Tag Archives: War

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.

Arundel sloop Polly slips away from the enemy

False loyalty wins escape

Kennebunkport was attacked by enemy vessels near the very end of the Revolutionary War. The story of the Arundel Militia adroitly overcoming the British in the 1782 Battle of Cape Porpoise has often been told with pride. But Kennebunkport was deeply embroiled in the war from the very beginning. Another Cape Porpoise incident that occurred just a few weeks after the first military engagement of the war has received far less attention from local historians.

The Arundel-owned coasting sloop Polly sailed from Ephraim Perkins’ wharf at what is today Dock Square on May 13, 1775. Her cargo was delivered to Plymouth, Mass. where she was loaded up again for the return trip. She set sail for Arundel on May 15, but a cutter of His Majesty’s Naval Forces would alter her course that day.

Boston was under British control at the time. Learning that the colonists had gathered an arsenal at Concord, Mass., British Military Governor, General Thomas Gage had ordered 700 soldiers to destroy the weapons depot. Admiral Samuel Graves had ferried the British soldiers across the Charles River sparking the Battle at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. When the sloop Polly sailed from Plymouth less than a month later, both British military men were stationed in Boston.

On her way home, the Polly was seized by one of Admiral Grave’s cutters, forced into Boston Harbor and into the custody of General Gage. The Polly’s cargo was immediately confiscated by Gage’s men, though top dollar was paid to the captain for them. The Polly and her crew were “detained” in Boston for some time. To escape the clutches of the British Navy, the captain of the Polly cleverly pretended loyalty to the crown, agreeing to sail to Nova Scotia to pick up supplies for the forces at Boston.

There was some confusion in preserved documents whether Ephraim Perkins captained on this voyage or if Samuel Smith of Arundel had been at the tiller. A contract to charter the Polly was drawn up between Perkins as owner and master of the said 88-ton vessel and Major William Sherriff, the King’s Deputy Quartermaster. The contract read in part, “The Above said Majr Wm Sherriff, Doth promise to pay to the said Perkins for the Run or Voyage of said Vessell, One Hundred and Eighty Dollars.”

Captain Samuel Smith testified before the Massachusetts Provincial Congress at Watertown on June 9, 1775 that as captain he had been solicited by Admiral Graves’ Secretary to enter into His Majesty’s Service. “Knowing no other way wherein I Could Possibly make my escape I entered into service to go to Winsor in Nova Scotia for hay & other things.”

Loyalists Josiah Jones and Jonathan Hicks were put onboard the Polly as supercargo to look out for His Majesty’s interests just in case the mariners had been less than honest about their allegiance. The captain was to take orders from Jones who carried with him a packet of letters, orders, and other papers that were later published in Baxter Manuscripts of the Maine Historical Society.

According to his testimony, Captain Smith received orders not to leave for Nova Scotia immediately but to wait to sail in a convoy of a number of vessels the following morning at ten o’clock. Supercargo Jones was apparently not aware of that order because when Captain Smith suggested they get an early start that night, Jones agreed.

Jones was apparently also not familiar with features of the Maine coast. He did not realize that Capt. Smith had opportunistically set a course for Cape Porpoise Harbor under the cover of darkness. Along the way, Jones ordered Capt. Smith to clean and prepare the firearms that had been placed onboard in Boston to defend the charter from the “Rebels who might attack them on their passage.” As it turned out, the rebels to fear were already onboard the Polly.

She arrived at Cape Porpoise Harbor on June 2. The loyalists, their papers and their arms were immediately turned over to the Arundel Committee of  Correspondance to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, namely, Benjamin Durell, Jonathan Stone, Thomas Wiswall, John Hovey, a notorious Whig, and James Burnham, who later became the only American casualty of the Battle of Cape Porpoise. A letter to the Provincial Congress was drafted by the committee. While they awaited a response, Jonathan Hicks and Josiah Jones were confined at Arundel.

A week later, master and mate were sent with their prisoners to Watertown, in the Polly, to be examined by the Provincial Congress. After various depositions from June 8 through June 10, Jones and Hicks were delivered to the Concord jail where they remained for several months. The Arundel Committee received special thanks from the Provincial Congress for their clever handling of the whole affair.

Loyalist Jones had a sister, Mary Dunbar, living in Concord while Josiah was imprisoned there. According to the journals of Mary’s grandson, Henry David Thoreau, she helped the prisoners escape by bringing them baskets of food in which files were concealed.

