Tag Archives: Colonial

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)

The merry dancers of Massabesic

Cavorting for God

The would-be Town of Alfred, Maine was known by its Indian name, Massabesic, when Simeon Coffin arrived in November of 1764. The Wabanaki name, roughly translated, means either “land of much water” or “ponds with many suckers,” depending on which translation you believe. It was part of the vast tract of land that Saco mill man, William Phillips, had purchased from the Indians in the 1660s.

The area was known by its Indian name because there wasn’t another white man within seven miles. Indians were still the only inhabitants of Massabesic. Their wigwams were situated on the land between Massabesic Pond and Bunganut Pond. One family’s wigwam sat high atop a hill between the two ponds.

Local historians didn’t write much about what happened to the Indians of Massabesic, just that after Coffin arrived they “soon disappeared.”

Simeon Coffin was a Newbury shipwright. He had been commissioned to build a ship on the Merrimac River that year but the purchaser went bankrupt and Coffin was left financially embarrassed. He had struck out into the Maine wilderness to find a new home. The Indian wigwam already standing on the Massabesic hilltop suited him well.

Simeon’s father and two brothers joined him in the spring of 1765. Within the year, several other families had also settled nearby. The first sawmill in town was built in 1766 and the first school in 1770.

John Cotton arrived from Durham, Maine in 1781 and married Simeon Coffin’s daughter, Eleanor. John Barnes came with his family from York a short time later. Barnes and Cotton would play an important role in the future of the little wilderness settlement.

A religious awakening was occurring at that time in New England — against what was called “antichristian bigotry.” Towns were required by law to hire a Congregational minister, whose salary was to be paid by the citizens of the town. A growing number of poor settlers preferred to be preached to by unaffiliated, volunteer preachers whose beliefs and practices tended toward the radical.

In Gorham, where John Cotton had come from, followers were called “come-outers” or “new lights.” In Massabesic, they were called the “merry dancers” for their wild midnight reveling.

Dr. Parson’s wrote in his History of Alfred: “One of their practices was to hoot the devil, as they called it, in which they would march around the Shaker Pond, raving like maniacs. Barnes would wear a baize jacket over his clothes, a wig upon his head, with a cow’s tail attached to it, and Cotton an un-tanned cow hide, and in these garbs would scream woe! woe!! woe!!! audible in the stillness of evening nearly the distance of one mile. After this they all took to intoxicating drinks, and for months were hardly ever sober, and in their midnight revels were guilty of revolting practices. Barnes’ explanation of his conduct in hooting the devil, drinking to excess, and indulging in indecent and immoral practices was that they were a sort of carnal slough through which he was doomed to pass, preparatory to spiritual regeneration.”

The merry dancers began building a house for public worship in the summer of 1786 but it was never completed. Twelve rough-hewn, 12-inch square timbers were raised but left open to the sky.

The North Parish Congregation had also been organized in 1780 by Rev. Daniel Little of Kennebunk and Rev. Mathew Merriam of Berwick, but most of the congregation was swept away by the merry dancers. Barnes and Cotton went to great lengths to disrupt every religious meeting held by Congregationalists. At one point the ministers had them taken outside and tied to a tree for the duration of the service. A Congregationalist meeting house was built in 1784, but there was no minister settled there until 1791. The Town of Alfred was incorporated in 1794.

John Cotton traveled to Enfield, N.H. in 1793. There he became acquainted with the teachings of Mother Ann Lee, the leader of a small religious sect called the Shakers. Cotton was moved to convert to Shakerism by an experience he had after confessing all his sins.

His life-changing experience was described in “A Concise History of the United Society of Believers called Shaker” by Charles Edson Robinson. Cotton was seated with his host one morning after breakfast. They were discussing the teachings of Mother Ann when suddenly “he was raised up from his chair by an all controlling power and spun round like a top for the space of half an hour, when he was whirled through the open door and down to the waters of Mascoma Lake, some rods distant, and then was whirled back again with the same force and landed in the same chair he was taken from.” He perceived this to be his Shaker baptism and proof of its authenticity.

He rushed back to Maine to share his revelation with fellow merry dancer, John Barnes. Shaker doctrines were quite a departure from the midnight reveling they were accustomed to. Alcohol was forbidden as was any physical interaction between members of the opposite sex. Shaker sisters and brothers were considered equals but kept separate to avoid temptations of the flesh. Merry dancers converted nonetheless.

