacoast at Odiorne's point - a peninsula on which there is a slight eminence, a few rods from the sea, which affords a good view of the ocean and of the neighboring country. It is said that in 1605, a French vessel touched at this point, where Champlain met with a small company of Indians, to whom he made presents of knives, etc., and from them obtained information of the coast. The Indians, with charcoal, marked out the coast as far as they knew it - delineating the entrance of the Merrimac impeded by sand bars, and making the first disclosure of the existence of that river.
Odiorne's point was the spot selected by the Laconia Company for the site of the first building erected on the grant. The first settlers were sent from England by the company in 1623, "to found a plantation on Piscataqua river, to cultivate the vine, discover mines, carry on the fisheries, and trade with the natives." The month in which they arrived is supposed to be May, and under the direction of David Thompson, the Manor house, or Mason's Hall as afterwards called, was erected for the Company. There is no record of the vessel by which they came, or any sketch left to give us an idea of what sort of house was built. As the materials of many of the early houses were brought from England, it is probable that in the liberal provision made for the plantation, those of this house were also. The Manor house was a little north of the hillock, which was between it and the ocean, - and on that elevation there was a small fort built, to protect it from savage incursions. Fishing being one of the objects of the settlement, salt works were early erected in connection with the establishment.
A few rods south-west of the fort at Odiorne's Point they erected their fish flakes, which gave the name of Flake Hill to the knoll, which is still retained. During the first few years of the existence of the colony, remarks Potter, the people suffered every hardship, and not being acclimated, many of them were carried off by disease. The graves of such are still to be seen a few rods north of the site of the fort, and it is worthy of remark, that the moss-covered cobble stones at the head and foot of the graves, still remain as placed by mourners of two hundred and thirty years since, while a walnut and a pear tree, each of immense size, and possibly of equal age with our State, stand like sturdy sentinels, extending their ancient arms over the sleepers below. Evidence is now apparent that a smith's shop was erected near the house. There were between three and four thousand acres regarded as attached to this branch of the plantation. The provisions of the grant were ample for carrying out the idea of the proprietors, which was to establish a Manor here agreeably to the English custom - the occupants of the land to be held as tenants by the proprietors of the soil.
The most interested and active men of the Laconia Company were Fernando Gorges and John Mason. In 1634, these gentlemen became owners of the grant, and Gorges disposed of his right in New Hampshire to Mason, also his right to the saw-mills at Newichewannock (the Berwick lower falls). Gorges held his possession in Maine, and founded there the first city in New England, called Gorgiana. The city form of government was observed for only two years, when the Mayor, Thomas Gorges, returned to England. A laxity of morals being manifest, and the citizens being few, there being no clergymen nor schools, the city form of government was abandoned, and its place the quiet town of York has ever since supplied.
Although Mason never visited his possessions, he took a deep interest in his Manor, and in 1631 sent about eighty emigrants to locate here and act as stewards, agents, workmen and servants. Among the men were many whose surnames are yet familiar with us. Neal, Gibbons, Camocks, Raymond, Williams, Vaughan, Warnerton, Jocelyn, Norton and Lane were his stewards; Renald Fernald was the surgeon; there were forty-eight others of various occupations, and twenty-two women. Among the forty-eight men were the following names; Goe, Cooper, Chadborn, Matthews, Rand, Johnson, Ellins, Baldwin, Spencer, Furrel, Herd, Chatherton, Crowther, Williams, Knight, Sherborn, Goddard, Withers, Canney, Symonds, Peverly, Seavey, Langstaff, Berry, Wall, Walford, Brakin, Moore, Beal, James, Jones, Ault, Newt, and Bracket.
Site Of Modern Strawbery Banke
In 1631, the "Great House" was built by Humphrey Chadborn, about three miles up the Piscataqua from Mason's Hall. Its location was on our present Water street, on the south-east corner of Court street. It was from this point, over Church hill and further north, that there was a large growth of strawberries near the bank of the river, which circumstance, for thirty years from the first settlement up to 1658, gave what is now the compact part of Portsmouth, the name of Strawberry Bank.
The Great House, which was also a part of Mason's property, was the second house reported to have been built here, although the circumstance that a fort was early erected on the eastern part of Great Island goes to show that probably there were some fishermen's cots on that island at the time.
To the Great House there were attached about a thousand acres of land, consisting of marsh, meadow, planting and pasture grounds, and much of it under improvement. The bounds of this farm cannot now be accurately defined; it probably extended over a large portion of the present compact part of the city, taking in the whole peninsula between the ponds, and extending west and north of them. An old document shows that Strawberry Bank was the planting ground and pasture of the Great House.
