In 1815, Sarah Orne Jewett’s great uncle, Thomas Jewett, bought this property, and built the Jewett trade store that carried West Indies goods and general merchandise for almost five decades. The Jewett family sold products carried on their sailing ships from all over the world, and carried up the river by gundalow. Thomas Jewett’s business partner and brother was Theodore F. Jewett, Sarah Orne Jewett’s grandfather, who lived in the Jewett House until his death in 1860. Today's 10 Portland Street shop contains many remains of the original Jewett store.
My young ears were quick to hear the news of a ship's having come into port, and I delighted in the elderly captains, with their sea-tanned faces, who came to report upon their voyages, dining cheerfully and heartily with my grandfather, who listened eagerly to their exciting tales of great storms on the Atlantic, and winds that blew them north-about, and good bargains in Havana, or Barbadoes, or Havre.
--Sarah Orne Jewett, “Looking Back on Girlhood.”
Thomas Jewett bought this property from Winthrop B. Norton, who also owned the Adams Store and the house that became the Frost Tavern. A deed of 1816 mentions that by then Thomas owned a store here. The construction project also seems to be mentioned in an account book of carpenter Joseph Murphy, who may therefore in fact have built the store. Murphy had a shop at the site of the Odd Fellows Block, and lived in a house still standing on Portland Street.
The Jewett trade store operated throughout the rest of his life and that of his brother and partner, Theodore Furber Jewett, the author’s sea captain grandfather. Theodore died in 1860 and Thomas in 1864.
Read a letter Capt. Theodore F. Jewett wrote home to South Berwick in 1825 while on a cotton-trading voyage to New Orleans and Liverpool.
Sarah Orne Jewett scholar Richard Cary of Colby College, a who edited a collection of her letters in 1967, said that Theodore F. Jewett “maintained the ‘W. I. Store’ on Main Street in South Berwick, a multifarious general store replete with potbelly stove and cracker barrel. Here gathered daily the Captain’s cronies, veterans of the seven seas, to spin the prodigious yarns which the child Sarah absorbed with undiminishing wonder."
The Jewett store is shown on a map of c. 1835, and one from 1856, at left.
A map of South Berwick in 1856 shows the Jewett store at the Corner, and the homes of brothers Thomas Jewett, right, and Capt. Theodore F. Jewett. The home of Capt. Jewett’s son, Dr. Theodore F. Jewett, and his 11-year-old daughter, the future author Sarah Orne Jewett, is marked in blue next door to the captain’s.
The deed in which Thomas purchased this property indicates he had been in business with Micajah Curier next door at an older store that became known as the Brown Store. “While we should probably find few actual luxuries in the stock of the general store of 1800 or thereabouts,” Mary Jewett wrote in her memoir of South Berwick village, “we should find a great variety surely both in quantity and arrangement from great bins of coarse salt, corn, salt fish, down to pins sold by the ounce in bulk, and in bulk it literally was with the queer round heads twisted on.
“Along with the pins went skein, cotton, wooden combs, queer gauze ribbons, laces, tapes, queer collage bonnets and so forth. Who nowadays would know what Rouen cassimere was, or calimanco, or paduasoy, and yet all these and many other like materials were of common use a hundred years ago, and perhaps later. Broad cloths and other materials for mens clothing, satins for vests, gast silk and lawn handkerchief for men's neckties, great bell crowned beaver hats, strange shaped shoes, high shell combs were in every well-provided stock, along with writing paper, wafers, sealing wax, quill pens and blotting sand, beside medicines, hardware, and a few books.”
The Jewett store was supplied with merchandise from ships the Jewetts built at their shipyard near the Hamilton House at Pipe Stave Landing, where they had a warehouse served by gundalows, and from other investments in the worldwide trade through Portsmouth, New Hampshire, before the Civil War. As Mary Jewett relates, “Ships loaded with lumber, fish, hay and country products went long voyages to foreign ports bringing back cargoes of articles necessary for life and comfort here.
