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Bartholomew Gosnold’s encounter at Cape Neddick, 1602

copyright Artist Frank Handlen
Gosnold’s Encounter at Cape Neddick

Bartholomew Gosnold: First European to “smell the earth” at Maine’s southern coast. (Or was he?)

Bartholomew Gosnold  was born in 1572 with a silver spoon in his mouth and a passion for adventure in his heart. His parents, Anthony and Dorothy (Bacon) Gosnold, were both of notable families in England during the reign of the “Virgin Queen”, Elizabeth I. Anthony Gosnold had a royal descent from King Edward III of England. Bartholomew’s mother was of the same gene pool that produced Lord Francis Bacon. In fact, the branches of the Bacon and Gosnold trees crossed more than once.

Young Bartholomew was trained as a lawyer, attending Cambridge University and Middle Temple. While at school he was inspired by a lecture given by the Geographer of the day, Richard Hakluyt, whose The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation was published in 1600. Gosnold was so inspired, in fact, that he lost all interest in practicing law. When Sir Walter Raleigh invited him on a voyage to the new world, he eagerly agreed. The voyage failed to meet its mission but there was no turning back for Batholomew. He continued to sail as a privateer chasing Spaniards and dreams of glory across the Atlantic.

Gentlemen explorers like Raleigh and Gosnold did not venture forth to uncharted territory to escape religious persecution. Nor were they wholly altruistic in their efforts on behalf of England. They were interested in money, power and immortality; real people with still familiar, human motivations.

In 1602, Raleigh was falling out of favor in England. His failure with the lost colony of Roanoke had offended many of his supporters and the Queen. Queen Elizabeth encouraged adventurers to search for a Northwest Passage. This presented a loophole to Raleigh’s 1584 patent to colonize North America. Bartholomew Gosnold, at just 30 years of age, seized this entrepreneurial opportunity to sail stealthily through that loophole.

Plans for a voyage were hastily made. It would be financed by William Shakespeare’s patron, the Earl of Southhampton. The mission was meant to discover a route to America on a more northerly tract as allowed by the Queen’s decree but there was a secondary mission. Gosnold intended to establish a small colony in the “North part of Virginia”.

The barque Concord departed from Falmouth, England on March 26, 1602 with a crew of 8 and 23 “Gentleman Discoverers”, some of whom intended to remain in the new world. The Concord was in poor condition and dangerously small for such a voyage but in spite of some contrary winds, she made the trip in a record breaking 49 days. Gosnold and his crew could “smell the land” at Cape Porpoise by May 14.

Two of the gentlemen along for the voyage, Gabriel Archer and John Brereton, journaled their impressions of the trip to the “North part of Virginia”. These firsthand accounts have been invaluable historical research sources ever since. Both diarists described an encounter with Native Americans at “Savage Rock”, calculated by scholars to be near Cape Neddick. A Basque Shallop, with sails and oars, carrying 8 natives, boldly approached the Concord. Archer writes of the encounter,

“One that seemed to be their commander wore a waistcoat of a black wool, a pair of breeches, cloth stockings, shoes, hat and band, one or two more had also a few things made by some Christians; these with a piece of chalk described the coast thereabouts, and could name Placentia of Newfoundland; they spoke divers Christian words, and seemed to understand much more than we, for want of language could comprehend.”

Gosnold’s company proceeded southward with confidence relying on the chalk map for navigation. They established a temporary settlement at what is now known as the Island of Cuttyhunk. Gosnold called it Elizabeth Island in honor of Queen Elizabeth whose edict had made his voyage legal. Marthas Vinyard was named after Gosnold’s recently deceased infant daughter. He named Cape Cod for the abundance of fish that virtually “pestered” the Ship. The naming of the area seems at first glance to be sentimental but it was probably more territorial than sentimental. Gosnold was naming territory that was part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s patent. Meanwhile, Raleigh was back in England worrying about his lost colony of Roanoke and totally ignorant of Gosnold’s voyage.

