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Mary Driscol's love
lost her a fortune

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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.

Market street - Dearborn's residence - Its builder - Romantic incident.

THE desolating fires of 1802, 1806 and 1813, have changed the aspect of Portsmouth, by removing many of the structures of which but few men now living have a remembrance. At the close of the last century, neither Penhallow street, Jaffrey's court, nor Commercial avenue, had been opened; and the whole centre of the square encompassed by Paved, Bow, Chapel and Daniel streets was occupied as gardens and orchards connected with the few mansions which stood on the south and west sides of the square. On the corner of Daniel and what is now called Market street, was the large two-story double house of Daniel Rindge. Around it, on the south and west, was an open fence with large capped posts. Market street then was not much wider than Ladd street now is, and Daniel street was only twenty feet wide. Next north of the Rindge estate came three or four two-story wooden stores, in which Messrs. Henry Haven, Nathaniel A. Haven, Nathaniel Dean, and others carried on business.

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Dearborn School for Girls

Then, on the site of the building now occupied by the Mechanics and Traders' Bank, was a two-story house, with a shop in the basement and a dwelling-place over it. Its end was to the street, and it extended back some distance. The house for many years afforded the place of abode and the school room of Benjamin Dearborn, where grammar and the other higher branches not introduced into the public schools, are taught. Here, too, young females (for whom no provision was made by the public for their instruction) were collected, and received that education which fitted them for ornaments to society. From a hundred to a hundred and twenty of both sexes were sometimes convened for instruction in that school room,--which is spoken of in a previous ramble.

In this house, too, when not engaged as auctioneer, Mr. Dearborn employed many of his hours in studying mathematics and the mechanical powers. Here were projected and first introduced to the public, though world renowned "Dearborn's Patent Balances." Here, too, before the power printing press had been put into operation in this country or in Europe, the ingenious Dearborn, convinced of the practicability of such a machine, spent no small labor in maturing plans which did him credit for design; and although he was not successful in the completion, was doubtless of use to those who afterwards matured the great invention of the power press. In this house, too, was a hall for dancing; and many a merry hour has been spent there by those who now, like the old violin to which they moved, are unstrung and silent, and leave us to hear the tale only as an aeolian whisper from the distant time. We have something more to say of the Dearborn mansion, the early history of a part of which, never before submitted to print, has induced us to make this sketch.

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Mary Driscol's Lost Fortune

About the year 1750, a gentleman of property from London, with an only daughter, about seven years of age, came to this country, and taking a fancy to this locality, purchased the lot of land and erected a house for his own occupancy and use. Whether the wife of Mr. Robinson died in England, or soon after their arrival here, we know not; but the care of the daughter Mary (or Molly, as she was nicknamed, agreeably to the custom of the time), fell upon him, and she he received such an education as fitted her for a good station in society. They were without relatives on this side of the Atlantic, and their associates being few, were of course more firmly confided in. Before Mary arrived at womanhood, her father's health failed, and in his anxiety to provide for her future, he made a will, putting all his property in trust of a friend for his daughter's support, to pass into her own hands on her marriage, should she marry to the liking of the guardian. If she did not so marry the man of his choice, the property should all belong to the guardian.

In due time a suitor won the heart of Mary, but through the gold glasses by which the executor viewed the property, he could not see that perfection in the lover which warranted his assent. So Mary took her lover, and the guardian took the property. Thus, by the unwise provision of her loving father, the daughter was deprived of her rightful property on becoming the companion of one who depended upon his daily toil on land, or on fishing on the coast, for a livelihood. Many years did the patient wife spend in her humble situation. At length she became a poor widow. The skill in fine needlework she had early acquired was eventually brought into requisition to make and repair the nets of the fishermen; and her skill in cookery, becoming known, was frequently called into exercise when an epicurean party wished for a chowder of the choicest kind.

Thus employed, the unfortunate and virtuous widow passed more than her three score and ten, living on the resources of her honest industry. As infirmities crept on, at the age of seventy-five she was provided for by the town, and the records of our almshouse state that after a residence there of seventeen years, on the 8th day of October, 1835, died Mrs. Molly Driscol, a native of London, aged ninety-two years.

The father, the daughter, the husband, and the guardian are now but dust, and the house has for more than fifty years been in ashes. We will not further disturb the embers, or give life to the coals which for many years burnt in the bosom of the unfortunate Mary Driscol, the remembrance of whose latter days is still fresh in the minds of many of our readers.

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