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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Portsmouth (New Hampshire)

PORTSMOUTH, a city, port of entry and one of the county seats of Rockingham county, New Hampshire, U.S.A., on the Piscataqua river, about 3 m. from the Atlantic Ocean, about 45 m. E.S.E. of Concord, and about 54 m. N.N.E. of Boston. Pop. (1910 U.S. census) 11,269. Area, 17 sq. m. Portsmouth is served by the Boston & Maine railway, by electric lines to neighbouring towns, and in summer by a steamboat daily to the Isles of Shoals. The city is pleasantly situated, mainly on a peninsula, and has three public parks. Portsmouth attracts many visitors during the summer season. In Portsmouth are an Athenaeum (1817), with a valuable library; a public library (1881); a city hall; a county court house; a United States customs-house; a soldiers' and sailors' monument; an equestrian monument by James Edward Kelly to General Fitz John Porter; a cottage hospital (1886); a United States naval hospital (1891); a home for aged and indigent women (1877); and the Chase home for children (1877).

A United States navy yard, officially known as the Portsmouth Navy Yard, is on an island of the Piscataqua but within the township of Kittery, Maine. In 1800 Fernald’s Island was purchased by the Federal government for a navy yard; it was the scene of considerable activity during the War of 1812, but was of much greater importance during the Civil War, when the famous “Kearsarge” and several other war vessels were built here.[1] In 1866 the yard was enlarged by connecting Seavey’s Island with Fernald’s; late in the 19th century it was equipped for building and repairing steel vessels. It now has a large stone dry dock. On Seavey’s Island Admiral Cervera and other Spanish officers and sailors captured during the Spanish-American War were held prisoners in July–September 1898. Subsequently a large naval prison was erected. In 1905 the treaty ending the war between Japan and Russia was negotiated in what is known as the Peace Building in this yard.

In 1905 the city’s factory products were valued at $2,602,056 During the summer season there is an important trade with the neighbouring watering-places; there is also a large transit trade in imported coal, but the foreign commerce, consisting wholly of imports, is small.

Portsmouth and Dover are the oldest permanent settlements in the state. David Thomson with a small company from Plymouth, England, in the spring or early summer of 1623 built and fortified a house at Little Harbor (now Odiorne’s Point in the township of Rye) as a fishing and trading station. In 1630 there arrived another band of settlers sent over by the Laconia Company. They occupied Thomson’s house and Great Island (New Castle) and built the “Great House” on what is now Water Street, Portsmouth. This settlement, with jurisdiction over all the territory now included in Portsmouth, New Castle and Greenland, and most of that in Rye, was known as “Strawberry Banke” until 1653, when it was incorporated (by the government of Massachusetts) under the name of Portsmouth. There was from the first much trouble between its Anglican settlers sent over by Mason and the Puritans from Massachusetts, and in 1641 Massachusetts extended her jurisdiction over this region. In 1679, however, New Hampshire was constituted a separate province, and Portsmouth was the capital until 1775. In 1693 New Castle (pop. 1900, 581), then including the greater part of the present township of Rye, was set apart from Portsmouth, and in 1703 Greenland (pop. 1900, 607) was likewise set apart. One of the first military exploits of the War of Independence occurred at New Castle, where there was then a fort called William and Mary. In December 1774 a copy of the order prohibiting the exportation of military stores to America was brought from Boston to Portsmouth by Paul Revere, whereupon the Portsmouth Committee of Safety organized militia companies, and captured the fort (Dec. 14). In 1849 Portsmouth was chartered as a city.

Portsmouth was the birthplace of Governor Benning Wentworth (1696–1770) and his nephew Governor John Wentworth (1737–1820); of Governor John Langdon (1739–1819); of Tobias Lear (1762–1816), the private secretary of General Washington from 1785 until Washington’s death, consul-general at Santo Domingo in 1802–1804, and negotiator of a treaty with Tripoli in 1805; of Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber (1814–1890), humorist, who is best known by his Life and Sayings of Mrs Partington (1854); of James T. Fields, of Thomas Bailey Aldrich and of General Fitz John Porter. From 1807 to 1816 Portsmouth was the home of Daniel Webster.

  1. See Captain G. H. Preble, “Vessels of War built at Portsmouth, N. H. 1690–1868,” in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, vol. xxii. (Boston, 1868); and W. E. Fentress, Centennial History of the U.S. Navy Yard at Portsmouth, N. H. (Portsmouth, 1876).