Category Archives: 2009 Old News Column

Island Ledge House Scandal Wells Beach

Island Ledge Hotel and map

Boston & Maine Railroad Company built the Wells Beach station in 1872 after much advance press.  Anticipating improved access to “watering” summer folk, resourceful businessmen Harrison B. Davis, his brother Alfred, and William A. Worster, started quietly buying up beachfront parcels of land in 1870.

A large, opulent hotel was erected in 1871 at the ocean end of what is today called Mile Road.  Over 1400 guests were entertained there during the first season.  The proprietors celebrated by adding an ell that contained sixty additional rooms which were occupant-ready by June of 1872.  Island Ledge House was advertised to have large airy single and en-suite rooms, wide halls lighted with gas, extensive verandas with unobstructed sea views on three sides, a billiard hall, bowling alleys, a croquet lawn, sailboats with skillful skippers and a quadrille band in constant attendance.  For the first few years, the day to day operations of the hotel were supervised by the Davis brothers.

William A. Worster took over in 1874.  He placed a new ad that described the hotel as having “four stories with a mansard roof and about 200 rooms.”  Such abundance could be enjoyed for just $3 a day.  In contrast to the success enjoyed during its first few seasons, the hotel was losing money under Worster’s management.

When the vacant, heavily insured complex of buildings burned to the ground on February 15, 1878, after five short years in operation, Worster was accused of incendiarism; a charge he denied.  The case was settled out of court but further investigation uncovers the fact that another heavily insured building owned by Worster had burned in 1870 just months before he invested in the hotel development.

Worster married the Berwick widow Juliette Ricker in 1875.  The fact that she came from a pretty well-connected family probably had not escaped his notice. Julliett’s brother, Sherman A. Ricker, broadly known as the “Corn King of the Chicago Board of Trade”, was, at the time of his sister’s wedding, living a wildly reckless life and Juliette was one of his only heirs.  When the “Corn King” died in 1882 his estate was vast.  William Worster’s bride inherited hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile, William Worster fought arson and insurance fraud charges for several years before settling out of court. When his subsequent business practices came under new legal scrutiny he transferred all his assets into his wife’s name to avoid having to pay another settlement.

The Boston Daily Advertiser reported the story on March 27, 1886.

Strafford County Jail tonight contains an exceptional prisoner – William A. Worster of Great Falls. Two years since the Grand Jury of York County Maine found an indictment against him for obtaining $900 by false pretenses from Sewell I. Cowell of Berwick.  He then changed his residence to Great Falls, NH and the indictment still hangs over him.  The Supreme Court at the February term, 1885, rendered judgment against Worster for $6054.  Worster placed his property out of reach of the Sheriff who then had him arrested on suspicion of an intent to leave the State. Worster declared he had no money and wanted to take the poor debtors’ oath, thinking the plaintiff would not push the case any further.  He was astonished to find the council for the plaintiff had lodged $1000 in the jailer’s hands which is guarantee for the prisoner’s board for eight years.  Worster declares he will stay, if necessary, rather than pay.”

Worster served five years in jail.  His stubbornness had been based on the assumption that his wife would continue to fund his litigation but it didn’t work out that way.  Juliette ran off to Europe with prominent Somersworth, New   Hampshire businessman Emery J. Randall in 1888 leaving William A. Worster the pauper he had claimed to be.

Early bathers at Goose Rocks Beach

Goose Rocks Beach Idyl
Goose Rocks Beach Idyl

Goose Rocks Beach was already a summer resort in 1873 when the Kennebunkport Seashore Company subdivided Cape Arundel to make way for opulent shingle-style “cottages.”  From the beginning, Goose Rocks was a casual place for parents to relax while their children discovered the meaning of life.

Daniel Dow of Newton, MA built the first summer cottage at Goose Rocks in 1865.  The King’s Highway house was constructed on land owned by Kennebunkport farmer, Elbridge Proctor.  Dow’s younger brothers, Sewell, Edward and Orlando and his sister Clarissa Fuller joined the family each summer.  One year in the early 1870s, when just a handful of cottages stood at the beach, Daniel Dow’s adolescent son Francis made coming of age memories at Goose Rocks that his wife Eugenia later shared with the Biddeford Journal.

Francis and his older brother Billy were five years apart.  Their single uncles were chronologically adult but one would never know it from their youthful antics.  When eight girls, in assorted sizes, took the Lowe cottage next door for the summer, the boys were taken aback.  They might as well have been asked to cohabitate with creatures from outer space.

The Dows owned a big canvas sailor’s hammock strung under a clump of Spruce trees in their yard.  Once the girls moved in it was never empty.  One by one they availed themselves of it without so much as a pretty please.  Mother suggested that the girls might be hoping for an opportunity to get acquainted but the boys were outraged at the intrusion.  After a week of restraint, Uncle Ed went out early one morning and drew the hammock up as taut as a fiddle string.  One by one the girls made their way to the hammock and one by one, they were ejected by the booby-trapped swing.  The boys watched from their hiding place behind the wild roses.  “Edward and Orlando rolled on the grass in silent unholy glee,” remembered Francis “and we boys crammed things in our mouths and covered our head to smother our wild shrieks of laughter”.

