Portsmouth peacemakers recalled at Milford ceremony

MILFORD – It isn’t often that someone from Milford has a role on the international stage, but it happened more than 100 years ago when New Hampshire Gov. John McLane helped end the Russo-Japanese War.

By 1905, the fighting in the Far East had killed more than 120,000 soldiers and civilians, and Japan and Russia were ready to at last talk about peace – especially Russia. Despite having one of the largest armies in the world, it was shocked to be losing military battles to the tiny island nation of Japan.

“It was kind of like Syria. Everyone wanted the war to end,” Stephanie Seacord told fourth-

graders at Milford’s Heron Pond Elementary School on Friday, June 3.

Seacord, representing the Portsmouth Peace Treaty Forum and the Japan-America Society of New Hampshire, and Mark Genovesi, of the Milford Historical Society, held a cherry-tree planting ceremony on the school lawn with town officials and historical society members.

The tree is intended as a living memorial to the peace treaty that ended the war – a treaty that got its start, Seacord said, when President Theodore Roosevelt decided the United States should help bring the war to an end.

In 1905, the two countries agreed to send their ambassadors to the United States that summer, but in the days without air conditioning, Washington was much too hot and humid. So McLane, a Milford furniture maker who had been newly elected governor, offered Portsmouth, and the city and the United States Navy hosted the talks.

Roosevelt was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, but he didn’t come to Portsmouth for the negotiations, and neither did anyone from the State Department.

“The president trusted New Hampshire” and McLane to be good hosts, Seacord told the children.

McLane, incidentally, was the great-grandfather of New Hampshire’s 2nd District Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster and former Cabinet Publisher Martha Manley.

New Hampshire’s hospitality surpassed everyone’s expectations. Ambassadors were housed at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel to enjoy the beauty of the ocean and its cool breezes. Throughout their stay, Portsmouth’s “citizen diplomats” regaled them with dinners and parties, including a big parade through the city.

The talks broke off after two weeks, and people doubled down on their efforts to charm the guests at dinners and parties. At the end of the ambassadors’ 30-day stay, Roosevelt sent the presidential yacht for them to enjoy a sail around the harbor.

“Not only did local people make a difference, the president realized they made a difference,” said Seacord, who calls herself an “impassioned volunteer” who loves the idea that every citizen can make a difference.

When peace was declared on Aug. 30, 1905, bells chimed and whistles blew throughout Portsmouth. Last Friday, each Heron Pond fourth-grader was given a little bell to ring for remembrance. The ceremony was a culmination of their study of New Hampshire history, and on Friday, they helped plant the cherry tree.

The event was sponsored by Portsmouth Peace Treaty Forum, which was started in 2012, the 100th anniversary of Japan’s donation of the Washington, D.C., cherry trees as a thank-you gesture to the U.S.

Eight elementary schools across the state have participated in similar ceremonies so far, Seacord said. On Sept. 5, Portsmouth Peace Treaty Day, there will be another ceremony at Heron Pond.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.