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Andrew married his landlord's
widow. James ran town meetings.
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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.

Andrew and James Clarkson - The Pretender's ensign - The tan yard - Rev. John Murray.

ONE of the most spacious old houses south of the south mill bridge was taken down in 1835. Its location was some rods west of the Haven School House, in the rear of the residence of Francis Marden, Esq. It was gambrel roofed, facing the street, and about a hundred feet back from it, leaving a handsome green spot in front, and a gravel walk to the door through two rows of trees.

A century ago it was occupied by Andrew Clarkson and his brother James. They were natives of Scotland and men of distinction. Andrew was born about the beginning of the last century. He was educated in the Protestant faith, and was a Presbyterian, but infatuated in his youth with the delusion which possessed many of his countrymen at that time, he enlisted under the banners of the pretender, and was an ensign in his army. After the defeat of the army, many of the prisoners were treated as rebels. Mr. Clarkson came to this country in the year 1717, and brought with him the colors belonging to his company. He settled in this town as a place of safety, being then about seventeen or eighteen years of age, and became a teacher in one of the public schools.

He boarded at the house of William Cotton, a tanner, at the south part of the town. Mr. Cotton died whilst Mr. Clarkson was a member of his family, and left a widow and six small children. Mr. Clarkson married the widow, who was several years older than himself, took charge of the tan-yard, and acquired by means of it, a handsome property. He often spoke of the early transactions of his life with regret, but said he thought at the time, that his conduct was justifiable.

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Genealogy & Inheritance

Mrs. Elizabeth Clarkson, wife of James Clarkson, died March 10, 1746, aged fifty-eight. Walter Clarkson, son of James and Elizabeth, died April 28, 1789. These two items are copied from grave stones in the Cotton burying ground. They are contiguous to that of William Cotton, Jr., the tanner, who deceased in 1717, in his thirty-eighth year. William Cotton, Jr. was a man of property, and made liberal provision in his will for his widow, Elizabeth, who also possessed some property in her own right. He left two sons and four daughters, his wife to have all the personal estate, etc., for the bringing up of their children, and all the profits and income of all his estate, until the eldest son John came to the age of twenty-one years, when he was to have, with his mother, each of them during her life, half of the homestead and tanyard; and he to have two-thirds of various other parcels of property, paying out to his sisters two-thirds of L400 as they became of age, and to have all the homestead at his mother's decease. He succeeded to the place, and dying 1759, left two sons and five daughters by his wife Mary, and by his second wife, two sons, Clement and Joel, and three daughters under age. John Cotton's eldest son William was a tanner, and subsquently occupied the house and tanyard, west of and adjoining the Chauncy house. He became feeble minded, and his two sons-in-law, Drown and Stavers, were appointed his guardians in 1790. He died in 1791. His wife Catharine died in 1803.

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Town Politics

As early as 1745, James Clarkson was moderator of the town meeting which elected him a Representative. For twenty years he was moderator of nearly all the town meetings, while his brother Andrew shared with him occasionally the honor of being a Representative. Andrew, while holding that office, died in 1765. In 1763, after the State House was built, the North parish refused the use of their church for a town meeting; James Clarkson was elected moderator on the door step, and then, by vote, the door was broken open and the election went on in the church as usual.

It is probable that Andrew left a son of the same name, as our informant well recollects one Andrew Clarkson, an extensive tanner and public man, residing there since the time of the Revolution. He describes him as a portly man. He also recollects their slave, Will Clarkson. Capt. Hugh Clarkson was of another family.

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No Wheels & Bad Manners

There was in olden times not only a scarcity of carriages but also of wheels. Messrs. Clarksons' team might be seen passing frequently through the town, without any wheels,--two shafts attached to the sides of the horse, the ends dragging on the ground, made up the dray on which their hides and leather found conveyance to and from the yard.

The wife of James Clarkson died in 1746. In 1762 he married Mrs. Sarah Holland of Boston, a lady of spirit.--Rev. Jonathan Parsons of Newburyport, in 1770, married Lydia, the widow of Andrew Clarkson.

Very honorable mention is made of the Clarkson hospitality by Rev. John Murray, and our town books give record of their honorable offices year after year. Mr. Murray, however, was never informed of the home preliminaries for reception by the family of James Clarkson, on his first visit to Portsmouth, in 1773. Mrs. Clarkson was not of the most amiable disposition--and while her husband's great delight was in visiting and administering to the wants of the poor--hers seemed to be in thwarting his efforts.

"Now Mrs. Clarkson," said her husband, "what shall I give you for a good reception to the new minister, Mr. Murray?" She proposed as the condition a full suit of thread lace for an apron, a cap and square handkerchief. It was assented to, and a dinner worthy of his standing was provided, at which the lady presided. Dinner was no sooner over, however, than the restraint was removed, and she very freely gave her opinion of her guest. "My good woman," was the reply of Mr. Murray, "it is not you that hates me, it is the devil in you."

About the year 1779, James Clarkson died. The next week, when some friends were making his widow a visit, she dropped dead upon the floor. Mr. Clarkson left no children,--and here we will drop the scene, as the family of this good man disappears.

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