Colonel Nathaniel Meserve

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From the Portsmouth Times, 18 October 1924

Two sons of old Portsmouth, by John Bartlett Meserve

Nathaniel Meserve's estate
"Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is one of the most attractive port towns on the Atlantic Coast. Many of its earlier streets are quaint, narrow and winding. Its market square, once-the abode of the town pump and whipping post and its old Colonial houses, each enriched by an historic association, challenge the interest of the visitor. Its newer streets arched by massive trees. Its wooded environs and its macadam beach drives, blend with the ancient features of the old city with a harmony that is quite complete.
"The first white settlement was laid at Portsmouth as early as 1623. Quite naturally, these pioneers fringed the shore of the bay and the lower banks of the Piscataqua. Early growth was probably slow, but as accretions came to the population with the succeeding decades, the old town extended back toward the higher eminencies and along the paths and lanes which are now the down town streets of Portsmouth. The early settlers were probably fishermen or sailors; at times trading with their Indian neighbors, who were not always too friendly. Shipbuilding, early became an important industry.
"Among these interesting trading and sailor folk at old Portsmouth in 1673, we first find Clement Messervy, a French lad who had recently come over from Jersey, England. Tradition identifies him as a son of Jean Messervy and Marie Machon, his wife, baptized at Gorey, in Grouville Parish, Isle of Jersey, on May 13. 1655. He married and lived at Portsmouth -- in the later years of his life living at Newington. His second son, Clement Meserve (the name was early metamorphosed to its present use) married Elizabeth Jones at Portsmouth on Sept. 24. 1702, the ceremony being solemnized by the Rev. John Pike. He lived at Portsmouth and Newington and died at Scarboro. Me., in 1746. He was the father of Col. Nathaniel Meserve, who was born at Ports-mouth, probably about 1705.


"Nathaniel Meserve married Jane Libby at Portsmouth on 16 December 1725. He owned the covenant and was baptized in the church on 23 October 1726. He is rated as the most prominent member of the family bearing his name in America. His first prominence came with his participation in the memorable siege of Louisburg in 1745. The signal services rendered by him at that time were of such a character that the success of the whole expedition was attributed to his accomplishments.
"Early historians have repeated the name of Colonel Meserve with admiration, in narrating the circumstances of this famous siege. In 1756 he led the New Hampshire: troops in the defense of Fort Edward, which he defended with gallantry, and was recognized by the Earl of Loudon, Commander of the English forces in America. 1757 again found him in command of the colonial regiment of New Hampshire. With three hundred rangers and one hundred carpenters, he again embarked for Halifax, sending the residue of the regiment to Fort William Henry under Lieut-Colonel Goffe.
"He returned from Halifax in the fall and in April 1758, again joined the last expedition against Louisburg. At this time he took with him a large crew of carpenters. He contracted the smallpox and both he and his son died at Louisburg on June 23, 1758. News of his demise reached Portsmouth in the middle of July and produced a most profound sorrow. The Gazette of August 11th in a discriminating notice of the public services and high character of the deceased, contains the expression of a public loss.
Frigate America

Frigate America

"In 1749, at his shipyard in Portsmouth, he constructed for the British government the frigate America. A model of this ship is in the Athenaeum in Portsmouth. This ship was launched on 4 May 1749, and joined the British navy in England.
"He was one of the twelve gentlemen who purchased the Mason grant in 1746, which became the origin of his large ownership of lands throughout the colony.
"He was one of thirty-three of the prominent men of Portsmouth who established the first public library in the city. This was in 1750.
"In 1740 this shipbuilder and soldier built, in Portsmouth, what has since been known as the Meserve-Boyd House. This home was contiguous to his shipyard where he constructed the America. The house was afterward owned and occupied by Peter Livius, then by Col. George Boyd and later by George Raynes. He built the house on Vaughan Street in Portsmouth known as the Meserve-Webster House for his son, George, who occupied it until history activities drove him to a residence in England in 1777.
"From all that has been said concerning his varied activities, we must yield to him an unblemished character and most successful issue in his private life. His service to the colony was brilliant, unselfish and patriotic. He appears to have achieved unusual success in a business and financial way. As to what, if any cliffs of adversity he was required to negotiate, ere he attained success in his business career, we have no intimation. The devise to him under his father's will was a pittance of fifty pounds, but he had reached affluence before his father's demise. The noontime of life found him the owner and operator of the largest shipyard in Portsmouth--a port then famous for its shipbuilding facilities.
"Perhaps no greater patriotic service was rendered than the manner in which the Masonian proprietors handled their acquisition of these lands. The rights of the settlers were allowed to become vested and the new proprietors contented them-selves by sale and disposition of the unappropriated lands and concerning these lands, they dealt with the settlers in an open and even handed manner. It is believed that his wise counsel and spirit of fairness, contributed to a happy and satisfactory adjustment of what had hitherto been a most provoking situation to the early settlers of New Hampshire.
Merserve Webster House

