Tag Archives: York County

North St/Maine St Kennebunkport Village

closeup 1805 Map
1805 changes to what is now known as North St and Maine St Kennebunkport

North St/Maine St  Kennebunkport Village

When North St/Maine St was laid out in 1755 there was already a bridge over Perkins Tide Mill Creek.  It was located just above the mill dam and was then known as the ‘Long Creek Bridge’.

From Arundel Town Book I March 18, 1755 (with spelling corrections made for readability)

“Voted the road from Goff’s Mill so-called to Harding’s Ferry as it is laid out : beg. at the lane that leads from ye Town Road to the Widow Merrill’s house and so down as the road now goes to the dividing line between lots that were formerly Esq. Hill’s lots and Col. Storer’s then S.E. and by E. to Mr. Rhodes field or house and from said Rhodes to the first brook where the road crosses the brook and from said brook on a S. course 42 R to head of Bass Cove and so crossing cove by an old hemlock tree over to a pine stump then S.W. and by S. 100R and then S.W. to Long Creek Bridge and from said bridge along by Mr. Eliphalet Perkins fence to the N.E. end of said fence then on a direct course along by and near ye N.E. corner of the little house where Mr. Shackford Sr. lived and from thence to the back side of Gideon Walker’s barn and so on to Saml Perkins land then down as the old road goes to the old mill brook so-called and 7 R over said brook as the road now is and from there on a S.W. course 32 R to the old road then as the old road goes to the head of Harding’s Cove so on the lower road or way. Road to be 2 Rods wide.”

When that road was expanded and straightened in 1805 a map of the original course and proposed changes was filed with the York County Court of Sessions.  See full 1805 Sessions Record below.Full 1805 Map Page

Narrative from York County Court of General Session Records

Full 1805 Map Narrative Page

Old Alfred jailhouse saw inmates come and go

A jail with porus walls

Alfred became a half shire-town in 1802. A log jail was built there the following year, which according to an 1833 legislative report, proved to be “grossly insufficient and unsuitable for the purposes for which it was built.”

A new, more secure jail made of stone was clearly necessary by the time Alfred became a full shire-town in 1832. Even though four successful escapes were recorded between 1831 and 1834, taxpayers were vehemently opposed to the required expenditure of $7,737.12. A stone jail was built nonetheless.

The 1834 jail was not adequate for long. Alfred became the principal shire-town for York County in 1860, and by 1869 legislators were lobbying for funds to build another new jail at Alfred. The project was finally approved by the Legislature in 1872, providing the construction could be completed for less than $30,000. To that end, authorization was granted for the contractors to use “any and all materials” of the 1834 jail to build the new jail within budget.

The brick jail was just nearing completion in March 1873 when Louis H.F. Wagner was arrested for the famous double murder at Smuttynose Island. Wagner was incarcerated at Saco and then at the Cumberland County jail in Portland while his quarters at the new York County correctional facility were being readied. He was finally transferred to Alfred on April 29, 1873, as the first inmate of the new jail.

On a Wednesday evening in June, not quite two months into his stay, Louis Wagner and two other inmates walked unnoticed out the front door. A reporter for the New York Times went to Alfred to see for himself how the prisoners were able to escape from the brand new modern jail.

“As I approached the building, prisoners could be heard laughing and singing inside,” wrote the reporter. “I entered, and a dozen prisoners flocked about me. They are all at perfect liberty to roam about the corridors. They have no handcuffs and, seemingly, no restraint.”

The locks on the cell doors had been ineffectual since they were installed. One of the prisoners demonstrated for the stunned reporter that all the cells could be unlocked simply by sliding any narrow strip of wood into the lock.

“Such being the case, the jailer makes no attempt to keep the prisoners in their cells,” revealed the big city newsman.

Two special guards were stationed less than 20 feet from Wagner’s cell. They had been assigned to guard only him, but for several days before his escape, Wagner had cleverly desensitized the guards by repeatedly hiding himself only to pop out of his hiding place, laughing when they summoned the warden.

