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.
Adoption of the name of Portsmouth and town lines -- Hubbard's Sketch of the early settlements.
For thirty years from the first settlement, we might roam through forests without leaving the present limits of the thickly settled part of Portsmouth. The growth of the colony was slow, the Great Island portion being more rapid than at the Bank. In 1653 there were but fifty or sixty families in the limits of what now comprises Portsmouth, Newcastle, Rye, Greenland and Newington.
In May of that year the inhabitants petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts for a definite township, and the privilege of taking the name of Portsmouth. As this petition, obtained by Rev. Dr. Burroughs from the file in the early documents in Massachusetts, has not been placed in our town records or annals, we give it here, verbatim, for preservation.
"To the hon'd Gen'l Court at Boston, this present month of May 1653. The humble petition of the Inhab'ts of the Towne at present called Strabery Banke, showeth. That whereas your petitioners petitioned to the last Gen'l Court to grant to the P. Inhab'ts, a competent portion of land to make us township, whereby we may be enabled to subsist and be useful to the church and Common'th. Our desire is, that this honor'd Court will be pleased to show their favor and goodwill towards us, and willingness to accommodate us to the uttermost. And for that purpose have desired the honor'd Capt. Wiggins to bringe his pattent to this present Court. Now it may please this hon'd Court to take our case into consideration; and to consider of our extreme necessities, first in respect of the number of families, which are between 50 and 60, of w'ch some are constrained to remove from want of land to accommodate them with their stocks -- secondly the qualities of the land wee live upon is soe badd, its incredible to beleeve except those who have seen it--thirdly the place being settled a plantation, the first of any in these parts, and our willingnesse in submitting to yr government--fourthly, that all the neighbouring plantations about us, w'ch were settled since wee, have their townshipps settled and bounded; onely we as yet have none -- fifthly, that whereas there is much benefit by saw mills in other townes in this river and adjacent townes there is none in this town but onely one, w'ch was never perfected nor like to bee. We humbly intreat his honor'd Court to take into theire view this necke of land w'ch we live upon; w'ch nature itselfe hath bounded with the maine sea and river, as may be seene by the draft of the river, w'ch was presented to the last Gen'l Court, and now presented againe by our deputie, w'ch necke of land is farre less than any neighboringe towne about us. The desire of yr humble petit'rs is, that this hon'd Court would grant us the necke of land, beginning in the great bay at a place called Cotterill's delight, soe runninge to the sea according to the former petition. And whereas the name of this plantation att present being Strabery Banke, accidentally soe called, by reason of a banke where straberries was found in this place, now we humbly desire to have it called Portsmouth, being a name most suitable for this place, it being the river's mouth, and good as any in this land, and your petit'rs shall humbly pray.
On this petition it was first proposed to postpone "because of Mr. Mason's claim on the land," afterwards granted 28 May, 1653, allowed to be called Portsmouth, "and the line of the township of Portsmouth to reach from the sea by Hampton lyne to Wynnacot river, leaving the propriet'rs to their just right."
In 1652 the records of the Bank were copied, suppressing all the selectmen regarded not worth preserving, thus depriving us of many of the early incidents of local history.
Hubbard, the early New-England historian, quaintly says of the slow settlement of North America, "this posthumous birth of time, is as to its nativity of the same standing with her two elder sisters Peru and Mexico, yet was suffered to lie in its swadling-clothes one whole century of years, nature having promised no such dowry of rich mines of silver and gold to them that would espouse her for their own, as she did unto the other two, which possibly was the reason why she was not so hastily possessed by her first discoverers, nor yet so early courted by any of the Princes of Europe." In 1676, Hubbard remarks, "All or most of the towns and plantations are seated upon and near some river greater or lesser, whose streams are principally improved for driving of saw -- mills, those late inventions, so useful for destruction of wood and timber, specially of fir trees, which do so abound in those coasts; that there is scarce a river or creek in those parts that hath not some of those engines erected upon them. The upper branches of the famous river Piscataqua, being also imployed all of them that way, namely, Sturgeon Creeke, Salmon Falls, Newechewannick, Queechecho, Oyster River, Swamscot, Greenland, Lamprey-Eele river, together with the towns of Exeter and Dover, seated upon or near some of the main branches thereof, whose principal trade is in deale boards, cut by those saw-mills, since their rift timber is near all consumed. On each side of that brave navigable river of Piscataqua down towards the mouth of it, are seated, on the north side the town of Kittery, (a long scattering plantation made up of several hamlets,) on the south side the town of Portsmouth, to which belongs the great island, lying in the mouth of the said river, a place of considerable trade these late years, the which together with Strawberry Bank, the upper part of the said town of Portsmouth, are the magazine, and chief, or only place of commerce and trade at the plantations, betwixt it and Casco bay."
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