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The Garden of the East: Wiscasset on Sheepscot Bay
By MAUDE CLARK GAY
AUTHOR'S NOTE: In telling this tale of the old town on Sheepscot Bay, I am indebted for the historical data to Miss Josie Blagden of Wiscasset, whose private scrap book of this "Garden of the East," as the early settlers called it, is a veritable wonder box of information; to Bradford C. Redonnett, Register of Deeds for Lincoln County, in whose offices are to be found some of the oldest deeds on record in the United States; and to the late Rufus King Sewall, Historian, who in days long gone related so many interesting stories to the little stranger within his gates. For the romance I am indebted only to the wonderful charm of the ancient town, whose mystery and magic appeal to the very heart, to the sweep of the mist on the meadows, the glittering sheen of the river, the rocks on the island shore, and the flutter of gulls across a sapphire sky.
STATELY and dignified, with an old-time grace, in the midst of quaint gardens, green terraces and bending trees, Wiscasset looks always down the broad river to the distant sea. Serene in its old age, sweet with a scent of rosemary and rue, the town impresses itself on the visitor, who is interested in ancient people and bygone days, with a haunting tenderness and charm.
Many and varied are the stories of those who have lived and loved on the shores of the Sheepscot River. The mansions on the winding hill could tell strange tales of a century that is past. Through their deep-set windows and ivy-hung porticoes, aged women and fair maids have peered anxiously down the bay for return of husband, son and lover, when the name of Wiscasset was a familiar one on the high seas and in the ports of foreign lands. And the crumbling timbers of the old wharves, once the center of the business life of the town, could recall those same women with wide eyes and blanched cheeks, who waited and wept in an agony of suspense, as up the bay sailed many a stately vessel, returning from a year's voyage, with her flag flying at half mast. To-day the rising and falling tides sweep and swirl above those sunken piers of the past and sing a low requiem over the shallow graves in which they rest forever.
The Embargo Act of 1807, which made President Jefferson so unpopular with American merchants by forbidding any American ship to leave an American port, practically put an end to the town's commerce. Even before this act the Wiscasset shipmasters had tried equally hard to keep their distance from either French or English flags, as they were liable to capture by both warring nations. But this act, passed in reality to punish England for firing upon and capturing the American frigate, "Chesapeake," sealed the doom of the Wiscasset ships. The war of 1812 finished the sad work, and to this day old residents of the town tell of the ruin wrought, and of how Major Carlton of the well-known house on the hill, which had always been the refuge of the homeless and suffering, walked back and forth in his periwig and queue, wringing his hands at sight of forty of his own vessels rotting at the once busy wharves.
But not alone through the perils of the sea did the little hamlet feel the thunderings of war. Wiscasset had been settled by George Davis, the first pioneer, who came there as early as 1670 and made a home in the wilderness. The little settlement numbered a score of families before King Philip, Chief of the Wampanoags, ravaged and laid to waste the fair country-side. Many of the first settlers were driven from their homes and scalped by the Indians; others taken into captivity to drag out a horrible existence, while the remainder abandoned the hamlet and fled in terror. Once more the settlement became a wilderness. This desolation continued for more than half a century, and it was not until 1730 when Robert Hooper, brave and true, with a party of his friends sailed up the Sheepscot River, that the eye of white man again beheld the beauty of the shore. He built the first log hut by the side of a huge boulder on the east side of where Water Street now runs.
Even in those days the settlers were not safe from their savage foe. They were more than once obliged to flee to that fort on Garrison Hill, where the Methodist Church now stands — a fitting memorial to those brave, sturdy, God-fearing pioneers who were the fathers of a noble race. The settlers of the little hamlet knew they were never really safe from the cruel vengeance of their foe. An Englishman named Williamson, a Mr. Adams, James Anderson, and his two sons, were victims at this time of a savage ambuscade. On one occasion the home of Obadiah Albee was attacked by the Indians and his young wife killed. She, with true mother-love, had thrown her young child into the canoe of a passing fisherman who escaped, saving the child's life and his own. The boy grew to manhood, nurturing a bitter hate in his heart for chief who had killed his mother.
Years after peace was restored the chief of the Abenakis, perpetrator of the foul deed, came to Wiscasset village. Young Albee, who was then seventeen, rushed into the street, raised his rifle and shot the Indian through the heart. So the young mother was avenged. His descendants live in Wiscasset to-day, the former proprietor of the Albee House, E. Fred Albee, being in the direct line of his posterity.
Later, two forts were built, one on Clark's and the other on Seavey's Hill, just outside the village on a rocky eminence, commanding a view of the beautiful stretch of fertile country, stands an ancient powder house, which is indeed a reminder of days of warfare and nights of anxious vigil. It is built of brick, circular in shape, with a conical roof, while its sturdy door, studded in every inch by bolt and nail, was built to withstand any attack of hatchets or cannon. Back of this powder house, like a sentinel always on guard, stands the lone pine, "last pine of Sweet Auburn," famous in song and story — first glad signal to many a weary sailor returning from a long voyage to foreign lands, that home was near.
* * *
Although British men-of-war visited the river in 1775 and 1777, without doing any harm, a large fort was afterward built on Davis Island, about a mile from the town. This consisted of a block house, water battery and breast works, built on the south side of the island facing the sea. It would seem at first sight that this fort was constructed for defense against the Indians, but this is a fallacy, as it was not even built until 1808, and although it was manned for seven years, no active service was ever required of its defenders. The block house is a most interesting old building, octagonal, overlooking all the surrounding country, stretching away in a wonderful panorama of green and blue and gold, — the white houses of the village, half hidden in clustering foliage, the peaceful slope of the hill, the glittering waters of the harbor, the farther expanse of road and field and meadow, and miles and miles of craggy coast and headland, against which the ocean thunders forever and aye.
