Piscataqua 1630s Rye NH and Kittery Maine ancestors
Anthony and Eleanor Brackett.. Their lives, their love, their World.
Forward: This is a story about My Father's ancestors, Anthony and Eleanor Brackett. The annals & letters that survive from this period are contradictory and at times confusing. So is the timeline of events. I have done my best to follow history and at the same time to bring out a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of my and our ancestors.
The Lower Piscataqua River is a tidal Estuary or Sound. The area East of the Great Island, now Castle Island is the East Sound, which is open to the oceans swells and storms. It also has considerable tidal currents, as much as four knots, or MPH. The area West of the Great Island is the West Sound, a much more sheltered area. Even so, the sailboat could not make more than four to six knots, so going upriver meant going With the incoming tide, and sailing downriver meant going With the outgoing tide. The special terms used in places can by quickly looked up on the phone or computer. The Shallops are sturdy, wide beamed seagoing sailboats, fifteen to thirty feet in length, and can have one or two masts. Two masted Shallops and Pinks had the foremast several feet behind or Aft of the bow of the boat. Pinks were the forerunners of today's commercial schooners. Skiffs and Punt boats are meant for more sheltered waters. Also noted is that where the incoming tide meets the outgoing river water, especially in the Spring and Fall, the wave action in that area is rather rough, or “choppy.” The reader may notice the Mainer accent and grammar! J
Be sure to read my other novellas as well!
My Mother's Crocker ancestors were the first settlers in Scituate in 1634 and in the first settlement on Cape Cod at Barnstable in 1639. See 'Pilgrim Plantation 1634”
Enjoy :), Lewis Brackett
Piscataqua, 1630s (Pis cat ah quh)
The fog covered the sea like a thick wet blanket. Ten fathoms under the ships keel, hove to and anchored to await daylight. And maybe even to find out more or less where they were. Without being able to take a reliable Noontime Sun sight to obtain their latitude most of the voyage, they had no real idea where they were. The best the ship's Master could do was to say they were somewhere near the right latitude to make the Northern shore of the Massachusetts Bay near the Piscataqua river . But that was all. They only had a very rough guess how far West they had come. So. For the last six days they had to keep sounding with the 600 foot long deep sea lead once an hour to feel their way West. The ship had shortened sail at dusk, and even furled the canvas entirely if a thick fog settled in so that you could not see the bow of the ship from the stern. Finally, one mid morning, with about half a mile visibility, their sea lead had found bottom at 500 feet. Shortly the sea bed rapidly shallowed, and a small island appeared. The ships master put the helm hard over, and avoided the island, but barely. After a tense couple hours, The fog still stubbornly refusing to lift, and even getting thicker, he ordered ship brought into the wind, the anchor dropped, the square sails furled, and hoping the fog would lift.
No such luck, Anthony thought as he stood at the mid-ships rail with the girl Eleanor. looking off into the thick wall of fog along with several others.. That evening was still a bit chilly, So Anthony and the others went below. They had left Portsmouth, Devon, the last day of March, the year of our Lord 1630. It had been almost two months, and not a bad voyage as many had been that time of the year. The previous “settlers” of the Piscataqua river had been merely fishermen with a five year permit to operate a fishing station there starting in 1602. When the time was up, they moved on. The Crown had entrusted title of the land to several gentlemen who had not been able or willing to do much to accomplish settlement. So, this new start of thirty or so men and a number of women might amount to something.
By ten the next morning, the fog had lifted a bit, so the captain tried a new plan. They launched the longboat and bid the boat to sail due west ahead of them, keeping in sight of the ship, and sounding every fifteen minutes. In another hour, the boat signaled that the bottom was shoaling again, so the captain ordered the ship around into the wind, the anchor let go and the sails furled. When the boat returned, the captain bid them to sail back west and determine if land was nearby. If so, they were to determine if the land was an island, then return. A few minutes later, the boat disappeared into the fog a couple miles distant. Just before sunset, the ship heard a signal gun fired from the boat and returned the salute.
Afew minutes later the boat was along side with the news that the island or point of land ended about six miles to the North, with plenty of water off the point.
By the next morning, the fog had lifted several miles, so the ship got underway, heading along the coast of what seemed now to be several small islands. Then, they bore around the last one to a heading of almost West. A few minutes later, the lookout noted breakers a couple miles to the North. However, there was enough water under the keel so the ship kept on this course a little above West. Finally, three hours later the lookout called down that he could see land ahead. They bore in a little closer, then, the captain put the helm down and they paralleled the land about three miles offshore. In a few minutes, it appeared the land ended. However, as they were almost abeam of the point they suddenly realized a river mouth and Sound lay West of them. The captain bid the helm be put over to Port, and with the ship sailing as close to the wind as they could, they ghosted into the river sound. The Captain’s chart had said they were to sail into the first small bay to the West . They were then forced to anchor as they could not sail directly into the wind. A couple hours later, Three settlers and two seamen and the Captain set out sailing the settlers shallop West a short distance into a cove called Little Harbor. sighting the buildings the fishermen had abandoned some years before, Not bad navigation at that, the ship’s captain smiled to himself! Little Harbor on the Piscataqua river had been found.
That Afternoon, the Captain, having returned to the ship, he thought it good to warp the ship closer to the smaller bay. So, the crew rowed a kedge anchor over to the cove the next slack tide and winched the ship over into the cove well after dark. The next morning, with the tide coming back in all hands loaded all four boats and had sailed them into Little Harbor by noon time. As soon as all had been unloaded, and the tide was changing to go out, all but Anthony, John Ault and Alexander Jones left for the ship. Someone had to stay behind to keep any of the natives from stealing their property. They were also bid to see to the wellbeing of the buildings. At least they were still standing, William saw. A little mortar daubing here and there... well, more than a little over there, he sighed. The thatch was thin in several places on the roofs, and needed to be fixed as well. Alex came over to him. “Not as bad as I expected” Alex said.
“Yes,” Anthony replied. “Looks like plenty of shell gravel on the beach and even some lime over there in the corner” Anthony pointed. Alex smiled. “John found a place he thinks was used to mix mortar” Alex added. They walked over to the pit where John was. “We can mix some mortar here” John said. All shortly agreed, so Anthony went back inside the building for a bucket of lime while the other two made their way down to the beach where someone had left a large mound of clam and coahog shells. Shortly, they were mixing mortar to plaster on the holes in the walls of the larger building. The “Wattle and Daub” mortar building technique was simple, strong enough and ancient. In this case river reed had been woven between upright poles instead of cut lath wood, then mortar daubed, troweled in between and covering the wood. It dried fairly quickly, and the roof thatch overhung the walls and so kept most of the rain off... In places some reed had been tied on on the outside of the structure, but most of that was missing. Maybe even taken by some native. They worked all afternoon till an hour before dusk before stopping for the day, and making supper , porridge, in a pot over an open fire. The walls of this larger building by now looked a lot better, and the door could be bolted from the inside. Even so, they took turn standing watch three hours each. William took the final watch till first light. At length, he checked his ancient long barreled pistol, his light crossbow, his dagger, and made his way outside with a hunting dart at the ready on his bow. Unlike the military version, his hunting bow could be cocked and loaded quickly, and was deadly and accurate up to about fourty paces.
William also wore an ancient chainmail shirt inherited from a great uncle whose forbear had been with King Edward in France, some 200- or more -years ago!
After carefully checking around, Anthony uncoiled a line with several hooks on it. The hooks baited, he threw the line and sinker out a ways. Then set about making a fire in the cooking pit. Once he had the fire going well, Anthony walked back down the beach, and saw to his satisfaction the his fishing float was bobbing up and down. Pulling the line in, he was rewarded with three fish two or three pounds apiece! After re-baiting the hooks and throwing the line back in, Anthony quickly gutted and scaled the fish, then drove a spit through them and started roasting them in the fire. Soon Alex ambled out of the building carrying his musket, a big smile on his face at the smell of roasting fish. He called back to John “Hey John, you want breakfast?” replied to by a face poking out the door, then led by his nose, John made his way to the fire. A few minutes later, there was fresh roasted fish in what remained of last nights reheated porridge. Very, Very good! That-was maybe Pollock? It Was delightful. Then, after a few minutes, they got back to work, this time on the smaller buildings, keeping their muskets close by just in case.
Mid-morning the boats were back with lots more stuff, and several really annoyed looking she-goats who just could not wait to get out of the boats once they touched the beach. They all had a really good laugh as one fellow got pulled off his feet onto his face by the biggest goat trying to get away, the goat protesting loudly. Two others dove for the rope to the fleeing goat, just stopping her, then tied her to a nearby tree. The other goats weren't quite as much trouble. Several opined that it looked like getting the cows/oxen ashore would be “delightful” as well. And the next day, it was. More cattle would wait for the next ship, perhaps by mid Summer, perhaps not. You never really knew what their Lords the landowners would choose to do. Right now, they were merely paid help. However the land was so vast that few expected not to have their own land in a few years at most.
Since neither the landowners-nor any of them -wanted to waste lots of time and trouble setting up the two pit saws, they had brought much lumber with them in the ship's hold, slung up out of the way under the main deck. It was the last thing brought ashore, and stowed inside the largest building, and stacked up off the ground. The two carpenters got to work with two helpers repairing the thatch roofs. A few days later, the ship set out to sea. and so their future called them into its wilderness embrace.
