May 28, 2021–October 11, 2021

at the John Paul Jones Historic House Museum
43 Middle Street, Portsmouth, NH

Open 7 days, 11 am–5 pm



Portsmouth Historical Society Members
Seniors 70+
Children under 18
Active & retired military

Admission grants access to the John Paul Jones Historic House Museum at 43 Middle Street, at the galleries in the Academy Building at 10 Middle Street, and can be applied toward a discount on historical walking tours or towards an annual membership

In 1920, the Portsmouth Historical Society (incorporated in 1917) opened the doors of its newly acquired John Paul Jones House as a museum of Seacoast history.  Part of the Society’s mission was to collect “Treasures Rich in Historic Memories.”  That included preserving the 1758 colonial dwelling thought to have housed John Paul Jones, touted as the father of the American Navy, during one or more of his visits to Portsmouth in 1777 and 1781. 

Trinkets, tophats, teapots, and drink trays!

The life of John Paul Jones—as both a hero of the American Revolution and an icon of the colonial revival, shrouded in myth and memory—became a collecting theme for the Society.

In addition, and more broadly, the Society’s goal was to illustrate the contours of Portsmouth history through the display of its material life, a rich story told through an eclectic group of paintings and prints; furniture, ceramics, and other decorative arts; quilts and coverlets, samplers, and clothing; marine art and artifacts; souvenirs and memorabilia; materials related to local businesses; and many other kinds of objects either made in the Seacoast or with a history of ownership in the area.

In the 1920s, many local families—Salter, Dow, Rice, Gray, Knox, and Vaughan among them—stepped up to give their family treasures, establishing an ongoing tradition of generosity.  Later, gifts from others and a substantial bequest from Annie Appleton Ferree expanded the collection.  In recent years many donors, such as Jean Sawtelle, Hollis Brodrick, and others, have enhanced and expanded our holdings.  A high percentage of our collection is on display throughout the various rooms of the John Paul Jones House.

This exhibition celebrates our long and ongoing history as a collecting institution.  It features a few of the myriad varieties and types of objects that the Society has acquired during the past century, nearly all as gifts. Some have been in the collection for many years, while others are more recent additions.

The Society remains the only institution devoted to collecting the entire trajectory of Portsmouth-area history, and continuing that effort is an institutional priority.  We welcome you to join us in our quest to document and preserve the tangible aspects of the Seacoast’s unique story.

Edwin Plummer’s portraits of the Cheevers

We are proud to display for the first time since their restoration the portraits of Benjamin and Mary Cheevers by Edwin Plummer. Donated by Kimberley Leach, a descendant of the sitters, these wonderful 1830s portraits were researched by scholar Deborah M. Child, and restored by Mehlin Conservation with funds provided by Michaela Neiro, Deborah M. Child, Susan Zuckert, and Lisa Mehlin.

Attributed to Edwin Plummer (1802–1880), Mary Tarlton (Holbrook) Cheever, Portsmouth, 1833. Oil on canvas. Gift of Kimberley G. Leach in honor of her father, D. Wallace Leach, Jr. (2019.017)

Mary Tarlton (Holbrook) Cheever’s portrait was in fairly serious need of attention. Torn from the stretchers at the top, with a hole punched through the canvas above her left arm, small areas of paint loss throughout, and nearly two centuries of accumulated dirt made it difficult to appreciate her formidable gaze.

This pair of portraits was handed down through six generations of the donor’s family until she presented them to the Society in 2019. They depict Benjamin Cheever (1804–1894), a clothier (or merchant tailor) who entered the real estate business later in life, and his wife Mary (1799–1880). Married in 1825, the couple had nine children. Benjamin was also a state representative and a strong abolitionist. Research by the art historian Deborah M. Child suggests that these were probably painted by Edwin Plummer in the fall of 1833, when the artist was in Portsmouth. The local newspaper observed at the time: “We had frequently heard of Mr. Plummer’s productions and on examination are highly pleased with the accuracy of expression delineated in . . . his portraits. Ladies and gentleman who have a taste for the Fine Arts could not feel otherwise than gratified with visiting Mr. Plummer’s Room.” Several generous donors have provided funds to conserve the paintings and the frames.

Attributed to Edwin Plummer (1802–1880), Benjamin Cheever, Portsmouth, 1833. Oil on canvas. Gift of Kimberley G. Leach in honor of her father, D. Wallace Leach, Jr. (2019.018)

While Mr. Cheever was in better shape (in need of cleaning and a few areas of paint loss), you can see from the “before” photo, taken with the light coming from just the right angle, that some previous cleaning had been done… so vigorously scrubbed, in fact, that the protective varnish on his face was all but gone