In March, 1809, Captain Binney of Hingham, Mass., was assigned to command this fort with a company of regulars. Seventeen guns were fired to welcome the inauguration of President Madison, and as the reverberations echoed along the shores and over the hills to the lonely farms on the outskirts of the village, a delicious sense of peace and security, that they had not known for many a day, came to the people of Wiscasset. Many extracts of public interest may be gathered from Captain Binney's private letters, in one of which he writes:
1 "Since our arrival here all is well. No want of meat of any kind. Vegetables scarce. No fruit here. My men kill me partridges and squirrels and catch me fish. Fire wood is plenty and potatoes scarce. I reside in Wiscasset, although the fort is on the Edgecomb side of the river, about a mile from the house; the block house not having sufficient quarters I have obtained permission to sleep out of garrison. I have command at mouth of Kennebec River, 26 miles west of Wiscasset and on the Damariscotta, 12 miles east. I occasionally visit these posts. My company has 44 men (more than 20 deserted) and two lieutenants. Among the men is found every character from the whining hypocrite to the professed gambler, many good men and many of the laziest of human beings. I have had to confine men in irons because they would not cook their victuals, though they had nothing to do but cook, sleep, and keep clean."
An account is also given of a time when the men of Wiscasset were hastily summoned to assist those at the fort, when it was feared the British would attack the town. One of the men, named Jonas Perkins, who was a great glutton, brought in his knapsack a wonderful supply of cakes, doughnuts, pies, and other good things of life which he devoured without offering a taste to his companions in arms. After a few days in camp his devoted wife sent him another consignment, which proved a great temptation to those comrades whose provisions had not been replenished; but not a morsel would the cruel Jonas give them from out his goodly store. He went apart by himself, and, as the chronicler put it, "ate and ate and ate." Next day there came a report, that seemed well verified, that the British were coming up the river in full force and armed to the teeth. All was commotion. Only Jonas was observed, sitting apart, apparently oblivious to all the excitement, devouring everything from mince pie to caraway cookies with great gusto. When at last it was a physical impossibility to stuff another atom of food inside his stomach, it is said he arose with great difficulty and waddling to where his companions were gathered, he emptied the bag containing the remainder of his carefully hoarded provisions on the ground before them, crying in loud tones, "Eat, feller citizens, eat, eat! Stuff every derned bit of pies and cakes inter yer, fer termorrer we shall all be in eternity!"
In another letter Capt. Binney says, "This town has a meetinghouse, and Rev. Dr. Packard, Congregationalist, a very good, still, quiet, peaceable man, preaches rather too much fire and brimstone, is severe in meeting but liberal in company. I am pleased with him. There are many 'Stinchfield' Baptists, some Methodists, some Quakers, and Catholics, with a large number of Nothingarians." In another letter he speaks of Mrs. Binney, his beautiful, young wife and the social life of the town.
"Mrs. Binney is almost daily invited out. The people are polite and genteel. We believe Mrs. Binney has been to more tea parties since she has been here than for some years in Boston, for in that respect Wiscasset has the prevailing fashion of Hingham."
This lovely, young woman, who so well adorned her position in society, fell a victim to the terrible fever plague, which claimed as its prey so many prominent citizens of Wiscasset in 1812. During its prevalence nearly every store in the town was closed, and it is related that for over a month a vapor or deep fog obscured the sun here, although it shone brightly in the adjoining towns. Night after night blazing tar barrels disinfected the air, and the spectre of death and despair spread its ghostly arms over the fair village.
Although Capt. Binney, his beautiful, young wife, and the men of his command sailed forth on the sea of eternity a century ago, the old fort and its primitive block house still stand, a pathetic reminder of ancient days, set in the midst of civilization that has swept on and left it anchored in a quiet harbor of old age. Moss creeps over its once frowning walls, green grass covers its brick fortifications, and its sightless eyes watch down the river and over the countryside for an enemy long since dead. Rufus King Sewall loved to tell of the days when as a lad he played in the underground passageways leading from the water battery to the block house, constructed for use in case of dire need. The massive timbers of the gun deck, the heavy, nail-spiked door, the shields that close the port holes, the water battery still in a state of excellent preservation, and the strength of the inner breast works, all show it was built for defense of hearth, home and native land.
Old Wiscasset Jail
Next in order of interest, perhaps, to one who treads the aisles of the past, is the old court house on the hill. This building with its classic portico, shaded by drooping elms, was erected in 1824. It replaced the court house and jail of logs, which had formerly been situated in Dresden and was patterned like the places of justice built long ago in England. It cannot but appeal to the heart of one who is interested in the great men of the past, for in that upper court room the voice of Daniel Webster was once heard pleading for justice and mercy. Here spoke Benjamin F. Butler, whose gift of oratory was known and praised from coast to coast. The light through those narrow-paned windows shone on Chief Justice Sewall's noble head, as through many a weary day he gave the best of heart and brain to the questions that lay before him. To his admirers the chair and table where he sat will ever be a reminder of the days when he lived and moved among them. Here he died while holding court, in harness to the last, and here, too, he was buried, although afterward his body was removed and deposited in his family tomb at Marblehead, Massachusetts.
On one side of the pillar, marking the spot of his former resting place is the following inscription:
"Erected by the members of the bar practicing in the Supreme Judicial Court of this Commonwealth to express their veneration for the character of the Hon. Samuel Sewall, late Chief Justice of said Court, who died suddenly in this place on the 8th day of June, 1814, aged 56."
In the old burying ground lie other men of more than local reputation. Among these is the Hon. Silas Lee, a prominent lawyer, who had also a military record of note. He died of that terrible plague that ravaged the town in 1814. A large block of lettered granite marks his last resting place. A small engraving of him hangs upon the walls of the Maine Historical Society rooms in Portland, showing plainly his ruffled shirt bosom, profuse he ad of hair and prominent nose. The court records are replete with his name, he being an authority in those days on both legal and military matters, ''quick in argument, terrible in sarcasm, powerful in eloquence."
