Tag Archives: Arundel

North St/Maine St Kennebunkport Village

closeup 1805 Map
1805 changes to what is now known as North St and Maine St Kennebunkport

North St/Maine St  Kennebunkport Village

When North St/Maine St was laid out in 1755 there was already a bridge over Perkins Tide Mill Creek.  It was located just above the mill dam and was then known as the ‘Long Creek Bridge’.

From Arundel Town Book I March 18, 1755 (with spelling corrections made for readability)

“Voted the road from Goff’s Mill so-called to Harding’s Ferry as it is laid out : beg. at the lane that leads from ye Town Road to the Widow Merrill’s house and so down as the road now goes to the dividing line between lots that were formerly Esq. Hill’s lots and Col. Storer’s then S.E. and by E. to Mr. Rhodes field or house and from said Rhodes to the first brook where the road crosses the brook and from said brook on a S. course 42 R to head of Bass Cove and so crossing cove by an old hemlock tree over to a pine stump then S.W. and by S. 100R and then S.W. to Long Creek Bridge and from said bridge along by Mr. Eliphalet Perkins fence to the N.E. end of said fence then on a direct course along by and near ye N.E. corner of the little house where Mr. Shackford Sr. lived and from thence to the back side of Gideon Walker’s barn and so on to Saml Perkins land then down as the old road goes to the old mill brook so-called and 7 R over said brook as the road now is and from there on a S.W. course 32 R to the old road then as the old road goes to the head of Harding’s Cove so on the lower road or way. Road to be 2 Rods wide.”

When that road was expanded and straightened in 1805 a map of the original course and proposed changes was filed with the York County Court of Sessions.  See full 1805 Sessions Record below.Full 1805 Map Page

Narrative from York County Court of General Session Records

Full 1805 Map Narrative Page

Arundel sloop Polly slips away from the enemy

False loyalty wins escape

Kennebunkport was attacked by enemy vessels near the very end of the Revolutionary War. The story of the Arundel Militia adroitly overcoming the British in the 1782 Battle of Cape Porpoise has often been told with pride. But Kennebunkport was deeply embroiled in the war from the very beginning. Another Cape Porpoise incident that occurred just a few weeks after the first military engagement of the war has received far less attention from local historians.

The Arundel-owned coasting sloop Polly sailed from Ephraim Perkins’ wharf at what is today Dock Square on May 13, 1775. Her cargo was delivered to Plymouth, Mass. where she was loaded up again for the return trip. She set sail for Arundel on May 15, but a cutter of His Majesty’s Naval Forces would alter her course that day.

Boston was under British control at the time. Learning that the colonists had gathered an arsenal at Concord, Mass., British Military Governor, General Thomas Gage had ordered 700 soldiers to destroy the weapons depot. Admiral Samuel Graves had ferried the British soldiers across the Charles River sparking the Battle at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. When the sloop Polly sailed from Plymouth less than a month later, both British military men were stationed in Boston.

On her way home, the Polly was seized by one of Admiral Grave’s cutters, forced into Boston Harbor and into the custody of General Gage. The Polly’s cargo was immediately confiscated by Gage’s men, though top dollar was paid to the captain for them. The Polly and her crew were “detained” in Boston for some time. To escape the clutches of the British Navy, the captain of the Polly cleverly pretended loyalty to the crown, agreeing to sail to Nova Scotia to pick up supplies for the forces at Boston.

There was some confusion in preserved documents whether Ephraim Perkins captained on this voyage or if Samuel Smith of Arundel had been at the tiller. A contract to charter the Polly was drawn up between Perkins as owner and master of the said 88-ton vessel and Major William Sherriff, the King’s Deputy Quartermaster. The contract read in part, “The Above said Majr Wm Sherriff, Doth promise to pay to the said Perkins for the Run or Voyage of said Vessell, One Hundred and Eighty Dollars.”

Captain Samuel Smith testified before the Massachusetts Provincial Congress at Watertown on June 9, 1775 that as captain he had been solicited by Admiral Graves’ Secretary to enter into His Majesty’s Service. “Knowing no other way wherein I Could Possibly make my escape I entered into service to go to Winsor in Nova Scotia for hay & other things.”