Their plan worked.  The hammock was empty once more but somehow it no longer held any appeal.  They missed watching the girls and started feeling guilty for the prank.  Francis and Billy watched the girls from afar for a while.  Amazingly, their uncles were always at hand just when one of the girls needed rescuing.  Ed courageously dragged the oldest girl out of the undertow and from that moment on he was by her side.

George T. Emmons owned a farm at one end of the beach.  He kept an angry bull called “Old Shorty” in a pasture near the sea wall.  The bull escaped often and Goose Rocks regulars knew to run for cover while George’s dog Nero corralled the beast home.  One morning, the girls were lounging in the sand when Old Shorty charged them with Nero at his heels.   Uncle Sewell appeared out of nowhere with his rifle and stepped between the bull and the most ample of the ladies.  She had modestly refused to discard her red cape and slumped to the sand, resigned to her fate. Sewell shot the bull in the leg and rescued himself a devoted summer companion.  After pulling a girl with mischievous eyes and dark bobbed hair out of a sinking boat, Orlando was the next to desert the boys.

One moonlit night, Billy and a fiery, freckle-faced redhead walked off down the beach together leaving Francis alone.  He felt abandoned by his brother and bewildered by the events of the summer.  As he stood at the water’s edge contemplating his plight he became aware of the littlest neighbour girl standing close behind him.  “Are you lonely?” she asked.  Francis nodded.   Her voice was so soft and sympathetic.  “Isn’t the moonlight wonderful?  I wonder how it looks around the western bend; I have always wanted to see it, but I suppose it wouldn’t do for me to walk down there alone.”   “It certainly wouldn’t,” Francis assured her.  “Would you mind walking down there with me?” she hesitated- adding, “You are so very brave”.  Well, he could hardly let her walk the beach alone.  She took his arm which he did not remember offering.  Francis felt he could go on walking forever with that little hand on his arm.

Too soon, the girls went home.  The Dow boys went back to school in Newton, MA., as they had every September before.  But that summer everything had changed.

Thanks to Goose Rocks Beach historians, John Pinel and Barbara Barwise for verifying the historical plausibility of Francis A. Dow’s account.

Read the original account from the Biddeford Weekly Journal (very long)

Read other old newspaper articles about Goose Rocks Beach

A royal disappointment in 1860

Windsor Emissary
Windsor Emissary

Queen Victoria had little inclination to appease her Canadian subjects who, throughout the 1850s, clamored for a royal visit. She was even less inclined to acknowledge the hoodlums that populated “those United States.” But her husband, Prince Albert, believed a royal visit would be politically prudent.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s teenage son Albert, the heir apparent, embraced the frivolity of youth. He exasperated his mother by indulging affections for wine, women and cigars, not necessarily in that order. The Queen once wrote to her eldest daughter, “I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder.”

By early 1860, Victoria wanted the boy out of her sight. She killed two birds with one stone by sending her 18-year-old son across the pond for an extended diplomatic tour of North America.

After spending two months in Canada, the Prince of Wales danced with the ladies of Detroit, Chicago, St Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Washington, Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The average-looking teenager didn’t exactly live up to the American fantasy. Harpers Weekly magazine published an illustration captioned, “The Prince; Ideal & Real.” Albert’s imagined regal visage, slaying a dragon, felling a giant and winning a jousting tournament, appeared on one side of the page. On the other side, the rumpled boy was realistically depicted being carried across a tiny stream on the back of a servant, falling ineptly on the dance floor and sleeping through a public appearance. A reporter for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper wrote that “dressed like a Prince” was a phrase that would never again be used in America to signify anything very significant.

The British Royal Squadron sailed into Portland Harbor on Oct. 16, 1860, to carry the future King Edward VII back to England. Exactly 85 years earlier on Oct. 16, 1775, a British fleet had entered the same harbor and destroyed the city. This coincidence was not lost on local reporters.

Trains were added to the schedule to accommodate the thousands who travelled to Portland to see Albert off. Merchants capitalized on the royal fever, selling hand-held British and American flags. “Two Princes in our City,” one opportunistic Portlander advertised, “The Prince of Wales and the Prince of Peddlers.”

Officials of the Eastern Railway fitted out a special three-car train for the final leg of Albert’s American tour. Its interior walls were draped in red and gold silk. The car ceilings were covered in rich blue silk, pleated and powdered with silver stars. Outside, a platform extended off the back of the train from which His Royal Highness could present himself to the eager citizens gathered at every station along the route to Portland.

The train left Boston shortly after 10 a.m. on Oct. 20, 1860. The prince was accompanied by his entourage, as well as, the governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the president of Harvard, the mayor of Boston, Sen. Charles Sumner and a few railroad officials.

In Kennebunk, children were let out of school for the royal visit. Everyone in town showed up at the station expecting a day-long celebration. When the royal train finally pulled into West Kennebunk depot it barely stopped. The prince waved briefly from the platform then hurried back into the car. The people of Kennebunk, who had decorated the station with buntings and dressed in their finest ensembles, were bitterly disappointed.

Back in the car, the defiant teenager plopped down on a velvet sofa. According to a report in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Albert turned to the governor of Massachusetts, “will you take a little wine, or is the Maine Law in force here?” he asked. “I’m out of my own jurisdiction,” the governor replied, “and I’ll take the consequences.” The strict Maine liquor law had also been set aside in Portland the night before at a champagne reception for the officers of the royal squadron.

