The first families to move to New England and settle our ledge-strewn and inhospitable peninsula came from Great Britain's West Country, a region peopled with fishermen and seafarers, a race of men and women who had battled wind, weather and the sea for generations. Here they immediately scoured the off-shore waters for cod and haddock, cusk and halibut, and from it hooked and netted thousands and thousands of succulent fish. Their catches were then shipped abroad to feed Europe's teeming masses and the slaves that labored in the fields of the West Indies. In time the tiny hamlet they founded became the Bay Colony's premier seaport, entering an era marked by stirring events and a more affluent life.
Yet there came a day when sixty families chose to break with the past, to leave their comfortable seaside homes and take to the woods. Why they chose to "swallow the anchor" and move to a region alive with bear and moose and ravenous wolves can best be described as "wondrous strange." It wasn't a call from the wild that induced them to bid bustling Marblehead a fervent goodbye; nor were they lured away by tales of an area studded with countless fields, meadows and vast stands of timber, a land abounding with small game, brooks and lakes thick with trout and tougue, and woods well stocked with edible nuts, berries and grapes: a land not yet violated by homesteaders from the Old World.
The reason they took to the woods was because they had decided that Marblehead had become too cramped and crowded for comfort! That its future was not only bleak and discouraging but one lacking opportunity and promise. On the other hand, they felt that in the fullness of time the advantages they were seeking would be found in a region known only to bands of nomadic Indians and a few footloose trappers and hunters.
With this in mind, Joseph Blaney and Abraham Howard, speaking for themselves and the sixty families, appeared before the Great and General Court of His Majesty's Province in Massachusetts Bay in New England, on Thursday, November 20, 1734. What was wanted, they explained, was a tract of virgin land in an area possessing a wealth of untapped natural resources. An area capable of providing whatever was required to feed, clothe and shelter their wives and children, plus plenty of clean fresh air, plenty of elbow room and plenty of chances to better their lot in life.
Marblehead, they said, was now over one century old and a busy and bustling seaport, already overbuilt and over-populated. So crowded in fact that there was no land available on which to build dwellings or plant a garden; furthermore, its waterfront was jam-packed with wharves, warehouses, shipyards, and countinghouses; its lanes and byways so crammed with evil-smelling fish carts, gurry-encrusted drays, and cumbersome two-wheeled salt barrows, that it was obvious its days as a trading and fishing center had peaked. Since every stony beach and craggy hill was already covered with acres of fishflakes, weighed down with thousands of washed and gutted cod and haddock, even that once burgeoning calling was definitely threatened.
Not long after the two men pleaded their case, the Great and General Court awarded the sixty families a grant of land containing six square miles of woods and fields in York County, Massachusetts (now Cumberland County, Maine).
Under the term of the grant, the tract was to be divided into ten-acre lots and whoever acquired a lot had to promise to occupy the site immediately and build a shelter not less than eighteen feet square and seven feet high. The recipient must also agree to clear seven of the ten acres and seed, sow and cultivate them.
The first 'Header to move to the projected new hamlet was -- oddly enough -- a tailor named Thomas Chute. It is said that he first sailed to Falmouth (Portland, Maine) and from that remote seaport poled a canoe up the Presumpscott River, there to found a town, aptly christened New Marblehead!
(Today the town founded by those sixty Marblehead families is no longer New Marblehead -- it's Windham, Maine.)
There Mr. Chute promptly set to work to clear a parcel of land on which to construct a cabin large enough to shelter himself, his wife Mary, and a brood of six children. In time other families arrived on the scene and as their numbers increased, several thorny problems arose.
To their horror it was learned that they had overlooked an obscure proviso which the Boston legislators had deemed it wise to insert in their deed. The lots had to be distributed by the luck of the draw -- in short by resorting to a lottery! The idea was sound and sensible and eminently fair, but the proviso contained a "catch" -- one which stated that the minister was to have first choice, the church second, and the school the third! Once they had selected a lot, the numbers of all the remaining lots were to be placed in a container and scrambled: Each settler would then be asked to withdraw a numbered slip.
Moreover, everyone involved in preparing the grant -- the members of the Great and General Court, the Governor's Council, and the Governor himself had all been of one mind: and had approved it!
But not the sixty families from Marblehead!
