Tag Archives: Wells

Island Ledge House Scandal Wells Beach

Island Ledge Hotel and mapThe ever-fuzzy line between visionary business savvy and blind greed besmirches the brief history of the 1871 Island Ledge House at Wells Beach.

Boston & Maine Railroad Company built the Wells Beach station in 1872 after much advance press.  Anticipating improved access to “watering” summer folk, resourceful businessmen Harrison B. Davis, his brother Alfred, and William A. Worster, started quietly buying up parcels of land in 1870.

A large, opulent hotel was erected in 1871 at the ocean end of what is today called Mile Road.  Over 1400 guests were entertained there during the first season.  The proprietors celebrated by adding an ell that contained sixty additional rooms which were occupant-ready by June of 1872.  Island Ledge House was advertised to have large airy single and en suite rooms, wide halls lighted with gas, extensive verandas with unobstructed sea views on three sides, a billiard hall, bowling alleys, a croquet lawn, sailboats with skillful skippers and a quadrille band in constant attendance.  For the first few years the day to day operations of the hotel were supervised by the Davis brothers.

William A. Worster took over in 1874.  He placed a new ad that described the hotel as having “four stories with a mansard roof and about 200 rooms.”  Such abundance could be enjoyed for just $3 a day.  In contrast to the success enjoyed during its first few seasons the hotel was losing money under Worster’s management.

When the vacant, heavily insured complex of buildings burned to the ground on February 15, 1878, after five short years in operation, Worster was accused of incendiarism; a charge he denied.  The case was settled out of court but further investigation uncovers the fact that another heavily insured building owned by Worster had burned in 1870 just months before he invested in the hotel development.

Worster married Berwick widow Juliette Ricker in 1875.  She was a pretty well connected young lady.  Her brother Sherman A. Ricker, known as the “Corn King” of the Chicago Board of Trade, was living in a wildly reckless manner and his siblings were his only known heirs.  When the “Corn King” died in 1882 his estate was vast.  William Worster’s bride stood to inherit hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The millionaire’s girlfriend, Elizabeth House, delayed disbursement of the funds by claiming that she and the deceased had been secretly married.  Ultimately she was unable to prove her claim and Juliette Worster received her inheritance in 1885.

In the meantime, William Worster found himself in more legal trouble so he transferred all his assets into his wife’s name.  The Boston Daily Advertiser reported the story on March 27, 1886.

Strafford County Jail tonight contains an exceptional prisoner – William A. Worster of Great Falls.  Worster is reputed very wealthy and has lived in Berwick, ME most of his life.  His father died some years since leaving him a large fortune. The prisoner was proprietor for many years of the Island Ledge House, a large Hotel at Wells Beach, ME and married a lady worth $250,000.  The Hotel was burned several years ago and there has been constant litigation ever since.  Two years since the Grand Jury of York County Maine found an indictment against him for obtaining $900 by false pretenses from Sewell I. Cowell of Berwick.  He then changed his residence to Great Falls, NH and the indictment still hangs over him.  The Supreme Court at the February term, 1885, rendered judgment against Worster for $6054 in favor of his uncle, William A. Lord of Berwick, since deceased.  Worster placed his property out of reach of the Sheriff who then had him arrested on suspicion of an intent to leave the State.  J. Bagley and Charles Jones of Great   Falls went bonds, Worster’s wife placing $6000 to their credit to guarantee them against loss.  Worster declared he had no money and wanted to take the poor debtors’ oath, thinking plaintiff would not push the case any further.  He came to jail this afternoon and surrendered himself and was astonished to find the council for the plaintiff there, who lodged $1000 in the jailer’s hands which is guarantee for the prisoner’s board for eight years.  Worster declares he will stay, if necessary, rather than pay.”

Worster served five years.  His stubbornness had been based on the assumption that his wife would continue to fund his litigation but it didn’t work out that way.  Julliette ran off to Europe with prominent Somersworth, New   Hampshire business man Emery J. Randall in 1888 leaving William A.Worster the pauper he had claimed to be.

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.

