Wentworth, John (DNB00)

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WENTWORTH, Sir JOHN (1737–1820), successively governor of New Hampshire and Nova Scotia, baptised on 14 Aug. 1737, was the son of Mark Hunking Wentworth (1709–1785), a wealthy merchant of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Rindge of Portsmouth.

The New Hampshire family of Wentworth was derived from William Wentworth (1616–1697), baptised at Alford, Lincolnshire, on 15 March 1615–16. He was the eldest son of William Wentworth of Rigsby in the same county, by his wife Susannah, daughter of Edward Carter and widow of Uther Fleming. He held strong puritan views, and was a firm friend of John Wheelwright, the vicar of Bilsby, a neighbouring village, who was a man of like beliefs. To avoid persecution, they emigrated to Boston together in 1636. But even there they failed to find toleration, for Wheelwright embraced the opinions of his sister-in-law, Anne Hutchinson [q. v.], and was banished from the town in November 1637. In the following year Wentworth joined him in founding the settlement of Exeter in New Hampshire on lands purchased from the Indians. In 1641, however, Exeter was included in the Massachusetts territory, and Wheelwright was obliged to remove to Wells in Maine, whither his faithful friend Wentworth accompanied him. In 1649 Wentworth again removed to Dover, a place then in Massachusetts, but afterwards transferred to New Hampshire, which he made his permanent abode. He became ruling elder in the church there. In 1689, when an old man, he saved Heard's garrison from a massacre planned by the natives. Discovering that Indians were being admitted by treachery during the darkness of night, he drove them back single-handed, and held the door of the fort till assistance came. He died at Dover on 16 March 1696–7, leaving a numerous family.

His descendant, John Wentworth, graduated B.A. at Harvard College in 1755, proceeding M.A. in 1758, and became early associated in his father's business at Portsmouth. Before 1765 he was sent to England to look after the interests of the firm, and on the passage of the Stamp Act in that year he and the agent for the province, Barlow Trecothick, were instructed to use their influence for its repeal. On 11 Aug. 1766 he was nominated governor of New Hampshire, in place of his uncle, Benning Wentworth (1696–1770), and also ‘surveyor of the king's woods’ for all North America. Before embarking to take up his governorship he received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from Oxford University on 12 Aug. 1766. He landed at Charlestown in South Carolina in March 1767, and travelled through the continent, registering his commission as surveyor in each of the colonies, and reaching Portsmouth in June.

In face of the widespread disaffection Wentworth found his office of governor very arduous; the discontent of the colonists grew more acute, and his difficulties increased. Although he considered the taxes imposed by the home government impolitic and oppressive, and did all in his power to obtain their repeal, he wished to preserve the colony in loyalty to the crown. He wrote urgent remonstrances to the home government, and endeavoured to maintain internal tranquillity. His popularity was great in the early stages of the revolution, and after the imposition of the duties on paper, glass, painters' colours, red and white lead, and tea by Townshend in 1767, he had sufficient influence to prevent the adoption of a non-importation agreement in Portsmouth until 1770, when the merchants of the other colonies threatened to cease trade unless an association were formed. Wentworth even found time for improving the internal administration, dividing the province into counties in 1771, and abolishing the paper currency, a relic of the French war. When the final attempt was made to force the colonies to receive tea from the East Indies, he profited by the neglect of the home government to give him definite instructions, and persuaded the consignee to pay the duty and re-ship the cargo to Halifax. His influence, however, was waning. On 8 June 1774 he dissolved the New Hampshire assembly at Portsmouth because the members had nominated a committee to concert action with the other colonies, but he was unable to hinder the assembly from meeting privately on 6 July. Despite his remonstrance, the assembly arranged a convention at Exeter, where, on 21 July, two deputies were chosen to represent New Hampshire at the general congress of the colonies. In the autumn he finally ruined his popularity by endeavouring secretly to procure labourers for General Thomas Gage (1721–1787) [q. v.] to build barracks at Boston for the troops after the Massachusetts workmen had refused to work for him. The committee of safety had Wentworth's agent brought before them and compelled him to make ‘a humble acknowledgment.’ On 14 Dec. an armed body of people seized Fort William and Mary (now Fort Constitution) on Great Island, at the mouth of Portsmouth harbour, and carried off its armament. On 28 Feb. 1775 Wentworth issued writs for calling a general assembly, but, finding that many of the ringleaders in the attack on the fort had been returned, he postponed the meeting by proclamation until 4 May. On 12 July the assembly expelled three members summoned by the governor's writs from new towns, and one of them was taken from Wentworth's house by the populace and driven out of the town. Wentworth, considering himself in danger, retired to the fort, and subsequently to a warship in the harbour. His house was pillaged, and he took refuge at Boston, after declaring the legislature adjourned till 28 Sept. In September he issued a proclamation from the Isle of Shoals proroguing the assembly until April. This was his last official act, for on 5 Feb. 1776 the state congress at Exeter resolved ‘to form an independent government, owing to the sudden and abrupt departure’ of Wentworth and several of the council. On 7 Feb. 1778 he embarked for Europe, and in the same year the assembly forbade his return and confiscated his property. During his governorship he was active in educational matters, promoting with the greatest zeal the foundation of Dartmouth College at Hanover in 1770 [see Legge, William, second Earl of Dartmouth]. He received the degree of D.C.L. from the college in 1773, and a like degree from the university of Aberdeen in the same year.

