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Portsmouth Harbor was once a world famous ship building port. Starting with a British warship in 1690, through the eras of clipper ships and privateers, to the final nuclear submarine -- the term "Portsmouth-built" was a guarantee of craftsmanship.

See how many of the following famous local ships you can identify. Select the correct ship name from the pop-up menu after each description. Click the "Submit Responses" button at the end of the quiz and you will go to a page providing you with correct answers for scoring and an opportunity to view larger images. Good luck!

SCORING:
9-12 correct: ADMIRAL
6-8 correct: MARINER
4-7 correct: SWABBIE
1-3 correct: LANDLUBBER

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#1. IT'S ON OUR STATE SEAL
John Langdon went to great pains to get one of the earliest commissions to build this ship for a country in the midst of Revolution. From privateer to NH Governor, Langdon's white mansion still stands on Pleasant Street. His neighbor, Capt. Thomas Thompson, managed construction of this ship. Construction of the 32-gun frigate was begun on North Mill Pond in March 1776. It was completed in record time, just two months, the first such commission for the state of New Hampshire. Today the ship appears on the NH state seal.

#2. JONES ALMOST SAILED HER
John Paul Jones came back to Portsmouth in 1783. By now he had gained great fame, though not fortune or rank, as the hero of the Revolution. Commissioned as captain of this ship, he spent a full year in town waiting for its completion. Adding to his frustration, when the largest sloop of war ever built in the country was completed in 1783, Congress suddenly decided to give the ship to the French as a gift. The name of the ship, it could be said, is the name of the country that broke Jones' heart.

#3. FIRST NAVY COMMISSION
The Continental Navy that fought the Revolution wasn't much to talk about. The US Navy really began in order to fight the Barbary Pirates who were raiding American trade vessels. Twenty years after the Revolution, Congress finally commissioned six frigates from six ports. One still exists and almost came to Portsmouth this summer. The rest are all gone, including this ship built in Portsmouth Yard in 1798. If you're paying attention, we already told you the name.

#4. MANY SHIPS OF THE SAME NAME
Many ships built in this harbor have born this name, and for good reason. It isn't the New Hampshire, The Granite State or the Piscataqua, although all those ships were built here. This name strikes even closer to home. The first of this name was a privateer, which plundered "enemy" ships for its owner John Langdon. The second ship by this name, built here in 1843, gained fame for the capture of the Yerba Buena, now San Franciscao. The battle and the raising of the first American flag in Mexican territory took place without this ship firing a shot.

#5. WHEN WE WERE BRITISH
In 1690 British craftsman came to the Piscataqua region to build this warship for the British Navy. The experiment was to see whether high quality ships could be built from superior local trees growing along the river here. This frigate marked the beginning of naval shipbuilding in America. This ship was completed 110 years before the opening of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

#6. THE CIVIL WAR STEAMSHIP
Portsmouth Yard was never busier than during the Civil War when this famous steam powered sailing ship was built in 1861. Named for a peak in the White Mountains, this ship was built here in 1861 and came to national prominence in 1864 when it defeated the Confederate ship Alabama in one of the few naval battles of the Civil War. A Portsmouth Hotel, now a deli and office building on Congress Street, took its name from this famous ship. A monument in Goodwin Park was dedicated to the vessel's crew.

#7. BEST OF THE CLIPPERS
At its peak as a ship building harbor in the 19th century, it was said, no boatyards on Earth could create a finer clipper ship. Designed to travel fast, the most famous of the wooden tall ships included the Witch of the Wind, Dashing Wave, Flying Cloud and Typhoon. But many say this one was the finest and the fastest. It may have been named for Jenny Lind, the Swredish opera singer who toured with PT Barnum. Her image may have been on the figurehead and her voice reminded those who heard her of this singing bird.

#8. OUR MOST FAMOUS REFIT
One of the first ships ordered built by the Continental Congress, this frigate was actually constructed in Boston, but rebuilt almost totally at Portsmouth Yard in the 1850s. Having distinguished itself in the War of 1812, this ship was the subject of a famous poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes. It returned to the naval shipyard here and became a popular Portsmouth tourist attraction in the late 1800s. It was used as a receiving ship and dorm for incoming sailors until, in 1897, it was towed to Charlestown, where it is on display as a floating museum today.

#1. EVERYONE'S FAVORITE SUB
We'll start with an easy one. Any one touring Portsmouth in the last decade has probably been inside this vessel. One of the most important submarines in US Naval history, this vessel redefined undersea warfare, but never fired a shot. The fastest, quietest, and most maneuverable ship of the 1950s and 60s, this sub's design changed the shape of modern submarines forever. Today, this vessel is permanently installed as a museum off Market Street.

#10. JONES SAILED HER
Built by John Langdon of Portsmouth at his shipyard on Rising Castle (now Badger's Island in Kittery) this frigate was first captained by John Paul Jones, a Scotsman. Under orders from George Washington and the "Continental Navy" this ship departed for France in November 1777 with a crew of 140 men from the Seacoast region. It carried the first American flag to be recognized by a foreign power, raided the British coast, and defeated a British ship in a surprise battle that changed the course of history.

#11. TRAGEDY OFF NEAR THE SHOALS
Commissioned in 1939 with sister ship The Sculpin, this submarine made her first fast dive off the Isles of Shoals. Sunk in 243 feet of water, the sub could not return to the surface. Twenty-three men drowned on May 23, but 33 were saved by a diving bell that made four dramatic trips to the trapped sub. Amazingly, the sub was recovered, returned to dry-dock and re-commissioned as the USS Sailfish in 1940 with some of the original crew returning.

#12. A WHOLE NEW KIND OF SUBMARINE
This vessel was the vanguard of a new class of deep-diving nuclear attack submarines designed and built at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Many of the features are still used today. But on April 10, 1963, during sea trials, thus submarine was lost in 8,400 feet of water off Cape Cod. That day has been called the darkest in Portsmouth history, when 129 crewmen died, leaving 149 dependent children.

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FURTHER READING
ON PORTMSOUTH-BUILT SHIPS

Discover these books at your local library or bookstore. All are published by Peter Randall through The Portsmouth Marine Society, PO Box 147, Portsmouth, NH 03802. Some of the books are available in our Seacoast Store.

  • Clippers of the Port of Portsmouth by Ray Brighton
  • Wealth and Honour (Portsmouth Privateers) by Richard Winslow III
  • Constructing Munitions of War (Civil War) by Richard Winslow III
  • Port of Portsmouth Ships and the Cotton Trade by Ray Brighton
  • Port of Portsmouth Ships and the Cotton Trade by Ray Brighton
  • Tall Ships of the Piscataqua by Ray Brighton
  • Portsmouth and the Ranger edited by Joseph Sawtelle
  • Montgomery and the Portsmouth by Fred Blackburn Rogers
  • Portsmouth-Built (Submarines) by Richard Winslow III

    Copyright © 1998-2000 SeacoastNH.com
    This list researched and edited by J. Dennis Robinson
    All rights reserved

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