Here, too, lies another lawyer, Manasseh Smith, Sr., who had been chaplain in the Revolutionary army and clerk in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. He settled here in 1788 for the practise of law and, as his tombstone reads "declined public offices and devoted himself to the duties of his profession, the happiness of his family and the offices of piety." Near the graves of these jurists is the humble headstone of Ezekiel Averill, who was one of Washington's body guard. He died in 1850 at the age of ninety-five years.
In the old court house men prominent in the affairs of State and nation have been familiar figures. Besides Judge Lee there were the Judges Bailey, Orchard Cooke, the Hon. J. D. MacCrate, Hon. Samuel E. Smith who was once governor of Maine, and Hon. Abiel Wood who had represented his district so brilliantly in Congress. The walls have echoed to the eloquent pleas and the clash of opposing counsel; they have looked on the freed prisoner weeping tears of joy and seen the condemned criminal go out to meet the answer to life's eternal question. In that bare, little room at the left of the judge's bench many jurors have decided on many fates in the last century; but not a word do the gray walls tell of the heated arguments, the sympathetic pleas, the casting of the die that ofttimes meant "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," and a life for a life.
In the vaults of the offices below are to be found old deeds, rich in historical information, showing how land was purchased of the Indians for a bushel or two of barley, a few pounds of meal, skins of animals, or what seemed more important in many cases, skins of wine. These documents, curious in name and wording, are signed by famous Indian Sagamores; names all too familiar when history was in the making. One of them, said to be the oldest deed on record in the whole country, is signed by that same Samoset who greeted the Pilgrims on their arrival at Plymouth. It is dated July 2, 1620, and sells land which would now extend over New Harbor, Bremen, Bristol, east as far as Nobleboro and north as far as Jefferson, for fifty skins. Selling indeed a birthright for a mess of pottage! It is after reading such documents as these that the thoughtful mind must pause and wonder if the red men were not, indeed, more sinned against than sinning.
* * *
By the side of the courthouse, so close that one reaching from the windows could almost touch the old Paul Revere bell in the steeple, stands the Congregational Church, a large, white building with a Grecian front, which has the characteristic New England look of dignity combined with grace. The town voted in 1765 to build a meeting-house for public worship; after several years the tower was added, and within it was hung the bell cast by Paul Revere & Sons, Boston. Here, too, swinging to every breeze, as it swings to-day, the famous weathercock is also a product of the foundry of that man who watched for the lights in the old North Church in that history-making night in 1775.
Rev. Thomas Moore, an Armenian, was the first preacher, and by no means a powerful nor a popular one. He preached, however, until 1791, and it is owing to his negligence that through those years no record of marriages, births or deaths was left to posterity. The dwelling house of this first minister was situated on what is now known as the Langdon Road. The cellar of the house is still to be seen, and in a small field on the opposite side of the road is his well. This minister married a daughter of Col. Kingsbury, who built what is now the oldest two-story house in town, standing at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets.
Many a touching scene has been enacted within the precincts of the stately, old meeting-house. Here was read that famous document signed by the representatives of the people in 1776, and ordered by Congress to be read from every pulpit in the land; thither came that slow and solemn procession on the first day of January, 1800, mourning the loss of George Washington, "the nation's best loved son"; here were held the various public meetings in the vital interests of the community; here the people of Wiscasset have been married and from here they have been buried; here preached the courtly and polished Bradford of Pilgrim ancestry, the grave and reverend Dr. Packard, the learned Hooker, the energetic White and Mather, and their successors, a long line of distinguished and beloved men, from whose lives linger fragrant traditions.
In its original state the meeting-house was said to resemble the ancient meeting-houses of Alna, Walpole and Waldoboro, with their high, old pulpits, quaint sounding boards and double row of box seats. This old meeting-house was torn down in 1840 and a new church edifice erected on the same site. This was consumed by fire in 1907 and the Revere Bell, which had done duty for more than half a century, crashed to earth. The fragments were recovered to be recast and hung in the belfry of the present building, a facsimile of the former church, erected in 1909. In excavating among the ruins of the foundations of the second church building a bottle was found which contained a message written by one who for nearly half a century had been dust in the old church yard. It was dated Wiscasset, July 2, A.D. 1839, written in quaint hand, and read as follows:
"Greeting: This bottle with its contents was deposited this day in the N. E. corner of the foundation of the new church belonging to the first parish & contains two newspapers, this note & the pen with which it was written. In a south-west direction 5 (five) feet distant from this bottle is another containing fruit which was gathered and deposited yesterday (July 1st) by me."
The writer goes on to tell of the inhabitants of the town which then "numbered 3000 people with 3 Meeting Houses, 1 Court House, Town House, 1 Bank, Poor House & Jail, 5 Ships, 1 Barque, and about 15 Brigs & Schooners, 2 Steam Mills & 1 Foundry." After speaking of the political and international happenings in the world, he closes with the following remarks:
"The astonishing changes that have taken place within a century, yea. within even my own recollection, have induced me to make these few remarks, to call your attention to the difference between your time and this present one. It is a solemn thought that I write to a generation yet unborn: that when your eyes see this, mine will be closed forever; the heart that now beats will then be still; the hand that now writes will be turned to dust; the mind that now animates this perishable frame will have gone to God who gave it, & naught will remain but this scroll, perchance, to tell that I have lived and died. There is truly much food for reflection here. God bless you all. Farewell.
Alexander Johnston, Jr.
Born Dec. 20, 1815 Aet. 23 yrs. 6 Mo.
Thus reads the message from one who, for more than three score years, lived within sound of the old bell, and it comes to us from out the past with a weird reminder that
"There was the door to which I found no key;
There was the veil through which I could not see:
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There was — and then no more of Thee and Me."
