Date: c. 1740
Address: Prescott Park
HABS No.: NH-7
The Sheafe Warehouse now sits on Shaw’s Wharf in Prescott Park. The warehouse, built c. 1740, was originally situated on the corner of Mechanic Street and what used to be called Graves End Street. The warehouse, circled in red below, was ideally situated on the Piscataqua River to receive incoming ships.
The warehouse’s second story overhang enabled cargo to be unloaded directly from ships arriving in the port.
The Sheafe Family:
Sampson Sheafe was born in Boston in 1681. He was educated at Harvard College, graduating in 1702. His business, however, was in fisheries and the West India trade, and he moved to Newcastle, New Hampshire, where he was married in 1711 (Brewster, 129). Sampson’s second son Jacob was born in 1715 and followed in his father’s mercantile footsteps. Jacob quickly made a name for himself and became a well-respected member of Portsmouth society.
In 1745, after the siege of the fortress at Cape Breton, he was appointed Commissary to the New Hampshire forces at Louisbourg by Governor Bennington Wentworth (Brewster, 131). As such, in 1746 he provided the garrison with the following inventory of items:
Rec[eived] into his Majesties [sic.] stores of provisions for this garrison of Mr. Jacob Sheafe commissary to the province of New Hampshire the several provisions hereafter mentioned:
Fourteen hhds [hogsheads] containing one hundred four and half bushels peas
Eight hhds [hogsheads] containing eight hundred and ninety six gall[ons] rum
Three hundred and twenty four pounds flour
Thirty four and half bushels beans
Twenty eight bushels Indian meal
Two hundred and fifty two pounds candles
Seven barrels of sixteen quintals and twenty five pounds sugar
Two hundred and twelve pounds butter
Sixty four hundred bread
Seventy six barrels and fifteen tierces of beef quantity unknown
Nineteen barrels and one tierce pork, the quantity and quality of this article and the beef unknown
Louisburg May 29th, 1746 two receipts serve for one
Thomas Kilby, Commissary
Jacob also had a reputation as a shrewd businessman. 19th-century Portsmouth resident and chronicler Charles Brewster recalls two counts of Sheafe’s dealings with customers:
“One day after selling a customer a few pounds of wool and putting it into the bag, he went to his counting room, and looking into a glass which reflected the counter, he saw the man slip in a small skim of cheese. Mr. S. on returning said, he thought he had by mistake put in more wool than was order, and would just place the bag in the scale again. The man objected, as he said the weight was all right – but Mr. S. threw it in, and finding it some eight pounds heavier, offered to take back a part of the contents. The customer however concluded that he would take the whole, and so to save exposure paid between two and three dollars for a cheese which might have been bought for twenty-five cents.”
“…after missing a barrel of pork some months, a man said to him one day, Mr. Sheafe, did you ever find out who stole that pork? O yes, said Mr. S. Indeed, who was it? Nobody but you and I ever knew it was stolen: so pay for it at once, if you wish nobody else to know about it. The man paid for the pork.” (Brewster, 131-132)
Whether or not these accounts are true, the fact remains that Jacob Sheafe possessed a large enough reputation for such stories to exist nearly eighty years after his death.
Beyond Jacob’s reputation as a businessman, he was a well-respected member of the Portsmouth society. He was elected as a town representative every year from 1767 until 1774, when the provincial government expired (Brewster, 131).
On December 16, 1773, a meeting was held in Portsmouth “of the freeholders and other inhabitants of the town” (Boston Post-Boy, 2). The issue at hand was the Tea Act. The men present signed 11 Resolves, including that they would use any necessary method to prevent the importation and sale of tea from the East India Company and any person who would aid or assist such importation “shall be deemed an enemy of America” (Boston Post-Boy, 3). Additionally, a committee was chosen to correspond with other towns in the government about the Resolves passed into which Jacob Sheafe was voted (Boston Post-Boy, 3).
Jacob Sheafe died June 26, 1791, at age 76. His obituary hailed him as “…a respectable merchant…a good citizen – a steady and firm friend – an affectionate parent and an honest man.” (New Hampshire Spy, 75)
Jacob’s son, Jacob Jr., continued to run his mercantile business in Portsmouth after his father’s death. There is a Sheafe’s Wharf that appears on some early copies of Portsmouth maps, but it is unclear when the wharf was named or for whom. Its first appearance in print is from an advertisement appearing in the New Hampshire Gazette a year after Jacob Senior’s death.
The wharf is circled below, along with the home of Jacob Sheafe, noted as the Hon. J. Sheafe , and the store of Jacob Jr., noted as Jac. Sheafe, Esq.
Jacob Junior’s death in 1829 came after a short illness. He was hailed as “one of the most venerable and valuable of our fellow citizens; one whose character was universally respected, and whose decease is very deeply lamented, as a public calamity” (New Hampshire Sentinel, 3).
The Sheafe family, once a dominant force in the town of Portsmouth, faded into obscurity. Their warehouse, however, remained at the corner of Mechanic Street. Carpenter Joshua Stackpole used the structure from 1850 until 1900, keeping it in moderate repair. In later years, Charles H. Stewart used the building for storage. In the 1930s, he sold it to two Portsmouth sisters, Mary E. and Josie F. Prescott, the founders of Prescott Park. The building was shortly thereafter moved to its current location and restored. The warehouse was given a historic marker by the city of Portsmouth in 2011 (City of Portsmouth).
Contributor: Ashley Pettengill
Boston Post-Boy, Date: 12-20-1773; Issue: 853; Page: [2-3]; Location: Boston, Massachusetts.
Brewster, Charles W. Rambles About Portsmouth, 2nd Series. Lewis W. Brewster, 1869. Facsimile, Introduction by Raymond A. Brighton. Somersworth, New Hampshire: New Hampshire Publishing Company, 1972.
City of Portsmouth www.cityofportsmouth.com
New Hampshire Gazette, Date: 12-02-1817; Volume: LXIII; Issue: 1; Page: ; Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
New Hampshire Sentinel, Date: 02-06-1829; Volume: XXXI; Issue: 6; Page: ; Location: Keene, New Hampshire.
New Hampshire Spy, Date: 06-29-1791; Volume: X; Issue: XIX; Page: ; Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire.