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Kittery's Chauncy Creek is named
for this ancient local family

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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.

Charles Chauncy - Family history - His interest in the Revolution - Anecdotes--Character - Descendants - Charles W. Chauncy - Finale of the old house.

IN 1791, two years after the death of Col. Pierse Long, the old mansion on South street, noticed in our last ramble, came into the possession and occupancy of Charles Chauncy, great grandson of President Charles Chauncy, of Harvard College.

Probably no family in Portsmouth can trace its pedigree beyond that of the Chauncy. Chauncy de Chauncy came into England with William the Conqueror in 1066, from Chauncy, near Amiens in France. The female branch goes back directly to Charlemagne and Egbert, about the year 800. The descendants occupied the estates in England, making but one change, up to the birth of President Chauncy in 1592, who, experiencing some severe persecutions under Bishop Laud, emigrated to Plymouth in 1638. He was inaugurated as the second President of Harvard College in 1654. His son Isaac, born in 1632, was the father of Rev. Dr. Charles Chauncy, who was born in Boston in 1705, and died there in 1787. A Street, a Place, and a Hall there bear honorable remembrance of the latter in their names.

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The Old Squire

Charles Chauncy, who in 1809 died at the house in South street above referred to, was the son of the minister of Boston. After graduating in 1748, being prevented by feeble health from studying for the ministry, he entered the counting room of his uncle, Sir Wm. Pepperell, at Kittery. In 1756 he married Mary Cutts of Cutts' Island. She died in 1758, leaving no children. In 1760 he married Joanna Gerrish of Kittery, daughter of the proprietor of Gerrish's Island. She remained his companion to nearly the close of life, dying but three months before him. They are interred in the Cotton burying ground. The grand-daughter, Mrs. Eliza Porter, wife of Lieut. John Porter of the Navy, represents him as a superior man in talents, attainments and moral excellence. She gives a graphic description of him, as she used to see him in that old mansion:

"I remember my grandfather as a small, very erect old gentleman, of quick movement, wearing a cocked hat, small clothes, and black silk hose, with diamond knee buckles. I have a faint impression that he was in the army during the war of the Revolution, from his being sometimes called captain, and from an old sword, a military coat and buff vest, with which the grandchildren amused themselves in playing old soldier; but of this I am not certain. I know that he was much interested in political affairs and with fearless independence expressed his opinion in speaking, and writing for many papers in Boston and in Portsmouth. It was a part of my daily duties to read the papers to him, scarce a word of which I could comprehend. When I read anything of his own writing, he would become very impatient and say, "how you drawl that out; it is a stirring article and should be read thus;" and he would then read it out with such vehement tones and gestures, without looking at the paper, that I would be nearly frightened out of my wits, and run off to my grandmother, or aunt, to inquire what he meant by 'stirring articles.' 'Tory and Federalist and Republican,' how he would read without seeing the paper!

"He was a devout Christian and strict in enforcing religious observances in his family. He read and instructed us in the Scriptures during the evening, and repeated with much ease and solemnity, passages from the psalms, which he required me to commit to memory, and took great pains to instruct me in reciting them. He wrote with great vigor and conciseness, and often with eloquence. The promptness with which he used his pen caused him to have many applicants for public speeches, etc.*

"He was liberal in his charities and detested ostentation; frequently refusing to aid, by public subscription, persons to whom he would send a generous private donation. He complained if his table was not abundantly spread, that there would be nothing left for the poor. Many a needy pensioner mourned the cessation of his bounty, when too generous a confidence in the integrity of others had curtailed the provisions made for age and infirmity. I felt an unconscious pride steal over my heart when walking with him, as I noticed the respect and reverence with which every one greeted him. Even the children would cease their play as he approached, saying, 'here comes the squire,' and stand aside to doff their hats, or bob their courtesies, as he passed."

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End of the Family Line

The children of Charles and Joanna Chauncy were: CHARLES, born April 22, 1761; died Sept. 10, 1789, aged twenty-eight. He was esteemed for his piety and exemplary deportment; but having been too assiduous in the pursuit of mental acquirements, he became insane at the age of sixteen, and continued so until a week before his death.

ISAAC, born Jan. 14, 1763. He was captain of the ship Columbia, of Portsmouth, N. H. She was cast away on a reef of rocks, near Marshfield, Mass. The Captain was sick at the time and was confined to the cabin. He and fourteen of the crew perished March 11, 1792. He was about to be married.

SARAH, born Feb.12, 1765; married John Moore, shipmaster, of Portsmouth, N. H. Their children were, Statira, who married Peter Shores; Joanna Chauncy, who married William M. Shackford; John, who married Caroline Blunt; Almira Chauncy, who was a preceptress at Exeter, N. H.

The fourth child of Charles Chauncy was SAMUEL CHAUNCY. He was born May 12, 1767. He was from his boyhood a mariner. At an early period he commanded a ship belonging to Col. Eliphalet Ladd. Afterward he became joint proprietor with Col. Ladd's sons, Messrs. Henry and Alexander Ladd. He ever evinced much prudence and intelligence as a commander, and was successful as a supercargo. In 1795 he married Betsy, the second daughter of Col. Ladd, and occupied a house on Daniel street, near where W. M. Shackford now resides. In about 1799 their only living son, Charles William, was born. In 1807

Captain Chauncy purchased a beautiful location on the southerly side of Islington street, fronting Ann street. Here he erected a large three-story dwelling-house, and commodious out-buildings -- the present seat of the family of the late Captain Lewis Barnes.