* * *
Beyond the church, along the elm-embowered way, stand the old aristocrats of the town, the ancient mansions, each set in the midst of spacious lawns steeped in the romance, life and breath of a past century. Here is the "Governor Smith House," built by the Judge Silas Lee, of whom we have previously written. It is a capacious, old mansion, colonial in style, built of bricks and painted white. Hon. Samuel E. Smith, who was governor of Maine in 1831-2-3, occupied this house for many years. It was Governor Smith's younger son who married a sister of Blanche Willis Howard, the well-known writer, and it was in this old mansion that Miss Howard received the inspiration that gave her charming novel "One Summer" to the world. It is known to-day as the "One Summer House," and Is indeed a fit home for genius and a perfect type of the old-time New England mansion. Miss Howard depicted this house as the boarding place of her beautiful heroine. From its windows she saw the sweeping elms, the green slope of the common, the old sun dial that figured in her story, and beyond the long bridge a glimpse of "Folly Island," and the hills with the sunset on their heights.
Judge Lee was not satisfied with the size of this house and afterward built the one now known as the "Tucker Mansion," a beautiful residence, standing on a hill commanding a wonderful panorama of the river and broad bay. Even in this day, erected over a century ago, both the exterior with its fine architecture and the interior with its huge, old rooms, broad halls, its huge, old rooms, broad halls, and galleries above, is worthy the notice of a modern architect. The house has been the home of the family of the late Capt. R. H. Tucker for many years. This family is gifted, numbering among its members Patience Stapleton, better known as "Pat Tucker," who has written many interesting stories of Colorado and Maine.
On this street, also, is the stately, old Carlton House, built and owned by Major Carlton, who was ruined by the Embargo Act of 1812. This house, once occupied by this grand gentleman of the old school, has many picturesque features, among them shade trees brought from Norway, Japan and other parts of the world. The Patterson family, who now own this house, make every effort to preserve it as it was in the old Major's life time. This spirit of loyalty to the traditions of the past seems to be characteristic of the people of Wiscasset, and to it is due much of the atmosphere of charm that pervades the historical, old place.
along the street is the Wood House, built by Hon. Abiel Wood, a son
of Gen. Abiel Wood who, by the record on his tombstone, "resigned
all sublunary honors Aug. 11, 1811." This mansion, owned by the
wealthy ship-owner and West Indian merchant, has the honor of having
been for a time the home of Sally Sayward Barsel, the first writer of
fiction in Maine.
* * *
At the corner of Federal and Main Streets, opposite the residence of ex-Mayor Sortwell, is the cellar, now transformed into a beautiful sunken garden, of the old inn of stage-coach days. Here in about the year 1768 Ebenezer Whittier erected what was known as the Whittier Tavern, a rambling, old house of many rooms. The well-known Hilton House afterward stood on this very spot, although the old tavern was twenty feet longer and extended more to the eastward. Much of the history of this famous old tavern is buried forever in the past. Ebenezer Whittier was a man of good repute, a respected citizen, "a moving spirit in both town and parish affairs." He represented this town in the General Court of Massachusetts in 1787. He was also the first postmaster of Wiscasset, where the second post office duly authorized by the Federal Government was established in Maine in 1790.
At this old tavern the early post-riders, John Smith Foye and Samuel Sevey, both Wiscasset men, stopped their tired horses in their weekly trips between Portland and Warren; here the judges met their clients; here trials were heard; here town meetings were held; here the tide of village life ebbed and flowed, and here in later days before the railroad was built, the stage-coaches swept down the old turnpike and drew up at the hospitable door. It is interesting to trace the route of that olden time. After the passengers had eaten and fresh horses had been secured, the driver swung himself up on the high seat, gathered up his reins, snapped his whip and drove down the hill over the long bridge, up a short, sharp rise and turned into a road that has long been in disuse with underbrush and grass growing thick where the hurrying horses once trod. Only the border of lofty pines, in the tallest of which an eagle once made its home, remains to tell of the days when the coach with merry whistle and cheery halloo dashed down a path now carpeted thick with mossy turf.
Some of the men who once handled whip and line are not forgotten by this generation. Tom Ingraham, hero of a poem written in 1868, entitled, "Tom Ingraham's Ride," is remembered as one of the best and kindest-hearted of men. John Marshall, who drove over the route from 1850 to 1871; but recently died in Portland, and Supt. White of the old Knox and Lincoln, whose genial face was known from end to end of the Pine Tree State, also drove many times on top of the old stage coach over the picturesque turnpike road.
The old inn echoed to the cheerful sound of voices, the merry laughter and the happy greeting of many guests who have since gone down the long trail. To this tavern came the soldiers after the trying days of the Civil War, most of them returning home mere shadows of the men who had gone forth full of courage and faith. A touching incident is related of a party' of these brave men seated around the old tavern fire-place, telling tales of the harrowing years now past. One of them, who belonged in a neighboring town, a youth of twenty-four or twenty-five, who, even with his extreme pallor and emaciation showed traces of remarkable comeliness and grace, suddenly lifted his head from the thoughtful position in which he had sat during the recital of his comrades.
"Boys," he said, "your stories are interesting and many of them strange, but none more strange than mine. When I reach home tomorrow it will he as one returned from the dead. They reported me missing on the battlefield. For months I lay in a hospital — ill with brain fever. I have just recovered my memory and my life. They think me dead back home, boys. I have just been sitting here thinking — thinking — till I can see but one thing, boys, and that the old farm — back there — the apple trees — the kitchen door — and my mother's face when she sees me, boys, hers — and — and — "
He paused, and those listening knew that back at home there was some one else very near and dear whom the young soldier would be glad to meet under the apples trees on the morrow. At this moment a heavy coach rumbled up to the door. From its liveried driver and richly decorated horses one saw at once it was a carriage belonging to a person of wealth and position. The liveried footman alighted and threw open the door, and down stepped a pompous gentleman clad in heavy broadcloth, whose white hair and noble bearing easily distinguished him as a personage of high position. He assisted a lovely young girl to alight, and those watching saw by his tender solicitude the position of the two.
