H. W. (Herman Wesley) Small.

A history of Swan's Island,Maine online

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H. W. SMALL, M. D.







Titles, ...... 17

III. A Sketch of the Life of Col. James

Swan, ...... 44

IV. Biographical Sketches of I^arly Set-

tlers, . . . • . . -59

V. Gott's Island, . . . . ' . 159

VI. Thk FisiiiNc; L\i)i;sTRY, . . . 175

VII. Synopsls 01. THE Municipal Records, . 204

VIII. Miscellaneous, ..... 233




T TPON the very threshold of this historical sketch I
^"^ found m3self quite destitute of early public records.
For over half a century from the settlement of this island
until its organization as a plantation no municipal records
were kept. But I have been fortunate in bringing to
light many private family records, old deeds showing
what lots were occupied by the pioneer settlers ; and writ-
ten mutual agreements, which seem to have been often
the result of arbitration on any disputed point where dif-
ferent claims to land conflicted with one another.

A great deal of the information which I have received
concerning the early settlers was obtained from the oldest
inhabitants of the island, many of whom were children of
the first settlers, and in a few instances the latter of the
pioneer settlers themselves. In this part, which I have
obtained from the memory of aged people, some errors
may appear, but in the main it will be found correct, as
a great deal of pains has been taken to verify these

I feel that no apology is necessary for occasionally
going beyond the limits of this town and bringing in the
sketch of some person directly connected with the family

under consideration, for a book of this kind must necessa-
ril}' be excursive in its character.

All the subjects of the following biographical sketches
have been candidly and impartially treated, nothing with-
held that would be of public interest, nor praise bestowed
where it is undeserved. I think that everything of im-
portance which has transpired here since its settlement,
over a century ago, that would be of public interest, has
been here recorded. I have thought best to gain and pre-
serve this historical knowledge before the source from
which it could be obtained is gone, when it would have
been lost forever. It should be a matter of interest to all
of us to preserve a record of our ancestors. These hardy
pioneers came to this "island of the sea", cleared the un-
broken forests, cultivated farms, built their houses, reared
their families, and made it possible for their children to
have advantages which they never possessed. Whatever
of comforts or of Hl^M^'ies that we now enjoy is due, in a
great measure, to them as a result of their labor. They
^wed the seed amid great privation and toil, and we are
reaping the harvest. So it is most fitting tliat their names
should ever be held in grateful memory b}- their de-

The location of Swan's Island is in Hancock county,
thirty-six miles south of Ellsworth, and is separated from
Mount Desert by four miles of water. The island proper
contains 5,875 acres, besides a number of smaller islands
which are included in the town. It is entirely surrounded
by the Atlantic ocean, yet several islands intervene be-

tween it and the open sea. The surface contains no great
eminences, but is generally hilly. The ocean has made
great indentations into the island, cutting it into great pen-
insulas which, in some instances, nearly unite, the enclos-
ure forming excellent harbors which offer safe shelter to
vessels of the largest size. Excellent crops reward those
who till the soil, yet on account of the rocky nature of the
land, farming was never carried out to any great extent.
An inexhaustible supply of granite forms the southern part
of the island, but the fishing business now, as ever in the
past, is the leading industry.

The I'emote history of this island, like that of all
America, is shrouded in darkness. I am not able to raise
the curtain and look into the past and see the people
whom we know, by unmistakable traces, made their homes
here, reared their j^oung, carried on their ancient mode
of hunting and fishing as a means of subsistence. Here,
too, they died ; and when th^^^i|^men came to take
possession of these ancient hvmting grounds, they found
only the ruins of savage occupancv. This was undoubt-
edly a favorite resort for tlie red men. The cool brac-
ing atmosphere of the island tempted them to leave the
seclusion of their forest homes, especiall}^ during the
warmer months of the year. This island then furnished
excellent hunting grounds. Sea fowl came in great flocks
so near that they could be easily killed by their rude
weapons, besides the excellent fishing in the harbor or
very near the shore made it practicable to use their birch
bark canoes. Also in winter the severitv of the weather

often drove them to the seashore to secure shell fish for
food when all other sources were cut off. In some parts
of the island where the primitive forest was cleared and
the soil first broken by the plow, the ground for very
large spaces would be literally whitened with the remains
of Indian dinners. Under huge trees that perhaps had
been standing hundreds of years clam shell would be
found to great depth in the ground.

