Tag Archives: Kittery

Accusations of Witchcraft at Spruce Creek

Alleged: Seven Horses Fourteen Witches

As Halloween approaches, images of witches magically appear in shop windows. We indulge our fancies with an annual flight to a charmingly spooky world where witches wear identifying head gear and brooms fly. At one time in New England, an accusation of witchcraft could end at the gallows, as it did for Wells minister Rev. George Burroughs during the Salem, Massachusetts delirium of 1692.On Oct. 21, 1725 widow Sarah Keen of Kittery was publically accused of being a witch by her Spruce Creek neighbor, John Spinney, the weaver — long after the horrors of Salem neighbors used accusations of witchcraft to ostracize neighbors.

Sarah wasted little time in calling upon Kittery Justice of the Peace, Col. William Pepperrell, to have her accuser arrested. Once Spinney was in custody, Pepperrell heard testimony from a few witnesses to the accusation and he imposed a moderate fine of five shillings plus court fees. If Spinney had paid the fine that might have been the end of it but John had personal reasons for slandering Sarah.

The justice system in colonial York County had three levels: Local Justices of the Peace were like police. They could arrest and fine for minor offenses. Justice William Pepperell Sr. made those decisions at Kittery. If a suspect like Spinney appealed the judgment of the Justice of the Peace with reasonable cause, his case was escalated to the next session of the Court of Common Pleas. That court, held in the Town of York in 1725,  had regular sessions three times a year and quarterly sessions four times a year. The General Assembly met just once a year for only the highest level cases.

Spinney did appeal Pepperrell’s ruling, complaining that he had not had sufficient time to call his own witnesses. His appeal was heard Jan. 1, 1726. Though Spinney denied calling Sarah a witch, his many witnesses described a variety of incidents that served to reinforce the notion. A few of those alleged acts of witchcraft follow.

Elizabeth Pettegrew claimed that one night at about 9 or 10 o’clock, she saw a coven of witches frolicking in the moonlight with Sarah Keen. Elizabeth heard noises down the country road toward the Keen house, from her doorway that night. She moved a little closer to investigate and saw Keen on horseback with a riding hood pulled up over her head and a white handkerchief about her neck. The moon shone brightly on a coven of 14 women riding double on seven horses behind her. They seemed to be very merry, talking and laughing loudly as they rode on by. Clearly the behavior of witches.

John Harmon and Samuel Remich testified that they were with Paul Wentworth at a tavern in Portsmouth one night. Wentworth told them that he saw Mistress Keen strike the fire and make it fly all over the house, thereby bewitching her daughter.

Paul Williams testified that he had been present when Sarah threatened to put a bridle on Spinney and ride him like a horse to Justice Pepperrell’s house. Others reported that Sarah had ridden Spinney from the eastward and kept him tied to her plum tree all night.

Reference was made to widow Keen’s extra nipple. It made even Sarah wonder, from time to time, if it might not be there to nourish the devil. She had expressed concern to other women in town that around the time of the Salem hysteria she thought she might be a witch and not know it.

Many of Keen’s neighbors from the tiny hamlet of Spruce Creek turned up to support Spinney’s claim. When all was said and done the judgment against Spinney was reversed for insufficient evidence.

Examination of earlier court documents reveals some possible clues as to why Sarah’s neighbors were so willing to throw her under the wagon. Throughout their residence at Spruce Creek, Sarah and her deceased husband, Nathaniel Keen had made plenty of enemies.

Nathaniel Keen fought with his neighbor Paul Williams over ownership of a field between their properties. Keen and Spinney’s in-laws, the Shepards, had been in and out of court for  13 years over ownership of a  10-acre parcel of land between their houses. Keen’s ownership of the land was eventually affirmed. Samuel Spinney, John the accuser’s father, was among those who petitioned Kittery selectmen to install a landing on the creek. The approved road to the landing encroached on Keen’s property and he legally succeeded in blocking Spinney’s access to the creek.

Nathaniel Keen was also notorious for his temper that on more than one occasion turned to physical violence. He was arrested for beating his slave Rachel to death in 1694. The value of a slave’s life being what it was at the time, charges were reduced from murder to cruelty and Keen was fined five pounds plus court costs.

Sarah Keen also had a volatile temperament. In one instance she went after William Godsoe with an axe. When chided for unchristian-like behavior by one of her neighbors, she reportedly replied, “I did not profess no Christianity.”