"My word for it, it's a bridal couple!" exclaimed one of the soldiers by the window.
"Oh, yes, that's Squire I— and his new wife from down Rockland way. They ain't been married but a day or two. They're probably on their way to Portland or Boston."
As the young bride, coming up the walk, threw back her veil, the sweetness of her face appealed to all; but the drawn curves of the young lips, the sad droop of her brown eyes, showed that the path of wealth was not always a path of roses. As she drew nearer a terrible cry smote the air. The young soldier, who had not risen at first, had been attracted by the exclamations of his companions at the window and had come up behind them.
"Lucille! My God!" he cried, and again, "Lucille!"
At the sound of that voice, from the grave as it seemed to her startled ear, the young bride fairly flew down the passageway and into the room. Such a meeting! The old frequenters of the tavern told the tale for years. Such a return from the dead! So young, so loving, and between them forever a barrier of law and gold. One by one the men withdrew and left the three together — that pitiful, eternal triangle, which has existed for centuries and will exist until time has ceased to be.
No one ever knew what happened in that room, for the ancient andirons and the fire on the hearth told no tales, nor has an echo of it come to us down the years, but in the morning bridal couple went their way, and the young soldier his — apart forever. Perhaps the gold and the mansion were fairer to the girlish eyes than love in a cottage, perhaps she was like the poor Scotch lassie in the song and "Auld Robin Gray" was a "gude mon" to her. Nothing was heard of the young soldier after his departure to his home. His mother may have consoled him for his loss; perhaps he found another and a truer sweetheart under the old apple trees. Years afterward one of the frequenters of the tavern told of seeing Mrs. I— at some great public banquet in the city where she then resided, and he said her eyes had in them the look of one to whom sorrow is ever her closest companion, and that the jewels, with which she was adorned, were not harder than her still, cold face.
It will leave a happier memory in our minds if we think the young soldier married and was happy during the years in which his former sweetheart fretted in her golden cage, for one always recalls the words of the philosopher, "Men have died and worms have eaten them, but not for love."
In direct denial of this accepted statement we remember an ancient, broken headstone half buried from sight on the land of Hon. Silas Lee, and read of another lover who once lived in the old tavern and met his death through love. This was the youngest son of the proprietor, handsome James Whittier, who had proved more fascinating to young Elizabeth Lee, a niece of the judge, than her many suitors in Massachusetts. She had met him on one of her visits in summer to the lovely, old town, and the elm-embowered streets, the long bridge, the sparkling waters of the harbor, had witnessed a beautiful romance until in time Wiscasset became indeed to her the end of her world. Here she contracted diphtheria which was raging at that time, and died on the fourteenth of February, 1795, calling her lover's name to the last. The broken headstone tells the remainder of the piteous story and shows once more to a cynical, old world that "the mind has a thousand eyes and the heart but one, but the light of a whole life dies when love is done."
This follows the inscription over James Whittier's burial place, an inscription that will linger long in the memory of those who pause to read its touching story:
Mr. James Whittier
Capt. EbenR Whittier & ElizH his wife
who died Apr. 17, 1798
of a Consumption on a passage to the West Indies
The disease which terminated his life originated in the death of his fair and betrothed friend
who lies interred near this monument.
In life they loved; in death they are not divided.
* * *
It is difficult to say why the story of Rosalind Clough and the old house on Squam Island has been reserved for the end of this tale. Perhaps for the same reason that the wise hostess saves the rarest bits for the dessert that follows the dinner.
"I cannot tell how the truth may be;
I say the tale as 'twas said to me."
Few of the visitors to the old town of Wiscasset realize that just across the bridge, in full view of the train, stands a two-storied, Colonial mansion with tall elms shading its narrow-paned windows, which is made famous and sacred for all time by a breath of the presence of ill-fated Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette! Is it not a name to conjure with? What marvellous visions it evokes! Before the mind's eye drifts a series of pictures at the very name. Marie Antoinette, haughty, wondrously fair, every inch a queen; Marie Antoinette in her sweet matronhood, loving wife and fond mother in the stately old palace at Versailles; Marie Antoinette facing that blood-thirsty mob in the Tuileries, calm with the calmness of utter despair; Marie Antoinette those last, sad chapters, bereft of all that life held dear, standing in the dread shadow of the guillotine, always a beautiful, pathetic figure, a royal, noble woman to the end.
The Marie Antoinette House
Nearly one hundred and fifty years ago the old house, now standing in North Edgecomb, was built on what is now known as Westport, then called by the Indians Squam Island, directly opposite Wiscasset. It stood on the northern extremity of the island near the alleged "salt works" which the French government had established there for the real purpose of watching the progress of the American Revolution. Below the house and beyond the quarries still remain ruins of the old batteries of Fort McDonough, where the battle of Bulwark was fought in 1812. From this island could be heard the thunder of the guns of that famous naval battle between the "Enterprise" and "Boxer" near Pemaquid.
The old stone house was built in the year 1744 for Capt. Joseph Decker, a wealthy shipmaster and owner, who occupied Squam Point, the site of an old Indian trade station. In the days of Decker this was one of the cells of which Wiscasset Point was a "commercial bee hive" and Capt. Decker was one of the chief factors. This site had ware-houses, timber booms, and wharves adapted to an extensive trade with the West Indies. After the death of Decker, Capt. Samuel Clough, who had won his handsome daughter for a bride, took possession of the old house on Squam Island and continued the European business in the export of lumber from Wiscasset. Happy were the times and gay the feasting and mirth in the old mansion when the young captain sailed home from foreign ports with his great cargoes of merchandise.
