Friday, February 4, 2011

Cavendish Semiquincentennial: Governor Wentworth

This week we take a closer look at Benning Wentworth, who played such an important role in Cavendish and Vermont history when, as Governor of New Hampshire, he issued (sold) 129 township charters in Vermont. Most of these charters were granted between 1761-1764, with nearly half occurring in 1761.

Benning Wentworth was the eldest son of Lt. Gov. John Wentworth and his wife, Sarah’s 14 children. John served as Governor of New Hampshire while it was still a province of Massachusetts. A 1719 graduate of Harvard. at a time when social position accounted more than academics, Benning graduated fifth in a class of 20 students. His college achievements were not academic, rather he was known for having set a college record of fines for broken windows and other damage caused by his various pranks.

After graduation at 18 years of age, Wentworth joined the family business of importing wines from Cadiz and other Spanish ports. For the next 15 years, he would spend considerable time in Spain, while his father and brothers tried to have New Hampshire constituted a separate colony.

In 1719, Benning married Abigail Ruck. They had several children, all of whom predeceased him. In 1732, he was elected to Massachusetts’s assembly, and ultimately served on the Governor’s Counsel. It took about nine years before the colony of New Hampshire gained its independence. Wentworth became the first Governor Wentworth’s siblings married into important seacoast families, making it easier for Benning to govern, since members of the Council and other office holders were often relatives or friends of relatives. On one journey to England, Benning lost a fortune at sea but as Governor he was able to re build his wealth, particularly through his practice of land grants.

He became very wealthy by the standards of the day and he built a large mansion in Portsmouth and a summer home on Lake Wentworth away from the seacoast. After his first wife died in 1755, he re married, in 1760 at age 64, his much younger housekeeper, Martha Hilton. This, plus growing annoyance with his administration, corruption, and taxes, forced his resignation in 1767. He died October 14, 1770 in Portsmouth.

You can visit Wenworth’s former home in Portsmouth, NH now called The Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion.

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