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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.

The Glebe Land--Its location and occupancy.

IN former times there was a stronger alliance between church and state than the spirit of republicanism now countenances. Every man felt as much obligated to pay his town tax for the support of a minister, as he now is to pay his school tax. It made no difference whether he attended church or whether the minister held sentiments utterly at variance with his own, the tax for the minister's support was to be paid. It thus became a subject of municipal policy to make such provision for the ministers as would relieve the public taxes.

In 1640, only seventeen years after the first settling of Portsmouth, Francis Williams, (the governor,) Ambrose Gibbins, William Jones, Renald Fernald, John Crowther, Anthony Bracket, Michael Chatterton, Jno. Wall, Robert Puddington, Matthew Coe, Henry Sherburn, John Lander, Henry Taler, Jno. Jones, William Berry, Jno. Pickering, Jno. Billing, Jno. Wolten, Nicholas Row and William Palmer, the principal inhabitants of Portsmouth, made a deed of fifty acres of land in Portstmouth for a Glebe, or Parsonage. Three fourths of it was the "full tenth part of the fresh marsh lying at the head of Strawberry bank creek," and land adjoining. The other fourth part, or twelve acres, was given in a square lot in that part of Portsmouth between and including the North Church, to the garden of J. K. Pickering on the east, thence by the southern bounds of the Court House lot to the west garden line of John F. Salter, thence north to the garden line east of late Wm. Sheafe's estate, on Congress street, and east on that street to the North church.

On this minister's field, of which three acres were then enclosed in a pale for a corn field, there was at that time erected "a parsonage house, with a chapel thereto united." This house and chapel were on the spot where John K. Pickering's house now stands.

It does not appear that the minister's field was turned to any public account, except the erection of a house therein by Thomas Phipps, probably on the spot where the Rogers mansion now stands, and the erection of a prison in that vicinity, for some sixty years after 1640.

In 1705 the inhabitants of Portsmouth residing principally at the south and eastern part of the town, looked upon the glebe land as our national government does upon the western territory--and took precisely the same means for inducing settlers. What is now doing in the way of pre-emption in the west, was, more than one hundred and fifty years ago, introduced here, as the following copy of a lease given in 1709, to Charles Story, Judge of the Admiralty,--fully explains:

"This Indenture, made the fifth day of September, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lady Ann, Queen of Great Brittaine, between William Vaughan, Sam'll Penhallow, John Plaisted, William Cotton, Thomas Phipps, Edward Ayers and Samuell Weeks of the town of Portsmo. in the province of New Hampshire in New England of the one part, and Charles Story of the same place, gentleman, of the other part.

Whereas, that tract of land or pasture in Portsmo. afore s'd, comonly called or known by the name of the town field, or minister's field, lying att the entrance of the Bank, in which field the said Thomas Phipps hath built a house and now dwelleth: was at a public town-meeting the twentieth day of April, Anno Dom. 1705, ordered to be laide out into house lotts for peopling the town as by the following vote appears, viz.:

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Voted that the minister's field formerly given for the use of the ministry, be by consent of Mr. Rogers, our present minister, divided off for house lots for peopling the town, and that the advantage which arises thereby be to the benefit of the ministry. Preserving a conveniency for a Meeting house, Court house, Alms house, and Burying place, as the Selectmen for the time being, with a comitte chosen for that end may judge most meet for the town interest, and that each lot consist of fifty foot front and eighty foot deep. Soe as to make a square of eighty and fifty, and that evry p'son that may incline to buy, to agree with the said Selectmen and comitte, who are hereby impower'd to give leases for the same, that noe man have more than one lott, and the same built upon within three years, and every byer to enclose the same att his own proper cost, and maintaine the same on his and theire proper accomp't and charge forever; voted that Maj'r William Vaughan, Mr. George Jeffrey, John Plaisted, Wm. Cotton and Samuell Penhallow be of the comitte to joine with the Selectmen for the time beinge in disposing of house lotts out of the said minister's field.

And wheras the field above s'd being laid out, and divided into house lotts which are number 'd 1, 2, 3, 4, &c. as by a plat recorded in the town books of Portsmo. upon file. Reference being thereto had will plainly appear.