In 1632, Mason imported a large breed of yellow cattle from Denmark. We find that in 1635, there were twenty-four cows and thirty-four other meat cattle, ninety-two sheep, twenty-seven goats, sixty-four hogs, and twenty-one horses and colts on the plantation. The imported cattle increased so well that, thirteen years after, one of Mason's unfaithful stewards drove a hundred of them to Boston and the vicinity, where he sold them on his own account for about twenty pounds a head. Some of this stock is yet to be found in this vicinity.
While we are rambling about the Manor, the Great House, and the Saw-mill establishment, which compose the three divisions of the Mason plantation, we will look in upon their stores, a schedule of which, made in July, 1635, at the time of Mason's death, is before us. We find them not only provided with food in abundance, but also with ample means of defense. For use in their little forts were furnished some articles of armament such as their descendants now rarely see. Here are twenty-two arquebusses, capable of carrying a three ounce ball, and cocked with a wheel; three sakers, two chambers, and four other pieces of ordnance called murtherers; here, too, are four muskets, forty-six fowling pieces, twelve pistols, sixty-one swords and belts; and to make the guns effective, thirteen barrels of gunpowder, and about a thousand pounds of bullets and shot. For music, here are two drums for the training days, while no less than fifteen hautboys and "soft recorders" are provided to cheer the emigrants in their solitude. Looking into their storehouse, we find 220 bushels of corn and meal, 20 bushels of oatmeal, 15 barrels of malt, 29 barrels of peas, 610 pounds of sugar, 512 pounds of tobacco, 6 pipes of wine and 2 of brandy. Tea and coffee were then unknown, and chocolate had not come into use. So if we stop at the Great House, or at the Hall, for refreshments, we must put up with an Indian cake, pea porridge, a flagon of ale, and after whiffing a Dutch pipe, a cup of wine. It is very doubtful whether we can be accommodated with any crockery or glassware from which to partake our treat, for the twelve hundred and seventy-six utensils made of wrought pewter, which they possessed, would seem enough to supply every use to which crockery might be appropriated. We must be careful to keep good hours-for in the whole establishment can be found but about fifteen pounds of candles.
The Great House was occupied up to 1644 by Thomas Warnerton, who was an assistant to Gov. Williams, (officers appointed by Mason.) In 1644, Warnerton seized upon some of the arms and ammunition of which we have just given an account, as well as on some other goods belonging to the estate of Mason, shipped them to Port Royal and accompanied them. Soon after he had disposed of his cargo, he fell in a rencontre with some of the inhabitants. Sampson Lane then became the occupant of the Great House, and continued there until 1646, when it passed into the possession and occupancy of Richard Cutt, who occupied it till his death, in 1676. The Great House then went into the possession of his brother President John Cutt, (if not before owned by him,) for we find in 1680 the President, by his will, gives the house to his son Samuel. The house was then probably in a dilapidated condition, for in 1685 it is recorded that the house had fallen down, and the ruins were then visible.
Col. John Tufton Mason, of the fifth generation from the original grantee, John Mason, to whom his estate descended, lived in Portsmouth, on Vaughn street, more than a century ago. That house will be visited in a future ramble.
The only relics of the articles brought over by the company of 1631 in our knowledge, are two of the chairs brought over by Dr. Renald Fernald, Which have probably been inmates of Mason Hall. One is now in the possession of A. R. H. Fernald, Esq., a descendant of the Sixth generation. It is a handsome chair of the Elizabethan age, and has been carefully handed down from generation to generation. The other chair is at the residence of John L. Hayes, Esq., in the city of Washington.
We have no knowledge of the exact time when the old garrison houses in Portsmouth were built; but within a century there was a garrison house at the head of Jacob Sheafe's wharf on Water street, another near the mansion of the late Alexander Ladd, on Market street, probably the residence of President John Cutt, and a third was the Russell house near the Ferryways. These were probably some of the first houses built on the Bank, after the erection of the Great House.
In former times it is not unlikely that at high tides the Bank was nearly, if not quite, an island. Before any bridges were erected at the entrances of the north and south ponds, the tide rose much higher in those ponds than it has since. That the water from the north pond has flowed through Hanover, Vaughn and Congress streets to where the stone stable now stands in Fleet street, is very evident; for recently there has been dug in Fleet street, at the depth of four feet, the sward of a salt marsh, in good preservation, showing that in former times the salt water had flowed there. It is also said that the marshes of the South Mill pond have extended into Court street. If so, the water has doubtless, in former ages, flowed between the North and South ponds; as it has also from Puddle dock to the South pond, over Pleasant street; thus making one island of what was formerly called "Pickering's Neck," and another of "the Bank."
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