Loyalty to Crown

"His military record suggests that his loyalty to the people of New Hampshire was no greater than his loyalty to tile British crown. The Jersey people had and now have an unbroken record for loyalty to the reigning house of Great Britain. His recognition by the Earl of Loudon and his construction of the America would seem to indicate the great confidence reposed in him by the British sovereign. Had he survived to the days of the Revolution, he might have remained loyal to the mother country. However, he was an officer at Louisburg at various times and must have been fully apprised of the negative consideration accorded to the Colonial officers and troops by the king's officers. He was associated in the Louisburg expeditions with men whose names afterward became identified with the cause of the colonies in the Revolution. Who shall say but had had he lived, he would not have stood with Warren at Bunker Hill or with Washington at Boston? Can one doubt but that possibly his mature judgment and experienced counsel might have been required in the halls at Philadelphia?
"In Portsmouth, where he was at home, we can fancy his name linked with every public endeavor. His identification with its first public library suggests his altruistic character. His counsel and services were probably requisitioned with great frequency in the public affairs of Portsmouth and the colony. That he met each demand none will question. He was of the highest probity and his judgment, sound and respected, as is evidenced by the old court records of Rockingham county, which testify to his many services as an arbitrator and as an appraiser and in the partition and settlement of estates. The bells tolled in old Portsmouth when the news came of his death at Louisburg and the press notices were most eulogistic.
"His life was one of usefulness. He was one of New Hampshire’s most prominent men in the rare old Colonial days.


"John Meserve was his second son and was born at Portsmouth about 1730. He married Sarah Collins and died in January 1760. His son, William Collins Meserve, was born at Portsmouth, Nov. 8, 1753. He was a sea captain and became a privateersman during the Revolution. He was First Lieutenant under Capt. Nathaniel Thayer on the brigantine "Satisfaction" (privateer) from April 1, 1778, to August 31, 1778, upon which latter date he was commissioned "General Lincoln" (privateer).
"England’s commercial shipping made rich prizes highly attractive to the American privateersman and a situation bordering upon piracy was engendered. Zealous commanders interpreted their instructions as indicated by Chief Justice Marshall, who, in his Life of Washington, at this period says: "Though general letters of reprisal were not immediately granted by Congress to their continental cruisers, a measure of equal efficacy, but less hostile in appearance, was adopted. Their ships of war were authorized to capture all vessels employed in giving assistance to the enemy in any manner whatsoever; and the forms used in their resolution were such that no capture could be made which might not be construed to come within it." Thus the character of privateering practiced was not only fatal to British shipping but became highly lucrative to commanders and crews.
"Captain Meserve became quite successful in the captures he made but his career as a privateersman ultimately ended in his capture and nearly cost him his life. He had intercepted a number of British trading ships and with booty on board valued at $100.000 sailed into New York harbor. Being in ignorance that New York had fallen to the British, he was promptly detained and he and his crew became prisoners. They were sent to Halifax for incarceration and subjected too much inhumane treatment. An attempt was made to poison them by giving them poisoned ale to drink. A humane British officer with whom the captain had become acquainted, gave him a warning look ere he had imbibed the glass which was given him. He had drunk enough, however, to become quite ill, but recovered and was afterward released and returned to Portsmouth.
"After the war and in 1782, he married Deborah Bartlett, a daughter of Capt. John Bartlett of Portsmouth. He followed the sea until 1797, when he removed with his family to Goshen, New Hampshire, where he died March 28, 1824.
"Some conception of the range of his sea activities can be gleaned from the following taken from a "Sketch of Goshen" by Walter A. Nichols, 1903: Seven bushels of Spanish Silver had Capt. Wm. Meserve when he retired from a long and active sea life, to a farm in North Goshen. At least he is reported to have recovered that amount from an Old Spanish wreck and at his death in 1824, several quarts of the old pieces were still left."
"Captain Meserve was a man of undaunted courage. He was a typical sea dog of our Colonial period - one of the true and unafraid souls who helped lay down the foundation of the Republic.
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