Now this Indenture will [here the manuscript is obliterated] consideration of the annual or yearly rent therein expressed, and pursuiant to the aforesaid vote have demised, granted, sell and to farm, let and by these presents doe fully, freely and absolutely demise, grant, and to farm, let oute the said Charles Story for himself,--his heirs, exect'r, administrators or assignes one house lott in said field, entered in the said number (10) and is fronting upon the northerly side of the said minister's field on the--[obliterated] of the prison adjoining to the lott of Thomas Phipps, Esq. and is fifty-three foot front and seventy-five foot deep, holding the same breadth in the back as in the front.

To have and to hold the said house lott or lotts of land with all priveleidges, benefitts and appurtenances whatsoever to the same belonging or in any wise appertaining unto him the said Charles Story--his heirs, exec'trs, administrators or assignes, for and during the full space and term of nine hundred ninetie and nine years fully to be compleated and ended, to commence from the five and twentyeth day of March last past--yielding and paying therefor yearly and every year during the whole term and space of nine hundred ninety and nine yeares, eight shillings in money, according to the custom and manner of money in [obliterated] between man and man to be paid upon the five and twentyeth day of March--in every yeare during the said term, unto Mr. Nathaniel Rodgers, our present minister, during his continuence in the ministry of this town, or to the Selectmen of the said town for the time being or theire order for the support of the ministry of this town. And att the end and expiration of the said term of nine hundred and ninety nine years he the said Charles Story, his heirs, execu'rs, adm'rs or assignes shall yield and deliver up peaceable and quiet possession of the premises unto the Selectmen of the said town of Portsmo. for the time being, or to other p'sons that may then be appointed and delegated in their room to manage that concerne. And further the said Charles Story doth hereby for himselfe, his heirs, executors and assignes, covenant and agree that he, they, or some of them shall from time to time during the term afores'd, at his and theire owne proper cost and charges, stone in the said house lott or lotts of land; and shall also within those years build a house upon the same. In witness whereof the parties aforesaid to these presents interchangeably have sett their hands and seals the day and yeare before written. Anno Dom. 1709." [Duly signed by the committee and selectmen.]

This Charles Story was an Englishman, who in 1697 received, while in England, the appointment of Judge of the Admiralty for New Hampshire, and took up his residence in Portsmouth. He was also appointed Secretary of the Province, but refusing to produce the books of the Province when in his possession, he was discharged from the latter office for contempt of the Council.

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Glebe Deed Map The following is a diagram of the division of lots in the glebe land, agreeably to the plan referred to in the above lease as being recorded on the town books:

The Jail, formerly on the corner south of the Temple, was built in 1759. Previous to that time, from a boundary given in the above lease, it appears that it was in the vicinity of lot No.10, but exactly where does not appear.

Charles Story did not comply with the requisition to build a house in three years,--and so the lot was still in the market for any other occupant. We have before us a lease of the same lot No.10, together with lot No. 20 in the rear of it, given to Charles Treadwell in 1729, for nine hundred and ninety- nine years, he paying a rent of fifteen shillings annually, on the 25th of March, to the Parish wardens for the use of the Parish. This deed is given by the wardens and parish committee, the selectmen of the town taking no part in the transaction. All leases after that time were given in the same manner.

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The following are the conditions of Mr. Treadwell's lease:

"To have and to hold the premises with the privileges and appurtenances thereto appertaining, or in any wise belonging unto him the said Charles Treadwell, his exe'ts, administrators or assigns, for and during the full space and term of nine hundred ninety-nine years, from the day of the date of these presents, and from thence to be fully compleated and ended, he, the said Charles Treadwell, or his exe'ts, administrators, on yielding and paying therefore yearly, and every year during the aforesaid term, to the Church wardens of the said Parish and committee for the time being, upon the twenty- fifth day of March, the sum of fifteen shillings in cur't money of New England or good bills of credit on the province of New Hampshire, which shall be applied to the use of the aforesaid first parish of Portsmouth from time to time, and at the end and expiration of the said term, shall quietly and peaceably surrender up the premises----without strip or wast to the Church wardens of said Parish for the time being, and to the committee for the ruling, ordering and governing the premises."

