The war scholars now call “World War Zero” — the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 ended in Portsmouth NH following nearly a month of negotiation. The Portsmouth Peace Treaty was signed at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on September 5th 1905 at 3:47 pm and immediately after that the bells of Portsmouth and the surrounding area rang for 30 minutes.
The day after that bell-ringing a local citizen, Frank Warren Hackett wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspapers:
“Portsmouth will desire each year to make special note of the 5th of September. How better can local interest and pride in this anniversary be expressed than by renewing the demonstration by which the news of the agreement was heralded… Ringing of church bells meant a message of gladness to the whole world… Why not let the custom be instituted on September 5, 1906 of ringing the bells beginning at 3:47 in the afternoon? Thus [the] ringing will become a local observance that shall keep alive memories.”
The bells were rung on September 5th in 1906, when a plaque commemorating the Treaty signing was unveiled at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Then the tradition of bell-ringing throughout Portsmouth was revived by the Japan-American Society of New Hampshire, along with an official commemoration at the Shipyard, and has continued to today.
In 2010, NH Governor John Lynch signed a bill making September 5th “Portsmouth Peace Treaty Day’ throughout the state, in perpetuity and issued a Proclamation urging citizens to “Observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
On September 5th a 3:47 pm blast on the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard whistle, serves as the signal for the bells of Portsmouth and Eliot to ring. Participants in 2010 include:
First Congregational Church of Eliot (1361 State Road, Rev. David Avery)
Second Christian Congregational Church of Kittery (33 Gvy St., Rev Brad Hirst)
Unitarian Universalist, South Church (292 State St., Rev. Roberta Finkelstein)
Middle Street Baptist Church, (18 Court Street, Rev. Vivan Martindale)
North Congregational Church (Market Square, Rev. Dawn Shippee)
St. John’s Episcopal Church (101 Chapel Street, Rev. Robert Stevens)
Portsmouth Public Schools (Dr. Edward McDonough, Superintendent)
South Meetinghouse (Marcy Street, Portsmouth)
Christ Episcopal Church, (1035 Lafayette Road, Vicar Daniel Bernier)
For more on the bells of Portsmouth, click here.