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He brought fresh water
through wooden logs

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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.

Eliphalet Ladd - Early life - Family - The Hercules - The Archelaus - Buildings - Portsmouth Aqueduct - The challenge - His death and character.

SPRING has returned. The face of nature, - in the promise of the swelling bud, in early creeping grass, in the growing warmth of the sunshine, and in the return of the feathered songsters,--now extends invitations for all to come forth, and enjoy those charms which were not lost with Eden. All these the rambler can richly enjoy,--but it is his more peculiar province to walk in the scenes of the past, and thus endeavor to give interest to the existing localities which meet every eye. To say that our present walk is to the Portsmouth Journal office block, in Ladd street, would convey the idea of a very limited ramble, and perhaps of an unsightly termination. But as it takes the circuit of nearly a century to reach the point, some scenes of interest may arise.

On the morning of the 25th of January, 1761, the old hotel of James Stoodly, on Daniel street, was burnt on the spot north of the Post Office, where a like structure was afterward reared, and long known as the mansion of Elijah Hall. At the same fire a barber's shop was consumed, and Wiseman Clagett's residence (the Hart house,) in the immediate vicinity, was torn in pieces, his property much damaged and many things stolen. The sight of such a fire was then a rare occurrence - its brilliancy was seen in neighboring towns, and its light shed far out upon the ocean.

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Eliphalet Ladd: The Early Years

Between Portsmouth and the Shoals its light shone upon one adventurous boat, in which, before the dawn of day, a young man of seventeen years was bearing to those isles some articles for traffic with the islanders. At the time when a general scarcity prevailed from the failure of crops, and the energies of the young men were aroused to do what they could for a living, this juvenile merchant, then an inhabitant of Exeter, began in this small way his career in the arts of trade. As he looked back upon the illumination from his small craft, little did he then think that his own prosperity and that of the terrified town, were destined in after years to rise together; or that the time would arrive when the largest merchant ship of the last century that the Piscataqua floated, would be passing over the same ocean track, from his own ship yard. But young men have only to expect great things, live accordingly, and they will receive them.

In a day or two the adventurer returns with his load of fish, and passes through to Exeter. The events of the next thirty years of his life mostly transpired in that town. In 1772 he married a lady of Berwick whom he met at her brother's house in Portsmouth, Miss Abigail Hill, who was a true helpmeet. To her good management, he used in his latter days to attribute at least three-fourths of his wealth. Ten children were added to their household--William, Henry, Alexander and Eliphalet. Four of his daughters were married. Rev. William F. Rowland, of Exeter, Capt. Samuel Chauncy, John P. Lord, and John Langdon, Jr. of Portsmouth, were their husbands. Two of the children died in youth.

When about sixteen, he went with some civil engineers on a professional expedition to Crown Point. At that time Vermont as well as the western part of our own State was a wilderness. The company mistook their way, and were several days in the woods without provisions. At length they were driven to the necessity of eating horse meat and raw pumpkins. The meat relished well, and the pumpkins were as palatable as ripe melons usually are. In after life when the children at his bountiful table were disposed to find fault with any provision, he would remark that if they could but once have an appetite for horse meat or raw pumpkins, no complaint would be heard.

In business matters, the thirty years spent at Exeter exhibited all the various changes which are attendant upon men of enterprise, whose motto is, "nothing risk, nothing gain." Three times he regarded himself a man of wealth, and as many times he was reduced to his last dollar, before his removal to Portsmouth in 1792, and to the occupancy of the Tompson mansion near the Academy, which so long bore his name.

In the time of the Revolution, Col. Ladd built a twenty gun ship, called the Hercules. The enemy, well posted up in all the movements of the rebels, had a knowledge of the building, and in a Halifax paper was inserted an advertisement, giving notice that a ship of twenty guns, then on the stocks on the Piscataqua, would be sold at auction in Halifax on a day designated. Two British frigates were put on the watch, and the Hercules was captured and sold at Halifax on the very day advertised!

He accomplished, what was a marvel in his day, the building of a monster merchant ship of nearly five hundred tons. The Archelaus, the Leviathan of sixty years ago, was built at Exeter, and was three years in being completed. She afterwards became the property of Mr. Scott of Boston, and was lost, we have been told, on Cape Cod. Among the articles received in payment for the ship was a cord of coat buttons, which Col. Ladd, being in the hardware and variety line, no doubt turned to good account. But a stock of one hundred and twenty-eight cubic feet of buttons could not be at once disposed of.

Some remained on hand until in the war of 1812 there arose a great demand for bright ball buttons for military use. They were scarce, could not be imported, and an advance of several thousand dollars was at once made on the stock which remained on hand in his sons' store.

Among his real estate enterprises was the removal of the large house which now stands on Bridge street, facing Hanover street, from Exeter--also the barn, next south, recently taken down by George Tompson, to give place to his new one. Col. Ladd opened the street which bears his name, and built the block of buildings in which our office is located. At the fire of 1802 the whole block was burned. He immediately rebuilt it, and the eastern tenement which we have occupied for a third of a century, was fitted for a store for his own occupancy. The trap-hatch for taking in his goods is still under our press.

