In 1735, after nearly two decades of living amongst one another, English and Ulster Scot settlers of Brunswick petitioned the legislature to incorporate their town. Document signers included Ulster Scot blacksmith Andrew Dunning and his sons David and James, as well as the British captain of Fort George, Benjamin Larrabee.
Though the legislature approved the request, Gov. Jonathan Belcher did not sign the document. Brunswick’s status as a settlement remained unchanged.
Brunswick society continued to ebb and flow much as it had before. In 1736 the first captain of Fort George, John Gyles, retiring in Massachusetts, published his memoir of captivity with the Wabinaki and French in Acadia. Andrew Dunning died, followed in 1737 by his wife Susan Bond. Both were buried in the brand-new graveyard behind the equally new First Parish Meeting House. In 1737 Capt. Larrabee and John Minot purchased a silver communion service for the meeting house. That year, too, Richard Jaques, the impetuous soldier who shot Father Sebastien Rale during Lovewell’s War, moved his family to Merriconeag Neck.
Perhaps the most significant change happened that April when the legislature voted to dismantle Fort George. Eight prominent Brunswick citizens, on behalf of fifty-nine families in Brunswick and Topsham, protested with another petition. They argued that the next nearest fort was an arduous twenty miles away in Richmond, either on foot through dangerous untamed terrain or via an even longer water route up the Kennebec “…[s]o that there is more probability of our being…[relieved]…by Castle William [in Boston], than from…” Fort Richmond. The petitioners added that Capt. Larrabee’s judicious and cautious dealings to calm relations between the Natives and settlers would be for naught without continued military support.
The settlers were well afraid of the Native people, who continued to gather along the shores of Merrymeeting Bay as they had been doing long before Europeans crossed the Atlantic:
“…and further we beg leave to observe to yr Excellie & Honrs that Brunswick, time without mind, has been the place of the annual Randevouze of all the tribes, which always has been licentious, vile, and Riotous, but now in a great measure broak by the prudent care and circumspection of the present Comander, in his civil & military Capacity, the former useless were it not Joyn’d and Suported by the latter: what can yr Petitioners expect, upon the dismantling the fort. but to be the Melancoly Spectators, or rather the helpless miserable Sufferers under the returns of their wild extravigances, to the great danger of our lives & libertyes…
“That their love cant be depended upon is obvious to us, conversant among them, who look upon us, as unjust usurpers & intruders upon their rights and priviledges, and spoilers of their idle way of living.”
In the end, the Massachusetts’s legislature ignored the plea for military aid. Instead of assigning more soldiers or strengthening the fortress walls, they sent more goods for Capt. Larrabee to distribute to the Native people in hopes of buying their “love” and loyalty.
Perhaps in response to this lack of support from Massachusetts, Brunswick citizens once again petitioned for incorporation, sending Capt. Larrabee to Boston to argue their case. This time when the legislature voted to grant the request, Gov. Belcher signed the bill. In February 1739 Brunswick became the eleventh corporate town in Maine. Brunswick’s extra measure of self-rule meant “…the Inhabitants thereof shall have and enjoy all such immunities, privilege and powers as Generally other Towns in this Province have and do by Law enjoy.”
Privilege did not include military protection by Massachusetts, however. Feeling in constant danger from the Wabanaki and French, and perhaps anticipating the War of Jenkins’ Ear reaching the American colonies, some families constructed their own garrison houses. Others fortified their existing homes by lining the walls with four-inch studs to stop bullets, then cut four-inch openings so they could safely shoot back at their attackers. Eventually eight garrison houses were scattered across the town, in addition to the blockhouse at Maquoit that was under Capt. William Woodside’s command.
Construction was costly. The families had to purchase building supplies to fortify the homes, as well as weapons and ammunition. The hours spent felling trees, preparing boards, and erecting the buildings took time away from tending livestock and crops. Selectmen Samuel Hinckley, Robert Speer, and David Dunning, in a petition to Massachusetts to relieve the citizens of the 1740 tax levy, cited these same building costs as the source of great poverty amongst the settlers.
Through it all, the colonial government remained confident that they could buy peace with the Native people, so they sent very few soldiers to Brunswick. By 1742, Capt. Benjamin Larrabee’s troops at the fort numbered only six, including his son Nathaniel and his “Negro servant” Pompey. For their part, the Wabanaki continued to interfere with the settlers’ salmon fishing locally, while the French harassed British cod fishermen off the coast of Acadia. Farmers continued to carry guns to work their fields and, at the tower of one Topsham blockhouse, women spent their days spinning wool or flax as they kept a lookout for Native warriors.
When the call came to send soldiers to Louisbourg, local men were more than ready to enlist.
Next Blog: A Pig’s Ear: The First Battle of Louisbourg
- Maine Historical Society. Peopling Maine. Maine Memory Network: Maine History Online © 2000-2010. https://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/879/page/1290/print. Accessed May 29, 2018.
- Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. and Henry Warren Wheeler. (Wheelers’) History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. (Wheelers’) Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/index.html. Accessed May 25, 2018.
- Images and Tables compiled or reproduced from Wheelers’.