Captain Samuel Sherburne

-Tavernkeeper, Early Patriot, and Indian Fighter-

During its first 145 years as a town, Hampton had accommodated twenty-six licensed tavernkeepers within its bounds. Among that number was Captain Samuel Sherburne, a man just two months older than Hampton itself.

Born in 1638 at Little Harbor (now Rye), Samuel was the grandson and heir of Ambrose Gibbons, the factor of New Hampshire’s original proprietor, Captain John Mason. His father was Henry Sherburne, a tavernkeeper, ferryman, and all-round important guy in Strawbery Banke. Henry and his brother John were the predecessors of the Portsmouth Sherburnes, solid members of the seaport’s eighteenth-century ruling elite. Samuel’s twin sister Elizabeth was the ancestress of the Langdon and Lear clans, two other leading Portsmouth families.

Before coming to Hampton with his wife Love Hutchins and their three children, Samuel ran the Little Harbor ferry and worked in his father’s tavern. In 1678 he paid his uncle John £140 for the old Tuck tavern in Hampton, of which John’s wife Elizabeth Tuck was heir. Glad to have such a man of means and prior tavernkeeping experience, the selectmen approved him and the court granted him license to keep a public house of entertainment for “horse, man or travelers.” He was soon made captain of the local militia, and although his upbringing had been Anglican, he and his wife were granted permission to build a pew in the Puritan meetinghouse.


HD Journal p14
Page from Captain Henry Dow’s, his account at Samuel Sherburne’s tavern. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society and the Herbert Dow Museum, Midland MI (Herbert Dow founded the Dow Chemical Co. in 1897; Henry Dow was his sixth great-grandfather).

A Drinking Diary

By the time Samuel hung his sign in late 1678, Henry Dow had been the Norfolk County marshal for five years, and would continue likewise for the next two years. He then became Hampton’s town clerk and held the position until his death in 1707. He frequented Sherburne’s tavern and shared military responsibilities with its keeper. Close in age, the two men were likely friends.

Through the journal Henry kept from 1672-1702, we can peek into the daily affairs at the Sherburne tavern. Beginning in 1679, for twelve years he recorded his tavern purchases. He drank tavern-brewed beer made with malt from local maltster Ephraim Marston, rum, hard cider, Madeira wine, burnt wine (brandy), and flip (a belly-warming mixture of eggs, sugar, rum, and beer heated with a red-hot loggerhead). He also bought “raysons” and cherry bounce (a cordial of brandy, cherries, and sugar) at the tavern.

Now and then Henry liked to treat others to a drink. Half pints of rum for prisonkeeper John Souter and kinswoman Mary Moulton, a quart of rum for his 17-year-old son Simon, a gill (four ounces) of rum for his 11-year-old son Jabez, and a half pint of wine for his wife Hannah.

Other records show that Sherburne sold everyday wines, with exotic-sounding names like pissado and fyal, from Spain and the Azores, and more expensive wines from France and the Canary Islands, all procured by the pipe and hogshead from Boston spirits merchant Penn Townsend.

Town Militia

After the required “trayning” day drills on the village green, militia officers were expected to treat their thirsty soldiers to rum, wine, and beer. The muster in October 1682 must have been a doozy; for his share alone Henry paid £8 and 6 shillings. The following year Samuel picked up more of the tab, as Henry’s charges fell to £1 and 4 shillings. In 1689 Henry recorded “a trayning day in wine and rum for soldiers” of only 3 shillings and 6 pence, indicating an amazing sobriety among the troops (doubtful) or that Samuel had again picked up the lion’s share of the tab. No records exist to tell us what amounts, or even if, the town reimbursed them for their expenses.

Henry also kept account of the town’s supply of bullets and powder stored at Samuel’s tavern. In a typical journal entry, he recorded that “Captain Shearborn received of Lt. Marston 90 weight of bullitts great & small and the barrill with powder. From Brother Sanborn 112 and 60 weight bullitts.”