Gosnold traded with the Natives in Raleigh’s patent for sassafras and supplies. Sassafras was considered the new wonder drug in Europe. Profits from a good sized cargo would be considerable as the Americas were the only available source of the plant.  When the Concord’s hold was full the “Gentlemen Adventurers” could not agree upon a fair division of profits or of supplies between the colonists and those returning to England.  In fear of being unfairly compensated or worse, of suffering the same fate as the lost Roanoke colonists, all those who had intended to remain at Cuttyhunk could not be persuaded to stay.  The entire company returned to England with the undivided provisions.

The return trip to England was accomplished in only 37 days with the help of prevailing winds and the fact that they had cut their Shallop loose to lighten the load on the Concord. This was a common practice and may explain how the Native Americans at Cape Neddick came to be in possession of such a boat.

Once Bartholomew Gosnold returned to England, damage control with Sir Walter Raleigh commenced. Raleigh discovered the patent infringement as soon as the sassafras market was flooded by Gosnold’s cargo.  He wrote a letter to the Queen’s Principal Secretary demanding that Gosnold’s portion of the cargo be seized and given to him.  Brereton’s account of the trip was then “edited” to include a glowing dedication to Raleigh.  This account was published and at once became a bestseller.  Archer’s account would not be published until 1625.

Bartholomew Gosnold had not established the first permanent English settlement in New England as was his intention but his bold ambitions had changed the course of our history. Had his voyage in 1602 not inspired Martin Pring to make a proper discovery of the Kennebunk River in 1603, French explorer Samuel de Champlain would be credited for discovering our coast in 1604.

Read Gabriel Archer’s account of the 1602 voyage here.

Read John Brereton’s account of the 1602 voyage here.

Storer Garrison in Wells on the move

Ye Old Garrison House, formerly located at the Garrison Suites Motel on the Post Road in Wells, was recently moved 1000 feet up and across Route One to the parking lot behind Mike’s Clam Shack.

Mark Gagnon, owner of the motel wanted the old building removed from his property. Hoping to preserve the historic landmark, Wells town officials asked Mike McDermott, who owns Mike’s Clam Shack, if he would be interested in having the old building moved to his property just north of its original lot. McDermott agreed and Chase Building Movers relocated the ‘Old Garrison House’ on Friday November 9th. McDermott plans to adapt the building to house his seasonal employees starting next year.

The nearly 200 year old house is worth saving for the history within its walls. Though not technically an old garrison house as its nickname suggests it was built near the site of the colonial Storer’s Garrison in 1816 with timbers salvaged from the original 17th Century building.

Storer’s Garrison, was probably the most important of the 7 or 8 garrisons in Wells during the French and Indian Wars. It was built by Joseph Storer on a rise in the marsh in 1679. Its fortification was unequaled in Wells and its open location made it difficult for Indians to approach unnoticed.

According to a description in the Collections of the Maine Historical Society the original garrison was “a large structure built with a palisade of heavy timbers placed close together, about ten feet from the house and entirely surrounding it. It is not believed that the second story of this garrison projected beyond the lower one as was usually the case in these early garrisons. The house had four turrets built one at each corner of the house and these turrets were used as watch towers.”

Storer’s Garrison offered effective refuge on June 9, 1691. Captain James Convers, Jr., Commander of the Militia there, had requested reinforcements from Essex County Massachusetts. 200 Indians under the leadership of Penobscot Sachem Moxus, attacked the fort just half an hour after the reinforcements had arrived. The Indians were repulsed. Another Penobscot Sachem Madockawando vowed to finish the job himself the following year, “My brother, Moxus, has missed it now but I go myself next year and have that dog, Converse, out of his den.”

Sure enough, in June of 1692, Madockawando, Moxus and other Indians attacked Storer’s Garrison with the help of French soldiers under command of Monsieur Labrocree. The attack lasted three days and was directed at the garrison and two sloops in the creek behind the fort. The sloops contained additional English soldiers, ammunition and supplies for the garrison. Every flaming arrow that met its mark on the sloops was extinguished because of the ingenious leadership of Lt. Joseph Storer. Inside the garrison, even the women of Wells entered the fight. Not only did they hand the soldiers ammunition but several ladies armed themselves with muskets and fired ferociously on the enemy. The French and Indians finally withdrew after three days. There were losses of life on both sides. The French Commander, Monsieur Labrocree did not survive the battle.

