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Among the nation's first newspapers,
the Gazette evolved with the city

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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.

READ: The NH Gazette Today

LYING before us (1) among the ancient newspapers of Portsmouth, is the "New Hampshire Gazette" from the 17th of January to the 14th of April, 1775, published by its original proprietor, Daniel Fowle, and bearing at its head the British coat of arms. The reading matter consists chiefly of the doings of the Continental Congress, and items of English and domestic news, relating to the one all-absorbing topic -- the difficulties between King George and his American subjects. The number of April 7th contains the well-known eloquent and prophetic speech of the Lord Mayor of London "on the motion of Lord North for an address to His Majesty against the Americans." The following synopsis of the advertisements will show who were among the leading business men of Portsmouth the year previous to the breaking out of the Revolution:

Jacob Sheafe, Jr.-- Malaga wine, feathers, choice lime and pitch.

Hugh Henderson, at his shop "opposite the Printing Office"-- English and India goods.

Thomas Martin--English goods, hardware, groceries, china and earthern ware.

Benjamin Austin, at his shop on Spring Hill--Hardware and groceries, with "a genteel assortment of silver-plated shoe-buckles, of the newest fashion."

Richard Wibird Penhallow, Long Wharf -- Russia duck, hardware, steel, cordage, &c.

Joshua Wentworth -- Refined bar iron, anchors, &c.

Noah Parker -- New ship bread, New York crackers and batter bread.

George Craigie -- English goods, including dry goods and hardware.

Jacob Treadwell, offers for sale an assortment of prime moose hides.

John Moore -- Day and night school at his residence near the Long Wharf. Also has for sale paper hangings, carpeting, Holland tiles (2) for chimneys, Jacob's Law Dictionary, onions, &c. [Rather a miscellaneous business.]

George Doig, painter, from London, executes coats of arms the neatest of any in the Province of New Hampshire. Shop in King street.

Thomas Warren, painter, from Boston, paints coats of arms.

NOTICE. -- The person who took a gun out of Dr. Hall Jackson's (3) entry is requested to return the same to George Dame, or he will be prosecuted as a thief. [This sharp device for frightening a rogue into making restitution, resorted to sometimes in our own day, does not appear to have been very successful, as the notice is continued several weeks in succession.]

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The Oracle vs The Gazette

After a lapse of twenty years, during which the battles of the Revolution and of the Constitution had been fought and won, the Gazette seems to awake, like Rip Van Winkle from his long slumber, and finds itself reaching most lovingly in the arms of its ancient political opponent, the "Oracle of the Day." Its dimensions are considerably enlarged and the name of Daniel Fowle has given place in the imprint to that of his apprentice, John Melcher. The lion and the unicorn have disappeared also, to continue their fight for the crown in some more congenial sphere. As these ancient contestants, the Gazette and Oracle, who threw so many paper bomb-shells into each other's camps in the olden time, lie so quietly together before me, they seem like a pair of venerable gentlemen, who forgetting the asperities of their earlier life, smoke the pipe of peace together in their declining years. May they both live -- The Gazette under its time-honored title, and the Oracle under that of the "JOURNAL" which it has held for forty-seven years--for many generations yet to come.

There are some fifty or sixty copies of the "Gazette" and the "Oracle," of various dates in the years 1796, '7 and '8, containing a large amount of interesting matter, much of which has passed into history, and much more equally worthy of being placed on permanent record, that, but for its preservation through some such method as this, would have been consigned to oblivion. Among the state papers are the annual and other messages of Presidents Washington and Adams, and the messages and proclamations of John Taylor Gilman, Governor of New Hampshire, and Increase Sumner, Governor of Massachusetts. There is also a letter of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts to General Washington, signed by the familiar names of Paul Revere, Grand Master, and Isaiah Thomas, Senior Grand Master, with General Washington's reply -- the original of which is at this day one of their most valued relics.

Tales of France

Much prominence is given to the interesting events then transpiring in Europe. France was in a transition state between the period known as the Reign of Terror, and that when Napoleon assumed the reins of government and obliterated the last vestiges of what had been little else than an empty Name -- the French Republic. "Citizen Bonaparte, General-in-Chief of the Army of Italy," was winning for himself a name that will exist through all time. Many of his official letters to the Executive Directory, the then existing government of France, are published in full; among others, that relating to the battle of Lodi, in which while giving due credit to Berthier, Massena, D'Allemagne, and others of his generals for their heroic daring in the passage of the bridge across the Adda, modestly omits even the slightest allusion to his own participation in that world-renowned event. I find in these papers many proofs of the corrections of history in relation to the Little Corporal. Here is a confirmation of the truth of one of the many anecdotes respecting him, related by himself in one of his despatches to the Directory.