The Earth Moved…Again

A force of nature

The recent earthquake, epicentered two miles west of Hollis Center, measured 4.0 on the Richter Magnitude Scale and lasted a few seconds. Mainers described the earthquake sensation as “a thunderous noise followed by rolling vibrations,” and “like a huge truck was driving through my basement,” and “as if my washing machine was way out of balance.” The tremor of Oct. 16, 2012 rattled nerves and tea cups as far away as Connecticut but it pales in comparison to the earthquakes felt in Maine during the 17th and 18th centuries. Nevertheless, within the context of the time, descriptions of the earthquake experience remain fairly consistent.

The first major quake in New England, after the English settlers arrived, was on June 2, 1638. Estimated to have been a magnitude 6.5, it was long referred to as “The Great Earthquake.” William Williamson wrote of it in his History of the State of Maine: “It commenced with a noise like continued thunder, or the rattling of stage coaches upon pavements … The sound and motion continued about four minutes, and the earth was unquiet at times, for 20 days afterwards.” Imagine the terror in times of magical thinking.

An earthquake that occurred on Oct. 29, 1727 has been approximated at 5.6 magnitude. Its epicenter was off the coast of New Hampshire and Massachusetts but it shook the east coast from Maine to Delaware. Paul Dudley, attorney-general of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, described it in a contemporary letter to the Royal Society of London: “The noise or sound that accompanied or preceded our earthquake was very terrible and amazing. Some of our people took this noise to be thunder; others compared it to the rattling of coaches and carts upon pavements, or frozen ground.”

Kennebunkport historian Charles Bradbury reports that many chimneys and stone walls were shaken down in Arundel in 1727. He credits the earthquake for inspiring temporary reformation among citizens of Arundel with a large number of them finding religion during the months followed.

An unusual phenomenon called “Earthquake Lights” has only, in the last 50 years, been photographed and documented by the scientific community. Flashes of blue, orange or white light, sometimes having the appearance of flames or explosions, appear in the sky around the time of a moderate to strong earthquake. The cause is unknown but the phenomenon has been reported since ancient times. There were several reports of bright flashes of light seen before and after the 1727 earthquake.

One such account was printed in the New England Weekly Journal. A gentleman from Newington, N.H. saw what he thought was an explosion over the mountains, a great distance to the northwest of his house, shortly after the quake. His vision was affirmed by Indians who had recently traveled from the mountains by canoe down the Saco River. “Several Indians who lately came into Black-Point (Scarborough) told them that a mountain near where they were at the time of the earthquake was partly blown up with fire, and burnt at so prodigious a rate that it was amazing to behold it; Upon this they all removed their quarters as soon as they could; but yet have since, and very lately too, seen the flames arise in a very awful and amazing manner. They also say, they thought the great god was angry with them for being so active in the wars, and resolved never more to engage in any war against the English.”

Some Englishmen also believed that earthquakes were a sign of God’s displeasure. The same lighting phenomenon accompanied the 6.0 earthquake of 1755 centered near Cape Ann, Mass. Rev. Thomas Prince, in his essay, “EARTHQUAKES the Works of GOD, and Tokens of His just Displeasure,” seemed to blame the quake on Benjamin Franklin’s new-fangled lighting rods, which had become popular in the city of Boston that year.

Since most of the damage from the earthquake occurred in the brick buildings of Boston and not in the movable timber frames in the country, lightning rods were blamed for trapping excess electricity in the earth. It accumulated there until the earth could hold no more and released the electricity by exploding in an earthquake.

Prince’s point seemed to be that God’s wrath could not be diverted for long through trickery. The consequences of avoiding the occasional lightning strike would end up being far worse in the end as demonstrated by the lightning rod induced earthquake of 1755.

Earthquakes were taken as a sign from God by ministers in southern Maine, as well. The church at Arundel called for a fast by the congregation to atone for their sins. Sermons were delivered on the subject of earthquakes in Maine meetinghouses. Rev. Gideon Richardson of Wells experienced such a shock to his nervous system from the earthquake of 1755 that his death in 1758 was generally believed to be a result of the quake.

Major and minor earthquakes have been fairly common in New England in the whole scheme of things. Many seem to have followed a northwest to southeast tract. Some of the major ones were accompanied by Earthquake Lights. A large percentage of them  have been explained away by some form of magical thinking.

The Temple of Bacchus in Wells, Maine

The original Temple of Bacchus has stood in the Lebanese Republic honoring the god of wine and revelry since around 150 A.D. The Wells Temple of Bacchus didn’t last quite so long.