A granite monument commemorating the 1692 battle at the Storer Garrison still stands in a small park next to the Garrison Suites Motel. It was designed and erected by William E. Barry, Esq., in 1904. A plaque on the monument reads,

“To commemorate the defense of Lt. Joseph Storer’s Garrison on this ground by Capt. James Converse, 29 Massachusetts Soldiers, the neighboring yeomanry of Wells and various historic women; June 9, 10, and 11 1692, whereby 400 French and Indians were successfully resisted, and Wells remained the easternmost town in the Province not destroyed by the enemy.”

Storer’s Garrison was later bequeathed to John, Joseph Storer’s son. John Storer continued to offer refuge to his neighbors until the end of the French and Indian Wars. He was Wells Town Treasurer, representative to the General Court, and Judge of theInferior Court. He also built and owned ships and several mills in Wells and Kennebunk. E. E. Bourne writes, “John was distinguished for his bravery, patriotism and open-handed benevolence. He was at the taking ofLouisburg,Cape Breton Island,Canada,CapeBreton, in 1745. His valuable services to his townsmen and unfortunates driven from their homes in other places can scarcely be overestimated.”

In 1779, Isaac Pope purchased the Storer Garrison from Ebenezer Storer, another son of the man who built it. Ebenezer had distinguished himself as a soldier in the Revolutionary War.

The Pope Family’s ownership of the property was no less notable. Bourne calls Isaac a man of ” uncommon urbanity, distinguished all his life for that suavity of manner and general dignity of deportment which characterized the old English gentleman.” He too served in the Revolutionary War, attaining the rank of Major. After his discharge from that service, he was a Wells Selectmen for several years and engaged in coasting and farming.

Isaac and his wife Olive Jordan Hovey had eleven children. Three of their sons, John Sullivan Pope, Dominicus Pope and Ivory Pope, were mariners during the War of 1812. Ivory was impressed by the British and was never heard from again. Dominicus was taken prisoner by the British and carried to Dartmoor Prison inEngland. He remained there in deplorable conditions for several months before being released. Dominicus died atSt. Thomas,West Indies, of yellow fever.

Captain John Sullivan Pope returned from the War of 1812 and tore down the old Storer Garrison, reserving some of the good timbers to use in building a new house frame nearby. John S. Pope’s “new” 1816 house is the one that was moved up thePost   Roadlast Friday. John was engaged in coasting while he and his wife Theodesia Littlefield raised a family in the house he had built. John S. Pope and his son John, Jr. after him, farmed the land upon which Moxus, Madockawando and Monsieur Labrocree were defeated in June of 1692.

The history hidden in the walls of that simple yellow colonial house now at rest behind Mike;’s Clam Shack was nearly swallowed up by motel development. Kudos to all those who went the extra mile to save the structure if not the historic site.

Peter Colcord’s Pigwacket Adventure

Abduction, captivity and Escape

A Kingston, New Hampshire boy of 18 was working in the fields with his young cousins on May 16, 1724. They were surprised by five Indians from Canada lurking in the bushes and before they could react they were carried away. Little did Peter Colcord or his captors understand the consequences that would follow.

They traveled to Pigwacket, now known as Fryeburg, Maine. From there they continued on for a day’s march to the northeast, stopping at another Indian village on the banks of the Androscoggin River. Peter’s captors “gave him to a Sagamore’s squah” in that village and carried his young cousins on to Canada where they were later ransomed by their father, Ebenezer Stevens.

Peter Colcord lived among the Indian women and children for nearly six months learning their habits and perhaps even earning their trust. On the 6th of November, 15 or 16 men traveled two days’ march down the Saco River, leaving the women behind to shell the corn. When the harvest was secured, the women, children and Peter joined the men.

The following day Colcord was taken in a canoe by one of the Indian men up the Saco River to hunt geese. At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon his captor got out of the canoe and went onshore to hunt. Just as he was about to disappear further into the bushes, the Indian suggested that the boy might entertain himself by eating some cranberries along the river.

