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A scenic trip downriver
& visit to the Navy Yard

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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.

River scenery - Peirce's Island - Navy Yard Island - Trefethren's - Shapley's - Salter's - John Salter - The cautious ferryman - Close.

A RAMBLE of an hour from town can find you either on the rough seashore at Newcastle, or at the opposite shore of rock-bound Kittery Point. The scenery on either route is of the most varied, lovely and agreeable kind; and the historic associations of these ancient towns are such as to give them attraction, were they divested of all other.

In passing over Portsmouth bridge, those who know the depth of water and the strength of the current, cannot but admire the skill by which it has been constructed over the Piscataqua, at a place where it is more than a fourth of a mile in width. After nearly forty years' use, rendered by recent improvements stronger than ever, it may now be regarded as permanent. How would the head swim, in looking down the dizzy distance, were all the water to be removed, leaving the traveller elevated between sixty and seventy feet above the ground! Yet he goes over without fear, and without danger, while the great iron horse by his side drags his long train after him, as easily and as safely as the eel glides through the water.

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The Sale the Islands for the Navy Yard

The road from the Portsmouth bridge to the Navy Yard, bordered by well cultivated land, in some parts deeply shaded by trees, and in others well lined with a newly built village, affords a fine variety of scenery. From the tasteful seat of Mr. Traip, by the Whipple cove and ancient garrison house, and by the beautiful summer retreat of Rev. Daniel Austin, to the Point bridge, there is a constant succession of inviting landscapes opening as you advance.

From the elevation a few rods from the road, just before entering upon the Point bridge, is presented the grandest panorama in the vicinity: on the east the winding and green banks of Spruce Creek are traced to a considerable extent; further in the distance Agamenticus stands out with scarcely less importance than the more distant mountains of our own State. As we turn around, Portsmouth, the Navy Yard, the various islands in the harbor, forts Sullivan and Washington, Newcastle, fort Constitution, the several light houses, the Shoa1s, and the white sails bending to the breeze, sprinkled over the vast blue ocean--altogeter present a scene which invites you to look about again and again.

Peirce's island was once the property of Dr. Renald Fernald, one of the first settlers of Portsmouth. We have a deed from Thomas Fernald, son of the Doctor, dated in 1688, conveying what is now Peirce's island and One Tree Island. It commences in this manner:

Know all men by these presents that I, Thomas Fernald of Kittery, in the province of Maine, in New England shipwright, being ye eldest lawfull begotten son of Reginald Fernald, doctor, deceased, many good considerations and causes mee thereunto moovinge, and especially in obedience of ye commands of my honoured father and mother at their deceases severally, and ye great and ardent love and natural affections and respect which I have and bear unto my dearly beloved and loveing sister Sarah, some time the wife of Mr. Allin Loyd, mariner, deceased, and now the wife of Mr. Richard Waterhouse of Portsmouth in ye province of New Hampshire in New England, tanner, have given, granted, etc. unto my said sister Sarah all and whole that part of ye Island commonly known by the term or name of ye Doctor's island, whereon the now dwelling house of ye said Waterhouse standeth, together with a little island near thereunto, and ye land bounded, together with the said little island as followeth, viz: on the one end with some part of ye same island, being at ye narrowest part or place there and commonly known by ye name or terme of ye Mast cove or Bass rock cove, and on the other end near unto which is the aforesaid little island, bounded only with the water leading to that part of Portsmouth aforesaid commonly called Strawbury bank, and one side, together with ye sd little island bounded with ye channel of ye river Piscataqua, and on ye other side with a branch of ye said river leading unto and from that part of said Portsmouth called Little Harbour, which said tract of land or ground, together with all the privileges, properties, conveniences and appurtenances therein, thereon, or thereunto belonging, concerning or any manner or waye appertaining, woods, under woods, rivers, wells or waters, earth, stones, gravel and sands, and fishing, fowling, hunting and hawking, and whatever else is, will or may be profitable or pleasant in or upon my premises, unto my said sister Sarah, her heirs, executors, administrators or assigns forever, etc.

Waterhouse resided on the island, and for many years it bore the family name. The island on which the Navy Yard is located, containing about sixty acres, was once called Fernald's island. It was purchased of Capt. William Dennett, by the United States, in 1806, for a Navy yard. The price paid was $5,500. It was a place for drying fish and had but one house upon it.

Next south is a large island, on which fort Sullivan was garrisoned in the war of 1812. It has in late years born the name of Trefethren's island. The Narrows are between this and Peirce's island.

Shapley's Island and Goat Island, (both of which now belong to Thomas E. Oliver of Newcastle,) it is said, were purchased by Reuben Shapley for two hogsheads of Tobago rum. The former contains nine acres, the latter three. On the south side of Shapley's Island, on Frenchman's Point, is the grave yard where those who died belonging to the fleet, when it laid in our harbor, were buried. As the bank washes away, their remains are from time to time disclosed.

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John Salter's Island

There are in Portsmouth harbor more than a dozen other islands of various sizes, adding much to the beauty of the water landscape as viewed from various points. As seen from the Auburn cementery, the most prominent is Salter's island, a handsome swell of land, on which is a house sitting very pleasantly in the basin on the east, near Frame point, where the Newcastle bridge connects with Portsmouth. It was for many years the residence of Capt. John Salter, (the father of the late Capt. John Salter,) who died in 1814, at the age of seventy years.

Capt. Salter was engaged in foreign commerce before the Revolution. He once left this port for England in a vessel in which was a large number of boxes of Spanish dollars. Encountering a storm about Christmas time, he was driven on the rocks at the mouth of the Kennebec river. His vessel was got off some damaged, and he went into a neighboring harbor where he was compelled to remain until March. During all this time he was unable to send a communication to or receive a word from Portsmouth, and no notice of the disaster was received here until the vessel arrived in London. This was not ninety years ago. At that time there was no communication along the coast, except such as was made by vessels. Such a disaster would now be made known to the owners here in six hours by mail, and in as many minutes by telegraph.

One event in the early life of Capt. Salter, although not of much importance, shows his calculating cast when a boy. A stranger of some show and bluster, one day called at Frame point, and, desirous of visiting Newcastle, asked the boy to row him down. Nothing was said about pay, and so the young ferryman, to test his liberality, landed him on Goat island on the way. The man supposing, as the boy wished he should, that he had reached Newcastle, jumped on shore. Bowing to the lad, he said, as he ascended the beach, "I shall pay you when we meet in town some day." The boat was put off speedily. The stranger looking around soon discovered himself the sole inhabitant of the little island, and called, "Young man, come back." The cautious boatman, however, with a "Perhaps we shall meet in town some day," left him, a Robinson Crusoe on his Juan Fernandez.

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Brewster Says Farewell at End of "Rambles" Volume One

Here, reader, the Rambler will take leave of you. -- His endeavor has been, to present a panorama of six passing generations, fast blending, like dissolving views, into each other. From the devastations of time, enough has been rescued to make up a life-picture, which otherwise, in its detail, would never have been restored. The Rambler has been enabled to introduce those who have accompanied him, to some townsmen and relatives with whom they had little previous acquaintance. They have been found in their original dwellings, their places of business, or houses of worship -- and, it is hoped, the introduction will endear us more to those in whose paths, while in life, we are now treading, and whose silent track we are fast following to where we all shall have a better knowledge of each other -- where the scenes of the drama of life will pass in review in more vivid colors, and their mysterious impress on eternity be more fully disclosed.

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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