So, the first muster of the workers (or settlers in their minds) was held. Lord Mason and several other notables were the lessor of the land grant from the King.
He and other investors had sent 51 Men and Women as first settlers, in his mind of course they were merely stewards and servants . However, time and distance-and yes the wilderness-conspired to other designs, that of eventually a great nation.
Their names were: Captain Walter Neal as governor, Ambrose Gibbons as chief steward, Thomas Wonerton, Francis Norton, Sampson Fane, Henry Jocelyn, Stewards. Stewards were the people supposedly in charge of the new “plantation”. The problem was when several people are in charge no one is in charge! When the “property” belongs to someone else, not much work really gets done!
The same problem as in the Jamestown colony.
Reginald Furnald, Surgeon,
Thomas Furnald, Thomas Comack, William Raymond, Francis Williams,George Vaugh, Ralph Glee, Henry Glee,William Cooper,William Clairborn jr, Francis Rand, James Johnson, Ant Ellins, Henry Baldwin, Thomas Spencer, Thomas Fural,Thomas Flerd, Thomas Chaterton, John Williams, Roger Knight, Henry Sherburn, John Goddard, Thomas Withers, Thomas Canney, John Symonds, John Penley, William Seavey, William Berry, Henry Langstaff, Jeremy Walford, James Wall,, William Brokin, Thomas Walford, Thomas Moore, Joseph Beal, Hugh James, Alexander Jones, John Ault, “Anthony” William Brackett, James Newt, Eight Danes and Twenty-Two women.
So some men had no woman!
It only took a short time to make the buildings ready. After that, Anthony with several of the other men made off every morning to go fishing in the shallops They were twenty and seventeen foot long, wide beamy craft that had one lanteen sail set on a stubby mast. They were excellent for coastal fishing and cargo. The investors had wanted them out fishing as soon as possible. Dried Codfish was in great demand back in England.
It must be noted here that The Devon fishermen (Devon is SouthWest England) along with the Basque from NorthWest Spain had been fishing the Grand Banks of Newfoundland centuries before Columbus! He likely heard about the New World from the Basque !
Anyway, the tide rip through the river was really strong, so Anthony and the others had to wait for slack water or an outgoing tide to leave the river. Anthony's family had fished back in England, so he led the way. The first day they made the river mouth in an hour with the outgoing tide. There were sandbars outside the deeper channel, and he knew that the fish would only come out of their deep holes to feed there at slack water, which was a couple hours away. So, they sailed offshore a ways off the Southern point, anchored and tried their luck dropping lines with twenty hooks in several places as they let out the anchor line. An hour later the pulled them in with about 20 fish. So, the raised sail again, and tried their luck just off the point. The tide was slackening somewhat, so the fish were more plentiful. Another hour and both boats sailed over to the sand banks along the channel and caught lots of fish the next two hours around slack tide. Finally, with the tide coming in, they gave up for the day and sailed back into the river sound and back to Little Harbor. As they left the river Sound, Anthony looked wistfully over his shoulder to the several inshore islands To the North of the Sound enterance and especially the islands several miles offshore to the East. The fishing should be really good there. They would need to go out there soon. It was already the last of June and reports were that they only had three or four months good fishing weather before it got much too cold to fish offshore in an open boat.
They had the bottom of both boats covered with lots of fish.
It took a while to bring all the fish ashore, and even longer to gut, head them and skewer them on the fish rack (still being built) for drying.
The Lord had pried from the fishermen that had leased the land from him in the several previous years about the local fisheries. The Salmon swam up river in late Spring, April, and again by September. Following the Spring salmon, eels lay on the mud flats between tides in their great multitude, as well as the pollock by the thousands. Once a year, possibly mid Summer the Cod came close by the offshore islands so local shallops could fill their boats with them. They had come too late for the Spring Salmon and the eels (as if anyone wanted to eat an eel!) but the pollock and bass were running now. Large flat fish could also be caught or found stranded on the mud flats.
The Lord and investors had opinion that all the fish belonged to them, and everything else too for that matter. However the new settlers saw things differently. Much of their catch was needed to feed themselves through the long snowy winter. There was only so much un-cleared meadow for them to plow and plant for corn this year. When the company ship returned late in the season what food needed for the winter would already be hidden away.
As the fishing and planting started, the carpenters started framing and planking several light, skow type skiffs that could be used on the river and easily be portaged up over the rivers falls. The nearest falls were only a few miles upriver. It was necessary to reach the multitude of streams feeding into the Piscataqua for trapping and trading. The narrowing of the river at the falls might also be the best place to set traps for the abundant, seasonal salmon as they made their way upriver to spawn.
For now, several of the men assembled the plows and used the oxen to plow up the meadows nearby. The rest doug up the grass in circles about ten or so feet across to till that ground as the natives did.
The unmarried women had already chosen who they wanted to spend their lives with. Anthony was delighted that Eleanor had allowed that yes, she wanted to be Anthony's wife. No one objected of course, so they and the others had a group wedding pledging themselves to each other before the group and the lay minister with them.
Building more homes would have to wait until mid Summer.
However, Anthony and Eleanor would leave the group fire after supper at last light every evening and as the mostly full moon came up, cut a sapling or two, trim the branches off, and bring them to the spot they had chosen for their home together a mile or so from the harbor. Anthony would dig a hole or two, then they would plant the two to three inch diameter sapling in the holes about two feet apart. The roof line would be a little above head height, about six feet. By the time the last quarter of the moon arrived, the poles for all four sides of their eighteen by twenty foot home had been set up, and the horizontal pole beams across the top as well. It remained to weave river cane back and forth across the poles to make the walls. That took quite a while.
By that time the planting time was over, so one Saturday, several others helped them make and plaster/ mortar all four sides. The house would be much stronger if the mortar daubing, trowling was all done at one time. Some of the planks they had brought with them from England were used to make the house roof frame. Then the horizontal roof stringers, made of straight saplings, were tied on to the frame, the river reed bundled and then tied to the stringers and frames to make a water tight high pitched toof. There was even room for a fair sized storage loft. After the inside was properly plastered, painted, it actually looked like a nice cosy home, and plastered fireplace, and it Was!
The level of the floor inside was raised a few inches with more mortar to keep it dry. A wood floor would have to wait for the sawmill promised in a year or two.
A few days after their home was finished, Anthony and two other men were sailing the larger shallop out to the offshore islands to search for Cod. After a couple hours, and almost there, all of a sudden they espied a sail coming down the coast towards them. A few minutes later they saw it was a two masted Pink, and a bit later both vessels luffed their sails and “hove to” (stopped)
an easy talking distance. One of the men from the Pink spoke up.
“This is the Pink “Lady” from Plymouth. Are you from the Piscataqua ?” An obvious question, whereabouts did they think they could be from? Anthony mused to himself. Alex spoke up “Yes, a new plantation where the fishing camp was at Little Harbor. Where are you headed?” “I know that place,” the Pink's officer replied. “We have a couple trading posts up North. Do you have anything to trade with us?” “Not as yet,” Anthony replied. “But come back late Summer or before the Winter ice sets in. We may have something by then.” “Very well, “ the voice replied. The officer sp[oke a few words, then the Pink's sails were filled again, and she bore off to the North with the wind on her stern.
As soon as Anthony and Eleanor's home was done others decided that it was time they built homes for the winter. So, evenings after weeding the fields and fishing most of them were building their homes and Sunday afternoons everyone got together to dob/plaster the houses that were ready. This took till late September, when several people noticed the Salmon in the river. Ocean fishing was suspended while nets and poles were fashioned into weirs (fish traps) a couple miles below the first portage falls on the Piscataqua several miles upriver. The fish got so thick some days that people were lifting them out of the river with dip nets! Some days it looked like you could walk across the river on the backs of the fish!
This mad rush of fish upriver only lasted three weeks. Of course, in the middle of that period the next ship came wanting a load of fish to take back to England! So the ship’s crew were pressed into service catching and readying fish for the ship. Great fires were used to dry the fish before they could be salted and stowed away below decks. The Salmon came just in time, otherwise there would not have been a full load of fish for the ship. The settlers had put away their own food for the winter first, despite what the Lord back on England thought. The stewards informed the ships captain that he should come back a little later next fall so he would have a full cargo. They also told the Captain that their would likely be a late spring salmon run, so a Spring ship arrival should not be until May if they wanted fish for transport as they could not do much fishing in the ice choked winter months. He readily agreed.
The corn harvest was not going to be abundant enough this year for the winter, so what they harvested from the sea would keep them alive. Already there was much grumbling about how most of their labor was being taken from them back to England. The fact that none of the land belonged to them but to a faraway lord discouraged doing more farming than enough to feed themselves. This did not bode well for the plantation's future.
Anthony had brought a chest full of seed with him for his own garden which he had quietly planted near to where he had built his house. He had found several areas in the middle of a thicket where no one would look, He and Eleanor hoped anyway. So, they should have potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and a few other vegetables to go along with the community corn. Anthony owned one of the several dogs around that kept the night critters from eating up his meager garden sprouts.