The Shaker Society of Alfred was organized in March 1793 under the charge of John Barnes. The following year another community was organized at New Gloucester, Maine.

The Shaker Community in Alfred grew in the 19th Century, at one time encompassing more than 50 buildings between what is now called Shaker Pond and Shaker Hill. Their numbers eventually dwindled and in 1931 the 21 remaining members left to join the Sabbathday Shakers in New Gloucester.

The history of silverlust in Maine

All that glitters is not silver

European explorers were drawn to Maine by — among other things — the promise of plentiful precious metals. Once the province was settled along the coast, the quest for silver inspired sight-unseen land purchases and Indian-guided treks into the unsettled interior forests. Speculators were still hunting for Maine silver during the 1870s and 1880s when the fresh lessons of the California Gold Rush went unheeded.

A legendary Indian city called Norumbega appeared on early 16th century European maps of North America. Its location and size varied depending on the map, but it was generally understood to be wealthy and highly civilized. Several explorers went in search of Norumbega at Penobscot.

English sailor David Ingram claimed to have seen the city of Norumbega while walking the Indian trails from the Gulf of Mexico to Maine in 1568. Upon his return to Europe, Ingram reported dazzling riches in the new world. How much he embellished the facts for entertainment value is uncertain, but according to Ingram, the men wore hoops of gold and silver on their arms and legs. He spoke of pearls as big as a thumb and described Indian abodes flanked by pillars of crystal and silver.

In 1580, John Walker sailed into the river Norumbega in the service of Sir Humphrey Gilbert. He did not see the glittering splendor that Ingram had described but he did discover what he believed to be a silver mine. Samuel de Champlain was disappointed in 1604 when all he found on the banks of the Penobscot River were simple Indian villages.

Richard Vines settled near Biddeford Pool by 1630 on a tract of land granted to him under the condition that one-fifth of the gold and silver ore discovered there be reserved for the King of England.

Major William Phillips settled in the same area around 1660. During the decade that followed, Phillips bought tens of thousands of acres of land in southern Maine. One parcel that he purchased from the Indian Meeksombe, also known as Captain Sunday, included three “hills of rocks” on the west side of the Saco River some 40 miles from the sea. When Phillips later conveyed shares to gentlemen of Boston, the rocky hills were described as a silver mine.

Captain Sunday’s Rocks were said to have a shining appearance, but by 1727 they still had not been located by the English settlers. One Englishman had searched for the mine many times and had finally persuaded the great Indian warrior Assacombuit to escort him to the very spot in 1727.

Assacombuit (aka Escombuit, Nescombiouit) had killed more than 150 English settlers during his career. In 1706, he had traveled to France to meet King Louis XIV at Versailles. The King knighted him, presented him with an elegant sword and promised him a pension for the rest of his life.

No record survives that explains his surprising decision to reveal the location of the silver mine, but according to a report in The New England Weekly Journal of June 19, 1727, he and the Englishmen were but a few miles away from the mine when Assaconduit fell ill in the woods and died.

A more precise location of the mine was sought again in the 1780s when lot lines were in dispute. Numerous depositions were preserved by the Maine Historical Society. Jonathan Dore testified that he had learned the location of Sunday’s Rocks while held prisoner by the Indians from 1745-1760. John Stackpole testified that in “about 1758 I went a soldiering up Saco river with Cap. Charles Gerrish, that near about opposite or back of the great falls so called on the west side of the river there was a large ridge of rocks chiefly white but mixt with ising glass. They are about two or three miles above great Ossipee  River so called.” The location of Sunday’s Rocks, in what is now Hiram, Maine, was finally indicated on a map in 1791.

In his 1895 book “Saco Valley Settlements,” G.T. Ridlon wrote about Captain Sunday’s silver mine. “The early inhabitants were deceived by the glistening of the ‘isinglass,’ or sheets of mica, in the rocks on the cliffs of the mountains and supposed these to be rich in deposits of silver.”

Some silver-bearing ore was found in 1878 in Acton and Lebanon, Maine by a New Hampshire man named Wiggins. His find, among others around the state, inspired a Maine silver rush that lasted from 1878-1892. Speculators opened 12 mines in Acton and Lebanon and published very optimistic predictions.

On April 8, 1880, a reporter for the Lewiston Evening Journal cautioned readers against investing in the many exaggerated claims. “We wish to remind our readers that it is not yet determined whether any of our Maine mines will yield gold or silver in sufficient quantities to make it profitable,” he wrote. They did not and once again, many investors were financially embarrassed.