Vincent J. Morino, former dancer at Radio City Music Hall, actor on Broadway and entertainer on the Borscht Belt circuit, had been operating the posh Homestead Inn in Greenwich, Conn. for several years with his business partner H. Carlisle Estes, a former magazine promotion executive at Time, Family Circle Magazine and Conde Nast Publications. Morino acquired a 200-year-old house on the Post Road in Wells from the estate of Millard Kaye. The property needed work and had some financial encumbrances, but the two men moved to Wells in January 1978 with the idea of converting the old house into a restaurant.

They planned to call their new restaurant The 1776 House and spent lavishly to renovate and furnish the barn in time to open for the 1978 summer season. Almost as an afterthought, they applied to the town zoning board for permission to open a restaurant, but the busy Route 1 location turned out to be in a residential zone and their application was denied.

Two weeks later, after filing suit against the town, Morino and Estes claimed to have been ordained through the mail by the Universal Life Church in Modesto, Calif. as Cardinal Vincent Morino and Bishop H. Carlisle Estes. Soon after Morino’s second appeal to the Zoning Board was denied, Bishop Estes had a “divine revelation” that decreed he should form a church in Wells in the name of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and revelry. Bacchus had appeared to him in a vision, he said, ordering him to worship God at regular church suppers or services held nightly, except on Wednesdays.

Cardinal Morino witnessed the revelation and humbly agreed to lease his Post Road property to the temple for nightly worship. According to the Wells Zoning Ordinance, churches were an approved use in residential neighborhoods. It was at about this time that editor Sandy Brook brought the “divine revelation” to light on the pages of his weekly paper, The York County Coast Star.

Brook, who seemed slightly amused by the story, contacted Kirby J. Hensley, founder of the Universal Life Church, to verify that the Connecticut restaurateurs had indeed been ordained. “We’re a large corporation,” said Hensley, who had started his mail-order church in his garage. “We’ve got seven million ordained ministers. It’s kind of hard to keep track of all of these guys. Estes does have a press card, but we don’t show him as a bishop in our records. I’m not saying that he isn’t one,” continued Hensley. “It’s no problem to become a bishop in this church.”

Several Wells clergymen lined up with the Selectmen in opposition to a mail-order bishop’s plan, but the application raised some interesting questions about what exactly constitutes a church and who exactly has the right to decide. The Boston Globe picked up the story and soon the question of the Wells Temple of Bacchus was being debated by religious scholars across the country.

To make matters even more difficult for officials of the Town of Wells, the State of Maine legally certified the Temple of Bacchus. Morino and Estes were delighted to add catered weddings and funerals to the list of services they planned to offer. The only thing holding them back was the permits.

Impatient, Bishop Estes threatened to sue the Town of Wells for religious discrimination unless they granted him the licenses needed to open the temple. Town officials, who had been dragging their feet on the permits, began to take the issue more seriously.

To end the madness and stave off further litigation the town agreed to allow 12 Temple of Bacchus Feasts during what remained of 1978 and 12 more feasts in 1979, a temporary measure just until the courts had a chance to rule on whether or not the feasts were legitimate church services. Code Enforcement Officer Roland Geib issued plumbing permits and plans for the opening performance … er … service went into high gear.

When opening night finally arrived in early December, reporters and photographers nearly outnumbered patrons in the ornately decorated 42-seat dining room. Morino and Estes, clad in black cassocks with white clerical collars, poured goblets of sacramental wine and took parishioners’ orders — for sirloin tips with mushrooms, roast duckling or scallops sautéed in chablis. In the basement kitchen, The Mother Superior, Sister Marguerite Lyons, prepared the feast which was delivered to the tables by waiters and waitresses attired in brown monks’ garb. Hailing the “divine service” as a triumph of good over evil, Estes asked each dinner guest to donate a blessed offering of $15 — tax deductible of course.

“Its a charade, its a charade,” Ogunquit artist Val Thelin was heard to say. “But it’s a beautiful one.” He also proclaimed the cream of pumpkin soup to be divine.

Through one loophole or another Temple services continued through May of 1979. Legal battles were finally laid to rest on March 15, 1980 when Superior Court Justice Stephen L Perkins issued an injunction to prohibit the temple from serving meals or alcoholic beverages without necessary authorization from the Town of Wells to operate a restaurant.