Now that fall was here his potato shoots were wilting and his carrors and others were going to seed. He dug some of them up and left others to fully seed. He had dug a couple of root cellars, carefully hidden to put some of their crop. The rest they hid over and behind the other stuff in their attic.
Now a ship chartered to accept what fish and other materials such as potash, lumber and salt were ready for shipment. The results were disappointing to the company factor on the ship, but nothing could be done. No doubt Lord Mason and the investors would be disappointed. The chief steward sent a letter back reminding the investors of the privations suffered in the first year of Plymouth colony and noting that better could be expected next Fall. Also noting the prospects of a Spring Salmon run, should they send a ship by in late May, or June, they would have much salmon for them... Also begging for a sawmill to be installed on one of their streams to greatly assist cutting lumber. Sawing lumber by hand with the pit saw was terribly wasteful of men's time, time was money, he reminded them. The Steward also opined that should the families be deeded land of their own, it would greatly encourage industry. They were guests in a hostile wilderness. The steward also reported that the natives were not very friendly here, So they had not been very successful in trading with the natives. They mostly avoided the English, since the diseases that had come in earlier ships had nearly wiped out the native population. Indeed, Government policy had encouraged companies to trade smallpox infected blankets to the natives to exterminate them entirely, making way for settlement. The natives at Plymouth had been exterminated in this manner making the land and fields formerly cultivated by the natives free and available to the Pilgrim settlers.
Alex and Anthony had become inseperatible, and so come fall had decided take one of the punt skiffs west as others had done, in this case to go bird hunting. When asked if they were going after ducks, Alex answered “”whichever bird comes closest.” All the birds were good eating, and were needed to preserve for winter. Only one man had been lucky enough to kill a dear this fall, and a small one at that. No one dared kill any of their livestock as they badly needed them to breed in the Spring. Several people knew how to snare small game as well, so there was often some meat at least in the stew pots. Alex had a serviceable fowling piece / musket and Anthony his long barreled ancient pistol he had converted into a usually workable flintlock. A gunsmith back home would have snickered in its “unique” working, but so what? It worked. Most of the time anyway. Anthony also brought along his crossbow. Did not know if he could hit, kill a duck with it, but you never knew. Maybe he would see something bigger! Like a big fat goose. Or even a deer.
The tide did not start coming in until early afternoon that crisp fall Saturday they set out West of the large island along the tidal river.
The tide, a small sail, and their rowing carried them along at a good pace so that just before dark they arrived at the first portage on the river. Deciding to camp there the night, they set up a canvas leanto against the cold wind and set a fire on the downwind side to keep them at least a little warm that night. They woke of several times that night to stur up the fire to warm up at least a bit. At least the wind had died down during the night and when the got up at first light, a hot cup of tea certainly warmed them up, along with a long swig of hot rum and porridge. They were shortly off carrying/portaging their boat and stuff up the hill and a couple hundred paces beyond the rapids to still water. That took most of an hour before they set out rowing again. In a few minutes they saw a large flock of birds just around a bend in the river. Rowing then poling the boat through the reeds quietly, in half an hour they were close enough to shoot. A flight took off right over their heads and both fired at the same time. The birds were so many so close together that several fell down, to be quickly grabbed and killed. A few minutes later a flock of geese came flying over a ways up. Too far for a pistol shot, but Alex shot, and a big fat goose crumpled up and fell. They paddled out quickly to get it before it could either sink or get away. The day continued really well, so much so that they decided to head for home. They portaged the falls about slack tide about dusk And came back the 12 miles to Little Harbor in the early hours of the morning, Waking several people up, the women got the birds ready while they were still freshly killed. Other women took over the rest of the chore after breakfast . “Women’s work”, Alex gratefully mused to himself as he got up hours later, still a bit tired seeing them still at work. “Wee kill 'em, they cook them” Or at least in this case cook and preserve them for winter meat in berries and things. Pemmican, he thought the natives called it.
The week had ended and everyone rested. Being Sunday, someone opened a Bible at the midday meal, and, as was usually done, had a brief Protestant service. This time he talked about the simple faith espoused in the Church of England's Nicene creed and Romans chapter ten. Along towards dusk, everyone parted, and as Anthony and Eleanor made their way back home. Anthony said “El, I'm going hunting by the morning if I get up in time,” to which she said nothing but snuggled a little closer. It was very late when Anthony had to go out as nature called. Looking up, he saw by the Big Dipper that it had to be no more than three hours to first light, and a sliver of moon still lit the western sky. He quickly grabbed his things, kissed his sleeping wife, then was halfway out the door when her soft voice followed him saying “Be Careful.” “Yes Precious” He replied, then was gone in the night.
It was an hour before he located the game trail,so he approached it and kneeled down behind a bush about twenty five feet downwind of the trail. It had to be over an hour later that he saw rather than heard a ghostly shape cross in front of him. When the deer's head was hidden by the bush he raised his crossbow and shot the moment the deer passed back into view.
The deer started at the sound of the bow, but too late, and his bolt /arrow went through its neck. It bounded away a few leaps, then nothing. Anthony waited until first light before starting to trail it, but no need. It was dead only fifty feet away. He strung it up a while to bleed it out, then drug it back to his house. Eleanor was so proud and happy for him, gave him a long kiss. Then he walked over to the “plantation,” so called, and a couple men came back with him to skin it and cut it up. William got the biggest piece as was their custom. The women worked the rest of Monday preserving the meat for winter.
The leaves had turned into God's glory, and shortly, the winter rains and then snow. However they were snug, After a while, people shoveled/ “banked” the snow against the walls of their homes to help keep the heat in. Their small houses with their thick thatch roofs were easy to heat. The small barns some still slept in, not so much!
It had been a long, cold winter, but the shore ice was mostly gone. It was now easier to dig and rake up shellfish at low tide than it had been when you had to search between blocks of sea ice for them. Even so, they had made a welcome diversion from corn, potatoes and dried fish and meat. The trappers had had some success that winter, and looked forward to selling their furs to the Pilgrim traders when they came by as soon as the coastal boats sailed in the Spring. Anthony had kept himself and his Eleanor in fresh meat every week or two all winter. Rabbit, fox, even a couple otters over the winter. The otters he had shot with his crossbow. Several men had also killed deer, which was shared by all. The cows were all getting ready to drop calfs in a couple months or three. The two bulls had been busy last fall!
It was finally March,
The ice in the river, and much of the bays had been carried out to sea by the swift current.
The first salmon were expected shortly, so the stewards decided it was time to set out for the place where the river finally narrowed, maybe three miles below the falls/ portage 12 miles upriver, to build the wiers to catch the salmon when they came upstream. Lead steward Ambrose Gibbons was to lead the party with Walter Neal, Thomas Comack and George Vaugh as his helpers. Seemed that Walter had some knowledge in fish wiers.
They would see about that. They chose a slack water before an incoming high tide to set out so the incoming tide would help them along upriver. With the wind out of the SouthWest, the sail of the smaller shallop would be full the whole way, pushing them along as well. As they left the harbor, they turned NorthWest to go through the narrows between the great island and the mainland, the current from the now incoming tide matching the speed of the spring river current pouring out to sea, so that the shallop sailed along NorthWest with the freshening wind, about four knots or so. They were soon through the narrows, and some rough water, sailing up the West side of the great island ,very close inshore to avoid as much as possible the force of the river trying to pour out to sea. Every river has eddies at its banks where the current is far less, the eddies even helping push the boat upstreem.
Shortly they had to leave the great island behind and in an hour or so, helped by the incoming tide, sailed through another narrows between an island and the mainland. Then once out of that narrows, they sailed North across a small sound, then between a couple more islands and into the main channel of the Piscataqua river. The incomeing tide helped them sail up the river against the outgoing current, but still staying just a few feet from the Western shore, “riding” the river eddies upstreem. They startled a small group of deer drinking at the bank, who froze in astonishment at this strange sight, then raised their white tails and bounded off gracefully into the forest. Their speed over ground, even with the incoming tide and a now brisk wind filling their sails was only two or three knots, but they were gaining on their objective. As the river finally narrowed, They found a tiny cove on the West bank, where they would be sheltered completely from the rivers current. It was by now late afternoon, they were all tired. After resting an hour or so, They saw several places along the riverbank where they could set up fish weirs in the river eddies where the salmon would be, no, even now were starting to come upstreem. Walter had brought along a dip net, and was able to easily catch several fine fat fish for supper as they blissfully swam upriver in the shallows just a couple feet from the river bank. With this river, making a fish weir simply would consist of a row stakes driven into the shallow river edge making a funnel back to the shore. Remembering, of course to tie a rope around the fisherman's waist so if he got swept off his feet, he would not get swept out into the river and drown! With the fish milling around in the upstreem end of the funnel, the fishermen merely put in his dip-net, or
grabbed them with a gaff, and tossed them further up the bank. With the large amount of fish shortly expected, they only needed to build four good weirs for the four fishermen. They had brought a two wheeled cart with them to bring the fish back to the cove where they would head, gut, salt and then dry the fish on racks they had to get ready to build, right now. Bringing all their needed stuff was why they needed a shallop rather than a river punt skiff. Two more men would be shortly following them upriver in a skiff to help build the racks and their shelter, and to bring what fish they could back down river every day or so once the fishing started. The father and son Ralph and Henry Glee arrived in their twenty foot long narrow punt skiff the next afternoon with the incoming tide. They had fashioned two very short lanteen sails to help push their skiff along, worked very well. It had been far easier, and faster to get upriver than the heavy shallop. In a few days they might have fish to bring back, and as the shallop was needed back at Little Harbor, they would sail and drift both the shallop and skiff back down the river on the outgoing tide before coming back upriver in a few days for more fish.