Loyalists Josiah Jones and Jonathan Hicks were put onboard the Polly as supercargo to look out for His Majesty’s interests just in case the mariners had been less than honest about their allegiance. The captain was to take orders from Jones who carried with him a packet of letters, orders, and other papers that were later published in Baxter Manuscripts of the Maine Historical Society.

According to his testimony, Captain Smith received orders not to leave for Nova Scotia immediately but to wait to sail in a convoy of a number of vessels the following morning at ten o’clock. Supercargo Jones was apparently not aware of that order because when Captain Smith suggested they get an early start that night, Jones agreed.

Jones was apparently also not familiar with features of the Maine coast. He did not realize that Capt. Smith had opportunistically set a course for Cape Porpoise Harbor under the cover of darkness. Along the way, Jones ordered Capt. Smith to clean and prepare the firearms that had been placed onboard in Boston to defend the charter from the “Rebels who might attack them on their passage.” As it turned out, the rebels to fear were already onboard the Polly.

She arrived at Cape Porpoise Harbor on June 2. The loyalists, their papers and their arms were immediately turned over to the Arundel Committee of  Correspondance to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, namely, Benjamin Durell, Jonathan Stone, Thomas Wiswall, John Hovey, a notorious Whig, and James Burnham, who later became the only American casualty of the Battle of Cape Porpoise. A letter to the Provincial Congress was drafted by the committee. While they awaited a response, Jonathan Hicks and Josiah Jones were confined at Arundel.

A week later, master and mate were sent with their prisoners to Watertown, in the Polly, to be examined by the Provincial Congress. After various depositions from June 8 through June 10, Jones and Hicks were delivered to the Concord jail where they remained for several months. The Arundel Committee received special thanks from the Provincial Congress for their clever handling of the whole affair.

Loyalist Jones had a sister, Mary Dunbar, living in Concord while Josiah was imprisoned there. According to the journals of Mary’s grandson, Henry David Thoreau, she helped the prisoners escape by bringing them baskets of food in which files were concealed.

Sagamore Doney’s Kennebunk River Warriors

The Price of Encroachment

There were just a few Saco Indian families living on the banks of the Kennebunk River after the King Phillips War. Some of their lodges and shell middens were located in what is now Arundel — at a turn in the river near the head of the tide.

The Treaty of Casco, which recognized Indian rights to their land, brought King Phillip’s War to a close in 1678. The English were required to pay each resident Indian family an annual quantity of corn in exchange for use of their ancestral territory. The Indians believed the treaty also gave them exclusive rights to fish the rivers.

Relations between the English and the Indians grew increasingly strained when the English repeatedly broke all the terms of the Treaty of Casco. Not only did they ignore their debt of corn to the Indian families, but they also fished the Saco River with nets near its mouth, thereby preventing any fish from ever reaching the Indian village upriver.

The treaty violation that most infuriated the Indians was the granting and patenting of their lands by the English. Cotton Mather reported in his Magnalia Christi Americana that the Indians had threatened to knock any surveyor on the head if he came to their lands to lay out lots.

The Town of Cape Porpus granted many Kennebunk River lots in April of 1681. One of those granted Joseph and Edmund Littlefield and Nicholas Cole the right to build mills between Goff’s Brook and Durrell’s Bridge. According to Charles Bradbury in his “History of Kennebunkport,” their plans were abandoned when upstream neighbors objected to a dam at that location.

One month later, Wane Doney, Sagamore of Kennebunk, deeded the mill men another piece of land way upstream, above the Indian lodges, where Route 1 now crosses the Kennebunk River. His oldest son, Robert (Robin) Doney witnessed this instrument, which is still in the manuscript collection of the Boston Public Library.

John Batson and John Barrett of Cape Porpus built a new sawmill in 1682. This was problematic for the Indians as well. Dams prevented fish from swimming upstream to spawn and sawmill refuse coated the spawning grounds with an impenetrable sawdust paste. The Indians complained that fish populations were suffering and that sawmills were “soyling their fishing.” The same John Batson and John Barrett, along with Lt. Purington, petitioned Gov. Danforth for the right to grant Cape Porpus land in 1684.

