Portsmouth is a city in Rockingham County, New Hampshire in the United States. It is the largest city but only the fourth-largest community in the county, with a population of 21,233 at the 2010 census. A historic seaport and popular summer tourist destination, Portsmouth is served by Portsmouth International Airport at Pease, formerly the Strategic Air Command's Pease Air Force Base.
Native Americans of the Abenaki and other Algonquian-speaking nations inhabited the territory of coastal New Hampshire for thousands of years before European contact. The first known European to explore and write about the area was Martin Pring in 1603. The village was settled by English immigrants in 1630 and named Strawberry Bank, after the many wild strawberries growing beside the Piscataqua River, a tidal estuary with a swift current.
Strategically located for trade between upstream industries and mercantile interests abroad, the port prospered. Fishing, lumber and shipbuilding were principal businesses of the region. Enslaved Africans were imported as early as 1645 and were an integral part of building the city's prosperity. Portsmouth was part of the Triangle Trade that made significant profits from slavery.
At the town's incorporation in 1653, it was named Portsmouth in honor of the colony's founder, John Mason. He had been captain of the port of Portsmouth, England, in the county of Hampshire, for which New Hampshire is named. In 1679, Portsmouth became the colonial capital. It also became a refuge for exiles from Puritan Massachusetts. When Queen Anne's War ended, the town was selected by Governor Joseph Dudley to host negotiations for the 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth, which temporarily ended hostilities between the Abenaki Indians and English settlements of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire.
In the lead-up to the Revolution, in 1774 Paul Revere rode to Portsmouth warning that the British were coming. Although the harbor was protected by Fort William and Mary, the rebel government moved the capital inland to Exeter, safe from the Royal Navy. The Navy bombarded Falmouth (now Portland, Maine) on October 18, 1775. African Americans helped defend Portsmouth and New England during the war. In 1779, 19 slaves from Portsmouth wrote a petition to the state legislature and asked that it put an end to slavery, in recognition of their contributions and in keeping with the principles of the Revolution.Their petition was not answered then, but New Hampshire later ended slavery. Thomas Jefferson's 1807 embargo against trade with Britain withered New England's trade with Canada, and a number of local fortunes were lost. Others were gained by men who acted as privateers during the War of 1812. In 1849, Portsmouth was incorporated as a city.
Sites of interest:
- USS Albacore Museum & Park – a museum featuring the USS Albacore, a U.S. Navy submarine used for testing, which was decommissioned in 1972 and moved to the park in 1985. The submarine is open for tours.
- Buckminster House - built in 1725, formerly a town morgue
- The Music Hall – a 900-seat theater originally opened in 1878. The theater is now run by a non-profit organization and currently under restoration. The venue hosts musical acts, theater, dance and cinema.
- North Church – historic church, the steeple of which is visible from most of Portsmouth
- New Hampshire Theatre Project – founded in 1986, a non-profit theater organization producing contemporary & classical works, and offering educational programs.
- Players' Ring – founded in 1992, a community theater to "promote the efforts of local artists through the production of original works."
- Pontine Theatre – Produces original theater works based on the history, culture and literature of New England at their 50-seat black box venue.
- Portsmouth Athenæum – a private membership library, museum and art gallery open to the public at certain times.
- Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse – first established in 1771, the current structure was built in 1878 and is open for monthly tours from May through September.
- Prescott Park Arts Festival – summer entertainments in Portsmouth's waterfront park.
- Seacoast Repertory Theatre – founded in 1988, a professional theater troupe.
- Strawbery Banke Museum – a neighborhood featuring several dozen restored historic homes in Colonial, Georgian and Federal styles of architecture. The site of one of Portsmouth's earliest settlements.
- Whaling Wall – Painting of Isles of Shoals Humpbacks created by Robert Wyland, situated on the back of Cabot House Furniture. It is in disrepair, and restoration has not been allowed by the owners of Cabot Furniture.