Even yet old sea captains tell the story and the writer first heard it with all its mystic glamour, related by the late Hon. Rufus King Sewall, better known as "The Lincoln County Historian," that kindly, gracious gentleman, who was as courteous to the awkward school-girl stranger as he would have been to any of the judges, lawyers, and men of letters who lingered by his hospitable hearth. There in the twilight of his quaint, old house in Wiscasset, with his dark walls hung with the trophies of olden days, with the brass candlesticks on the mantel, and the slow fire burning between the ancient andirons, it seemed a tale of truth and one well worth the hearing.
Little did the people of the quiet little hamlet of Wiscasset or those on the picturesque island across the river realize the despotism, recklessness and profligacy that were tearing the fair heart of France to its inmost stronghold. The people came and went about their tasks; the curfew bell pealed out as calmly across the water as if there were no stormy revolution, no blood-curdling Reign of Terror in the world. Perhaps Capt. Samuel Clough knew better than any of these peaceful country folk what agony and desolation were abroad in the land. For many years he had voyaged to France and his name was well known along the quays of Havre and in the big merchant-houses of Paris as that of a man of honor, whose word was as good as gold, one who could be trusted in all places and at all times — a true American.
Often in the quiet evenings of early fall or when the snow fell softly about the mansion, he would tell singular tales as his family gathered about the cheery blaze. There were tales of the weakling king, who had ruled with haughty, extravagant hand over beautiful France and who had been torn from his throne and thrust into prison as a reward for his wickedness; tales of the infamous Duke of Orleans, who was proving himself a traitor to his king and to his country; of the wicked, reckless leaders of the National Convention, Robespierre, Danton, and Ararat, whose names have since become synonymous with all that is vile, traitorous and dishonorable in the history of man. But there was one story that wife and children would draw closer to hear, for Capt. Clough's voice would grow gentler in tone and linger with a sort of pathetic cadence whenever he spoke the name of the beautiful, ill-fated Queen of the French, — Marie Antoinette.
Capt. Clough had been in France that fatal July day in 1789, when the smouldering fury of the Paris mob had burst into flame, and, urged to insurrection, had stormed on the old Bastile and captured the prison. Then the excited populace, swearing, howling, cursing, fighting, had swept down the green road and compelled the king and royal family to return to Paris. Amid all the horror of the events which caught the breath of his listeners and held their eager attention, one beautiful, tragic figure stood forth in an aureole of light. Although Capt. Clough would breathe scornful words of the weakling king and his treacherous counsellors, neither wife nor children ever heard a word of censure from his lips for the Queen of France. So, whereas her name was spoken by others with bitterness, deriding her costly tastes, her wilful moods and her reckless extravagances, many historians even averring that she was the direct cause of the French Revolution, Capt. Clough's household grew to look upon her with a reverence that amounted almost to awe, spoke of her in tones of tenderness and pity, and carried always in their hearts the vision of that gracious, queenly woman, wife, mother and saint.
During the terrible summer of 1792 Capt. Clough was again in France. He saw the Parisian mob burst all bonds, storm upon the palace of the Tuileries, massacre the brave Swiss guards who defended it and thrust the royal family into prison. Before he reached his quiet Maine home, for passage was slow in those days, France was declared a republic. When he again set foot in the streets of Paris they had literally flowed red with blood, and Louis XVI. had met the fate of the guillotine. home tore the hearts of his readers, for through his friendship with some loyalists he had become familiar with their private affairs and the pitiful suffering through which the royal family had passed was depicted in harrowing detail. The incident that touched the hearts of Madam Clough and her daughter most keenly, was that the luxuriant tresses of Marie Antoinette had turned snow-white in a single night.
In the fall of 1793 Capt. Clough was expected home from France. When he did not return at the time appointed, his family became alarmed, knowing as they did of the turbulent times in the French nation and of how little worth was the life of any one who sympathized with the royal cause. Robespierre and Danton were then conducting the Reign of Terror and Capt. Clough had written of how hundreds were hurried to the guillotine at the dawn of each new day. Many and many a time in those anxious weeks Madam Clough left her household duties to gaze from the topmost window of the mansion, watching the peaceful river for the ship that did not come. Many and many a time Richard, the stalwart son, paced the long beach toward the furthermost part of the island, scanning the ocean for the vessel which bore his loved father. Perhaps to Rosalind, the fair young daughter, came the greatest burden of anxious sorrow, for she was the idol of her brave father's heart and she had always been his closest companion when he was at home from sea.
The mother was a dignified, matronly woman loving her children in her own quiet way, but the father, clever sailor and business man that he was, had the mystic nature of a student and dreamer and his daughter had inherited much of his disposition. There was thus a strong chain of sympathy between them, a sort of mental telepathy, as it would be called in these days, which bound them to each other with a bond that distance could not break. Sometimes Rosalind would say at the breakfast table, "I shall hear from my father to-day," and in almost every instance the letter would arrive before night-fall. Occasionally she would cry out anxiously, "I am afraid my father is ill," and the next word received from him would tell of some indisposition. Neither tried to explain this strange sympathy, for it had existed so long it had become a part of their every-day lives. Naturally this time of suspense bore on Rosalind with an iron hand and crushed all joy out of her young heart.
Ships came and ships went, and still Capt. Clough did not return, and the feet of the women grew heavier at their household tasks and Richard Clough went about his duties with a saddened face. At last a letter came to the uneasy watchers, a letter that brought consolation when it assured them of the safety of their dear one, but telling a strange tale of the happenings across the water, one that made the hearts of the readers beat more quickly and brought tears of sympathy to their eyes. Capt. Clough wrote of the thousands who had been executed, of the relentless hounding of sympathizers by Robespierre, of how a word or a whisper in the morning had sent many an innocent man to his death before night, how all day the death carts rattled through the streets, as Robespierre from an upper window watched "the cursed aristocrats" and mocked at their pain; and of how it was rumored that she, the noble, the royal woman, must meet the fate of her murdered husband.