The new salt works was also finally producing what might even be enough salt- maybe- for the season. Adiquate salting and drying made a far better product for sale than did just drying -with maybe a little salt- on the fish racks.
The Plymouth trading Pink, a double ended two masted
vessel about fifty feet long, called at Little Harbor for a day
as the Salmon were running in mid April. Men quickly sold their furs and the group sold some fresh salmon as well, With his furs Anthony purchased an old but serviceable fowling piece, knife, good wood saw and a few items for their new child expected next month. The Stewards turning a blind eye to all that as they highly profited by this trade and as they needed to live as well. Their work contract said that everything belonged to their Lords and investors in London. However, they winked at that and did what they must to provide for their families and the few single men for themselves. A pocket full of silver went a long way toward that, and what they could trade it for with the Southern towns.
As London was months and three thousand miles away, London might as well have been on the Moon.
The Spring vessel did show up in May as requested and was surprised by the amount of Salmon to be loaded for London. The letter to the Lords and company was slightly more optimistic, but still whined about the need for a sawmill and other things. A prime problem was the lack of good meadow to till for the Spring planting. They just did not have the time or manpower to cut down the massive old growth forest, most every tree suitable for the masts of a King ship. The ships factor / agent for the company/ was not pleased by the seemingly self prosperous community he saw. This was a far cry from the slave working conditions suffered by servants in England. However he allowed, after some schmoosing by the stewards, and much hot buttered rum, that this was a wilderness, with terribly long harsh winters, and that the people here had to do the best they could to survive. The Stewards finally said plainly that in this climate, In the depths of a little ice age, there was snow on the ground and ice choked bays and rivers nearly seven months a year, October to April. This left precious little time for plowing planting and fishing. Another shallop had been constructed last winter, so fishing would be better this Summer.
The five Danes allowed that they had nearly frozen to death last winter and were going home. On this ship.
The Stewards also told the Factor that a fair size two story frame house was planned by the fall if they could saw enough board, and find the time. Pit sawing lumber from the massive trees was man killing work, they pitifully whined. The badly needed a reciprocating sawmill. The drafty storage barns weren't really suitable to live in winters here, the Factor was told, and he allowed that it was reasonable. The Factor said that next Spring a new overseer might be sent here. When he asked when another ship should be sent, the Stewards reminded him they had a Fall Salmon run after the Summer's Cod and other fish. So late September was suggested and tenitively planned.
In the minds of the Stewards, all this was giving them time to conduct business with the South all Summer. Next year might be different with a new overseer. However smuggling goods was an old trade for many English, and if there was a want there was always a way!
Presently the ship left South along the coast to Plymouth colony for more trading.
William, Alex, John, and several others had started fishing the shallops around the islands just offshore the Northern entrance to the river Sound a couple weeks before the ship had come. The Pollock, flatfish, and some small amount of others were fairly abundant here, though the Pollock run had slowed a bit. Earlier more had been caught in the Sound. They were still doing well, bringing ashore sufficient fish for the day to be salted and dried for the fall ship. Everyone really looked forward to the day -they hoped in their lifetimes- that all this work would be for their own profit rather than the profit of some far away imperial Lord and Empire. But such was the way of the Imperial age. A system Anthony realized might last a long time yet. So they did what they must, worked for their families. Anthony and Eleanor
had a new precious daughter now to cuddle and care for.
What had really bothered them all was that the ship's Factor had not brought the promised wages with him for the last year's work. Seems their Lords had thought that the use of their tools, supplies, cost of their passage outweighed any money they were owed. This only hardened their resolve to do their own business as much as possible. The next coastal vessel from the South was warmly welcomed, and did a very good business, selling all manner of tools, household needs, and prized gunpowder. The settlers, they now thought of themselves, may well soon have to shift for themselves here in this wilderness.
It had been decided by a Spring council to build summer shelters every three miles up the West side of the river to the portage. There was quite a bit of meadow along the river, and more of it had to be plowed and planted with the now abundant seed corn. A good sized wattle and daub fishing station house was being built a couple miles below the portage as well for the salmon fishermen and for anyone needing to spend the night there before continuing upriver.
Alex and Anthony had built a river skiff of their own that winter that was theirs not the Company's! Any fish they caught in it on Sundays was theirs too! Alex had even bought fishing line and hooks from the Plymouth traders as well!
Alex and his wife Betsey (and friends) had by now built their own home a couple hundred yards from Anthony and Eleanor's home. Betsey was expecting any time now!
The end of May came and Went and Alex and Betsey had a son. The fishing was better than ever as the days were at least a little warmer. The farmers were almost half their number this time of year, and they were busy with the Spring plowing. Two men had driven oxen around the bay to the second farming station and started tilling virgin meadow while the others tilled the same closer ground. The crops had to be in the ground by June! Anthony and Alex had done the tilling of their own family gardens on the weekends between fishing the inshore islands and Channel Sound. The offshore islands would wait for the Codfish arrival in mid Summer. After late August they would be gone-wherever they went! No one yet knew.
What they did know was that the Newfoundland fishing stations ended their yearly business in September when ships arrived to take their summer's catch of Cod home. The fishermen did not want to spend the winter there during those long seven months of ice and snow!
The first week of June 1631.
As Anthony kissed his wife good by in the dawn after a quick breakfast, he knew he had a very long day ahead of him, Alex and John. He walked the short distance to Little Harbor, thinking about how he was going to do this. He had to take a oxen/cow upriver in his shallop on the morning tide to a family that were determined to spend the summer all the way up to the end of the East side of the Sound. It seems the husband had constructed a sailing fishing dory simular to what the Newfoundlanders made, and had sailed all the way around the several islands on the North end of the Sound, and had discovered a very nice small river inlet on the North East mainland well sheltered from any storm. Even better, according to him, there was a large section of meadow as well there. Why anyone would want to live that far from other people and help if needed, Anthony did not know. He did know that the narrow river North of those islands might well be good fishing, as lots of salmon would likely be headed that way every year. However this man, an ornery cantankerous sort, wanted this, so people obliged him, maybe to get rid of him? So Anthony And his men found themselves ferrying an annoyed cow upriver. It was going to be a long day.
The cow was there on the beach next to the boat, unaware of what it was about to do. Someone had erected an A-Frame on the beach as well, to lift the cow. The cows hind feet had been secured apart with a three foot long “milking” cord so it could not kick anyone. Then it was led under the A-frame, harnessed, and suddenly hoisted off its feet to its bewildered shock, then carefully set down in the boat, and secured to a sling tied to the mast. The cow was not happy, but could not move. It did however release a quantity of Well, you know what, down into the boats bilges. It took several people to get the boat off the beach. However, shortly, Anthony. Alex, John, and Thomas the cow's owner, and the annoyed cow, were sailing out of the bay and upriver, towing Thomas's dory behind them Anthony took the calmer West passage around the Great Island instead of the more choppy route across the Sound with the ocean swells coming North up the Sound. Everyone always tried to go through the first narrows South East of Great Island at slack water as when the incoming tide met the outgoing Spring river outflow there, the sea chop could be really bad. It took all morning, but finally they turned the corner of the Northern Islands just before slack water and a mile or two further East on the North mainland shore was the creek's inlet. They beached the boat under the A-frame Thomas had in place, rigged the block and tackle, and it took everything they had to lift the by now even more annoyed cow. Tie off the line, then swing it up onto the beach. The cow and everyone else was very glad that was finally over. They quickly left Thomas, his wife, and the cow on the beach and tried to clean up the cows, well, response, out of the boats bilges as they sailed South down the West side of both islands on the ebb tide. It was late afternoon by the time they had reached Little Harbor. Since no one really wanted to go out fishing that day, they made way for the boat dock at the beach. The shallops were fishing the inshore islands a few days later, when a sail bore down on them from the North.
Turned out to be a large decked over shallop of about thirty feet coming home to Plymouth from their first visit to establish their trading post for the year at the Penobscot river. They had left two brave and maybe foolhardy souls there with some trading goods. Hopefully they would trade without getting killed, You just never really knew with those natives. Or anyone else for that matter, Anthony reasoned to himself later. Supposedly civilized
“educated” people were often as bad as any primitive savage- And maybe even worse, by what he had read in his books.
Anthony and the others encouraged this group to come visit them for trade as they had done with the other vessels.
The fishing was good around the inshore islands, but few Cod had shown up so far. They were catching mostly Pollock and Mackerel. Their Lords back in England did not want Mackerel, so they used the Mackerel to feed their corn every Spring. Fish heads under the seed made the corn grow very well! The word was that the natives had told the Pilgrims this a decade ago.
However, that did take a whole lot of fish!