John Batson was found downed under his mill wheel in 1685. Circumstances surrounding his death were suspicious enough to warrant an inquest, which his partner John Barrett attended, but no conclusions of wrongdoing were filed. The incident has remained a mystery to local historians.

English cattle were allowed to wander free through Indian cornfields in Saco after repeated complaints. Every source of food the Indians had was threatened. They were angry and vocal about the total disregard for the terms of the Treaty of Casco. Threats were made. Some wandering English cows were killed.

As a precaution, in September 1688, Justice of the Peace Benjamin Blackman of Saco gathered up 16 to 20 Indians who had been leaders against the English during King Phillips War. Among them were the Hegens of Saco, and the Doney’s of Kennebunk. The prisoners were sent to Boston and their brethren began rounding up English hostages to exchange for the prisoners.

A month later, letters were sent to and from Gov. Andros notifying him that “ye 11th instant one man was found killed by Indians to ye Eastward att Cape Porpus & severall others missing who are feared to be lost.” Cotton Mather makes note of the incident writing that two Cape Porpus families named Bussy and Barrow had been cut off by the Indians.

Simon Bussie, who had been granted the Kennebunk River lot adjacent to the Indian lodges, was killed or carried away. No Barrow family is found in Cape Porpus records, but it’s possible Mather was actually referring to the Barrett family. Mill man, John Barrett Sr., and two of his sons had also been killed or carried away by Indians in the fall of 1688.

John Barrett Jr. was killed the following spring when Indians “known to them” attacked the fort in Cape Porpoise Harbor. The Stage Island Fort was commanded by grantor-of-lots, Lt. John Purington, who had chosen to build his own Kennebunk riverfront home at the Indian lodges. On the same day in April of 1689, the house of Nicholas Morey, who owned a mill at Mast Cove, was burned by the Indians.

During King William’s War, which by now was in full swing, a map indicating English forts and Indian camps was drawn by William Pitkin and Benjamin Church. This map, held in the manuscript collection at Maine Historical Society, says Doney had 8 warriors at Kennebunk and Hegens had 9 warriors in Saco. No warriors were indicated at Wells.

Indians didn’t kill or capture people indiscriminately in the early wars. They targeted those who had provoked them. Mills were burned and mill men were frequently targeted because they jeopardized one of the sources of food available to the Indians. Broken treaties and unauthorized use of Indian land could also antagonize the original inhabitants.

Phillip Durrell, whose double victimization by the Indians seemed uncommonly cruel, was in fact in possession of the Indian lodges lot both times the Indians attacked his family.

The remains of at least one Indian lodge can still be seen resting precariously close to the encroaching Kennebunk River. Les Welch, who owns the Arundel property now, would like to see what remains of the Indian lodge protected before it’s too late.

“Finding the  Almouchiquios,”  by Emerson W. Baker of Salem State College was one very interesting and helpful source for this article. Other sources were, writings of Cotton Mather, Kennebunkport Town Book, Ruth Landon’s deed research preserved by the Kennebunkport Historical Society, History of Kennebunkport by Charles Bradbury, Ancient History of Kennebunk by Edward E. Bourne, Sketch of an old River by William Barry (Edited by Joyce Butler)

Wiswall family of Arundel survived shocking occurance in 1786

A lightning strike for the annals

A bolt of lightning nearly destroyed the home of Thomas Wiswall in 1786, knocking his family temporarily insensible.

Thomas Wiswall had arrived in Cape Porpoise from Newton, Mass. in 1752. Two years later he purchased a blockhouse that was built by Rowlandson Bond in 1743 and moved his family to the banks of the Kennebunk River. There were only nine buildings in the Kennebunkport Village area between Lock Street and South Street in 1786. Wiswall’s blockhouse stood at what is now the corner of Union Street and Ocean Avenue.

His wharf was the first one built on the eastern side of the Kennebunk River and from it he engaged in fishing, coasting and lumbering. Wiswall’s sloop was the first from Arundel to sail to the West Indies, though that first voyage was a financial failure. Most of the cattle that was on deck as cargo fell into the ocean within hours of being loaded onto the vessel. Wiswall persevered with West Indies trade and by 1764 he was one of the wealthiest citizens of Arundel.