On the night Louis Wagner, William McCarley and Charles Harrington escaped, Wagner put on quite a performance for the guards, convincing them that he was feeling quite ill and planned to confine himself to bed all evening. By the time the guards took their posts at 9 p.m., Wagner was already gone. He had fashioned the likeness of a man huddled under the blankets on his cot with a short broom and a stool from his cell. It was hours before the guards noticed that the “man” wasn’t moving and when they did, they were reluctant to call the warden for fear the murderer would make fools of them again.

The prisoners had made their way through a scuttle in the jail, up through a ventilator and onto the roof with the intention of lowering themselves down a rope of blanket strips. Noticing a skylight into the warden’s quarters, they decided instead to remove a pane of glass and reach in to unlock the large window. Once inside, they quietly made their way down the stairs and walked right out the door.

Wagner was recaptured by a farmer in Farmington, N.H., three days later. Unaware of the $500 reward on his head, he had been driven by hunger to the farmer’s kitchen door.

The axe-murderer was transferred to the Maine State Prison in Thomaston, where he was later hanged for his crimes. The locks on the cell doors at the Alfred jail were disassembled and sent to Boston for repair, but escapes were frequent throughout the 100 years the building served as the York County House of Correction.

The last escape from the old brick jail took place in September of 1974. The familiar story appeared in the Lewiston Journal.

“Four young inmates escaped from York County jail Friday night. The men apparently forced a section of the ceiling and climbed out through an air duct to the roof and then used blankets to lower themselves to the ground.”

The death of an epileptic inmate from untreated seizures on Sept. 27, 1975, was the catalyst for a riot that closed the old brick jailhouse for good. The 15 inmates ripped out sinks, bunks and electrical wiring in every cell, causing significant damage. Forty law enforcement officers, including state police and firefighters with hoses, quelled the riot. All the inmates were transferred to the Cumberland County Jail and the cellblock at the Alfred jail was closed by order of the court.

The old jailhouse was deemed unfit for prisoner habitation but it was used for a number of years as York County’s first homeless shelter before being auctioned in the year 2000. It still stands on Route 111 in Alfred, as a somber reminder of the darker side of our history.

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.

The King Kleagle of Maine’s Ku Klux Klan was an opportunist

The Evolving Mr. Farnsworth
The Evolving Mr. Farnsworth

Governor Percival Baxter dismissed the validity of the Ku Klux Klan in 1922.  “I do not believe that any level-headed citizens of Maine will allow themselves to be influenced by such an organization,” he told a reporter.  Two years later Baxter’s gubernatorial successor, Ralph O. Brewster, was swept into office by an army of White Knights.  Most of them had been seduced by the flimflammery of F. Eugene Farnsworth.

The first Klansmen organized in the southern states after the Civil War.  Their bigotry was aimed at newly freed African Americans.  When the federal government started prosecuting Klan crime in the 1870s, the organization was suppressed.  The “Second Klan” was formed after World War I in response to growing immigration to the United States.  In addition to feeling threatened by African Americans, the new Klan objected to equal rights for Catholics, Jews and immigrants of all nationalities.

French Canadian Catholics were gaining influence in local Maine politics and were lobbying for state funds to support their parochial schools.  F. Eugene Farnsworth, who claimed to be a native of Columbia Falls, appealed to Protestant ministers all around the state as Maine’s King Kleagle.  He promised to eradicate parochial schools and to fight for the right of “100% Americans” to teach the Bible in public schools.  In exchange, he asked that the clergy declare their support for the Klan from the pulpit.  Many of them did.  Their support and Farnsworth’s mesmerizing oratory gifts led to the initiation of thousands of Klansmen in a matter of months.

There was broad social acceptance of the “Invisible Empire” and their claims of patriotism in Maine. One newspaper advertised an impressive list of activities available to vacationers at the Merriland Camp for girls in Wells; “Tennis, croquet, golf, bathing, volleyball, dancing, canoeing, masquerades, Ku Klux initiations, pool, and music.”

