Tag Archives: Saco

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.

Message in a bottle

Dodging Creditors by Drowning

A scribbled note sealed in a bottle and tossed into the capricious waves was the only hope some shipwrecked sailors had of letting their sad fate be known. Occasionally, such messages did make it to shore. Sometimes they turned up many miles away and many years later but the closure they brought to loved ones was almost always appreciated.

Old newspapers are full of poignant message-in-a-bottle stories. The first Minot Ledge Light, off Cohasset, Mass., was a barrel-shaped structure held high above the waves on iron stilts. When one by one those spider-like legs snapped during the great nor’easter of 1851, lighthouse assistants Joseph Antoine and Joseph Wilson tossed their bottled good-byes into the sea that would soon swallow them up.

United States Navy Collier, USS Cyclops, mysteriously disappeared between Barbados and Baltimore, Md. in March of 1918. No trace of the vessel or her crew were ever found. Theories have been floated ever since that she succumbed to the mysterious forces of the Bermuda Triangle or that she sank suddenly in a ferocious storm. A message in a bottle purporting to be from the USS Cyclops washed ashore at Baltimore in August 1918. It said, “Captured by German submarine off coast of Virginia our ship Cyclops. John Ramann Chicago, Ill.” Another message in a bottle supposedly written by one of the engineers of the Cyclops appeared northeast of Cape Lookout Lighthouse near Beaufort, N.C. in 1922. This note stated that a German submarine was close by, that all hands had been ordered on board the U-boat and that the ship was to be torpedoed.

In November 1922 a message in a bottle was thrown into the surf by the crew of the schooner Lizzie D Small ashore off New Bedford, Mass. The bottle was found by Frank Columbia of Westport Point. He organized a search party and the shipwrecked crew was rescued after having been exposed to the elements and starvation for four days.

A misleading message in a bottle could occasionally provide an alibi for those who wished to disappear for one reason or another. Such was the case in 1894 when a corked bottle was found on Old Orchard Beach. A scrap of paper in the neck of the bottle had been torn from a notebook. On one side of the paper the words “Henry Schambier, Merchant of Medicine, Lewiston, Me.,” were imprinted with a rubber stamp. On the other side of the paper the following words were handwritten, “Dr. Hudson of Manchester, NH and Dr. Schambier of Lewiston, ME, lost at sea while fishing Monday Oct. 8.”

An investigative reporter from the Boston Daily Globe traveled to Lewiston to find the poor Dr. Schambier’s next of kin. There he spoke to Henry’s sister, a Mrs. Eugene Rimfret. Last she knew, the 25 year old traveling cough medicine salesman had been living in Biddeford. Though Mrs Rimfret knew Henry to be fond of fishing she hadn’t heard from him in months and could offer very little additional information about his habits.

On Oct. 26, another item appeared in the Boston Daily Globe. Dr. Henry Schambier, previously thought to be at the bottom of the ocean, is alive and well and peddling his Menthol cough drops in the peaceful little village of Kennebunk.” Diligent investigation by the reporter had revealed that Schambier had skipped out on his bill at hotels in Saco and Biddeford.

The proprietor at one of the hotels remembered that Henry and his companion did go fishing quite often while he was a guest. On Oct. 15, a full week after they had supposedly drowned but before the story appeared in the paper, a man called at the hotel and said that Dr Schambier, who was stopping in Kennebunk, had sent for his clothes. That same day, the dandy young doctor was seen in Saco.

A later update in the Globe read, “The rubber stamp that made the impression on the piece of paper found in the bottle was discovered in Dr. Schambier’s Kennebunk room today, as was the note book from which the scrap was torn.”

Much to the public embarrassment of Henry’s sister in Lewiston, all of his clothing and belongings were confiscated and divided up to satisfy irate hotel proprietors in coastal York County.

History of the Saco River tugboat A. G. Prentiss

AG Prentiss – A Nautical Workhorse

Paul Larivierre, owner of Southern Maine Marine in Arundel, believes he has recovered the huge propeller of the tugboat A. G. Prentiss — from the Saco River where, according to local tradition, she grounded and burned.

In a recent conversation Larivierre said “The A.G. Prentiss towed derelict vessels back and forth in front of the Biddeford Pool Gun Battery for target practice.” Biddeford Pool was under the umbrella of the Portland Harbor Defense Command in World War II. A temporary battery of four 155mm guns was emplaced at East Point from 1942-1945.

