The Romantic History of Muscongus; or Loud's Island
By MARIETTA MUNRO SIMMONS
WHEN I, William Loud, officer in his Majesty, George the Second's, provincial navy, on board a ship of war riding at anchor in Boston harbor, let loose the fiery temper hitherto held in leash by years of inflexible discipline, and with flashing eye had replied to some insolent demand from a superior officer, that I would not obey, though it were "to save the King's head," the act constituted treason.
I was thereupon stripped of the clothing befitting my rank and flung into the ship's hold, there to await in chains and with scanty fare, the consequence of my reckless speech.
As I lay in my dark and ill-smelling prison my thoughts were not pleasant; it seemed that the Evil One himself must have prompted that flash of ungovernable anger, which I had no doubt would cost me position, friends, home and perhaps life itself. My heart was heavy and my spirit bitter as I reflected on my brilliant and promising career, thus foolishly brought to an inglorious end; and I kicked viciously at the great rats, which grew too bold for my comfort, vainly wishing that it were in my power to inflict like blows on the person of the arrogant officer who had been the cause of my undoing; between whom and myself had long been unspoken enmity.
With the passing of the hours this anger cooled and my mind was occupied by many thoughts of former days.
For many years the name of Loud, shortened of its final letter in this new country, had been an honored one in the county of Lancaster, England, where my grandfather, the first one of the name to be called William, had died about the time of the expedition to Canada against the "common enemy" (1689-1696), when his son, William (my father) had come to this wild and much disputed land.
From Canada he had drifted to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where, on February 28th, 1708, he was married to Abigail Abbitt. They established their home in that primitive frontier settlement during the war of Queen Anne, at a time when the Indian troubles were at their height; and no man knew at what hour he might be required to relinquish his scalp lock for the personal adornment of some filthy savage, who would come stealthily skulking from the forest backing the colony, or boldly bursting forth with horrid yells and whoops, in company with many of his hated kind, to wreak hideous vengeance on the "pale-face" settlers.
Here my father erected his simple cabin of logs and my Mother set to work, in the way of women, to make its rough walls home. while they both had much ado to fill the hungry mouths and clothe' the sturdy bodies of their rapidly increasing family, for those were uncertain times.
Brother John was born in 1710 and myself on August fifteenth of the next year; then followed Solomon, Thomas, David, Sarah, Abigail and little Benjamin, the eighth child, and the several trundle beds which were dragged forth from beneath the couch of our parents each night, were filled to overflowing. But the chinks in the walls of our cabin furnished a sufficiency of fresh air, and we thrived well on the substantial, if coarse, fare, which our mother made palatable in sundry mysterious ways. And if our little hearts sometimes thumped painfully and our small faces paled at the tales we heard of lurking savage or prowling beast, we somehow managed to be very happy.
Stern were the commands of our father and many the admonitions of our mother, concerning where it was or was not safe to wander in our play, and gruesome tales of disobedient children kidnapped or murdered while picking berries or straying too near the forest's edge, their bodies found mangled by bear or wild cat or never seen of their parents more, helped us to heed their warnings well.
I could not but weep as I recalled the early struggles of my parents and remembered their great pride in my later achievements, realizing how soon their aging heads would be bowed by my disgrace.
Our New England settlements followed the shore and were backed by an unexplored forest, peopled by unknown numbers of savages, whose ingenuity in devising means for the torture of their enemies, of whose doings they were fully informed, were fiendish. I well remembered the story told by my father of a young bridegroom, belonging in our community, kidnapped immediately following the wedding ceremony, leaving his disconsolate bride to mourn until his release was secured by an extravagant ransom paid by his father; and they were not always thus merciful.
In my boyhood I had known more than one person in broken health, yet living, minus his scalp-lock, and I never shall forget the shock I received, when a boy who had been my playmate was taken captive, never to return to his home at Kittery. It was small wonder that the red-skins were so feared and hated that in time of war a heavy bounty was offered by the government for each scalp taken, whether that of brave, squaw or papoose.
In those days the laws were very strict regarding the education of children in a community of Portsmouth's size, and my parents saw to it that their children were well grounded in such matters as were taught.
I was possessed by nature of a fiery temper, quick tongue and arrogant ways, which the chidings of my mother, the stern authority of my father and the strict laws and customs of our time did much to subdue. The terrifying earthquake, the like of which we had never known in this country before, coming when I was at the impressionable age of sixteen years, and in which one and all recognized the hand of the Lord, did much toward shaping my character.
My great love for the sea combined with a desire to aid in destroying the power of the unprincipled French, who had always incited the Indians to harrass and distress the English colonists, with tales of the success of his Majesty's naval craft in the capture of French privateers and other sea-rovers, fired my young blood, and I enlisted in the royal navy with the full consent of my parents, being rapidly advanced to positions of honor and trust; thus my early manhood was spent in the King's service.
When, in 1740, rumors reached us of war between England and Spain, the General Court granted £6500 for the construction of a ship sufficiently large and powerful to protect our navigation and trade, and Benjamin Hallowell of Boston was given the important contract for a vessel of 180 tons. The great keel necessary for this ship was a marvelous sight and people turned out in large numbers to see the work begun.