They promptly blew their tops!
To be told how to conduct their affairs by a court composed of self-righteous Boston legislators was more than they could take. So, as was their wont, those headstrong and contentious 'Headers decided to ignore that patronizing requirement.
But they did play fair. They wrote the names of the minister, the church, and the school, on slips of paper and placed them in a container together with the names of each settler. Once these slips had been thoroughly scrambled, it then was a matter of chance as to who would win the most desirable plot, the richest farm land, or a site bordering the river.
But for some reason beyond one's comprehension, the school came out on top -- it won first choice, the minister fourth, and the church -- oddly enough -- drew number thirty-two!
Following the distribution of the lots, New Marblehead began to take form; the land was fenced, fields were cleared and plowed, and many a cabin built. With few exceptions the cabins were small, their walls made of logs hewn on three sides, pierced by one or two tiny shuttered windows, and heated by a wood-devouring fireplace. Their only furnishings a few pots and pans, a trestle table and some stools, their only carpet a bearskin or the hide of a deer spread over an earthen floor. Needless to say, those cabins were hot, stuffy and airless in the summer, and throughout the winter months cold, drafty, dark and gloomy.
With the passage of time, however, things began to take a turn for the better -- thanks to three enterprising 'Headers. To meet the town's constantly increasing need for two-by-fours, planks, and building materials, William Goodwin, a cabinet maker; Isaac Turner, a carpenter; and a longshoreman named Ebenezer Stacy joined forces and built a sawmill near present-day Mallison Falls. But back in those days those falls had a different name -- the 'Headers called it "Horsebeef Falls!" A name the falls acquired shortly after the owners of the mill purchased a keg of beef and in it found a pair of rusty horseshoes!
From this year on, New Marblehead began to forge ahead; yet in spite of an improved way of life, they still had to work hard and long. There were fields to be cleared of rocks and stumps, timber to be cut, firewood to be gathered, gardens to be planted, land plowed and seeded, livestock raised, fed, and cared for, hogs, sheep, and barnyard fowl fattened and slaughtered, in addition to innumerable daily chores.
Day-in and day-out, come rain or come shine, sweltering heat or subzero cold, they toiled, grubbed and slaved -- as it was "root hog or die." Throughout the summer months they were eaten alive by clouds of black flies, mosquitoes and a horde of biting and stinging insects. In the winter they often were cooped in by violent snowstorms, icy blasts, hail, sleet and banks of drifted snow. Yet they continued to fell trees, seed their lots to corn and beans, hay and winter rye, fence their pastures, and improve their homes, while stoically enduring the region's unpredictable weather, its winged pests and the predators that killed their livestock and devoured their poultry.
Figuratively speaking, the founders of New Marblehead were as tough as the proverbial boiled owl. Had they not been, they never would have survived the trials and tribulations, and the aches and pains they met from time to time. Broken arms and legs, set by a well-meaning neighbor, often left the injured party permanently crippled. And it's a moot question as to whether the nostrums and cure-alls of those days had any restorative values whatsoever. By the same token, however, they were well aware of the fact that mankind is frequently stricken with emotional disorders as well as physical infirmities. The truth is they had a sovereign remedy which was said to cure the blues, breathe new life into the depressed, and alleviate a case of melancholia.
To make this marvelous panacea was both time-consuming and complex. As a starter, "it required four gallons of strong ale, five ounces of Annis seed, a half a pound of Licorice, and three handfuls each of Mint, Angelica, Eccony, Cowslip flowers, Sage, Rosemary flowers, feverfew, and Sweet Marjoram.
"This mixture should then be thoroughly stirred and allowed to ferment for two or three days. It must then be steamed again, adding into it a half ounce each of Cinnamon and Fennel seed, a dram of bruised Juniper Berries, a half pound of Red Rosebuds, a few roasted Apples and some Dates sliced and stoned.
"This mixture must then be steamed for the third and last time after being fortified with a smidgen of sugar, a half a dram of ambergris, some Pearl, some Red Coral, some pounded Hartshorn, and a bit of Gold Leaf.
"It should then be strained through a fine linen bag and allowed to age for not less than twenty-four hours." It has been said that one or two glasses of this extraordinary elixir taken each day will cure all sorts of complaints and maladies.