Thomas Jewett's ledger, left.
“It was quite another system of business from that of today for very little money actually changed hands, since the traders, as they were often called, almost invariably had stores to supply the needs of their customers, and the man who came early some snowy morning to the village with an ox team loaded with lumber or wood would carry home the necessary sugar, flour, tea, molasses, and perhaps some dry goods rather than gold and silver. Especially was this true of the long processions of sleighs which came every winter from Vermont and upper N. H. through the Notch of the White Mts to this region, loaded with farm products and returning laden with necessary articles like tea and salt and salt fish which they could get in no other way. The system of barter prevailed almost everywhere in this region, bills being paid in kind, as the expression was, even the ministers and school masters salaries sometimes being arranged for in that way.”
Capt. Jewett died in 1860. Jewett biographer Paula Blanchard reports in her book, Sarah Orne Jewett, that by the time of his death in 1864, Thomas Jewett was the wealthiest man in South Berwick.
After the Jewett brothers, the store passed to John B. Nealley, whose wife was Thomas’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth Nealley. They lived at 169 Main Street. Their son, Frederick T. Nealley, who married Addie Knox of Dover in 1879, worked as a cobbler and harness maker in the old Jewett store. The building was likely altered by the Nealleys late in the 1800s. The map of 1872 shows the property was in the name of John B. Nealley, and perhaps he made modifications to the building at about this time. Mary Jewett, who mentions sadly that many buildings at the Corner had changed their appearance since the early 1800s, says that a harness business there was known as Carpenter and Nealley.
Below is a transcript of the deed that seems to record Thomas Jewett’s purchase in 1815 of the land upon which the Jewett Store was built.
Know all men by these Presents that I Winthrop B. Norton of South Berwick in the County of York and Commonwealth of Massachusetts Gentleman in consideration of three hundred dollars paid by Thomas Jewett of said South Berwick Trader the receipt whereof I do hereby acknowledge do hereby give grant sell and convey until the said Thomas Jewett his heirs and assigns forever a certain tract or parcel of land situate in said South Berwick described as follows to wit. Beginning on the easterly side of the highway and twelve feet southwesterly from the Southwest corner of Micajah Curriers Store now in the occupation of Currier and Jewett thence running Southeasterly on a line parallel to said Curriers Store and twelve feet therefrom forty one feet thence southwesterly on a line parallel to said highway twenty four feet thence Northwesterly on a line parallel to the line herein first mentioned forty one feet to said highway thence on said high highway northeasterly twenty four feet to the bounds begins at with the privilege of passing and repassing unmolested upon the twelve feet ________ between the tract above described and said Curriers Store and over the said Norton’s land to and from the easterly door of any Store or building that may hereafter be erected upon the above described premises with teams of cattle or horses with sledge wheels or other vehicles.
To have and to hold the aforegranted premises to the said Thomas Jewett his heirs and assigns to his and their use and “behoof “? Forever and I do commit with the said Thomas Jewett and his heirs and assigns that I am lawfully seized in fee of the aforegranted premises that they are free of all incumbrances that I have good right to sell and convey the same to the said Thomas Jewett and that I will warrant and defend the same premises to the said Thomas Jewett and his heirs and assigns forever against the lawful claims and demands of all Persons and Dolly Norton wife of said Winthrop hereby relinquish my right of dower and power of thirds in the premises. In witness whereof we the said Winthrop B. Norton and Dolly Norton have hereunto set our hands and seal this Seventeenth day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifteen. The word “la d” unlined before signing.
Signed sealed and delivered in presence of
Winthrop B. Norton
York ss. July 17th 1815. Then the above named Winthrop B. Norton acknowledged that the above instrument to his free act and deed. Before me Wm Hight Justice Peace.
Recorded according to the original
Received July 29th, 1815 Something Frost? Reg.
(This article was revised in June 2011.)