Slavery was tolerated in Massachusetts until the Revolutionary War. One of the five slaves listed in the 1764 census of Arundel, a West Indiesman, belonged to the Wiswall family. Though Bradbury writes in his “History of Kennebunkport” that the last two slaves in Arundel died in the poorhouse shortly before 1837, there were West Indiesmen listed as servants in Kennebunkport households as late as 1860.

During the American Revolution, Wiswall was an inspector for the war effort in Arundel. His two cannons were the ones used in the Battle of Cape Porpoise in 1782. (See Cape Porpoise in the American Revolution at www.someoldnews.com.)

Reports of the lightning strike in Arundel appeared for months in newspapers from South Carolina to Boston and New York. The home of Thomas Wiswall, who had previously been referred to in Boston papers as “Innholder of Arundel,” was struck on the evening of June 8, 1786.

His 20 x 25 foot main house had two stories and a garret. An attached one-story el contained the kitchen and a dairy or milk-room. The only chimney passed through the roof at the end of the house nearest the kitchen.

Lighting struck the chimney, de-nailing all the roof boards around it. Iron curtain rods sitting on the attic floor near the chimney directed electricity into the closet of a bedchamber directly below. Wiswall’s gun was leaning in the corner of that closet wrapped in woolen cloth. The stock of the gun broke away from the barrel and the muzzle was instantly melted, setting the woolen cloth case on fire.

Five people were in the house at the time. All of them were in the kitchen except one daughter who was working in the milk-room. All were knocked insensible. When they came around a few minutes later, none could recall the shocking event, though its results were immediately evident.

Every room was affected. The breastwork over every fireplace in the house was torn apart and every window in the house was broken except one that had been left open. Details of the damages were conveyed in an article in the Massachusetts Gazette on July 10, 1786.

“The frame and sashes of one of the kitchen windows, against which a young man was leaning his arm, together with 4 feet of the plate above, were thrown into the yard before the house. In the milk-room, all the shelves were removed from their supporters, and every earthen milk-vessel broken to pieces, out of one of which a daughter was lading milk into a pewter vessel in her hand. In the same room a cheese-tub was overset, and the cheese in a pickle thrown to the other side of the room. The glass bottles, in several cases in the chamber were broken. Four doors in the house were unhinged. The cellar door was burst open, and a dog was found dead in the cellar.”

The Wiswall family regained their senses just in time to extinguish the fire in the bedchamber closet, which had by then, communicated from the gun case to the light clothing hanging above it.

The incident is probably what inspired Thomas Wiswall to start building a new home for his family next door in 1786. The elegant new house, which still stands on Union Street and now houses Ben & Jerry’s, was finished in 1789.

The old blockhouse, a little worse for the wear, was sold to Nathan Morse but was torn down in about 1807. Its cellar hole was still visible across from Silas Perkins’ store in 1837 when Bradbury wrote his “History of Kennebunkport.”

A Kennebunkport man for all seasons

James A. Benson had a taste for variety

When studying family history, one often finds a character whose experiences earn him the label of family adventurer. The Benson family history is full of strong men and women, but only the mostly documented story of the life of James A. Benson, born in Kennebunkport on Dec. 4, 1840, reads like historical fiction.

Uncle Jim, as family members still refer to him, was reportedly fearless, even as a boy. He starred in a plethora of Benson-family legends beginning in his teenage years. One such legend, submitted to a local paper for publication by Melvin Landon many Halloweens ago, painted a vivid picture of Jim’s youthful bravado. After his chores were done, Jim would walk down to the Port to go see the girl he was smitten with — a girl who was at the time being courted by several young men. She lived alongside the cemetery and Jim was in the habit of cutting through to save time.

One night, after seeing Jim cross the cemetery, one of his frustrated rivals hatched a sinister plan to scare Benson off. He dug a grave right in the middle of the path he knew Jim would traverse again later that night. After sweet goodbyes were uttered, Jim took off light-footed into the night. Before a moment had passed, the ground opened up under our hero, plunging him into the freshly dug grave. Just then his rival jumped out of hiding wrapped in a sheet and in his spookiest voice chanted, “What are you doing in my grave?” Jim reached up, grabbed the ghost by the ankles, pulled him in and scrambled out. “What the hell are you doing out of your grave?” roared Jim, as he shoveled dirt onto his stunned opponent. Like most spooky graveyard tales, this one cannot be verified, but if anyone ever lived such an adventure it might well have been James Benson.