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.

A Kennebunkport man for all seasons

James A. Benson had a taste for variety

When studying family history, one often finds a character whose experiences earn him the label of family adventurer. The Benson family history is full of strong men and women, but only the mostly documented story of the life of James A. Benson, born in Kennebunkport on Dec. 4, 1840, reads like historical fiction.

Uncle Jim, as family members still refer to him, was reportedly fearless, even as a boy. He starred in a plethora of Benson-family legends beginning in his teenage years. One such legend, submitted to a local paper for publication by Melvin Landon many Halloweens ago, painted a vivid picture of Jim’s youthful bravado. After his chores were done, Jim would walk down to the Port to go see the girl he was smitten with — a girl who was at the time being courted by several young men. She lived alongside the cemetery and Jim was in the habit of cutting through to save time.

One night, after seeing Jim cross the cemetery, one of his frustrated rivals hatched a sinister plan to scare Benson off. He dug a grave right in the middle of the path he knew Jim would traverse again later that night. After sweet goodbyes were uttered, Jim took off light-footed into the night. Before a moment had passed, the ground opened up under our hero, plunging him into the freshly dug grave. Just then his rival jumped out of hiding wrapped in a sheet and in his spookiest voice chanted, “What are you doing in my grave?” Jim reached up, grabbed the ghost by the ankles, pulled him in and scrambled out. “What the hell are you doing out of your grave?” roared Jim, as he shoveled dirt onto his stunned opponent. Like most spooky graveyard tales, this one cannot be verified, but if anyone ever lived such an adventure it might well have been James Benson.

Uncle Jim volunteered, at the age of 20, to serve in the Civil War. He was sent to Fortress Monroe in Hampton, Va. He was working there as a teamster in 1861 when Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler refused to obey the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and offered Union Army Teamster jobs to many fugitive Virginia slaves.

Letters addressed to Jim at Fortress Monroe from his father in Kennebunkport have been preserved by his descendants. In them and in the regimental records we learn that after his first term as a teamster expired, Benson enlisted in Company D of the 27th Maine Regiment on Sept. 30, 1862.

Enlistment in the 27th Maine was intended to be a nine-month commitment, but as Jim’s relatively uneventful second term of service was coming to an end, President Abraham Lincoln asked members of the regiment to volunteer for an extra week of active service to defend Washington from Robert E. Lee’s army, which had recently invaded Pennsylvania. Less than half of the soldiers volunteered to stay on and the ones that did were promised the Medal of Honor.

By some bureaucratic mix-up, medals were prepared for the entire regiment and many of the medals were distributed before the mistake was discovered. The rest were later stolen from Col. Mark Wentworth’s barn, where they were being stored. In 1917, Congress ruled that only those 27th Maine soldiers who had served the extra week were eligible for the Medal of Honor. James A. Benson must not have been one of them because his name appeared on the list of soldiers whose medals were revoked.

After the war Uncle Jim travelled out west to find his next adventure. He married Irish-born Margaret Kelley in Oregon, but by the time the 1870 census was taken, Jim and Margaret were living in San Francisco, Calif. He listed his occupation as drayman; a drayman was a driver of horse or mule teams that delivered goods and supplies.

Uncle Jim’s descendants still own the whip that he is said to have handled with great skill. On one of his trips home to Kennebunkport, Jim wanted to demonstrate that skill for his family. While his aunt scolded him for wasting her time he shredded her apron with the snapping tip of his driving whip. The Bensons returned to California and by 1880 Jim was a San Francisco policeman.

He was also employed for a while as a dog sled driver in Canada. Family legend says that Benson found himself in dire straights one night having frozen several toes while he was out on a sled run. Rather than let gangrene invade his foot, he instructed a friend to cut off the discolored toes with a knife after he had consumed enough whiskey to render himself unconscious.

Sure enough, records from the Togus Maine Disabled Soldiers Home, where Uncle Jim passed away in 1907 after a thrilling 67 years, indicate he was missing three toes on his left foot and one toe on his right.

Many thanks to Frank Landon for his Benson family records. Like his mother, Ruth Landon, did before him, Frank devotes immeasurable personal time to preserving the history of Arundel and Kennebunkport.

