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The first Portsmouth to Boston
"stage chair" ran in 1761

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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.

Click to see the Stavers Tavern

Staver's hotel--John and Bartolomew Stavers--First Stage to Boston--Progress of travel.

ON the south-west corner of Court and Atkinson streets stands a large, square house of three stories, which in the ninety years it has stood has been the scene of as varied incidents as any house in New Hampshire. Its more particular history we defer, to give place to incidents which transpired prior to its erection.

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Stavers Stagecoach

When its builder, John Stavers, came to this country, we do not know. We find on the town books that in 1756 John and Bartholomew Stavers paid their first town tax, and it was probably the first or second year of their location. John kept a public house for ten years in Queen street, bottom of State street, at which place the sign of the "Earl of Halifax" was displayed. Queen street afterwards bore the name of Buck street, and then of State street. It extended from the water to Fleet street, and continued the name of Queen street until it reached King, which is now Congress street.

It was from Mr. Stavers's stable that the first stage chair was run regularly from Portsmouth to Boston. The event was one of scarcely less interest than the opening of a railroad or the launching of a "Great Eastern" of modern times. There was then no other regular coach for passengers run from any town this side of Boston. We have before us one of the bills of the day, dated Portsmouth, April, 1761. In comparison with the present speed of travel the bill is a curiosity. Here it is:

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Original Advertising

"For the Encouragement of Trade from Portsmouth to Boston. A LARGE STAGE CHAIR, With two good horses well equipped, will be ready by Monday the 20th inst. to start out from Mr. Stavers, inn-holder, at the sign of the Earl of Halifax, in this town, for Boston, to perform once a week; to lodge at Ipswich the same night; from thence through Medford to Charlestown ferry; to tarry at Charlestown till Thursday morning, so as to return to this town the next day; to set out again on the Monday following; it will be contrived to carry four persons besides the driver. In case only two persons go, they may be accommodated to carry things of bulk and value to make a third or fourth person. The price will be Thirteen Shillings and Six Pence sterling for each person from hence to Boston, and at the same rate of conveyance back again; though under no obligation to return in the same week in the same manner. Those who would not be disappointed, must enter their names at Mr. Stavers on Saturdays, any time before nine o'clock in the evening, and pay one-half at entrance, the remainder at the end of the journey. Any gentleman may have business transacted at Newbury or Boston with fidelity and despatch, on reasonable terms.

As gentlemen and ladies are often at a loss for good accommpdations for travelling from hence; and can't return in less than three weeks or a month, it is hoped that this undertaking will meet with suitable encouragement, as they will be wholly freed from the care and charge of keeping chairs and horses, or returning them before they had finished their business."

After a month, "several stages having been performed with satisfaction," notice was given that five persons could be carried; that in future it would leave on Tuesday instead of Monday morning, and arrive back on Saturday night.

In November, 1762, notice is given that the "Stage Chaise" will run, except in bad weather, through the winter; fare $3.00.

As an evidence of the speed of those times, we notice the arrival of a special express from Boston, with important news, which left Boston at 11 o'clock one day, and arrived at Portsmouth at 2 o'clock the next afternoon. On one occasion, January 1764, the Charlestown and other ferries were so frozen, that the Post was obliged to pass round by Cambridge, riding not far from one hundred miles in circuit. The promised four-horse carriage was not completed till May, 1763. Here is the advertisement:

Is now finished, which will carry six persons inside; runs with four or six horses; each person to pay 13s. 6d. to Boston, and 4s. 6d. to Newbury. Sets out from the Sign of the Earl of Halifax, every Tuesday morning between 7 and 8 o'clock, goes thro' Newbury to Boston, and will put up at inns on the road where good entertainment and attendance are provided for the passengers in the coach. The subscriber, master of the stage coach, is to be spoke with from Saturday night to Monday night, at Mr. JOHN STAVERS', innholder, at the sign of the Earl of Halifax. Bartholomew Stavers."

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The First Stage Driver

Bartholomew, the first regular stage driver north of Boston, was the father of Capt. William Stavers, now of Portsmouth. His family lived at one time on Pierce's island. He was strongly allied in feeling to the mother country, and regarding the movements of the Revolution as a rebellion, for which those who engaged in it would be subject to the halter, in December, 1774, he left for England. His son William was born in February following. The father and son never saw each other. He had one other son, Andrew, who died young. His wife, Mrs. Martha Stavers, died in this town February 19, 1792.

The history of John Stavers and the "Earl of Halifax" and "William Pitt" hotels have enough of interest for a separate ramble.

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