One should be warned, however, that if you're suffering from melancholia -- its symptoms are not unlike those produced by a meal of peas, beans and onions.
In those bygone days ministering to the sick was a hit or miss affair, a case of trial and error. For example, if a medical manual recommended dosing the patient with just enough ground bark to cover the point of a knife -- did that mean the point of a small knife or a large one? And when it prescribed a "pretty quantity" of a certain herb or a pill the size of a walnut (large or small?) -- the possibilities for making a mistake are endless.
The Chutes and the Mayberrys and their fellow settlers had now become accustomed to wilderness living and its advantages and disadvantages. They had replaced their cabins with decent dwellings, barns and sheds, but to their dismay they noted that the one edifice considered indispensable throughout New England was missing. The one place dedicated to renewing the spirits of the despondent and discouraged, the one place that welcomed those in need of solace, companionship and sympathy.
'Twas an oversight beyond belief. But one those unflappable 'Headers met head-on: in jig time they built that all-important edificea neat and cozy tavern!
(In 1743, six years after the town was founded, New Marblehead built its first meetinghouse. Within a few years this house of worship would serve the townspeople well, albeit in a rather unusual way!)
Yet this tiny backwoods town wasn't the sylvan paradise they had hoped to find, the utopia they had envisioned. Admittedly, the air was fresh and clean and fragrant, their land rich and productive and bordered by a vast area of untapped woodland. For years those woods had provided the timbers, boards, shingles, as well as the cordwood needed to feed their fireplaces; that stretch of forest was no longer a source of supplies. It had become a vast wilderness alive with roving bands of scalp-hunting Indians who had become aware of the fact that their way of life was endangered, was in truth at stake.
And when those benighted redskins learned that His Majesty's Great and General Court would pay one hundred pounds for the scalp of any male Indian above the age of twelve, fifty pounds for the scalp of any child under twelve, and fifty pounds for the scalp of an Indian squaw, it made their blood boil. And when France and England chose that same year to go to war, the Eastern tribes, allies of France, began to terrorize and attack settlements not far from New Marblehead.
Realizing that one day a war party might attack unprotected New Marblehead, the Townspeople decided to erect a solid, well-constructed fort. They soon discovered, however, that the massive timbers and huge logs needed to build the fort had been used to build the church and the tavern!
Obviously, one or the other must be razed. It was a tough question, but one those hardheaded ex-Marbleheaders quickly solved. They promptly dismantled the church!
With its timbers and planks they built a fort fifty feet square and two stories high. And atop its foot-thick wall, dominated by two watch-towers, they placed two swivel guns. Once the fort was completed, it was then enclosed within a stockade of posts twelve feet high and a foot in diameter.
It was well they built the fort without delay as they were hounded and plagued and stalked by scalp-hunting warriors and small raiding parties from 1744 to 1756! Time and time again those war parties destroyed their crops, burned their barns and sheds, killed their livestock and wrecked their fences. And for months on end, it was unsafe for any person to venture far from the fort, unarmed and unaccompanied.
(At one time during this period the Indians kept the townspeople bottled-up within the fort for three months. And for seven years its watch towers were always manned by sharp-eyed lookouts.)
But those tense and joyless years ended in 1756, the day Ezra Brown and Ephraim Winship loaded a wagon with seeds and drove to a clearing about one mile from the fort. As they were removing the bars of the gate they were gunned down by a band of redskins who lay concealed in a thicket nearby. Mr. Brown died instantly, a bullet having pierced his heart. Ephraim Winship, however, lost not only an eye and suffered a shattered arm, but was scalped -- not once, but twice! Yet in spite of those disfiguring wounds, Mr. Winship, a widower, would live to marry a second time and father five children before he passed to his reward at age fifty-seven.
Alerted by the gunfire, a hastily organized group from the fort rushed to the aid of their fallen comrades, there to explode in rage the moment they saw their mutilated bodies and bloodied pates. Vowing to even the score, they immediately set off in pursuit of the Indians who by then had faded into the woods.
This particular war party, led by one Polin, had burned and pillaged any number of isolated hamlets, and forced scores of settlers to abandon their backwoods farms and homesteads. For several years this cruel and crafty Presumpscott Indian had ranged far and wide, had looted and killed, and terrorized the region in and around New Marblehead.
