Tag Archives: Cape Porpoise

Condition of Goat Island light and dwelling in 1842

Alarmed by the increase in annual maintenance costs for lighthouses and associated dwellings, the Treasury Department appointed Civil Engineer, I.W.P Lewis to conduct a survey of the condition of the lighthouses on the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.  The Treasury Department presented a report on the progress of the survey to date to Congress on February 25, 1843. Mr. Lewis had concluded that the skyrocketing maintenance cost indicated some defect in the customary system of building lighthouses and associated dwellings. He traveled to all the lighthouses along the coast and took reports from the various lighthouse Keepers. Below is the report for Cape Porpoise, Maine. Goat Island Lighthouse keeper, Thatcher Hutchins was interviewed August 15, 1842. He reported the buildings to be in a deplorable state of disrepair less than a decade after they were first erected.

Condition and description of house and towerCondition and description of house and tower 2

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.

The Kennebunk Racket

A Popular Violation

“NATIONAL PROHIBITION BECOMES EFFECTIVE AT MIDNIGHT TONIGHT!” screamed newspaper headlines across the United States on Jan. 16, 1920. Maine had been dry since 1851 and the Kennebunks since 1833 but a federal law against liquor caused crime rates to skyrocket.

Enforcement of the Maine Liquor Law had been intermittent at best. Federal Prohibition made smuggling alcohol by land and by sea far more profitable. Seth May of Auburn was appointed Maine’s Federal Prohibition Director. The unorthodox methods he employed to gain compliance from incarcerated informants invited corruption in county and local law enforcement.

In 1926, May’s methods were scrutinized during a corruption case against the sheriff of Kennebec County. Testimony revealed that the feds had allowed a large shipment of alcohol from a known Massachusetts bootlegger to be delivered to inmates of the Kennebec County Jail. They looked the other way with regard to gambling among the inmates. Women, who would later report relevant conversations to the feds, were procured for “private visitation” with informants.

Meanwhile, local law enforcement officials were expected to use all the resources at their disposal to arrest every tipsy teenage flapper doing the Charleston at the summer beach resorts. Tensions grew. Corruption spread.

On July 18, 1930, the following notice appeared in the Biddeford Weekly Journal.

“A Kennebunk Traffic Officer, who from his post of directing motorists, allegedly acted as a go-between for bootleggers and their customers, was held on a charge of violating the federal prohibition law when arraigned before U.S. Commissioner George O. Gould at Portland Wednesday.”

Officer Thomas F. Nadeau and Edward Brown, both of Kennebunk, were caught red-handed delivering a gallon of whiskey to undercover federal prohibition agents who had been posing as summer visitors at Kennebunk Beach. Also arrested were James McBride, Howard O. Hatt and George F. Clough. Edward Brown and James C. McBride were employees of the Kennebunk municipal lighting plant, where it was alleged, the liquor was being stored.

It was reported in the Biddeford Journal that Seth May had moved his men in to break up a longstanding conspiracy he called the “Racket of Kennebunk Square.”

“Federal Prohibition Director Seth May of Auburn, believes that he has broken up one of the rum rings operating at Kennebunk Beach, Kennebunkport and vicinity among the summer visitors with the arrest of the five men there Tuesday night. Director May considers that the arrest of George F. Clough, a summer resident of Kennebunkport, who he terms ‘a high hat bootlegger delivering the best that could be procured,’ to be highly important in breaking up the rum-running to the summer people at that point. Clough has been arrested by deputies on liquor charges in the past and spent six months in a Rhode Island jail for a similar offense last year. He is one of the ‘boys’ referred to on the golf links who could tell where he could buy ‘It,’ which is the high hat way of referring to liquor among the elite of the summer colony.”

May suspected that the Kennebunk ring was also responsible for the liquor supply at Wells, Ogunquit and York beaches, where canvassers made daily rounds to take orders and liquor would be delivered the same evening.

Residents of Kennebunk anonymously told the Journal reporter that most of the supply has been coming in by water through Cape Porpoise and through Fortunes Rocks and Biddeford Pool. One resident who claimed to have known the operations of the ring for some time, stated that an airplane had also been used when the water routes were too closely guarded but mostly the supply was delivered by speedboats.

Three men renting the Reid cottage near the mouth of the Saco River had been arraigned for conspiracy the previous November. Their confiscated code book contained characters and messages which indicated the place was being used as a satellite base for a large band of rum-runners out of Gun Point at Harpswell. Schooners full of European liquor were unloaded at Ragged Island. From there speedboats took the liquor in and out of  Maine coastal resort harbors delivering to go-betweens onshore. The Gun Point operation was thought to be part of an even larger crime syndicate delivering prohibited liquor all up and down the east coast of the United States.

