Exhibit Curator Sandra Rux said that after arriving in New Hampshire in the 1630s, the Wentworth family gradually became more important through the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries.

Friends and adversaries referred to the family as the “Wentworth clan.”

She began seriously researching the family in 2015 when it became clear that there was no comprehensive study of Lt. Gov. John Wentworth (1671-1730), his wife and 14 children.

“It seemed like there was a need for it,” she said in a recent interview.

The ancestral Wentworth family home, which once stood near Puddle Dock in Portsmouth’s South End. [Portsmouth Athenaeum, PS0004]

Wentworth was appointed by Queen Anne as a member of New Hampshire’s Council in 1712, a justice in 1713 and lieutenant governor in 1717. He and his wife, Sarah Hunking, daughter of fellow Council member Mark Hunking, had 14 children, all of whom lived to adulthood and married well-connected, talented and wealthy people.

In his book History of New Hampshire, the Rev. Jeremy Belknap wrote of the lieutenant governor, “under his mild administration we enjoyed great quietness.”
While a decade of unrest followed the death of Wentworth, the family and allies in both New Hampshire and England managed to have Benning Wentworth, eldest son of Lt. Gov. John, appointed as New Hampshire’s first Royal Governor.

He was in office from 1741 to 1767 and became the longest-serving governor in the American colonies, Rux said.

Postcard portrait of Benning Wentworth (1696-1770), painted by English artist Joseph Blackburn in Portsmouth, 1760. Original portrait at New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, NH. [Portsmouth Athenaeum, PC0845]

Much of Benning’s success can be attributed to land grants. He created towns where he and his family received generous divisions, but the rest of New Hampshire citizens also benefited. The mast trade for the British navy made some very wealthy and generated enough revenue to keep the crown content. Cutting the trees led to open land for farming and encouragement of new residents.

By the 1760s, people were unhappy with Benning Wentworth’s increasingly autocratic ways.

Nephew John Wentworth spent several years in England becoming friendly with the rich and powerful. In 1767 he was appointed as New Hampshire’s second and last Royal Governor.

He fled to England at the beginning of the American Revolution, thus ending family dominance.

Plate owned by Benning Wentworth. Courtesy of the Portsmouth Historical Society / Gerry Ward.

Rux will give a gallery talk on the exhibit on Saturday, April 15 at 11 a.m. On June 21, Rux will present “Before ‘Live Free or Die’: The Wentworth Oligarchy 1715-1775.” The talk is part of the Athenaeum lecture series, “Portsmouth, NH: Evolution 1623-2023 Part 2.”

The exhibit is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 4 p.m. It closes July 15.

Exhibit At A Glance


Friday, April 14, 2023

5 – 7 p.m.

Randall Gallery, Third Floor, Portsmouth Athenaeum



Saturday, April 15

11 a.m.

Curator Sandra Rux will provide an overview of the exhibit in the Randall Gallery.



Wednesday, June 21

Sandra Rux will present “Before ‘Live Free or Die’: The Wentworth Oligarchy 1715-1775.” The talk is part of the Athenaeum lecture series, “Portsmouth, NH: Evolution 1623-2023 Part 2″ in the third-floor Shaw Research Library.

Click here for more on the 2023 lecture series.


Saturday, June 24, 2023

11 a.m.

“Benning Wentworth’s Towns in Vermont and New Hampshire” Gallery Talk with John Rule in the Shaw Research Library.


July 15, 2023


Written by Sherry Wood.

TOP IMAGE: Province of New Hampshire one shilling promissory note, 1734. [Portsmouth Athenaeum, C10.504.2-4]