Now, there is a tidal river a couple miles North and West of Little Harbor. Anthony's and Alex's homes were set back a hundred or so paces from this river. They and several others kept their river skiffs hidden in the forest undergrowth behind the narrow marsh along this river. By dawn a Sunday morning the last week of June, Alex and Anthony walked down to the river with their oars and fishing gear. Dropping them at the water’s edge, they went back behind the first line of trees into the undergrowth, after looking around for natives. Lifting the light skiff, the carried it the fifty feet to the water’s edge. The tide was a ways out, so they lowered it over the marsh edge down into the river and stepped down into the boat with their oars mast sail rudder and gear. Then pushing off, started rowing along the shore out into the sound. It took them a few minutes to reach the small island just South of Great Island, and the deep river. They got there as the slack water was beginning. Alex was in the bow, so he stopped rowing and started casting out the sounding lead to try to find one of their good fishing holes. Presently, he said back to Anthony, “We're here,” so Anthony stopped rowing and Alex threw in the anchor. In a couple minutes, they had baited two lines with several hooks with strips of fish skin to resemble bait fish, and lowered them down into the hole. Once there, both men slowly jigged the bait up and down. In a couple minutes, Alex had a fish and started bringing the fish back up and as he did, Anthony had a fish as well. It looked like it just might be a great day. Five or six days a week, dawn to dusk they worked for the company, to make a profit for their Lords back in England. Sundays and sometimes half a day Saturday’s, were theirs to catch the fish and weed their own corn to put away for winter.
Just a few minutes after they had arrived, a couple other boats had arrived nearby to find their own fishing holes along the river. Everyone was presently pulling in fish. This lasted over two hours, until the tide was decidedly coming back in. The fish stopped biting as they hunkered down in their holes to avoid being swept away by the current. By this time, the bottom of everyone's boat was covered with fish. Alex raised the anchor as Anthony set up the stubby mast pole, then set the lateen sail. Attaching the boat’s rudder, and dropping their Dutch lea-boards, the sailed out of the now increasing incoming tidal current, and back upwind toward their homes. The other boats were following suit. It took an hour to tack the boat upwind back to opposite their homes. Anthony nosed their boat into the marshy bank, and Alex jumped out and tied the boats painter to the stake in the river bank. He then walked up into the forest. A few minutes later, he was back pulling Anthony's two wheeled cart. Anthony passed the fish up to Alex who put them in the cart, followed by their other things. Presently, they both pulled to skiff up onto the bank, then carried it back into the woods. It took half an hour to get everything back to their corn field. They spent the next hour or so heading and cleaning the fish. They left the offal there, and divided the fish and went to their homes.
Immediately they helped their wives salt the fish and put them on the drying racks. By the time all this work was done, they cleaned up and headed over to the weekly meeting and early afternoon meal.
During the meal, someone opened with prayer, then read a chapter from the Gospel of John, then talked about it for a few minutes. General conversation followed, lasting for most of the afternoon. Finally (and to some it was indeed Finally!), they all left for their homes. Even on their days off, they worked!
It was the only way to survive in this wilderness as servants of their far away Lords and Masters back in England.
The first of July, the stewards reached a decision to send the shallops to the offshore islands in search of Cod. Thomas, Anthony, Alex, and John crewed one of the boats. Each boat would search out a different island, but try to keep in sight of one another. It had been decided to search the leaward side of the islands first. Anyone catching a Lot of Cod would signal with a red rag! Being out of the constant sea swells it would be much safer. No one wanted to have his boat, and himself dashed to pieces against the rocks on the windward side. They left well before first light, as soon as the wind came up. Although there was the remnants of an incoming tide, they thought that if they closely hug the Southern edge of the mouth of the Sound, they would not get pushed backwards too much by the incoming tide. As it was, even though the wind was fairly good, they were only making a couple knots until the finally got out into the ocean an hour and half later. The islands were almost directly upwind, so they had to tack the boats back and forth upwind until they arrived at the islands by mid morning.
Each boat had chosen a different island. They hove too a couple hundred paces down wind of their island, dropped the anchor.
They then buoyed the anchor, let out more line put a buoy and fishing line every forty feet or so until about five lines were out. Then they dropped three lines from the boat. After a few minutes. there was some indication that fish were getting on the lines. After half an hour they pulled up their three lines, but let the other ones on the anchor line soak awhile longer. Another half hour, they pulled up a few more fish. Then, they pulled in the anchor line, and each fishing line as well. However, only a few fish of each line. It was under-whelming. There were not doing any better than they had done with the inshore islands. Also, only a few Cod, which was why they had come all the way out here in the first place. They would likely fill up their boats with fish, Anthony thought, but it would likely take all day. Finally, after several hours, the boat to windward had raised its sail, then its anchor and turned, running before the wind toward home. The other two boats saw this. Deciding they too had enough fish for the day, and likewise headed for home. That was ok with Anthony. Even after getting back, they had to head, gut, salt the fish, and put them on the rack to dry. Maybe Tuesday they had to build more racks for drying their Lords' fish. For all this, they had better be paid for their labor This year. Otherwise ? His mind wandered.
Two weeks later, the Codfish finally came. You could fill your boat as fast as you could pull your lines in! The fish were so many, seemed you could walk across the water on them!
The problem was, they only had three shallops, and trying to do two runs out to the islands a day was almost impossible, especially when what are you going to do with all those fish?
They did the best they could. Then, by the end of August the salmon came about the time the codfish stopped.
The ship from London was early that fall, coming in early September, when the salmon were migrating upriver in their many thousands. The boat from the ship docked at the Little Harbor pier, and an officious individual stepped ashore, looking around unhappily, wondering where everyone was. Then he saw some women tending the fish racks in the distance. At least, seemed there was Some fish this year, he thought in his distainful sort of way. Enough to fill his ship though? He doubted that. Then, over his sholder, he saw a small sail approaching. Coming into view from around the North side of the Little Harbor entrance. It took a few minutes for it to get to the pier. When it got there, he saw that it was full of fish. Already headed and gutted fish at that. The two people in the boat kinda ignored him, of all things!, As the boy started throwing the fish up to the man on the dock and he stacked the fish in the cart on the pier. Finally, with a rude voice, this fellow in gentlemen’s clothes demanded who they were and where was everyone? At that, the two stopped work, long enough for the man to more or less politely tell this gentleman that all hands were upriver catching salmon. “Salmon?” The gentleman wrinkled his nose at that?”What about Cod?” he demanded. “The Codfish left, your honor,” the boy in the boat replied. “They wus only here maybe six weeks, they be gone.” The elder motioned the boy to throw up more fish, so he did. The gentleman stood on the dock not knowing what to do. “You want to ride upriver with us?” the Glee boy asked. The gentlemen looked down at the boy, the fishy messy river skiff, then the man, turned on his heel and stroll up towards the buildings. “Guess not” the boy said in sotto voice to the amusement of both. The gentleman passed two women on his way, but he would not deign to talk to a woman, especially to a slovenly servant wench. Some responsible man, some steward just Had to be around Somewhere? Just Had to!
He was disappointed, though. The several women were now moving the fish to the salting and drying racks, and the skiff was already making its way out of the harbor back upriver.
After nosing through the buildings, he found what looked like a stewards office and a bed. He motioned to his gentlemen's servant to bring his comfortable chair into this building along with his chests. Also to bring his hammock. If he was going to be in this God forsaken wilderness awile, at least he would be comfortable! Lord John also told his servant to find lieutenant Ames, the ships junior officer, and have the lieutenant report to himself as soon as possible.
Allen Ames had been a midshipman four years, and had just passed his lieutenants exam when Lord John's father, his patron, had asked the Navy to allow Allen to accompany him. Their families friendship went back centuries. Both were related by marriage to the several imperial dynasties that had ruled England since King William in 1066. Allen was happy to come and see this vast wilderness for himself. Unlike Lord John, however, he was a bubbly friendly person who liked everyone. An odd pair, to be sure! A day later, a large skiff arrived from upriver with more fish. Lord John wanted Allen to accompany the skiff upriver, and to search out the settlement steward / factor, and have him present himself back at little Harbor immediately.
Lord John had already told the ships Captain to start loading fish. The ship's longboat started rowing piles of fish out to be stowed by the crew. There was no one else to do it. No one was going to allow the women anywhere near the ship, as you just knew what would happen!
The next morning, a first light, during the last of the slack tide, the big skiff set out with a happy Allen Ames along for the ride. He had had the skiff washed out at least a little, and had brought along a piece of sailcloth to sit on to try to keep his work uniform at least fairly clean. He had had the foresight to have some britches made out of heavier material for use in the wilderness. The two men sailing the boat were a dour bunch, really suspicious of this “officer,” but after a few minutes his friendly nature softened their regard of him at least a little.
When they passed through the narrows South West of Great Island, the incoming tide was starting to fight with the outgoing river, and a bit of water was sloshing over Allen sitting up in the bow to everyone's amusement. He quickly moved to the back of the boat. It was a little wet there as well. Someone handed him a bucket, telling “His Lordship” that he might have to bail. In fun, of course, they were soon through the narrows, and into calmer water. The wind soon picked up a bit and they moved along nicely. Another three hours, and they went between two small islands and they were in the river. The tide was helping them upstream, and a while later arrived where the river finally narrowed, and where the salmon weirs were set up. Allen was happily amazed by everything he had seen so far. The scene of busy work before him was also satisfying. In his mind, Lord John really had little to complain about. These people really were industrious, as he had keenly noticed the
well made structures in the settlement. Something Lord John, in his elitist attitude, had overlooked. It almost made him want to be a settler—almost, but not Quite. He was an elite back home and no way would he give That up! And so the World turns.