Maine’s King Kleagle F. Eugene Farnsworth addressed appreciative crowds in Kittery, Saco, Hollis, Sanford, and elsewhere. The Klan purchased a very visible headquarters on Forest Avenue in Portland with new membership proceeds. At the August 1923 opening ceremony, followers were initiated by the light of a fifty-foot burning cross while ten thousand spectators looked on.

A month after the flamboyant spectacle in Portland, a story broke in the Fitchburg Sentinel that changed everything.  Maine’s King Kleagle was well known in Fitchburg as Salvation Army recruiter and local barber turned traveling hypnotist, Frank Farnsworth.  He had left town in shame in 1901 after his mesmerized assistant, Tom Bolton, was killed onstage.

Bolton’s job was to pretend to be hypnotized.  He was laid out between two chairs and a huge boulder was placed on his stomach.  A volunteer from the audience, who was actually employed by Farnsworth, then tried to break the rock with a sledgehammer.  During his final performance, the chair under Bolton’s head slipped and his skull was crushed by the rock.  To avoid a manslaughter conviction, Frank Farnsworth was forced to admit that his hypnotism act was a sham and that his assistant had participated in the trick with his full faculties.

After leaving Fitchburg, Frank traveled to South America on an expedition to photograph headhunters.  He then returned to the U.S. and as F. Eugene Farnsworth, performed an illustrated magic lantern show about exotic travel destinations.  His dramatic delivery earned rave reviews in Washington D.C.  It was not a lucrative occupation but it satisfied his lust for an audience.  Farnsworth also had a short career as a movie producer in Connecticut.

National Klan officials took a closer look at Maine’s King Kleagle. Farnsworth’s daylight parades in full Klan regalia and his show biz approach started getting him in trouble with the usually clandestine organization.  Then the Klan discovered he had formed an independent women’s Klan in Maine that allowed Canadian Protestants to join.   American citizenship was not exactly a flexible requirement for the Ku Klux Klan.

Farnsworth’s wife and daughter were stripped of their Klan membership for belonging to the rival group.  As it turned out, they had never been eligible for membership in the first place since both had been born in St Stephen, New Brunswick.  F. Eugene Farnsworth quit the Klan for “health reasons” when it was reported that $4 of every $10 Klan membership fee had found its way into his pocket. He tried unsuccessfully to organize his own copycat Invisible Empire but was eventually run out of Maine.

The Klan-supported candidate had enough momentum to carry the 1924 gubernatorial election but the hooded honeymoon was almost over.  Without charismatic leadership, the Klan all but disappeared in Maine by 1930.

Family records held by the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick indicate that Farnsworth’s parents had moved from Columbia Falls to New Brunswick long before his 1868 birth. Like his wife and daughter, Maine’s King Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan was probably Canadian.

Meteorological Freak Week 1926

Nature's Onslaught
Nature\’s Onslaught

Something was amiss with the cosmos during the third week of July 1926. The temperature hovered near 100 all up and down the eastern seaboard and as far west as Ohio. All but convicted murderers were released from the stifling prisons in North Carolina where temperatures reached 107. Hundreds slept out in the open on the Boston Common.

Just before sunrise on July 18th a blinding bluish light filled the cloudless Maine sky from Dexter to Saco. The flash was immediately followed by an explosive sound that awakened the whole City of Portland. Professor Charles Hutchins of the Physics Department at Bowdoin College confirmed to the press that a meteor had exploded over the crook in the Androscoggin River.

Hours earlier a 14 year old boy had witnessed the bursting of a large bright light in his grandfather’s Vermont cornfield. On the morning of July 18th he collected a handful of porous meteor fragments layered with quartz that he found lying on top of the plowed earth. Robert Dunklee, the boy’s father, telephoned authorities at the Harvard College Observatory and promised to send the rocks to Cambridge by express mail.

The scientists, who had just received a call from Professor Hutchins at Bowdoin, were puzzled. Meteors did not typically contain quartz. Furthermore, it was way too early in the season for these incidents to be part of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. Seven unexpected fireballs had also been documented the previous November and December. One that exploded over Hornell, NY was reported to be the size of a freight car but no fragments of that celestial body were ever recovered.

