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The 1802 fire sparks tales of lost love
and slavery in the Whipple family

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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.

Fire of 18O2--N. H. Bank house--Jotham Odiorne--His family--William Whipple--His first declaration of independence--His slaves--Prince's Freedom--Dinah--Cuffee--The garrison house.

LET us stir the ashes of the fire of 1802, on Market Square, and see what will come up. On the spot where now stands the Piscataqua Exchange Bank, began that great fire on Christmas night, in the building occupied in part as a boarding house by the widow of Daniel Hart, and in part by the New Hampshire Bank. The vault of the bank was in the basement, and over the banking room was the insurance office of John Peirce. The deposits in the vault were all found safe after the fire, but the papers in the insurance office were all lost. The building was gambrel-roofed, similar in structure but not quite so large as the Ladd house near the academy. It fronted on Market Square, and on a line with the new Market, as did also the Pearse house and store on the north of it. This fire extended from the Market (which was burnt,) north, burning Market street on both sides to the north end of the present Merchant's Row, and also all the buildings on the north side of the Parade, and in Ladd street, except one.

Now that the old banking and boarding house is reared in imagination from its ashes, and the reader can see its ancient form, we will look some years further back for an incident in its history.

Here, more than a century since, resided the Hon. Jotham Odiorne, who, about the year 1720, married Mehitable, one of the four daughters of Robert Cutt, of Kittery. The other three sisters were married as follows: Mary to William Whipple senior, "malster," seaman, and afterwards farmer; Catharine to John Moffat, merchant, and Elizabeth to Rev. Joseph Whipple of Hampton Falls.

Hon. Jotham Odiorne, who died in 1761, was a son of the member of his Majesty's council. In early life he was a resident of Newcastle, and the owner of a large number of fishing vessels. Sarah, one of his three daughters, married Mr. Henry Appleton, a brother of the first wife of Rev. Dr. Haven. On his decease she married Mr. William Appleton,--although of the same name yet in no way related to her first husband. The latter husband was the father of Capt. William Appleton, who formerly lived in Court street, and of Mehitable, the wife of Thomas P. Drown. After William, senior, died, his widow married Daniel Hart, and at the time of the fire in 1802 she was again a widow, and kept the boarding-house where the fire commenced. Before this time of her limited means of support, Mrs. Hart had been the owner of the Gov. Wentworth house, on Pleasant street, and of the McClintock house, on State street. Mary, another daughter of Jotham Odiorne, married Capt. Peter Pearse, and was the mother of Mr. Stephen Pearse, of this city, and of Mary, the wife of John Peirce.

For the better understanding of the drift of our ramble, it is necessary to refer to another family.

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William Whipple, senior, had five children; William (the signer of the Declaration of Independence); Robert, who died young; Joseph, collector of Portsmouth; Mary, married to Robert Trail, comptroller of the port of Portsmouth; and Hannah, married to Dr. Joshua Brackett.

William Whipple, junior, was born in Kittery in 1730, and at an early age went to sea. Before reaching twenty-one, he had command of a vessel, and afterwards made not only succesful voyages to the West Indies and Europe, but also to the coast of Africa; and the blemish of that dark living freight, which his vessel brought away, has not been wholly obliterated by the fame which shines around his name on the immortal scroll of our country's glory. At the age of twenty-nine he retired from sea service, and turned his attention to mercantile business at home, and to the enjoyments of social life. We now come back to the old house on Market Square to which we referred at the commencement.

Among the daughters of Jotham Odiorne was Miss Mehitable, who bore her mother's name, and was the pride of the family. Among the suitors, in cocked hats, small clothes and ruffles, William Whipple received her especial favor. In due time the wedding was arranged, and one joyous evening there was a special illuminatIon of these premises. The Rev. Samuel Langdon, in his flowing wig, might have been seen entering the house and two shiny faced negro boys, Prince and Cuffee, busy in attendance. The parlor fire-place was dressed with fresh spruce, bouquets ornamented the mantle, and the white scoured floor was freely sanded. The father, mother and children were gathered, the bride with her maids, and the groom with his attendants were all arranged, when the chief personage of the occasion suddenly leaves the circle for another room.