She was a snow and differed only from a brig in having a trysail-mast close abaft the main-mast. She was armed with sixteen carriage guns, each carrying a ball of six pounds and as many swivel guns. She was named the "Prince of Orange," in honor of King William, our glorious deliverer.
It was indeed a proud day when, under Captain Edward Tyng, an experienced navigator, of Boston, I was appointed Lieutenant in charge and command of this gallant craft.
In the peaceful summer of 1742, in company with the ship Vernon, we carried our newly appointed Governor Shirley, with his party, on a visit to the Eastern Indians, at St. Georges, taking gifts and supplies to win their friendship and allegiance from the French, in the vain hope of securing a lasting peace. I was greatly impressed by the beauties of this country, but little thought ever to see it again.
The new province snow soon proved herself a wise investment, for in 1744, when France joined Spain in her war with England, conditions in this country were worse than ever before and our coast trade was carried on at great hazard; our waters being infested by the enemy's craft. My early desire of making successful war upon the French was thus gratified.
On a lovely day in June of that troubled year, while cruising along the coast, we saw a sail at a considerable distance, which bore down upon us, and in about an hour we discerned her to be a French privateer under English colors. We hauled in our guns, took down the bulk head, struck colors and lay to till the privateer came within gunshot when she struck the English and raised the French flag, then threw open our ports and raked him fore and aft with a terrible broadside, they only returning the snow two guns and crying loudly for quarter. Their mast had been disabled, so that it broke off by our first shot, and they were entirely at our mercy.
The captain was brought on board our ship and delivered his sword, commission, etc., to Captain Tyng and was promised that himself and men should be kindly treated. Then the other officers were brought on board, also the ninety-four men, being secured in the hold. These prisoners we carried into Boston, where they were committed to gaol.
Great was the joy of the people when they learned that this, the first American vessel to be engaged in a naval combat, had been thus victorious. Large crowds gathered at the docks to cheer our triumphant arrival and to hail with derision our wretched captives. Recalling my just pride in being able to serve well my King and country on this and all other occasions, I knew that whatsoever the evil construction put upon my rash words, of treasonable intent I was innocent. I thereupon resolved to cease my repinings and to meet my fate as a brave man should.
Exhausted by my emotions, I fell into a deep sleep, from which I was awakened by a sailor, whom I at one time had befriended, little thinking with what great service he would repay me. This poor man, at great risk to himself, had made his way to my dark dungeon, and with his help I was soon freed from my fetters and clothed in the garb of a common sailor.
The leathern wallet containing my commission and other private papers, with monies to a not large amount, were still on my person, having been overlooked in the haste of those who had taken me in charge, and this we securely wrapped in tarpaulin. My good friend then informed me that the night, which was without a moon, was far advanced, giving me the exact location at the dock of a merchant ship about to sail for Falmouth (Portland).
I then bade my good friend adieu, and being well acquainted with the dangers to be avoided on my own ship, stealthily made my way to the deck and thence to the ship's rail, reaching the water safely and without raising an alarm.
Being a powerful swimmer, I easily gained the docks, where, in the early dawn with my rough dress, I drew no attention from the busy sailors and succeeded in gaining the hold of the now laden ship just before her hatches were closed for the run to Falmouth.
I had thought to lie in hiding until that seaport was reached and then to lose myself in some remote settlement of the surrounding wilds, where I might still serve my King by waging a single-handed warfare against the savage foe; but my plans were changed and my life otherwise ordered by an overruling Providence, that withheld the favorable winds, for which the ship's captain longed, not half so ardently as his miserable stowaway.
For what seemed an eternity, soon beset by the tortures of hunger and thirst, I lay in the stifling hold before I discerned that we were under way. At length, after we had been at sea for many hours, so far as I could judge from the sounds reaching my place of concealment, I could endure my miseries no more and set up such a clamor that the hatch above me was soon raised and I was dragged forth, to fall fainting at the captain's feet.
It were well for me that I had fallen into the hands of this good man, who treated me with great kindness, when I had thought to meet with the harsh brutality then so common upon the high seas. Being greatly desirous of his wise counsel and trusting to the honesty of his rugged features, after being revived and fed, I proceeded to tell him my true story, to all of which he listened well before offering his sound advice. His notion was strongly against any stirring up of the Indians, who were now comparatively peaceful, and I perceived that he was right in thinking that my zeal might lead me to the doing of more harm than good.
"We are now," said he, though in the uncouth language of most sailors, "nearing Monhegan, and from here I will, if you so desire, sail in toward Muscongus bay, landing you upon a fertile island there which is now uninhabited, where you may spend the remainder of your days without danger of discovery, there being nothing to call the King's craft to this remote and sparsely settled region, and where you can render good service by joining the settlers nearby if the Indians again take the 'war-path.'
"This island," he continued, "is known as Samoset's or, more commonly, Muscongus Island. It is said that that great and good Sagamore once made it his headquarters. He now lies in the Indian burying ground, which you may see on its upper end. Whether or not this story be true, it was of a certainty conveyed by him to a proprietor of Pemaquid, having now, through marriage, come into the possession of one Shem Drowne, a tin plate worker, of Boston; and as this man is very much interested in the settlement of these parts, you may, if you so desire, purchase the entire island for a very small sum." (This I afterwards did, finding all of his words true).
