John Langdon Sibley.

A history of the town of Union, in the county of Lincoln, Maine, to the middle of the nineteenth century; online

. (page 37 of 49)
Online LibraryJohn Langdon SibleyA history of the town of Union, in the county of Lincoln, Maine, to the middle of the nineteenth century; → online text (page 37 of 49)
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which appeared to be the weaker, and the weaker
would immediately retreat toward the shore. At last
the weaker darted up to the land. Robbins ran about
knee-deep into the w^ater, caught it, and carried it to
his father's. It was kept a day in the front yard, not
being able to rise from the ground, or even walk ; and
then it was returned to the pond.

Loons often passed between Seven-tree Pond and
Round Pond, in the river. They have the power of
letting themselves down so low in the water that
nothing but the head will appear above the surface.


They often do this in small places. When Nathaniel
Robbins, Esq., was fishing for salmon with a seine,
these birds ^vould sometimes enter the river to go to
Round Pond; and, in consequence of letting themselves
down, they would stick their heads into the net-work
below the rope. Their feathers being stiff, they could
not draw them back; and, being very muscular, they
would flap their small but very strong wings, till they
wound up a great part of the seine into a snarl.
Commonly, they do not go in flocks, but in pairs ;
though in Crawford's Pond several have been seen
together. If they halloo loudly, it is always regarded
as a sign of a storm.

John Jones, with a rifle, on the shore opposite the
house of Willard Robbins, fired at a loon w^hich he
saw at a great distance. The loon was not wounded,
and it dived. Upon rising, it halloed, as if in defiance.
Jones stood still, and fired a second time. Again the
],oon went down, and after a few minutes re-appeared.
With each dive he made great advances towards the
shore. He uttered another loud scream. As his body
was sunk into the Avater, Jones fired, the third time, at
his head. The ball struck very near the eye, and
killed him instantly.


May 28, 1788, the town voted to " allow as a bounty
on crows eightpence per head, and one penny for black-
birds, for nil killed in town by town-inhabitants for the
year ensuing. . . . June 20, 1803, voted that twenty cents
be c^iven for crows and five cents for blackbirds. Voted
that the town-treasurer be empowered to receive crows
and blackbirds, and pay for the same ; and that he cut
oft" their heads." May 14, 1804, an article " to see if the
town will allow a bounty for crows and blackbirds,
stri}ied and red squirrels," was dropped. No bounties
have been voted since.

Crows continue to be numerous. Half a century
after the settlement of the town, flocks containing
several hundreds would light on the hills and pastures


in summer, and early in autumn, to feed on grasshop-
pers. They have never been quite so saucy in Union
as they have occasionally been in other places. A few
years ago, in Hopkinton, N. H., they killed seventeen
turkeys in one flock, not taking one daily, as a hawk
does, but destroying an entire brood at once. One
farmer in that tow^n discovered, on one of his lambs,
a crow, which had picked out one eye, and was
thwacking the lamb over so as to pick out the other.
A neighbor lost eight lambs in one spring, which were
undoubtedly killed by them. Of some of the lambs
the tongues as Avell as the eyes were picked out. The
crows in the neighborhood had become very bold.
But in Union probably nothing of the kind has oc-
curred. The most which is apprehended from them is
the injury they naay do in the cornfields ; and to these
it is believed they do no harm in spring, by pulling
up the corn, unless they have young. When it is con-
sidered that it is very easy to scare them away at the
seasons of the year when they do mischief, the policy
of killing them may be questionable. They are scaven-
gers and carrion-eaters, and destroy an immense number
of insects and worms, which, without their co-opera-
tion, would in time bring desolation on many a rich field.


When the town was first settled, game was plenty ;
and for a long time there \vas one hunting-match or
more yearly. Men who proposed to take part met
and agreed on a day to which the hunt should be
restricted, and determined the comparative value of
different animals, according to their scarcity. A bear,
perhaps, would count 100, a fox 20, a racoon 15, a
partridge 6, a crow 5, a grey squirrel 3, a red squirrel
2, a blackbird 1, and so on. The party then chose
two captains, and they cast lots for the first choice.
After the successful captain had selected a man, they
proceeded alternately till all present were enrolled in
the one or the other company. On the day appointed,
every man went to hunt. In the evening, all came



together. The game killed by each one was counted,
according to the principles before laid down. The
company which was victorious sat down with the
other to a supper, the expense of which was paid by the
vanquished. Sometimes, instead of joining in com-
panies, the hunters paked otf against each other, and
the man who came at night with the least game paid
for his rival's supper.^ Game, however, is now scarce,
and the old hunters are nearly all gone.