It seems that when an opportunity presented itself to exact revenge the Keen’s neighbors lined up to take it out on Sarah in court.

Engine No. 3666 plunges into the Piscataqua

The Piscataqua River claimed her victims

When the first teamster drove his horses over the newly-built Portsmouth Bridge in 1822 he could scarcely have imagined the horrible fate that would befall the last two men to try to navigate across the interstate span in 1939.

After the railroad built its adjoining bridge on the same superstructure in 1842 and until the Memorial Bridge opened in 1923, terrified teams of horses and screeching steam locomotives crossed the 1650-foot wooden Portsmouth Bridge side-by-side. Teamsters were required to pay for the dubious privilege.

The old bridge was closed to all but railroad traffic in 1923 and it was still being used by the Boston & Maine Railroad in 1936, when a committee consisting of residents from both Maine and New Hampshire agreed to build a new bridge – some 60 feet downstream, to address the growing traffic between Maine and New Hampshire. Construction of the new bridge progressed nicely through the summer of 1939 and the scheduled Spring 1940 completion target seemed well within reach.

On Sunday evening, Sept 10, 1939, local passenger train No. 2024 left North Berwick, Maine on schedule for Boston, Massachusetts. Only 12 passengers and a crew of five were onboard as engine # 3666 pulled very slowly onto the wobbly wooden bridge –suspended 40 feet above the raging Piscataqua River tides. A speed limit of 3 miles per hour had been imposed since the Norwegian Freighter, Lynghaug hit the bridge in 1937. Twenty pilings were torn away in the incident. Repairs were hurriedly made for $5,000 but the weakened bridge was never again the same.

According to a report in the Portsmouth Herald on September 11, 1939, local 2024 was still on the eastern span when the locomotive, the tender and empty first passenger car plunged into the river “as if thrown from a catapult.”

Fireman Charles D. Towle, 49, of Exeter, NH, who was probably standing to the rear of the cab when the bridge collapsed, could be heard screaming as the exceptionally strong Piscataqua tide carried him upstream and into the night. His lifeless body was recovered later that night near Dover Point.

Engineer, John Beattie,68, of Somerville, MA, was presumed dead as, based on the location of his post, he would likely have been trapped inside the submerged locomotive. After a sweep of the area by two Coast Guard vessels the search for Beattie was called off for the night. His body was finally found ten days later, floating near the back channel buoy, a half-mile downstream from the splintered bridge.

The passengers had all been saved from a similar fate when the coupling between the first and second passenger cars parted, causing the airbrake hoses to tear away and the brakes on the occupied cars to be automatically applied. The coaches jolted to a stop but remained upright on the tracks. In fact, most of the passengers had no idea of the gravity of the accident until they were loaded onto handcars and transferred to the Kittery side of the bridge.

Within an hour of the accident, 500 curious Portsmouth and Kittery residents had gathered along the river, but there wasn’t much for them to see. The first three units of the train had been immediately swallowed up by the black swirling river.

Everyone assumed the railroad bridge had collapsed because of its age and condition, but the Boston & Maine Railroad representatives insisted the bridge had recently passed inspections. While there had been a bridge at that location for over 100 years, they argued, the structure had been entirely rebuilt several times and all parts had been repeatedly renewed. Their investigation indicated the bridge failure was caused by equipment used for building the new bridge.

A $150,000 lawsuit was filed by the railroad company against the construction contractor, Frederick Snare Corp. Objective investigations confirmed that the bridge had been damaged when a large caisson used in the construction of the new bridge broke loose and cables attached on the caisson pulled a piling of the railroad structure out of place.

Plans were made to repair the railroad bridge but this turned out to be far too expensive and impractical for a few months of use. Railroad traffic was diverted to the Western Division until the new bridge opened to traffic with train tracks running below the road.

Projects to raise the 125-ton locomotive have been considered several times since the accident, most recently in 1995, but each time the costs were deemed prohibitive. Instead,the cars were twice moved farther out of the shipping channel to prevent them from impeding navigation.

Engine #3666, builtin 1913 by the American Locomotive Company of Schenectady, NY still rests in her watery grave, not far from where the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge spans the Piscataqua River.

The “Jinxed” Career of the Ferryboat Kittery

Troubled launching, troubled career.