The captain also told me of previous owners, who had lived on the island for short periods, but had been driven from their isolated home by fear of the Indians. He remembered having been told that a cabin, once occupied by one of these, yet remained standing in a clearing not far removed from a small harbour.
He was well acquainted with the settlements along the coast of Bristol, from which this island lay distant about two miles. They were Broad Cove, Muscongus, Round Pond and New Harbour, each of which consisted of several widely scattered farms with a neighborhood garrison, and having grist and saw mills on their suitable streams.
It was a lonely life that I saw pictured before me, yet it held freedom; while to the dangers of which he spoke I was no stranger. Besides, having put myself in this man's hands, I felt constrained to follow his advice. Accordingly we drew in toward the bay, as he had promised, and I was set on shore with a goodly supply of provisions and ammunitions, the gift of the ship's captain, as was, also a young dog of the large and ferocious breed kept by the settlers for hunting and attacking Indians.
This animal had attached himself to some member of the crew while in port, and, like myself, had become a stowaway. He had made of himself a great nuisance while on board ship, and was willingly landed with me at my earnest request. I had named him Roger and he proved to be my faithful friend and protector for many years; his affection for his master being as strong as his instinctive hatred of the redskins, his disposition proving much more amiable than his looks.
I remained on the shore until the boatload of friendly sailors had passed from sight, and then turned forlornly to begin my new life at the age of forty-two years, in October of what, by a strange coincidence, was the first year under the new style calendar adopted throughout the British domains.
My island, for such I ever afterward regarded it, like all others which I had observed in the vicinity, was covered with a heavy growth of evergreen forest, interspersed with noble trees of maple, oak and ash, which extended to the water's edge.
Leaving Roger, who was wild to follow me, on guard beside my precious possessions, with drawn knife and musket in readiness for any sudden peril, I followed, as noiselessly as possible, the slightly defined path, which led with difficulty through the heavy undergrowth.
The bright sun scarce penetrated the gloom of the forest through which I passed, so that it came upon me with dazzling splendor, when I suddenly burst through a tangle of birch, alder and blackberry and beheld the spot which I was henceforth to call my home. In the midst of an overgrown clearing, surrounded by the glowing colors of the forest, stood the veritable abode of which, though the captain had spoken, I had little thought to find standing. Perceiving no evidences of the recent presence of either white man or red, I went forward on the run to observe it more closely.
It was a log cabin, such as were built by the earliest settlers and contained but one room, with large joists overhead, and small, high-set window openings; the great chimney at one end was budded of stones. This chimney, with its enormous fireplace, remained in good repair, as did also the great oaken door, which fastened on the inside by means of a heavy wooden cross-bar. In spite of its abandoned condition it had the look of home; and here, on a bed of hemlock boughs, Roger and I passed our first night on Samoset's Island in unbroken repose.
After breaking our fast the following morning, as we had supped, on ship's biscuit and spring water, for I dare not strike fire nor allow my dog to hunt before making a thorough examination of my surroundings, with Roger at my heels, I set out to explore the island, which proved to be about three miles long by one mile wide at its broadest point. I saw signs of a great abundance of game, while the flats over which I walked seemed alive with clams and other shellfish. My cabin was located on the northeastern side of the island, and I found certain evidences of the Indian burying ground at no great distance from my clearing; though I discovered no signs of living human inhabitant.
From the coast I could discern portions of the settlements of which I had been told, with a glimpse of Meduncook (Friendship), backed by the blue Camden hills, to the north, while all about were islands of different sizes, few of them inhabited at this time, even the boldest pioneers having been forced to seek the protection afforded by the settlements. My explorations at an end, I set myself to live my lonely life as best I might, with Roger to guard against any surprise and my trusty musket always at hand.
Winter was fast approaching, but my daily "bannock," made by mixing with sea water a handful of meal, ground from corn placed between two stones, and baked over the hot coals on the hearth, and the supply of fish and game which I should be able to secure, if left unmolested, would secure me from hunger. So I hid away a portion of my generous store of corn and beans against the spring's planting, and proceeded to daub the chinks in my cabin walls with clay and thatch the roof anew with the coarse marsh grasses.
I gathered a store of the bitter oak nuts and felled great logs for my fireplace, collecting many spicy knots of the fragrant pitch pine to furnish light for the long winter evenings, which I proposed to spend in the fashioning of such articles for the convenience and comfort of my simple abode as were possible with my lack of skill and proper tools, also platters and vessels of wood and bark for the better serving of my food and drink; the immense shells of clams and other mollusca washed up by the waves and bleached by the sun, having of necessity served my purpose thus far.
One day in early winter I was visited by a party of men coming from Muscongus and Round Pond. who, having observed the smoke rising daily from my chimney, had come to investigate.
