A house which is a museum generally seems a little cold...To fully appreciate the house one should know a little about some of the people who make up its story. —Dudley Stoddard, Warner Family Descendent
ome to sea captains, merchants, explorers and even a royal governor, the Warner House is rich with stories of family history. Six generations of extended family occupied the house from 1716 until 1932 when the house became a museum.
The Warner House was built for Archibald Macpheadris (1680? - 1729), a Scots-Irish sea captain and merchant. After living in Boston for a short time, Archibald was sailing in and out of Portsmouth as early as 1714. Portsmouth must have provided more financial opportunities and better-suited business connections for Archibald. Portsmouth also was home to his future bride, Sarah Wentworth (1702 - 1778), daughter of Lt. Gov. John Wentworth. On return from Cadiz, Spain, in 1715, Macpheadris brought with him a four-month-old female lion, the earliest known lion introduced in the colonies. While at sea, an agent purchased land on Daniel Street in 1715/6 and work began on the brick mansion now known as the Warner House. Archibald was a successful ship owner, merchant, land speculator, member of the King's Council and principal investor in the first iron works in NH, the Lamprey Iron Works. The Macpheadris family had three children: Sarah, Mary and Gilbert. Tragically, Sarah died in infancy. Macpheadris died in Portsmouth in 1729.
Next: Sarah Wentworth
he widowed Sarah Wentworth Macpheadris remained in the Warner House with her two children. In 1735, young Gilbert was struck and killed unloading cargo in the Caribbean. Two years later, Sarah married George Jaffrey II, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and one of the wealthiest men in the province of New Hampshire. George was a well-suited match for Sarah. A widower, he was a business partner with Archibald Macpheadris in the Lamprey iron works, and he lived only two houses up Daniel Street in a large U-shaped mansion on the gradual slope of Church Hill. At the time of the Jaffrey marriage, Sarah's only child, Mary, was fourteen, and the young girl came to live in the Jaffrey House.
[In the early 20th century, the Jaffrey House was stripped of its interiors and demolished. In January 2015, the Warner House received the paneling of one of the Jaffrey chambers from the Museum of Fine Arts. Plans are to reassemble the Jaffrey paneling in a reconstructed carriage house.]
Next: Royal Gov. Benning Wentworth
iving with George Jaffrey, Sarah most likely rented the Warner House until 1741 when Sarah's brother, Royal Governor Benning Wentworth (1696 - 1770) moved into the brick mansion on Daniel Street with his wife Abigail and three sons. Using the Warner House as the Governor's Mansion, Gov. Wentworth attempted several times to convince the Provincial Assembly to purchase the property as an official residence. Each time, however, the Assembly's offer was considerably below Sarah's asking price, and eventually, Gov. Wentworth removed to his country seat at Little Harbor, an estate on the outskirts of Portsmouth that he had been enlarging since 1753. Purportedly, Gov. Benning never paid rent to his sister or niece and when he left, there were several broken windows at the Warner house.
Next: Mary Macpheadris
ary Macpheadris (1723 - 1776), Archibald and Sarah's daughter, inherited both hers and her brother's share from her father's vast estate. By 1740, seventeen-year-old Mary had developed a friendship with Benjamin Plummer, an apparent twenty-four-year-old suitor who was believed to be from London. Benjamin was the Collector of the Piscataway (Portsmouth) and a man of some wealth. He may have been living at the house of Mary's Uncle Theodore Atkinson, at the time a wealthy landowner and member of King's Council who lived nearby on Pitt Street (now Court Street) in a house that had gardens that stretched down to Puddle Dock. Mary and Benjamin's probable courtship ended abruptly when Benjamin became terminally sick. On May 7, 1740, Benjamin Plummer wrote out his last will and testament. His "esteemed friend" Mary "Mackpheadrise" was the first beneficiary listed, and she was bequeathed "my Gold watch, my Negro Boy Juba & a ring of five guneas Price Desireing She would Accept the Same as a Token of the Great Value & regard I have for her." Benjamin died the next day.