A vessel that “stuck on the ways” at launching was considered by superstitious sailors to be forever jinxed. The faulty launching of the ferryboat ‘Kittery’, built by David Clark of Kennebunkport, for the directors of the Portsmouth, Kittery & York Street Railway Company (PK&Y) in 1900, lent credence to the notion.

PK&Y started offering ferry service across the Piscataqua River in 1897. The line ran from the old Spring Market building in Portsmouth to the Badger’s Island ferry landing on the Kittery side.  An old steam ferryboat, ‘Mystic’, was purchased from Captain Horatio W. Trefethen of Kittery, who by then had already been piloting her back and forth across the river for some 15 years. A second ferryboat, the  ‘Newmarch’, was purchased from the Middleton Ferry Company of Connecticut. After the ‘Newmarch’ burned to the waterline on December 1, 1899, a committee was formed to procure a new ferryboat to replace her as soon as possible.

The ‘Newmarch’ could accommodate 200 passengers and six heavy teams at once. PK&Y sought to acquire a larger, more commodious vessel that could accommodate many more horse teams and the vehicles they pulled.  In January of 1900, the company announced that a suitable ferry had not be found. They intended to contract for a new vessel and had already requested bids from a number of shipbuilding firms. The winning bid came from David Clark of Kennebunkport. Though he had built several steamers by then Clark had never before built a ferry.

The new ferryboat would be christened the ‘Kittery’. According to a report in the Portsmouth Herald, she was to be launched on June 29, 1900 but there were delays in her construction. The promised launch date, highly anticipated in Portsmouth, came and went. Shipbuilder, David Clark announced that her new  launch date would be July 14th. Events of that day were covered in the Eastern Star. “A large crowd assembled to witness the launching but to the disappointment of all she did not go wholly off the ways.” Spectators murmured about bad omens as they wandered away from the riverfront shipyard behind South Congregational Church.

‘The Kittery’ was gotten off in the dark of that night without ceremony. She was towed to the Perkins Wharf where she awaited the arrival of steam engine inspectors. On July 20th it was announced in The Eastern Star that no further delays were anticipated. The inspectors had arrived and the ferryboat would likely be leaving Kennebunk within a few days under her own steam.

But the engine inspections, conducted across the Kennebunk River at the Emmons Littlefield wharf, did not go well. It was later reported in Portsmouth that “the steamboat inspectors had ordered some alterations in the piping of the new ferryboat ‘Kittery’.”  Other problems with her construction were identified in the meantime and it was determined that she would have to be towed to Portsmouth. On July 27th, the tugboat Piscataqua arrived at the Kennebunk River to pick up the troubled new ferryboat. The President, Treasurer and Superintendent of PK&Y were all on board to take possession.

After a brief stop in Portsmouth to satisfy the crowds that watched for her arrival from the Kittery Point bridge, the new ferry was towed to Boston. It was reported in the Boston Daily Globe that the ‘Kittery’ had to be hauled out on the marine railway there “to receive a new keel and other important repair work.”

It was the middle of August before she was put into service and within a month the she was hauled again to undergo a major design change to her steam reversing apparatus. This alteration reportedly cost PK&Y $800.

The ‘Kittery’ never performed satisfactorily. She used five times as much coal every day as did the other ferry on the line, steamer ‘Alice Howard’, which had replaced the ‘Mystic’ in 1901. The beleaguered ‘Kittery’ hit the bridge in 1910 when her engines died mid-stream. She broke down several times during 1911 and was taken out of the water again to be repaired. Another overhaul was required in 1913.

The Atlantic Shore Railway, which had absorbed the PK&Y in 1906, entered federal receivership on November 1, 1915. When the ferryboat ‘Kittery’ was finally sold to New York parties in 1918 for $6,000, it was reported in the Portsmouth Herald that proceeds of the sale would figure as assets of the troubled trolley company.

It was also reported in 1918 that the ferryboat ‘Kittery’ had “not been used much for the service for which it was built owing to the fact that it could not be operated with as much speed as other boats in the unusually strong tides of the Piscataqua River.”

Though the original design of the ferryboat was likely inadequate, old-timers often blamed her many misfortunes, with a knowing nod, on her interrupted first launching.