Uncle Jim volunteered, at the age of 20, to serve in the Civil War. He was sent to Fortress Monroe in Hampton, Va. He was working there as a teamster in 1861 when Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler refused to obey the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and offered Union Army Teamster jobs to many fugitive Virginia slaves.

Letters addressed to Jim at Fortress Monroe from his father in Kennebunkport have been preserved by his descendants. In them and in the regimental records we learn that after his first term as a teamster expired, Benson enlisted in Company D of the 27th Maine Regiment on Sept. 30, 1862.

Enlistment in the 27th Maine was intended to be a nine-month commitment, but as Jim’s relatively uneventful second term of service was coming to an end, President Abraham Lincoln asked members of the regiment to volunteer for an extra week of active service to defend Washington from Robert E. Lee’s army, which had recently invaded Pennsylvania. Less than half of the soldiers volunteered to stay on and the ones that did were promised the Medal of Honor.

By some bureaucratic mix-up, medals were prepared for the entire regiment and many of the medals were distributed before the mistake was discovered. The rest were later stolen from Col. Mark Wentworth’s barn, where they were being stored. In 1917, Congress ruled that only those 27th Maine soldiers who had served the extra week were eligible for the Medal of Honor. James A. Benson must not have been one of them because his name appeared on the list of soldiers whose medals were revoked.

After the war Uncle Jim travelled out west to find his next adventure. He married Irish-born Margaret Kelley in Oregon, but by the time the 1870 census was taken, Jim and Margaret were living in San Francisco, Calif. He listed his occupation as drayman; a drayman was a driver of horse or mule teams that delivered goods and supplies.

Uncle Jim’s descendants still own the whip that he is said to have handled with great skill. On one of his trips home to Kennebunkport, Jim wanted to demonstrate that skill for his family. While his aunt scolded him for wasting her time he shredded her apron with the snapping tip of his driving whip. The Bensons returned to California and by 1880 Jim was a San Francisco policeman.

He was also employed for a while as a dog sled driver in Canada. Family legend says that Benson found himself in dire straights one night having frozen several toes while he was out on a sled run. Rather than let gangrene invade his foot, he instructed a friend to cut off the discolored toes with a knife after he had consumed enough whiskey to render himself unconscious.

Sure enough, records from the Togus Maine Disabled Soldiers Home, where Uncle Jim passed away in 1907 after a thrilling 67 years, indicate he was missing three toes on his left foot and one toe on his right.

Many thanks to Frank Landon for his Benson family records. Like his mother, Ruth Landon, did before him, Frank devotes immeasurable personal time to preserving the history of Arundel and Kennebunkport.

Town House Junction Haunted in 1921

A Mysterious Visitation
A Mysterious Visitation

Arthur Harriman was just settling in for his nightshift at the Town House Junction car barn one autumn night in 1921, when a blood-curdling scream jolted him to his feet. His wife Elizabeth had begged him not to work nights. Now the sound of her terror set him running as fast as he could to the house they shared across the street, midway between the Farmers Club and Town Hall in North Kennebunkport.

For about a year, the Harriman family had rented the lead color house with yellow trim from Benjamin Drown. Part of the building that is now known as Wink’s Place had been moved to that location in 1902 to make way for Atlantic Shoreline Trolley business. Things seemed perfectly normal until mid-August when Arthur took the night watchman’s position for the Railway Company. Every night that Arthur had to work, Mrs. Harriman complained of hearing a rhythmic rap-rap-rapping in the walls of the bedchamber she shared with her fourteen year old daughter Florence. Arthur feared his wife had become prone to hysterics. Florence, on the other hand, had never seemed more serene.

But on this September night, when Arthur opened the door, it looked as if a cyclone had torn through his house; curtains on a closed window were flapping, two chairs were upset, a large piece of plaster had fallen from the wall, a washstand had been toppled and all the articles on it were scattered about the room. Arthur’s co-workers, Al Potter and Everett Higgins, caught up with him just in time to see the rug on the floor wriggle and squirm as if some creature was trapped beneath it. The mistress of the house was inconsolable. Her daughter was seemingly unimpressed by the extraordinary events of the evening.