For Sale: A Slightly-Used Inspector

Everyone in Hampton knew that Portsmouth ship owner William Vaughan had roughed up Thomas Thurton, the government’s much-despised customs inspector, for trying to enforce unpopular navigation laws on one of Vaughan’s ships. Not long after, Thurton was at Sherburne’s tavern, grumbling about the “parcel of cursed rogues” running the show in Portsmouth.

Sherburne had no qualms about reporting Thurton’s treasonous speech to the province authorities, who promptly convicted Thurton of “abusive and contemptuous language against the council” (of which Vaughan was a member). His sentence, meant to humiliate as well as to punish, was one month in the Hampton jail. And if he failed to pay a £20 fine, “he shall be sold by the Treasurer, who is hereby empowered to make sale of him for the payment of his said fine.” The laughter from that Great Island courtroom sent echoes rippling all the way to Sherburne’s tavern.

Thurton, who groveled and asked for “lenity,” may have spent some time in the Hampton jail, but the Treasurer never followed through with the sale of his person. Seven months later, Lt. Governor Edward Cranfield arrived from England, with instructions to resolve the disputes between provincial property owners and Captain John Mason’s heirs. Initially welcomed, he turned out to be a spectacular and well-hated failure. Among his many egregious acts perpetrated on the colonists was his appointment of Thurton as deputy marshal.

The Wheedled Weakling

February 1684 saw a “great bluster” in Hampton over the discovery of a petition protesting Cranfield’s misrule. Some “weaklings” had been “wheedled” to name the local subversives, and as a result Samuel and six other men were arrested and fined. A few months later we find Samuel arguing with his neighbor Dr. Hooper. The two men ended up in a bare-fisted brawl in the middle of the road, with a local magistrate ineffectually trying to break them up. Samuel was again arrested and fined, this time for “beating, wounding and drawing blood from Dr. Richard Hooper, chirurgeon.”

Had Dr. Hooper been one of the wheedled weaklings, which had so inflamed Sam Sherburne’s wrath? This was a time when opposition to Cranfield was hitting a fever pitch. He had shut down the town meetings, unfairly set the price of money, threatened puritan ministers, rigged Edward Gove’s conviction for treason, and had harassed, unjustly imprisoned, and confiscated the property of prominent New Hampshire men.

Samuel wasn’t the only man fed up with the government’s shenanigans. When he was arrested by Marshal Thurton for refusal to pay his fines, friendly townsmen helped him escape custody. He then ordered Thurton’s embarrassing midnight removal from the province by some of his militia men, who left Thurton in Salisbury to figure out a way home. In consequence, Samuel was relieved of both his rank and the town’s supply of ammunition.

By mid-1685, however, the locals had got the best of Cranfield. Now out of a job in New Hampshire, he boarded ship for Barbados. Upon leaving, he penned these less-than-famous last words: “I esteem it the greatest happiness of my life to remove from among these people.”

Fighting Indians

Samuel’s commission was restored and the ammunition returned to his keeping. As one in a long line of English colonists who had fought the French and Indians in a series of frontier wars lasting nearly one hundred years, Samuel knew how to go on the offensive. After a devastating raid on “Cocheca” (Dover) in 1689, his company went upcountry and down east to skirmish with the Indians, but with little to show for their trouble. In 1691, as part of a four-company expedition to fight the enemy on his home turf, Samuel and his men landed at Maquoit Bay in Maine. Not surprisingly, their foe disappeared into the forest like a mist, only to reappear and attack as the militia boarded ships to return home on August 4. Captain Sherburne, Nathaniel White, and James Dolle of Hampton were among those killed in the encounter.

Seven days later Henry wrote in his journal that he had received the town’s supply of bullets and powder at “the Widow Shearborn’s house.” In the town records he entered this brief epitaph: “Capt. Samuel Sherborn was kild att Casco by ye heathen ye 4 day of August 1691.” Captain Sherburne, 53 years old at the time of his death, left behind a pregnant wife and eight children. His wife Love, made of the same stern stuff as her husband, never remarried. Instead, she ran the tavern in her own name for the next ten years, retiring to Kingston in 1702.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

 History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of three books of local history, including “A Meet and Suitable Person: Tavernkeeping in Old Hampton, 1638-1783.” Follow her @hamptonwriter.

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