The Chief steward noted his landing, and officiously hurried over to greet him. Ambrose told Allen that a shallop and skiff would be leaving on the outgoing tide. Being showed around, Allen made mental note of everything. Then, a little more than an hour later, Allen, chief steward Ambrose and two others set sail on the shallop back down the river, closely followed by the skiff. On the outgoing tide, the river pushed them along fairly well. They got back to Little Harbor several hours later. By that time, Allen had-almost- got used to that fishy smell.
A day later, Captain Walter Neil showed up in the other shallop with some fish from Thomas' creek on the NorthWest side of the Great Sound. Walter had responded to Lord John's raised eyebrows when they first met with “we all have to work here to eat, M' Lord.” Thankfully, after Walter had changed out of his fishy clothes, he and Lord John got along well enough, especially after Lord John shared his bottle of Port wine.
Late that afternoon, and into the evening, Lord John, Steward Ambrose and Captain Neal got into the finances and future with Lieutenant Ames looking on. “The plantation is not making expenses” Was Lord John's opening statement. “I can see that you are working hard, here, but it is not enough” “The problem, MyLord,” Ambrose pleaded, “is that we have snow on the ground October till March, And the rivers, bays are ice choked most of that time. We are also few in number. We need to spend time planting, weeding, and harvesting corn to survive these harsh winters. We do have both pitsaws set up sawing lumber in this building all winter, but there is only so much they can do even so. The trees here are massive, hard to cut down and laborious to move. We really can't use the cows as oxen in the snow. What we really need is a sawmill in a large building. We may have found a suitable location on a streem to the East of the Sound. With a sawmill, we can make much more lumber for their Lordships.” It was occurring to Lord John That all this did sound reasonable. It was the old problem that you have to spend lots of money and time in a wilderness like this to get to the point where the investment will pay off. Their Lordships back in England did not appreciate this, and wanted immediate profit.
Captain Neal finally asked the really important question. “Did you bring the money owed to the men for these two year’s work?” The answer was simply “Only a little. The company is losing money, The servants have nowhere to spend the money here anyway. The company will pay them their full wages when their term of employment it up.” The other two were astonished by this reply.
How were they going to get the men to work after this?
Finally, Ambrose replied. “
You are placing us in a very difficult position, MyLord.” A long silence followed. Finally, Captain Neal broke the silence. “I must agree with Steward Ambrose. I really do not see how we can be a success , MyLord.”
Another long silence followed. Finally, Ambrose and Captain Neal excused themselves.
“We can't tell the men now.” Ambrose stated. Captain Neil agreed. “I will tell the men to stop the salmon fishing tomorrow.
What we have caught is enough for the ship. As soon as the ship leaves, we go out pollock fishing until the ice closes in.” “What about the money?” “We merely tell the men we will give them what Lord John brought. Hopefully it will go well, and they won't be too angry.”
The rest of the salmon was brought down river, loaded into the ship in a few days. The ship weighed anchor and left as soon as Lord John went aboard. His final words were. “I find I agree with you. I will present your opinions to the other investors. Hopefully they will send a sawmill and several wagon wheels in the Spring. As it is, it is a coin toss
Wether this plantation will close. If so, you all will be left to shift for yourselves. From what I've seen, however, I think you will do very well.”
With that, he stepped in the boat, and was gone.
The mood was somber after the ship left and the men received less than half what they were owed. But they had their homes, this vast land, and several more would soon have children. So in reality, they had enough.
Anthony, Alex and John took the largest shallop out the next day to the inshore islands and did very well. Most merely went out in the Western Sound with their skiffs , and did likewise. They had also held back enough from previous catches to make sure they would not starve this winter. When the snow finally came in mid October, they had ample corn, fish and potatoes for the winter.
The high points of the winter were the Sunday get togethers with everyone in one large building, both fireplaces roaring. Food and fellowship, and yes of course the Sunday Church meeting. While not being as religious as their Pilgrim neighbors to the South, they still took great comfort in their quiet assurance in the faith.
A long winter it had been, However, it was now March. The ice was mostly gone from the bays and Western sound, and had been flushed out of the river awhile. The Eastern Sound had been more or less clear all winter because of ocean swells battering the shore from the constant NorthEast gales and swift river current.
It was time to set up the salmon weirs, so a crew was sent upriver. The company ship was due by June. As he helped the men set up the weirs, Ambrose hoped the company sent more help, and a sawmill. Especially a sawmill. They had had both of the pitsaws being used off and on all winter. During brief periods with little snow on the ground, they had used unhappy oxen/cows to drag smaller tree sections inside the building to thaw out so to be sawed into lumber. They were really going to build a new large house this Summer. He would find the help, the time, somehow! Finally, the three wiers were ready, and catching their first salmon. Several men had briefly fished in the West Sound for bottom fish, but the water was bitterly cold, freezing hands pulling in lines, even with oilskin mittens. So, for now, they just soaked fishing lines from the shore, and drug whatever fish on them up on the beach.
A few fresh white fleshed fish were a very welcome addition to the supper meal after all winter eating salted fish. It was also a lot easier to rake in and dig up shellfish at low tide, now that chunks of sea ice no longer covered the beaches and mud flats.
Winter still did not really want to leave, they had two dustings of snow that month. However, the salmon were running well by late March, and so they fished with dip nets and gaffs.
Anthony and Alex had to leave for upriver either late in the afternoon, or about three in the morning. They chose to leave in the afternoon. The problem was the morning tide was ebbing downriver. They could not sail North against the current.So they did what they must. They would arrive at the river after the afternoon inbound tide's force greatly slowed, and might have to row or pole the last three miles upriver. They had realized they could not make it North through the narrows South East of Great Island, so they launched their skiff into the NorthWest Back river just behind Anthony's home. Shortly, they were catching some wind for the sail, and being helped along with tide. Thing is they shortly lost the wind, being close to the West side of that Sound, and had to start rowing. About three hours later, they turned the corner out of the Sound and West into the river's Spring current. Alex had to jump ashore and drag the skiff upriver as Anthony helped by poling the boat along. Even in the eddies a foot or two off the bank, it was hard work. It took over two hours to go that last two miles. Finally, they collapsed on the bank in the spot the other two skiffs were tied up, outside the Rivers current. They were invited to some reheated fish stew, which was very welcome indeed. After that, they rolled up in their blankets inside the fishing house next to the fireplace, among the tired fishermen, and went to sleep. About five in the morning, they were roused as the others got ready for the dawn. Shortly, they were helping ready more fish for transport downriver. By Nine in the morning, they shoved off into the river current carrying them briskly along. By the time they got to the entrance of the West Sound, a fitful wind had sprung up, maybe enough to get them further South. Both the outgoing tide and river current helped. As neither of they wanted to row, they just let the light breeze and current take them home. Finally, they were almost there, doused the sail, and rowed upwind the last few hundred yards to where they had started yesterday afternoon. No, they did not want to start upriver again in about two hours!
They went back upriver again and again and--. Anyway, they also helped dry and salt the fish in between the days they sailed, rowed or tugged and poled upriver. Finally, late May came, and the salmon ceased the Spring migration. Alex, Anthony and John were starting out for a day of shallop fishing early one morning the first week of June, when a ship appeared rounding the Southern point. In a few minutes, as they sailed out of the harbor, the ship passing them a ways, then turned the ship's bow into the wind and let go the anchor. Anthony did not want to know which officious Lord has shown up this time, and besides they had Their Lord's fish to catch. For now, anyway, he reminded himself. They had to closely hug the Southern shore as the tide came in. It took them over an hour before they could finally head South round the Sound's entrance. From there they made good time a mile or so offshore, and then North to where they were going to fish for Pollock that day.
A couple days earlier, the Glee boy had happily brought in a bucket of eels he had speared on the mud flats. However, regardless what was said, Anthony could not make himself want to eat eel! Especially when plenty of soft white fleshed Pollock were begging to be put into the stew pot!
Now, Alex had an idea he wanted to try, a different way of fishing. Anthony and John weren't sure about it, but were willing see if it was better. As soon as the arrived somewhat downwind of an inshore island, John turned the boats bow into the wind stopping her. Then Alex dropped a fishing line over the side, and attached a buoy. They sailed about fifty yards across the wind. and dropped another line and buoy. They did this six more times. Then, they dropped the shallop's anchor, and three fishing lines from the boat. The point was the line that caught the most fish of the six they had stretched out over several hundred yards would be where they fished today. An hour later, they started sailing to each buoy in turn, pulling the line up, taking the fish off and re-baiting and tossing it back in the water. After they had done all of them it seemed both that there was not much difference where they had fished, and that it was a lot more work! So, after pulling them all a second time, with the same result, they went back to the previous fishing method. It was a lot easier.
