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.
An influential seacoast family started in 1640
John Pickering -- His sons John and Thomas -- Great Bay farm -- Descendants -- The Old South Church -- Point-of-Graves Cemetery -- The foot-path.
As early as 1636, John Pickering, the father of the several Pickering families in this county, came to Portsmouth from Massachusetts, coming originally from England. He appears to have been a man of good reputation and business capacity, although he could not write his name. He was confided with some of the most important business of the early settlers, and such matters as settling the lines between Portsmouth and Hampton were left to his decision--the settlers giving him full power to decide for them. He was one of the company who in 1640 gave the fifty acres of glebe land for the ministry. He selected his location on the shore north of the south mill, then well covered with wood which was not speedily removed,--for, nearly a quarter of a century after, a portion of the frame of the South church was cut on the spot where it was erected. The original Pickering house was built a few rods west of Marcy & Petigrew's ship-yard, and some fifty feet further from the shore than the present front of the houses on Mill street. Here were born two sons and four daughters--John born about 1640, Thomas, Rebecca, Abigail, Mary and Sarah. After living here thirty-three years in 1669, John Pickering, senior, died--the estate was entailed, and came into possession of his oldest son John.
In February, 1655, the town granted John Pickering, senior, "the land lying between Swaden's creek and Pincomb's creek in the Great Bay, so that it be no man's right of property. The said land is to extend into the swamp, and no further." In 1660, fifty acres in addition, in that vicinity, were granted by the town.
Thomas, the second son, took the farm of more than five hundred acres on Great Bay, (then in Portsmouth but now in Newington,) which, after a lapse of nearly two centuries, still remains in the family. About one hundred and seventy acres of it are now occupied by James C. Pickering, Esq., who was born thereon in 1770.
It has descended in a regular line to him--there never having been a deed made of the land since the original grant to the first John Pickering by the town, in 1655. Portions of it are also owned by Winthrop Pickering, Esq., who occupies the house built by his grand-father's grandfather, the first Thomas; seventy acres of it by the children of the late Judge James Pickering, lineal descendants; and valuable farms by Messrs. Reuben L. Lane, Samuel H. Tarlton and S. Fabyan, who are allied by marriage. It is from this Thomas that all who now bear the name of Pickering in this and the neighboring towns have descended.
In 1658, the town granted the south mill privilege to John Pickering, on condition of his keeping in repair a way for foot passengers over the dam in going to meeting. He then built the mill.
John Pickering (2d), who inherited the mill-dam, married a daughter of Anthony Stanyan of Hampton, by whom he had eight children, three of whom died young and unmarried. John (3d) married Elizabeth Munden in 1688, and died in 1713, six years before his father. He left three sons and three daughters: John, Thomas, Daniel, Mary (who married Ambrose Sloper,) Deborah and Sarah. Of the history of John (4th) and Daniel we have no account. Thomas, the second son, was slain by the Indians in 1746, in the vicinity of Casco bay in Maine. The population about Casco bay was at that time very sparse, and the incursions of the Indians for depredatory purposes frequent and sometimes especially cruel,--so that the aid of the settlement at Portsmouth and vicinity was needed for their protection. Thomas Pickering was captain of a military company, and was sent with them to Casco. While there he was violently seized with inflammatory rheumatism. The Indians knowing this, surprised and routed the company while in camp, and when they entered his tent none were with him but his orderly sergeant, who, faithful to his promise, did not leave his captain. The sergeant crept under an empty sugar hogshead, which had been used in the transportation of the camp equipage, and while therein his ears were shocked with the cruelty of the savages, who, with their knives, sliced Capt. P. from head to foot, until they had completely dissected him. Not having been discovered by them, the sergeant escaped a like fearful end.
The children of Capt. Thomas Pickering and Dorothy his wife, were three sons, John (5), Daniel and Thomas, and six daughters.
John Pickering 5th, had three sons and three daughters. Abigail, (the mother of John P. Ross) Sarah, Jemima--John 6th, (died in Bristol, England,) Thomas and Daniel. None of the sons left children, and the name of Pickering in the line of Capt. John, here became extinct. John 5th was the last inheritor of the south mill estate, the entail being docked about seventy years ago, when the Pickering's mills came into possession of James Sheafe. Daniel was lost by shipwreck on Block Island, leaving no descendants. Thomas, the third son, had command of the Hampden, a privateer of twenty guns, and was killed in an engagement in which a valuable prize was captured. His age was about thirty-two;--he was unmarried.