They were very curious as to why I had come thus quietly to this lonely spot, but I was able to set their minds at rest without adding greatly to their real knowledge of my affairs. They welcomed me warmly and invited me to visit their several homes, which I afterwards did, being received very kindly among them. They were a sturdy people, whose struggle to maintain life and homes in this land of poverty and savage foe showed plainly in their alert, care-worn faces, yet possessed of a kindly humour withal.
I was able, by the payment of a small sum, to procure the small boat in which one of my visitors had reached the island, he returning to the mainland with his friends; and was told by these men that ready money was very scarce hereabouts, barter being the usual method employed in trade.
Soon after this I was visited by a party of friendly but thievish Indians, which pleased me not so well and Roger far less than I.
Of all the neighboring settlements, I liked best that of the Germans at Broad Cove, this being really an extension of their colony at Waldoborough. Poor they were, like all the rest, but ambitious, thrifty and consequently prosperous, as prosperity was then counted. Their cheerful and unfailing hospitality was very pleasing to one in my exiled condition; so, leaving my poor dog to guard faithfully, if much against his inclinations, my humble possessions, I made frequent excursions to this place, and more particularly to the dwelling of one kind-hearted old settler, whose fair-haired daughter, Lucy, ere spring had come, promised to share with me the perils and isolation of my island abode.
We were to be wedded in the month of June and I laboured hard at unaccustomed toil, that our home might be in readiness for her coming.
The clearing was greatly enlarged by spring, as I had felled many trees to furnish logs for the building of a shelter for the young cow and lambs for which I had already bargained, also the stockade necessary for their protection against the ravages of wild beasts. The ground was then burned over and a crop of corn and beans planted at the expense of very great toil. The work which I had planned for the long evenings became now a labour of love, extending far into each night; while the great, bare room grew more like home with the gradual addition of my crude achievements.
Meanwhile peace with the Indians continued, although I scanned the opposite shore daily and with anxious heart for any signs of their treachery. But on the fair morning of my bride's home-coming, I banished such thoughts from my mind, allowing no doleful forebodings to darken its cheer.
We had been married at the home of my wife's parents, amid the feasting and rejoicing of her relatives and friends, and were accompanied on our trip to the island by her two stalwart, rosy-cheeked brothers, to assist in carrying her dower chest, spurning wheel and other possessions. In her own arms she had transported the most treasured one of them all, being a fussy old hen with her twelve lively chicks, a gift from her mother.
Harbor Homes of Today at Loud's Island
As we entered the clearing we could see all about us my young vines growing luxuriantly amidst the blackened stumps. Beside the door-way an old lilac tree had burst into purple bloom and all around in the fresh green grass grew wild flowers, soon to be supplanted by Lucy's finer "posies."
Later, when the door had been thrown open and the fire uncovered, to send its soft smoke curling lazily from the chimney, and the hen with her brood had been set free to run clucking and chirping, while the mistress of it all went singing about her homely tasks, I would have willingly exchanged neither kingdom nor consort with the King of the realm, treasonable though the thought may have been. Even poor Roger, who sulked in wretched jealousy for a time, soon came to love her gracious presence and gave to her his true allegiance.
Brave, strong and sweet, as became a pioneer's bride, my Lucy took up the burdens of her new life, ignoring danger, sharing my hard labours and performing her own many tasks, each with a never-failing smile.
For a year our existence was peacefully happy. Visits were exchanged between ourselves and friends on the mainland; and many a party of Indians, who were child-like in their friendliness in time of peace, were fed at our rough table, leaving us gifts of useful and beautiful baskets, which they had great skill in colouring and weaving. They were also shameless beggars, who did not hesitate to steal that which begging failed to procure.
During the long, hot, summer afternoons we sometimes gathered berries from the clearings of which there were several, seeming to indicate that there had been more than one attempt to occupy the island in years past. We prized these berries highly when dried, as an addition to our monotonous fare in winter and sometimes were obliged to dispute with some ravenous black bear for their possession. Fish caught in the summer were also dried for winter use.
An account of one of these fishing trips, on which my wife always accompanied me, I being glad of her assistance, as well as not caring to leave her alone on the island, will show that my naturally hot temper and imperious ways, fostered by years of command over others, were still my besetting sins, giving rise to the many stories Circulated among the inhabitants as to the cause of my mysterious appearance in their midst, which they never fully understood and resented accordingly.
On this occasion the fog closed in suddenly, completely enveloping us while at some distance from the island. Not having a compass I became completely bewildered, with nothing but the role of the ocean upon the rocks to guide me. I bade my wife take her place in the bow and look out for land.
She soon pointed into the dense fog and cried, "There is land!" and in another moment, "There is land!" pointing in an opposite quarter, while I kept on rowing, this way and that, at her excited command. First she would call, "Land from the bow!" and again, "Land on the port side!" so confused was she by the strangeness of our position. After fruitless hours of rowing at her contradictory directions, I angrily shouted, "Sit down, woman! You've made more land than God Almighty." She, poor soul, sank weeping into the bow, while I, in silence, rowed for dear life, using my best judgment, arriving finally at the island.