The men were convinced that some animal had been trapped in the walls and had escaped when the plaster fell.  Just then the rap-rap-rapping resumed and Harriman had to stop an unnerved Mr. Higgins from striking his wall with an ax. Arthur set up beds for his wife and daughter in a disabled trolley car in the barn but no sooner had they snuggled in, that the rap-rap-rapping commenced on the trolley car walls. Harriman brought his family into the rotary room for a few hours but nobody slept a wink that night.

The next morning Elizabeth Harriman took her daughter to stay with her sister, Mrs. Everett Rowe, who lived on Brown Street in Kennebunk, and Arthur notified the railway that for the sake of his wife’s sanity, he would have to resign his position as night watchman.

That night, while Florence was lying in bed at her aunt’s house, her nightgown was suddenly ripped from her body and large chunks of her mattress were torn out, as if by a steel claw. The little girl was taken into another room and a skeptical Mr. Mark Broadbent of Lowell, who was visiting the Rowes, volunteered to sleep in her room to watch over her. As he put his head down on the pillow it was whisked from under his head and the bed sheet was torn to pieces by some unseen force. Mr. Broadbent fled the room. Florence calmly followed her “protector” into the kitchen where her mother and aunt were huddled in fear. The girl gently patted her aunt’s shoulder as if to console her and the woman’s apron ripped in pieces, even though nothing but Florence’s gentle caress had come anywhere near her. Minutes after the child was made comfortable on the living room sofa and covered for warmth by an adult overcoat, the lining of the coat was shredded.

The following day, word was received that another of Mrs. Harriman’s sisters who had lived in Rochester, NH, passed away unexpectedly at midnight, the very same hour that Mrs. Rowe’s Kennebunk home had been so disrupted.

Somehow, a reporter for the Biddeford Journal got word of the mysterious events in the Kennebunks and after he published his first report on September 16, 1921, reporters came from as far away as and Boston and New York to get the scoop. A medium from Portland, whose name was not revealed, spoke to the girl for several hours and admitted to being completely baffled by the case. Florence’s demeanor had been perfectly normal since the death of her aunt but a spooked Mrs. Rowe insisted the Harrimans moved back to Town House Junction after the funeral. It was concluded that the haunting had been a forewarning of the woman’s untimely death.

All was quiet for a few weeks but eventually the strange visitor returned to the Harriman house in North Kennebunkport and continued to visit until late November. It was reported in the Biddeford Journal that local celebrities had taken an interest. Authors, Margaret Deland and Booth Tarkington each interviewed Arthur Harriman many times. Perhaps coincidentally, Tarkington published his one-act play, The Ghost Story, the following year.

“Frank Parsons, a member of the prominent New York family of that name which spends a good part of the year at Parson’s Beach,” wrote the correspondent from Biddeford, “is quietly investigating and trying to satisfy himself that the strange happenings at the Harriman home are due to natural causes.” A government specialist in Post Traumatic Stress or Veteran’s Shell Shock as it was called after World War I, stepped forward and offered to help cure Florence, whom he was convinced was suffering from the disorder.

When a reporter from the Lewiston Journal knocked on the Harriman’s door a cheerful Arthur let him in. He led him into the kitchen where young Florence was playing with her new Scotch Collie puppy. Arthur hemmed and hawed for a few minutes before informing the reporter that he would require a $5 stipend to tell his story. When the reporter objected he was shown the door but not before he was indignantly informed that the New York and Boston papers had happily paid $25. The Lewiston reporter wrote a rather sarcastic account of his visit to the Kennebunks and soon after, the haunting stopped without further explanation.

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 www.mykennebunks.com/revolution.htm

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.

Priest Shoots Photographer Out of North Kennebunkport Sky

Al Mingalone 1937
Al Mingalone 1937

Al Mingalone, Paramount Newsreel Cameraman of Pelham Manor, NY was given a risky assignment on September 28, 1937.  He was to film Old Orchard Beach Country Club golfers while dangling from a cluster of 28 four-foot hydrogen-filled balloons tethered to an automobile bumper.