Only a factor accompanied the trading ship this Spring. The company had sent no instructions from the shareholders, and little money to pay the workers. Apparently, they were still undecided about what to do about the plantation. Ambrose did get a letter from Lieutenant Ames, however. He had to read it twice to fully understand in Ames cryptic handwriting what it had said. “Many years ago there was a grain Mill on my families' estate. I understand it had been there for centuries. As a boy, one day I came across a few castings, parts from it. When I returned, I remembered this, and, after some searching, found them. A long bronze axle, bushings, end plates and a few small parts. I have put them on this ship. I believe they could be used to reconstruct a grain Mill or a Sawmill like you wanted. I was very impressed by everyone there and your industry. I know this will help you.”
Ambrose was just thunderstruck by this young man, and his so unnecessary kindness. He almost ran over to the ships factor and ship’s Captain, asking, where are the Mill parts sent to us by Lieutenant Ames? After frowning a bit, the factor did not know, but the ships Captain remembered. “Hmm, Yes, I remember hoisting aboard a long bronze shaft, and a box of parts that was said to go with it. A Naval lieutenant accompanied these items to my ship, and waited while we loaded them. I have no idea what they were, really, but the young gentleman was quite insistent. We humor gentlemen with connections. We will see that you get them presently.” It was the next day that the ship's longboat rowed them ashore. One look at the bronze shaft, and the box's contents, and their carpenters responded to Ambrose's raised eyebrows “We can build your sawmill.” At that everyone was very happy. They had quite a celebration that evening. The ship's Captain even donated a couple bottles of wine to the Captain and Stewards. A very nice occasion, indeed!
There were several suggestions as to where to build the Mill. One person suggested using tide power, as the streems were reduced to a trickle most of the year. All were informed their ideas would be considered. The next day, the two carpenters laid out all the parts, started measuring and planning. The foundation was going to have to be built first. After this, the shaft and bearings embedded in the foundation. Last, the water wheel and the reciprocating parts made. They would use one of the pit saw blades. After all that was done, the house around the mill would be constructed. All this would take time. However, they were reasonably sure they could have the sawmill done by late Summer. The only question was Where to build it?
The thing is, though, that the carpenters had been constructing a “plantation mansion” this Spring, and it was only partly finished. After someone remembered this, it was decided that some of the wooden parts for the sawmill would be constructed next to the “mansion” on Strawberry Bank at Little Harbor. That way, the two carpenters could keep an eye on the three men finishing the planking on the sides of the building. The frame, “post and beam construction,” had already been completed. Once the sides were done, the roof frame needed to be built. It was likely that there would be a tall thatched roof this winter, though next year a plank and shingled roof would be possible, especially with a sawmill!
Once all the parts for the sawmill were complete, it could be moved by wagon or shallop wherever they wanted it. By wagon certainly be lots easier. The problem still was, where? They had received four wagon wheels, and parts from a well used wagon from their Lords to be used for transport here. It all “merely” needed to be reassembled. Another project for the future when it was finally needed.
Three weeks later, the sides of the mansion were done, and the frames for the roof were up. It remained to attach the longitudinal poles about three foot apart up the sides of the roof. At this point, the carpenters were no longer needed, and could move the parts of the Mill where it would go. For the last three weeks, one man and the two boys had been sent out to gather lots of river reed for the thatching. Thankfully, they did not need to go very far. The reed was now bundled, and the bundles lay side by side starting on the ends of the building, finally meeting in the middle of the building. This took quite some time. The Cod were running by now, so most of the men and women were involved in catching, heading gutting, salting and drying fish. The Cod had even reached the inner islands this year, so the more seaworthy skiffs were pressed into service since it was August. All too soon, however, the Cod slowly left, and the first of September finally came. The weather started getting a little cooler. The pollock were running to some extent, so Anthony and his friends were still busy Fishing, bringing the fish ashore, and preparing them. It was a dawn to dusk work six days a week. The seventh day, the Lords day, people just tried to get some rest. However, they did what was required, and no more. The corn and other vetgtibles were just about ripe, and so the Fall harvest finally came.
The Fall ship finally arrived for several days to take on its load of fish and other things the plantation had managed to produce. As usual, the ship's factor was not happy, but then what could you expect? The people were not happy eithor. They provided for their own Winter needs first. Since the company would not pay them their wages in a timely manner, nor provide them what they really needed to be productive, what did their Lord's expect?
As was said, very little money was forthcoming from the factor and their Lords. As the ships boat was leaving, the plantation's Captain Neal quietly told the ships factor that if the company wanted its fish and other items in the Spring, Their Lords were likely going to have to pay the men for their work. Their Lords were at least a years behind in their workers wages, and the people were very unhappy. “Otherwise …... “ Captain Neal left the rest unsaid.
As Anthony and Eleanor lay together late one night as the cold October rains beat on the roof. Eleanor asked, “My love, what’s going to happen? All this work for nothing can't continue, can it? And then what of us?” Anthony did not have an answer, so merely kissed her. “We will be fine.” he said. “We have our home, our children. We have each other.” Together they listened to the howling wind until if finally sung them to sleep.
It was a warm winters day. The temperature was all the way up to about 35 degrees, instead of the usual three to five degrees for a daily high! The wind had also pretty much stopped, so that if you stood in the sun, it wasn't really that bad. Anthony was walking by their sawmill, and the sawyers had their oxen dragging fair sized lengths of trees out of the forest, and over to the Mill. He could hear axes in the distance that a couple others were busy felling smaller trees. No one really wanted to try to cut or Mill the massive trees three feet or more in diameter, which was most of the forest. Anthony smiled to himself. In his minds eye, some of these massive giants may have been saplings way back when Jesus walked the hills of Galilee! Regardless of how old they were, he was glad that tree felling wasn't his job. Half an hour later, he came upon the first snare in his trapline. It had sprung, but whatever had tripped it was long gone. So, Anthony re-baited and reset the trap. A few minutes later, he found an unhappy critter swinging back and forth, then snarling at him as he walked up. A quick swing of his club ended that, and Anthony stuffed it in his pack. Three hours later, he had several more critters, mostly small, to bring back home. Plenty of great meat on the last one, a wild turkey. They would eat really well, and he would have three more good pelts for sale when the Plymouth traders came in the spring. Anthony was going to have more than twenty fair sized furs to trade for things they needed. Eleanor was delighted when he showed her the turkey, so she took it from him to pluck and cook it. Anthony started skinning the several others. The big critter would also have lots of meat as well. He sure wished he knew where the flocks of wild turkey were, they were the best.
I n no time, however, the below zero temperatures were back, and it was a real chore to check his trapline.
Anthony and Alex were in the boat building shed a lot every week, helping craft the latest skiff, as well as work on some of the other items the company wanted in the Spring. The New “mansion” that they had built now housed Captain Neal, and Steward Ambrose and his wife. This left more room in the other buildings for the rest. What was needed was better furniture, so that was another project they worked on. Some of the river boats were likewise improved by their owners. In one case, a boat was totally disassembled to make a larger, more seaworthy one. Hand sawn Lumber was precious. The women who had spinning wheels were very busy all winter not only with the usual, but also making of lines for the Spring.
The Fall ships Factor had made it plain their Lords really did not want a lot of Salmon, they wanted Cod and Pollock. This Spring, as March arrived, this was discussed, and so this year salmon weirs were placed at the enterance to the river at the North end of the West Sound, and along the river at Thomas' creek opposite the Northern island. There was no point in struggling up the river any more. It was far easier to make daily trips there. They might not catch as much salmon, but then guess that was the point. Now, with their new sawmill it was possible to saw lumber more quickly than by hand, even if it still took three men to use it. Sawing was no longer man killing work. It really wasn't as good as a proper Mill, but, at lease it could be made to work. This had produced lumber that was being used , among other things, to build a couple large sailing skiffs to get more fishing vessels out into the rough, choppy Eastern Sound and out to the inner Islands. If their Lordships wanted more Pollock, they were going to try to get them. However, they would work at a less of a killing pace this year. No point in working really hard if you might not get paid.
Anthony, Alex and John made a couple trips out to the mouth of the river Sound and inner islands in April. It was not until the first of May before they had good results catching Pollock. So all four boats joined in. The second big skiff was not yet done. Pollock and then Cod was what their Lords really wanted. So, every morning, they would leave Little harbor as soon as their was enough wind to deal with the tide, no matter which way it was going. If the tide was coming in at a good clip, it might take them an hour or even two to get out of the Sound to sea. However they did it. It wasn't until late June before the second skiff joined them, and that was only because the corn planting was finally done.
They were out fishing one morning, when Plymouth's sixty foot, two masted Pink came South by them at the inner islands. Anthony and Alex talked to them briefly, when the Pink put her bow into the wind, hove to, a few yards away. “Hello there, someone on the Pink called over.” “Yes, we do have lots of furs to sell you” Alex called back. “Is your company ship in?” the person on the Pink asked, as they did not want to be a Little Harbor trading when the company ship was there. “No,” Anthony replied. “She has not come yet.” With that, the Pinks sails filled as she fell of the wind, As she bore away, the person called back, “we will see you in the harbor.” Anthony waved back.
