The Sherburne House at Strawbery Banke is the sole existing building from that time period that remains on the Puddle Dock site and is the last physical connection with the earliest period of history at “Strawberry Banke” -- the original name, from the 1600s of the settlement here on the Piscataqua River.
The Sherburne House at Strawbery Banke Museum is one of the main reasons the museum exists.
In 1957, when faced with the imminent demolition of the house to clear a path for an Urban Renewal project, local advocates made the fate of the Sherburne House the focal point of a public effort to save the historic buildings of Portsmouth’s earliest neighborhood around Puddle Dock. The result was the founding of Strawbery Banke Museum.
Within the asphalt-shingled, five-apartment building the museum acquired lay the heart of one of the oldest-surviving houses in New Hampshire.
The house offers a sketch of how the first English settlers in Portsmouth lived. When the house was constructed, between 1695 and 1703, English settlers were reproducing the wood-framed English architectural style of the late 1500s, but with American architectural innovations. Exhibit panels in the house describe the changes that were made on the house during the next three centuries and trace the history of Portsmouth and Puddle Dock.
Sherburne House is in the early stages of a comprehensive effort to reimagine the interpretation of the structural and family history contained within. For a detailed look at the project, click here.
John Sherburne, “mariner of New Castle,” purchased the land for the house in February 1695 and added an adjacent plot eighteen months later. The land was originally part of the orchard of Portsmouth’s Great House, owned by the Cutts brothers, John and Richard. John Cutts’ heir Mary and her husband Samuel Penhallow divided the land into lots and sold them in 1693, 1694 and 1695. On that land, John Sherburne built a two-story, single-cell and chimney-bay house with a gable roof and façade gable sometime between 1695 and 1698, when he died.
John Sherburne never lived in the house he built even though he may have used the building in connection with his nearby wharf on the river. He and his wife, Mary Cowell Sherburne, lived in the house in New Castle that he had inherited in 1680 from his father, Henry Sherburne.
Just as John had willed to Mary all of his property after his death as long as she remained unmarried, Mary gave her sons property, with stipulations. She retained the Portsmouth house until Joseph married, at which point he agreed to provide her with £10 annually for three years. The evidence that the east addition had been built by 1704 is the deed in which Mary gave her son Joseph the Portsmouth house “excepting and always reserving to herself one room in said house -- the lower room at the east end of the dwelling place and no other.”
Also part of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, Sherburne House is notable because the Joseph Sherburnes kept two enslaved Africans in the household. As the Trail details, "Joseph was a mariner, merchant, and farmer. He lived here with his family and two slaves who are listed in a 1744 estate inventory as "one Negro man [pounds] 200, one ditto woman [pounds] 50." The man probably worked for Joseph at sea, on the dock, in his store, and on Joseph's outlying farmland. The woman probably worked for Joseph's wife Mary at food preparation, cleaning, textile production and maintaining the kitchen garden behind the house.