White slavery in colonial New England

Eleven-year-old Philip Welch was kidnapped from his own bed in 1654, by order of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England. He and another Irish lad, William Downing, were loaded onto the ship Goodfellow, which by then was already bursting at the seams with Irish women and children destined for slavery in New England.

Captain George Dell of Salem, Massachusetts set sail for Boston with his human cargo in such haste that some provisions for the voyage were left behind in Ireland. When the Goodfellow arrived in Boston, Philip and William were sold to Samuel Symonds of Ipswich in exchange for quantities of corn and live cattle. The Bill of Sale, dated May 10, 1654, stipulated that the boys would serve their new master until they reached the age of majority.

Samuel Symonds was a man great influence in 17th century New England. He was one of the commissioners appointed to collect signatures of submission to Massachusetts in the colonial villages of Maine and would eventually become Deputy Governor of the commonwealth. Samuel, his sons William and Harlakenden, and his son in-law Daniel Epps, owned huge parcels of land in what is today Lyman, Wells and Kennebunk. Several of Samuel’s children resided in Wells for many years.

The Symonds family treated Philip Welch and William Downing relatively well — for slaves, that is. They attended church with the family and occasionally dined with them, though their portions were always considerably smaller than those served to the Symonds children. Mrs. Symonds was even known to show protective affection for the slave boys, but they had to work very hard for their keep. In 1661, they alone were expected to look after the cattle, maintain the fencing and tend 10 acres of Indian corn on the Symonds family farm. That was the year that Philip and William began to rebel.

The following details were preserved in the Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts.

One Sabbath day evening in March, with plowing and planting foremost in his mind, Philip came into the parlor and asked Mrs. Symonds just who would be expected to do all the springtime work. Displeased with her answer he announced that after seven years of service to the family, he and William would work for them no more unless new terms were struck.

William Downing concurred that they had worked for free long enough and both boys reiterated their demands to Samuel Symonds. They knew of other stolen Irish children sent to Barbados who had been released from slavery after just four years. “If you will free us,” said Philip, “and pay us as other men we will plant your corn and mend your fences but we will not work with you upon the same terms as before.”

When one of the servant girls chastised the lads for troubling their master, Mrs. Symonds was heard to say, “let them alone; now they are speaking let them speak their own minds.” Samuel Symonds was not as tolerant of their protests as his wife. “You must work for me still, unless you run away,” he said, leaving no room for further discussion.

The following morning a constable arrived to arrest the boys. Philip Welch softened slightly at the prospect of incarceration and agreed to serve out his time if his master would promise to give him as good a portion of food as any of his children. Even the constable encouraged Symonds to reconsider his strict stance, but the master wouldn’t budge an inch. He filed charges against both slaves and held his ground.

Indentured servitude was common in colonial New England. People would agree to work for a certain amount of time in exchange for passage to America. Even children, not yet old enough to enter into such an agreement were often indentured by a parent or guardian for money or land. This had not been the case with Philip Welch, William Downing, or hundreds of thousands of Irish Catholics and Scots kidnapped and sold in the West Indies, Virginia and Boston. They were referred to by the court as slaves because the servitude had never been by agreement.

There had been some question as to the legality of Samuel Symonds’ Bill of Sale for the boys, even in 1654. Extra assurances were requested from Captain Dell before the document was signed, but since then, ownership had not been questioned.

Samuel Symonds claimed that his time spent at court and the loss of his only male slaves would leave his cattle, fence and family destitute; that the bargain made between George Dell, the shipmaster, and himself was still in force. He also argued that since Philip was so young he felt compelled to keep him longer, that he might further prepare him to go out in the world and manage a family of his own.

The jury decided that if the Bill of Sale from Captain Dell was deemed illegal, the boys would be set free, but if it was found to be legal they would be required to serve the Symonds family until May 10, 1663. Not surprisingly, the document belonging to Samuel Symonds, former Court Assistant of the Colony and future Deputy Governor of the Commonwealth, was found valid. The slaves served out their time.

Philip Welch married Hannah Haggett of Ipswich and the couple had at least eight children. Philip Welch Jr. settled in York, Maine in a small remote colony near Mount Agamenticus.

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.”

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.”