Fish Laws. — Salmon. — Alewives. — Fish-hawks and Eagles. —
Eels. — Smelts. — Trotit and Pickerel. — Other Fish.


July 7, 1786, after the inhabitants here had made a
movement to obtain an Act of Incorporation, and
about three months before the Act was passed, the
Legislature made a law "to prevent the destruction,
and to regulate the catching, of the fish called salmon,
shad, and alewives, in the Kennebec," and several other
rivers, including the St. George's. No obstructions
were to be built, or to be continued, which would
prevent the fish from going vip to the lakes and -ponds

' This kind of enjoyment suggests another, which sometimes was
had sixty or seventy years ago, though it was not common. A man
had wood to be sledded, or corn to be gathered or to be husked. He
procured as much liquor as he thought would be necessary, prepared a
supjier, and invited his neighbors to the Uee, They came and assisted
him in the afternoon. Alter the supper, the more genteel and the bet-
ter dressed would go into the room, and dance with the young women ;
while those who were somewhat ragged, or wanted courage to enter,
would at the same time be dancing the double-shufiie in the entry or
around the door, to the same music which was sung to the dancers
within the house.

FISH. 419

to cast their spawn, between April 20 and June 10,
annually. The owners of all dams were required to
open sufficient sluice-ways and passages, at their own
expense, for the fish to go through. During the same
period, no persons were allowed to catch them " at any
other time than between sunrise on Monday and sun-
set on Thursday in each week," or at any time to " set
any seine, pot, or other machine, for the purpose of
taking any . . . within two rods of any sluice or passage-
way ; " and no seine or net was to extend at any time
more than one-third across the stream. It was or-
dered that the A.ct be read in town-meetings, in the
month of March or April, annually. Every town and
plantation was required to choose a committee to see
it enforced, and to prosecute offenders. " Any person
so chosen," who should " refuse to serve," unless he
were elected to some other office, incurred a penalty
of forty shillings. It was in accordance with this Act
that fish-wardens were first chosen, at the first regular
meeting after the town-organization. They were then
denominated " a committee to take care that the fish
should not be stopped contrary to law, the year


Salmon ^ remained in ponds and deep places in
the river during the summer. In the fall, when the
autumnal rains came, they went up the river, and cast
their spawn in large holes, which they made in the
sand at the bottom of the stream. From the upper
and the lower end of the little island at the bottom
of the eddy below the Middle Bridge, John Butler
extended to the western shore two wears, the lower
one having in it an eel-pot for the fish to pass through.
From the water between the wears he would not unfre-
quently, in the morning, teike out two or three large
salmon- with a pitchfork. Between the years 1790 and

* Salmo salar. — Lin. The scientific names have been furnished
by the eminent ichthyologist, lloi-atio llobinson Storer, of Boston.

* Nathaniel Robbins, Esq.


1800, Royal Grinnell, with pitchforks, took from half a
barrel to a barrel of them in a hole in the river opposite
to his house in the summer; ^ but they were not so good
as if the weather had been cool. About the year 1790,
Josiah Robbins, with Philip Robbins, Amariah Mero,
and Rufus Gillraor, made a salmon-net, and set it off
Gillmor's land below the bridge, and in one year took
more than two thousand pounds of salmon, which
were salted for winter. About the years 1803 or 1804,
when mills were first erected at the Middle Bridge,
the >vorkmen killed these fish with axes and carpenters'
tools. They were plenty, and furnished an important
and luxurious means of subsistence to the early set-
tlers. They disappeared many years ago.

Ale WIVES ^ are numerous. Formerly the best places
for them were near Taylor's Mills and Hills' Mills.
The object in choosing fish-wardens in 1823, after
neglecting it for some time, was to prevent the boys
from taking the fish, as they had done for several
years, at Crawford's River. In the morning, the ale-
wives would pass up to the falls ; and, being prevented
from going further, they would all return in the course
of the afternoon. By putting a rack across the river, ten
or twelve rods from its mouth, the boys were enabled
before night to take all that had gone up. William
Gleason, Esq., observed that, if the fish were allowed
to go down, a little time intervened before others
came. The conclusion was, that they went off in
search of another stream, and were followed by one or
two of the shoals near them. In one, two, or three
days, would be seen a few stragglers or pioneers, appa-
rently part of a shoal. If these were caught, others
would come, and finally the whole shoal, and the
shoal be followed by others.