The church was dissolved and Morino applied to the Zoning Board for permission to open an antique shop, another acceptable use under the Zoning Ordinance.

White slavery in colonial New England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wreck of the Fred B. Taylor on Wells Beach

A Case of Nautical Clevage

Wells Beach cottagers were befuddled one morning in August 1892 by the appearance of one half of a large wooden sailing ship, rocking upright and surprisingly intact in the surf in front of Pine Island cottage.

The rear end of the Nova Scotia ship, the Fred B. Taylor, had traveled more than 400 miles after being separated from her other half 44 days earlier.

The whole 9-year-old ship had left Havre for New York on May 12, 1892. At a 1,789-ton capacity, she was one of the largest and finest wooden ships on the Yarmouth, NS list. Capt. E. F. Hurlburt was proud to command her, but he was a little tense on the morning of June 22. It was 6:30 a.m. and he had been on deck for hours navigating through a blinding fog. To make matters worse, the Taylor’s mechanical foghorn had stopped working during the night. All that was available for a substitute was an ordinary mouth horn.

Capt. Reimkasten, meanwhile, was sailing the 4,969 ton German steamer, Trave, at top speed from New York to Breman, when he encountered the same fog bank about 100 miles southeast of Sandy Hook. He saw the Fred B. Taylor only seven seconds before slicing her in two — as easily as a knife slices through a block of soft cheese. Two fatalities resulted. Charles Woodley, first mate on the Taylor, was crushed to death in his berth, and the ship’s carpenter, a Russian Finn by the name of Careston, was knocked overboard and drowned.

Before the 1,500 steamer passengers could make it on deck to see what had jarred them awake, the Trave had passed between the two halves of the wooden vessel and disappeared again into the fog.

Later, in an interview with a reporter from the New York Times, the Taylor’s steward said, ” … it was fortunate the ship was made of wood because when the vessel was cut in half, the two parts stood upright in the water as the ballast in the holds emptied itself into the sea. This gave the rescuers from the Trave time to reach the wreck.”

Nineteen of the 21 crewmen aboard the Fred B. Taylor were rescued with only the clothes on their backs. The only woman on board, a stewardess, was knocked into the sea from the impact but was pulled into one of the steamer’s boats just as she was about to go under for the third time.

When the fog finally lifted, the bow of the Fred B. Taylor was still in sight, but her back half had disappeared. The shape of the stern portion of the wrecked vessel presented a much larger surface area for the northeast wind to affect. The bow, which rode much lower in the water after the accident, obeyed the drift of the cold ocean water flowing south between the Gulf Stream and the Atlantic coast.

In the weeks that followed, both halves of the derelict ship were tracked by passing vessels as they bobbed along in opposite directions. The stern started off toward the east, turned northward, passed Boston 100 miles off the coast on July 9, and having approached within a few miles of Matinicus Island, turned west again and went ashore on Wells Beach on Aug. 6 or 7. The following report appeared in the Biddeford Daily Journal a few days later:

“Cottagers residing at Wells Beach in the vicinity of Pine Island were much surprised to see landed in front of their cottages in the early morning a large mass of something on the beach which as the tide  receded was inspected and found to be a wreck or part of a large vessel. At low water it was found to be the larboard quarter of the ship Fred B. Taylor, the chain plates and dead eyes of the mizzen mast remaining. The stern post remained but the rudder was gone. The deck from stern to forward part of house still remaining, also. The railing around the stern, the timbers and flooring and in fact all the vessel being of soft wood. The deck showed that either by accident or otherwise, she had been on fire. Wreckers were at work upon the wreck securing the iron and copper. The yellow metal was strewn around the beach. On Sunday quite a large number of people were around viewing the remains from far and near, and for some a great curiosity. Since the wreck came ashore a steamer has been seen between Boon Island and the beach, evidently sailing around in search of something, which no doubt was the very wreck, either to destroy it or tow it out of the way, being very dangerous to navigation.”

The bow of the derelict was last spotted at the end of August 1892, off the coast of North Carolina with bits of her tattered sails still visible after also having traveled more than 400 miles. The ultimate separation of the two floating halves of the Fred B. Taylor by more than 600 miles was reported for many years as a unique occurrence in maritime history.