At 3pm on the afternoon of July 18th the people of Portsmouth and Kittery observed a huge dusky cloud approaching from the northwest. Within five minutes the worst summer storm in their history was upon them. Vivid lightning struck. Torrential rain flooded the streets. Golf ball sized hail swirled into Portsmouth. Some of the hail was actually tiny stones coated in ice. The stones were smooth, polished white quartz like those one might find on a beach. The nearest beach with all white quartz stones was Rye Beach some 8 miles to the south. Hail that fell on Kittery was strange, too; 5 1/2 inch disks of ice indicating 3 separate freezes inside the cloud.

Terrific wind hurled the rocks and the hail in a circular motion breaking hundreds of windows. Thirty minutes later the storm had lifted leaving destruction in its wake. Farmer’s crops were flattened and some of their cows were dead. Storekeeper’s goods were ruined by the water that poured through broken windows. Banks of frozen rocks and golf ball hail had to be shoveled out of dining rooms. There was not enough glass in Portsmouth to repair 1/3 of the broken windows and it hadn’t even rained in Dover, NH.

Meanwhile, the railroad station at Brockton, MA had been destroyed by lightning. 500 seats at Fenway Park were lifted away from their bolts and deposited by a 100 mile an hour gust of wind into the center of the grandstand, twisted and broken. A 90 foot steeple was blown off the Asbury Methodist Church in Springfield, MA.

The damage was still not completely repaired on July 22, when a great brown cloud appeared high over Portsmouth. This time it came from the Southwest in dirty whirlwinds. Though it lasted but 10 minutes the second storm effected a larger area. A Dover, NH house lost its roof. At Gray Lodge in Kittery, Phyllis Gray was giving a bridge party on her front lawn. One of her guests didn’t have time to get up off the lawn pillow upon which she was lounging. She was rolled 100 feet across the grass. Wind swept through York Beach with a force that picked up men, women and children, swirled them in the air and then dropped them banged and bruised on the sand. Several York Beach cottages were blown from their foundations. The bell tower at The Nubble was blown off its base and moved 4 feet to the edge of a deep cliff. Two lifeboats at the Ogunquit lifesaving station were splintered. Three houses were destroyed at Wells Beach.

In Kennebunkport, author Booth Tarkington had put out in his three-ton motor boat, the Zantu seeking relief from the heat. He was accompanied by his secretary Betty Trotter and Captain Harry Thirkell. When they were near an island 6 miles from shore, a fire started on the boat. Tarkington and Thirkell sustained minor burns extinguishing the fire but that was the least of their problems. The ignition wires had burned through and the craft was disabled. Betty and Captain Thirkell began the long row to shore for assistance leaving Tarkington to guard the anchored Zantu. Just as the dingy was reaching shore, storm clouds darkened the sky. The Zantu was buffeted about until her anchor rope parted. Tarkington, headed out alone into the dark open sea, set paper fires in a bucket to make his vessel more visible. His last scrap of paper was burning when Captain John Peabody finally spotted him and towed him back to shore through convulsing waves.

Temperatures in southern Maine dropped from 104 F before the storm to 72 F immediately after. Freak Week on the east coast resulted in 160 deaths and over $1,000,000 in damages. The sudden storms were called cyclones in 1926 newspapers but in retrospect they were more likely tornados.

What has become of the Star?

Handlen Coast Star400
A Star Ascendant

“What has become of the Star?” demanded an anonymous Kennebunkport patron to the new owner of the paper.  She was outraged that someone “from away” would have the audacity to editorialize about her local government, and in a liberal voice, to boot.

After Alexander B. Brook bought the Kennebunk Star from Willis and Perley Watson in 1958 more subscribers than not had serious misgivings but they continued to read the paper.  Whether they looked for something new to be insulted by or to see what bodacious changes would be made by the new owner, Sandy Brook and his editor, John Cole, rarely disappointed.