In 1614 when Capt. John Smith first visited these
shores the number of Indians within the limits of the
present State of Maine was estimated at 30,000. The
tribe that occupied this section was the Tarratines, the
remnant of whom now resides at Oldtown and at present
numbers 446. These Indians were noted for the long dis-
tances they went in their canoes, and this gave to them
the general name of Etechmins.

At that part of the island called the "North" when
the first settlers came there were five different places
plainly seen where the Indians had their "set-downs" or
villages. There was another at the Middle Head, one in
the Reed field near the eastern shore, and several around
Old Harbor. In these ancient shell heaps have been
found, by men of our present day, flint arrow heads and
hatchets which must have taken much skill and patience
in making. These must have been their implements used
in hunting and perhaps in warfare. The promontory
where the light-house stands, near the entrance to Old Har-
bor, is called Hocomock, a name given to it by the Indians
long before the white men came. It mav have been their

name for this locality. Near to Hocomock Head is a
point of land extending into the harbor, called Burying
Point. A large number of Indian skeletons were un-
earthed by the plow. They were found most plenty near
the Middle Head and near the "Carrying-place", which
places were their burying-grounds. The skeletons were
found just beneath the turf and were of large size, show-
ing a race of much larger stature than the Indian of to-
day. This tribe made irregular visits to the island for
many years after the white settlers came, but of late,
since their number has so decreased, they have ceased al-


The first European who visited this island is not
known. The first authentic record was made by Cham-
plain during his voyage along this coast in 1604. He
made a map of the whole coast and gave the names to
many of the islands on either side of us, such as Isle au
Haut, Mount Desert, Petit Plaisants, etc. ; manv of these
names, which show their French origin, are still retained.
Champlain gave the name of this island on that early map
as Brule-cote, " brule " meaning burnt, and "cote" hill —
Burnt-hill. It is supposed that Champlain designated the
island by some hill that had been burnt over. Some later
discoverer translated " brule " burnt, but did not translate
"cote", hence on his map he incorrectly gave this island
the name Burnt Cote. Another, more stupid still, thought
the former had made a mistake in spelling, and on his
map had Burn Coat, by which name it is called in a deed


given October 28, 1790, as recorded in Hancock registry,
book I, page 28. Later it was generally known as Burnt
Coat or Burnt Coal Island.

It is quite probable that Champlain visited and ex-
plored this island, as would seem likely by the accurate
map he drew of this and the neighboring islands. That
some earlier explorer even than Champlain visited this
island seems likely, as he found a portion of the island
burned over. Perhaps the settlers on Mount Desert may
have made a harbor here while out on their fishing cruises,
but no other traces of habitation of the white man were left.
Traditional accounts say that the Northmen visited all this
region even as early as 1008. But if true, they left no
traces here to remind us of their visit.

Mount Desert seems to have been resorted to by
European discoverers at a very early date, probably for
the reason that its hills can be seen some sixty miles at
sea, thus making it a prominent landmark. In 155^ ^^'
drew Trevit, a Catholic priest, sailed in a French ship
along the coast. He landed and had many conferences
with the natives, among whom he tried to establish the
Roman Catholic religion, but we do not learn that he met
with any success. There was great rivalry in Europe
about this time between the Catholics and Protestants in
spreading their respective faiths into new lands.

The French sent De Monte in 1602 to further explore
these islands and adjacent mainland, which he took pos-
session of in the name of the king of France, and in true
Catholic style set up a cross and called the land he dis-

covered "Acadie", by which name all this region was
known until the capture of Quebec by General Wolf in


The French again passed this island and went to

Mount Desert and established the first Jesuit mission in

America in 1604.

The patent of Acadia to De Monte was, two years
later, surrendered to Madame de Guercheville. This lady
was a zealous Catholic and wished to convert the Indians
to that faith. Her colony landed on Mount Desert on
May 16, 1613, where they built a fort, erected a cross,
celebrated mass, and founded a convent. They named
the place Saint Sauveur. The French, as we have seen,
were getting a strong foothold in this region, but the
English Protestants, in the meantime, had not been idle.