"There is a plot afoot," wrote Capt. Clough, "to rescue the queen from the death met by her husband and hundreds of their friends and sympathizers. I scarce dare think, much less write it to you, my dear ones, for each day I see men hurried to the guillotine without even a prayer for less than this. But that you may be prepared in some measure for what may follow, I will write briefly concerning our hazardous undertaking. Friends of the unhappy queen have spoken in private to friends of mine and they in turn to me. My ship lies in the port at any moment ready for sailing. I await the word. Methinks I need say no more, my loved ones, as I write in haste and with a troubled heart. Well, you know my sympathy has always been with her, even though I am an American-born citizen, and in America we know no king but God. My wife, prepare you the house, not as for a royal guest, but I say to you and Rosalind, child of my love, prepare you your hearts to receive a broken-hearted woman. Wait and watch and pray, my dear ones, for me and for her gracious and deeply-wronged majesty, Marie Antoinette."
What wonder that there was stir and excitement in the great house on Squam Island! What wonder that every nook and corner was cleaned and polished and cleaned and polished again! The nights might have seen bitter tears and agonized prayers for husband and father, but the days knew only quick hands and active feet, cheerful faces and busy tongues. At last all was in readiness. The house shone in beauty of freshly scoured paint and glittering windows. The chamber prepared for that strange guest was immaculate with fresh linen and newly-laundered curtains.
"Scarce it a fit place for a queen to lay her head," observed Madam Clough, as she scanned the room for a bit of dust or disorder. The daughter came softly behind her.
"Prepare you not your house as for a royal guest," she quoted gently, "prepare you your hearts to receive a broken-hearted woman."
Mother and daughter looked for a moment into each other's eyes and burst into tears.
Rosalind Clough at the Age of 19 Years
(From an Old Daguerreotype)
* * *
Days came and days went and through the red and gold of the autumnal foliage was felt the breath of approaching winter; but still no further message came to the watchers on Squam Island. Over and over again the house was prepared for its expected guest. The brightest fires roared their cheeriest welcome; the larder groaned with its goodly store. Never for one moment did the little family relax their vigil nor lose their hope although the gray threads came swiftly in Madam Clough's dark hair and Rosalind's heavy eyes told of nights of sleepless watching. On the son and brother the waiting seemed its heaviest burden. Perhaps because he was alone so much at his out-of-door tasks, and could not share the companionship of the women, perhaps because man was not made to bear what woman can nor to wait as woman can wait.
One night in late October, one of those wonderful nights that only October can bring, the three sat around the huge fireplace, listening to the wind sighing down the big, old chimney, talking in low tones and dropping into long silences. Madam Clough, who never allowed herself a moment's idleness, was busily knitting. Rosalind sat with her head against her mother's knee, her eyes fixed dreamily on the dancing flames. Richard had thrown himself on the old-fashioned settle. He had just come in from the stables and was cold and shivering as he drew closer to the welcome warmth. Each of them had felt all day a subdued excitement, a sort of superstitious thrill, a creeping dread of what they knew not and would not have voiced had they known. A vague unrest was in each mind, an uneasy, listening, quivering waiting that stirred alike mother, daughter, and son. Still they did not speak of this to each other, nor realize what the others felt, for the father's name seldom came to their lips these days. Their hearts were too full for speech.
Suddenly Rosalind rose and went out into the hall. They heard her swift, light footsteps on the bare floor, then the clang of the outer door. Neither asked where she had gone. By some tender intuition both knew. It was not the first time Rosalind had gone out into deepening twilight to scan with beating heart the river for the vessel that did not come. And the hearts of the two followed her and prayed that her vigil might not be in vain.
Rosalind Clough paused a moment on the broad steps of the mansion. She was a demure, little figure with wide brown eyes, the white cap on her dark curls giving her countenance an almost Puritanical severity. There was something very sweet and winsome about the face, although the mouth was drawn with grave lines of anxiety that aged her far beyond her years. Before her in the fast-deepening twilight lay the broad expanse of water, quivering a little at its western verge with flashes of crimson and gold. One by one candle lights twinkled forth in the houses of the hamlet across the river, and high above her on the white edge of the last cloud that was resisting the advance of Night, glimmered the first great star. It was the hour when Capt. Clough loved to draw his daughter's arm through his own and lead her down the long path to the shore. As she followed that path now she was lifted out of herself. The cares, the anxiety, the sorrow of the past few weeks fell from her like a cloak and she lived again the hours when they had paced the beach together, when he had taught her the lore of the waters and of the heavens and led her with him along a pathway of stars. She loved to think at such times that Mars shone as redly for him so far away on the high seas as it did for her; that he, too, could see Vega's blue snow, Venus's golden beauty, and the twinkling, shimmering swarm of the Pleiades; that all the marvelous panorama of the heavens, of which he had taught, hovered over them, linking them with a mystic chain as she thought of him and he of her under a foreign sky.
What follows may be only a legend. Those, who in these matter-of-fact days laugh at the supernatural, will call it a fairy story or a dream, but those who are interested in psychology, who admit the mighty control of mind over matter, will find food for reflection on what is chronicled here. Told, as the writer heard it, in a quaint, old, darkened room with dim shadows lighted only by a smouldering wood-fire it would indeed grip the listener with a surge of shuddering awe.
Rosalind Clough paced back and forth on the beach as she had so many times on so many nights. The dampness of the wind smote her face with the memory of an hour that was gone; the fascination of the night was upon her; her very soul was stirred. The last glow from the dying sun faded leaving the sky as gray as the cloud in her heart. Even as she turned to gaze seaward, the darkness had descended, blotting even the horizon from view. The girl stood staring into the blackness, her heart suddenly full of rebellion that another day had ended without her father's return.