* * *
As winter advanced we were confined much to our cabin, where there was always enough to be done; occupied with her spinning, knitting, weaving or sewing, Lucy was never idle, and there was always some task for my hands to perform, as everything employed in the pursuit of our daily lives was, of necessity, home-made from the raw material. On rare occasions a newspaper, printed months before in Boston, would reach us, having been eagerly read by each in turn and passed on from one settlement to another, at length reaching us on the outskirts of civilization.
In the spring our son, whom we called "William Solomon," was born, and the carved wooden cradle, over which I had laboured long and carefully in the making, was brought forth to take its position of honour in our home.
Soon after this, in 1754, came rumors of another Indian uprising, with tales of terrible outrages committed by them at Meduncook, Cushing and their neighboring islands. Then followed news of another war between England and France, and we were once more compelled to defend our homes through a cruel period of Indian warfare, which lasted for nine years. Although in these parts, the trouble was intermittent, there was no feeling of security in all that time, during which many valuable lives were sacrificed and much property destroyed.
At Round Pond, Muscongus and other settlements in our vicinity, the women gathered at the garrison houses, while the men went armed to their work nearby, or in times of special danger all fled to Fort Frederick, at Pemaquid, leaving their homes undefended and many losing their lives on the way.
Observing the state of our neighbors, we decided to remain in our island home as long as was possible, we having as good a chance as any to reach the fort by water in an extremity. So, straightway, I set about enlarging and strengthening the stockade and prepared our cabin to withstand the savage attacks in so far as possible.
My brave wife, with Roger on guard beside her baby's cradle, went serenely about her increasing duties, always within reach of a boatswain's whistle, which would call me to her side at the least sign of danger, for I dare not wander to any great distance from my loved ones.
On hearing this shrill warning one day, while off my guard, being deeply absorbed in my occupation, I turned to see seven Indians coming stealthily upon me. By quickly snatching my musket from the ground where it lay and being a sure marksman an (the result of naval training), I was able to kill four of them, chasing the others upon the run, while yelling my maledictions in a thund'rous voice.
Had the Indians but known, I, myself, had more cause for fright than they; for with the fourth shot my ammunition was exhausted, leaving me wholly at their mercy.
When a party of Indians were known to be in the vicinity one of us must be on guard at all times. On these occasions, sometimes lasting for weeks together, I would sleep during the first hours of the night, my poor wife securing her rest later when I watched in her stead.
Well do I remember the experience of one terrible night. I had gone to rest greatly wearied by a hard day's work, falling forthwith into a heavy sleep and failing to waken at her frightened call.
Some Indians, thinking to surprise us while asleep, without making the slightest sound to arouse Roger or alarm my wife, succeeded in gaining the low roof, intending to descend the chimney and enter the kitchen through the broad fireplace, one Indian being half-way down when discovered. Like a flash Lucy seized the straw bed from beneath me and threw it upon the glowing hearth. The descending Indian dropped into the furious blaze, which it instantly created, and rolled into the brilliantly lighted room with shrieks of agony. Widely enough awake by then, I seized my axe and quickly dispatched him, while his cowardly companions, not knowing the cause of the sudden conflagration so fatal to their companion, fled with his death yells in their ears and Roger roaring at their heels.
Many of the most horrible deeds were committed by Indians who had long been on friendly terms with the white settlers. The case of Joshua Bradford, of Meduncook, aroused great indignation among us, he being murdered by an Indian who had frequently been entertained at his home; one whom he trusted as a friend, and whose life he had at one time saved at great peril to his own.
At the close of this war a lasting peace was made with the Indians, though the sound of the savage war-whoop will never cease to echo in the memories of those having heard its inhuman sound.
Our little daughter, Lucy, had been born into the midst of all these perils, being three years younger than her brother, and our remaining years together were employed in the care and education of our children, who were cut off from the advantages of the settlements, where schools were held either at the forts, or from house to house among the people.
We were glad to welcome to our island the new-corners who began to arrive after the Indian troubles were settled; as many of my wife's kindred had gone with the three hundred German families, who left Waldoborough to found new homes in Carolina, on account of our unsettled land claims which were the cause of great hardship to many.
I am an old man now, living in peace among my children; yet my thoughts are all of the stirring events of my youth. My Lucy is calmly sleeping not far from the home she loved so well. Some day in my dreams I shall hear the call of the boatswain's whistle, when I shall hasten to her side as gladly as in days of yore.
"On the fourteenth day of February
From Hampton Roads we set sail,
All bound for old La Guayra
Upon the Spanish Main.
The captain called all hands right aft
And unto them did say.
'Here's money for you to-day, my boys,
Tomorrow we're going to sea.'
"It was early the next morning,
Just at the break of day,
When the man all at the mast-head
A strange sail did espy;
With her black flag flying all under her mizzen-peak,
Came bearing down this way.
'I'll be bound for to say it's a pirate-ship,'
Bold Daniel then did say.
"It was just three hours afterwards
When the pirate came up alongside,
With a loud and speaking trumpet,
And, 'What do you here?' he cried.
'My ship is the Roving Easy,
Bold Daniel is my name,
And I'm bound down to La Guayra
All on the Spanish Main.'
" 'Come heave a' back your main top-sail
And bring your ship under my lee
'I'll be blowed if I will!' said Daniel,
'I'd rather sink at sea.'