Soon after casting their spawn, multitudes of ale-
wives, seeking a passage to the ocean, may be seen
above the dam at Warren. Those which are nearest
eddy round, a few each time dropping over, till finally

' Lyceum Lecture. ^ Alosa tyrannus. — Dekay.

FISH. 421

the whole shoal, with a rush, goes over, tail first. The
young go down later ; and, when they arrive at Warren,
being about three and a half inches long, and of a
suitable size for bait, they are vexed and driven in all
directions by eels. The eels are also seen to lie quietly
in the grass at the bottom of the water, and dart their
heads up from time to time, and take as many as they
want from the millions with which the river is crowded.
Many years ago, when the only way of carrying
boards down the St. George's was by rafting, so many
would be killed by getting between them, that the
boards would be slippery. When the old canal was
used, the posts at the locking would be made greasy
by the grinding of them.

Fish-hawks and Eagles. — With the return of
alewives in the spring ^vas that of fish-hawks and
eagles. Col. Herman Hawes says he has seen the
white-headed eagle, more than fifty times, sitting on a
dry tree on Seven-tree Island, watching the fish-hawks
to rob them. A fish-hawk would come sailing along,
stop in the air, suspend himself with easy flappings
at a moderate height, select his prey, then plunge into
the water, and, if successful, bring up a fish, shake
himself, and think to bear away the prize to his nest.
The white-headed eagle, improperly called the bald
eagle, in the mean time being on the watch, w&uld
start and swiftly pursue him. After many trials, find-
ing he could not escape, he would drop the fish. In an
instant the eagle would close his wings, follow it down,
and commonly seize it before it struck the ground,
or he would pick it up, and, pirate-like, bear it off.
Once a fish-hawk in Union dived into^ the water,
brought up a fish, flapped his wings, and attempted to
fly, but failed and was carried down. He rose again,
and made another attempt, but was again drawn
beneath the water, and seen no more.

Eels' are not popular; and, as the streams and
ponds are favorable to their multiplication, they are

* Anguilla Bostonicnsis. — Dekay.


numerous. Thirty or forty years ago, one or two bush-
els might sometimes be caught in an eel-pot placed
over-night at an opening in Bachelor's dam. More
recently, for about two months, beginning with the
early part of August when they are passing down the
river, the wash-box of the factory at South Union is
found to contain from a peck to a bushel every morn-
ing. When the water is so high that the waste-gate
is opened, none are caught. The fish pass into the
flume, and are carried into the wash-box by the water,
which rushes so furiously into it through a four-inch
aperture, that they cannot re-ascend. This is their
only passage down ; as, during this season, but little if
any water runs over the dam.

The question naturally arises. How do these fish
go up ? Every year when the water is low, in July,
it is found that the dam needs gravelling in several
places. Did the eels work their way up by removing
the gravel ? Small eels have been seen two feet out
of water on the side of a wet flume, apparently en-
deavoring to ascend St. George's River. It has been
intimated that there appeared to be something like
a glutinous property on the fish, and that it aided them
somewhat in adhering to a wet board or timber, when
not immersed in water. When the boys were in the
practice of catching alewives in wooden racks at South
Union, experience taught them to remove the alewives
at night ; for eels would frequently reach up and eat
them in the box, though it was at least five inches
above the surface of the water.

When the young go down the river, they sometimes
collect in large numbers at the dams ; and so bent are
they on effecting a passage to the ocean, that they are
not unfrequcntly found with their tails inextricably
wedged into the cracks between the planks.

Smelts. — William Gleason, Esq., says that, in the
fall of 1823, part of the wing-dam of the paper-mill,
where the factory at South Union now stands, together
with a qiiantity of stove-wood, was carried ofl by a
freshet. After the snow-water had gone, in the spring

FISH. 423

of 1824, the proprietors of the paper-mill went down
the stream to pick it up. There had been a heavy-
north-west wind the preceding evening; and, while
collecting their wood, they found among it, near and at
the mouth of Crawford's River, a few dead smelts.
Although there were known to be smelts in the lake
in Hope, it had not occurred to any one that they
were also in Union. Mr. Gleason, inferring from their
being found on the bank of the river that there must
be some in the river and in Crawford's Pond, immedi-
ately made a small net, and was the first person who
caught any in town.

