Brothers Prince and Cuffee Whipple were born in Ghana to relatively wealthy parents, and were sent to study in America in 1750 at roughly age 10. During the journey, they were kidnapped by a slave trader and sent to a prison in the Caribbean. Prince, his brother, and hundreds of other enslaved Africans at the prison were sold to a sea captain, with a majority of the prisoners sent to sugar and tobacco plantations in the West Indies and the Southern British Colonies. Prince and Cuffee were not among those sold in the plantations, but instead were sent to Portsmouth, New Hampshire to be house slaves, soon after purchased by William Whipple, a sea captain and merchant from Kittery, Maine. William Whipple, who married his first cousin Catherine Moffat in 1767, moved into the Moffatt-Ladd House on Market Street in Portsmouth in 1769. Upon the beginnings of the American Revolution, Whipple asked Prince and Cuffee Whipple to fight alongside him, promising to emancipate him after the war, and he did. After the war, the “Black Whipple Brothers” and their wives, Dinah and Rebeccah, were given lifelong use of a plot of land by their former enslaver in Portsmouth, NH, just behind his walled garden. In a house they had built on this site, the two couples worked and ran a school for free Black children. After all four died, the house began to deteriorate and was demolished. The present building (though altered), was constructed on the original foundation and is now a stop on the New Hampshire Black Heritage Trail.
John Hart (1733-1790) a ropemaker in pre-Revolutionary Portsmouth, New Hampshire, built a house in the city’s North End where he and his family resided. He died in 1790, and apparently willed the home to his housekeeper as he must not have had children. Early in the 19th century, the home underwent a huge overhaul, with a third floor added to the two-story Georgian home and the facade altered in the Federal style, all to resemble a traditional merchant “mansion house”. In the 1830s, the Greek Revival portico (porch) was added to the entry, to really make this house a blending of styles! In the 20th century, the Hart House was converted to a nursing home. In the 1960s, urban renewal plans were unveiled which would raze this home and hundreds of others. Luckily, this and just over a dozen more, were moved and saved from the wrecking ball.
This house in the Hill District of Portsmouth, NH was built sometime between 1766 and 1770; however a sign posted on the house indicates an earlier date of 1725. Regardless, the house is one of the best-preserved Georgian homes in the city. The colonial-era home was apparently built for a Henry Sherburne, who was a member of some of New Hampshire’s leading families. By the 1900s, the property was the only in the city with a surviving scrolled pediment doorway from the period. Like other colonial homes in the old North End of Portsmouth, it was barely saved by the bulldozers and urban renewal when it was moved in 1972 to its present site.
The Whidden-Ward House in The Hill section of downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is an excellent example of a wood-frame Georgian-style residence in the coastal city. The house was built in the early 1720s by joiner, Michael Whidden Jr. As a third generation joiner, Whidden built several houses in the Portsmouth area, this one for his own residence. The house was purchased in the 1770s by Nathum Ward, who “modernized” the house with the triangular pediments over the windows. The house was moved over a block to its present site in the early 1970s as much of the surrounding neighborhood was demolished during Urban Renewal.
Built sometime between 1749 and 1756, the Hart-Rice House, a little-altered example of Georgian architecture, stands out in the densely packed Hill section of Portsmouth, NH. The area contains amazing early homes, largely moved to their sites from nearby, saving them from the wrecking-ball of Urban Renewal in the 1970s. The house demonstrates the high-quality craftsmanship of its owner, ship-joiner Samuel Hart (1701-1766), who likely built the home himself. Decades later, William Rice, a sea-captain, purchased the home. Rice was a known privateer during the War of 1812, causing a lot of trouble for British ships off the shores.
Continuing with my mini-series on The Hill, a neighborhood of 18th and 19th century houses and buildings saved from Urban Renewal in Portsmouth’s North End neighborhood, I present the James Neal House. Built in 1831 and taxed a year later, the house stands out as a late Federal style property, a style that was well on its way out in popularity. Additionally, the home is the only extant brick house in this area of town from the period. James Neal was listed in directories as a merchant, possibly being involved in the shipping of goods from plantations in the Caribbean, which were farmed by enslaved Africans. James died just a few years after his home was built. The brick house is three-stories with a hipped roof. The entry is surmounted by a semi-circular fanlight set within a recessed opening, a modest take on the Federal style.
One of the oldest homes remaining on The Hill in Portsmouth, New Hampshire is this Federal-era house which survived the period of Urban Renewal in the city’s North End. The house was built for Simeon P. Smith in 1810 a few years after his marriage to Anna C. Dudley. Simeon worked as a cooper, which made wooden casks, barrels and other containers from timber staves that were usually heated or steamed to make them pliable. The home is a great example of a preserved working-class house built in early 19th century Portsmouth, a house that would only be affordable to the rich today. The house, like many others on The Hill, was moved to this location from nearby and houses offices today.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire is one of the most charming towns in New England to explore by foot, largely due to its walkable network of streets and tight blocks filled with preserved Revolution-era homes. Like many other cities all over the region (and nation), Portsmouth was hit by Urban Renewal, a planning tool used nationwide to provide Federal funds to address “urban blight” and revitalize downtown cores after decades of suburbanization and loss of tax revenue. An urban renewal district for Portsmouth was its North End neighborhood, which similar to Boston’s, was home to a vibrant Italian-American population.
In 1964, federal funds were allocated to the North End project area in Portsmouth, for urban renewal. Prior to redevelopment, the North End was a mix of residential and commercial buildings, with many older houses converted into storefronts with apartments above. In the mid-1960s, the area was considered overcrowded, run down, and a fire hazard. As a result, the Portsmouth Housing Authority proposed the destruction of approximately 200 buildings, a school, and a church and redevelopment for commercial, industrial, and public use, rather than for residences. The project would displace approximately 300 families as a result. In 1968, Portsmouth Preservation Inc., a preservation organization was formed to attempt to save some of the historic building stock in the area slated for redevelopment. After bitter fighting and preservation advocacy, just fourteen houses were saved and mostly moved to an area known today as “The Hill”. This building is one of them. It was constructed around 1725 for Rev. Jabez Fitch, the new minister of the North Church in town. Fitch graduated from Harvard College in 1694 first settling in Ipswich, MA, before becoming minister of the North Church in 1724, a position he held until his death in 1746. The house was one of the few in the urban renewal area to not have been moved.