Wells Landmark named after infamous prophet

The troublesome Mr. Baker

Baker’s Spring, that bubbles out of the earth near the boundary between Wells and what used to be York, was, according to Wells historians Hubbard and Greenleaf, named for a person who had participated in bringing King Charles I to the block for beheading. When King Charles II ascended the throne in 1660, Baker supposedly concealed himself under a rock near the spring for two years.

Like most historical legends, this one is probably based on a distortion of actual facts. E.E. Bourne wrote in his “History of Wells and Kennebunk,” that there were indeed three men who signed the death warrant of King Charles I and fled to New England when Charles II succeeded his father to the throne, but each has been accounted for and none were named Baker.

There was a John Baker who might well have been hiding in the woods from the law, but he was living in New England in 1649 during the trial of King Charles I. He was, however, later accused and convicted for conspiring to kill King Charles II.

John Baker had a colonial rap sheet as long as your arm. Most of his offenses were violent arguments that followed alcoholic over-indulgence or “haranguing and prophesying” in his own form of fanatical religion. John Winthrop described John Baker in his journal as an unprincipled drunk whose professed faith was of the opportunistic variety.

Winthrop wrote, “One John Baker, a member of the church of Boston, removing from thence to Newbury for enlargement of his outward accommodation, being grown wealthy from nothing, grew there very disordered, fell into drunkenness and such violent contention with another brother, maintaining the same by lying, and other evil courses, that the magistrates sent to have him apprehended. But he rescued himself out of the officer’s hands and removed to Agamenticus (York).”

In 1653, Baker was living in Cape Porpoise when, according to historian Charles Bradbury, he was again admonished for “abusive and approbrious speeches uttered by him against the minister and ministry and for upholding private meetings and prophecying to the hindrance and disturbance of publick assemblings.”

John wandered from town to town in New England attempting to stay two steps ahead of the law from 1639 – 1653. After a third attempt to establish himself in Boston, Baker was finally banished from the colonies as a “blasphemer, atheist and a liar.”

Meanwhile in England, Parliamentary Representative Oliver Cromwell had long been an outspoken critic of royal policies. With little military experience he convinced Parliament to establish an army to protect their interests against the King. While John Baker was hiding from colonial law in New England, Cromwell was effectively leading Parliament’s military forces.

King Charles I was defeated by Cromwell’s army in two civil wars and was subsequently dethroned,  tried and beheaded in 1649 for his efforts to negate Parliamentary power. Oliver Cromwell, who sought to make England a republic and abolish the religious intolerance promoted by Charles I, signed his death warrant.

Parliament’s enemies were defeated and the war ended, but in 1653, just as the banished John Baker was arriving from the colonies, Cromwell dissolved the Parliament with military force and appointed himself Lord Protector, the equivalent of a military dictator.

Baker became a guardsman for Oliver Cromwell. He grew accustomed to his new financial comfort and religious freedom. After Cromwell died in 1658, his circumstances changed once again. He was reduced to grinding knives for a meager living and according to later trial testimony, he often expressed a certain bitterness about his poverty.

The republic could not be sustained without Oliver Cromwell. The monarchy was restored and the beheaded King’s son was invited to take the throne. Several former New Englanders actively opposed King Charles II. Thomas Venner, another religious radical who had been an early resident of York, led an uprising against the monarchy in January 1661. Chaos reigned in the streets of London for several days. Although Venner was captured and immediately executed, King Charles II became acutely aware of the number of radical Protestants that opposed the monarchy.

In October of the same year, John Baker was approached by fellow Cromwell soldier, John Bradley, who inquired how he had been reduced to such lowly employment. Baker scoffed and told him he had to be willing to do whatever he could to make a living. Bradley offered to pay Baker to recruit Cromwell’s former soldiers and “Fifth Monarchy Men, Anabaptists, Fighting Quakers, Levellers” and other religious radicals to participate in a plot to kill King Charles II. He showed Baker huge ammunition stores at his disposal and convinced him that victory was theirs for the taking.

Baker was a most enthusiastic henchman. He spent many an evening drinking and boasting in London pubs and eventually recruited a crowd of eager malcontents. Before anything but barroom conspiring had been accomplished they were all arrested and tried for participating in a grandiose plot to kill King Charles II.

The would-be assassins had been duped. Bradley was working for the King. There never had been a viable plot to overthrow the government but unknowingly they had rounded up most of the King’s enemies.