Left alone in the canoe, Peter started paddling downriver with all his might. About an hour before sunset he reached the Indian camp and hid himself until dark. He paddled all through the night and when the sun was about two hours high he left the canoe and started on foot through the woods. The next morning he reached the town of Wells.

Samuel Wheelwright, captain of the militia there, eagerly listened to the boy tell about the habits and the settlements of the Pigwacket Indians. His story was reported to the acting governor and a few weeks later published in the American Weekly Mercury.

” Colcord says the Indians go from that settlement frequently to Canada and back again in about 20 days when the rivers are high and that the Canada Indians very frequently pass forth and back through that place, and that those settled there are Pickwaket Indians about 7 or 8 families who are very much inclined to peace, and very seldom come out against the English. A Squah told him that the French Indians said they were not forward for war against the English but that they were obliged to do it by the French Governor, who tells them he would have them kill as many of the English as they can and also destroy their cattle.”

While Peter had been living with the Indians, Captains Johnson Harmon and Jeremiah Moulton, both of York, led 200 rangers to the Indian village of Norridgewock on the Kennebec River. French missionary Father Rale and a leading Indian chief were killed on Aug. 22, 1724 as were some two dozen women and children.

With the Indian war raging, the information Colcord provided was regarded by the colonists as very useful indeed. Within two weeks of his escape he was recognized by the government for his “Ingenuity and Courage” in making his escape and his “account of their Settlement and proceedings which may be of advantage to the Government hereafter.” On November 27th it was voted to award Colcord a sum of 10 pounds. By then the young Colcord had already signed up to pilot Samuel Wheelwright’s expedition against the Pigwacket Indians.

Capt. Wheelwright kept a journal of the expedition. He might have later wished he hadn’t. His entry of November 20, 1724 reads, “I received orders from his Honor the Lieut. Governor  to collect 50 of the posted men at York, Wells and Arundel, with Lieut. Allison Brown of Arundel as my Second, Mr. Stephen Harding and Peter Colcord as Pilots, to go to Pigwacket in search after the Indians.”

The next several days were spent preparing the apparently reluctant soldiers to fight the Indians. They finally set out on the 25th but only covered eight miles that day “by reason of the snow on the bushes.” Three men were sent home sick the next day. On the 27th, four more men went home and 12 more on the following day. Even accounting for illness and the snow, which was not unusual in Maine in late November, the soldiers were moving at a snail’s pace.

On December 1st, when the militia was finally just 10 miles from their destination, Wheelwright was unable to coax his men forward, “some being sick, some lame, and some dead-hearted.” He called his officers together for a conference and contrary to Wheelwright’s inclination, it was decided they would head for home. Illness and snow were far less troublesome on the way back. They made the distance in two days.

Pigwacket was not saved, however. The General Assembly in Boston had raised the bounty on Indian scalps to 100 pounds apiece and there were plenty of Englishmen ready to volunteer to collect. Captain John Lovewell, having learned of the location of Pigwacket, petitioned the government to allow him to lead a company of volunteers on a scalp hunting expedition. In May of 1725 Pigwacket was attacked. There were many casualties on both sides. Neither Lovewell nor Chief Paugus survived the eight hour bloodbath. The Indians that did survive left their villages in Oxford County for the relative safety of Quebec.

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.

Native American Shell Middens along the York River

Henry Chapman Mercer, recipient of numerous accolades for his work studying Native American pre-history, identified evidence that cannibalism was practiced by Indians on the banks of the York River.

Perhaps best known for his influence on the Art & Crafts Movement as the founder of Monrovian Tile Works, Mercer was a man of wide-ranging interests. He graduated from Harvard in 1879 and then went on to study law, but never practiced. The well-to-do Pennsylvanian was driven by a fascination with the antiquity of Native Americans, indeed the antiquity of man. He became a member of the newly formed Archaeological Association of the University of Pennsylvania in 1890 and was appointed curator of American and Pre-historic Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, in 1891.

American archaeology was still in its adolescence when Mercer examined stone artifacts in the Delaware Valley, explored the hill caves on the Yucatan Peninsula, and scientifically excavated, interpreted and cataloged the contents of shell middens near the mouth of the York River.