In an article Mingalone wrote for Yankee Magazine in 1986, he explained his acceptance of this dangerous assignment.  “In my job I covered pilots, acrobats, soldiers and athletes.  I once rode on the back of a motorcycle to film a bicycle race; I straddled a periscope in the open ocean to film a submarine going under. This time my boss thought it would make a great story if I balloon jumped and filmed from the air while another

Camera man filmed me from the ground. I was making $75 per week, and he offered me a $50 bonus; with a wife and four kids to support, I couldn’t turn him down.” 

Father James J. Mullen of St. Margaret’s Church in Old Orchard Beach blessed the balloons before the experiment began.

Two rolls of film were already in the can when Mingalone decided he needed a slightly higher filming position. Two balloons were added.  As soon as the cluster of balloons was released Mingalone shot upward. The 100-foot safety line, his only connection to mother earth, held for a moment and then snapped. Locker-boy Thomas Bowman chased the escaping clothesline into a potato field across the road. The line was all but in the boy’s grasp when he stumbled.  The cameraman floated away in a strong northeast wind.

Mingalone rose 2,500 feet into a rain cloud. Al’s partner, Phil Coolidge and Father Mullen jumped into an automobile and followed Mingalone toward Saco. Two miles later they spotted the drenched cameraman descending to 600 feet from the added weight of his soaking wet sweater.  Father Mullen, who just happened to be a sharpshooter, grabbed the rifle Paramount had supplied for just such an emergency and fired off two shots at the balloons. His first shot missed but the second punctured two of the hydrogen bags. Much to the holy man’s relief Mingalone started to sink earthward.

While the men on the ground were doing their part to rescue the photographer, he was formulating an ill-conceived plan of his own. With scissors in his teeth he began to climb the 15 feet up his harness ropes to the ring that held all the balloons. His intention was to cut a few balloons free to speed his descent but when he had almost reached the ring his hands went numb from the cold causing him to drop his 12-pound Bell and Howell Camera.  Loss of the ballast sent him upward again only this time he was hopelessly tangled in his harness ropes. 

Father Mullen and Phil Coolidge had lost sight of Mingalone. Sirens wailed, spectators speculated, York County was abuzz. Finally someone in the crowd spotted Al floating at 200 feet over the Alfred Road in North Kennebunkport. Father Mullen jumped out of his car, dropped to one knee and fired the shot that brought the cameraman gently back to earth.

He landed in George Goulet’s cornfield on the Limerick Road near what is now Clearview Estates. About an hour after his harrowing 13-mile flight began the Goulet brothers pounced on Al Minalone in a thistle patch to keep him earthbound while they cut him out of the harness.

Uninjured and apparently unfazed by his aerial stunt Mingalone returned that evening to Old Orchard Country Club for a round of bridge with Father Mullen.  The story was covered by newspapers nationwide. 

1937 was a big year for Mingalone.  He had filmed the Hindenburg disaster in May.  It was the footage he took while aloft in Maine that won him a National Headliners Club Award on July 10, 1938. 

Mingalone had been one of Paramount News’s premier newsreel cameramen since 1928. He documented history for the short films played before every movie in theatres throughout the country until television made the newsreel redundant. 

Al mingalone photosAs a celebrity, he posed for several Camel Cigarette ads in the 1930s claiming that he grabbed his meals as they came.  “Getting the picture always comes first! With Camel’s help my digestion always stands up under the strain. I smoke Camels right around the clock – they don’t jangle my nerves, irritate my throat or tire my taste.” 

 Al covered many political campaigns during his career. Truman was his favorite president.  “He was one of the best guys to be with,” Mingalone once said. “He talked like you and me and called a spade a spade.”  Albert Mingalone died in Hackensack, NJ in 1991.

 Mingalone’s 35mm footage remains in varying states of preservation and is owned by SPPN Images Inc. in California; the world’s largest private film library. The entire Paramount Newsreel collection is being digitized.  Award winning reel 6519, which includes Mingalone’s balloon ride to North Kennebunkport and an interview with the flying photographer will certainly be on my YouTube.com watch list.     See http://www.mykennebunks.someoldnews.com/mingalone.htm