The trials of the Webber brothers from Wells

 
A Badge of Shame
A Badge of Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People of Cape Porpoise witnessed battleship trials and war games

A right of way contest
A right of way contest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civil War battle in Portland Harbor

Stolen cutter blown up to avoid re-taking
Stolen cutter blown up to avoid re-taking

Coastal Maine does not instantly come to mind as an American Civil War battleground, but one explosive encounter in Portland Harbor put Maine on the map.

Confederate Second Lt. Charles W. Read was barely yet able to grow a beard when he convinced his commanding officer to put him in charge of the captured brig Clarence, and let him run it up the coast as a privateer cruiser. The bright-faced rebel captain burned or captured 22 Union vessels between May 6 and June 25 of 1863, moving his crew from prize to prize to avoid detection. He and his crew, disguised as hard-working fishermen, were sailing the captured fishing schooner Archer of Southport, Maine on the morning of June 26, 1863.

Two Falmouth fishermen, Albert T. Bibber and Elbridge Titcomb, who had been out hauling trawls, later testified that there was nothing to indicate the Archer was a vessel of war. So when they saw the schooner approaching them at a reckless pace, they assumed her crew consisted of “drunken fishermen on a frolic.”

Bibber and Titcomb were taken aboard the Archer for questioning by the captain. They told him about the gunboats being built at Portland and about the two passenger steamships in the harbor, the Chesapeake and the Forest City. They also informed him that the captain of the United States revenue cutter Caleb Cushing had recently died, and that the ship was lying in Portland Harbor awaiting a new commanding officer.

The schooner Archer came to anchor off Fish Point after sunset. Her sailors quickly transformed themselves from fishermen to an armed crew of the Confederate Navy while their Falmouth captives were confined in the cabin. When Bibber and Titcomb were finally brought on deck to help guide the rebels into the harbor, it was after midnight.

Capt. Read was most interested in destroying the gunboats Agawam and Pontoosic at Franklin Wharf and taking the propeller steamer Chesapeake as his new privateer cruiser, but First Officer Brown was not confident he would be able to get the cold steamer engine running without being detected. It was decided that the cutter would be quietly taken out beyond the harbor’s armed forts under the cover of darkness before any attempt was made to burn shipping at the wharves or seize the coveted Chesapeake.

The Caleb Cushing was boarded at 1:30 am. She was taken quietly without resistance and her sails set, but the incoming tide proved a challenging deterrent and even with two boats towing her she didn’t pass through Hussey Sound till dawn. Aware that he could not return for the steamer in daylight, Capt. Read sailed seaward.

Confusion reigned onshore. Customs Collector Jedediah Jewett was alerted around 8 a.m. that the Caleb Cushing had sailed out during the night without orders. His first inclination was to suspect that Georgia born Lt. Dudley Davenport, who had temporary charge of the cutter, had deserted.

Word was sent to Fort Preble to prepare arms and soldiers of the 7th Maine Regiment. The side wheel steamer Forest City set off after the Caleb Cushing, but she was in no position to fire on the rebels. The better-equipped propeller steamer Chesapeake followed with 50 civilian volunteers, 27 soldiers and 2 brass six-pounders ready for battle. They knew their fire power was no match for the U.S. revenue cutter, which had a 32-pounder pivot gun and was said to be carrying 400 pounds of gunpowder, but Yankee zeal fueled their resolve.

Fortunately, the yet loyal Lt. Davenport had refused to disclose to the rebel privateers the secret onboard location of most of the solid shot and powder. They fired through the available ammunition while the Forest City and the Chesapeake were attempting to run them down.

When the steamers were within firing range of the Caleb Cushing, Capt. Read could see he was running out of fire power. He set the cutter on fire hoping the fire would find the hidden gunpowder before the cutter was recaptured. He loaded his crew and captives into small boats and rowed away from the ticking time bomb.

For an hour, Portlanders watched as the cutter burned, acutely aware that the 400 pounds of gunpowder she carried made it imprudent for them to approach.

“Finally,” it was reported in the Eastern Argus, “a terrific explosion shook the very heavens at 2:15 pm. Fragments of shells, masts, spars and blackened timbers are seen hundreds of feet in the air. The cutter begins to sink stem first, her gleaming guns slipping off the deck and into the deep.”

The steamer Forest City picked up the boated rebels and then captured the fishing schooner Archer. The rebel captain and his crew were sent to Fort Warren in Boston for 16 months before being traded for northern prisoners in 1864. Charles W. Read concluded his Civil War service before his 25th birthday and died a Confederate War Hero before his 50th.