In his 1993 autobiography “The Hard Way,” Sandy wrote that before he and Cole came to the Kennebunks, nobody outside Town Hall knew how things were being run.  The newspapermen wrote about what they thought the public needed to know without regard to ruffled feathers.  The more Brook opined, the more pages he added to the weekly paper.  As his readership grew, so too did his expenses.  New printing equipment was purchased and coverage was expanded southward through Wells Ogunquit York and Kittery, on borrowed money.  In 1965 the name of the paper was changed to York County Coast Star to reflect the expansion.

The paper was born in Biddeford as the “The Daily Evening Star.” It was first published by Marcus Watson and his son Clarence in 1876 when younger son Willis Lester Watson had just reached the age of majority.  After the paper was in publication for a year Lester purchased it and reduced it to a weekly, re-naming it The Eastern Star.  The following January he moved the whole operation to Kennebunk.  Even though young Lester wasn’t Kennebunk born, citizens welcomed him.  They hadn’t had their own paper in almost 45 years.  The newcomer declared to his readers that his newspaper was to be independent in politics.  He did not intend to take sides in local matters.

Before the telephone -much less the internet- local newspapers had a monopoly on information dissemination.  Watson borrowed world news and pithy poems from other papers.  He dutifully printed all notices exactly as they were submitted and rarely deemed it prudent to write an editorial in the four-page weekly. Watson carved himself an insider’s niche in Kennebunk by changing nothing for 44 years.

In anticipation of making his sons Willis, Perley and Carl partners in the business, Watson renamed the paper The Kennebunk Star in 1921.  This alarming change was not unanimously applauded by his readers.  In 1924, Lester’s sons became partners in the newly incorporated Star Print, Inc.  When he died in 1941 at 87 years old, Lester Watson held the national record of greatest number of consecutive years as a publisher of the same paper.

Willis, who was also town clerk, took over as president/business manager of Star Print, Inc. and Perley became secretary/treasurer.  The brothers were careful to retain their father’s four page, mind-your-own-business, formula.

The Watson’s printing equipment was antique and the family enterprise had never bothered much with financial record-keeping.  The net annual income of $2,600, as reported to buyer Alexander B. Brook, turned out to be an exaggeration.  Though he gave it his all, the new publisher was never able to operate the newspaper in the black.  After fighting the good fight for almost 20 years, he sold it to Joseph L. Allbritton, owner of the Washington Post.

The New York Times Company bought the paper in 1982 and they sold to Journal Transcript Newspapers Inc. in 1995.  Seacoast Media publisher, John Tabor, wanted to buy the York County Coast Star in 1999 but Journal Transcript Newspapers Inc. sold to American Consolidated Media.  Tabor finally acquired the paper in 2001 and has been its publisher ever since.  Seacoast Media is a subsidiary of Dow Jones Local Media, which itself is a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

To this day, nobody who remembers Sandy Brook’s proprietorship of the Star is neutral.  Some are still exasperated by his editorial boldness.  More celebrate his integrity and wish he had never sold the paper.  It’s clear that Brook was in it for the love of journalism.  That’s a hard act to follow, especially since the industry has changed so much.  Sandy himself wrote in 1993, “Weekly owner-editor-publishers are an obsolescing breed.”

Current Star editor, Kelly Morgan recently discussed the challenges facing modern newspapers.  “The York County Coast Star, like most papers, has to deal with changes in the economy and changes in the way people get their news.  The whole industry is struggling but weekly papers that cover local news are holding on.”  When asked about the preponderance of Portsmouth, NH area ads in the Maine paper the Editor replied, “We are trying to address that issue.  We need to balance retaining a local focus with selling enough advertising to cover our costs.”

Publisher John Tabor admits that like everyone else, Seacoast Media had to tighten its belt when the economy tanked.  “True, we have fewer employees now and a less visible location in Kennebunk but the York County Coast Star makes a profit every month of the year, possibly for the first time in its history.  We will revisit the location issue after the economy recovers,” he said. “I’m in it to own it.”

