By Charles W. Brewster
Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.
There are many reminiscences in the history of Hon. James Sheafe which have a local relation, and while standing before his premises we will bring up one or two of them. He was a loyalist during the Revolution, - but did not, like many others, leave his home. With his brother in-law, Hugh Henderson, he was summoned before the Committee of Safety at Exeter, and Mr. Samuel Drown had them under charge. While Mr. Sheafe rode his horse unmolested, the excited populace followed Mr. Henderson on foot, and compelled him to walk as far as Greenland Parade, pelting him with stones whenever he attempted to mount. They gave their bonds to the Committee that they would do nothing to impede the progress of the Revolution, and were dismissed.
After the Revolution, although Mr. Sheafe was a very popular man with his friends, and was captain of a company of cavalry, yet occasionally he was subject to rough abuse from political opponents. One of the strongest demonstrations of this sort was made by a mob attack upon his house in 1795, which, curious as it might be, resulted in summoning the same Mr. Drown to Exeter, although innocent of the offense charged.
It was in July, 1795, that the memorable "Jay's Treaty" was promulgated before final action was taken upon it by the Senate. Its appearance created great excitement through out the country. The article which forbade the trading of American vessels of over 70 tons with any of the British colonial ports or islands, was far from being acceptable; and it was said that while the treaty conferred many important privileges on Great Britain, it secured no advantages but what might be claimed under the existing treaty of 1783. A public meeting was called by posters at the corners. To show the deep feeling we give the handbill.
" THE CRISIS! - To the citizens of Portsmouth. This (citizens of every description) is the crisis of your fate. To-morrow you are warned to assemble at the state House, on the most momentous occasion of your lives. Your all is at stake. The Senate have bargained away your blood-bought privileges, for less than a mess of pottage. That perfidious, corrupting and corrupted nation whom you, vanquished with your sword, are now endeavoring to vanquish you, with their usual, but alas, too successful weapon, British gold! Your only remaining hope is in the President! Assemble then to a man! Shut up your shops and warehouses, let all business cease: Repair to the State House remonstrate with coolness, but spirit, against his signing a treaty, which will be the death warrant of your trade, and entail beggary on us, and our posterity forever. If you regard yourselves, your children, and above all the honor of your country, assemble at the sound of the bells. Portsmouth, July 15, 1795."
This meeting, after voting that it was inconsistent with the interest and honor of the United States to adopt the treaty, agreed to an extended address to President Washington on the subject. They voted thanks to Senator Langdon and his nine associates for the opposition they made to the ratification of the treaty, and without any opposition being shown, adjourned.
Nearly two months after, a counter address to the President was drawn up, approving of the treaty, and complimentary to Senator Livermore and Mr. Jay. It was presented by Mr. Jacob Sheafe for signatures. As soon as this proceeding was publicly known, the town generally, and south-end in particular, was in commotion. On the morning of the 10th of September, 1796, bills were posted at the corners, stating that the signers of the second address to the President, and the gentleman who had circulated it, had highly displeased the people, as the avowed design was to render the proceedings of the late town meeting contemptible. , As Mr. S. (who was called by his opponents "Cunning Jacob") received some personal abuse in the forenoon of that day, disagreeable consequences were apprehended from the excited state of the public mind.
The opponents of the treaty, who had just taken the name of Republicans, held a meeting in the vicinity of Liberty Bridge in Water street, and a committee was sent to Mr. Sheafe, notifying him immediately to deliver the paper containing the address and signatures, or abide the consequences. This demand Mr. S. peremptorily refused to comply with: but to convince them that those who were advocating the measures of government were not acting in clandestine manner, he offered them a copy of the address with every name thereto subscribed. This was received, but was by no means satisfactory.
Now the blood begins to boil, and the tug of war commences. In the shop of William Deering the carver, on Water street, were reporting two profile effigies, cut from boards, which had been made in July, when the treaty first arrived. These were brought out and nailed one on each side of a cart, - and a public crier, with bell in hand, was sent through the town, inviting the inhabitants to attend the execution of those two "bribed traitors," Jay and Livermore, who were to be hung and burnt in the evening on Warner's wharf. (Now Railway wharf)
The cart was rigged, but without a driver, when London, a black of William Stavers, coming by, was placed in the cart and compelled to act as driver. A drum and fife soon gave the signal for forming, and the procession proceeded to the South Bridge, up Pleasant street, gathering in numbers until, three hundred strong, it passed over Market Square and down Daniel street, to Warner's wharf - the scene of the execution.