We find on the back of this lease an endorsement dated March 1,1792, which acknowledges the receipt by the Parish Wardens of L3 16s. 8d. for the rent of lots numbered ten and twenty for the remaining term of the nine hundred and ninety-nine years for which the lease was given.

Lot No.4, was leased to John Plaisted, in 1730, for eleven shillings per year. And in the course of a few years after there were many more of the lots taken up and leases given, at various annual rents, which were regularly collected annually up to the time of the Revolution. The pre-emption principle had the effect of settling that portion of the town which was less attractive at the time than the immediate vicinity of the river, and brought in some persons from other towns who otherwise might not have been attracted this way.

It appears that during the time of the Revolution there was no attention paid to the collection of the rents. In 1789 the North Parish appointed a committee of investigation, which reported the sums then due for back rents, and what sums would be received from the lessees in full for the unexpired terms of the leases. Many of the tenants in 1792 settled in full. Nothing more was done until 1821, when the parish wardens made claims against those who had not settled previously, and some further settlements were made for rent, but no quitclaim deeds of land, to our knowledge, were given. A few years since James Smith, Esq., by the payment of forty dollars, received a deed from the Parish, which will entitle his heirs, if the estate should remain in his family, to the inheritance of the property after the nine hundred and ninety-nine years expire.

The sum paid, if put on interest to the time when the right thus purchased shall be enjoyed, is rather large--several times the value of all the wealth of earth! For one cent at compound interest, for one century, produces $340; in two centuries, $1,156; in three centuries, $393,040; in four centuries, $133,633,600; in five centuries, $45,435,424,000. This is only for half of a thousand years; but it is useless to go further to show how much was paid for the security of the right of some heir thirty generations off, who will probably never know the true worth of him who bestowed the benefit, or even his name, unless he finds it in some musty old book entitled "Rambles about Portsmouth."

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Happy for us, perhaps, that there are no speculators among us who can feel assured of a Methusalian age: otherwise we might begin to hear of the price of prospective Glebe stock, division to be made in the year 2730! Though all must sleep before that day, yet it will arrive, the nine hundred and ninety- nine years leases all expire, and the twelve acres with all the improvements may come again into the possession of the old North Church! We might speculate on their ownership of the Stone Church, one of the three only buildings in the minister's field likely to continue to that day; but as time will make great ravages in nine hundred years, even among the stones, we will not venture now to predict how valuable the old North will then estimate their claim. Nor will we venture to say that some Solon of the year 2730 may not prove that the whole property belongs to the Episcopal or South Church, and that the old North may not be placed under an annual rent. There is much doubt in law--and the more distant the day the greater the doubt.

Had our fathers taken but the first year's rent of their fifty lots, at nine shillings each, and placed it at interest, it would at the present time, after expending $30,000 for building the new church, have left a fund large enough to pay from the interest an annual salary to a minister of $1500, besides having $2500 annually for other purposes. But had they done so, is it certain that preaching which costs nothing is so highly valued?

That portion of the glebe land called the minister's field, of twelve acres, was located in the centre of the city. The other thirty-eight acres of the glebe were laid out in one lot, the entrance to which was through a lane which formerly opened opposite a little north of the residence of Daniel H. Spinney, on White's road. In 1790 or '91, Islington road was opened from the Creek to the Plains, passing directly through the glebe lot. Until that time it had been let by the Parish for pasturing. After the road was opened, one object of which was to give value to the land, the North Parish leased it for nine hundred and ninety-nine years, in separate lots, to Joseph Akerman, Dr. A. R. Cutter, Elijah Hall, Edward Parry, and to some others, for about twenty dollars an acre. The land extends about equal distances each way from the powder house, taking in those fields on the west side of the lane that extend to D. R. Rogers' farm. Its northern bound is not far from the Eastern railroad; and the western extent is the western side of Peter Emery's field. It also takes in all the fields on the opposite side of Islington road, to the same extent. The object of the sale of leases was to obtain the means for building the parsonage house, (where Charles Robinson now lives,) which was erected in 1792, and was owned by the Parish, and occupied by its ministers, for about forty years before it was sold to its present occupant.

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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