When former Liquor Czar of the Boston Police Department Oliver B. Barrett, was on the lamb in 1930 to avoid charges that he extorted protection money from Boston hotels, Maine Prohibition Director Seth May speculated that he was the secret kingpin of the Harpswell/Saco/Kennebunk Racket. Though Barrett served time for his Boston shenanigans, no connection to the Maine Liquor Racket was ever proven.

The illegal liquor trade in Maine may seem tame in comparison to the organized crime that sprang out of Prohibition in the big cities, but there was plenty of excitement here. Seth May’s men charged with protecting his cache of recovered alcohol were armed with machine guns. An arsenal of firearms was recovered from the bootlegger’s cottage in Harpswell. Shots were fired at York Beach in 1927.

Federal agents flagged down a bootlegger driving a Packard down Main Street in Kennebunk in 1924. The car was loaded with 150 gallons of whiskey and the driver Anthony Rossi did not want to stop. Agent Ernest L. Jones managed to jump onto the running board of the car. Rossi cut in and out of side streets in an attempt to shake the agent off but was brought to a stop when Jones shut off the power and wrestled Rossi into submission.

The failed experiment that was National Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Maine held onto it for another year.

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)

Steamer Tom Thumb’s history-making career

Tom Thumb driven ashore at Boon Island 1836

The first wood-fired steamboat known to have visited Maine waters was the diminutive side-wheeler, Tom Thumb. Some 18 years later the little steamer also concluded her career on our coast.

The Tom Thumb was only about 30 feet long but upon her arrival in Bath, Maine in 1818 she made a huge impression. After arriving in tow from New York via Boston, she shocked the gathered spectators by steaming up the Kennebec River against the tide. Her newfangled machinery was all open to the elements and in plain view as she chugged along between Bath and Augusta.

She continued that route for several years, providing passenger excursions on the Kennebec River but in 1824 Tom Thumb was towed Down East and began operating between Calais, Eastport, and St. Andrews. Her comings and goings were chronicled in the Eastport Sentinel until Captain Seward Porter of Portland, ME purchased her with the intention of running trips between Boston, MA and Portsmouth, NH. His plans were foiled when the little steamer didn’t perform at sea as he had hoped. She was relegated to harbor and river work in Dover, Portsmouth, Newmarket, Hampton, Newburyport, Gloucester, Chelsea and Boston.

According to Daniel Remich in his History of Kennebunk, the Tom Thumb was also the first steamer to travel up and down the Kennebunk River. September 30, 1827 Captain Porter invited  Kennebunk and Kennebunkport citizens aboard and “made an excursion to the islands of Cape Porpoise, where the party partook of an excellent chowder and other refreshments.”

Charles W. Childs paid $4,000 for the Tom Thumb and spent another $1,000 rebuilding her and replacing her boiler during the spring of 1836. He established the tiny steamer as a regular packet on the Piscataqua River for the conveyance of passengers, transportation of freight and towing of vessels between Portsmouth and Dover, NH. Childs sank his last dime into the enterprise. He chose not to purchase insurance as he could not justify the extra investment considering the relative safety of river work.

For all his calculated risk, the young Childs was disappointed in business that summer. He had hoped to keep very busy with freight conveyance up and down the river but merchants were leery of change. Steamers were still regarded as unproven, novel technology. When the Portsmouth Iron Foundry Company offered to hire his steamboat to take a new 2 ton iron tank to Boon Island a deal was quickly struck even though the Tom Thumb had never been a reliable sea vessel.

Childs had planned to get an early start on the morning of October 28, 1836 but there was some delay at the foundry and he didn’t arrive at Boon Island until 4 p.m. The island is surrounded by rocks and should only be approached at high water. By the time the Tom Thumb reached the island the tide was about half ebb. The tank was landed with great difficulty as darkness fell upon the scene.

The events that followed were described by Charles W. Childs in a petition for financial relief to the United States Government. “Captain W. Neal, who had assisted as pilot, went on shore to assist in landing the tank and when he was thus on shore a sudden gust of wind prevented his return to the boat, the cable parted and the crew, nine in number, endeavored to reach Portsmouth Harbor.”