A midden is a pile of domestic refuse consisting mostly of shells left by Indian populations along the shore. They offer unique glimpses of daily life because the alkalinity of the shells helps to deter decomposition.

Some 38 clam shell heaps were identified by Mercer at York during the summer of 1891. Most notable was heap No. 6, upstream at the future site of the York Country Club. There he found, besides the usual shells and charcoal, fabric-marked pieces of aboriginal pottery, some bone implements and deer bones that had been cracked in such a way that bone marrow might easily be extracted.

In the same vicinity were found a number of isolated human arm, leg and foot bones. They too were broken and split with a tool in such a way that the marrow could be extracted. No animal tooth markings were found on any of the bones. Mercer collected the specimens and delivered them to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia for analysis.

Professor Edward D. Cope judged the bones to be from a small or perhaps female Native American. He could tell the ankle bones were Indian by the distinctive hollows he found, commonly referred to as Thompson’s Facets. These facets were the result of habitual squatting and were not characteristic of European anatomy.

Artifacts found by landowners in the vicinity of the York shell heaps around the time of excavation were also cataloged in Henry Mercer’s 1897 report of his findings titled, “An Exploration of Aboriginal Shell Heaps revealing Traces of Cannibalism on York, River Maine.”

Mercer wrote, “On Mrs. Bullard’s property, workmen in grading (1890?) found a stone celt, or ‘plummet,’ so called. (Information received from Mrs. Bullard, September, 1891.) At L (J. E. Davis’ property), laborers in digging (spring of 1891) found a so-called tomahawk of iron. (Information received from Mr. Davis, September, 1891.) Mr. F. Woodward, of Chase’s Pond, reported the discovery of a broken stone pestle and three grooved stone axes, found in the course of many years in the neighborhood of the eastern end of the pond. A grooved stone axe was found on the Norwood farm by the father of the present (1896) Mr. Norwood. A broken celt was found by Mr. Walker on one of the shell heaps at G.”

Shocking as it still is, the concept of Indian cannibalism was not new to Mercer or to other students of Native American history. Henry W. Haynes presented evidence to the same effect found in shell heaps at Mt. Desert Island. Mr. Manly Hardy had found human bones in a shell heap on the south end of Great Deer Island, Penobscot Bay. Henry Mercer himself also found more evidence of cannibalism in the hill caves of the Yucatan Peninsula in 1895. The disturbing truth is that all peoples of the world probably engaged in at least ritual cannibalism at some point in their tribal history. American Indians were no different.

According to a report presented on the subject by Harvard’s Peabody Museum, eye-witness accounts of North American Indian cannibal feasts in the 17th century are plentiful. Early travelers to the coast and Jesuit priests who lived among the Indians attribute the practice to many tribes in the Americas.

There were no layers of accumulation in the York heaps to indicate a succession of aboriginal visitors. The size of the piles and their apparent continuous use led Mercer to estimate that they could have taken several centuries to create. Indian feasting near the mouth of the York River had to have ended by 1652, by which time settlers had built a coast road and established a ferry across the river.

Based on the middens’ contents and continuity of use, Mercer drew the conclusion that they were formed within a few hundred years of European contact.

Evidence of the York middens has likely been graded away for cottage lots or fairways by now, but thanks to the copious notes and photographs of Henry Chapman Mercer, some of the history they contained lives on.

Mercer retired from archaeology soon after the York dig to document more recent history by collecting workmen’s hand tools for his Pennsylvania museum. He believed that implements used every day by the common man were far more historically illustrative than opulent trapping of wealthy households.

Hannah’s Bloody Wedding in Wells

Wedding Party - War Party
Wedding Party – War Party

Queen Anne’s war, (1703-1713) yet another territorial conflict between European monarchies, was played out in the colonies as a battle between pawns. The Indians fought for the French territorial interests. The colonists living on the Maine frontier fought to protect their property and their lives. On September 18, 1712, Captain John Wheelwright’s Garrison at Wells was the scene of a bloody post-nuptial ambush.