Albert’s train arrived in Portland at half past one. He toured the crowded streets in an open horse-drawn carriage on his way to the docks, where a barge was waiting to take him out to the screw battleship Hero. Two large steamers, the Lewiston and the Forest City, sold tickets for a voyage to accompany the royal squadron out of the harbor at 4 p.m. The little prince stood on the poop deck waving his hat at the cheering crowds while a 21-gun salute was fired, casting a haze of gun smoke across the harbor. A few minutes later he was gone.

Presidential visits to Biddeford Pool

A tragic Capsizing
A tragic Capsizing

The people of Biddeford began preparing for a Presidential visit as soon as William Howard Taft was inaugurated on March 4, 1909. The first lady’s sister, Eleanor More, had a summer cottage at Biddeford Pool. Her husband, the noted evolutionist, Dr. Louis T More, told the local press to expect an August visit by the first family.

Unfortunately, Nellie Taft suffered a stroke soon after moving into the Whitehouse and the family’s vacation plans were curtailed. Mrs. More stood in for her convalescing sister at all official events and accompanied her to Beverly Massachusetts for the summer. By the end of July Eleanor felt confident enough about her sister’s condition to slip away to her cottage at Biddeford Pool for a few days. To facilitate the trip, the Presidential yacht, “Sylph”, was placed at her disposal.

The impressive 123 foot vessel was anchored near the mouth of the Saco River on the evening of July, 30, 1909. As an entrepreneurial venture, Captain Earnest Vinton of Saco offered a moonlight excursion to closely view the Presidential yacht from his motor launch, the “Item”. Twenty-nine tickets were sold. Captain Vinton had to borrow extra life preservers from the Captain of the “Nimrod” to comply with federal safety regulations that he carry one for each passenger aboard.

It was reported in the Boston Daily Globe that the overcrowded little launch set out from Island Wharf at twilight. After rounding Wood Island she approached the illuminated “Sylph” and passengers gathered on her port side to get a closer look. The little party boat heeled dramatically with the shifting weight. Following an instinct to compensate, the passengers all “jockeyed about” causing the “Item” to suddenly “turn turtle” near Sharps Rocks, spilling her human cargo into the inky water.

Commander of the Presidential Yacht, Lieutenant Roger Williams, heard some of the women cry for help as they struggled to stay afloat in their heavy layers of clothing. He immediately ordered the “Sylph’s” tender, with a five man crew, to the scene of the accident and trained his searchlight on the overturned party boat.

The launch “Nimrod” was the second boat to reach the scene. She carried all the rescued passengers to Saco and Biddeford; all but Mrs. Eugene A. Cutts who had sustained internal injuries when she became entangled in the gearing of the power boat. Mrs. Cutts was taken to the McBride cottage where she died the following day. As the capsized “Item” was towed to Basket Island and beached, the body of a 19 year old Biddeford girl, Miss Katie Lynch, who had probably been trapped inside the cabin, washed ashore on the island. Her companion, Miss Margaret Harvey, 25, was later reported missing but her body would not be recovered until two weeks later.

The accident was investigated by the County Coroner’s office. Benjamin Jackson of Biddeford Pool, who had built the “Item” in 1903, testified that she was designed to carry an engine weighing over 2 tons. A few months before the accident, Vinton had replaced her original engine with one that weighed only 10% as much. While examining the “Item’s” seaworthiness one juryman stepped down from the wharf into the boat and as he did she heeled over very suddenly. “We find from the evidence and from inspection that the said boat “Item”, owing to its form, is unstable, easily capsized and entirely unsafe for the carrying of passengers,” reported Coroner Walter Dennett. Captain Vinton had fulfilled the only existing safety requirement of carrying a life preserver for each passenger so no charges were filed but the loss of three lives rocked the towns of Saco and Biddeford.

At the time of the tragic accident, President Taft was in Florida witnessing Wilbur Wright’s record breaking 10 mile flight, during which the homemade plane reached amazing speeds in excess of 42 miles per hour. Mr. Taft was a big fan of new-fangled modes of transportation. He was finally persuaded to spend one night in Biddeford Pool in 1910. He arrived on an even larger official yacht, the 275 foot “Mayflower”. After enjoying a motorcar ride through the Pool he gave an informal speech at the Abenaki Country Club. The President spent the night at his sister in-law’s cottage and sailed away on the “Mayflower” at 10 o’clock the next morning.

Taft quietly returned to the Pool to visit his family once again just before Woodrow Wilson won the Presidency away from him in 1912. Even in Biddeford, William Howard Taft came in a distant third, after Wilson and Taft’s predecessor, President Theodore Roosevelt.

Cape Porpoise in the American Revolution

Gun smoke on Goat Island
Gun smoke on Goat Island

The people of Arundel were for the most part in support of American independence from Great Britain. King George III had levied taxes that threatened Arundel’s maritime trade economy. When 400 buildings at today’s Portland were burned by Captain Henry Mowat on October 18, 1775, the threat of war was too close to home to be ignored.

