Coming Soon. Rough Draft.
Tracking the history of this area is complicated and confusing, as the geographical area of Pannaway (Odiorne), Great Island (Newcastle), and Strawberry Bank were at points settled, abandoned, moved, and then resettled.
Captain Walter Neale was hired by Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason to lead a group establish a fishing and trading post and to look for gold. This was a Laconia Company operation. He arrived with a group of soldiers at Pannaway (Odiorne) in Rye, which was at that point “mostly abandoned” after the death of David Thompson. They then moved two miles east to a spot more near the entrance of the Piscataqua, earlier identified on John Smith’s map.
In all, forty-eight men and twenty-two women were paid and sent over on behalf of Mason and Gorges. These trips spanned a few years. Two ships, the Warwick, and Pide-Cowe were Portsmouth’s version of the Mayflower.
Humphrey Charbourne built the “Great House” which would be the center of the settlement. “[It] would be larger than the house at Panaway. It would be built of pine, with a stone foundation and chimney. Stone and pine were ready at hand, and Strawberry Banke became all at once a bustle of activity. In short order, a storehouse had been built, small houses for the tenants, a shelter for cows and sheep…wells had been dug, a blacksmith shop was in prospect…and on the edge of the woods was a sawmill and along the shore, platforms for drying the fish. (6)
As the story goes, the first men called the area Strawberry Banke after a patch of wild strawberries that grew near the Pistacaqua. This story is disputed by some, as this was also the name of an estate back in England (I have this story somewhere). Portsmouth was the name of John Mason’s estate back in England, as was Kettry (Kittery) named after the Shapleigh’s estate.
Mason’s relationship with his settlers was a slow tug of war with long months lagging between each transatlantic conversation. Mason’s agent usually begged for more goods made in England – shoes, nails, beer, Mason, in return, promised to send more supplies as soon as the colonists could produce something he could sell in England to pay back his investors. While furs and fish came from the settlement in South Berwick, the Great House here produced very little. Strawberry Bank and Pannaway were, initially, failed investments. In 1635 as he was outfitting a ship to visit his colony for the first time, John Mason died. The Laconia Company folded soon after that, abandoning the New Hampshire colonists to fend for themselves. Puritan businessmen from England quickly took over at Strawberry Bank. (11)
Despite the constant complaints from the early residents of the Great House, life was better here than the early years at Jamestown or Plymouth, where half the new colonists died. A precise and extended inventory of all three plantations made after John Mason’s death offers a look inside the great houses where everything belonged to the proprietor. The inventory shows scores of items, including: guns (161), swords (61), shirts (80), pairs of stockings (204), iron kettles (23), rugs (40), musical instruments (17), sugar (610 lbs), corn (140 bushels), pine planks (1,151), livestock (155 head), and bibles (1). Clearly Portsmouth was not founded for religious freedom. (7)
No written description of the Great House at Strawberry Bank survives, but a look inside a 1640-era manor at Cape Elizabeth offers clues. Plantation owner John Winter described his manor there as 40 by 18 feet with a large fireplace, an attached room near the kitchen, storage for twenty tons of casks, a steward’s room, and a sizeable eating area. Each room had doors and locks. Of the two large chambers, one was big enough to sleep all the men working at what is still called Richmond Island. (7)
More likely, the Great House was a post-in-ground structure like the mid-1600s Humphrey Chadbourne site excavated by Emerson Baker in South Berwick. Baker also excavated a 1636 site in York, Maine. Data accumulated from these modern scientific digs, Candee points out, give us more detail from which we can speculate about Portsmouth’s first houses. We are fairly certain where that the Great House stood on the crest of a hill that sloped down to the sea and to the tidal inlet or “cove” that gave Puddle Dock neighborhood its name. The cove, now filled in, was an attraction to the early settlers. (7)
One of its old chimneys and the southern wall of the Great House were reportedly still standing in 1695. Historians generally agree that the Great House, the first European-built structure in Portsmouth, sat near what is now the southeast corner of Court and Marcy streets (formerly Pitt and Water streets). That puts it across from the modern entrance to the Memorial Bridge end of Prescott Park. Strawbery Banke Museum today is literally in the “back yard” of the original Great House. The area that is the museum may once have been used as an orchard. The Laconia Company’s original thousand-acre grant to John Mason included much of what is currently downtown Portsmouth. (7)
Garrison House in York Maine is probably similar to the one built in Portsmouth as well.
Life was relatively peaceful for this settlement and trading with the Natives was commonplace. It wasn’t until King Philips War in 1675 that hostilities occured. Nethertheless, a small fort was built called “The Castle” in what is now New Castle, NH. A history of the Fort will be told on a seperate page.