It was reported in the Portsmouth Gazette that the gale increased and blew with great violence. “She continued on her course to Portsmouth about five hours against the wind making in that time only 9 or 10 miles when finding that she made water fast, by which her fuel had become wet, rendering it impossible to keep up the steam, she again bore away before the wind to Boon Island and at about 2 o’clock a.m. went pell mell on the rocks.”

Maine’s first documented steamer, the Tom Thumb was a total loss at Boon Island. Young Charles W. Childs, who must have deeply regretted his decision to forgo insurance, was rendered penniless. Though the iron tank had been commissioned by the Customs District the contract for its conveyance was between the Portsmouth Foundry and Mr. Childs. The petitioner was not entitled to relief from the United States Government.

Wells Landmark named after infamous prophet

The troublesome Mr. Baker

Baker’s Spring, that bubbles out of the earth near the boundary between Wells and what used to be York, was, according to Wells historians Hubbard and Greenleaf, named for a person who had participated in bringing King Charles I to the block for beheading. When King Charles II ascended the throne in 1660, Baker supposedly concealed himself under a rock near the spring for two years.

Like most historical legends, this one is probably based on a distortion of actual facts. E.E. Bourne wrote in his “History of Wells and Kennebunk,” that there were indeed three men who signed the death warrant of King Charles I and fled to New England when Charles II succeeded his father to the throne, but each has been accounted for and none were named Baker.

There was a John Baker who might well have been hiding in the woods from the law, but he was living in New England in 1649 during the trial of King Charles I. He was, however, later accused and convicted for conspiring to kill King Charles II.

John Baker had a colonial rap sheet as long as your arm. Most of his offenses were violent arguments that followed alcoholic over-indulgence or “haranguing and prophesying” in his own form of fanatical religion. John Winthrop described John Baker in his journal as an unprincipled drunk whose professed faith was of the opportunistic variety.

Winthrop wrote, “One John Baker, a member of the church of Boston, removing from thence to Newbury for enlargement of his outward accommodation, being grown wealthy from nothing, grew there very disordered, fell into drunkenness and such violent contention with another brother, maintaining the same by lying, and other evil courses, that the magistrates sent to have him apprehended. But he rescued himself out of the officer’s hands and removed to Agamenticus (York).”

In 1653, Baker was living in Cape Porpoise when, according to historian Charles Bradbury, he was again admonished for “abusive and approbrious speeches uttered by him against the minister and ministry and for upholding private meetings and prophecying to the hindrance and disturbance of publick assemblings.”

John wandered from town to town in New England attempting to stay two steps ahead of the law from 1639 – 1653. After a third attempt to establish himself in Boston, Baker was finally banished from the colonies as a “blasphemer, atheist and a liar.”

Meanwhile in England, Parliamentary Representative Oliver Cromwell had long been an outspoken critic of royal policies. With little military experience he convinced Parliament to establish an army to protect their interests against the King. While John Baker was hiding from colonial law in New England, Cromwell was effectively leading Parliament’s military forces.

King Charles I was defeated by Cromwell’s army in two civil wars and was subsequently dethroned,  tried and beheaded in 1649 for his efforts to negate Parliamentary power. Oliver Cromwell, who sought to make England a republic and abolish the religious intolerance promoted by Charles I, signed his death warrant.

Parliament’s enemies were defeated and the war ended, but in 1653, just as the banished John Baker was arriving from the colonies, Cromwell dissolved the Parliament with military force and appointed himself Lord Protector, the equivalent of a military dictator.

Baker became a guardsman for Oliver Cromwell. He grew accustomed to his new financial comfort and religious freedom. After Cromwell died in 1658, his circumstances changed once again. He was reduced to grinding knives for a meager living and according to later trial testimony, he often expressed a certain bitterness about his poverty.

The republic could not be sustained without Oliver Cromwell. The monarchy was restored and the beheaded King’s son was invited to take the throne. Several former New Englanders actively opposed King Charles II. Thomas Venner, another religious radical who had been an early resident of York, led an uprising against the monarchy in January 1661. Chaos reigned in the streets of London for several days. Although Venner was captured and immediately executed, King Charles II became acutely aware of the number of radical Protestants that opposed the monarchy.

In October of the same year, John Baker was approached by fellow Cromwell soldier, John Bradley, who inquired how he had been reduced to such lowly employment. Baker scoffed and told him he had to be willing to do whatever he could to make a living. Bradley offered to pay Baker to recruit Cromwell’s former soldiers and “Fifth Monarchy Men, Anabaptists, Fighting Quakers, Levellers” and other religious radicals to participate in a plot to kill King Charles II. He showed Baker huge ammunition stores at his disposal and convinced him that victory was theirs for the taking.