No Spring ship came. Not really a cause for concern, So they fished. It was late August and still no company ship. Anthony Alex and John were fishing the offshore islands for the last of the cod for they season, and also getting some pollock and an occasional flat fish. John almost lost the tip of is first finger in the jaws of one of those silly looking puffer fish that morning, trying to get it off the hook. It still hurt. They saw a good sized ship sailing downwind along the coast. When she was off the mouth of the river Sound, she hauled her yards around, and headed West into the river Sound. Soon, all they could see were her topmasts which hove into the wind, then struck, furled her sail. So, yes, it must have been the company ship. Several hours later the two shallop’s rounded the point, and forced their way into the Sound against the ebbing tide. There was some confusion when they finally arrived back at the harbor. Their Lords had made changes, but it was not yet clear what they were. The ship's factor had made that brief comment to Captain Neal and leading steward Ambrose, before suggesting they retire to the mansion to discuss what they were. The remainder of the day finally ended.
At dusk, all three finally appeared at the doorway of the mansion. Captain Neal spoke. “I have been recalled to London. The company, the plantation, is in receiver-ship. It looks like The shares of the company may be bought by Lord Mason. We do not yet know what this means.” Ambrose spoke up. “As of now, you are no longer employees of the company and you will have to look after yourselves. The ship will buy all of your fish and other items the company had wanted you to produce. The factor will pay a reasonable price. As the salmon is not highly sought after, it will only get half the price as does the cod and pollock. Lord Mason, if he does acquire the shares in the company, will send someone to replace Captain Neal, likely next summer. As of now however, myself and the other stewards are left in charge of the companies assets.
“What about the oxen/cows?” Someone asked. “Those who have need of them use them” was Ambrose's answer. Very shortly, all the cows and livestock were divided up. Anthony already had three goats, including a yearling. He made sure they stayed with him. His two milking goate provided enough milk for his family. He had even trained them to pull a small plow, so he smiled to himself that he likely had the only oxen/goats on this continent! The next few days were interesting, eventful as the ships Factor handed the payment money to Ambrose to pay out to the men. It took lots of bargaining as to who would get what. As it was pointed out, that the farmers were as important as the fishermen. Everyone needed cornbread every day. Bread was life. Of course, as it always is in this sort of thing, no one was totally sattisified. One thing for sure, the ship's Factor was very glad when he got back to his ship, that he had not been torn apart by the mob! Hopefully, in his mind, he really did not want to come back to this desolate, forsaken wilderness again! Shortly, the ship weighed anchor, and was gone in a good wind on an ebb tide.
The next day, everyone went back out fishing for themselves and their families. Those without sea skiffs did very well fishing the deep holes in the Western Sound. The salt works also was a going concern. Everyone needed salt to preserve their fish for the long snowy winter. Another four weeks, and the harvest had to be brought in. Most everyone helped in that, to make sure they got their share of the corn for the winter. There were still fifty two men and twenty two women. Twenty two families, with several small children, and twenty eight single men and two boys. Most who hoped, of course, that the next ship would bring more women, but only time would tell about that!
Quite a lot of wild fruit had been pick by the women, and some of it had been preserved for the winter. Alex had even found several small apple trees, likely from the fishermen almost ten years ago. He even got a deer feeding on the fallen apples that fall. Most of the berries had been eaten as they were picked, and some of the blueberries, blackberries and razberries had been used to preserve meat.
The last week in September, the nights had turned crisp, and the leaves painted a heavenly picture. It was rather cold for fishing. Anthony and Alex had not been upriver since early Spring. They decided to go up above the first rapids, to hunt for whatever they could find. They needed furs for the Spring traders. Anthony brought along his crossbow and pistol. He did not want to carry that long, heavy fowling piece. Besides, his bow was much quieter. They had not used their river skiff much that Summer, but it was still pretty much water tight. The river current was not as swift as it had been in the Spring, as the fall rains had not really come as yet. They chose the flood tide early morning, and, with its help, reached the river above the Western Sound in the early afternoon. The river was going to be different, though. After an hour of rowing, Anthony jumped up onto the bank with a long rope, and he pulled and Alex poled the boat the last two miles up to the inlet at the portage around the falls. It only took an hour to bring the boat and their things to the calm water a hundred paces above the falls. From there, the rowing was a bit easier. They chose the second creek on that shore, and paddled up quite a ways to within sight of an otter's dam. They pulled their boat up on the bank, and hid it in the brush, then they stalked up around the dam. But nothing was visible. They noted a couple of game trails down to and across the creek. They decided to rest nearby, and pulled some food out of their packs. They had just begun to eat, when some small furry creature wandered by. Alex raised his fouling piece, but Anthony stopped him. “You'll scare all the game” he whispered. It had scurried into the undergrowth by then anyway. A few minutes later, however, Anthony saw a furry nose and little beady eyes looking at them. He raised his bow cocked it, and let fly. The brush exploded as a varmint, and a fair sized one at that, tore up the undergrowth in panic. It did not get far, a few minutes later they found it. As they did not need the meat, they just skinned it. They decided to sit hunt a short distance from the game trail. Anthony whispered that he would shoot the small game with his crossbow. Anything larger, Alex to get with his fouling piece. Only one more critter arrived that afternoon. The pelt of one of the otters on his way home ended up in their bag as well. Just about dusk, they saw some antlers moving along the trail. Alex raised his fowling piece, and as the forefront of the buck showed, he let fly. He had loaded, and maybe overloaded a bit, with a combination of fowl and buck shot. The blast knocked the buck off his feet. They saw him jump back up and run a ways down the trail, then drop. “Good shot” Anthony stated, as Alex reloaded. You never knew if some native might have heard the shot. Anyway, they drug the deer back to the boat, skinned and cut the best parts off it. The next morning at first light. Not wanting to waste all that meat, they made their way back down the river. It took pretty much all day to get home.
Anthony and Eleanor had two small children. Anthony had enlarged their house over the last two years so it now had three rooms, each almost as large as their first house had been. He had also built a leanto against the wall with their fireplace for their three goats in the winter. That gave the goats at least a little heat. Finally, the winter rains of October came, and everyone was snug in their homes for the Winter.
The late fall rains started what by now was the sawmill season. Everyone was too busy with other work during the Summer months. From now until the streams froze solid, they would be sawing lumber. Quite a number of smaller trees had been cut over the last year as land was cleared. Now they would be used. They might even build a larger boat in the boat shed this year. No one knew just yet. Work helped people to stay warm!
The Spring rains finally washed away the last snow. At least everyone hoped it was the last! Snow flurries could still show up any time. Both Alex and Anthony had trapped all winter along the headwaters of the Back River NorthWest of Little Harbor. Others had chosen other streams and places to trap. They both prized the area around the young apple trees. Even though the fruit had fallen off a while back, some varmints would come sniffing and digging it up. Some of these varmints got snared, bagged, and their pelts joined their collection. By Salmon time, they both would have plenty of pelts for trade with the Plymouth traders.
No one was really enthusiastic about the Salmon fishing this Spring, as the company would not be paying well for them. However, after lots of talking, it was decided to put the wiers back up, and catch what could be caught, but not at the previous years frantic pace. Four people went up to the River entrance NorthWest of the Western Sound, and someone else went to help Thomas set uo a couple modest weirs at his creek and on the main river. A couple large Newfoundland fishing dories had been built for rough water, and they handled the Eastern Sound and its entrance really well. So, every other day, some two people would row and or sail up to both locations for Salmon to bring back to be headed, gutted, salted, and put out on the rack. This continued as usual until the Pollock showed up in late April. Then the Salmon fishing was abandoned for the much more profitable Pollock.
The first week in May, to everyone’s surprise, a ship arrived with Thomas Wonerton, a member of the Laconia company, and a superintendant, Edward Godfrey. They had been sent by Lord Mason, who had indeed bought out all the shares of the company. It was rumored that Mason was not in good health, so what that meant for the future of the company, no one knew. These men saw that their few workers were doing quite well, so did not overly much interfere. After all, they had abandoned these people to shift for themselves over the winter. They paid the workers for their fish to be sent back to England. The company had sent five more workers, and, to everyone's surprise, a real professional sawmill ! The new managers took up residence at the Strawberry hill mansion, along with Ambrose's family. They did, at first, sniff at the mansion's thatch roof. However, at length, after a good rain, saw that it was very functional, kept the rain out and the heat inside. It was reminded them that a sawmill on these streams was a seasonal business, at best, and they allowed that their sawyers needed to help with the planting and fishing the rest of the year for them all to eat.
And, so it went.
Things did in fact go reasonably well for the first settlers of the Piscataqua river. Things did not go as well for the Laconia company, however. Lord Mason died the next year, and his widow sent A new manager, and then a governor of the Mason colony... A colony of a few people as yet, but it did grow over time. It is not certain if it was Anthony and his wife Eleanor who were killed in an Indian attack twenty some years later, or his son William and his wife. At any rate, their children were ransomed from the Indians some time later. All of Maine suffered greatly in King Phillips War in the 1660's. However, the extended family continues in greatly increasing numbers. We have intermarried with many the old Mainer and New Hampshire families, and served the Republic in every generation.
Anthony and Eleanor would be so proud.
Lewis Brackett, Coast Guard veteran, late April, 2018