Tugboats played an integral role in the history of the Saco River. Biddeford’s manufacturing industry was heavily dependant upon coal — the Pepperell Company alone using 22,000 tons a year during its heyday. Coal arrived on schooners and later on barges carrying up to 850 tons of coal per trip. All were towed up the Saco River to Factory Island by tugboats.

Some of the tugboats that berthed at Biddeford Pool over the years were The Ellen, The Joseph Baker, The Hersey, The Cumberland, The Bailey, The Castor, The Morrison, The Express, and The Willard & Clapp, to name just a few. At least two of the Saco River tugboats were built on the Kennebunk River. The Robert L. Darragh was launched in 1879 from the Crawford and Ward shipyard in Kennebunkport.

The 46-ton tugboat A. G. Prentiss was built by the next generation of the same family of shipbuilders. She was launched from the Charles Ward Shipyard in Kennebunk Lower Village on Feb. 6, 1912. Her first pilot was Captain Clarence Goldthwaite of Biddeford Pool and Captain Tristram N. Goldthwaite took over as her pilot during the ’20s.

The A. G. Prentiss, named for her original owner, was well known on the Saco River for many years. She towed coal barges from Biddeford Pool and from Portland to the factories up the Saco River along with an occasional lumber barge for the Deering Lumber company. She was also employed to break the ice in the river, keeping a shipping channel open as long into the winter as possible. In 1918, the Prentiss towed the newly built schooner Jere G. Shaw out of the river for her maiden voyage.

Before the United States got involved in World War I, The Pepperell Company’s shrewd treasurer foresaw the effect the war would have on coal supplies and used the A.G. Prentiss to help stockpile fuel. His preemptive efforts to prosper through the anticipated Coal Shortage was for naught, however. In February 1918, the National Fuel Administrator ordered a five-day shutdown and a shortened workweek for every manufacturing plant east of the Mississippi.

These measures caused financial strain on the Saco River Mills and on the population of Biddeford. A frustrated reporter for the Biddeford newspaper wrote “Nearly 3500 Pepperell workers are to lose some $30,000 in wages in order to save $3,600 worth of coal.”

The tug A. G. Prentiss was commissioned by the Navy on March 28, 1918 and renamed the U.S.S. A.G. Prentiss. According to U.S. Navy records she served in the 3rd Naval District and was decommissioned and returned to owners, The Crescent Towing Line Company, on Dec. 2, 1918.

When the Crescent Co. went bankrupt in 1921, a new company, The Saco River Towing Company was organized with capital stock of $25,000, to take over towing on the Saco River. The A. G. Prentiss, reportedly worth $52,000 in 1920, was sold to the new towing company on July 28, 1921 for $25,000.

Tugboats were often used by the Biddeford Pool Lifesaving Station to prevent shipwrecks. A severe snowstorm on April 15, 1923 blew the steamer Annahuac onto the ledges of Fortunes Rocks. The storm continued through the next morning. The tugboat A.G. Prentiss was the first vessel on the scene to help pull her off. The Annahuac was so seriously damaged that she listed 45 degrees to the starboard. It took The Prentiss, another Biddeford tug, the Cumberland, and the United States Coast Guard cutter Ossipee to tow her to Portland for repairs.

The 13-year-old tug A. G. Prentiss needed a complete overhaul in spring 1925. She was hauled out of the water in Portland and was shipshape before the 1925 summer season began.

An article in the Biddeford Journal on Oct. 14, 1954 reveals that the A.G. Prentiss was still afloat in 1954 and had found her way back to Kennebunk.

“The Kennebunk River breakwater at Kennebunkport is being repaired. The tugboat which is servicing it is the AG Prentiss which worked on the Saco River for many years.”

Wyoming Construction Company of East Boston had presented the lowest bid on the breakwater repairs and was awarded the contract in July of 1954 by Colonel R.W. Pearson of the New England Division, Army Corps of Engineers.

Details about the demise of the Kennebunk-built tugboat A.G. Prentiss have not yet been found in old news, but her contribution to shipping on the Saco River will long be remembered.

Saco crime actually did pay in 1887

Mc Neally Biddeford & Saco Savings factory island
Saco’s First Bank Robber

Within his first few months of employment as assistant bank clerk at the Saco and Biddeford Savings Institution in 1887, young Frank McNeally was given a raise to $6 a week and assigned the task of assisting the treasurer with monthly bond reconciliations in the inner vault.