In 1603 Capt. George Weymouth visited these
shores. He found a great number of Indians on the
shores with whom he carried on a brisk trade, receiving
rich furs in exchange for worthless baubles which pleased
the savage mind. He took possession of the land he vis-
ited in the name of the English sovereign. Wevmouth
was treated with kindness by tiie Indians, but their friend-
ship was rewarded by kidnapping five of their number,
and carrN'ing them to England, three of whom he deliv-
ered to Sir Ferdenand Gorges, who in 1639 received a
royal charter of" the Province of Maine.

The next Englishman of whom we have record who
visited this coast was Capt. John Smith, of Virginia, in
1614. He sailed along and explored the coast of Maine


with tlie intention of forming a settlement. He reported
having fonnd a settlement, which was the French at
Mount Desert. So he must have come ver}^ near this
island, if he did not explore it ; for it is separated from
Mount Desert by only four miles of water.

Smith built several boats during the summer, thus
becoming the pioneer ship-builder of Maine. Some of his
men were engaged in fishing ; others more thoroughly ex-
plored the coast. Late in the summer Smith returned to
England in one of his ships, while another, in charge of
Thomas Hunt, tarried behind, captured thirty Indians
who were carried to Malaga and sold into slavery. Thus
we see that in nearly ever}^ instance the Englishmen re-
warded the trusting and child-like simplicity of the Indians
by some act of treachery. This, no doubt, was the cause
of tlie hatred which the Indians had against the English

The French, on the other hand, held out the olive
branch to the simple natives. They established mission-
ary stations among them. The Indians took kindly to the
Catholic faith, and ever after became the faithful allies of
the French.

Various Europeans visited this coast for trading and
fishing. Hundreds of vessels, even at this early date,
visited the waters from Newfoundland to Cape Cod. The
entire coast was dotted with temporary habitations for the
accommodation of the fishermen. We do not know that
there were any permanent settlements here during the
voyages of these European discoverers, but there is no


doubt that Old Harbor was frequented by fishermen
from the neighboring settlements on account of the excel-
lent harbor it afforded, and so conveniently near the fish-
ing grounds. Fishing must at this time have been the
leading occupation of the inhabitants of all the seaboard
towns, and, in fact, led to their settlement.

In the year 1688, the French king gave to a French
gentleman named Cadilliac a tract»of land in Acadia em-
bracing the whole of Mount Desert and a large strip of
mainland, and all the islands in front of this on the sea-
board. He held it until 1713, styling himself Lord of
Donaqua and Mount Desert. After the Revolution, one
M. Gregoire claimed the whole island for his wife, Maria
T., granddaughter of Cadilliac. In consideration of a
request made b}- Lafayette in favor of the Gregoires'
claim, Massachusetts recognized it as valid. This is the
only French claim sustained in Maine. The heirs of
Cadilliac, therefore, received a quit-claim deed of 60,000
acres on the mainland ; this included the present towns of
Trenton, Lamoine, Sullivan, Ellsworth, Eden and Mount

In 1754 Spain joined France in a declaration of war
ao-ainst England. As soon as it was heard of in America
their respective countrymen took up the quarrel here.
The Indians of Canada and Maine aided the French, and
for long years this sparseh-settled country was the scene
of much bloodshed and distress from want. This was the
final struggle in America for supremacy between the
French Catholics and tlie Enslish Protestants.


The French claim was founded on the discoveiy of
the coast by Verrazzano in 1524, on the discovery and
occupancy of Canada by Cartier in 1535, on the grant of
Henry IV to De Monte, and on the voyages and discov-
eries of Champlain. The Enghsh based their claim on
the discovery by Cabot, in possessing Newfoundland by
Gilbert in 1553, and by the voyages of discovery of Gos-
nold, Pring and Weymputh, by the royal charter of 1606,
by the occupancy of the country by Popham, and subse-
quently by Gorges and others.