After waiting nearly half an hour, a message is received by the anxious bridegroom. He goes to another room and there finds his lady divested of her wedding suit, and in her common dress. She told him she had come to the conclusion not to be married that evening! He pleads, but in vain; he remonstrates, but with no effect--the wedding, she said, must be delayed to some other occasion. "We must be married now or never," was his decisive reply. It was unavailing---so, with a determination no less heartfelt than that of some years after placing his name to the immortal Declaration, he here declared his personal independence, retired from the scene, and never after made a call upon his cousin Mehitable. She was afterwards married to William E. Treadwell, who was the father of Capt. Robert 0. Treadwell. Capt. T. was the commander of the first East Indiaman which hailed from Portsmouth. It was a brig of ninety tons, owned by Matthew S. Marsh. The voyage was very successful, and laid the foundation of Capt. Treadwell's large fortune.

Capt. William Whipple afterwards bestowed his affections upon another cousin, Catherine Moffatt, daughter of John Moffatt. After their marriage they resided at the house of her father (now the residence of the family of the late Alexander Ladd) during his life, which closed in 1795. They had but one child, who died in infancy.

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At the foot of his garden, facing on High street, has stood until within twenty-five years, the house in which the families of two of his slaves resided--Prince and Cuffee Whipple. They were brought to this town with a number of others of their color, in a ship, from the coast of Africa prior to 1766, then about ten years old. It was said that they were brothers, the sons of an African prince, sent over for an education, but retained in slavery.

Capt. Whipple was a member of the first Council after the organization of the government of the state--and being summoned to attend an extra session of the legislature at Exeter, on the advance of Gen. Burgoyne into Vermont, in 1777,--Capt. Whipple, according to the custom of the times, proceeded to Exeter on horseback, and took as his servant the black Prince, on another horse behind him. On the meeting of the Council, Mr. Whipple was appointed Brigadier General with the command of the first N.H. Brigade,--Gen. Stark to the command of the second Brigade--with orders to march forthwith, each with one-fourth of their command, to the North Western Frontier, "to stop the progress of the enemy." Prince was ordered by General Whipple the next morning to get the horses ready while he went to take leave of the Governor and Council. On returning he found that Prince had not exerted his usual diligence, and on setting out, probably without other attendants, Prince appeared sulky and in ill humor. His master upbraided him for his misconduct. "Master," said Prince, "you are going to fight for your liberty, but I have none to fight for." "Prince," replied his master, "behave like a man and do your duty, and from this hour you shall be free." Prince wanted no other incentive; he performed his duty like a man throughout the campaign, which ended in the surrender of Burgoyne, and from that day he was a freeman. Mrs. Mullineaux, his daughter, yet living, has always retained his free papers as a valuable keepsake.

Prince Whipple died in this town in 1797, twelve years after his former master. He was a large, well-proportioned and fine looking man, and of gentlemanly manners and deportment. He was the Caleb Quotem of the old fashioned semi-monthly assemblies, and at all large weddings and dinners, balls and evening parties. Nothing could go on right without Prince, and his death was much regretted by both the white and colored inhabitants of the town; by the latter of whom he was always regarded as a leader. Cuffee Whipple died about the year 1820. He also was prominent among the dark gentry of the day. For a quarter of a century Cuffee was a subscriber to the Portsmouth papers.

Dinah, the wife of Prince, was born of a slave in Newcastle, in the family of Rev. Mr. Chase, minister of that place. At the age of twenty-one she received her freedom and came to this town, where she was received into the North church, of which she continued an exemplary member during her life of eighty-six years.

Gen. Whipple, after the war, had intended to erect a house on the premises of the family estate, for Prince, Cuffee, and their families; but he died suddenly of the heart complaint, in the autumn of 1785, before he had accomplished it. His widow, Madame Whipple, gave them the use of a piece of land at the west end of her garden, on High street, during their lives and the lives of their wives. Into this lot, by their joint exertions, Prince and Cuffee hauled a small two-story house, above referred to, where they and their families lived during the lives of all but Dinah, who occupied the same until 1832, and for a number of years was the teacher, in that house, of the Ladies' Charitable African School for young children.

The house in which Gen. Whipple was born and spent his early life is at the head of a small cove in Kittery, on the east from the Navy Yard. Until within a few years it bore the external marks of being a garrison house. It has been modernized, and its antiquarian beauties are now shut from sight. The locality is, however, of some interest, and is worthy of note to those who take an hour's stroll from Portsmouth to Kittery.

Related Articles:
William Whipple
Prince Whipple & Washington
Seacoast Black History
Framers of Freedom

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
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