Baker was a most enthusiastic henchman. He spent many an evening drinking and boasting in London pubs and eventually recruited a crowd of eager malcontents. Before anything but barroom conspiring had been accomplished they were all arrested and tried for participating in a grandiose plot to kill King Charles II.

The would-be assassins had been duped. Bradley was working for the King. There never had been a viable plot to overthrow the government but unknowingly they had rounded up most of the King’s enemies.

Baker was quick to turn against his partners in crime but that wasn’t enough to save his life. He was hanged for being willing to “wash his hands in the blood of the King.”

People of Cape Porpoise witnessed battleship trials and war games

A right of way contest
A right of way contest

Around the turn of the 20th century, Cape Porpoise residents had a front row seat to watch the official United States Battle Cruiser speed trials from Seavy’s lookout up on Crow Hill.

Each trial consisted of 2 trips over a carefully measured course that ran 41.65 knots at sea from Cape Ann, Massachusetts to Cape Porpoise, Maine. The battleships would circle for a few hours at Cape Ann to give their boilers time to build up a head of steam before screaming across the starting line at top speed.

The stakes were high for the first trial in May of 1893. Philadelphia shipbuilder Edwin S. Cramp had a contract to deliver a cruiser that could maintain an average speed of 20 knots per hour for four consecutive hours. Every quarter knot by which the requirement was exceeded was worth another $50,000 from the Government.  Members of the Naval Board of Inspection looked over every bolt and rivet from stem to stern and remained on board for performance assessment. Edwin S. Cramp himself supervised the trial and Capt. R A Sargeant took command of the vessel. A ship’s company of no less than 400 men were required for the trip that cost approximately  $30,000.

May 22, 1893 was a beautiful calm day. Thousands of giddy spectators decked in Sunday finery turned up at Cape Ann to witness the start of the race. A reporter for the Boston Daily Globe described a carnival atmosphere that spread all the way up the coast to Cape Porpoise. The trial was a triumph. After just under four hours – with a clock stop in off Cape Porpoise to get the massive vessel turned around – the armored cruiser New York averaged 21 knots per hour earning her shipbuilder a $200,000 premium.

Several trials were conducted each year from 1893 through 1907. The Biddeford Journal posted expected times of arrival and no matter the weather, the folks in Cape porpoise were watching from Crow Hill when the battleships came into view.

The October 2, 1895 trial of the Steamer St Paul for a coveted US Mail Carrier contract seemed doomed from the start. She got under way to build steam at 9:45 am but shipbuilder Cramp didn’t like the way her boilers were running. To make matters worse she had been sitting in brackish water in the Delaware River during a long drought and her bottom was foul. At the last minute Cramp decided to put off her official trial and proceed with a preliminary run.

Not far out of Cape Ann the boilers began to “prime” and the boat’s speed perceptibly decreased. “Priming” meant that the water in the boiler was not made into steam rapidly enough. Bubbles containing a large percentage of water were carried into the cylinders with steam.

Eight miles from the finish line in Cape Porpoise the steamer was further delayed when the captain of a local lumber schooner refused to yield right of way.  The schooner was directly in the ship’s path. Captain of the St Paul ordered the whistle blown for her to sheer off but the Cape Porpoise lumberman held steadily on. The big racer barely avoided cutting the schooner in halves.

The official trial was run the following day after brackish water was cleaned out of the boilers but even then she beat her 20 knot per hour minimum by only .50 knots. The St Paul was immediately taken to New York and placed in service on the line. Despite a slow start she proved to be a splendid transatlantic mail carrier.

August 20, 1902 spectators at Cape Porpoise were treated to a full scale war game. The Blue Squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral Higginson was charged with defense of the U.S. coast from Cape Cod to Portland against attack from Admiral Pillsbury’s White Squadron.

Higginson’s fleet consisted of nine battleships, seven torpedo boats and a converted yacht, the Mayflower. The White fleet was ordered to attempt to reach Portland, Rockport, Portsmouth, Salem or Provincetown without getting caught by a superior vessel.

The War Games were an exciting spectacle for the people of Cape Porpoise, who this time came down off Crow Hill to get a closer look.

Blue Squadron Cruisers, Brooklyn and Olympia, the Mayflower and the torpedo boat Shubrick arrived off Cape Porpoise just before 3 pm. The larger vessels remained well off shore, but the torpedo boat ran in and anchored near the cape for about a half an hour. The fleet proceeded eastward after that but not before the torpedo boat Shubrick steamed in and put a marine ashore.