When these fish appear in Seven-tree Pond, which
is immediately after the snow-water is gone, they
are dipped up in nets just at dusk, at the " height
of flowage ; " that is, where the level and comparatively
calm water of the pond makes a small breaker with
Crawford's River as they meet. These fish, it is said,
are long and slim, and differ from the salt-water smelts.
Many are caught in the wash-box of the factory, when
the snow-water ceases to run ; and this seems to prove,
that at that time they go down instead of going up.
In September, for the last four or five years, bushels of
smelts, lying in windrows, have been found dead along
the south-east side of the long island in Crawford's
Pond, and on the south-west shore of the pond. As
a south-east wind wafts them into Crawford's River,
it is a natural inference, that the mortality prevails in
the southerly part of the pond.

Trout' and Pickerel.^ — There was formerly a
tolerably good supply of trout, and in Crawford's
Pond they were plenty ; but there was not a pickerel
in St. George's River or its tributaries. During the
five or six years when the boys caught alewives at
Crawford's River, they took with them so many trout
that they were nearly exterminated from that river and
the pond above. A contribution was raised afterward ;
and, in March 1827 or 1828, John F. Hart and Marcus

* Salrao fontinalis. — MUchilL * Esox reticulatus. — Le Sueur,


Gillmor made two journeys to Whitefield to obtain
pickerel. ^ Having prepared a box with lioles in the
top to admit air, they succeeded, by changing the
water two or three times on the journeys, in bringing
alive and slijiping into the water under the ice, just
below the Lower Bridge, eleven of them. Nine, at the
same time, were put into Sunnybec Pond, and nine
into Crawford's Pond. The expectation of a favorable
result was not very sanguine. There was, however, an
understanding that there should not be any fishing for
pickerel before the expiration of four or five years. In
the iifth year, it was found that they had so multiplied
as to be caught in large numbers in the ponds. In a
few years, they ^vere found in every pond on St.
George's River, and in the tributary streams, and in the
ponds in Waldoborough. The small tish on which they
feed were so plenty, never having been disturbed by
them, that they rioted in unwonted luxury. Some of
them weighed five or sLx pounds, though their aver-
age weight at the present time is from eight ounces to
one pound. They have nearly exterminated the trout.
Besides the fish mentioned are others, which are
common in Maine. Among them are the VNdiite
perch,- yellow perch, ^ roach or cousin-trout,'^ bream
or flatside,^ pout,** sucker,^ &c., the number of some
of which has been greatly diminished in consequence
of the voracity of their unwelcome intruders, the pick-

' In 1797 there -were pickerel in all the eastern tributaries of
Kennebec River, but none in tlie western. Between the years 1810
and 1820, the Hon. Robert H. Gardiner cmplojasd a man to procure
some froin Nahunikca^. Seven were put into the Cobhessecontee
above his mills, and now pickerel are abundant in the streams and
ponds which make that river.

* Labrax mucronatus. — Ciivier,
' Perca flavescens. — Cuvier.

* Leuciscus inilchellus. — Storer.

* Pomotis vulgaris. — Cuvier.
^ Pimelodus catus. — Lin.

' Catostomus Bostonienses. — Ix Sueur.




Design. — Sources of Information. — Changes since the Settlement. —
Possibilities and Responsibilities.

The narrative and statistical portion of this history is
now concluded. The preparation of it has required
much more time and labor than was anticipated. As
historical facts cannot be " manufactured to order,"
and Union is far behind many other towns in the
number and variety of topics of general interest, it
was at first thought impossible to eke out any thing
more than a pamphlet. But materials, such as they
were, accumulated ; and the result is a volume, de-
signed rather for the inhabitants and the descendants
of the early settlers, and for a few friends, than for the
public or " the snarling, hungry horde of curs called
' The Critics.' " ^ Accordingly, to some persons it will
seem open to the objections of too great minuteness
of detail, and of occasional violations of good taste.

