History of the House, part 4 (pre-1823)

In 1823, Sherburne Blake bought the property at the corner of Spring and Front Streets "with the buildings thereon" from Josiah Blake. In the deed below it notes that the property that Sherburne Blake is purchasing is made up of of two pieces of land that Josiah Blake bought between 1805 and 1806: one part from Oliver Peabody and Samuel Tenney (as tenants in common), and the other from Samuel Beckett Eastham. 

It is probably impossible to know what extraneous buildings existed on the property when Sherburne Blake purchased it in 1823. Larger houses had many outbuildings at this time including barns. So, to say "buildings thereon" doesn't imply dwellings necessarily. Sometimes the deeds specify "dwelling house thereon." I assume that the distinction between "dwelling house" and "buildings" in the deeds is either the preference or habit of the person recording the deed or a carry over from the way the previous deed for that property was written. It seems though, that, ultimately the two terms are interchangeable.

There is not much information on Josiah Blake, owner from 1805 through 1823, that is easily available from my couch aside from what is in the deeds. Fortunately, though, the occupation of the purchaser was usually plainly stated in deeds just after the name. He was a joiner, which was the 19th century version of a finish carpenter who made and installed doors, paneling, cabinets, windows, molding, stair parts, etc.. 
Our house is still about 75% mystery so I am constantly trying to put together what parts of it are original and what parts were added and how things changed and morphed along the continuum. I'm split on whether I think the house was built by Sherburne Blake in the period between 1823 and about 1830 or during Josiah Blake's time between 1805-1823. I have been trying to learn as much as I can about building technology specific to the Seacoast region of NH to better narrow down the time frame. Technologies seemed to spread to the Seacoast region before the more rural, inland parts of the state, largely due to it's proximity and access to Boston as well as the presence of the Exeter River which allowed for the construction of saw and nail slitting mills among others.  

Having researched the deeds, not only for this property, but for the neighboring properties, I'm pretty certain that our house was built on, or moved to the part of the lot that Josiah Blake bought from Francis B. Eastham in 1806.
That part of the lot is shown circled on the detail of Phinehas Merrill's 1802 map of Exeter. To the left of the circled lot is the dwelling house of B. Jonson (S's look like f's on old maps). This is the house that joiner Bradbury Johnson lived in while in Exeter (spelling was not as strictly adhered to, apparently, as it is today- hence, Jonson/Johnson).

Bradbury Johnson (1766-1820) was an architect and joiner that worked with Ebeneezer Clifford to design two influential Federal Era buildings while residing in Exeter. The Federal Era is named for the post-revolution, newly established Federal Government. Johnson and Clifford designed The First Congregational Church in downtown Exeter. It replaced its dilapidated forerunner to become the 5th incarnation of that church in the year 1799.

From a lecture by by Donald B. Cole, Tuesday, 27 September 2005 given at the First Parish:
By 1796 this fourth church was sixty-five years old. It had lasted much longer than any of the others, but now it was falling into disrepair....The meetinghouse had become so old and rickety that the members of the parish had to appoint a committee of five to keep children from playing around the building. They were afraid that some part of the structure would give way and hurt some one.
After a year and a half of discussions, the parishioners agreed to a plan—not to repair the building—but to build a new one—the one we sit in today--at a cost of about one million dollars today. The money was available because the town was booming, with a shipyard, many shops and mills, Phillips Exeter Academy, and several academies for women. John Taylor Gilman of Exeter was now governor.
Fortunately there were two architects in town who knew a great deal about building. Actually they weren’t called architects. Ebenezer Clifford was a cabinet maker-carpenter, and Bradbury Johnson a joiner-carpenter.
 Stereoscopic view of the First Congregational Church of Exeter, New Hampshire, circa 1870–1880. Photograph by William N. Hobbs.
In about 1800, when the church was completed, Johnson helped to design the residence of Judge Samuel Tenney. It was built just east of the Congregational Church. If it seems implausible that our little house was moved a half-mile by oxen, picture this going across the bridge in Exeter. It did just that in 1893 when it was moved to High Street to make room for the new Rockingham County Courthouse. You can read that fascinating story here.

The Tenney House was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 25, 1980.
This house below is the only house on the lot that I can be sure was there when Bradbury Johnson (1792) bought it. Tenney and Peabody bought the property from Bradbury Johnson in 1802, maybe as an investment?  This house was home to Bradbury Johnson, Josiah Blake, and Sherburne Blake and/or his heirs up until 1875. It was moved to School Street in 1875ish when the Baptist Church was built.

One tidbit that I read in James Garvin's Master's thesis continues to needle me. Johnson bought the property in 1792 from Nicholas Nichols. Garvin notes that,
"in 1791, Johnson bought "the little bedroom," probably an ell chamber, at the sale and removal of the first parish parsonage." He goes on to say that when Johnson sold his property in 1802, prior to moving to Maine, "he possessed a home...and a shop (possibly constructed from the parsonage chamber)." James L. Garvin, "Bradbury Johnson, Builder-Architect," unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Delaware
I wonder if "the little bedroom "chamber is our house, or part of our house? I think of the roof frame in our attic and the girts under the house, both with scribe marks. Physical evidence would normally help to resolve the question, especially nails, lath, style, etc, but unless I know more about the parsonage there is no way to know. According to the Exeter Historical Society there is a publication, probably a pamphlet, written by a woman named Margaret Kent called "History of the Parsonage." I have not gotten my hands on it yet but I'm working on it. Maybe it will give me a clue. 

Another possibility is a reference I found in a deed from Lydia Hall to the selectmen of Exeter. The town paid her $40 for a lot she owned on the westerly side of Johnson's house. Apparently, Johnson had been renting a building on this lot from Hall and had arranged to take the "the building from thence" and, I assume, move it to his own lot. My guess is that he was using it possibly as his shop while working on the First Church and the Tenney House. 
The interior sliding shutters we found in our basement lend credibility to theory that our house was Johnson's shop. The brass hardware on the shutters matches the hardware on the Tenney House shutters.  Another piece of the puzzle that lends credibility to the "joiners shop" theory is the fact that our house doesn't seem to have been built for a center fireplace. According to James Garvin, most often a house with three equal bays and no central fireplace turns out to be a shop or a warehouse. (A Building History of Northern New England, pg. 11).

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