More than a month before the declaration of independence was signed Arundel citizens voted to “engage their lives and fortunes” to support independence. And that they did. Arundel boys were lost at Quebec, Halifax, Valley Forge and Lake Champlain as well as in the disastrous Penobscot Expedition of 1779.

Coastal Cape Porpoise residents, who were engaged in seafaring trade with merchants from Essex County Massachusetts, were particularly vulnerable. In October of 1780 three vessels were captured just outside Cape Porpoise Harbor and their captive crews were carried to Penobscot. The following year three more vessels met the same fate just outside the harbor though a few crewman made it to shore.

A bold attack inside Cape Porpoise Harbor was described in a New-England Chronicle article on October 3, 1782. On the morning of August 8, 1782 sheep and cattle were grazing on the islands as usual and two Newbury Massachusetts vessels were safely anchored in the harbor. One was a large sloop loaded with lumber and fitted out with a canon to protect her cargo. The other was a wood schooner that sailed with her.

An enemy brig of 16 guns suddenly appeared outside the harbor. She sent in a boat with 3 dozen men to capture the armed sloop but the men were surprised by the sloop’s American canon and landed the boat on Goat Island instead. The brig then sailed into the harbor and fired upon the Newbury sloop while an enemy top-sail schooner fired at her from just outside the harbor. The sloop’s crew was forced to evacuate and the enemy took possession of the two American vessels, sending the schooner off to Penobscot. The sloop was driven ashore by a sudden breeze as she left the harbor and was burned by the enemy where she lay at the southwesterly point of Goat Island.

James Burnham Jr., Captain of the Arundel militia, called his men to Trotts Island. From there he successfully advanced on the enemy, still at Goat Island, by ordering his men to wade across the channel under a hail of fire from the top-sail schooner. Wind and tide conspired to keep the Brig from escaping the harbor but she managed to get out just before nightfall by towing and warping her way. The Arundel Militia exchanged fire with the enemy for five or six hours and suffered the loss of one life, that of Captain James Burnham who at the close of the engagement took a musket ball to the chest. According to a witness whom the enemy had taken some time before, and who was on board the schooner during the battle, over 25 of the enemy were killed.

When Charles Bradbury wrote about the battle of Cape Porpoise in 1837, he relied heavily on the memories of his older neighbors to piece together the harrowing events of August 8, 1782. Some of his details varied from the contemporary account and he added a personal story. “Samuel Wildes, who was partially deranged” wrote Bradbury “paddled into the harbor in a small canoe and ordered them to give the vessels up and leave the port.” When he refused to board the brig he was fired upon seven times causing him an injury that lamed him for the rest of his life.

Regardless of his mental health, Samuel Wildes, Sr. had a right to be incensed by the enemy. He knew that his 16 year old son, a privateer crewman, had been imprisoned in England for 15 months. What he didn’t know was that Samuel Wildes, Jr. was at that moment two days out of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Benjamin Franklin had negotiated the release of all American prisoners and they were on their way home.

Most of the British forces had already left Penobscot by August 1782 but the loyalists stationed there were infamous for raiding coastal Maine harbor towns for sheep, cattle and coasting vessels laden with badly needed supplies. Most notable was Loyalist, Richard Pomroy and his 16 gun Brig Meriam.

A few weeks after the attack at Cape Porpoise, the Meriam was cut out of her anchor at Penobscot by Captain George Little in his American Navy sloop Winthrop. The Brig Meriam was triumphantly sailed into Boston Harbor on Sept 16, 1782 along with 3 other prizes. Among them were, privateer schooner Hammond commanded by a Penobscot Loyalist named Doty and an unnamed Newbury wood schooner that was a recent prize of the Brig Meriam.

A letter from the Governor, published in the Massachusetts Archives, relates to the success of Little’s six week cruise. It says “I considered that he had most essentially prevented the depredations on that coast by capturing & sending into this Port near the whole of the armed force they possessed at Penobscot.”

Definitive proof that Cape Porpoise was attacked by loyalist brig Meriam and schooner Hammond, has not been found but if the Governor was correct in his assessment of the remaining Penobscot forces the circumstantial evidence is strong.

For sources see

Civil War Chronicle of the Ogunquit built brig “Betsey Ames”

A Confederate Ruse Thwarted
A Confederate Ruse Thwarted

Barak Maxwell was the richest, most influential man in Ogunquit.  Before the American Civil War he was heavily invested in shipbuilding and the rum/molasses trade with Cuba.  In 1855 Maxwell had a 265 ton brig built at his Ogunquit shipyard and named her the “Betsey Ames” in honor of his beloved wife.  Captain Richard C. Bartlett owned a 1/8 share of the Ogunquit brig and furnished her captain’s quarters comfortably enough to entice his wife Hannah to accompany him on many voyages.

Hannah Bartlett was aboard her husband’s vessel on October 17, 1861, when the commissioned Confederate privateer schooner “Sallie” fired 12 pound canon shot in her direction.  The Betsey Ames was carrying a cargo of machinery, apples, onions, cabbages and corn meal from New York to Cardenas, Cuba in spite of the military threat to all merchant vessels during the Civil War.  She also had several passengers onboard including a young Scotsman and his American bride.  The Scotsman recorded the attack for posterity.