Tabor, who remembers Sandy Brook’s Star as the best weekly paper in New England, plans to remain nimble.  “We have to constantly reinvent ourselves in this kind of an economy,” the publisher explained.  “But, our goal is to provide a well-informed editorial page and watch over the environment.  That’s what Sandy did.   That’s what the people expect.”

The Gypsies will get you if you don’t behave!

Gypsies were easy target
Gypsies were easy target

Gypsies who visited coastal York County every summer starting in the 1880s repeatedly stole blue-eyed children and money from the locals. Or did they?

In 1887, Kennebunkport’s summer newspaper “The Wave,” reported as fact “A band of Gypsies that passed through here last week had with them a little blue-eyed child that did not in the least resemble his dusty companions. Suspicion was aroused that he might have been stolen and such proves to have been the case. It was the son of James Welch of Nashua, N.H. Pursuit is now being made for the rascals and the little child will undoubtedly be rescued.”

After the band of Gypsies was followed up the coast by police for a more than a week, a Bath Times reporter wrote that the frantic Gypsy mother of the blue-eyed child finally presented her son’s authentic birth certificate to Justice Henry Ragot of Brunswick and the judge declared her innocent of kidnapping. The Gypsies performed in Brunswick that day with their dancing bear and offered Justice Ragot all the money they collected in gratitude for his fairness. The judge refused their gift.

In 1902, Harry Clark of Beverly, Mass., scolded his four-year-old son for standing dangerously close to the kicking feet of his horse. When the father looked for him again he was gone. Immediately, Gypsies were accused of stealing the child €¦ any Gypsies. Many seaside vacationers reported seeing the captive child in Ogunquit and Kennebunk. After fruitlessly searching every Gypsy encampment in Maine and New Hampshire, the press suggested, without a shred of evidence, that it was probably the Indians who had carried little Wilbur Clark away.

To keep them close to home, children were warned, “the Gypsies will get you and turn you into a beggar,” but no such case was ever proved. The King of the Stanley Gypsies was asked about this in the 1930s. He said, “Don’t you think we have enough of our own children to feed? Why would we want yours?”

Gypsies traveled from Maine seaside resort to resort staying at each until they were chased away. They usually camped on the outskirts of town near fresh water brooks in elaborately painted wagons and tents. Their pet monkeys and bears entertained vacationers at the fairgrounds and along the beach roads. Gypsy women knocked on doors to tell fortunes for money and the men bred and traded some of the finest horses available. Gypsies occasionally used their bad reputation to their own benefit. Attractive fair-skinned young Gypsy girls would trick tourists out of their money by claiming to have been kidnapped and in need of money to get home to their pure, white families. Some Gypsies did cheat and steal to survive, but often they admitted to crimes they had not committed, just to be left alone.

Two Gypsy women appeared at Mrs. Waterhouse’s Kennebunk Landing door in the spring of 1931 and offered to tell her fortune. The lady of the house refused to let them in. She later discovered that $20 was missing from her pocketbook and called the police.

Deputies Roland D. Parsons of Kennebunk, Orrison Davis of Biddeford, Irving S. Boothby of Saco, and George L. Simard of Biddeford located the fortune-tellers at a farm the Gypsies owned at Oak Ridge. The two women denied stealing any money but when the police threatened to take the whole band to court, the Gypsies gave them $20.

Tracing the origin of a non-literate culture like the Gypsies’ presents obvious challenges. By analyzing words common to the many Gypsy dialects, linguists have traced this unique race of people to India. An Indian origin for the Romani people, as they call themselves, is also supported by recent DNA studies. Early Gypsies led semi-nomadic lives because they were not allowed to own land. Their role in the Indian caste system was to travel from town to town entertaining the upper classes. After being driven out of India around the year 1000 they were widely scattered.

Some tribes eventually established themselves in the southern Balkan countries before 1300. There, they were enslaved. Many Romani bands came to the United States in the late 1800s from Serbia when their nomadic existence was outlawed. Others immigrated after escaping Nazi Germany where half a million Gypsies were put to death during World War II.