Then he ran up his undaunted flag,
Our lives to terrify,
And his big guns on our small arms
He straightway did let fly.
"It was the hour of ten, my boys,
When this battle first began,
They mounted four six-pounders,
We fought a hundred men.
Four small guns were our only arms,
Our hands were twenty-two;
In less than twenty minutes
The pirates cried 'Perdu!'
"And now the fight is ended,
All off the Columbia shore;
'Tis a pretty place in America,
They call it Baltimore.
So here's a health to Bold Daniel,
Likewise his jovial crew,
Who fought and sunk the pirate ship,
With his four, and twenty-two."
* * *
THE "LAUGHING MARY," with all sails set, flew merrily along before the wind, as she rounded Pemaquid Point on her homeward run from Boston to Loud's Island, on a certain beautiful afternoon in early spring, year 1810.
At the helm, her master, Captain William Solomon Loud, otherwise Captain Solomon or, more familiarly, Captain Sol, a robust, middle-aged man of dark and striking appearance, sang feelingly, though with more regard to emphasis than rhythm, a sailor's ballad very popular at that time, narrating the exploits of one "Bold Daniel."
In the rendering of this ditty, the vowels were either clipped short or elongated, as required to accommodate the queer, old-fashioned tune. "Perdu" was unhesitatingly translated, "more blue," and the hated word, "pirate," pronounced as if spelled p-y-r-i-t, was ejected from the singer's lips with indescribable venom. Captain Solomon, having had first-hand experience with the despicable breed in his day, knew whereof he sang.
He was in a happy frame of mind, and with good cause; he had disposed of the cargo of wood, which he had carried to Boston, at a good profit, and was now returning, laden with provision, also a frugal supply of tobacco and good West India rum, for the use of himself and neighbors; and was passing dangerous Pemaquid Point (as yet unlighted) in broad daylight and under clear skies, after touching at Portsmouth, N. H., where he had been successful in persuading Robert Oram, a young carpenter, of whom he had been told, to come with him to the Island and there ply his trade for a season.
This youth, who, though but twenty-one years of age, was very skillful at building the frame-dwellings then coming to take the place of the primitive log cabins, which up to this time had been the only style of architecture in use on Loud's Island, made his appearance on deck, while the echo of the rousing toast to Bold Daniel, yet rent the surrounding air. He was greeted cheerfully by his perspiring employer, who proceeded to entertain him with tales of the historic coast of old Bristol, now in plain view; he, in turn rendering an account of his former life and history.
He told of his father, Captain Robert Oram, memories of whom the old song had awakened, who, having come from England to settle in Portsmouth, was taken captive by the French, in 1798 or '99, while in command of the ship, Industry, and had returned, after his release, only to meet death by drowning, when master of another craft, which was lost off Cape Cod.
Very tenderly he spoke of the pious training received by himself and brother, William, at the hand of their widowed mother; their home being in a house built and owned by Captain Oram in Kittery, just across the line from Portsmouth.1
As Captain Loud listened to this story, told in a simple, straightforward manner, unadorned by the profanity common to this time, and observed more closely the physical aspect of the stranger, not tall but splendidly proportioned, with honest, dark eyes, gazing from a fair and open countenance, he felt that he had been wise in his choice of a man, who must become as one of his own family during the many months necessary for the completion of the new dwelling, which his prosperous circumstances now warranted.
Thus occupied, the time passed quickly and they soon dropped anchor within snug little Marsh harbor.
The same sun which had glorified this beautiful spot to please the eye of the first Loud to come to its shores, now shed its rays on earth and sea, yet on a far different scene. Now, many large clearings broke the monotony of the forest and the cozy cabins of the inhabitants encircled the harbor, with their green fields and rich pasture-land; while in place of the unbroken solitude, greeting that lonely exile, these arrivals were met by a number of sea-tanned fishermen, who, on observing the approach of the Laughing Mary, had hastened to the shore in order to grasp the hand of her jovial captain, and to receive news of the outer world, from which they were practically isolated.
The stranger was bluffly introduced and warmly welcomed, as would be any man for whom Captain Solomon was voucher.
"Ever set foot on furrin sile afore?" inquired one old salt, with a waggish wink in the direction of his companions, who chuckled appreciatively at the newcomer's polite though mystified reply.
This peculiar question was later explained by the captain, as a covert allusion to the very peculiar political situation of the island, which, though lying within less than two miles of the coast of Bristol, through a peculiarity in its recording by the U. S. coast surveyors, could not be positively claimed by that town. Hence the jocular allusion to foreign soil.
The cabin, soon to be vacated in favor of a more pretentious dwelling, was a great improvement on those occupied by the first settlers, being much better lighted and more roomy. The immense chimney, built of bricks brought from the kilns at Round Pond, ascending through the center of the building, contained two wide fireplaces as well as the capacious brick oven. The "best room," considered too good for use, was seldom opened, the busy home-life being lived in the pleasant, spacious kitchen.
