george mSo often we focus on the famous people associated with Portsmouth – Anne Hutchinson, Julia Ward Howe, the Vanderbilts.  This blog will call attention to one of those pillars of Portsmouth life who gets little recognition.  As I research Portsmouth history, George Manchester’s name keeps appearing.  He is like a thread that runs through the fabric of town society.

George Manchester was born in 1822, the son of John and Lydia (Albro) Manchester.  If you look at the town directories, George  is listed as  a carpenter.   He helped construct many homes in Newport County working with his wife’s family, the Coggeshalls.  One of his descendants has parts of his diary and from a diary entry we were able to mark the construction of the Leonard Brown House because he reported on construction there in 1850.  George built his own home and it was part of our “Whose Home Is It.” exhibit at the historical society museum last year.

As clerk of the Christian Union Church, George provided us with beautifully written descriptions of the spiritual life of the church.  He was a devoted member of the church at the location of today’s Portsmouth Historical Society, and taught Sunday School there.

Many Portsmouth farmers and tradesmen filled town positions, but George held quite a number of offices.   He was a public servant who represented Portsmouth in the RI General Assembly for several terms, as had his father, John, and his grandfather Giles Manchester.  At various times George held the offices of Superintendent of Public Schools in Portsmouth, State Railroad Commissioner, State Auditor, Customs Officer, Justice of the Peace, and High Sheriff of Newport County.  George was an active Republican and he helped organize an event for the Newport Wide Awakes (a group of young Republican men who were supporting Abraham Lincoln).  Newspaper articles are filled with examples of George’s ability as an orator.

George served as Vice President of the local Temperance organization.  He loved to read and collect books.  He wrote book reviews and articles for magazines such as Harper’s, and for religious publications such as the Herald of Gospel Liberty and the Christian Inquirer.  When the new Christian Union Church was built in 1865, a lending library was included.  George was part of the Library and Intellectual Culture Committee at the church.

George had his sorrows and struggles.  He and his wife Phebe Taber Coggeshall lived on Glen Road.   A Daily News article from November of 1862 provides an account of what they called “the melancholy death of the wife of George H. Manchester.”  At that time George was a clerk in the Providence Post Office.  He would stay in Providence during the week and come home to Portsmouth on weekends. This particular week, George “left his wife on Monday and she bid him good-bye and shortly after started for a walk to the Glen near by her residence.”  When she didn’t return her family looked for her and found her body near the old wharf.  “Near by was found her bonnet, shawl and parasol, all nicely laid together, and everything had the appearance of a premeditated death. ”  Why she would end her life seemed a mystery to her family and friends.  With the sorrow of his wife’s death, George would also have the responsibility for three children – Alfred, Charles and Leonora.    George found love again and in 1873, he married Eliza Maria (Peckham) Rogers, widow of Thomas G. Rogers.  George died in 1879 and is buried in St. Mary’s Church cemetery.

We owe a debt of gratitude to George Manchester and the others like him who volunteer their time and talents to make Portsmouth a better place.