[In early May, with the lockdown closing in around us a bit, my sons and I took a daytrip up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where we walked around the historic waterfront area (masked and at a social distance from fellow visitors, natch). This week I’ll highlight a handful of histories from this multi-layered New England community, leading up to a special post on other NE historic daytrips!]
I learned a great deal about the Sheafe Warehouse, one of America’s oldest preserved commercial buildings, from this post on the Walk Portsmouth blog. Here I wanted to use three generations of Sampson Sheafes to highlight three stages of 18th century New Hampshire and America:
1) Sampson I (1646-1725): The elder Sampson was born in London and immigrated to New England around 1668, where he lived in multiple towns before settling in New Castle, New Hampshire (the state’s easternmost town and one also known as Great Island as it is located entirely on islands). He represents what I would call the first truly commercial generation of New England settlers, and alongside starting the family’s influential shipping business (and possibly building the Portsmouth Warehouse, although as the aforementioned blog post indicates that fact is disputed), he also served in important civic roles such as Deputy Collector of Customs, Clerk of the Superior Court, and Provincial Councilor and Secretary. But despite those commercial and civic developments, New England was far from stable during this turn of the 18th century period, as another of Sampson’s roles reflects: he helped lead the region’s military forces (as Commissary) in a failed 1711 invasion of Quebec (part of the larger conflict known as Queen Anne’s War).
2) Sampson II (1683-~1772): The elder Sampson and his wife Mehitable had five children, and they named their fourth (and second son) Sampson. Sampson II (they apparently didn’t actually use roman numerals to differentiate the generations, so that’s just my own usage for clarity) reflects a next stage in the family’s New England development, as he attended Harvard College, graduating in 1702. He subsequently extended the Sheafe merchant shipping trade, and was possibly the Sampson who built the Portsmouth Warehouse (the blogger seems to think this is the most likely scenario, which would put the construction at about 1740, near the outset of what would be known as the “Great Age of Sail”). In the final decades of his life he attained a particularly high status, serving on the King’s Council from 1740 to 1762. But the region’s colonial wars with France likewise continued, and in 1745 Sampson II served as Commissary for the New England armed forces during the siege of Louisbourg (capital of the French colony on Cape Breton Island), part of the conflict known as King George’s War.
3) Sampson III (1713-unknown): Sampson II and his wife Sarah had ten children, and they named their second son (and oldest surviving child) Sampson. For whatever reason (perhaps that large number of siblings), less seems to be known about Sampson III; but if the family Warehouse was indeed built around 1740, the 27 year-old Sampson III was likely involved in its construction (and if so, given its endurance for nearly three centuries, he did a good job!). Sampson III also reflects in two ways a very different colonial war, the Revolutionary one with England: he may have participated in the December 1774 raid on the English Fort William and Mary on New Castle Island; and his son Sampson (duh), born in 1750 and a merchant sailor, was impressed by the English and held at Dartmoor Prison for at least a portion of the Revolution. Four generations of an influential New Hampshire, New England, and American family, all tied to this one historic waterfront building.
Next Portsmouth post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other historic sites or daytrips you’d highlight?
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