Into this room, which he soon learned to love, the young man was conducted, coming unannounced upon the captain's quiet wife and youngest daughter, Mary, who has been described as "Loud's Island's fairest daughter," engaged in preparing the evening meal. A great black pot hung over the blazing fire, bubbled odorously as Mary stirred its contents, making an excuse for her glowing cheeks, as she offered her shy greetings and received her father's resounding kiss.
Other members of the family soon appeared, while the captain was eagerly relieved of the precious packets containing coffee, tea, white sugar and "gewgaws" for his "women folks." Portions of snuff were also brought forth from his bulging pockets and set aside for the cheering of several aged friends.
On the arrival of the two manly sons of the house, comprising the crew of the Laughing Mary, who had followed their father after making things shipshape on board that trim craft, all sat down to a table loaded with bountiful, if coarse fare, the guest seated at the right hand of Mistress Loud, and all doing their kindly best to put him at his ease among them.
As darkness fell, tallow candles were lighted and neighbors began to arrive for an evening's visit, as was always their custom on the occasion of the captain's return from a coasting trip.
The women whispered among themselves or listened quietly to the conversation of the men, their knitting-needles flashing in the flickering light; for from the early hour of rising until they retired to rest at night, they found no time for idleness, even the little girls' in their quaint, homespun gowns, applying themselves busily to their "stents.''
From his unobtrusive seat in the chimney-corner the stranger had good opportunity to observe these people, whom he afterward found to be upright and God-fearing, though, naturally, not entirely free from the prevailing vices; engaged in wresting a hardly-earned living from sea and land, with courageous hearts and smiling faces.
Their speech was a peculiar mixture of the stilted English employed by the first settlers, intermingled with the uncouth language of a less polished generation, a soft drawl blending its crudities into a pleasing vernacular.
The captain, from the depths of his great chair, satisfied the curiosity of his neighbors as to the doings in Boston and along the coast, after which he skilfully guided the conversation to topics of more interest to the quiet listener.
Sprawling his great length comfortably in the warmth of the cheerful blaze, he spoke of his own boyhood, thus leading the most reserved to relate tales of the pioneer life.
Stories were repeated of the adventurous existence of the first settler (Captain Solomon's father) and of his brave wife, the sound of whose boatswain's shrill call was said yet to haunt the scenes of her troubled life.
Tales, also, were told of the dreaded "sea-sarpint," which had struck terror to the heart of many a sailor hereabouts, in earlier days. One present gave a vivid description of its awe-inspiring appearance, as related to him by his father, who had once seen it as it propelled its horrible length through the sea, with scaly head erect and ugly eyes gleaming.
The captain remembered well the terrorized condition of the unprotected dwellers on these coasts during the "hard times" of the Revolution; when, after the burning of Falmouth, in October, 1775, they hourly expected annihilation at the hands of the British, their fears, happily, being unrealized.
Harbor Island, home of poor, brave Mistress McCobb, where she was left alone, the sole provider for her half-dozen small children, after the departure of her husband, Samuel McCobb, to serve in the Continental army, was the only place in this vicinity visited by the enemy.
One morning in the spring of '76, an English cruiser dropped anchor before her cabin door and landed six young sailors, with their superior officer, in quest of plunder.
On being disappointed in their search, these young despoilers, in a spirit of malicious mischief, began uprooting the poles on which her young beans were beginning to climb.
As the destruction of these vines meant certain hunger, if not actual starvation, to her small family, the desperate mother seized one of the prostrate poles and, recklessly charging the unprepared enemy, drove them from her domain.
"There must be some good in the English, I guess," said the captain in concluding this tale, "for the officer ordered them all on board ship, telling them to 'Leave the old woman and her beans alone.' "
Among the more venerable guests were two of the island's very early settlers, William Carter, an honest, intelligent Scotchman, the first to intrude on William Loud's lone occupation, who had arrived just previous to the Revolutionary War; and Leonard Poland, a jocular Englishman, who had settled on "Ma'sh" (Marsh) Island directly following the war's successful close.2 There were, also, William Jones, John Thompson, John Murphy and others, following later, yet in the prime of their vigorous manhood.
They talked with pleasure of the by-gone days, their whimsical conversation intermixed with quips and jokes, at the expense of those giving too free rein to their galloping imaginations; but their faces darkened when they spoke of their unfair treatment at the hands of Bristol, in which town they had paid taxes, since first levied there in 1766; yet had received none of the advantages of citizenship in return.
It grew late, and, heeding the captain's suggestive glances toward the face of the old clock, the guests took their departure; the weary youth climbing with the "boys" to his bed in the loft, to dream of Indians, pioneers, and a hideous sea-serpent fleeing before a pirateship, flying at its mast-head the captain's great, blue stocking, much resembling the one on which his daughter had so busily knitted.
Work upon the new house was begun immediately following the arrival of the young carpenter, and, observed with lively interest by the admiring natives, was carried on indefatigably by its industrious builder and his willing assistants; the great frame being hewed from heavy oak and mortised and braced firmly into shape.
When this frame, after many days of hard labor, neared completion, there was great bustling and hurrying among the women of the household, whereat every available pot and pan was mustered into service and the well-heated brick-oven was filled and emptied and filled again with the food necessary for the proper celebration of the event of the "raising."
