Monday, July 10, 2017


Our local historian and friend, Herb Adams proclaims
the Declaration of Independence at the Longfellow House
on July 4th, 2017

     We recently celebrated our 241st year as an independent Nation.  I think it's rather amazing, and, considering the tumultuous century that preceded; perhaps even miraculous.  This is certainly evident in Maine's early history,and for the purposes of this blog, the city of Portland.   I will not attempt to give a full account of this history, but highlight events that will lead to the re-settlement and the stories of those early settlers of the East Deering Village interred at the Grand Trunk Cemetery. 

     I'd like to cite a few resources that I found useful and hope that those of you who want to know more details, may find helpful:
William Willis's History of Portland is a prime resource and still insightful for a 21st century reader.  William David Barry's Maine: The Wilder Half of New England is well written and documented, as is the book Deering, which I have cited previously.  Maine History Online: 1668 - 1774 Settlement and Strive  gives an accurate and unbiased account of the period with honesty and clarity. 
     The first permanent settlement of the area that would ultimately become Portland was in 1633 when George Cleeves and his partner Richard Tucker set about to established a fishing and trading village.  At the time the area which included present day Portland, Falmouth, Westbrook, and Cape Elizabeth. was called Casco. The period was marked with disputes with the authorities over land grants, religious affiliations and governance of the province of Maine. 
     In 1658, the Massachusetts Bay Colony took possession of the area and re-named the town Falmouth. With this action came the development of a court system and town offices that added a measure of security to its citizens. which also included new arrivals from Scotland, Ireland , Wales, the Isle of Jersey and West Africa. Maine became a colony of a colony.
     The Indians who resided in the area of Casco Bay were called Aucocisco and were a relatively independent band of Abenaki who fished and planted corn.  In 1640, there were only seven families settled in the area:  three on the 'Neck' and four along Back Cove.  These new-comers were different from the fishermen and traders of the previous decade. It was a relatively peaceful period for the families who began to establish their family farms around Back Cove. 
     Local Indians maintained a friendly, though cautious relationship with the English, at times "signing deeds to land in return for yearly payments."  Deering, pg.33.  Tensions grew locally, as more and more settlers arrived and encroached on Indian cornfields by allowing livestock to roam freely, destroying crops.
      George Cleeves made conveyances of land principally at Back Cove to several people shown by deed to be living there about 1658:
     George Ingersoll, George Lewis, John Lewis and Nathaniel Wallis, Thomas Skillings( These will become important later in our story.)
     By 1670, more than a dozen closely related families had established farms along Back Cove to Martin's Point.  Some of the names that are known are:
  Anthony Brackett, George Lewis, John Lewis, Philip Lewis, Phineas Rider, James Ross, Thomas Skillings, Nathaniel Wallis, Thomas Wakely and Matthew Coe.  In total, by 1675 there were forty families spread out through Falmouth.
In the beginning of the year 1675, the prosperity of the town stood at a high point;  population had been steadily increasing in every part, and its various resources were rapidly developing.  Mills had been established at Capisic and on the lower falls of Presumpscot River, and the borders of both rivers were occupied by an active and enterprising people.  But their opening prospects were destined soon to be changed, and their hopes crushed.
William Willis:  The History of Portland, From 1632 - 1864

From 1675 - 1763, Maine became the killing ground in a series of brutal. debilitating wars between the English and the combined forces of France and the Indians.
William David Barry:  Maine: The Wilder Half of New England

     Barry reflects on the account of the  " attack on Pemiquid from  the words of John Gyles while working on his family farm,  and says this:
The attack on Pemiquid might stand for the hundreds of attacks and ambushes that occurred between 1675 and the Treaty of Paris in 1763.  It was a war of no quarter in which both sides killed old and young alike in a fury of racial hatred and struggle  for land.  All of this was set against the backdrop of Anglo- French rivalry on a world-wide scale.

By the middle of the 17th century, the Abenaki were living in a nightmarish landscape shaped by conflict, disease, and alcohol and they turned to the (French) missionaries for help and reassurance. 
 By 1670, Indian frustration with trade abuses, land encroachments, rum dealing and free roaming English livestock in their cornfields was mounting.  Sensing these tensions, in the fall 1674, English officials banned trade of shot and powder to Indians.  The Abenaki suffered severe food shortages during the following winter, and some fled to Canada seeking French aid.

In summer 1675 war broke out in Southern New England between Pilgrims and Wampanoags led by King Philip, or Metacomet and strained relations through New England.  Relations between French "Papists" and Indian "heathens" fueled English fears that all Indians were conspirators of King Philip, and with war raging to the south, the General Court sent commissioners to Maine trading posts to enforce the ban on arms.  English scalp hunters were paid bounty to hunt Indians south of the Piscataqua, no doubt crossing over the river into Maine as well.

Maine History Online-1668 - 1774 Settlement & Strife

       In 1676, Falmouth was attacked and the Wakley family killed with two children taken captive.  Raids continued on English villages  from Saco to Casco Bay.  Later,  settlers all through the region would look for escape on islands or further to Salem or New Hampshire.  The settlement at Falmouth would remain abandoned for two years.  When they returned, the English colonists erected Fort Loyall to defend against future attacks,
     Attempts were made by both the English and the Indians to negotiate peace but these were unsuccessful and conflict continued.  From 1689 until 1699, Comte de Frontenac, the governor of New France set out on a campaign to conquer all of North America.  Large forces of French and Indians drove the English from settlements east of Falmouth.
     In September 1689,  200 Norridgewock, Penobscot, and Canadian Indians landed on Peaks Island,  and on September 21st  attacked the Back Cove settlements.  Having gotten word of the potential attacks, Massachusetts sent Major Benjamin Church, noted Indian fighter along with several militia units to aid the locals. 

Near dawn on September 21, 1689, a flotilla of war canoes crossed Back Cove and attacked the Brackett Farm.  Anthony Brackett gave the alarm and sent his sons to the Neck for help.  Church and his force of 200, joined by the Casco militia, raced through the thickets toward Ware Creek.  A brutal, daylong pitched battle took place where now I-295 separates Deering Oaks from the University of Southern Maine.  Fought across the tidal stream and on a small bridge, probably near the corner of Congress and St. John's Streets, the battle raged until the Indians withdrew.  The sense of victory was short lived, however, for Church was obliged to return to Massachusetts.
Deering:  pg. 34

            Although the majority of settlers wanted to leave the village expecting reprisals in the spring, Benjamin Church convinced many to stay, promising to do all in his power to return or send necessary aid when he gave his report to the authorities in Massachusetts.  Unfortunately, his pleadings and those of Silvanus Davis who would become the Commander of Fort Loyall in 1690 laid on deaf ears until it was too late.  For those of you who want to read the full account of the siege of Fort Loyall and the Destruction of Falmouth, I recommend either the online version or in book form:

     It is an amazing story of bravery, brutality, shame, ruthlessness and stupidity that led to the abandonment of a young but potentially prosperous settlement for twenty-five years. It's a very long document, but I think some would find it interesting and quite a story. It was presented to the Maine Genealogical Society on June 2, 1885 by editor John T. Hull.
     I'm going to end this post with the account of the siege from the words of Capt. Silvanus Davis,  taken from William Willis recorded in the History of Portland.