Two years later on May 27, 1742, the young heiress married John Osborne Jr., a young merchant from the well-established Osborne family of Boston. Not much is known of John Jr., but court documents and tax records indicate that he and Mary resided in Portsmouth from 1742 to at least 1755, possibly living with Mary's uncle, Gov. Benning Wentworth, at the Warner House or in a wooden house across the street that her father had built around the same time as the Warner House. In 1749, John Jr. signed over his power of attorney to Mary, a possible indication that John Jr. was planning an extended trip. Indeed, his father was highly connected with London merchants, and his business in NH appeared unremarkable. The paperwork for the power of attorney was not filed until six years later when Mary (and John Jr.) was sued by Uncle Theodore Atkinson, who by now was the provincial secretary and Chief Justice of New Hampshire. The litigation concerned Mary's vast inheritance, and at the time, her husband could not be located for the trial. Was he overseas? Had he abandoned his wife? Had he died?
While it remains unknown exactly what happened to John Jr. Osborne, he was certainly dead by the fall of 1760. That October, Mary Macpheadris Osborne married Jonathan Warner, a rising Portsmouth merchant, who happened to be the widower of her cousin Mary Nelson Warner and father to a young child. Per English common law, Mary gave up control over her rights and property and became one with Jonathan, a legal possession.
Next: Jonathan Warner
orn in Portsmouth, Jonathan Warner (1726 - 1814) followed the mercantile path of his father, Daniel Warner, owning ships by the 1750s. On May 5, 1748, Jonathan had married Mary Nelson of the Nelsons of Boston at the house of Mary's Uncle Theodore Atkinson in Portsmouth. Theodore Atkinson was married to Hannah Wentworth, sister of both Sarah Wentworth Macpheadris Jaffrey and Mary Wentworth Nelson, who was Mary Nelson's mother.
By 1760, Warner was widowed with a young daughter, Mary "Polly" Warner (1749 - c.1770). That year, he married Mary Macpheadris Osborne, the cousin of his deceased wife and family friend. As stated, Mary was an heiress and widow. Before the Revolutionary War broke out, Warner was a member of the King’s Council, and during the conflict, the Committee of Safety brought him to an Exeter jail after he refused to sign the Association Test. Like many businessmen who had strong financial ties with English trade, Warner straddled the political fence. Near the beginning of the war, Mary died, and in 1781, he married another wealthy heiress, Elizabeth Pitts, daughter of leading Boston patriot James Pitts and granddaughter of James Bowdoin. While his political allegiance has remained a mystery, there is no doubt about Warner’s business acumen. After the Revolutionary War, Warner resumed his mercantile ways and later became active in local and state government. He served as moderator for the town of Portsmouth.
In 1810, Elizabeth died, leaving her vast estate to her husband. Warner survived long enough to see the Great Fire of 1813 gut Portsmouth and leave a path of devastation that included the land opposite the Warner House on Daniel Street where Warner purportedly had a store, which may have been the wooden dwelling Archibald Macpheadris had built in the late 1710s. As the town began to rebuild the following spring, Jonathan Warner’s life was slipping away. He died on May 15, 1814, in the same house he had resided in for 54 years.
We well recollect Mr. W. as one of the last of the cocked hats. As in a vision of early childhood, he is still before us, in all the dignity of the aristocratic crown officers. That broad back, long skirted brown coat, those small clothes and silk stockings–those silver buckles, and that cane, we see them still, although the life that filled and moved them ceased half a century ago..—Charles Brewster, Brewster's Rambles About Portsmouth, 1848
Next: The Sherburnes
fter Jonathan Warner's death, the Warner House passed to his niece Elizabeth Warner Sherburne (1767 - 1846) and her son John Nathaniel Sherburne (1793 - 1859). Elizabeth was the daughter of Jonathan's younger brother, Capt. Samuel Warner and his wife Elizabeth Wentworth. Most likely Elizabeth and her son were living in the Warner House since 1794 following the death of her husband Nathaniel Sherburne, a victim of yellow fever.