He wrote, “About 9 am she fired at us, her shot falling short about a quarter of a mile.  Captain Bartlett then ordered all sail to be made, but the breeze shortly after died away, and the now suspicious schooner made upon us and fired another shot which also fell a little short of our vessel.”  The fourth shot passed alarmingly close to the side of the “Betsey Ames”.  Captain Bartlett realized he could not outrun his opponent and ordered the sails taken in. Henry Lebby, the privateer’s captain, boarded the Ogunquit brig around noon with a motley 7 man prize crew to sail her to Charleston.

They made the South Carolina coast in 6 days but spent another 4 days tacking in circles trying to locate Charleston Harbor.  Finally another crew was sent from Charleston to pilot the prize brig in.  The lady prisoners were detained at a local boarding house and men spent a few hours locked up at the Charleston city jail before being released.

Brig “Betsey Ames” was condemned and sold to John Frazer & Co, a Charleston commercial enterprise.  She was renamed the “Mary Wright” and Henry Lebby was appointed as her master.  On the following March 2, she successfully ran the Union blockade made for Liverpool England, arriving at Liverpool April 2.  Through some covert arrangement with Bushby & Co. of Liverpool the “Betsey Ames”/”Mary Wright” was registered as the British brig “Lilla” on April 24, 1862.

Great Britain was officially neutral in the American Civil War but it was well known to the Union that she secretly supplied the Confederacy through the port of Nassau in the Bahamas, without regard to their blockade.

U. S. gunboat, steamer Quaker City captured the brig “Lilla” off the Bahamas on July 3 1862 and sent her into Boston for investigation.  She was bound for the City of Nassau, loaded with a cargo of saltpeter, copper and 37 packages of medicine.  An Englishman presented himself as her captain but it was later revealed that Henry Lebby of Charleston, SC had acted as her master until the gunboat came into view.

Convoluted paperwork found onboard the Brig “Lilla” was composed to obscure the fact that Charleston parties actually still owned her.  Representatives of the British Busby & Co. could not or would not show evidence that they had ever paid for the vessel and the “Lilla’s” first mate testified in court that the crew’s wages had been paid in advance by Fraser & Co. of Charleston.

The First Circuit Court of the United States finally ruled that Bushby & Co. of Liverpool had tried to deceive the court.  The “Lilla” and her cargo were condemned as a legitimate prize of war.  Claim for the vessel, her tackle, apparel, and furniture was filed July 30, 1862 by Barak Maxwell of Ogunquit on behalf of his interest, that of Richard C Bartlett and the Mercantile Mutual Insurance Company.  The brig “Lilla” was sold by the U. S. Marshalls to a Samuel Knight for $9275.  Proceeds were restored to the Ogunquit parties after the deduction of a salvage fee to be paid to the crew of the gunboat “Quaker City.”

Business at Barak Maxwell’s ship yard had already declined by the beginning of the Civil War.  In 1855, the Betsy Ames was built for about $34/ton.  By 1860 the same size vessel cost more than $65 /ton to build.  Business did not improve after the war and in 1880 Barak Maxwell dismantled his steam saw mill and sold it to James Buffum.  Tourism became the principal industry in Ogunquit as it did in many of the shipbuilding towns on the Maine coast.

The Witches of York County

The Plague of Blind Belief
The Plague of Blind Belief

Wells minister, Rev. George Burroughs was hanged as a witch during the Salem delirium of 1692. A century later, Widow Elizabeth Smith of Arundel was accused of witchcraft at the York County Court of Common Pleas and Sessions in Biddeford.

Rev. Burroughs was probably a hothead and a show off who liked to impress his neighbors with feats of amazing strength. According to testimony at his trial he could lift a molasses barrel with one finger.

George might not have been a perfect husband, either. When his second wife died her funeral expenses went unpaid. As the preacher at Danvers, Massachusetts he was embroiled in a turf war within the Salem religious hierarchy and could not get them to pay his salary. John Putnam, the keeper of the coin at the Danvers church, also allowed him to buy two gallons of rum on account. Burroughs skipped town with a new wife, leaving word that his salary would easily cover the bills he had with Putnam. A debt charge was filed against him in Salem.

Burroughs preached in Portland, Maine until the Indians drove his family south to Wells during King Williams War. They were living in Wells on April 30, 1692, when John Putnam’s 12 year old niece, Ann and George’s former maid, Mercy Lewis, accused the minister of witchcraft. The girls testified that he had appeared to them in a vision and admitted to killing his first two wives. Three constables were sent to Wells to deliver the accused to Salem. Burroughs was confident that the preposterous charges would be dropped once he appeared before Judge Jonathan Corwin who owned considerable acreage and mill rights along the Mousam River. Emerson W. Baker, of Salem State College, proposes a connection between Maine land dealings by the likes of Judge Corwin and the escalation of the Salem witch mania, in his article “Maine, Indian Land Speculation, and the Essex County Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692”

Burroughs offered to show the authorities the shortest route back to Salem through the woods to South Berwick. The constables were apparently compelled by some magic spell to follow his advice. Along the way a lightning storm spooked their horses and caused them to rush through the trees at a high-speed trot. The path they traveled- thenceforth known as Witchtrot Road- eventually led them out of the woods and on to Salem, but the constables were convinced that the minister had caused the storm with witchcraft. They testified to that effect at his trial. Judge Corwin and his brother in-law, Judge Hawthorne found Rev. George Burroughs guilty of witchcraft and he was hanged August 19, 1692.