King William’s War — the rest of the story

A Coastal Contagion of Mutiny in 1689
A Coastal Contagion of Mutiny in 1689

Most American history students learn that King William’s War began in New England as an extension of the war between England and France, when in July 1689 the French governor of Canada incited the Indians to brutally attack Dover, N.H., then known as Cochecho. By then, according to the letters of Edmund Andros, governor of New England, Maine had already been deeply embroiled in the conflict for a year.

Andros was appointed governor by the Catholic King James II of England in 1686. To test the boundaries of his jurisdiction, Andros raided the home and fort of the French Baron de Saint Castin in March of 1688, absconding with his furniture and family’s personal effects. Castin had lived among the Penobscot Indians for 20 years and had married the daughters of chief Madockawando, the most powerful of the eastern sachems, or tribal leaders. The baron and his family were forewarned of the attack and had taken to the Penobscot woods, but the insult ruptured the tenuous peace that had existed between the Maine Native Americans and the colonists since the end of King Philip’s War. There is evidence that Castin did arm his Indian brothers, but at first their violence was mostly directed at livestock.

Tensions built during the summer of 1688. A handful of North Yarmouth Indians, who had reportedly been drinking, threatened to shoot one of Henry Lanes’ hogs. The Almouchiquois tribe at Saco was meanwhile being deprived of many sources of food. A 1678 treaty with the English stipulated that the tribe be paid so many bushels of corn each year in exchange for territory. The colonists had ignored the debt. They were also stretching their fishing nets across the Saco River, thereby preventing the migration of fish to the Indian fishing grounds.

In August of 1688, Saco Indian families complained several times that the colonist’s cows were eating their crops; about the only source of food they had left. Their complaints were ignored. When the cows got into their corn again, the Native Americans shot at the cows, wounding some. Saco Justice of the Peace, Benjamin Blackman, felt justified in taking drastic action against the Indians, especially in light of the hog incident at North Yarmouth.

He rounded up 16 to 20 members of the Saco tribe who had participated in attacks against the colonists during King Philip’s War and sent them to Boston. Two weeks later, New Dartmouth and North Yarmouth were attacked in earnest by avenging Indians. They let it be known, in no uncertain terms, that their actions were in retribution for the imprisonment of their brothers from Saco. Andros released the prisoners but it was too little too late. Several members of the Barrett family were killed and others kidnapped by members of the Saco tribe at Cape Porpoise on Oct. 11, 1688.

Andros, who was generally despised by his mostly Protestant constituents in New England, organized an army to overtake the enemy in Maine. When none of his regular officers were willing to go, Andros decided, with disastrous results, to lead the men himself. An army of 500 men was easily detected and the enemy disappeared into its native forest. The only casualties of the expedition were English soldiers who froze to death or died of disease in the cold Maine winter.

While Andros was in Maine, his boss King James II abdicated the English throne. William of Orange succeeded him in February of 1689, but word of his coronation didn’t reach the colonies until the end of March. It was good news for the colonists, who hoped their old charter would be restored under the new Protestant king. Andros had by then returned to Boston, leaving his soldiers stationed in makeshift forts along the Maine coast. His commanding officers wrote to him repeatedly requesting ammunition and supplies but the Catholic governor ignored their requests. He was focused on protecting his own political future.

A rumor began to spread among the soldiers in Maine that Andros had sold them out and was negotiating with the Indian sachems to make Maine a Catholic territory. On March 28, 1689, Andros received notice that 17 soldiers at Saco Falls had deserted their majesty’s service. Mention was also made of mutinous actions by soldiers from Cochecho and other garrisons.

On April 12, 1689, Andros ordered Capt. John Floyd, commander of the Saco fort, to go after his AWOL soldiers and arrest those unwilling to return. He also ordered Floyd to relieve Lt. John Puddington of his command at the Cape Porpoise fort and send him to Boston to account for releasing his soldiers against the governor’s orders. The soldiers from Saco and Cape Porpoise were long gone, already marching to Boston to participate in a movement to depose Andros when Floyd received his orders.

