Coming May 6, Imagine That! The Power of Picture Books, a celebration of the extraordinary riches of book illustration in northern New England. Portsmouth Historical Society will bring world-class illustration to Portsmouth for the first time. Visitors will see beloved children’s classics―Make Way for Ducklings and Curious George―alongside the work of living artists shaping the field of children’s books today, such as Grace Lin and Mo Willems.

Stay tuned for more information, including our schedule of story hours, illustrator-led workshops for children and families, and pop-up reading events around town. Learn more about our summer-long series of programs presented in collaboration with Portsmouth Public Library, G. Willikers! Book and Toys, and the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available for Imagine That! The Power of Picture Books. Show your support and let our community know that your business aligns with our mission of championing the history, arts and culture of the Portsmouth region!

For more information, or for a program packet, please contact Sue Ann Pearson, Director of Development, at

Laura Calhoun Steps in as Interim Executive Director

Laura Calhoun, former exhibitions and collections manager at the University of New Hampshire’s Museum of Art, has graciously agreed to step away as a trustee of the Portsmouth Historical Society and step into the role of interim executive director.

Having spent a few years between 2011 and 2014 on staff at Portsmouth Historical Society, Laura knows the institution well. She has been doing fantastic work at leading the team while the board of trustees’ search for the next executive director.

Both staff and board are thrilled to have Laura’s experience and positivity during this transitional time. Welcome!

Photo by Perry Smith

Become a Sustainer Today

Sustainers form a strong foundation for Portsmouth Historical Society by providing reliable support in the form of an on-going, monthly gift. They are steadfast in their commitment to make a difference in the work we do, and their generosity supports both current and future exhibitions, educational programs and institutional projects.

As a Portsmouth Historical Society Sustainer, your gift is charged automatically to your credit card each month making it easy to support a sustainable future for our organization.

And you can stop your payments anytime by simply calling the Development Office. We hope you will consider becoming a Sustainer this year!

For more information or questions please email Wendy in our Membership Office at

John Paul Jones House History

Part 2: Building a Mansion

By J. Dennis Robinson

Portsmouth was a key British colonial seaport when Capt. Gregory Purcell married Sarah Wentworth. Today, the rambling mansion of her uncle Benning Wentworth, the powerful New Hampshire governor, is also a museum located at the end of scenic tree-lined Little Harbor Road. Sarah would have been 17 or 18 when the couple built their three-and-a-half-story gambrel-roof home.

Gary Matsell, John Paul Jones House, 1997. Watercolor on paper. Prints available at the Discover Portsmouth Museum Shop!

Historians have long speculated that Hopestill Cheswell (also known as Hopestill March) was the housewright hired by the Purcells. (A housewright cut and sawed the timber into planks, then assembled the structure.) Ongoing research may soon determine whether this legend is valid. Hopestill’s father Richard is credited as the first African American to own land in New Hampshire, while his son Wentworth Cheswell was the state’s first Black elected official. Precious few houses of this design remain intact in Portsmouth. Most have been altered, destroyed, or sold off. Another Hopestill Cheswell structure on Pleasant Street, built for North Church pastor Samuel Langdon, was torn down in the 1950s and reconstructed at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts.

Sarah gave birth to 11 or 12 children in this grand home at the busy intersection known as Haymarket Square. Eight of Sarah’s children were alive by the summer of 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was read aloud from the steps of the New Hampshire State House in the center of Market Square. Months later as the American Revolution raged on, word arrived that Capt. Gregory Purcell had died, probably while at sea, leaving his large family deeply in debt.

(To be continued….)

History. Arts. Culture.