Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Drowne Silversmiths of Portsmouth

The Drowne Silversmiths of Portsmouth
Article from Collectors Weekly by Stephen Decatur

This article focuses on silversmith Samuel Drowne and his involvement in the American Revolution and U.S. politics.   It also provides information on the other silversmiths in his family.  It originally appeared in the September 1940 issue of Antique Collector, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.

Undoubtedly, the name of Samuel Drowne is as well known as that of any of the early silversmiths of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but, locally, at least, it is more generally remembered because of the prominent part its owner played in the affairs of his community during the period of the American Revolution and in the years immediately thereafter.

Like many other American silversmiths of the time, he was an ardent supporter of the patriot cause and, in fact, he was concerned in an affair which, since its antedates the fights at Lexington and Concord, is considered by many historians as marking the beginning of the Revolution.

Early in December 1774, a rumor became current in Boston that the British intended to send troops to occupy Fort William and Mary at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbor.  On the thirteenth of the month, Paul Revere galloped to Portsmouth with letters to the Committee of Correspondence there reporting the expected move.

The following evening a part of several hundred men from Portsmouth and neighboring towns went down the river in boats and, in spite of the fire of the small garrision, landed, stormed, and captured the fort.  As it turned out there were no casualties on either side, a happy chance which may explain why this exploit did not achieve greater prominence.  The originator and one of the leaders of it was Captain Thomas Pickering, Drowne’s brother-in-law, and the silversmith was a member of his company.

The principle object of the patriots in this affair was to rescue the powder stored in the fort before the Britich troops could get it and upwards of four hundred barrels of this precious material were taken and secretly removed upriver to places of safety.  This part of the program was engineered by Drowne and he arranged it so successfully that the authorities were unable to recover a single barrel.  Later, some of this powder was used at the Battle of Bunker Hill where it would seem, there was, unfortunately, not enough.

Samuel Drowne was a member is an interesting family to which Shem Drowne of Boston, Massachusetts, a prominent coppersmith, also belonged.  Leonard Drown, the first of the name in this country, settled near Portsmouth about 1670, but ultimately the family removed to Rhode Island.

The silversmith’s father, also named Samuel, was a grandson of the original settler.  He was first a minister of the Calvin Baptist denomination, but and in that capacity was called to Portsmouth in 1758.  Although devout Christians, the members of his flock, having left from the established churches, were not highly regarded; commonly they were contemptuously referred to as “New Lights”.  In fact, Governor John Wentworth of New Hampshire issued a special edict permitting all ministers in the Colony to perform the marriage ceremony “except one Drowne”.

Samuel, the silversmith, a son of this preacher, was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1749, and died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1815.   He married Mary, a daughter of Captain Pickering, one of the largest landowners of Portsmouth, a prominent citizen and a military officer who was killed in battle with the Indians at Casco.  The Captain Thomas Pickering of the Fort William and Mary exploit was, of course, a brother of the silversmith’s wife.  He was a captain of privateers and was killed in 1779 during the capture of a British letter or marquee, a vessel much more powerful than the 20-gun ship Hampden, which he commanded.

A few months after the capture of the fort, Samuel Drowne was placed in charge of the leading Tories in his neighborhood to see that they conducted themselves discreetly.  In 1778 he was a member of Colonel John Langdon’s Company of Light Horse, an organization especially formed from among the gentlemen of Portsmouth, to assist in the operations in Rhode Island, and was with it during the attempted capture of Newport.

In 1789, Drowne was one of the Committee of Twelve appointed to arrange for the reception of President George Washington on his visit to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and he further served as a Selectman of his town in 1779 and 1804.   He was arrested and carried to Exeter for a trial in 1795 for alleged participation in the riots arising from dissatisfaction with Jay’s Treaty.  He had then been a Deacon for many years and the spectacle of this dignified gentleman in the dock inspired a great deal of amusement.   However, this detention was easily shown to have been a mistake; he had merely been passing by at the moment of the disturbances.

The silversmith lived on the southern side of what is now State Street, not far from the waterfront, and, as was the usual practice at the time, he had his shop in the same building.   His spoons and flatware are not too difficult to find, but pieces of hollow ware by him are exceedingly scarce.  His best known mark is “S. Drowne” in a rectangle with shaped ends.  He also used “S.D.” capitals in an elongated oval.

While the best-known silversmith of the family, Samuel Drowne, was not the only member of it to follow this profession.  His brother Benjamin (1759-1793), of Portsmouth also, was a silversmith.   Since he died at a comparatively early age, examples of his work are quite rare and, practically speaking, are confined to spoons.

Like his brother, he made a good marriage, his wife being Frances, a sister of the Major William Gardner, whose name is so familiar to visitors to Portsmouth through its connection with the beautiful Wentworth-Gardner mansion, one of the finest Georgian houses in the country.

Benjamin was also a vigorous supporter of the patriot side during the Revolution and in 1780 was on the staff of Colonel Thomas Bartlett’s regiment of New Hampshire militaries.  His name is omitted from many lists of silversmiths, but he the mark “B. Drowne” capitals in a rectangle, and possibly also “B.D.” capitals in a rectangle.   His house and shop were diagonally across the street from those of his brother.

Samuel, the silversmith, had two sons who followed in the father’s footsteps.  The youngest generation dropped the final “E” from their surname.  The eldest was Thomas Pickering Drown (1729-1849) whose mark “T.P.Drown” capitals in a rectangle, is generally familiar.  He was prominent in local affairs and in 1817 abandoned his silversmith business to become Town Clerk, and office he held until 1826.  The for ten years he was connected with the Portsmouth branch of the United States Bank; but, with the abolishment of this institution during Jackson’s administration, he seems to have returned to his original trade and then possibly worked in Newburyport for a few years, although this has not been verified.  His early work closely resembles that of his father, but apparently, is not as highly regarded.

Daniel P. Drown (1784-1863), the other son of Samuel, is listed as a silversmith as late as the Portsmouth Directory for 1860-1861.   Undoubtedly, however, he worked with his father in his early years.  During the War of 1812 he was a Lieutenant of New Hampshire troops, then he was Deputy Sheriff until he succeeded his brother as Town Clerk in 1826, an office he retained until 1832.   Two years later, when serving as a Selectman of the town, he was appointed Collector of Customs for the Portsmouth District, retaining that office until 1841, when he became connected with the railroad.  He was afterwards a Justice of the Peace, and the Commissioner for the State of Maine in New Hampshire.