And then the vision came to her. Earth and sea and sky in the pulse of a heart-beat seemed to flash before her with a great light. Every tree, every bush on the opposite shore, every bend in the river burst plainly on her view. The great glare pierced and tore the dusk like a flash of lightning. She closed her eyes, opened them again, stared like one in a dream. On the broad current of the stream she beheld the masts, the deck, and hull of a vessel, and although it was like a barque of silver on a water of crystal, she knew it was her father's own ship illumined with a strange and wonderful brightness as it gleamed before her startled gaze. She saw the busy sailors, the captain on the deck, even beheld him throw back his head in the old familiar way, saw and recognized every detail of sail and mast and spar.
And then she saw Her — the Woman. She was floating rather than walking upon that silvered deck, a magnificent creature, beautiful in countenance and form, tall, richly gowned, with powdered hair and regal carriage and with a face that held one spellbound, so filled was it with youth and grace. Rosalind saw her stretch out her hands with a sudden, beseeching gesture as if pleading for release, then raise her eyes to Heaven with a wonderful look of peace. The girl strove to move, to speak, but could make neither motion nor sound. Even as she struggled with the awful torpor that benumbed her, the brightness suddenly faded, there was darkness again over island and sea, and the vision was gone.
Half an hour later Madam Clough and her son were roused from their sad musings by the swift sound of light steps in the outer hall. The door was flung open to admit Rosalind looking like a wraith of the night with her dishevelled hair blown about her wide eyes and pallid face.
"Mother! Mother!" she cried in a voice of piercing sweetness. "My father is well. He will return. But she — she — Marie Antoinette — is dead!"
* * *
Winter had cast its dark pall over the earth before Captain Clough sailed up the river to his home on Squam Island, and he brought beautifully carved furniture draperies of velvet and silk, magnificent paper hangings and even costly gowns of rich brocade, which the friends of Marie Antoinette had placed on board his vessel in the far-away French waters that their loved queen might have fitting surroundings in the exile to which they had planned to send her across the seas. And he told of the discovery of the plot on the eve of its consummation, how the message, concealed and sent in a bouquet to the queen, was confiscated by her jailors, of how she had been hastened to her execution, of the imprisonment of her true and faithful friends, of his own hairbreadth escape, and of how, even as he fled, he heard the blood-curdling shouts of the mob, as it stormed through the narrow streets bearing Marie Antoinette to her untimely doom. And most remarkable coincidence of all, the night that Rosalind Clough had seen the strange vision was the night of Oct. 16, 1793, the date of the queen's execution.
Strange questions arise in the mind at this mere fabric of an ancient, dreamy legend. By some strong power of will did the mind of Capt. Clough, so filled with the dread happenings, convey to the responsive mind of his loved daughter the vision of the doomed queen. In striving to unravel the mystery we are met by that. same impenetrable wall of blackness that forever blocks the way of even the most brilliant of scientists and students who spend their lives in trying to pierce the curtain of the Great Unseen. It is indeed true that
"We are no other than a Moving Row
Of magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
Round with this Sun-illumined Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the Show;
"Impotent pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Checker Board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves and checks and slays
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
"The Ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But right or left as strikes the Player goes;
And He that tossed you down into the Field
He knows about it all — He knows — He knows."
Thus runs the tale. The old house has been moved to the opposite shore of Edgecomb, and still greets with colonial stateliness the visitors who come and go in its quiet rooms, furnished in the grandeur of other days. One by one the relics, which proved the truth of the story, have been carried away by souvenir hunters. Only a shred of taspestry and a piece of brocaded stuff, on which is pinned a scrap of paper in Capt. Clough's handwriting, remain to give credence to the inexplicable tale. This certificate asserts that the cloth was sent to Capt. Samuel Clough "by an eye witness," and was a bit of the gown worn by the queen at her execution.
When the late Mr. Sewall was a mere lad he saw the rich hangings brought from the palace at Versailles and the beautiful, old-fashioned gowns, that seemed even then to breathe of the fair, dead woman who had worn them. Many of the tapestries were given away years ago; the hangings have fallen into tattered rags; the quaint, old sideboard stood for years in the Knox House, Thomaston. So the fragments that told of the ancient tragedy have been scattered far and wide. Fair, little Rosalind married and we trust "lived happily ever after" like the princess in the fairy tale. Her first daughter was named Antoinette, and to this day the name remains in the family, handed down from daughter to daughter in each succeeding generation.
* * *
It is an established fact that Talleyrand, the noted French statesman, landed at Wiscasset in 1794 with a handsome youth who was a fugitive from the French Revolution. This youth proved to be the young Duke of Orleans, afterward Philip, King of France. It is said they escaped from Paris in Capt. Clough's vessel, came with him to Wiscasset, from there to Hallowell with letters to Cols. North and Vaughn, and thence to Philadelphia.
So only the memory lives in the minds and hearts of a few of the residents of the dignified, old town, a memory that is but a link in that long chain of the past, each link a heart throb, each tear a bead, each smile a jewel of great price. And this chain of memories of "The Garden of the East" in which is woven fact and fiction, would not be complete without the story of Rosalind, the little maid of Squam Island, and that other with her crown of gold and crown of snow, wife and mother, queen and martyr — Marie Antoinette.
"Clasp, Angel of the backward look
And folded wings of ashen gray
And voice of echoes far away,
The brazen covers of thy book;
The weird palimpest old and vast,
Wherein thou hid'st the spectral past;
Where, closely mingling, pale and glow
The characters of joy and woe;
The monographs of outlived years,
Or smile-illumined or dim with tears.
Even while I look I can but heed
The restless sands' incessant fall,
Importunate hours that hours succeed,
Each clamorous with its own sharp need,
And duty keeping place with all.
Shut down and clasp the heavy lids;
I hear again the voice that bids
The dreamer leave his dream midway
For larger hopes and graver fears:
Life greatens in these later years,
The century's aloe flowers to-day."
1 Archives Maine His. Soc.