Eighteen year old Hannah, daughter of Captain John Wheelwright, was betrothed to Elisha Plaisted of Portsmouth, New Hampshire at a time when reverie and relaxation of vigilance, was ill-advised. Just two months earlier Joseph Taylor had been killed outside the Wells garrison and Capt. Wheelwright’s slave Sambo had been temporarily abducted. Evidence of several other large war parties had been observed in the woods of southern Maine, since. But live goes on, even in a time of war.

Extravagant festivities were planned to celebrate the marital union inside the Wells stockade. The bridegroom arrived from Portsmouth with a large number of friends and relatives, many of whom were colonial soldiers. Great “merry-making” ensued while the marriage was consummated, as was the colonial custom. Several historians have alluded to the liquid nature of the merry-making enjoyed that night.

At 8 o’clock the following morning Sergeant Daniel Tucker, Joshua Downing and Isaac Cole stumbled outside the garrison to find their missing horses. They were ambushed by an Indian war party waiting at the edge of the woods. Downing and Cole were killed. A seriously wounded Sergeant Tucker was captured and carried off.

At the sound of gunfire, Capt Lane, Capt Robinson, Capt Heard, Elisha Plaisted, Roger Plaisted, Phillip Hubbard and Joseph Curtis, all preparing to leave for Portsmouth, jumped on their horses and rode toward the sound. Just as they reached the edge of the woods their horses were shot from under them. Capt Robinson was killed and Elisha Plaisted, Hannah’s groom, was apprehended. A dozen other men were sent out on foot in a different direction to intercept the war party but seeing the fate of the mounted soldiers they quickly retreated to Wheelwright’s garrison.

Capt Lane and Captain Harmon rallied a company of 70 men and again fought the enemy at the edge of the woods with but little success. Lieutenant Banks of York was finally appointed to take a white flag of truce into the woods. There he met with 6 Indians that called themselves Captains.  Banks recognized two of the warriors to be Bomazeen and Capt Nathaniel and a third he had met at Casco Bay during an earlier prisoner exchange. The Indian who captured the bridegroom, Banks reported, was a Penobscot man.

Elisha Plaisted was the son of a wealthy Portsmouth merchant and his captors knew it. He would command a handsome ransom. A letter written by Elisha to his father and outlining the ransom demands was sent back to the garrison with Lt. Banks. In it, Elisha wrote that he was being held by a war party numbering 200, consisting mostly of Canadian Indians. His father was to meet Captain Nathaniel at Richmond Island within 5 days time. He was to bring supplies valuing 50 pounds ransom for Plaisted and 30 pounds for Sergeant Tucker’s return. The supplies demanded were to be “in good goods, as broadcloth and some provisions, some tobacco pipes, pomistone, stockings and a little of all things.” The letter also warned “If you do not come in five days you will not see me, for Captain Nathaniel, the Indian, will not stay no longer, for the Canada Indian is not willing to sell me.”

A shallop was sent immediately to Richmond Island to complete the exchange but as of September 25 there was still no word at Wells. Worries grew that the vessel was lost at sea or worse, that they had been duped. The Indians had been tracked southwesterly and had, on September 21, harassed garrisons at Oyster River. Another vessel was dispatched for Richmond Island on September 26th but by then the exchange had already taken place as promised.

Plaisted and Tucker were returned to their families.  A disabled Daniel Tucker, whose injuries never fully healed, received a pension of 20 pounds, less than the ransom paid for his return. Elisha and Hannah Plaisted lived out privileged lives in Portsmouth.

These events were described by Judge Edward E. Bourne in his excellent 1875 History of Wells and Kennebunk. Letters written in 1712 by Capt. Wheelwright, Governor Joseph Dudley and others involved were published in the Documentary History of Maine in 1907, long after Bourne had completed his research. These and accounts published in the 1712 Boston News-Letter provide reliable details that were not available to Judge Bourne.

Kennebunkport’s bat, ball and glove history

Baseball - summer's preoccupation
Baseball – summer’s preoccupation
Mr. William B. Walker of Springfield, Mass., played baseball against a Kennebunkport team in 1872, even before the big hotel was built on the bluff. So he reported to the editor of the Wave in 1889. By then, each coastal resort area had its own team. “The Goose Rocks beat the Ocean Bluffs 5 to 3,” wrote the Wave sports reporter that summer. And later, “The Granite State base ball club and the Gooch’s Beach team had a lively match.” When a game was scheduled against the York Beach club, local boys piled onto one of Joe Jeffries’ barges and made their way down the coast to rival turf. Temporary diamonds were laid out on the beaches or in open hay fields.


