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Market Square was a very
different place back then
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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.

See the Square in 1895
See the Square today

Market Square in 1789--First store of three stories--Knight's house--The robber discovered--Inspection of travellers and goods.

MARKET SQUARE as it is, is a great improvement on what it was seventy years ago, when President Washington, from the balcony over the eastern door of the State House, was formally received by the citizens of Portsmouth. At that time the premises of Stephen Pearse's father extended on a line with the present market twenty-five feet west into the Parade, as then called, and twelve feet north into Daniel street. The old State House, standing opposite, left the Parade no wider than the street now is in front of the Exchange Buildings. The road was very narrow on the north of the State House,--and between the State House and the North Meeting House was a rough ledge of rocks, over which no carriage could pass. Market and Daniel streets were only about as wide as Ladd street now is. There was then no bank house nor market house.

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First 3 Story

Directly in front of where the Rockingham bank now is, in the middle of the street, was a brick watch house, ten feet square, which, after standing there twenty-eight years, was looked upon, as some now look upon our market house, as not very ornamental, and was taken down just before Washington arrived, and the ledge on which it stood levelled. Between the North Church and the new Custom House site stands the first building of three stories which was erected for a store in Portsmouth, now owned by William S. Hadley. At the time of its erection by Daniel Austin, in 1800, there were only fifteen three storied houses in Portsmouth, most of which had been erected but five years. In 1811 Mr. Austin sold the property to Gen. Asa Dearborn, who afterwards disposed of it to Joshua Wentworth, who made it is place of business for several years.

On the spot where Col. Hadley's hotel recently stood, was the residence of William Knight--a large two-story house, end to the street, entrance to front door from a yard on the south. The original stable was taken down in 1857.

Madam Knight was the daughter of John Moffat. She lived here in that aristocratic style which in latter days is more rare. Although within a stone's cast of her place of worship, her chariot, with two horses would be in requisition to take her to the door. John Moffat had two other daughters. One of them was Mrs. Sherburne, the mother of Governor Langdon; the other was the lady of William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Madam Knight died over sixty years ago. The house was then occupied by Capt. Robert O. Treadwell; next by Hon. Benjamin Penhallow, Dr. Lyman Spaulding, then by John Elkins, and after by Hadley & Clark.

There is one feature in the position of the property around Market Square, which goes far to disprove the idea that unentailed real estate will soon pass out of a family. The Jacob Sheafe estate, extending from Daniel street down the east side of Market street, has been in the family one hundred and sixty years--the opposite corner, owned by Stephen Pearse, where he has personally been in business for himself sixty-five years, was the residence of his father, and grandfather, Jotham Odiorne, who owned it more than a century ago. The Rogers property has been in the family a longer period, and the land on which John N. Handy's stores, west of the Athenaeum, are now located, has come down without deed through six generations. The property next west to the corner has been in the Pierce family for a century at least; and the Gains property for a hundred and thirty years. There is also land near by, the seat of Charles H. Ladd, which has descended regularly in the family from John Tufton Mason, the proprietor of the title to New Hampshire.

One other mark of stability in this vicinity is the fact, that the location of Albert Badger's tin shop, in Daniel street, has been used for the same purpose for at least seventy years. Mr. Norry manufactured his tin ware there before John Badger, father of Albert, came to Portsmouth.

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The Barber Confesses

While we are on Market Square we will relate a little incident which took place here in 1770. Near where the Athenaeum now stands was the barber's shop of Peter Mann. His apprentice was a dashy young man, named Samuel Chandler. There had been many store robberies made in the previous year,--Mr. Cutts missed his dry goods--Mr. Penhallow his wares, and Mr. Griffith his watches. Search was made, but no traces could be discovered. One morning in January, George Dame came into the shop to be shaved. In his jocose way he said to Mr. Mann, "so you have been stealing more goods, have you?" It was received of course as a joke. Sitting down in the chair, as young Chandler was arranging to shave him, he said--"Do tell me, Sam, what you did with the goods." Chandler was seized with trembling, and could not shave him. Suspicion at once falling upon him, he was arrested, confessed his crime, and in the attic of the State House he disclosed a stock of valuable goods which he had stolen from time to time, intending when of age to open shop, without being troubled with the credit system. Chandler was banished from the town.

In those times, before the discovery of inoculation, every precaution was taken to prevent the introduction of small pox here. Mr. Dame, above referred to, had an office somewhere near the Pound, where all travellers and packages from Boston had an inspection and smoking, if deemed necessary, before they were permitted to pass.

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