In 1755 an expedition of two thousand men was sent
to drive all the French from Acadia. This movement was
demanded by the English governor, Lawrence. When
this army arrived, it v^'as placed under the command of
Lieutenant-colonel Monkton, who added to his own num-
ber about two hundred and seventy regulars and a small
train of artillery. This expedition set out in May, and
before the first of September every stronghold in Acadia
was in the hands of the English. There were eighteen
thousand inhabitants of French extraction who, though by
the treaty between France and England, were considered
neutral, vet were indissolubly attached to the nation from
which they sprang. They took no part in all the wars,
but they secretly afforded aid, harbor and recruits to the
enemy, so the resident authorities demanded that those
about the Basin of Minas and in Cumberland county ad-
joining should be removed. Accordingly nearl}^ two
thousand of them w^ere transported and distributed along
the coast from Maine to Florida. Upon this event was


founded the beautiful poem "Evangeline", by H. W.
Longfellow. Constant warfare was thus kept up, inflict-
ing severe injury to all the inhabitants of Maine, until the
fall of Quebec in 1759, when this country was forever
wrested from the domain of France.

The extinction of French authority in this country
was the beginning of a new and prosperous era for Maine.
Deserted towns were repeopled, new ones sprang up along
the coast, and the sound of the woodsman's axe began to
be heard in the interior. From this time until the Revolu-
tion the tide of immigration set towards Maine, and the
progress in wealth and population was marvelous ; but the
breaking out of the war put a stop to this progress for
man}' years. Those who were preparing to come here
went into the army. During the Revolution the inhab-
itants along the coast suffered severely for their patriotism.
The English took Casline, burned Falmouth, now Port-
land, and harassed and destroyed our fishing and coast-
ing vessels.

The war closed in 1783, after which there was a large
accession to the population of Maine — a move from the
older states to this newer district whose resources were now
beginning to be developed. Soldiers who had served
through the war and were now discharged sought homes
in these eastern lands. This island was purchased about
this time, and many settlers came directly from Massachu-
setts. In fact, Maine's population is made up almost
wholly from the descendants of the settlers in the older
states, receiving few foreign emigrants.

The district of Maine in 1783 became a part of Mas-
sachusetts and remained under its jurisdiction until Maine
became an independent state. Shortly after the close of
the Revolution the question of separation came up for dis-
cussion, and several towns voted upon it; but as most of
the inhabitants were from Massachusetts, their attachment
for the old commonwealth was not weakened. In 1787 an
effort was again made and carried by so small a majority,
and the entire vote was so small, that it was thought best
to abandon it for the present. The position of Massachu-
setts during the war of 181 2 in opposing the measures of
the President and Congress was highly distasteful to the
patriotic inhabitants of Maine, and doubtless influenced
voters in bringing about the desired result. Maine was
admitted into the Union as an independent state in 1820.

Tlie census of Maine in 1789 showed 96,540 inhab-
itants ; in 1800 there were 151,719, and in 1810 there
were 228,334 people. We can thus see how rapidly
Maine was becoming populated. Burnt Coat Island, as it
was called, was bought by Col. James Swan, of Massa-
chusetts, in the year 1786. Many of the wealthy men of
the older states were buying up property in Maine — invest-
ments which promised good returns. This island, as well
as the other islands included in Col. Swan's purchase, was
covered with a valuable forest of timber, which undoubt-
edly attracted the purchaser. Manufactured lumber found
a read}?- market at the many towns and villages that were
building up along the coast. Burnt Coat, at the time of
its purchase, was in the county of Lincoln (wdiere many


of the early records relating to this island may be found),
until Hancock county was formed June 25, 1789.

Hancock count}- has a more extensive seaboard and
more numerous harbors than any other coast of equal ex-
tent in the United States. When Massachusetts came
into possession of this territory, the mainland was divided
into townships and the islands into groups convenient for
classifying, such as the Deer Isle group, the Burnt Coat
group, the Mount Desert group, etc. The Burnt Coat
group extended from Isle au Haut on the west, near
Flye's Point on the north, to the Mount Desert group on
the east, and the Atlantic ocean on the south.