Teams were made up of year-round residents and summer folk. The Ocean Bluff team had the good fortune to have Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indian boys camping nearby at Indian Canoe Landing. Writer Albert Reed vacationed at Cape Arundel in August of 1889 and raved about the Indians’ passion for baseball in an article he submitted to the Boston Daily Globe. “The most dangerous habit they are addicted to is baseball. All the young braves are deeply versed in the slang and rules of the game and know all about the league standing, while several of them are practicing for positions on the Boston nine.”

Eighteen-year-old Louis Francis Sockalexis, soon to be one of the first Native Americans to play professional baseball, was a member of the extended family of Penobscot Indians summering at Cape Arundel in 1889. Though he wasn’t mentioned by name in the Globe, that summer he was listed as third baseman on Kennebunkport’s 1902 roster after his brief career as the original Cleveland Indian. Some said he could have been the greatest player of all time if only he hadn’t suffered from alcoholism.

The Kennebunkport Historical Society owns a beautiful photograph of renowned Boston and Kennebunkport artist, Abbott Fuller Graves, posing with his baseball team on the front lawn of his Ocean Avenue home. Graves sponsored and managed a local team of grown men in 1915; men with names still familiar in Kennebunkport, like Towne, Littlefield, Gould, Whitehead, Eldridge and Butland. Curtis and Earnest Coombs of West Kennebunk played right field and catcher, respectively. Their older brother John, meanwhile, was playing professional baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Henry Parsons donated land on School Street for a permanent ball park and Frank Atkins was hired to keep it trimmed and tidy. Poet and local shopkeeper Silas Perkins took over as the team’s manager in 1916. The Kennebunkporters continued to play until 1918 when World War I made exuberance for a game seem inappropriate.

In 1922, summer resident George Herbert Walker Jr. brought new life to the Kennebunkport baseball scene by organizing a team he called the Blue Stockings. The following summer he hired John W. Coombs as player/manager. Colby Jack Coombs, as he was known to the fans, had taken a coaching job at Williams College after a brilliant career in professional baseball. With summers off, he was free to lend his expertise to the Blue Stockings.

Walker and Coombs were determined to establish a top-notch semi-pro ball club. A new grandstand was erected at Parson’s field and the Yale groundskeeper was engaged for the season. Coombs played right field. Walker caught the ball. He also held the strings so coyly referred to in the Lewiston Daily Sun on March 1, 1923. “It is reported that strings on a large purse have been unknotted to secure a classy outfit of semi-pro ballmen. Summer residents are keen for a first class team and propose a payroll that will rival that of the Augusta millionaires.”

Walker and Coombs assembled the best collegiate talent available in 1923. Jack’s best players at Williams were recruited as were the crème de la crème from Dartmouth and Princeton. Local sports fans were thrilled with the prospect of a winning ball club but none were happier than the young ladies at Cape Arundel, who reportedly scrambled for their dance cards. The team was referred to as the Collegians by the press; and the name stuck.

By 1950, Jack Coombs had retired. With few interruptions, Herbie Walker was still calling the shots for the Kennebunkport Collegians. Kenny Raynor was his manager. Yes the same Kenneth Raynor who would become President of the Cape Arundel Golf Club. George Herbert Walker Jr. told a reporter for the Portland Press Herald that he didn’t expect the 1950 Kennebunkport Collegians to be financially successful. He regarded the maintenance costs as an investment in good fellowship; a common interest for town people and summer visitors. “That’s worth a lot,” he insisted.

The Collegians didn’t play in 1951. Many of their prospective players had been drafted to serve in the Korean War. Kennebunkport baseball fans, proud of a their semi-professional team and the town’s rich baseball history, hoped the boys would be back after a few years but it was not to be. George Herbert Walker Jr., uncle to two United States Presidents, co-founded the New York Mets in 1960.



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