USS Constitution has Maine ties

Old Ironsides: A frigate with Maine links
Old Ironsides: A frigate with Maine links
     The historic USS Constitution has been tied to Maine history since 1796, when her original eastern white pine masts were hauled out of the woods of Kennebec County.
     According to an article published in the Bangor Historical Magazine in 1891, trees for the masts were cut in the town of Windsor, on the north side of Augusta Road between Cooper’s Mills and Bryant’s Corner. “Thomas Cooper, of New Castle, and a man named Gray, who afterward moved to Windsor or Whitefield, cut them and got them to salt water by swamping a road to Puddle Dock (Alna) during the winter of 1796/97.” The following spring, the trees were taken to Wiscasset, where they were yoked together with oak mortises and towed down the coast to the Boston shipyard of Edmund Hart.
     Young Edward Preble, of Portland, watched his hometown burn to the ground at the hands of British Navy Commander Henry Mowatt in 1776. On that day he vowed to join the United States Navy to defend his country. By the time the First Barbary War broke out, Commodore Edward Preble was already a seasoned veteran. He was sent to Tripoli in 1803 as commander of the 3rd U.S. squadron, with the frigate USS Constitution as his flagship. The Maine commodore ordered the strategic burning of the USS Philadelphia when it fell into enemy hands.
     The USS Constitution served her country nobly during the War of 1812. She earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” when fire from the HMS Guerriere literally bounced off her 21-inch-thick, live oak hull.
     On June 2, 1855, Old Ironsides sailed into Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery for repairs. Her arrival caused quite a commotion on both sides of the Piscataqua River. Her Navy sailors, on leave after long, loyal service, enthusiastically drank, gambled and caroused. Petty Officer Edward Welch became intoxicated and fell to his death through the hatchway of Old Ironsides. Other sailors were cheated out of their pay in a rigged card game onboard, and the swindlers were chased all over town. Local reporters wrote that the police would have their hands full until the seamen dispersed.
     On June 2, 1858, an article appeared in the Charleston Mercury indicating that the frigate Constitution was on the ways at Kittery, having been thoroughly repaired and coppered: “Planking inside and out has been taken off and between six and seven hundred timbers have been replaced. She is now as good as new when first launched in Boston sixty years ago.” Old Ironsides was already regarded as the oldest ship in the Navy when she served as a training vessel during the Civil War.
     The old girl returned to Kittery in 1882 after completing her final high seas training cruise and suffered the indignity of being reconfigured into Navy receiving barracks. A large, barn-like structure obscured her graceful lines. On one occasion in 1891, she was adorned with paper lanterns and transformed into a dance hall for the ladies of the G.A.R..
     Congressman John F. Fitzgerald of Massachusetts infuriated Portsmouth and Kittery natives in 1897 when he declared the Navy frigate to be on the verge of sinking at her Kittery pier. Her removal to Boston for her 100th birthday was begrudgingly announced in local papers with the caveat, “they had better return her to her rightful home after the celebration because her deteriorated condition has been exaggerated for political reasons.” Old Ironsides would not return to the Portsmouth Navy Yard for another 35 years.
     The public was outraged  to learn that the Secretary of the Navy recommended the tattered USS Constitution be towed out to sea and used for target practice. Fundraising efforts were undertaken to provide for her complete restoration. Schoolchildren sent in their hard-won pennies and the silent film “Old Ironsides” was produced to raise awareness about the historic ship. Over $600,000 in private funds was raised and Congress approved an additional expenditure of $300,000 to complete the project.
     John Abel Lord of Bath, ME was put in charge of rebuilding the USS Constitution in 1925. He researched 18th-century shipbuilding tools and techniques extensively before handpicking skilled shipwrights from Bath to do the work.
     The new Secretary of the Navy, Charles Francis Adams, recommended that the restored vessel be towed from port to port to show the people of the United States what their pennies had bought.
     Old Ironsides made the first stop of her national tour at the Portsmouth Navy Yard on July 3, 1931. Captain Louis J. Gulliver, of Portland, was at her helm. Some 32,000 people came to see her during the week she spent at Kittery. She was next towed to Bar Harbor and then to Bath, where a huge celebration honored the home boys who had rebuilt her. Old Ironsides spent another week tied up to the Maine State Pier in Portland before being towed away from Maine for the last time.
     Many penny donors were disappointed to see Old Ironsides towed on her national tour. Authorities had not thought it prudent to sail the 134-year-old vessel. On July 21, 1997, she finally did sail under her own power for the first time in 116 years, flying a suit of sails made by Nathaniel S. Wilson of East Boothbay.

