The mysterious Captain Shackford


Back in the day

By Bob Boldman



If you’re ever at Greenlawn Cemetery in section 23/24, you may want to stop and take a gander at Capt. Josiah Shackford’s tombstone. Captain Shackford departed this life July 26, 1829 at age 93 and was just the second person buried in Greenlawn (the first was William Peebles who died July 24, 1829.)

Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire about 1736, son of Josiah Shackford, Sr… Josiah would go on to serve in the Revolutionary War as a Ship’s Captain. His father Josiah Shackford, Sr. was a merchant and married twice – his second marriage to the widow Eleanor Marshall. The widow had a daughter named Deborah and lived in a large mansion complete with servants, a lady of means for sure. The marriage was done while Josiah, Jr. was away on a sea voyage. Upon Josiah Jr.’s return he was smitten with Deborah and instantly fell in love with her. That’s where things went awry, Deborah’s mother married to Josiah Sr., insisted that the daughter remain in the vicinity. Josiah Jr. claimed that while in Europe he visited an astrologer who insisted that she was to be his bride on his return home. Through much courting and persuasion, they were married.

In the “Essex Journal and New Hampshire Packet” of May 2, 1787: “A Mr. Shackford, sometime since, from Picataqua (Portsmouth, New Hampshire,) having the misfortune of discontent with his wife, left that place for Surinam. On arrival there, he left the vessel he first sailed in, and took command of one to France. He returned to Surinam alone, after a passage of 35 days. Suspicions prevailed of his having dealt unfairly, by the people who were supposed to come with him. But he produced his papers and journal, and proved his integrity – far to the satisfaction of his examiners that they permitted him to take another man on board and proceed to St. Bartholomew’s, where he arrived in safety, and now follows the coasting business from that Island.” I might add that he accomplished this feat from France to Surinam in a schooner and a New Foundland dog for company.

Belief is that his wife didn’t want to leave her stomping grounds and he just disappeared. Then we see him pop-up in Portsmouth in 1802. That would make the Captain in his 60’s when he arrived. He squatted on land owned by Henry Massie and a dispute arose then was settled – if the town would be named Portsmouth after Josiah’s home town. It was agreed and there you have it, the beginning of Portsmouth.

Capt. Shackford made his own house. It was a two story structure a double-decker akin to a ship. Instead of stairs in the house it had a ladder to reach the upper deck, making it resemble a gangway of a ship. The ladder would be drawn up when he went to bed. Capt. Shackford had nothing to do with women, only receiving meals from a hired lady through the door. Maybe his marriage had something to do with that.

He went about his business in a stately way and enjoyed spinning yarns of his seafaring days. Despite having no regular occupation, he spent time searching about the Indian mounds in the area. Some would say that he would lurk about the mounds late at night, searching. If you look east from his grave down Logan street you will see Mound park. Could he have chosen that spot for his grave to be near the mounds? If you’re ever by the park at night – look and you may see the Captain exploring the mounds – or searching – for his lost love.

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Back in the day

By Bob Boldman

Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: g.boldman5@gmail.com

Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: g.boldman5@gmail.com