He also built the three stores on Market street, from the corner of Ladd street to that now occupied by J. Woodman Moses. Into one of these stores he removed and continued his business until his death. In the erection of that symmetrical structure now used as the Piscataqua Exchange Banking house, he was the principal arctitect.

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The Portsmouth Aqueduct

But what should, more than any of the above matters, keep him in remembrance, is the active part he took in supplying Portsmouth with one of the greatest luxuries we have,--a luxury which few places in the world so liberally enjoy, and of which none can boast a superior quality--pure water. In 1797 a company was formed and incorporated under the name of the "Portsmouth Aqueduct Company." Eliphalet Ladd, Samuel Hill and Thomas Chadbourne were managers, who in person broke the ground at its commencement. They purchased the invaluable springs at the Oak Hill farm, about two and a half miles from Market Square, and in two years the water was brought into town, through logs, and into immediate use in two hundred families. The stock of the company was divided into one hundred shares, and such sums only were assessed as were necessary to commence the work, and the balance of expense paid from the income. The whole direct assessments ever made have amounted to only eighty-two dollars on a share. There were some eight or ten years when the income was devoted to meeting expenses, but for many years it has been so good property that the shares have been sold as high as three hundred dollars.

Col. Ladd made a personal survey of the track of the aqueduct from the fountain into town; and so confident was he of his accuracy as an engineer, in levelling, that he erected an upright pipe in front of his mansion, cut it off at a particular height, and said, "thus high the water will rise." When it was let into the logs, it rose exactly to the point he designated, not varying an inch.

But it is the real benefit of the public generally, more than the pecuniary benefit to the aqueduct proprietors, that we take into view, when we bring into remembrance those who have bestowed upon Portsmouth blessings which are now many leagues in length, and flow in upon a thousand households every hour.

The springs (which from their flowing in winter bore the name of the "warm springs" more than a century before an aqueduct was extended from them,) are inexhaustible--they have never diminished in the least in the greatest drought. An analysis of the water shows it of unsurpassed purity. Who can duly estimate the blessing!

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Almost a Duel

Of the sons of Col. Ladd, were William Ladd, the great apostle of peace, and two of our most distinguished and successful merchants, Henry and Alexander Ladd--gentlemen of education and enterprise, whose impress has been felt upon our public institutions.

In the strong party times near the close of the last century, it was almost impossible for any man who took an active part in public affairs to avoid coming in collision with political opponents. Col. Ladd was not disposed to mince matters in such discussions, and drew upon himself the ire of a distinguished ship master, a leader of the opposition, who felt himself so much aggrieved that nothing short of pistols were looked to, to heal the breach.

The challenge was borne to Col. Ladd by Gen. Clement Storer. It was presented in due form, in the presence of his son William, whose disposition at that time partook more of the belligerent than of that peace spirit which in his latter days made him conspicuous on both sides of the Atlantic. The challenge was read--the place of meeting designated was the island, that has since become the Navy Yard. Looking up to the second, Col. Ladd said, "Tell Tom----he is a dirty fellow." "What! do you mean to insult me by such a message," said the dignified General. "And you are another," was the only response.

The General withdrew somewhat irritated. After he had retired, young William Ladd, feeling somewhat stirred by the occasion, said, "Father, I'll fight him." Set down, Bill, set down; why, hang the fellow, it is as much as a man's life is worth to go over the river on such a day as this." The meeting did not take place.

Col. Ladd died on the 24th of February, 1806, in the sixty-second year of his age. The record of his death is accompanied with a sketch of his character: "Having always led a life of assiduous industry, his example excited the emulation of others, and the industrious were certain of receiving his approbation and encouragement. In sentiment too independent to be biased by flattery, he neither condescended to it himself, nor permitted it in others. Though cautious in the formation of his opinions he was not obstinately tenacious of them, and he adhered to them no longer than they were believed correct. He possessed a degree of fortitude rarely attainable, which enabled him to bear the frowns of adversity without being depressed, and the smiles of prosperity without being elated.

Whether success or defeat attended his undertakings, he remained calm and equable, acknowledging in all that befell him the hand of God, and reposing unlimited confidence in the justice of providence. As he was a lover of his country, he extended a liberal hand for the encouragement of all works of public utility; and as he was a professor of the Christian religion, he strove to extend its influence, by discountenancing and repressing vice and irreligion, and by animating others to the practice of piety and virtue."

As here we sit, perhaps in the very spot where Col. Ladd once sat devising plans which gave business to those around him,--and from the small pump by our side flows at command that clear stream from a pure fountain several miles distant, brought by him to our chamber recesses--how can we do better than to invite the thousands in Portsmouth when they read this sketch to fill one goblet of that sparkling fluid, and drink with the rambler, "The Remembrance of Col. Eliphalet Ladd."

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