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Portsmouth, New Hampshire

City: Portsmouth

County: Rockingham

State: New Hampshire

Lat/Long: 43.0667, -70.7500

Situated in southeastern New Hampshire on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Piscataqua River bordering Maine, Portsmouth is a historic seaport city located in Rockingham County. Prior to the fifteenth century, Native Americans occupied the seacoast of what would become New Hampshire. English seamen began exploring the area in 1603, and by the 1620s, European fur traders and fisherman had established temporary residences in pursuit of furs and fish. The first Europeans to settle in what would become Portsmouth arrived in 1623. John Mason became proprietor of the area, and in the 1630s, a group of English immigrants established what came to be known as Strawberry Banke. In 1653, the Massachusetts General Court incorporated it as a town, and the residents changed the name to Portsmouth after the name of Mason's English estate. For the next one hundred years, Portsmouth was among the busiest and most important ports in the American colonies. Colonial merchants made a fortune exporting timber to Great Britain and the British West Indies. Portsmouth became a hub of private shipbuilding and commercial fishing. After the American Revolution, Portsmouth continued to prosper. Its population in 1800 was 5,339; by 1820, the population had risen to 7,327. The rise of the steamboat signaled the decline in private shipbuilding, and the development of Boston and other Massachusetts ports saw Portsmouth lose much of its commercial trade. Placing the New Hampshire state capital in Concord further dimmed its luster, but Portsmouth remained an important seaport up to the Civil War. Construction of the U.S. Naval Yard and development of breweries and distilleries helped offset the loss of private shipbuilding and trade. In 1849, the New Hampshire General Court incorporated Portsmouth as a city. Its population in 1853 was about 11,000.

Encyclopedia of New Hampshire (Santa Barbara, CA: Somerset, 2000), 454; James Sullivan, "Portsmouth/New Castle (New Hampshire, U.S.A.)," International Dictionary of Historic Places: Volume 1 Americas, ed. by Trudy Ring and Robert M. Salkin (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), 512, 514; Federal Writers' Project, New Hampshire: A Guide to the Granite State (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1938), 225; A. J. Coolidge and J. B. Mansfield, A History and Description of New England, General and Local (Boston: Austin J. Coolidge, 1859), 622-29.