Nazi U-boats plagued Maine coast during WWII

A Night Deposit
A Night Deposit

German submarines swarmed to American waters when the United States formally declared war on Germany and Italy on Dec. 11, 1941. By the following June, 171 American vessels had been torpedoed off the east coast of the Unites States. Coastal Mainers, many of whom made their living from the sea, felt like sitting ducks.

Maine’s director of civilian defense, Col. Francis H. Farnum, announced on May 22, 1942, that foreign agents both male and female had already landed on the coast of Maine and were investigating shipping prospects. Others, he warned, had come into the state over the Canadian border. No details were disclosed, but he certainly inspired vigilance in coastal Mainers.

Minefields and indicator loops designed to magnetically detect submarines, were installed on the floor of Casco Bay. A mobile artillery unit was quickly deployed to Biddeford Pool. Nearby, an observation tower was constructed of reinforced concrete to look like a church. The whole coast was patrolled by sub-chaser boats and dirigibles. Windows were blackened, civilian lookout posts were manned and curfews were strictly observed.

At about 10 p.m. Nov. 29, 1944, the coning tower of U-1230 pierced the surface of Frenchman’s Bay off Crabtree Neck. Two uniformed German sailors pulled a rubber raft through the hatch and quickly inflated it on the bridge. Two men in American streetwear emerged next, carrying satchels that virtually bulged with handguns, diamonds, and $65,000 in cash supplied by the German government to finance their espionage mission.

William Curtis Colepaugh, an emotionally unstable 26-year-old native of Niantic, Conn., had flunked out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and enlisted in the United States armed forces. He soon became disillusioned with his potential for upward mobility and decided to give the occupation of Nazi spy a whirl. Erich Gimpel was at least the genuine article. Born in Merseberg, Germany, some 35 years earlier, he arrived in the United States intent on sabotaging America’s atomic bomb program.

In a 2004 interview, former CIA covert operative Richard Gay, who has researched the incident extensively, asserted that as the Germans pulled away from the U-boat, a dog started barking on shore. The sailors, Fritz and Konrad, rowed the spies back to the sub to get sausages to quiet the frantic animal before proceeding to the beach.

By the time the four men landed it was snowing hard. Fritz and Konrad earned bragging rights by stepping onto American soil for a moment to flash a “Heil Hitler” before rowing back to their vessel. The plain-clothes spies grabbed their satchels and started off on a four-mile hike to Route 1.

Their city-folk attire was not typical snow gear for a Hancock native, and they were soon spotted by 17-year-old Harvard Hodgkins, who was driving home from a dance. A few miles up the road, Mary Forni drove by them on her way home from a card game. She almost offered them a ride, but something told her to keep driving. When she later mentioned seeing the inappropriately dressed strangers to her husband, he dismissed her concerns.

Gimpel and Colepaugh were resting for a moment in the village when a taxi serendipitously pulled up and agreed to take them to Bangor for $6. Once there the spies caught a train to Portland, where they had breakfast before boarding the 7 o’clock regular to Boston. They travelled on to New York the following day and would have disappeared forever into the city if William Colepaugh had not tried unsuccessfully to slip away from the mission with the bag of diamonds and the $65,000. He approached the FBI and disclosed Gimpel’s whereabouts, claiming to be a double-agent. Both men were sentenced to death but were eventually released after many long years of incarceration. The German, Erich Gimpel, was deported. He published a memoir in 2003 titled “Agent 146: The true story of a Nazi spy in America.”

The U.S. Navy was secretive about just how close the U-boats were to Maine civilians during the war. On April 23, 1945, the U. S. Navy sub-chaser USS Eagle exploded three miles off Cape Elizabeth, tragically killing 49 of her crew and injuring 13. For more than half a century the Navy insisted that a boiler had exploded onboard, but recent exhaustive research proved that the vessel was torpedoed by a German U-boat.

Eye-witnesses recall the night the wreck of the USN sub-chaser blimp K-14 was salvaged at Southwest Harbor. She was “riddled with bullet holes,” but to this day, the Navy blames pilot error for the loss of the dirigible.

When Nazi Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery was the largest American submarine base on the Atlantic coast. Four German U-boats operating in the Gulf of Maine surrendered at the shipyard. One of the subs was displayed in the Piscataqua River and thousands of Mainers travelled miles to see what had so long been the object of their terror.