The six daughters of Capt. Thomas Pickering were all married and had dhildren, and five of them lived to the average age of ninety-two years!
The name of Elizabeth's first husband was Lambert, that or her second, Prowse. Capt. Daniel Prowse was her son. She died at the age of ninety-one.
Abigail married Thomas Patterson, who was the father of the late Mrs. Timothy Gerrish and Mrs. Richard Lowe. She afterwards married Mr. Janvrin, had one son, and in 1832 died at the age of one hundred years and eight months.
Dorothy married Capt. Nelson, father of the late Capt. Isaac Nelson, and died at eighty-six years.
Olive married George Jerry Osborne, the father of the printer of that name, and died at the age of about twenty-five.
Lydia married John Underwood, the father of the rope-maker of that name, and died at eighty-four years.
Mary married Samuel Drown, the son of Rev. Samuel Drown. Messrs. Daniel P. Drown and Thomas P. Drown were her sons. She died in 1841, at the age of ninety-seven years and six months.
The most venerable relic of antiquity left as the representative of places of worship of former times, is the old South Church, which now bears the age of 128 years. In the days of its erection, "Let there be light" must have been a favorite text, judging from the number of its windows. There was a reason for those windows which does not regulate the lighting of churches generally. As has been the custom in later days, subscriptions were solicited for the erection of the church. One of the richest men of the day, Henry Sherburne, we think, when the paper was presented, said he would pay for the windows. This carte blanche to operate with, a much larger surface of the building was left for glass than otherwise probably would have been.
In connection with the old church we will, for the purpose of our ramble, although apart in their locality, look into the Cemetery of the Point-of- Graves. Like the church, it readily shows evidence of its antiquity. Its rudely cut and moss-covered slabs of two centuries are surely the monuments of age as well as of mortality.
In this sacred enclosure, in 1669, was deposited the remains of John Pickering, whose estate covered the Point-of-Graves Cemetery and extended over the site of the South church to the mill bridge, taking in the whole shore, from the cemetery probably around to near the site of the Universalist church--for in 1754, when the Pleasant street burying-ground, near Livermore street, was deeded to the town, it was said to be "situated on Pickering's Neck"--the name of the small and pleasantly situated farm of the first John Pickering.
As an evidence of the extent of the possessions which his oldest son inherited, we give the following extract from the town records:
"1651.--At a town meeting it was agreed, that whereas there has been a foot path usually made over John Pickering's grounds from over his dam, and from thence along by the mill path into his next path, and so direct as conveniently may towards the present meeting house--[then near the site of the Universalist church] to be continued for the more ease of the inhabitants and others that shall have occasion to travel that way, at all times hereafter without leave of said John Pickering, or any one else, to be continued forever."
The tenacity with which families hold to an old inheritance, as shown by the Pickering farm on Great Bay, may be seen in other localities in our neighborhood. As we look over Portsmouth bridge from Church Hill, a handsome house in Kittery, erected as a summer residence by Samuel Adams, of the firm of Barker, Adams & Co. of this city, on the land of his fathers, at once arrests the attention of every observer.
The land upon which it is erected has been in the family one hundred and ninety years, having been purchased by Christopher Adams of Nathaniel Fryer, a merchant of Portsmouth, in 1668, for eighty pounds for one hundred acres. It descended to John Adams, and to his son John, who was the father of Mark Adams. The latter gentleman for more than twenty years was the regular representative of Kittery in the Massachusetts legislature. He died about forty years ago. Many will recollect the old gentleman, who could be seen in his three-cornered hat, sculling his yawl boat across the river every Sunday, and occupying his seat in the old North as regularly as Dr. Buckminster did the pulpit. Mark left three sons, Mark, John and Christopher. The latter lived in the old mansion house until his death, in 1858, at the age of eighty- two. The situation of the new house is one of the most prominent on the river. The original farm was divided by Mark between his two sons, John and Christopher. Samuel and Franklin Adams, the present owners of the whole farm, are the sons of John.
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