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How they danced in the
days of the Revolution

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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.

Stoodley's hotel--Masonic hall and ball room--Etiquette of the last century.

PREVIOUS to the Revolution, there was a hotel kept by Col. James Stoodley in the house afterwards the mansion of his son-in-law, the Hon. Elijah Hall, opposite the Post Office in Daniel street. Mr. Hall married Elizabeth Stoodley. William Stoodley, her brother, married a sister of the late Capt. John McClintock. Capt. Nathaniel Stoodley, of the revenue service, was William Stoodley's son.

The third story of that house was thrown into an arched hall, and used for masonic purposes, as well as for public dancing parties, before the Assembly House in Vaughan street was erected. Here might be seen Col. Michael Wentworth in all his glory, as well as the leading bucks of the day, with the belles of the town, engaged in the mazy dance, and quenching their thirst at the liberal punch bowl. Merry days were those; but we would not raise the curtain which would disclose the unwritten history of some of the popular follies which were the characteristics of those times. Suffice it to say, that however much imperfection reigns, the moral standard is much higher now than it was in high life in Portsmouth, in the last century. This remark, however, has no special application to this respectable locality.

Few of those who daily spend a half hour around the Post Office for the opening mail, now ever cast a glance at the once leading hotel of Portsmouth, or look to those windows of the yet spacious attic for the bright eyes which used to peer out there,--those of the beautiful lady of John Hancock among them,--or listen for the sound of the violin, which now unstrung is laid aside, silent as all those who once were moved by its stirring touches.

The violin was sometimes accompanied by the tambourine; and doubtless here, as afterwards at the orchestra of the Vaughan street Assembly Rooms, the gallant Colonel Michael Wentworth might be seen in his red coat, embroidered long vest and small clothes, directing the dance, and industriously plying the bow of his own favorite violin. Assemblies in those days were not quite so republican as they have become in later years. Etiquette was so strongly adhered to, that no man could be admitted without the proper dancing dress. Small clothes only were admissible. An officer of some standing in the army appeared in his full costume, but was denied the privilege of the ball room because he wore pantaloons. In that attic hall might be seen, what five years ago would have been esteemed a much greater curiosity than at present--the belles with hoops. Who knows but the next change of fashion may make us familiar with the full dress small clothes, and full bottomed wigs; and as to hats, why they only need their broad brims of the present day tied up in a triangle to restore the style of our great grandsires.

In the year 1761 there was a house occupied by Mr. Stoodley, of similar construction, burnt on the same spot. The present house was soon after put in its place, and was continued for many years as a tavern, noted in the almanac for a dozen years as the stopping place for travellers in journeying from Boston for Maine.

When Mr. Stoodley died we know not. In 1785 his widow had married Mr. McHurd, who continued the house for boarders. Not long after it came into the possession of Hon. Elijah Hall, who here spent his latter years. The house sets far into the street, but until within a few years it had a yard fenced in front.

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