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An Old Town By The Sea
by [?]

The modern Jason, meanwhile, was not without honor in his own country, whatever may have happened to him in his own house, for the poet George Wither addressed a copy of pompous verses “To his Friend Captain Smith, upon his Description of New England.” “Sir,” he says–

“Sir: your Relations I haue read: which shew
Ther’s reason I should honor them and you:
And if their meaning I have vnderstood,
I dare to censure thus: Your Project’s good;
And may (if follow’d) doubtlesse quit the paine
With honour, pleasure and a trebble gaine;
Beside the benefit that shall arise
To make more happy our Posterities.”

The earliest map of this portion of our seaboard was prepared by Smith and laid before Prince Charles, who asked to give the country a name. He christened it New England. In that remarkable map the site of Portsmouth is call Hull, and Kittery and York are known as Boston.

It was doubtless owing to Captain John Smith’s representation on his return to England that the Laconia Company selected the banks of the Piscataqua for their plantation. Smith was on an intimate footing with Sir Ferinand Gorges, who, five years subsequently, made a tour of inspection along the New England coast, in company with John Mason, then Governor of Newfoundland. One of the results of this summer cruise is the town of Portsmouth, among whose leafy ways, and into some of whose old-fashioned houses, I purpose to take the reader, if he have an idle hour on his hands. Should we meet the flitting ghost of some old-time worthy, on the staircase or at a lonely street corner, the reader must be prepared for it.


IT is not supposable that the early settlers selected the site of their plantation on account of its picturesqueness. They were influenced entirely by the lay of the land, its nearness and easy access to the sea, and the secure harbor it offered to their fishing-vessels; yet they could not have chosen a more beautiful spot had beauty been the sole consideration. The first settlement was made at Odiorne’s Point–the Pilgrims’ Rock of New Hampshire; there the Manor, or Mason’s Hall, was built by the Laconia Company in 1623. It was not until 1631 that the Great House was erected by Humphrey Chadborn on Strawberry Bank. Mr. Chadborn, consciously or unconsciously, sowed a seed from which a city has sprung.

The town of Portsmouth stretches along the south bank of the Piscataqua, about two miles from the sea as the crow flies–three miles following the serpentine course of the river. The stream broadens suddenly at this point, and at flood tide, lying without a ripple in a basin formed by the interlocked islands and the mainland, it looks more like an island lake than a river. To the unaccustomed eye there is no visible outlet. Standing on one of the wharves at the foot of State Street or Court Street, a stranger would at first scarcely suspect the contiguity of the ocean. A little observation, however, would show him that he was in a seaport. The rich red rust on the gables and roofs of ancient buildings looking seaward would tell him that. There is a fitful saline flavor in the air, and if while he gazed a dense white fog should come rolling in, like a line of phantom breakers, he would no longer have any doubts.

It is of course the oldest part of the town that skirts the river, though few of the notable houses that remain are to be found there. Like all New England settlements, Portsmouth was built of wood, and has been subjected to extensive conflagrations. You rarely come across a brick building that is not shockingly modern. The first house of the kind was erected by Richard Wibird towards the close of the seventeenth century.