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 The Marquis offers a lifelike view
of the harbor as lighning strikes

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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.

Marquis de Chastellux's Visit in 1782 -- French Fleet -- Views of Portsmouth, &c..

The year 1782 was noted locally as that in which the French fleet laid in our harbor.  We have already in previous rambles given a record of some of the events which occurred, and now present a few more sketches, mainly gathered from the account the Marquis de Chastellux gave of his visit to Portsmouth while the fleet was lying in our harbor.  The Marquis was a Major-General in the French army, serving under the Count de Rochambeau, with whom he came from France to this country in 1780.  In 1782, in November, having some leisure, he left Hartford on a visit to assachusetts and New Hampshire.  His route brought him through Andover, Haverhill and Exeter.  He speaks highly of
the general appearance of the latter town, and goes on to say:--

"We stopped at a very handsome inn kept by Mr. Ruspert, which we quitted at half past two; and though we rode very fast, night was coming on when we reached Portsmouth.  The road from Exeter is very hilly.  We passed through
Greenland, a very populous township, composed of well built houses.  Cattle here are abundant, but not so handsome as in Connecticut, and the state of Massachusetts.  They are dispersed over fine meadows, and it is a beautiful sight to see them collected near their hovels in the evening.  This country
presents, in every respect, the picture of abundance and of happiness.  The road from Greenland to Portsmouth is wide and beautiful, interspersed with habitations, so that these two townships almost touch.  I alighted at Mr. Brewster's, where I was well lodged; he seemed to me a respectable man, and
much attached to his country.

"In the morning of the 10th of Nov. I went to pay a visit to Mr. Albert de Rioms, captain of the Pluto, who had a house on shore, where he resided for his health; he invited me to dinner, which he advised me to accept, as the Comte de Vaudreuil was in great confusion on board his ship, the mizzen-mast of which had been struck by lightning five days before, and which penetrated to his first battery; but he offered me his boat to carry me on board the Auguste. 

 In returning for my cloak, I happened to pass by the meeting, precisely at the time of service, and had the curiosity to enter, where I remained above half an hour, that I might not interrupt the preacher, and to show my respect for the assembly; the audience were not numerous on account
of the severe cold, but I saw some handsome women, elegantly dressed.  Mr. Buckminister, a young minister, spoke with a great deal of grace, and reasonably enough for a preacher.  I could not help admiring the address with
which he introduced politics into his sermon, by comparing the christians redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, but still compelled to fight against the flesh and sin, to the thirteen United States, who, notwithstanding they have acquired liberty, and independence, are under the necessity of employing all their force to combat a formidable power and to preserve those invaluable treasures. 

It was near twelve when I embarked in Mr. Albert's boat, and saw on the left, near the little Island of Rising Castle, the America, (the ship given by Congress to the King of France ,) which had been just launched, and appeared to me a fine ship.  I left on the right the Isle of Washington, on which stands a fort of that name.  It is built in the form of a star, the parapets of which are supported by stakes, and was not finished.  Then
leaving Newcastle on the right, and Kittery on the left, we arrived at the anchoring ground, within the first pass. 

I found Mr. Vaudreuil on board, who presented me to the officers of his ship, and afterwards to those of the detachment of the army, among whom were three officers of my former regiment of Guienne, at present called Viennois.  He then took me to see the ravages made by the lightning, of which M. de Bire, who then commanded the ship, Vaudreuil having slept on shore, gave me the following account:  At half past two in the morning, in the midst of a very violent rain, a dreadful explosion was heard suddenly, and the sentinel, who was in the gallery, came in a panic into the council chamber, where he met with M. Bire, who had leaped to the foot of his bed, and they were both struck with a strong sulphureous smell.  The bell was immediately rung, and the ship examined, when it was found that the mizzen-mast was cut short in two, four feet from the forecastle; that it had been lifted in the air, and fallen perpendicularly on the quarter-deck, through which it had penetrated, as well as the second battery.  Two sailors were crushed by its fall, two others, who never could be found, had doubtless been thrown into the sea by the commotion, and several were wounded.

"At one o'clock we returned on shore to dine with M. Albert de Rioms, and our fellow guests were M. de Bire, who acted as flag captain, though but a lieutenant; M. de Mortegues, who formerly commanded the Magnifique (lost at the same period at Lovel's Island in Boston harbor) and was destined to the command of the America; M. de Siber, lieutenant en pied of the Pluto; M. d'Hizeures, captain of the regiment of the Viennois, &c.  After dinner we went to drink tea with Mr. Langdon .  He is a handsome man, and of noble
carriage; he has been a member of Congress, and is now one of the first people of the country; his house is elegant and well furnished, and the apartments admirably well wainscotted: he has a good manuscript chart of the harbor of Portsmouth.  Mrs. Langdon, his wife, is young, fair, and tolerably
handsome, but I conversed less with her than with her husband, in whose favor I was prejudiced, from knowing that he had displayed great courage and patriotism at the time of Burgoyne's expedition.