Though Wentworth suffered much from the revolution, he retained no personal resentment against its leaders. John Adams relates that he met him in 1778 at a theatre in Paris, and was greeted by him with the greatest cordiality. He resided in or near London until 1783, when he received a new commission as surveyor-general of the king's woods for all North America. He embarked for Halifax on 12 Aug., and until 1792 was incessantly engaged in the duties of his office, visiting the less cultivated parts of North America.

On 14 May 1792 he was sworn lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia under Lord Dorchester, governor-general of all the North American provinces [see Carleton, Guy, first Lord Dorchester]. Both Dorchester and the Duke of Kent showed him much favour, and the duke, on leaving Halifax in 1800, gave him his house known as ‘Prince's Lodge.’ On 16 May 1795 he was created a baronet, and on 16 June 1796 he was honoured with the privilege of wearing in the chevron of his arms two keys as an emblem of his fidelity. His administration in Nova Scotia was vigorous, and personally he was popular; but he was accused of filling his council with his own connections, and towards the end of his government he was involved in several differences with the assembly. He was succeeded by Sir George Prevost (1767–1816) [q. v.] in 1808, receiving a pension of 500l. a year. He died at Halifax on 8 April 1820, and was buried in St. Paul's Church, Halifax, where a marble tablet was erected to his memory.

Wentworth married, on 11 Nov. 1769, at Queen's Chapel, Portsmouth, his cousin Frances, daughter of Samuel Wentworth and widow of Theodore Atkinson. She died on 14 Feb. 1813 at Gunning in Berkshire. By her he had one surviving son, Charles Mary (1775–1844), on whose death the baronetcy became extinct.

Sir John Wentworth's portrait, engraved by H. W. Smith from a painting by Copley, is in the ‘Wentworth Genealogy.’ His correspondence from 1767 to 1808 in nine volumes of manuscript is now among the public records at Halifax. His correspondence concerning the foundation of Dartmouth College is in possession of the college.

[J. Wentworth's Wentworth Genealogy, Boston, 1878; Collections of the New Hampshire Hist. Soc. iii. 107, 283, 286, iv. 151, v. 239, 259, vii. 221, 235, ix. 55, 67, 73, 304–63; Chase's Hist. of Dartmouth College, ed. Lord, 1891, vol. i. passim; Belknap's Hist. of New Hampshire, ed. Farmer, 1831; McClintock's Hist. of New Hampshire, 1889; Hurd's Hist. of Rockingham and Strafford Counties, New Hampshire, 1882, p. 77; Dwight's Travels in New England, 1822, iv. 162; Palfrey's Compendious Hist. of New England, 1884, iv. 427–9; Murdoch's Hist. of Nova Scotia, 1867, iii. 100–283; Hist. MSS. Comm. 14th Rep. App. x. index.]

E. I. C.