The trials of the Webber brothers from Wells

A Badge of Shame
A Badge of Shame

Counterfeiting was a huge problem in Colonial America, so much so that it was considered a capital offense in the 17th century. By 1752, the year the Webber brothers of Wells were accused of the crime, the death penalty was no longer enforced but the sentence did stigmatize perpetrators for life.

The Webber family of Wells had settled near Kennebunk Beach around 1722, on what is today known as the Sea Road. Neighbors were still few and far between in 1724 when Indians killed three of them at Gooch’s Creek. By 1752, John Webber and his wife, Abigail Harding Webber, had raised at least two daughters and five sons there. Most of the men in the family were mariners, coasting frequently to and from Boston on their own vessels built in Wells. The perils of a frontier and seafaring life must have been acutely familiar.

John and Abigail Webber gained some notoriety with local historians for being shunned by their neighbors at the Second Parish Church. A sailor in their care had reportedly died from injuries he sustained in a shipwreck at Iron Ledge about 1750. Daniel Remich wrote in his “History of Kennebunk” that parishioners judged the Webbers to be neglectful caregivers and therefore responsible for the sailor’s death.

Two of the Webber’s teenage sons, Jonathan and John Jr., sailed to Boston on a new coasting sloop in late October 1752. They spent a few days in Boston and Cambridge “conducting their business.” At dusk on Monday, Oct. 23, they were apprehended for the crime of knowingly passing counterfeit Spanish pieces of eight and were confined to prison in Boston to await trial.

Evidence against the boys was pretty strong. Some of the suspicious coins were found on their persons as was a lump of the composite metal from which the coins were fashioned. The police told a reporter for the Boston Post-Boy that the material was likely a blend of hard pewter or tin, since with some strain it could be bent. Jonathan, 19, and John Jr., 14, were clumsy counterfeiters. Their coins were not of the proper weight and their artistry was sorely lacking.

“The stamp is thick and obscure and the decoration round the edge very uneven and irregular,” wrote the Post-Boy reporter. Further investigation revealed more raw materials stashed away on their new coasting sloop.

Two months after the Webber brothers’ arrest, it was reported in the Boston Gazette that they had appeared before a judge and pleaded guilty to “forging and uttering a piece of pewter and other mixed metals to the likeness of a Spanish milled piece of eight.”

On Jan. 4, 1752, according to the Boston Gazette, “John and Jonathan Webber, own brothers of Wells, were sentenced at Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize, to be set in the pillory for the space of an hour to have each of them one of his ears cut off, to be publicly whipped twenty stripes and then to be committed to the house of correction and there kept to hard labor for three months and to give bonds for their good behavior for a year.”

Both young men served their time and were married within a year of their release from prison. Jonathan and his wife moved in with his parents at Kennebunk Beach. No record has been found of Jonathan’s children, but he and his wife still owned the family homestead in 1760. John Jr. and his wife Mary had a large family. They moved for a time to land on the banks of the Saco River, but had returned to Wells before the start of the Revolutionary War. Both brothers were middle-aged in 1777 and of Wells, when together they enlisted in Capt. Daniel Wheelwright’s company to fight for American independence.

Wheelwright’s company marched as rear guard with Col. Ebenezer Francis’s regiment in the retreat from Fort Ticonderoga that left Lake Champlain, the coveted highway between the colonies and Canada, in the hands of the British. On the morning of July 7, 1777, while the colonial soldiers were eating their breakfast, British forces caught up with them and attacked.

The Webber brothers were in the second line of defense. Their company resisted valiantly but in the end the British forces prevailed. Some 300 American soldiers died that day. Among the casualties was Jonathan Webber of Wells. For a time it was believed that his younger brother John Jr. had suffered the same fate. He had in fact been captured by the British and taken to Quebec. From there, he was carried to Great Britain where he remained a prisoner in the goal until Dec. 15, 1781. At that time, he was exchanged for a British prisoner and sent to France. John Webber Jr. arrived home in Wells on April 28, 1782, and filed with the General Court of Massachusetts to have his back wages granted.

Life in Colonial Wells was hard. The Webbers and their neighbors faced harsh treatment from the unforgiving environment, the Indians, the law, the war and each other. If the Webber family was shunned at the Second Parish Church in Kennebunk as has been claimed, the fact that their two sons Jonathan and John Jr. were each missing an ear for their youthful crime of counterfeiting might have had something to do with it.

Special thanks to Hugh Spiers for his assistance with the confusing Webber family genealogy!

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.