In a newly renovated front parlor (now known as the Reception Room), John Nathaniel married Eveline Blunt in 1822. John Nathaniel was a hardware merchant, and after the marriage, he partnered with his brother-in-law John Blunt. The hardware shop was located on the corner of Market and Ladd streets, the continuous site of many Porstsmouth hardware stores up until the early 21st century. Unfortunately, the firm of Sherburne & Blunt proved unsuccessful in the hardware business, and by 1828, the creditors were after their money and suing John Nathaniel Sherbunre for any assets like the Warner House. He was also in debt to his mother, Elizabeth, after using his share of the Warner House as collateral for a loan. Now, Elizabeth would add herself to the long line of litigants as she was also suing her son. Most likely this was a shrewd business move by Elizabeth to keep the Warner Estate away from the onslaught of creditors, and it worked. Elizabeth received the estate in its entirety by September 1828, and within a month, she wrote out a will leaving all of her property to her six grandchildren: Elizabeth (Betsy), Eleanor (Nell), Charles, Nathaniel, John (Pitts), and Eveyln (Evvy). In the 1850 census, there were eleven family members living in the Warner House spanning three generations.
Next: The Heirs: The Whipples
econd eldest daughter Nell married Amiel Weeks Whipple, a native of Greenwich, Massachusetts, and graduate of West Point, at St. John’s church in Portsmouth, N.H., in 1843. He had met Nell while an assistant in surveying Portsmouth Harbor. With their three young children, they stayed at the Warner House until the 1850s when Amiel purchased the house next door. As a topographical engineer, he was away for extended periods, traveling to the Northeast and the New Mexico Territories to define national boundaries, the Southwest to survey the best possible route for the transcontinental railroad (an expedition that the War Department appointed him to direct and to which his journal was later published as A Pathfinder in the Southwest, and to the Great Lakes to oversee the lighthouses.
During the Civil War, Amiel reported to Washington. Initially, he surveyed northern Virginia for the Union Army, and his maps of the Virginian countryside proved vital in protecting the Union capital. Located in Arlington, Virginia, his headquarters were at the former residence of General Robert E. Lee, who had abandoned the property when war broke out. Amiel helped to improve the fortification, a property that overlooked Washington. In 1861, Whipple was appointed a major in the Regimental Army. Soon he requested field duty and commanded a division at Fredricksburg in 1862, which was followed promotion to brigadier general of volunteers in April of the following year.
On the second day of the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, a Confederate sniper mortally wounded Amiel Whipple. Unfortunately, Amiel had been sitting on his horse writing an order to remove that same sniper. The rebel sharpshooter was later killed in the very same battle. Unconscious, he was taken from Virginia to his brother-in-law John Pitts Sherburne’s Washington residence. He lived for three days, and a promotion to major general was hastily completed. Surrounded by his family, Maj. Gen. Amiel Weeks Whipple died on May 7,1863. The funeral procession was attended by President Abraham Lincoln who stated he was there not as the president but as a friend of the family. Amiel was later buried in Portsmouth.
Nell died in 1874.
Next: The Heirs: The Penhallows
ldest child, Elizabeth "Betsy" Warner Pitts Sherburne married Capt. Pearce Penhallow at St. John's Church in 1845. They had four sons. Pearce had gone to sea at a very early age, serving in ships active in the cotton trade between the United States and England. He rose quickly to the rank of captain. In 1854, he commanded The Sierra Nevada, the largest clipper ship yet built in Portsmouth. After lengthy litigation regarding the Sierra Nevada, a case that he and the ship's owners eventually won, Pearce went into the business of the fire and marine insurance. The Penhallows spent several years in England twice before settling in Boston in 1868.
After the death of Betsy's father John Nathaniel Sherburne in 1859, the remaining heirs sold the Warner House to Pearce. When the family finally returned stateside, the Warner House was the summer home for the extended family.
Next: The Sherburnes
f the six Sherburne grandchildren, the eldest son Charles died of tuberculosis in March of 1850. The other two sons, Nathaniel and Pitts, would later settle in California. The youngest Sherburne was Evelyn Sherburne, known as Eva and then later affectionately as Aunt Evvy. She was eight years younger than her brother Pitts, but only seven years older than her nephew, Thomas Penhallow. When her brother-in-law Pearce Penhallow acquired the Warner House, Aunt Evvy was believed to stay on living in the house until about 1900 when she was in Boston with Thomas Penhallow. Both Evvy and Thomas would summer at the house, and they often gave tours of their ancestral home to respectable visitors of Portsmouth.