About Us

Our Mission

Portsmouth Historical Society, founded in 1917, is a nonprofit devoted to championing the history, arts, and culture of the Portsmouth region through acquisitions, preservation, museum exhibitions, programs, and publications. It operates two facilities: Discover Portsmouth and the 1758 John Paul Jones House Museum and Garden, a national historic landmark.

John Paul Jones Historic House Museum

The house known today as the John Paul Jones house was built in 1758 for Gregory Purcell, a sea captain and merchant. When built, the house was considered to be at the edge of downtown and was amongst only a handful of stately three story homes in the city.

The house changed hands several times during the nineteenth century. Owners include, Woodbury Langdon, Henry and Alexander Ladd, who rented the home to Senator John F. Parrott, and Samuel Lord. The Portsmouth Historical Society has operated the house as a museum since 1920.

The house has been known as the John Paul Jones House for several generations. Jones (1747-92), the celebrated naval hero of the American Revolution, spent time in Portsmouth in 1777 and again in 1781-82. He is believed to have rented a room in this house during 1777, when the widow of Gregory Purcell was operating a boarding house here.

Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center & Academy Galleries

Discover Portsmouth is really two separate Federal Style buildings both built around 1810. One was originally a private home built by Thomas Morton who ran a grocery store downtown. The other half, at the corner of Islington and Middle Streets, was a private school called Portsmouth Academy. After the school closed, it was rented for a Civil War memorial and in 1898 was entirely renovated for the city’s first public library.

In 1954 a one-story brick addition was built connecting the two properties. In 1976 that addition was totally replaced by a two story modern building that also replaced older additions to the Morton-Benedict house. The combined building served as the city library until 2006 when the new library was built on Parrott Avenue. The landmark is now leased to the Portsmouth Historical Society to help the public “Discover Portsmouth!”

Portsmouth Marine Society Press

Today it is the publishing arm of the Portsmouth Historical Society and has published 32 titles. Topics range from Prescott Park, embroidery samplers, archaeology, Tobias Lear, and the Treaty of Portsmouth. But nowhere else can a reader find as much information about Portsmouth’s naval shipyard, submarines, sailing ships, tugboats, lighthouses, privateers, whaling, and maritime Portsmouth.

The original Portsmouth Marine Society was chartered in 1808 as an organization of ship captains, officers, and owners who shared navigational and business information about domestic and foreign ports and provided some benefits to the families of members lost at sea.

Portsmouth Advocates for Historic Preservation

The preservation group, the Portsmouth Advocates, Inc., was formed to promote the maintenance of the historical and architectural integrity of the buildings of the city of Portsmouth within and outside of the historic districts, and to encourage the preservation and restoration of historically significant structures. We are dedicated to the preservation of our city’s unique historic character as an essential part of making Portsmouth a better place to live and work.