One hundred and four years later witchcraft hysteria visited the good people of Arundel. John Hilton was walking home one evening when Widow Smith appeared on the road six yards ahead of him. The ox goad he was carrying started slipping through his hand by some power that he decided must be witchcraft. He caught up to the old woman and tried to strike her with the stick. Instead of injuring her he somehow received a violent blow to his own lower back.

John was in a state of insanity when he got home. His father in-law, Eaton Cleaves confined the young man and asked Widow Smith to visit him. While she was in his presence John spoke rationally but as soon as she was gone he was again insensible. The widow, in an effort to make peace, shed her own blood as an antidote to the bewitching but John’s condition did not improve.

Things got really ugly when the women of the family got involved. John’s sister Elizabeth Smith, his wife Sarah and nieces Dolly Smith and Molly Hilton tried to do away with the widow by concocting an incantation of their own involving home grown herbs and some of John’s bodily fluids. When that didn’t kill the old woman they told her “she ought to have been long ago in hell with the damned; that they would let loose the man whom she had bewitched to kill her.”

John Hilton did escape confinement. He violently beat Widow Smith with a stick and almost choked her to death. Nearby, his niece egged him on. “Kill her, Uncle John,” she cried. The witchcraft delusion spread throughout their Cleaves Cove neighborhood causing one house to be entirely demolished.

With this bizarre case before him at the Biddeford court, Justice Wells refused to hear any arguments about magic spells. According to a November 17, 1796 article published in “The Eastern Herald and Gazette of Maine,” he told John Hilton’s family that the difficulties and the dissention in their neighborhood arose from their ignorance, not the poor old woman’s witchcraft. The accusers were convicted of assault and battery. Each was required to pay $100 bond that would be returned to them if they kept peace with the Widow Smith until the following August.

What a difference a century makes. In Salem, it had been the Judges and the religious leaders who fueled the fires of hysteria. The wise Biddeford Judge put a quick end to the Arundel witch hunt by making it clear that accusing someone of witchcraft would be expensive.

The baby of the D. A. R. enlisted at Wells

From Wells to Appomattox, the youngest enlistee
From Wells to Appomattox, the youngest enlistee

On February 18, 1865 John Crediford Brown, Jr., a seventh grader, ran away from home to enlist in the 20th Maine Infantry at Wells.  Hard work at his father’s North Berwick brick making enterprise had developed the boy’s physique but his baby face had not yet sprouted whiskers.  The Wells recruiter had a quota to fill.  He took one look at the 155 lbs of muscle the boy carried on his 5’5” frame and didn’t question John’s claim that he was 18, the minimum age at which it was legal to volunteer.  John was sent to Portland and issued a uniform that very day. 

John C. Brown, Sr., was distraught when he learned of his son’s enlistment.  With a North Berwick Town Official in tow and his 13 year old son’s birth record in his pocket, the senior Brown set off for Portland to confront Colonel Ellis Spear with the facts.  Colonel Spear would not void the enlistment outright but he did approve a 3 day furlough for the boy to sort things out with his family. 

Young John Brown had been 10 years old when the war broke.  The stories of adventure he heard from soldiers returning from the front had lit a fire in him.  He was as strong as they were and certainly able to carry a musket.  After his 17 year old brother George went off to fight, John snuck out of town with 12 other, more mature potential recruits.  He returned home to North Berwick for three days after enlisting but he could not be dissuaded from his intent.  Reluctantly, his father acquiesced.    

The child skirmished at Cedar Creek, Gravelly Run, Boydton Plank Road and Malvern Heights but the battle he remembered best was fought at Five Forks, Virginia on April 1, 1865. John was right in the thick of it as a private in the 20th Maine Infantry, in the army of the Potomac, Fifth Corps, 1st division, 1st battalion, commanded by General Sheridan.  “At 3pm we were formed for a charge, my command being in the third line,” wrote General Sheridan in his battle report.  “In this order we advanced three-quarters of a mile and halted.  General Bartlett ordered me to move my command by the left flank some half a mile; halted and fronted.  Were ordered by him to charge the enemy on his flank, which I immediately did; carried the enemy’s works, capturing a large number of prisoners and the battle flag of the Ninth Virginia Regiment.  After doing this the enemy began to press us hard and we were losing men very fast.” 

It was John’s 14th birthday.  His two tent mates were killed that day and he was wounded in two places; once in the jaw and once in the neck.  Neither injury was life threatening but he proudly wore the scar on his neck for the rest of his life.  The Battle of Five Forks is sometimes referred to as the Waterloo of the Confederacy.  The exhausted Army of Northern Virginia was left cut off from supplies and reinforcements.   On the morning of April 9, 1865 the 20th Maine Infantry was positioned along the edge of a field near the seat of Appomattox County.  A shout rang out from the left and a mounted Confederate Officer emerged from the woods waving a white flag. Everyone understood the meaning of the white flag. 

