Edward Parry:
His Place in Portsmouth

The Athenaeum recently acquired a very small but important portrait of one of the more colorful residents of Portsmouth in the early Federal Period. Edward Parry (1766-1834), a native of the island of Anglesea in Wales, arrived in Portsmouth in 1792 with a poor command of English and £230 worth of merchandise to sell. He set up shop in Market Street and quickly found success. In 1794 he married Joanna Chauncey and five years later built a fine mansion on the corner of Pleasant Street and Edward Street (which is named for him) in what is now Haven Park. The house was built in the latest Adamesque fashion and was renowned for its splendid garden which terminated in a battlemented folly known as “Fort Anglesea” fronting on the mill pond.  The 1813 map of Portsmouth clearly shows the battlements along the shore of the mill pond, as seen in the detail of the map.

Joanna Parry died in June of 1800 and Edward went to Britain to visit his family. It was probably on this trip that he had his 3-inch high miniature portrait painted by an unidentified artist. He returned to Portsmouth only to see his store burn in the great fire of 1802. When he rebuilt, he placed a marble tablet in the center of the façade which reads: “Burnt Dec. 26th, 1802, when 120 Buildings were destroyed with other property to the amount of 300,000 dollars. Rebuilt, 1803, by Edward Parry.” The tablet may still be seen above the awning of the current J. L. Coombs store at 46 Market Street. Parry rebuilt his fortunes and remarried, to Ruth Collins of Danvers, in 1804. Shipping losses in the War of 1812 ultimately led to Parry’s ruin and he was forced to flee his Portsmouth creditors in 1818. He removed to Baltimore and then to Philadelphia, where he died in 1834.


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Joseph Sawtelle Reading Room


Spotlight on Our

‘U’U from the Marquesas Islands

Lieutenant John C. Long of Portsmouth donated a collection of Pacific artifacts to the Athenaeum on July 2nd, 1827.  An ‘u’u, and several other important objects still at the Athenaeum have been traditionally credited to the Long Collection. 
Our ‘u’u, the centerpiece of the collection, is a wooden club. The club is made predominantly of ironwood, a very tough and heavy wood also known as toa, which is also the word for warrior.  These spectacular objects were a popular acquisition for sailors.   The 58 1/2" club was most likely used as a staff but could also have been used in combat.   The dark wood is polished and carved with a human face, the carving most likely reflecting the status of the warrior in Marquesan society. The handle is decorated with faces, reflecting the belief that the multiplicity of heads and eyes brought more power to the warrior.
In 2000, the researcher Rhys Richards from New Zealand visited the Athenaeum and his article notes describe the ‘u’u as a “magnificent Marquesan, lunate-headed, wooden club.”  The butt end has a bone knob and near this on the shaft is a diamond-shaped insert of bone that has a pierced hole with triangular bone escutcheons.  The name ‘u’u means ‘head’ and the face-based decorative motifs have been common in Polynesia for 3000 years, the design motif reaching its height in the early 19th century.  The head is carved in the form of two faces with the eyes and nose comprised of other heads.  These heads are thought to have provided additional protection to the owner.  Carved bands sit below the crossbar, between which is another pair of eyes.  The dark, rich patina is thought to have been achieved by soaking the club in taro swamps and polishing it with coconut oil.


© 2006 Portsmouth Athenæum