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Long before Ronald McDonald
Portsmouth had a golden arch

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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.

Gardner's Arch - Gardner family - William Gardner's history - Sacrifices in the Revolution - His appointment and removal - Thomas Manning - Gardner's character.

PORTSMOUTH has but one arched street -- and the name of Gardner's Arch is as familiar to the old and the young, as Portsmouth Plains or Market Square. At the southeast corner of Gardner street stands tbe mansion of Major William Gardner -- built originally by the Wentworth family, it was for several years occupied by Ichabod Nichols, father of the late Rev. Dr. Nichols of Portland, and was purchased by Major Gardner in or about the year 1792.

Major William Gardner was born in 1751. His father, John Gardner, was a tailor, whose house was in Buck (now State) street, on the spot where Mayor Morrison now resides. John had six sons -- David, Christopher, (who died at Goshen, N. H.) William, (the subject of this article) John, Samuel (the father of Mrs. Abraham Wendell, also of John Gardner now residing on South street, and of Samuel, the printer, who -- of the firm of Peirce & Gardner -- was publisher of the N.H. Gazette), and Benjamin (the father of Andrew Gardner); and one daughter, Frances, who married Benjamin Drown.

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Blankets for the George Washington

Major Gardner was brought up to mercantile pursuits. His business education was obtained in the counting room of Col. Joshua Wentworth, at the corner of Vaughan and Hanover streets. At some period of the Revolution he was an acting commissary, and furnished the army with supplies.

In a dark hour of the Revolution, there was a lack of blankets, and a requisition from the head commissary was made for them. There were none then in Portsmouth, but Major Gardner understanding there was such an article as was needed in the hands of a merchant at Newburyport, went there to make a purchase for the government. The merchant, (we think his name was Titcomb,) was desirous to sell, but said he, "the government is already so much in debt to me, that if the revolution is not carried, I am a ruined man. I cannot trust the government any further." After some conversation he said, "if Major Gardner will take them on his own personal note, he can have them." It was for a large amount, -- but the soldiers needed them, and without delay the stock was taken up on his own account, and the army supplied.

When Major Gardner applied to government in after years for his pay, he found the treasury bankrupt, and himself a heavy sufferer for his patriotic services. His sacrifices for his country led Washington afterwards to appoint him Commissioner of Loans for this section. Major Gardner built the arch-house, and the room over the arch he occupied as a "U. S. Loan Office." There was transacted business on not quite so extensive a scale as the Rothschilds', but he was the medium of many investments which have been productive of good incomes to many in our State. His office also embraced that of Pension agent.

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He Hated President Adams

When Adams took the Presidential chair, there was a wide sweep of public officers, to give place to political friends. Among those who were removed in Portsmouth in 1798, was Major Gardner. This ostracism was not expected, nor received in a very submissive spirit. It was a mark of ingratitude which embittered his feelings against the Administration. Had you been walking near the arch on that day, you might have seen the Major with axe in hand, extending his arm from his window, and staving that Loan Office sign into a hundred pieces. Its remains kindled a Republican fire at the south end, which for years made it the seat of the anti-Adams party.

The feeling was not wholly confined to political meetings. It invaded the social circles, and embittered the hearth-stones. At a social gathering where Major Gardner and his lady were guests, some remarks were dropped reflecting on the Republican party. He at once turned to his lady. "Mrs. Gardner, take your bonnet -- it is time to go," was the quick decision of the hater of John Adams.

About this time the New Hampshire Gazette, under John Melcher, was too much in favor of the federal party to suit him, and strictures on some of the Republican leaders appearing therein, Major Gardner was much offended. A nephew of his, Samuel Gardner, was at that time apprentice in the office. Major Gardner went into the office, and said to his nephew -- "Sam, take your hat, and quit this place." He did so. Several years after Samuel Gardner was one of the publishers of that paper. In the mean time the "Republican Ledger" was established here, as the exponent of the radical doctrines of the party, and was continued until the election of Jefferson, in 1802.

Capt. Thomas Manning, whose mansion fronts Liberty bridge on the south side, was a man of sympathizing sentiments, and in some respects of the spirit of Major Gardner. They both despised ingratitude, were both of the same political tenets, patriotic in their feelings, and generous in their subscriptions for party purposes. They were both men of strict punctuality, and required the like virtues in those they dealt with. One illustrative anecdote we will give.

Capt. Manning was rich, and would loan money on good security. He had accommodated his friend, Abel Harris, and the time of payment had gone by a few days. Meeting him in the street, in his abrupt way he said -- "Harris, come down and settle your note." In as abrupt a manner the reply was, that he would see him to Guinea first. "Then I will sue you as soon as I can put my hand on the note," said he passing rapidly on. Mr. Harris knowing his fixedness of purpose, soon turned round and called him back. "I'll come half way." It was agreed, -- they met. "Capt. Manning, it is no use for two such hot heads as you and I to quarrel -- I will come down and settle this afternoon." "Very well." At the hour, the money was ready and the note asked for. "Mr. Harris, I don't want this money -- you can have it as long as you wish -- only be punctual when the pay day arrives." Harris paid the interest, and kept the loan.

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Restored by Jefferson

Major Gardner had his office restored to him after Jefferson's election, in 1802, and retained it as long as the office was continued. A new sign appeared on the Arch, and remained there, we think, nearly to the time of his death, which occurred on the 29th of April, 1833, at the age of nearly eighty-three years.

For many years before his death Major Gardner was confined to his house by a disease in his eyes, which resulted in blindness. But with his sight he did not lose his interest in public affairs and in the matters of his own town. For public dinners, he would always buy his ticket, to be used by some one who was not able to purchase. He gave encouragement to the young in various ways, delighting to know that he was contributing to their happiness. He was the patron of that model juvenile military company of forty years ago, "The Gardner Whites." At the formation of the Apprentices' Library, Major Gardner was the donor of many valuable books. He ever contributed freely for every public purpose brought before him.

In the midst of the turmoil of public excitement men can scarcely free themselves enough from the mists of prejudice to discover whether they are led on by sentiments of patriotism, or personal feeling. At this standpoint of half a century, it is plain to discover that much of the party rancor which divided our citizens and even families of the nearest kin, grew more out of the appointment of this man or that man to office, than from any danger the country incurred by this or that public measure of the administration.

Major Gardner, though in party times he showed strong political prejudices, was one of the most honorable and respected of our citizens, one of the most generous friends to the cause of humanity -- a model of courteousness of manners, and of disinterested, active and ardent benevolence. That Arch was worthy of preservation in more enduring form, to perpetuate the memory of a true patriot and devoted friend to his country in the season of its greatest peril, -- but in 1858, after this sketch was written, it has been removed, and become among "the things that were."

NOTE: The site of Gardner's Arch, though not the arch, is till preserved at the Wentworth-Gardner House, open to the pubic today.

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