On this day, however, this foxy chief would commit an act of folly: In the running engagement which ensued, Polin stepped from behind a tree and took a pot-shot at Abraham Anderson, who was hot on his heels. An act that sealed Polin's doom.
From yet another vantage point, Stephen Manchester raised his flintlock, drew a bead on the wily chief, and fired, sending Mr. Brown's killer winging his way to the Redman's Happy Hunting Ground. The Indians, their spirits dampened by the death of their great chief Polin, now ran for their lives. And never again did they ever threaten or attack New Marblehead.
Incidentally, Stephen Manchester, though not a 'Header, had the good sense to marry Sea Fair Mayberry, the third child born to William and Bethsheba Mayberry, one of the original sixty families, and the second family to settle in New Marblehead. But Sea Fair, sad to say, died at age twenty-three, leaving a son, a daughter and her husband Stephen. Five years later, Stephen married Mary Bailey, a Marbleheader who would live to the ripe old age of eighty-eight.
(The Mayberrys, incidentally, owned a slave named Lonnon Rhodes, whom the family treated with both kindness and consideration. Made a free man in 1763, Lonnon later enlisted in the Continental Army and served for three years. He helped defend Fort Ticonderoga, took part in the battle of Saratoga, and died of wounds received in a pitched battle in late 1777! A true hero, a former slave who gave his life for the cause of freedom.)
With Polin dead and his braves routed, the menfolk of New Marblehead then returned to their fields and pastures. To sowing and reaping their crops, and tending to their livestock. To scouring the woods for deer, bear and small game, and fishing for trout, tougue and salmon. For back in those days a meal of bear meat, venison, or rabbit coupled with a slice or two of pumpkin bread, a helping of cornmeal mush, and a beaker of homemade cider, was considered a real treat!
Meanwhile their wives and daughters were whiling away the hours! No longer confined within the stockaded fort, they now returned to cooking three heavy meals a day, to feeding their fireplaces, tending the children, knitting socks and mittens, dipping candles, carding, spinning, weaving and related household chores. And whenever they could spare the time, they'd comb the fields and thickets for wild berries and groundnuts, an edible and nourishing peanut-like tuber.
Thus, for the first time in over a decade the inhabitants of New Marblehead had every reason to think they faced a future free of stress, strain and strife. That, at long last, they were entering an era far brighter than the one just weathered.
But that was not to be. Seven years were to pass before England and France called it quits and the Indians buried the hatchet.
Although bands of warriors continued to attack, ravage and raid the region's outlying villages and isolated hamlets, they shunned New Marblehead. Nevertheless, the growth of the town and the well-being of its people failed to improve. Due in part to the evils born of that long drawn-out conflict and in part to its location.
Sparsely settled and off the beaten track, it could be reached only by poling a canoe up the Presumpscott River or by trudging narrow footpaths marked off by blazed trees. And as it was ill-prepared to defend itself or turn to a neighboring town for assistance, it was both weak and vulnerable. Moreover, the two hundred and fifty men, women and children were worried; they were convinced that the reason other pioneer families were reluctant to settle in New Marblehead was because they believed that it was a moribund community at the end of its rope.
The powers that be immediately launched a program designed to lure more land-hungry families to join them. In the spring of 1762 they agreed to sell to any buyer who would promise to move his family to New Marblehead within a year, one hundred acres of land for one dollar an acre. They also bridged the river and its tributaries and cleared and widened the footpaths threading the region. By these methods some dozen families were induced to locate there. And when it became obvious the war between France and England was winding down, other homesteaders followed close on their heels.
But that growth also wrought changes. In fact, one of those changes is difficult to understand. On the eleventh of June, 1762, twenty-eight years after a group of 'Headers founded New Marblehead, its voters renamed the town!
On that day they jettisoned the name of New Marblehead and elected to call their backwoods town -- WINDHAM! Why, no one knows.
It is possible that with the passage of years, the character of the town experienced a "sea-change" -- due to an influx of strangers -- tillers of the soil, dairy farmers and landlubbers. A gathering of men and women content to live a cozy, conventional, well-ordered life in a cozy, conventional, well-ordered community. A race of settlers who never once had braved the turbulent waters of the Grand Banks or dined on bountiful helpings of succulent codheads taken from the depths of the North Atlantic.
