Mabel & Richard Boothby-Kennebunk Beach Pioneers

Mabel Littlefield, Skipper, Merchant, Character
Mabel Littlefield, Skipper, Merchant, Character

Mabel Littlefield was born into a Wells family of means in 1702. Her mannerisms were not delicate like her sister’s and her plain appearance was not much improved by an extraordinary fondness for jewelry. But she had the courage and adventurous character of a pioneer.

Peers mocked young Mabel’s looks, incessantly. They assured her that no amount of glittery adornment would ever disguise her obvious unsuitability for marriage. In defense of her dignity Mabel always replied that her jewelry was not worn to please anyone but herself. That was usually followed by a declaration that she intended to marry the handsomest man any of them would ever know.

For a while, it seemed like the hurtful taunts Mabel tried to dismiss might come true. Most of her peers were married and having children by by 1722. Her younger brothers, Peletiah and Jonathan, took to the sea as soon as they came of age, just as they were expected to do, first on their father’s coasting vessels and later on their own. But what was the proud but husbandless Mabel expected to do? Discard her jewels and submit to a lonely, purposeless existence.

Instead, Miss Littlefield learned to sail. She took command of one of her father’s sloops and transported lumber, fish and other merchandise to Boston, returning to Wells with goods for her father’s store. Neither her appearance nor her jewelry was a hindrance at sea. After a few years, her expert seamanship and an innate business sense had earned her a sizable dowry in her own name. When an exceptionally handsome Irishman named Richard Boothby moved to Wells Mabel won him over with her ample endowment of character, intelligence and property.

The couple married in Newington, NH, when Mabel was 28 years old; well past the age of hopeless spinsterhood in 1730. They moved to Richard’s land near what would come to be known as Boothby Beach. Like his wife Mabel, Richard Boothby was proud. Though others referred to him as a tanner and a shoemaker, he always made the distinction of calling himself a “cordwainer” in deeds and official documents. Cordwainers used new hides to make high quality shoes and considered their craft far and away more respectable than that of a lowly cobbler.

The Boothbys became citizens of the newly settled part of Wells called Kennebunk when most of it was wilderness and Indian attacks were still an ever-present threat. In 1746, Richard Boothby and his neighbors petitioned the Wells parish to allow them to be set off as a separate parish they would share with residents of Arundel that lived near the eastern side of Kennebunk River. Arundel, as Kennebunkport was then called, had its own jurisdictional issues. The only church in town was in Cape Porpoise. Those living near the Kennebunk River had a long way to travel for worship. The petition was at first ignored but residents of the Kennebunk district of Wells persisted and a parish was finally established at Kennebunk Landing on March 14, 1751.

Arundel inhabitants living near the River sometimes took communion at the new Kennebunk Meeting House even though it was not officially their parish. Richard and Mabel Boothby were highly indignant that such informal attendance should be permitted. Daniel Remich wrote in his History of Kennebunk, “They looked upon it as presumptuous, and a great offense, and were unwilling to countenance such aberration from duty by communing with them.” The Boothbys refused to attend the church they had fought so hard to establish.

Once Richard and Mabel were assured that they would no longer be required to break bread with people from Arundel they renewed their membership in the church. Perhaps they were influenced to return by the loss of five of their children during the 1754 throat distemper epidemic in Kennebunk.  When the building of a new church was proposed in 1767 Richard Boothby was one of the few who opposed it. For one reason or another, the new church building was not completed until after both Richard and Mabel had passed.

Richard Boothby died in Jan 2, 1782.   His funeral was every bit as elaborate as his wealthy father in-law, Jonathan Littlefield’s had been though the Boothbys were much less able to afford such extravagance. Special black gloves were ordered from Boston for the ladies and the pall bearers along with yards and yards of fabric and ribbon. Proud Mabel lived to be 96 years old.

Pioneers Mabel and Richard Boothby were progenitors of a large and estimable Kennebunk family. Author Kenneth Roberts found Mabel’s story so compelling he used her as a character in his historical fiction.

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