Several hours later Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met in the parlor of the McLean Home in the village of Appomattox Court House, VA to discuss out the terms of surrender.   John’s heart swelled with pride as he stood watch, less than 100 feet away. 

After the Battle of Five Forks, Brown’s name appeared on a published list of the seriously wounded.  Like the 14 year old that he was John didn’t think to write home.  His father still had not heard from him three weeks later and assumed his son had died from his injuries.  John Brown, Sr. wrote a letter to Colonel Spear requesting that the boy’s body be sent home to Maine.  The colonel replied that the boy would be able to bring his own body home. 

John C. Brown claimed to be the youngest Union volunteer to carry a musket but so did a lot of other veterans.  He was living in Nasonville, RI in 1904 when William Davis of Troy, NY declared himself to the Editor of the Boston Daily Globe, to be the youngest fighting Union soldier.  Brown produced documentation that proved he had been younger than Davis when he enlisted.  It was not the first time he had successfully defended his title.  It’s estimated that 100,000 Union soldiers were actually less than 15 years old when they volunteered to fight in the American Civil War but most of them were musicians. 

After the war John worked for his father until he reached maturity.  He met his first wife Sarah Boss and moved to her native Rhode Island where he spent the rest of his life.  John C. Brown’s 1931 obituary referred to the 80 year old as the baby of the D. A. R.

Meteorological Freak Week 1926

Nature's Onslaught
Nature\’s Onslaught

Something was amiss with the cosmos during the third week of July 1926. The temperature hovered near 100 all up and down the eastern seaboard and as far west as Ohio. All but convicted murderers were released from the stifling prisons in North Carolina where temperatures reached 107. Hundreds slept out in the open on the Boston Common.

Just before sunrise on July 18th a blinding bluish light filled the cloudless Maine sky from Dexter to Saco. The flash was immediately followed by an explosive sound that awakened the whole City of Portland. Professor Charles Hutchins of the Physics Department at Bowdoin College confirmed to the press that a meteor had exploded over the crook in the Androscoggin River.

Hours earlier a 14 year old boy had witnessed the bursting of a large bright light in his grandfather’s Vermont cornfield. On the morning of July 18th he collected a handful of porous meteor fragments layered with quartz that he found lying on top of the plowed earth. Robert Dunklee, the boy’s father, telephoned authorities at the Harvard College Observatory and promised to send the rocks to Cambridge by express mail.

The scientists, who had just received a call from Professor Hutchins at Bowdoin, were puzzled. Meteors did not typically contain quartz. Furthermore, it was way too early in the season for these incidents to be part of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. Seven unexpected fireballs had also been documented the previous November and December. One that exploded over Hornell, NY was reported to be the size of a freight car but no fragments of that celestial body were ever recovered.

At 3pm on the afternoon of July 18th the people of Portsmouth and Kittery observed a huge dusky cloud approaching from the northwest. Within five minutes the worst summer storm in their history was upon them. Vivid lightning struck. Torrential rain flooded the streets. Golf ball sized hail swirled into Portsmouth. Some of the hail was actually tiny stones coated in ice. The stones were smooth, polished white quartz like those one might find on a beach. The nearest beach with all white quartz stones was Rye Beach some 8 miles to the south. Hail that fell on Kittery was strange, too; 5 1/2 inch disks of ice indicating 3 separate freezes inside the cloud.

Terrific wind hurled the rocks and the hail in a circular motion breaking hundreds of windows. Thirty minutes later the storm had lifted leaving destruction in its wake. Farmer’s crops were flattened and some of their cows were dead. Storekeeper’s goods were ruined by the water that poured through broken windows. Banks of frozen rocks and golf ball hail had to be shoveled out of dining rooms. There was not enough glass in Portsmouth to repair 1/3 of the broken windows and it hadn’t even rained in Dover, NH.

Meanwhile, the railroad station at Brockton, MA had been destroyed by lightning. 500 seats at Fenway Park were lifted away from their bolts and deposited by a 100 mile an hour gust of wind into the center of the grandstand, twisted and broken. A 90 foot steeple was blown off the Asbury Methodist Church in Springfield, MA.

The damage was still not completely repaired on July 22, when a great brown cloud appeared high over Portsmouth. This time it came from the Southwest in dirty whirlwinds. Though it lasted but 10 minutes the second storm effected a larger area. A Dover, NH house lost its roof. At Gray Lodge in Kittery, Phyllis Gray was giving a bridge party on her front lawn. One of her guests didn’t have time to get up off the lawn pillow upon which she was lounging. She was rolled 100 feet across the grass. Wind swept through York Beach with a force that picked up men, women and children, swirled them in the air and then dropped them banged and bruised on the sand. Several York Beach cottages were blown from their foundations. The bell tower at The Nubble was blown off its base and moved 4 feet to the edge of a deep cliff. Two lifeboats at the Ogunquit lifesaving station were splintered. Three houses were destroyed at Wells Beach.