This territory was offered for sale for three reasons :
first, that Massachusetts might derive revenue from its
sale ; second, to ensure its settlement, and thus increase the
state's population ; and third, that only Protestants might
become owners of this land, and thus prevent the en-
croachments of the Catholics. This prejudice against the
Catholic religion, formed in those times, still exists at the
present day.

Usually the conditions that Massachusetts imposed
were : if granted a township six miles square, that it
should be settled by sixty Protestant families within six
years, and each family have a house at least eighteen feet
square ; to fit for tillage three hundred acres of land, and
erect a meeting-house and settle a pastor.

Col. Swan, soon after the purchase of these islands,
erected a saw and a ' grist mill. He built a store and
erected for himself a large mansion, which he finished up


in a most expensive manner. Many of the wealthy men
of that day still favored the English custom of owning
large estates ; this was seen especiall}^ in the great planta-
tions of the South. This seems to have been Swan's ob-

They began at the saw^ mill to manufacture the great
loors, which at first were cut near the shore and rafted to
the mill. The grist mill manufactured the barley and
corn, which the settlers were now raising on their cleared
land, for bread. Coasting vessels were being built to
carry the lumber to market, and return laden with supplies
for the settlers. The woodman's axe and the carpenter's
hammer were heard on every side. New houses grew as
if bv magic. Everything for the new settlement was now
in readiness. The mills were in operation. Settlers with
their families were rapidl}^ accepting the lucrative em-
ployment which was here offered them, and all indications
promised this to be one of the most thriving towns of the



The following is the agreement, deed and receipt of
payment for the Burnt Coat group of islands, between the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts and James Swan.
These interesting documents, which show what islands
were included in the original purchase, were found in the
Lincoln county records, in which county this group of
islands was then included.


THIS AGREEMENT made this twenty-fifth day of February, A. D.
1785, between the Committee appointed by a Resolve of the General
Court of the twenty-eighth of October, A. D. 1783, on the subject of unappro-
priated Lands in the County of Lincoln, in behalf of this Commonwealth, of
the one part, and James Swan, of Dorchester, in the County of Suffolk, Esq.,
of the other part.

WITNESSETH, that the said Committee do agree to sell and convey to
the said James Swan, to hold in fe, a certain Island commonly known by the
name of Burnt Coat Island, in the said County of Lincoln, and all the Islands,
the center thereof are within three miles of any part of the said Burnt Coat
Island, and a good Deed thereof to be given to the said James Swan as soon as
the same Islands can be conveniently surveyed and a return thereof had. And
the said James Swan agrees on his part to pay on the nineteenth Day of March
next, the sum of nineteen hundred and twenty Pounds in the consolidated se-
curities of this Commonwealth to said committee, to the Use of said Common-
wealth, and the further sum of three shillings in the said securities per Acre for
every Acre that shall be found to be contained in the said Islands over and above
the number of twelve thousand eight hundred acres (to be paid for by the first
said Payment) on an accurate survey thereof in one year from this date. Any
Islands the whole thereof is a barren rock, to be excepted, but no allowance to

be made for any Bogs, Ponds, or waste Lands, and on the delivery of said Deed
to give satisfactory securities for the said last mentioned Payment. In witness
thereof the parties aforesaid set their hands the day and year first above men-

S. Phillips, Jr.,
Nathan Dane,
James Swan,
Samuel Page,



March, 19, 1785.
Received of James Swan, Esq., the first within mentioned sum of Nine-
teen hundred and twenty Pounds.

Nathan Dane.

January 19, 1786.
Received of the hon'ble Samuel Phillips, Esqr., the above sum, which
was overpaid on the within Lands purchased of the Commonwealth of Massa-
chusetts, say one hundred and twenty Pounds.

James Swan.


That We, Samuel Phillips, Jun., Nathaniel Wells and John Brooks, Es-
quires, a committee appointed by two Resolves of the Commonwealth of Massachu-
setts of the 28th of October, 1783 and 30th of November, r785, on the subject
of unappropriated Lands in the County of Lincoln, and by those and other Re-
solves of said Court, empowered to sell and convey the unappropriated Lands of

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Online LibraryH. W. (Herman Wesley) SmallA history of Swan's Island,Maine → online text (page 1 of 15)