At length the day arrived, and with it came the people from all parts of the island, the women to assist in the preparation and serving of the feast for the men, who, at the direction of the builder, heaved and hauled with might and main, in their effort to erect the massive frame over the cellar which awaited it. As time passed the pace grew fast and furious, amid a great noise and confusion of tongues; the workmen's spirits rising in proportion to the rapid settling of the contents of the keg, which Captain Solomon had provided for the occasion, in accordance with the prevailing fashion.
The master-workman plainly showed his disapproval of this custom and spoke out in the blunt way which was his custom when strongly moved, much to the astonishment of his hearers.
After the frame had been successfully set in position, with a great cheer, echoing far and wide, they repaired to the cabin, where Mistress Loud had superintended the spreading of such a feast as would appease even their ravenous appetites.
After the tables had been removed from the kitchen, old-fashioned dances and games, in which none were either too old or too young to join, were continued until the company was too weary to enjoy the fun.
Candy-pulls, huskings and quiltings came in their season; while spinning bees, each spinner with her wheel going 'cross lots to the home of some neighbor, whose quiet kitchen would become a droning hive of industry, until the great mass of fleecy rolls had been reduced to skeins of yarn for weaving or knitting, were greatly favored by the matrons of the island.
Wool-pickings, consisting of the freeing of newly sheared fleeces from foreign substances were attended by one and all. Each of these gatherings was generally made the excuse for some simple frolic at its close, in all of which Mary Loud was the leading spirit.
Robert Oram entered freely into the innocent pleasures of the islanders, respected and well-liked, in spite of his plain-speaking on occasion.
He had received a fair education and was very well informed by means of much reading and was an interesting narrator from the fund of anecdotes and reminiscences, with which his mind was stored; all of which served to make his presence a welcome addition to the restricted life on the island.
He soon became acquainted with the simple rules governing the community. A school was maintained by the payment of a proportionate sum by the parents of each scholar, in a schoolhouse built by the early settlers, of rough stones, situated near the center of the island — the teacher "boarding 'round." This same building served as a place of worship, also the place for holding all business meetings. Their only official was a school agent, having full charge of all affairs relating to the public welfare.
Their poor, who were few, were assisted by their more prosperous neighbors, without ostentation; of vicious, there was none. If such a thing be possible they were, without laws, a law-abiding people, conducting with wisdom their own affairs, with neither outside aid nor interference.
Meanwhile work on the new house progressed slowly, as doors, windows and all wood-work must be fashioned by hand; but it was finished at last and Robert Oram had no excuse for remaining longer on the island; yet the "season" for which he had been engaged was prolonged to a lifetime, when Mary Loud consented to become his wife.
They settled on the western coast and on this spot the remainder of their busy, useful lives was spent. He was made deacon of the local Baptist society and frequently held the honorable office of school agent; so great being his desire for the education of the children, that he taught the little school himself, when the services of no other teacher could be procured for the small wages paid.
His rough land was developed into a fertile farm, and here, to them, were born ten children, eight of whom lived to found homes of their own, though not upon Loud's Island.
The frame for the new house, which he was obliged to build for the accommodation of his increasing family, lay upon the ground for one year, while his neighbors tried to shake the "Deacon's" firm refusal to furnish intoxicants for the "raising." That sturdy advocate of temperance, in an intemperate time, replied to their arrogant demands: "If my house cannot be raised without rum, it can rot upon the ground."
This house, which was finally erected, and without rum, still stands on the island, now being the home of Mrs. Carl Svensen.
So his honorable life was passed in the difficult tilling of the soil and in the plying of his trade, upon the island or adjacent mainland, where many examples of his handiwork yet stand. The house, at Bristol, occupied by his grandson and namesake, bears mute evidence to the perfection of his craftsmanship.3 Yet he was always able to find time to work or speak for the good of the community in which he lived, and reared his family "in the fear of God and love of man," until his untimely death in 1854.
During his life-time Robert Oram believed that the island taxes were illegally collected by the authorities of Bristol and tried to bestir the natives to some action; but they hesitated to pit their strength against the keener wits on the mainland. After his death this belief was sustained by the courts, when a younger generation of islanders, remembering his counsel, appealed for relief from taxation, when the island vote, which had turned the tide at a Bristol election, was thrown out.
Thus, though the natives are denied franchise (which they do not regret), Loud's Island has received an unique independence, very satisfactory to its inhabitants.
Captain William Loud lies in an unmarked grave; the only tangible evidences of his having lived being the old deed, by which he received Muscongus Island from Shem Drowne, and which is still on record, and the original commission, issued to him by Governor Shirley, which is now in the possession of one of his descendants.
The ashes of Robert Oram, the "strong man of Loud's Island," rest in the little island cemetery, a great boulder from the fields which were once his own, adorned with a splendid bronze tablet, the tribute of his appreciative descendants, marking his place of burial.
1 This house is still standing, a part of the hotel there. His descendants have never benefited by the settlement of the French claims, owing to the loss of all records, in a fire, which destroyed the Custom House, at Portsmouth.
2 The descendants of this man are still in possession of Marsh Island.
3 Robert Oram built Commodore Tucker's house at Bremen in 1830.