Baker was quick to turn against his partners in crime but that wasn’t enough to save his life. He was hanged for being willing to “wash his hands in the blood of the King.”

The trials of the Webber brothers from Wells

 
A Badge of Shame
A Badge of Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Mabel & Richard Boothby-Kennebunk Beach Pioneers

Mabel Littlefield, Skipper, Merchant, Character
Mabel Littlefield, Skipper, Merchant, Character

Mabel Littlefield was born into a Wells family of means in 1702. Her mannerisms were not delicate like her sister’s and her plain appearance was not much improved by an extraordinary fondness for jewelry. But she had the courage and adventurous character of a pioneer.

Peers mocked young Mabel’s looks, incessantly. They assured her that no amount of glittery adornment would ever disguise her obvious unsuitability for marriage. In defense of her dignity Mabel always replied that her jewelry was not worn to please anyone but herself. That was usually followed by a declaration that she intended to marry the handsomest man any of them would ever know.

For a while, it seemed like the hurtful taunts Mabel tried to dismiss might come true. Most of her peers were married and having children by by 1722. Her younger brothers, Peletiah and Jonathan, took to the sea as soon as they came of age, just as they were expected to do, first on their father’s coasting vessels and later on their own. But what was the proud but husbandless Mabel expected to do? Discard her jewels and submit to a lonely, purposeless existence.

Instead, Miss Littlefield learned to sail. She took command of one of her father’s sloops and transported lumber, fish and other merchandise to Boston, returning to Wells with goods for her father’s store. Neither her appearance nor her jewelry was a hindrance at sea. After a few years, her expert seamanship and an innate business sense had earned her a sizable dowry in her own name. When an exceptionally handsome Irishman named Richard Boothby moved to Wells Mabel won him over with her ample endowment of character, intelligence and property.

The couple married in Newington, NH, when Mabel was 28 years old; well past the age of hopeless spinsterhood in 1730. They moved to Richard’s land near what would come to be known as Boothby Beach. Like his wife Mabel, Richard Boothby was proud. Though others referred to him as a tanner and a shoemaker, he always made the distinction of calling himself a “cordwainer” in deeds and official documents. Cordwainers used new hides to make high quality shoes and considered their craft far and away more respectable than that of a lowly cobbler.

The Boothbys became citizens of the newly settled part of Wells called Kennebunk when most of it was wilderness and Indian attacks were still an ever-present threat. In 1746, Richard Boothby and his neighbors petitioned the Wells parish to allow them to be set off as a separate parish they would share with residents of Arundel that lived near the eastern side of Kennebunk River. Arundel, as Kennebunkport was then called, had its own jurisdictional issues. The only church in town was in Cape Porpoise. Those living near the Kennebunk River had a long way to travel for worship. The petition was at first ignored but residents of the Kennebunk district of Wells persisted and a parish was finally established at Kennebunk Landing on March 14, 1751.

Arundel inhabitants living near the River sometimes took communion at the new Kennebunk Meeting House even though it was not officially their parish. Richard and Mabel Boothby were highly indignant that such informal attendance should be permitted. Daniel Remich wrote in his History of Kennebunk, “They looked upon it as presumptuous, and a great offense, and were unwilling to countenance such aberration from duty by communing with them.” The Boothbys refused to attend the church they had fought so hard to establish.

Once Richard and Mabel were assured that they would no longer be required to break bread with people from Arundel they renewed their membership in the church. Perhaps they were influenced to return by the loss of five of their children during the 1754 throat distemper epidemic in Kennebunk.  When the building of a new church was proposed in 1767 Richard Boothby was one of the few who opposed it. For one reason or another, the new church building was not completed until after both Richard and Mabel had passed.

Richard Boothby died in Jan 2, 1782.   His funeral was every bit as elaborate as his wealthy father in-law, Jonathan Littlefield’s had been though the Boothbys were much less able to afford such extravagance. Special black gloves were ordered from Boston for the ladies and the pall bearers along with yards and yards of fabric and ribbon. Proud Mabel lived to be 96 years old.

Pioneers Mabel and Richard Boothby were progenitors of a large and estimable Kennebunk family. Author Kenneth Roberts found Mabel’s story so compelling he used her as a character in his historical fiction.