When enforcement of zoning ordinances made a nomadic existence impractical in the United States, Gypsies gravitated toward large cities where they could more easily get lost in the crowd. Today, the descendants of the Gypsies who camped along the Maine coast are finding each other on the Internet and learning about their hidden heritage through DNA testing.

Gentleman jewel thief at large in York County

Bruhn evaded capture
Bruhn evaded capture

The duality of human nature is timelessly compelling. People have been fascinated by the concept of a refined and likable thief since storytelling began. Ogunquit’s author John Kendrick Bangs was famous for his Raffles stories in 1909 when southern Mainers found themselves embroiled in a real life “Gentleman Burglar” adventure.

Clyde G. Bruhm, a 23-year-old South Boston man was arrested for burglary by Boston Police on the afternoon of Aug. 24, 1909. According to the Boston Daily Globe, he was impeccably manicured and carried incriminating jewels in the pocket of his well tailored slate grey gabardine suit.

When Inspector Michael Shields, who had been tracking him all summer, suggested that Bruhm was destined for a long incarceration Clyde reportedly chuckled good-naturedly and with a tip of his panama hat replied “I wouldn’t be so sure of that.” True to his warning, the young thief slipped out of the Inspector’s custody with the skill and fearlessness usually concocted for beach fiction.

The charismatic Bruhm had been living a double life: fashionable aristocrat popular with the Massachusetts yachting crowd by day, stealthy jewel thief by night. On his lavishly appointed 32-foot yacht The Savage, moored at Salem, he entertained well-healed summer folk. His guests later reported having wondered about the source of his seemingly endless wealth but were distracted by his hospitality and sophistication. Women in particular were taken with his charms.

After escaping from the authorities in Boston Bruhm took a train to Salem and with his burglary accomplice Mr. Harry Wingate brazenly sailed to Rowes Wharf in Boston to provision The Savage for an extended cruise. The thieves were spotted there and departed on what seemed to the informer on shore to be a southerly course. A general alarm was sent to all the harbors south of Boston. While Inspector Shields and his men were racing south the outlaws had doubled back behind the outer islands and were well on their way to Portsmouth, N.H.

The Savage did not immediately attract attention when she dropped anchor behind the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The fugitives rowed ashore to Kittery Village and left their beautiful red canoe adorned with gold lettering pulled up on shore for all to see. They made no effort to avoid people in the village and were taken to be recreational yachtsman as they browsed the shops, purchased fresh bread and sweets at the bakery and chatted up the natives while enjoying a leisurely shave from the local barber.

Bruhm and Wingate had rowed almost all the way back to The Savage when they noticed a police motorboat heading right for them. Shipyard personnel had finally received the alarm wire from Boston. The fugitives spun their agile canoe in place and paddled with all their might. The pilot of the larger police boat had trouble getting his vessel swung around. He was still out of gunshot range when the canoe reached the shore at Brown’s Point.

Another hair-raising chase ensued through Frank Brown’s garden, passed Mr. Vaughn’s cottage, over a stone wall and into the thin timber growth beyond the railroad tracks. When the outlaws reached the ridge above Spruce Creek and saw how wide it was they hesitated. Amazingly, there were two small boats pulled up on the bank of the creek just in their path. Availing themselves of one, they set the other adrift. The Portsmouth Herald reported that after climbing up the opposite bank Bruhm and Wingate stopped momentarily to wipe their brows and watch the police cursing in frustration before disappearing into the deep York County woods.

The outlaws were sited in Ogunquit and Wells, in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. Inspector Shields organized a posse of 100 York County men to comb the forest but to his further embarrassment, the many suspicious characters they apprehended all turned out to be innocent. Shields returned to Boston in shame while the York County coastal communities devoured the daily newspaper reports that began referring to Bruhm as the “Claude Duval of modern highwaymen” and “our own Raffles”.

An acquaintance spotted Bruhm and Wingate at the North Shore of Massachusetts a few weeks later. The same day two elegant cottages at Manchester-by-the Sea were robbed. The Gentlemen Burglars were back in business. Summertime jewel heists from Rhode Island’s Narragansett Pier to Bar Harbor were attributed to Bruhm who by all reports displayed a growing preference for diamonds and pearls as the years progressed. He was never apprehended.