In Kennebunkport, author Booth Tarkington had put out in his three-ton motor boat, the Zantu seeking relief from the heat. He was accompanied by his secretary Betty Trotter and Captain Harry Thirkell. When they were near an island 6 miles from shore, a fire started on the boat. Tarkington and Thirkell sustained minor burns extinguishing the fire but that was the least of their problems. The ignition wires had burned through and the craft was disabled. Betty and Captain Thirkell began the long row to shore for assistance leaving Tarkington to guard the anchored Zantu. Just as the dingy was reaching shore, storm clouds darkened the sky. The Zantu was buffeted about until her anchor rope parted. Tarkington, headed out alone into the dark open sea, set paper fires in a bucket to make his vessel more visible. His last scrap of paper was burning when Captain John Peabody finally spotted him and towed him back to shore through convulsing waves.

Temperatures in southern Maine dropped from 104 F before the storm to 72 F immediately after. Freak Week on the east coast resulted in 160 deaths and over $1,000,000 in damages. The sudden storms were called cyclones in 1926 newspapers but in retrospect they were more likely tornados.

Summer Newspapers in the Kennebunks

A Contest of Circulation
A Contest of Circulation

Summer newspapers in the Kennebunks have been published by all kinds of people; a wet-behind-the-ears son of a Kennebunk farmer, a big city dandy who arrived with much fanfare but left town under the cover of darkness and a woman of fortitude who never allowed her gender to be a handicap, to name but a few.

When John Collins Emmons started “The Wave” in 1887 at the tender age of nineteen, he was already an experienced “journalist”. As a reporter for the “Old Orchard Summer Rambler” he had learned that a successful summer resort paper needed to include plenty of name dropping and local gossip. Emmons delivered the hotel registers, train schedules and an occasional stock engraving twice a week. Advertising sales were brisk and by 1892 The Wave was 8 pages long.

Constantine Annis, the superintendent of circulation of “Godey’s Magazine” of New York, arrived in Kennebunkport that summer with a 170 lb Saint Bernard named Kinglimmon. The poor beast, who was reportedly the largest canine born in America, was employed by Annis to advertise the establishment of a new summer paper in the Port called “The Open Sea.” Kinglimmom pulled local children around in a dog cart adorned with a flashy billboard.

The first issue of “The Open Sea” was published in July 1892. Annis boasted that the paper would include half-tone photographs by A. B. Houdlette. Vaughn Island real estate was advertisements covered the back page as they would be for the next three years. Annis wrote in his first editorial, “The Open Sea is a business investment and the Publisher having a pecuniary interest in property within the district is naturally desirous of enhancing its value through the medium of this paper.” The Open Sea, he wrote, “was far better than any other summer paper in town.” Since The Wave was the only other summer paper in Kennebunkport it was a direct affront. Emmons tried to appear unfazed but he did call in question Annis’ self-serving motivations. That summer real photographs appeared in “The Wave” for the first time.

By 1895, the real estate development on Vaughn Island had failed and Con. Annis had lost his winter job at Godey’s Magazine. He started a year-round paper in Kennebunk called “The Kennebunker” taking on “The Eastern Star.” On May 2, 1896, Annis, finding himself overcome with debt, sent letters to all his local creditors apologizing for the fact that he would not be able to pay them back. He left town in the middle of the night, never to return. Emmons gloated in the first 1896 issue of “The Wave,” calling Con. Annis a third rate confidence man. The disgraced dandy fled to Alameda California where in 1913 he started the California branch of the Modern Order of Praetorians, a new fangled life insurance Company. Emmons sold The Wave to Henry Dean Washburn before the 1906 season began. His printing business went to Lester Watson. Emmons was the force behind The Wave and it folded in 1908.

While Con. Annis was trying to stave off his creditors in Kennebunk the former Annie Joyce of Brunswick, Me. was trying to adjust to being a wife and mother. As a child of 7, she had sailed to San Francisco with her father Captain Daniel Joyce and the family later moved to Japan. Annie learned a lot about the world, first hand. When she returned to Brunswick, Maine as a teenager she could not be contented to wait in the parlor for a husband to determine her future. She went to work for the Brunswick Telegraph and learned every aspect of the newspaper business.

Annie did eventually marry Dr. David B Crediford in 1894, whom she had met while he attended Bowdoin medical school. After he was discharged from his job at the Augusta State Hospital for the Insane, amid scandal, David, Annie and their infant son Richard moved to Kennebunk, Me. The marriage was a rocky one. Annie was uncomfortable with her role. Dr. Crediford ran off to California with another woman and Annie was granted a divorce in 1900. To preserve her reputation, she told her Kennebunk neighbors that her husband was dead.

The “Widow” Annie Crediford got to work. At first she was employed at the short-lived Kennebunk newspaper, The Local News. In 1901 Mrs. Crediford started the summer tourist newspaper, The Seaside Echo, which survived The Wave. In 1904 she established The Kennebunk Enterprise in Eastern Star territory. Unlike Star editor, Lester Watson, Annie never hesitated to express an opinion on local matters. Steven Burr reports in his 1995 book “Kennebunk Main Street,” that Annie led the fight for a public sewer system in Kennebunk. In addition to the two newspapers Annie ran a fully equipped job printing company and a wood yard that put out 500 cords of wood a year. By the time her son, Richard Vaughn Crediford reached adolescence, Annie had saved up enough money to take him to meet his father in Rialto, California.

The Seaside Echo went out of print at the beginning of World War I. Richard took over his mother’s printing business and in 1920 she finally retired the Enterprise, but not before earning the deep respect of readers and competitors alike.