Though accuracy and completeness have been par-
ticularly attended to, it is obvious that there must be
errors and omissions. The writing and printing have
been done where the town-records and the inhabitants
of Union could not be easily consulted. The infor-
mation has been taken from a very great variety of
sources. Much reliance has been placed on the state-
ments of Messrs. Phinehas Butler and Jessa Robbins,
in relation to what occurred among the earliest set-
tlers. Constant use has been made of contributions by
Nathaniel Robbins, Esq., and his son Augustus C. Rob-
bins, Esq. ; and to the former of them, for verification,
nearly all the manuscript \vas read, in the winter before
his decease. It is hardly necessary to state, that the

1 Page 236, note.


letters, lyceum-lecturcs, and oral communications of
Dr. Jonathan Sibley have been of great value in rela-
tion to events of the nineteenth century, and have
furnished many of the incidents of an earlier date.
The most important source of information, however,
is the town-records. The loan of these w^as voted to
the writer, " on condition that he give to the clerk, for
the benefit of the town, a receipt for the same to be
returned in one year, or pay the sum of forty dollars
as a forfeiture on failure to return the same in one
year or sooner, if wanted." After a few months, they
were needed lor consultation, and it was necessary to
restore them. More information probably would have
been obtained from the clerk's office, but for a barba-
rous act, about the year 1837, by which "all the use-
less papers," so called, were destroyed. In addition
to the sources mentioned are many others, for which
credit is often given in the narrative.

A town-history ought to be just and truthful. The
bad as well as the good should be told. Though
some undesirable occurrences have been recorded, it
may be said with truth, that Union contains an indus-
trious, thriving population, and will not sutler in
comparison with a majority of other country-towns.
Extreme want is not known. Abject degradation
and beggary do not, as -in cities, dwell side by side
with luxury and extravagance. Though there are not
probably six persons worth ten thousand dollars each,
there is hardly a man who is not in comfortable cir-
cumstances. There are but few towns in the county,
or even in the State, where the property is so equally
divided. A consequence is, that there is no aristocracy
of wealth or of family. Every man is a- monarch, and
independent. At the same time every man is a sub-
ject, and amenable to his equals. Upon all a kind
Providence has showered down gifts with a lavish
hand. The hills and the valleys, the woods, the
streams, the soil, the water-privileges, the treasures
yet unearthed, the health of the people, show that
here are elements of thrift, contentment, and happiness.


The age of the nation and the age of the town are
nearly the same. The first family moved here in 177G,
the year of the declaration of the Independence of the
United States. Four of the oldest settlers are yet
living. Mrs. Mero, now of Cape Elizabeth, and Mrs.
Dunton, of Hope, were then children. Messrs. Phinehas
Butler, of Thomaston, now ninety-three years of age,
and Jessa Robbins, the oldest person in Union, being
ninety-two, were among the first to wield the axe, and
break in upon the wilderness and solitude which
reigned where rich fields and beautiful landscapes
now meet the eye at every tm'n. Their lives cover
more than the entire period of the existence of the
town and the nation. When they came here, thirteen
little colonies, containing three millions of inhabitants,
were beginning an almost hopeless, but, as it proved, a
successful struggle against the oppression and the
military and naval force of one of the most powerful
nations of the Old World. Since that time, the Fede-
ral Constitution has been formed and adopted ; the
French Revolutions, the career of Bonaparte, the war
of 1812, and the Mexican War, have become historical
facts. Empires have risen and fallen, thrones have
been overturned, science and art have drawn from
nature her concealed treasures, steam has been applied
to ships and harnessed to cars, and made to do man's
bidding, and the telegraph with winged woi;ds to out-
strip the lightning. The thirteen little colonies have
become thirty-one states, containing twenty-three
millions of souls, extending from the Atlantic to the
Pacific ; and their intellectual and moral power is so
formidable, that the monarchs of Europe, with their
hundreds of thousands of troops always armed and
on duty in all their cities and villages, are in awe of a
people which has not a military police in a single city
in the Union.

The little colony which was begun here three quar-
ters of a century since with one family has become
one of the little republics which constitute the great
republic of the United States. It is continually send-

Online LibraryJohn Langdon SibleyA history of the town of Union, in the county of Lincoln, Maine, to the middle of the nineteenth century; → online text (page 37 of 49)