Though but a guess, the mute testimony of an epitaph carved into the face of two ancient gravestones tends to confirm this premise. In Windham this epitaph consists of four sad and somber lines, an inscription the bereaved often employed to mark the passing of a loved one from life to death:
Remember me as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, soon you will be
So prepare to die and follow me.
In Marblehead, however, the 'Headers added two lines to this ancient epitaph: Lines that reflect their buoyancy, bounce and unquenchable spirit, as compared to the plodding, sober-minded Windham farmers:
Remember me as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, soon you will be
So prepare to die and follow me.
To follow you I'm not content
Until I know which way you went!
With the exceptions of Benjamin Dodge of Beverly, Nathaniel Cogswell of Haverhill and James Pearson of Newbury, the following grantees were from Marblehead.
No. 1 School
No. 2 Galley Wright
No. 3 Capt. Robert Parramore, Mariner
No. 4 Rev. George Pigot
No. 5 Micha Bowden, Carpenter
No. 6 Samuel Stacey, tertius present, Master
No. 7 Ebenezer Hawkes Jr., Blacksmith
No. 8 Rich[ard] Dana, Gentleman
No. 9 John Reed, Shoreman
No. 10 Thomas Wood, Sailmaker
No. 11 Robert Bull, Glazer
No. 12 Thomas Chute, Taylor
No. 13 Col. John Palmer
No. 14 Nicholas Edgecombe, Shoreman
No. 15 Capt. Peter Coleman
No. 16 James Sharrar, Servant
No. 17 Nathaniel Bartlett, Innholder
No. 18 Benjamin Dodge, Chairmaker
No. 19 Joseph Majory, Shoreman
No. 20 Jonathan Proctor, Shoreman
No. 21 John Stacey, Innholder
No. 22 Richard Reed, Sailmaker
No. 23 John Bailey, Brewer
No. 24 Ebenezer Stacey, Shoreman
No. 25 Thomas Bartlett, Fisherman
No. 26 James Perryman, Innholder
No. 27 Moses Calley, Shoreman
No. 28 Robert Hooper, Merchant
No. 29 Joseph Gallison, Shoreman
No. 30 Nathan Bowen, Gentleman
No. 31 James Skinner, Gentleman
No. 32 Abraham Howard, Esquire
No. 33 Ministry
No. 34 First Settled Minister (Rev. John Wright)
No. 35 Nathaniel Cogswell, Joyner
No. 36 Benjamin Hendley
No. 37 Samuel Lee, Esquire
No. 38 Benjamin James Jr., Fisherman
No. 39 Francis Bowden
No. 40 Rev. Wm. Edward Holyoke
No. 41 John Oulton, Esquire
No. 42 Isaac Mansfield, Joyner
No. 43 Jedediah Blaney, Carpenter
No. 44 Joseph Howard
No. 45 Joseph Sweet, Merchant
No. 46 Samuel Brimblecome, Shoreman
No. 47 Joseph Griffin
No. 48 Capt. Joseph Smithurst, Mariner
No. 49 William Ingals, Shoreman
No. 50 Jeremiah Allen, Merchant
No. 51 John Felton, Shoreman
No. 52 Joseph Blaney, Esquire
No. 53 Andrew Tucker, Shoreman
No. 54 Humphrey Devorix
No. 55 Nathaniel Evans, Chairmaker
No. 56 John Homan
No. 57 William Mayberry, Blacksmith
No. 58 William Goodwin, Carpenter
No. 59 Thomas Frothingham, Hatmaker
No. 60 Ebenezer Hawkes, Blacksmith
No. 61 Giles Ivreamy, Carter
No. 62 Isaac Turner, Joyner
No. 63 James Pearson, Painter
By an act of the Massachusetts General Court on June 19, 1735, the aforementioned were empowered as a corporate body to select officers, hold meetings and transact the business of their respective townships.
History & Traditions of Marblehead. Samuel Roads, Jr.
Windham in the Past. Frederick H. Dole.
History of Windham. Thomas L. Smith.
Historical Address, 1839. Thomas L. Smith.
Sebago Lake Land. Herbert G. Jones.
The Eastern Frontier. Charles E. Clark.
The Northern Colonial Frontier. Douglas E. Leach.