 

 

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.

York Maine Tea Party of 1774

Tea tax de jour - Avoidance de facto
Tea tax de jour – Avoidance de facto

American Sons of Liberty and the Committees of Correspondence were secret societies whose function was to muster public resistance to British taxation on the American Colonies. They burned houses and ships, caused bodily injury to those with whom they disagreed and generally incited mob rule in the name of their cause. The theatrical Boston Tea Party, at which members masqueraded as Mohawk Indians to destroy half a million pounds of tea, earned them popular support. The Tea Party in York Maine was orchestrated in the face of mounting pressure, to publically demonstrate the town’s patriotism.

East India Company, being close to bankruptcy and possessing a tremendous tea inventory, approached the British Parliament for help. In the Tea Act of 1773, the East India Company was granted an exemption from the tea tax that colonial American merchants were required to pay. They were also granted the right to bypass those colonial merchants and sell exclusively through Company sanctioned agents, thereby securing a monopoly on colonial tea trade. Some of the wealthiest American merchants, who also happened to be members of secret societies opposing taxation without representation, made a pact to boycott English tea. The general public, meanwhile, was enjoying the lowest tea prices they had seen in a long time.

A few months after the 1773 Boston Tea Party, Sons of Liberty member John Adams expressed concern in a letter to his wife about lukewarm support for the movement in York Maine. “There is, in this town and county,” he wrote, “a laodiceanism that I have not found in any other place. I find more persons here who call the destruction of the tea mischief and wickedness than anywhere else.”

He blamed Judge Jonathan Sayward, a wealthy York merchant and coastwise trader, who, at a dinner party in York Harbor in June of 1774, had good-naturedly warned Adams not to pursue a reactionary course without understanding the consequences. The two men were seated together at the table and Adams could see the subtle, effectual sway the eloquent Sayward had over his fellow diners from York.

As the months of 1774 passed, so too did the congenial acceptance of open Loyalist rhetoric. The media had taken sides. Masterful coverage ultimately convinced even the people of York that the plight of the wealthy American merchant was also their own. As Benjamin Franklin so astutely pointed out at the time, “the press not only can strike while the iron is hot, but it can heat it by continually striking.” No longer was it socially acceptable to sit amongst your peers and disagree with the “patriotic” point of view.

The first Continental Congress assembled from September 5, 1774 – October 26, 1774 in an attempt to restore harmony between the colonies and the mother country. Sons of Liberty, John Adams and his cousin Samuel Adams, who had been a key player in the Boston Tea Party, were in attendance. The result was an official compact to boycott all British goods effective Dec 1, 1774. But a de facto embargo was already being enforced by the less and less secret societies.

On September 15, 1774 one of Jonathan Sayward’s many vessels, the Cynthia, sailed from Newfoundland into York Harbor with the Judges nephew, James Donnell at the helm. The sloop was anchored off Keating’s Wharf for several days before it was discovered that her cargo included 150 pounds of English tea. As an approved agent of the East India Company, Sayward had not broken any laws or even any official embargos but the local Sons of Liberty regarded his bold defiance as a challenge to their de facto decree.

At an impromptu Town Meeting conducted on September 23, 1774, a committee was organized to seize Sayward’s tea. Sloop Cynthia was boarded and despite the protests of Captain Donnell, the offending commodity was forcibly confiscated. Judge Sayward’s commercial competitor in York, Captain Edward Grow, offered the use of his storehouse on the riverfront below Sewall’s bridge, for safe keeping of the tea “until further discovery could be made.”

The New-Hampshire Gazette covered events unfolding in York. “A Number of Pickwacket Indians came into the town and broke open the store and carried it [the tea] off; which has not been heard of since.”

The identity of the “Pickwacket” braves who carried away Sayward’s tea was never revealed. Press coverage of the event ended there. For all the public knew the tea was never seen again. But Jonathan Sayward recorded a different ending to the story in his diary. Once the dramatic event had delivered its desired message about York’s patriotism, the tea was quietly returned. It seems the frugal Mainers, though wishing to publicly declare their support of the embargo, were not about to destroy perfectly drinkable tea. Heroes and villains are fashioned after the fact, depending on who wins the war.