The effigies are erected on a pole, and being too high for the torch, a boy is held up to apply the flame. It was twilight when this mark of contempt was completed. As the evening came-on, the procession followed the drum and fife to various parts of the town paying particular attention to the residence of the thirty-nine individuals who signed the second address. Groans and denunciations were poured out in profusion. The residence of Jacob Sheafe received marked attention. That of his brother, James Sheafe, was assailed, the windows broken in by missiles, and Mr. S. compelled to secrete himself from their fury. The residence of Dr. Hall Jackson was also assailed, and the large stones thrown into the chamber windows greatly endangered the lives of the family. Whether this assault was made by men of Portsmouth or of Rye, we do not know; but it is probable that the Doctor was not in very good repute with the inhabitants of the latter town at the time, as a story we have heard will explain.
When the news of the treaty arrived, information went to Rye that the country was sold; that Jay had sold Rye with it, and British gold would be the cause of its ruin. Dr. Hall Jackson was on a visit in Rye at the time, and was well convinced that a poorer town could not then be found in the county - as utterly different in wealth and prosperity from what it is now as black is from white. The Doctor listened to the story of being sold, and answered as follows:
"If Rye to Great Britain was really sold.
This exercise of his ready wit perhaps cost him a few panes of glass on this occasion.
There might have been seen on the Parade on that day, sitting in his chaise, a lawyer of our town, taking down the names of those who were in the current of the procession. And a day or two after Gen. George Reed of Londonderry, the High Sheriff, attending the Court then in session at Exeter, visits Portsmouth officially, and summons some ten or twelve of the leading men of Portsmouth to appear before the Court, on a charge of being engaged in a riot and unlawful assemblage, and injuring the property of James Sheafe, &c. The names of all these individuals we have not been able to obtain, as the Court records do not present them; but among them were the names of Deacon Samuel Bowles and Samuel Drown (who passed the Parade at the time, but were not connected with the mob,) Capt., Thomas Manning, Nathaniel Marshall, Thales G. Yeaton, Wm. Trefethen, Wm. Tredick, Charles Chauncey. Some of them joined in the afternoon procession, but none of them were connected with the evening mob.
When the Sheriff saw who the men generally were, he took their word for their appearance at Exeter on the morning of the next day. So, before daylight, they were all on the way, and were the Court opened in the morning, the culprits presented themselves at the Court House. Judge Orcutt was on the bench. Their case was stated by Mr. Drown, and readily understood by the Court, who suggested that a nol pros. should be entered, and they were discharged.
Their prosecution and summons to Exeter for trial made no little excitement, and the news of the speedy discharge no little joy. The matter was well known in the neighboring towns also, and every vehicle and horse were in requisition to go out and escort them home. William Boyd, no less enthusiastic, requested Mr. Greenleaf, the keeper of the Bell Tavern, to have refreshments in every room in his house. Just at sunset the carriages made their appearance in town. In the first was Thomas Manning, who on this occasion was first called Commodore, a title which he never after lost among his friends.
By a concerted arrangement, as soon as the first carriage arrived in sight of the Bell-Tavern, three cheers went down the whole line of the procession. When the first coach passing down State street reached Market Square, the Commodore put his hat out of the window and gave the signal; another stationed where the new Post Office now is, repeated it, and on it went up State street to middle street, and up Middle street to beyond Wibird's Hill - the whole cavalcade and procession giving such long three cheers as has scarcely been heard in our city since.
Of the high go at the Bell Tavern that night, it is only necessary to say that it was in full accordance with the "Spirit" of the times "West-India."
The remembrance of that occasion is still held among our old inhabitants - but the full record has never before been made.
[ New | Site Map | Talk | Store | Sponsors ]
[ Brewster's Rambles | About Brewster | Theme Sites ]
[ Contact Era | Colonial Era | Revolution Era ]