After this time he relinquished his marine pursuits, to enjoy the pleasures of domestic ease. The life of a landsman, he soon discovered, was not congenial with the requirements of his health, morally and physically. About the year 1815, he sold his pleasant dwelling-house to Capt. L. Barnes, and removed to a valuable farm and country seat owned by Mrs. Ladd in Stratham, some ten or twelve miles from Portsmouth, in the hope of finding advantages for health in a change of situation. Here, surrounded by the comforts of life, with leisure for reading and social intercourse, and the visits of friends, in agricultural pursuits he hoped to find contentment and health. But he still looked to the ocean as his home, where "rocked on the billows of the deep," he might hope to find rest for his unsatisfied, diseased mind. Under the impression that his circumstances demanded an increase of income for future support, on the 17th of March, 1817, he took command of the Hannah in Portsmouth, and set sail for Bremen. In October, intelligence came that Capt. Chauncy had ended his life by suicide, aged fifty-one. Mrs. Chauncy, a lady of very noble qualities, died Nov. 17, 1821, at the age of forty-five years.

ELIZABETH HIRST, the fifth child of Charles Chauncy, was born July 11, 1769. She married Jeremiah Clark, of York, Me. They had one child, Eliza C., who in 1815 married Lieut. John Porter, of the United States Navy, brother of Commodore Porter. He died at Watertown, Mass., 1831.

JOANNA was born in 1772. She was married to Edward Parry, for many years a merchant of Portsmouth, and died suddenly in June, 1800.

LUCY was born Oct. 20, 1773. She was married to Capt. William Yeaton, of Portsmouth. They removed to Alexandria, and were living there in 1817.

Their other five children all died young.

The only descendant of the oldest son of President Chauncy, who bears the name of Chauncy, is Charles William, the son of Samuel, born in 1799. He graduated with honor at Harvard College in 1819, and took the degree of M.D. from the same institution in 1822. After some years absence in Europe, he commenced successful practice in Portsmouth in 1827, and was also popular as a lecturer. In about the year 1834 there was a vacancy in the lecture room of the Berkshire Medical College, by the temporary absence of one of the professors. Dr. Chauncy was invited to fill the chair of the absentee during the lecture season. He entered on the duties of the chair very successfully, but suddenly became deranged, in the midst of a lecture. He was soon apparently restored, though he did not complete the course of lectures. On his return home, his mind, after a time, gradually failed, from the disease in his mental organs. He declined all professional business, from the consciousness that he was not competent to attend to it. After trying the effects of a sea voyage, and on his return residing on his fine estate in Stratham, he was sent, first, to the Massachusetts General Hospital and afterwards to the Insane Retreat in Concord, N. H., where he now is, the mere wreck of what he once was.

As the old mansion has now disappeared, so has passed away from our locality that ancient name, which has been distinctly traced by the unwearied William Chauncy Fowler through thirty generations.

There are some marks of the cellar yet left, and those tan pits which a century ago, and even since the house was vacated by the Chauncys, have been brought into use, can yet be seen. About the year 1812 an adventure took place in the ruins which for a long time gave a name to the locality. A sailor, in his new blue dress, was wandering about the yard, when in passing over the decayed covering of a pit for liming skins, he slipped in. It was not long before be was seen among his fellow-privateersmen in Water street, with much more the appearance of being in white French uniform, than in the true blue. "Well Jack, where have you been," said the wonder-stricken ship-mates. Better acquainted with white sand than with lime, and with the technicalities of the sea coast than of the tan yard, he repled -- "Blast me, if I haven't been capsized in a sand pan." There was a hearty laugh all around, as well as a general treat -- and for many years the old locality bore the name of the "Sand Pans." In 1835 the old mansion was demolished, but long will remain its remembrance.

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A Chauncy Memory

*John Ball, for ten years the City Missionary of Salem, was a native of Portsmouth, and died in Salem in January, 1859. About three weeks before his death, in a letter addressed to the editor of the Portsmouth Journal, he speaks thus of Charles Chauncy:

"Your Rambles I continue to read with interest. In regard to 'Old Squire Chauncy,' as the boys called him when I was a boy, I would say, we all respected and loved him, because he always had a kind word for us whenever we met him. I often think of the tablet on his tombstone in Cotton's burying-ground, which is in Latin. The first three letters on it are--H. S. E. -- and some one who knew him, no doubt, (whether he was a wag or not,) scratched on the marble next to the above letters so as to read, 'Hon. South Ender.' I remember the old gentleman had a word ready for every one. He was one day walking from his house up town, and passing along he heard a passionate old woman belching forth anything but gentle remarks. The Squire looked over the fence and said, 'What is the matter old lady, this morning?' 'Why,' she replied, 'they are unloading that hay near my garden, and the pesky grasshoppers will eat up all my cabbages; what shall I do, Squire?' 'O,' said he, 'catch 'em and yoke 'em,' and walked on. I love to think of the good old man."

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
Design © 2001

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