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Even in the 1850s these lost
paintings were already old

Brewster image

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.
JDR

The Warner House--Capt. Macpheadris--Jonathan Warner--Paintings developed--First lightning rod.

AMONG the great variety of structures in and about our city which have been noted for connection with our past history, is one which is deserving of some prominence. It is the oldest brick house in the city, which at the time of its building was scarcely surpassed by any private residence in New England. The mansion to which we refer is called the Warner house. It is situated at the corner of Daniel and Chapel streets, is at present owned and occupied by Col. John N. Sherburne, and is apparently as sound, fresh and in as good repair as though it had been erected within twenty years.

Capt. Archibald Macpheadris, the projector and builder of this mansion, was a native of Scotland, a member of the King's Council, and an opulent merchant. The work was commenced in 1718 and finished in 1723, at an expense of L6000. The massive walls, eighteen inches thick, are of brick, which with some of the other building materials were brought from Holland. Hewn stone at that time was not in use. The brick work commences on the rough cellar walls. It is three stories in height--the third story has a gambrel roof and lutheran windows. The stories are very high for the style of the time in which it was built, the whole height of the building being about fifty feet.

Capt. M. was a leading projector of the first iron works in America. He was at the head of a small company which commenced the manufacture of iron from the ore at Lamprey river. In 1719 the General Court of Massachusetts granted to this company, by way of encouragement, a slip of land two miles wide, at the head of Dover line. This land was to furnish fuel for the iron works, and a location for settling the foreign operatives. How long the work continued or to what extent, we have no knowledge,--but some of the iron fixtures now in use in this mansion were from the Lamprey River Iron Works. The land of the company is now embraced in the town of Barrington.

Capt. Macpheadris married Miss Sarah Wentworth, one of the sixteen cbildren of Governor John Wentworth. [After his death, in 1729, she married George Jaffrey.] Capt. M. occupied the mansion but six years, and died in 1729. They had but one daughter, Mary, who was married in 1754 to Hon. Jonathan Warner. The portraits of the mother and daughter, in Copeley's best style, still ornament one of the parlors of the house. Mr. Warner was one of the King's Council, until the Revolution closed his commission. He had but one child, who died young. We well recollect Mr. W. as one of the last of the cocked hats. As in a vision of early childhood, he is still before us, in all the dignity of the aristocratic crown officers. That broad back, long skirted brown coat, those small clothes and silk stockings--those silver buckles, and that cane, we see them still, although the life that filled and moved them ceased half a century ago. He was the great uncle of the present occupant of the mansion. But in speaking of the persons we have neglected the mansion, of which it was our principal purpose to speak.

At the head of the stairs on the broad space each side of the hall windows, there are pictures of two Indians, life size, highly decorated, and executed by a skillful artist. These pictures have always been in view there, and are supposed to represent some with whom the original owner traded in furs, in which business he was also engaged. In the lower hall of the house are still displayed the enormous antlers of an elk, presented to Capt. M. by the Indians.

Not long since the spacious front entry underwent repairs. There had accumulated four coatings of paper. In one place on removing the under coating, the picture of the hoof of a horse was discovered. This led to further investigation--the horse of life-size was developed, and a little further work exhumed Gov. Phipps on his charger. The progress of clearing the walls was now entered upon in earnest, with as much interest as if delving in the ruins of Pompeii.

The next discovery was that of a lady at a spinning wheel (ladies spun in those times) who seems interrupted in her work by a hawk lighting among the chickens. Then came a scripture scene, Abraham offering up Isaac--the angel, the ram, etc. There is a distant city scene and other sketches on the walls, covering perhaps four or five hundred square feet. The walls have been very carefully cleared, and the whole paintings, which are evidently the work of some clever artist, are now presented in their original beauty.

No person living had any knowledge of the hidden paintings--they were as novel to an old lady of eighty, who had been familiar with the house from her childhood, as to her grand-daughter who discovered the horse's foot.

The rooms in the house are finished with panelled wood walls, and the old Dutch tiles still decorate the fire-places. The pictures on some of them are rather unique. The antiquarian here will find in the treasured family relics more curiosities than our limits will allow us to detail, which are more pleasing to him than a feast.

This house is provided with a lightning rod, which was put up in 1762 under the personal inspection of Doctor Benjamin Franklin--and was probably the first put up in New Hampshire.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by SeacoastNH.com
Design © 1999 SeacoastNH.com

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