"On leaving Mr. Langdon's, we went to pay a visit to Col. Wentworth, who is respected in this country, not only from his being of the same family with Lord Rockingham, but from his general acknowledged character for probity and
talents.  He conducted the naval department at Portsmouth, and our officers are never weary in his commendation.  From Mr. Wentworth's, M. de Vaudreuil and M. de Rioms took me to Mrs. Whipple's, a widow lady, who is, I believe,
sister-in-law to General Whipple; she is neither young nor handsome, but appeared to me to have a good understanding, and gaiety.  She is educating one of her nieces, only fourteen years old, who is already charming.  Mrs. Whipple's house, as well as that of Mr. Wentworth's, and all those I saw at Portsmouth, are very handsome and well furnished.

"I proposed, on the morning of the 11th, to make a tour among the islands in the harbor; but some snow having fallen, and the weather being by no means inviting, I contented myself with paying visits to some officers of the navy, and among others to the Count de Vaudreuil, who had slept on shore the preceding night; after which we again met at dinner at Mr. Albert's, a point of union which was always agreeable.  After dinner, we again drank tea at Mr.
Langdon's, and then paid a visit to Dr. Brackett, an esteemed physician of the country, and afterwards to Mr. Thompson.  The latter was born in England; he is a good seaman, and an excellent ship-builder, and is besides a sensible man, greatly attached to his new country, which it is only fifteen years
since he adopted.  His wife is an American, and pleases by her countenance, but still more by her amiable and polite behavior.  We finished the evening at Mr. Wentworth's, where the Count de Vaudreuil lodged; he gave us a very
handsome supper, without ceremony, during which the conversation was gay and agreeable.

"The 12th I set out, after taking leave of M. de Vaudreuil, whom I met as he was coming to call on me, and it was certainly with the greatest sincerity that I testified to him my sense of the polite manner in which I had been received by him, and by the officers under his command.

"The following are the ideas which I had an opportunity of acquiring relative to the town of Portsmouth.  It was in a pretty flourishing state before the war, and carried on the trade of ship-timber, and salt fish.  It is easy to conceive that this commerce must have greatly suffered since the commencement of the troubles, but notwithstanding, Portsmouth is, perhaps, of all the American towns, that which will gain the most by the present war.  There is every appearance of its becoming to New-England, what the other Portsmouth is to the Old: that is to say, that this place will be made choice of as the depot of the continental marine.  The access to the harbor is easy, the road immense, and there are seven fathoms water as far up as two miles above the
town; add to this, that notwithstanding its northern situation, the harbor of Portsmouth is never frozen, an advantage arising from the rapidity of the current.

"When I was at Portsmouth the necessaries of life were very dear, owing to the great drought of the preceding summer.  Wheat cost two dollars a bushel, (of sixty pounds weight) oats almost as much, and Indian corn was extremely
scarce.  I shall hardly be believed when I say, that I paid eight livres ten sols (about seven shillings and three-pence) a day for each horse.  Butcher's meat only was cheap, selling at two-pence-halfpenny a pound.  That part of New Hampshire bordering on the coast is not fertile; there are good lands at forty or fifty miles distance from the sea, but the expense of carriage greatly augments the price of articles, when sold in more inhabited parts.  As for the value of landed property, it is dear enough for so new a country. 
Mr. Ruspert, my landlord at Exeter, paid seventy pounds currency per annum, (at eighteen livres or fifteen shillings the pound) for his inn.  Lands sell at from ten to sixteen dollars an acre.  The country produces little fruit, and the cider is indifferent.

"The road from Portsmouth to Newbury passes through a barren country. Hampton is the only township you meet with, and there are not such handsome houses there as at Greenland."

Col. Wm. Brewster at that time kept the Bell Tavern.  Here the Marquis lodged.  Mr. Albert's abode was probably at Mrs. Richard Shortridge's boarding house, where some of the officers of the fleet, among them Vaudreuil, boarded.  This boarding-house was in Deer street: the house,
remodelled, was long the residence of the late Peter Jenness and his family.  Richard S. is the same individual who was impressed by arrangement of Gov. Benning Wentworth, with the hopes of obtaining his wife, as related in the 17th Ramble.   Shortridge received a commission in the Revolutionary army, and died before the close of the war, somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Champlain, when returning from an expedition to Canada.  He left three sons,
Richard, Samuel and John.  John H. Shortridge, who afterwards occupied the same house, was of another family.

It is said by those who have a knowledge of the fact, that the officers of high grade of the French fleet were industrious, and had their knitting-work ready to take in hand when in their boarding-houses.  They knit silk gloves, which were bestowed as presents on the ladies.

In Ramble No. 50, an account was given of the murder of a Frenchman which gave name to "Frenchman's Lane."  Since that was written we find a minute entered in a manuscript Register kept at the time by Dr. Brackett, (who is
mentioned by the Marquis in the sketch given in this Ramble,) at the date of Oct 23, 1778, as follows:

"John Dushan, a French-Man, was found murdered at the creek, hav'g his throat cutt, & robed, by night."

By this it appears that the murder of the Frenchman was four years previous to the visit of the French fleet--the recollection of the old gentleman who gave the account being thus much at fault.

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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