York County’s Bunker Hill scapegoat

Battle at Breeds Hill by Frank Handlen
Battle at Breeds Hill by Frank Handlen

Controversy surrounded the participation of Colonel James Scamman and his York County regiment at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Scamman was accused of cowardice and blamed by some for the British victory on June 17, 1775. During his subsequent court-martial, he was declared innocent but the embers of suspicion fanned by disgruntled colleagues eventually led to his replacement as commander of the 30th Regiment of Foot.

The Committee of Safety in Cambridge ordered Scamman to assemble a regiment of 10 companies, each consisting of 56 able-bodied and effective men. Captain Jesse Dorman of Arundel, Captain Samuel Sawyer of Wells and Captain Joshua Bragdon of Wells led three of the 10 companies and commanded men from today’s Ogunquit, Wells, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.

There was dissent among the officers during the two weeks it took to enlist the soldiers. Officers of the York County militia sent a letter to Cambridge recommending that they replace Scamman as commander of the regiment with Johnson Moulton from York. The Committee of Safety then sent a letter to Scamman acknowledging that he had “received orders for enlisting a Regiment, with a prospect of having a command of the same” but they hoped he would relinquish his command to Johnson Moulton for the sake of harmony among his officers. Scamman apparently refused to withdraw. After marching for four days Scamman’s regiment arrived in Cambridge May 23, 1775.

The so-called Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought mostly on Breed’s Hill, which stands between Bunker Hill and the Charles River. The British intended to cross the Charles by boat and take control of Charlestown peninsula.

On June 17, 1775, less than 20 percent of the forces stationed at Cambridge were ordered to defend the redoubt or fortification that had been hastily constructed on Breed’s Hill in the dark of the previous night. The British crossed the river as soon as the tide was favorable and ascended the hill. The colonial soldiers, hiding behind newly built walls in newly dug trenches, fired upon the tidy rows of red coats killing or disabling over a thousand Englishmen.

The strategy was a good one and probably would have won the day had reinforcements arrived from Cambridge in time. As it was, the army of farmers and fishermen were hopelessly outnumbered and ran out of powder in less than two hours.

As the battle-weary soldiers retreated, Colonel Scamman’s fresh regiment of York County men met them at the crest of Bunker Hill. Instead of covering the retreat and pushing on to the front as some say General Putnam had ordered, Scamman turned his regiment around and headed back to Cambridge. A scapegoat to rationalize the defeat at Bunker Hill was born.

Colonel James Scamman was charged with disobeying an order and not displaying the appropriate fervor for battle and court-martialed July 13. The chaos of a disorganized amateur army and misunderstandings about who was in charge contributed to Scamman’s confusion. He believed he had been ordered to first march his men to Lechmere Point but when they got there General Whitcomb was surprised to see them and after 15 minutes ordered Scamman to proceed to “the small hill.” Scamman interpreted the order to mean Cobble Hill.

According to court-martial testimony that was later published in Boston newspapers, Capt. Philip Hubbard testified “the reason of our going to Lechmere’s-Point was, because we met expresses, who told us the regulars were landing at that place; when we got to Lechmere’s-Point, Gen. Whitcomb told Col. Scammans, he had better go and watch the floating batteries, and then marched to the small hill, where we staid half an hour.

“As soon as Col. Scammans discovered Charlestown meeting-house on fire he marched the regiment with all possible dispatch, towards Bunker’s-Hill, we met great numbers retreating down. The confusion was so great before he got to the top of the hill, it was impossible to form. I saw nothing of irresolution or backwardness in Colonel Scammans anytime of the day.”

Others in his regiment were not so supportive. Colonel Scamman was acquitted of the charges but the damage had already been done to his reputation. Perception trumps reality, especially when fashioned by skilful opportunists. The officers who had previously failed to replace him with Johnson Moulton fostered this perception and ultimately succeeded in pressuring him to step aside. Once Scamman was gone they were unopposed in blaming him for the bumbling of many.