A German Howitzer quietly pleads for peace in Kennebunk

A Trophy Gun of Remembrance
A Trophy Gun of Remembrance

Thousands of people wiz by Kennebunk’s War Memorial every day but few are aware of its significance or its origin.

When the citizens of Kennebunk arrived at Town Meeting, Saturday, August 22, 1908, Saco marble dealer, George E. Morrison had already been commissioned to furnish a 21 foot granite figure of a soldier on a seven by eight foot base. The statue honoring Kennebunk soldiers of the American Civil War was to be paid for by the efforts of the Relief Corps and an appropriation by the town.

A satisfactory location for the monument could not be agreed upon. The vote to place it on Centennial Hill passed by a narrow margin but the meeting was contentious. Disgruntled voters grumbled at their neighbors as they left the meeting.

The following Monday, Henry Parsons stepped forward and offered to purchase the land at the corner of Main and Fletcher Streets for $10,000 and donate it to the town for a war memorial. The lot was the perfect choice. It was right downtown and just across the street from the Kennebunk Free Library, which had been built for the town by Henry Parson’s father, George Parsons. Peace was restored. The $4,000 statue was unveiled on October 24, 1908 amid much prayer and fanfare. All the businesses in town were dressed in their finest patriotic buntings.

In 1911, Kennebunk Legislator, Charles Perkins acquired a battle-worn cannon from the Government to be placed near the statue. After World War One, a plaque listing names of the Kennebunk soldiers who served was added to the park. William Barry donated his grandfather’s old ships cannon that had been fired from Centennial Hill to celebrate Armistice Day. Both of these old guns have since been put in storage.

A June 7, 1924 Act of Congress provided for the distribution of captured enemy artillery as war memorials for American cities and towns. Maine was allotted its share of German WWI field guns and the Harold A. Webber American Legion Post was the first to apply for one. The request was passed over even though Kennebunk had sent more men into the World War per capita then any other town in Maine.

Henry Parsons, a member of Kennebunk’s American Legion Post, stepped forward again. This time he was determined to acquire a piece of German Artillery. In 1928 he became aware of 20 captured Howitzers that had been placed with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. They were being stored on the grounds of War College for lack of space at the museum so Parsons went to Washington DC to examine the collection. He picked out his three favorite guns and wrote an appeal to the Smithsonian Institute on behalf of the Kennebunk American Legion. “The cannons are seriously deteriorating through the rusting of the steel and the decaying of the wood-work,” he wrote.  “The Harold A. Webber Post respectfully request that one of these cannon be donated to the Post as a war memorial – all expenses in connection with such donation to be paid by the Post.”

After many letters between the Post, the Smithsonian Institute, The War Department and United States Congressman, Lister Hill, the donation was finally approved. These letters, which have been carefully preserved in scrapbooks kept at the Webber-Lefebvre Post 74, were graciously shared with your columnist by Commander Brian McBride. In one rather terse letter from the Post to Governor Ralph O. Brewster, the Post Commander complained that as deserving as the large voting membership of the Kennebunk Legion was they had been overlooked to receive one of the original allotment of German cannons. He then suggested that the Governor might want to rectify the situation by applying to the War department on their behalf.

In the early part of August, 1928, the German 150mm sFH13 Lang Howitzer arrived at the depot on a flat bottom car. The 4700 pound field gun was unloaded and hauled behind an auto-truck to Town Hall by Henry Parsons, Elmer M. Roberts and Post Commander A.L. Leach. It was riddled with shrapnel and bullet holes; clear evidence of combat against the allied forces. Mobility and fire power made the sFH13 one of the most important pieces in the arsenal of the German Artillery during WWI.  The Fried. Krupp Steel Company had delivered 3,409 of them to the front lines by 1918 when Kennebunk’s Howitzer was captured off a French battlefield.

At the beginning of WWII the Howitzer was contributed to a war effort scrap drive, to be cut up for bullets. As it turned out, the Biddeford junkman did not own an acetylene torch hot enough to cut the cannon into pieces for smelting. After several years of storage at the junkyard it was hauled back to the American Legion Hall on High Street. There it remained until the new Legion Hall was opened on Water Street.

It was reported in the Star that Kennebunk citizens voted to accept the Howitzer as a donation from the American Legion in 1977 to keep it in town “since other area American Legion Posts wanted it.” It was placed at the War Memorial and there it remains to remind us of the price of war.