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The North Church of Portsmouth

The archives of North Church reveal that its first religious services in Portsmouth were held in a log cabin, which also served as the parsonage, on what is now Pleasant Street where Citizens Bank is located. The first two ministers, Rev. Joshua Moodey and Rev. Nathaniel Rogers, began their many years of service here. The log cabin was destroyed by a fire. Mr. Rogers’ mother-in-law and one of his sons lost their lives in the fire.

In 1671, a meeting house was built at the corner of South and Marcy Streets where Mr. Moody served as pastor for 28 years. Mr. Rogers followed and ministered to the people until a new meeting house was built on the present site in 1712. People were beginning to move toward what is now the center of town. Those who moved because known as the North Parish while those who remained on the waterfront were the South Parish. Our church was still called a “meeting house” as this town and the parish were one and the same. Here’s where the taxes were levied and collected, and the decisions concerning both the town and church were made. The land consisting of about 50 acres was known as “The Glebe Land.” About 12 acres were in what is now the downtown area extending down what is now Islington Street, all intended for Parish use. The meeting house built on the present site was referred to as “the three decker” until one story was removed in 1837. The present edifice was built in 1855 with the stained glass windows and organ installed in 1890 at the beginning of the pastorate of Dr. Lucius Thayer.

North Church has been served by 21 ministers, several of whom were involved in fighting for causes in which they believed. Joshua Moodey refused to serve communion as it was done in The Church of England which displeased the English provincial governor of Portsmouth. As a result, Moodey spent 13 weeks in prison on Great Island, now known as New Castle. Jaber Fitch, following an earthquake in New England, delivered a sermon that was published in Boston and is still in print. Many left the church because of this sermon, and as a result the term “meeting house” was no longer used. Samuel Langdon, who later became president of Harvard College, instigated the Portsmouth Tea Party. When local people resolved that they would not pay the duty, but ship the tea to Halifax, British Territory, they missed the chance of making history. Had they dumped the tea as had been done in Boston, history might have given them a page instead of a simple sentence. When the Stamp Act was passed, Dr. Langdon led members of North Church in protest and a year later the English Parliament repealed the act.

Our church has had some notable worshippers during its long history: General William Whipple, signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Langdon, signer of the U.S. Constitution, Daniel Webster, John Paul Jones, and President George Washington.

Photographs of our colonial silver are displayed in the rear of the church. Six communion cups or beakers wrought by hand by J. Dummer are the only ones to have embossed bands known to exist in New England. According to Yale University specialists, and expert, Ronald Bourgeault of Northeast Auctions here in Portsmouth they are among the finest pieces of colonial church silverware in this country. They are marked “The Church of Portsm 1705”. The silver baptismal bowl is inscribed “This belongs to ye church in Portsm 1714”.

North Church has a rich heritage of which we are all justifiably proud. Those interested in more extensive research of the church’s history will find a wealth of information in the North Church of Portsmouth archives on deposit at the Portsmouth Athenaeum