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

French Espionage in Colonial Wells

White-Flag Ploy Thwarted
White-Flag Ploy Thwarted

Less than 100 families lived in Wells when blacksmith, Louis Allain arrived from France around 1684. The colonists probably received him with some trepidation, given the alliance between his countrymen in Canada and the Indians that had plagued them off and on for a decade. Little did they know that Allain would one day use their acquaintance to spy on them for the Governor of l’Acadie.

 French Protestants or Huguenots fled religious persecution in France during the reign of King Louis XIV. Many of them settling in New England. Louis Allain’s indentured apprentice, Anthony Coombs, was a Huguenot. Louis, himself may also have represented himself as such to the people of Wells. He would later prove his loyalty was really to his own pocketbook.

At thirty years of age Allain was already a man of means. He purchased ½ of Samuel Storer’s Cape Neddick-built brigantine, Endeavor in August of 1685. A month later he purchased a mill on the western bank of the Little River, lots on both sides of the river and the home of William Frost.

Territorial tensions soon began to grow between the English and French colonists as well as between the Indian tribes allied to both monarchies. Allain could see the writing on the wall. He decided to move to Port Royal, Nova Scotia, leaving Anthony Coombs behind to protect his Wells properties.

In 1687, Louis obtained permission to build windmills along the Nova Scotia river that is now known as Allain’s River. He raised a family there and his fortunes grew. Within the first few years in Nova Scotia Louis had acquired a grain mill, a saw mill, a store and several coasting vessels that made regular trading voyages to the English city of Boston Massachusetts. He and his partner shipped lumber and flour from their mills in Port Royal and brought back Boston goods to sell to their Acadian customers. Andre Faneuil, the wealthy Boston Huguenot whose fortune financed the building of Faneuil Hall, traded regularly with the Acadians, even as Governor William Phipps burned Port Royal in 1690.

When the legality of their trading arrangement was questioned, Allain and other Acadian businessmen declared their allegiance to the English King. At the same time they were supplying the French Navy with mast timbers.

Back in Maine in 1703, French allied Indians attacked the villages along the York County coast. It was a horrible year for Wells. Thirty-nine of her inhabitants were either killed or made prisoner.

The following Spring Colonel Benjamin Church led an expedition through Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and the Bay of Fundy, collecting French prisoners and Indian scalps for bounty along the way. Under orders from Massachusetts Governor Dudley, he left Port Royal unscathed. Some people of Massachusetts, including Puritan minister Cotton Mather, suspected that Dudley was trying to preserve illegal trade between Boston and Nova Scotia.

Feeding prisoners of war became expensive for both the French and the English. An deal was struck to exchange prisoners in 1705. Allain and his business partner, who were fluent in English and familiar with Boston, were sent to seal the deal.

According to the September 10, 1705 issue of the Boston News-letter, When Allain arrived in Boston on the 20th of August under a flag of truce, he had in his possession the signed prisoner exchange agreement. When he returned to Port Royal at the end of September he was carrying a few French prisoners back as an English show of good faith.

A January 1706 report in the Boston News-letter indicates that Allain sailed again for Massachusetts a few months later.

“On Thursday last the 26th day of December there arrived at Nanguncket [Ogunquit] near to Wells in the Province of Maine, A Flag of Truce from Port-Royal with 34 English Prisoners.”

E.E. Bourne writes in his “History of Wells” that Lewis Allen came to Wells under the Flag of Truce and was authorized to trade prisoners. The people of Wells were immediately suspicious of the Frenchman’s motives and searched his pocketbook. In it, they found incriminating instructions for Allain to report, to the French Governor of Acadia, any efforts underway to fortify Wells against the Indians.

“If any enterprise was afoot, that he should join L.A., the two first letters of his name, close together. If it was only in agitation, place them at some distance; but if nothing was in motion, then to sign a cross.”

Allain was clasped in irons and sent to Boston to be dealt with. In a surprising twist that Bourne does not reveal, Governor Dudley released Allain. He made some excuse about owing Louis his life and sent him back to Port Royal to continue his lucrative lumber and flour trade.

Anthony Coombs, whose indenture had long since expired, deserted Allain’s Wells mill on the Little River. Louis hired his “trusty and well-beloved friend Lewis Bane of York,” to recover his title to the Wells properties. Bane eventually bought the properties from Allain in 1720 and Louis boldly appeared at the courthouse in Biddeford to acknowledge the instrument May 9, 1733. When he died in Port Royal several years later Louis Allain was one of the richest men in town.