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A historic seaport and popular summer tourist destination, Portsmouth was the home of the Strategic Air Command's Pease Air Force Base, later converted to Portsmouth International Airport at Pease with limited commercial air service.American Indians of the Abenaki and other Algonquian languages-speaking nations, and their predecessors, inhabited the territory of coastal New Hampshire for thousands of years before European contact.The first known European to explore and write about the area was Martin Pring in 1603, the Piscataqua River is a tidal estuary with a swift current, but forms a good natural harbor.The west bank of the harbor was settled by English colonists in 1630 and named Strawbery Banke, after the many wild strawberries growing there.The village was fortified by Fort William and Mary.
When Queen Anne's War ended in 1712, the town was selected by Governor Joseph Dudley to host negotiations for the 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth, which temporarily ended hostilities between the Abenaki Indians and English settlements of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire.
Although the harbor was protected by Fort William and Mary, the rebel government moved the capital inland to Exeter, safe from the Royal Navy, the Navy bombarded Falmouth (now Portland, Maine) on October 18, 1775.
African Americans helped defend Portsmouth and New England during the war.
In 1779, 19 slaves from Portsmouth wrote a petition to the state legislature and asked that it abolish slavery, in recognition of their war contributions and in keeping with the principles of the Revolution, their petition was not answered then, but New Hampshire later ended slavery.
Thomas Jefferson's 1807 embargo against trade with Britain withered New England's trade with Canada, and a number of local fortunes were lost.