The Port of Portsmouth is New Hampshire's only seaport, its oldest settlement, and its first capital. The Port of Portsmouth rests on the southern banks of the Piscatagua River across from Kittery, Maine. The city is a regional trade center for the surrounding agricultural region and a popular resort area. In 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Port of Portsmouth as one of a "Dozen Distinctive Destinations" in the United States. In 2000, over 20 thousand people called the Port of Portsmouth home, and over 240 thousand lived in the Portsmouth-Rochester metropolitan area.
In 1630, the village known as Piscatagua was settled by Europeans on the banks of the river with the same name. The Port of Portsmouth was soon renamed Strawbery Banke due to the abundant wild strawberries growing on the river's banks. With an excellent natural harbor and a strategic location for maritime trade between upstream agricultural and industrial interests and foreign merchants, the Port of Portsmouth was soon prosperous. The mainstays of the economy were shipbuilding, lumber, and fishing.
Incorporated as Portsmouth in 1653, it was made the capital of the colony of New Hampshire in 1679. As it grew, the Port of Portsmouth became a retreat for refugees escaping the harsh Puritan culture in Massachusetts. In 1713, it was the site for the Treaty of Portsmouth that brought a temporary stop to conflicts between the Abenaki Indians and the English settlers of the area.
During the American Revolution, Paul Revere rode to the Port of Portsmouth in 1774 with his famous warning that the British were coming. Even though the Port of Portsmouth was protected by the nearby Fort William and Mary, the new American government moved the State's capital further inland to Exeter to escape the wrath of the British Royal Navy.
When the Embargo Act of 1807 forbade trade between the United States and other countries (in an effort to keep the US out of the Napoleonic Wars), many local merchants in the Port of Portsmouth lost their fortunes. The Act was very unpopular, though, and it was repealed the following year.
In the early 19th Century, other fortunes were made in the Port of Portsmouth by privateers operating from the city during the War of 1812. In 1849, the Port of Portsmouth was incorporated as a city.
For many years, the Port of Portsmouth was one of the United States' busiest and most important ports and shipbuilding centers. The wealth it gained was reflected it its wonderful architecture that included many Colonial, Georgian, and Federal style homes, many of which have been preserved.
Much of the Port of Portsmouth's center contains Federalist-style buildings that were built at the same time after some devastating fires early in the 1800s. A fire in 1813 destroyed 244 buildings.
The Port of Portsmouth has much in common with nearby Kittery, Maine, across the river. John Paul Jones boarded his ship, Ranger, at the Port of Portsmouth harbor, but the ship was built on Badger's Island in Kittery. In 1800, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard became the first federal navy yard in the country.
When the Industrial Revolution arrived, the Port of Portsmouth lost its dominance over younger mill towns like Dover, Manchester, and Rochester. Despite the damage to its economy, the changes allowed the historic character of the Port of Portsmouth to be preserved, and much of the town's architecture survives, creating a base for today's tourism and healthy art community.
In 1905, the Port of Portsmouth's navy yard hosted the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the Russo-Japanese War.For most of the 20th Century, the Port of Portsmouth was an important center for the construction and repair of United States' submarines. Since 1971, the country's submarines have been repaired only at the navy yard there.