"The day previous to our affair at Lodi, while seeing a brigade file off, a light-infantry man approached me and said, 'General, we must do so and so.' 'Sir,' said I, 'will you be silent?' when he immediately disappeared. I have since endeavored to find him -- for what he hinted was exactly what I had secretly ordered -- but much to my regret I sought for him in vain." The following incident of Napoleon's earlier life as a soldier, I have never met with before, and if not new to others, is worth repeating. On rejoining his regiment at Auxonne, in 1789, after a term of absence, he took with him a younger brother of but the age of twelve years. On being asked by one of his companions why he had brought with him a youth of so tender an age, he replied, "I wish him to enjoy a great spectacle -- that of a nation which will speedily be either regenerated or destroyed." He little fancied, probably, at that period, in the subordinate capacity of lieutenant of artillery, how vast an influence he was destined to wield in the future destinies of France.

It is very evident, from the tone of these journals, that the American press were accustomed to regard Napoleon at this period through the medium of his own personal merits, rather than the blurred vision of British spectacles, as many were inclined to do in later years when the star of his fortunes was waning, or when his position as arbiter of the destines of Europe, was changed to that of a powerless exile upon the rock of St. Helena.

The following are a few of the names that appear in the advertisements of 1798: J. Whipple, Collector of Customs; Martin Parry, Samuel Larkin, James Rundlett, George Long, Clement Jackson, John Shapley, Edward Parry, Lang, Brierly & Co., Benj. Bigelow, Jr., Nathaniel A. Haven, Fairbanks & Sparhawk, George Wentworth, Leigh & Bowles, James Sheafe, Peter Coffin, Joseph Green, Neil McIntyre, John Noble & Co., Wm. Neil, John Pomeroy, (in Buck street, near the sign of "Noah's Ark.") 

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Theatre & Arts in Portsmouth

There was no lack of amusement, it would seem, at Portsmouth, in the latter portion of the last century, of which that venerable temple of Melpomene and Terpsichore, the old Assembly House, was the arena. At one time the advertisements announce the Boston company as performing tragedy and comedy; and at another, Mrs. and Miss Arnold, and Miss Green, of the dramatic profession, are aided by Portsmouth amateurs, in the production of light comedy and farce, with an occasional attempt at tragedy. Young Norval, in the tragedy of Douglas, "by a young gentleman of Portsmouth." Old Pickle, in the farce of the Spoiled Child, "by a gentleman of Portsmouth," etc. Here is a portion of the entertainment for March 21st, 1788, that from its exceeding novelty is worth bringing to light. It is well for Barnum that he did not flourish in those days; the Fejee Mermaid or Woolly Horse would hardly have saved him from being shorn of his laurels.

"A favorite tragic piece called 'The Babes in the Woods,' wherein will be displayed the father and mother lying on their beds, giving charge of their children to their brother, who promises to take care of them. After the death of the parents, which takes place before the audience, the uncle hires two ruffians to kill them; they fight, and one of them is killed; also the Death of the Babes; a Robin will descend and cover them with leaves; being one of the greatest curiosities ever exhibited. Likewise an Angel will descend, uncover the bodies, and fly away with them! To conclude with the fatal end of the cruel uncle, who is carried off by a large Serpent!!"

The working up of the final catastrophe, the retribution that overtook the "cruel uncle" through the agency of that "large Serpent," was a stroke of genius, never excelled in the modern school of sensation dramas.

The Literary Mirror

The most youthful and the last of these relics of ancient journalism, is "The Literary Mirror," of various dates in 1808, "published by Stephen Sewell, in Court street, opposite the Brick Market,"-- neat and tasteful in its typographical execution, and containing a judicious variety of original and selected matter. It was published, I think, but a single year, though deserving a longer lease of life.

Changes in Printing Technology

As I look upon these ancient sheets, especially those of ante-revolutionary date that have so long survived the generation who were their first readers, the thought occurs to me that among the many and great improvements time has made since they first issued from the press, there is none greater than that in newspaper-printing itself. Fancy presents to my view Mr. Daniel Fowle standing by the side of the quaint-looking structure, but little superior in its mechanism to an old-fashioned cider mill, on which these antique copies of the Gazette, at the rate of fifty to an hundred per hour, received their impression; while that eccentric specimen of colored humanity, Prime, his serving man, inks the types with a pair of sheepskin balls, black and glistening as his own face. Equally incredulous would have been both Prime and his master, to learn, that in the not far distant future a piece of mechanism would be produced, wondrous alike for grace, beauty and celerity, from whence twenty-five thousand sheets, printed, folded and counted, could be thrown in a single hour, nor less so that steam would be the power by which this marvellous machine could be set in motion.

(1)For this and a number or sketches used as Rambles, we are indebted to the pen of Mr. John H. Bowles, now residing in Brooklyn, L. I.

(2) Query.-- Were not these "tiles" the same article still to be seen in the Warner mansion, and others of the ancient dwellings of Portsmouth?

(3) Dr. Hall Jackson's residence, in its present modernized form, is still in existence at the northeast corner of Court and Washington streets.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
Design Copyright © 2001

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