Frank was the picture of disarming innocence. At 19-years-old, his complexion was as smooth as a little girl’s. He carried his tall, handsome, impeccably-dressed frame with perfect posture, as if he had nothing in the world to hide. Bank treasurer Melville H. Kelly never wondered how this young man was able to afford such an expensive wardrobe. He had apparently not been made aware of some messy business at Old Orchard Beach the previous summer when someone else’s wallet had been found in McNeally’s possession.

On Monday afternoon, Aug. 28, 1887, Mr. Kelly was called to Biddeford a few minutes before closing time. He left instructions with McNeally to settle up the day’s business and close the bank. No one but the treasurer and the bank president were supposed to know the combination of the inner vault, but when the bank opened on Tuesday morning, $3,500 in gold, $285,500 in government, railroad and municipal bonds and Frank C. McNeally were missing.

Detective True, of Saco, rushed to the home of James and Frances McNeally on the New County Road. Mrs. NcNeally said she hadn’t seen her son since Monday afternoon. Harry McNeally, Frank’s respectable older brother, offered to assist the detective in tracking the boy down. They traced him to the Eastern Railway Station in Biddeford and then on to Portland, but from there the trail went cold. True left for Montreal on a hunch and Harry headed for Nova Scotia to search for his brother.

Management at the Saco bank made every effort to keep the heist quiet but by Thursday morning it made headlines in local papers as well as The Boston Daily Globe and The New York Times. Rumors were rampant. A reporter for the Globe wrote that probably Frank had, with the help of his good friend, the local dressmaker, disguised himself in fine women’s wear and sauntered onto the afternoon train to Boston. Someone in Buffalo, N.Y. became suspicious when a tall woman at the train station there smoked a pipe through her veil.

Depositors rushed the bank fearing their money was in jeopardy but Maine State Bank Commissioner F.E. Richards gave assurances that the bank had a healthy surplus even after the robbery. As the facts were disseminated, depositors calmed down and from all outward appearances, bank business returned to normal.

Kelly was determined to recover the stolen bonds. He believed the naive young criminal would soon learn that Registered Government Securities would be of no use to him and that the stolen negotiable bonds would not be so easy to dispose of once bankers were alerted to the robbery. But Frank McNeally had vanished without a trace.

On All Hallows Eve, almost two months after the heist, Kelly received his first proposal from Frank. It was postmarked Cairo, Egypt. In it the boy expressed remorse for having betrayed his trust and offered to send back all the bonds in exchange for $20,000 cash and a commitment that he would not be prosecuted. Kelly wanted to accept the offer but both the bank’s lawyer and Commissioner Richards strongly objected. A non-committal response was drafted by counsel and mailed to McNeally. The Commissioner publicly made the point that Kelly did not have any authority to negotiate with the thief. Kelly, meanwhile, had announced a reward of  $7,500 for the return of the bonds.

On Dec. 22, 1887, the reporter from the Globe who had been following the case, recognized  Harry McNeally in the lobby of the Halifax Hotel in Nova Scotia. Further investigation revealed that he had checked in under an assumed name with a younger man who turned out to be his brother, the bank robber. Frank McNeally was arrested by the Halifax Police and taken to a cell at the marshall’s office.

The Globe reporter was present when the police and the American Consul General searched McNeally’s hotel room. Contents of a heavy English leather portmanteau were catalogued in the Globe. It contained several silk-lined suits made of the world’s finest materials, silk underwear, 10 pair of variously colored kid gloves, and an assortment of merino socks. In a hidden compartment was an impressive array of jewelry. Not a single bond was found anywhere among Frank’s belongings.

Much to the surprise of the Halifax Police, Harry McNeally was carrying a dispatch from the Saco bank treasurer, requesting that the prisoner be set free.

Young McNeally had travelled all over the world for two months and when his negotiable currency ran out he made Kelly another offer that he could not refuse. Against the warnings of the Maine State Bank Commissioner and the Trustees of the Bank, a deal was struck.

Harry McNeally travelled to England to retrieve the bonds that had been stashed there and for his assistance, received the $7,500 reward from the bank. Reportedly, he turned the reward directly over to his younger brother.

No further record can be found of Frank C. McNeally in Saco or in any of the other United States, for that matter. The well-dressed absconder disappeared again under an assumed name and was lost to history.

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