On April 18, 1689, Andros was imprisoned by his subjects in Boston in spite of his efforts to escape by dressing in women’s clothing. After the soldiers had vacated the forts at Saco and Cape Porpoise, both defenseless villages were attacked by “Indians well known to them.” Two houses were burned at Saco and several inhabitants were wounded. John Barrett of Cape Porpoise was killed as his father and brothers had been the previous autumn. The “unprovoked” Cochecho massacre, often referred to as the beginning of King William’s War, was still three months away.                                 Sources

Perilous Refuge in Cape Porpoise Harbor

The fateful December gale of 1850
The fateful December gale of 1850

Cape Porpoise Harbor has always been dangerous to seafarers unfamiliar with its hidden hazards but countless vessels have ventured forth anyway, seeking shelter from countless storms. Many never made it into the harbor, others never made it out.

 In October of 1804 The Salem Register reported that a Hallowell packet was lost at Cape Porpoise in a hurricane. Captain Weston sailed her onto the rocks. He, his crew and all 20 of his passengers, including twelve ladies, perished. Only the bodies of Dr. Appleton, Mrs. Appleton and their child, all of Waterville, were ever found.

 The American Coast Pilot called Cape Porpoise a “bad harbour” in 1806. “It is not to be attempted unless you are well acquainted, or in distress. A vessel that draws 10 feet will be aground at low water. The harbour is so narrow that a vessel cannot turn round.” Nevertheless, it was advertised as the only refuge in a storm between Portland and Portsmouth. During the years of coasting trade it was not unusual for 100 vessels to seek shelter in one storm, bumping and battering each other in the process. To address the dangerously rocky approach, local ship owners petitioned the United States Congress, in 1831, to establish a lighthouse on Goat Island and a buoy at Prince’s Rock. The whale oil in Goat Island Light was first ignited in August of 1833 and the Prince Rock buoy was placed the following year. Unfortunately, the frequency of shipwrecks was not much abated by these measures.

 Joshua Herrick, Kennebunkport’s only United States Congressman, promoted a plan in 1844 to construct an 852 foot stone pier between Savin Bush and Milk Islands, thereby blocking the surge from nor’easters and providing tie ups for vessels seeking refuge. It was proposed that the breakwater, 20 feet wide at its base and 10 feet wide on top, be built economically of stone available on an “unclaimed island” 1/2 mile east of Milk Island. The plan was perceived by Congress as an effort to improve commerce in Cape Porpoise and the bill was forwarded to the Commerce Committee. There it sat for nearly a decade.

 During the tremendous storm of 1850, just before Christmas, Cape Porpoise Harbor was littered with disabled vessels. The schooner “Wave” went ashore outside the harbor late on the night of December 22nd. Captain Tolman and his crew were saved but the schooner was a total loss. A few hours later schooner “Susan Taylor” of Frankfort went ashore on Green Island. Schooner “Helen Mar” of Deer Isle, was the next to run aground on the rocks between Vaughn and Green Islands. Her bottom was knocked out and her cargo of lumber strewn willy nilly.   Schooner Albert soon parted her anchor chains and drifted afoul of Schooner Elizabeth causing that schooner to go aground. No lives were lost but the crews of Helen Mar, Albert and Elizabeth all huddled together on Green Island, unsheltered from the raging weather until they were rescued late in the evening of the 23rd.

 As Deputy Collector of Customs for the Kennebunk District, Enoch Cousens pleaded with Congress in 1853 to approve the Cape Porpoise breakwater project. Additionally, Cousens asked that a lighthouse be built at the mouth of the Kennebunk River.  The breakwater bill was again tabled but the proposed lighthouse was approved. A 6th order lens perched atop a 21 foot white frame structure was lit for the first time on January 1, 1857 at the end of the eastern pier. The new lighthouse was unpopular. It caused a great deal of confusion among mariners being so close to Cape Porpoise Light. A storm took it away some time before 1870 and it was never replaced.

Originally most of Cape Porpoise Harbor had a depth of about 13 feet at low tide and the entrance was obstructed by a bar. Under a $70,000 harbor improvement project finally adopted March 3, 1899, the entrance of the harbor was widened to 200 feet and deepened to 16 feet at low water. An anchorage area about 3,000 feet long, 600 feet wide, and 15 feet deep at low tide was completed by the end of 1902. In 1907, the crooked entrance channel was straighten and dug to a depth of 18 feet at low tide for an additional $46,000. These improvements made the harbor much safer as a place of refuge but a few notable shipwrecks occurred during and after the project.  

The number of documented shipwrecks in the Kennebunks exceeds 100. Some of the wrecks at Goose Rocks Beach, Cape Arundel and Kennebunk Beach will be explored in a free illustrated lecture at Kennebunk Library tonight, (July 22, 2010) at 7 pm.