Four hundred years ago, the locals called the Androscoggin, from Merrymeeting Bay to the falls at Lewiston, the Pejepscot River. The tidal river between Topsham and Brunswick was named after a long-ago native people.
Even by the 1600s, foreigners had been exploring and fishing along those shores for many years. One sailor, whose team rowed a whaling boat up the Pejepscot, described the “scenery [as] wild and romantick.”* Huge oaks leaned over the water, creating sheltering coves. A bald eagle screamed a warning as the craft glided on the incoming tide, later diving silently to the river’s surface, then rising with a fish in its talons. Silver sturgeon longer than a man is tall leaped up and out of the water, as they had been doing since prehistoric times. Salmon teamed just beneath the surface. Ponds, large and small, formed behind beaver damns along the shore. Dusk brought a red wolf to a meadow’s edge, a white-tailed deer in its sights.
Between 1628 and 1675, Englishman Thomas Purchase and his family profited greatly from the area’s natural abundance. He traded with the locals for furs and beaver pelts, as well as lumber. His crew fished for salmon and sturgeon. These were processed for storage, perhaps on Fish House Hill, near the site of today’s Daniel Stone Inn on Brunswick’s Water Street. The men burned the plentiful wood to dry their catch – once packing thirty-seven barrels of salmon and ninety kegs of sturgeon in three weeks. They would have dried more, but they ran out of salt to cure the fish.
Two hundred years later, in 1856, workers grading Woodlawn Street below the Stone property unearthed two European skeletons. These may have been two of Purchase’s fishermen, making Fish Hill one of the first European burying grounds in Brunswick.
Over the next forty years, English settlements grew on both sides of the Pejepscot as locals sold and resold land rights. In 1669, Thomas Gyles and his brother James sailed from the port of Boston to buy land at Pleasant Point on the Topsham shore. It wouldn’t be long, though, before Gyles, Purchase, and others abandoned their water-view homes.
On June 24, 1675, King Philip’s War commenced at the Plymouth Colony. By September that year, the battle reached Pejepscot. Though the Natives had initially bartered pelts, fish, and timber with the settlers, years of being cheated by Purchase and otherwise misused by the English had eroded friendly relations between the two groups.
A party of twenty Native Americans, finding Purchase and his son away from their home, robbed the dwelling, taking weapons, powder for the guns, and liquor; and ripping up the feather beds. They also “killed a calf and several sheep.”* The war party, however, did not harm Mrs. Purchase or the others at the home.
Just a few days later, twenty-five settlers sailed down river to New Meadows to help Purchase harvest corn. There they found several Native Americans plundering houses, as well as three lookouts in the woods. The lookouts fled toward the river, but the English shot and killed one man, and wounded a second who escaped by canoe. When the settlers completed their harvest, the Natives attacked, wounding several Englishmen. The Natives loaded their canoes with freshly harvested corn and went back home.
The following year, after the Natives burned down Purchase’s home, he and most of the other English settlers left Pejepscot.
After the war ended in 1676, the land abandoned by the settlers was bought by investors like Mr. Richard Wharton, who received a deed for the use of much of the land and waterways of Pejepscot in July of 1684. Wharton met with six local leaders at the Fort at Pejepscot, on an island on the Topsham shore.
Image from Wheelers’ “History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell,” 1878.*
The six local grantors, Warumbee, Darumkine, Wihikermet, Wedon Domhegon, Nehonongasset, and Numbenewet, were Native American “Sagamores.” It was their ancestors who had granted land to Purchase, the Gyles brothers, and other English foreigners years earlier.
Peace between the Natives and the foreigners lasted a decade. In mid-winter, at the beginning of King William’s War in 1688, New England’s Governor Andros and one thousand soldiers sailed to Pejepscot. Andros found ‘the weather…exceedingly cold, the snow deep, and the travelling exceedingly tedious.’* He ordered his men to build a large stone fort on a high point overlooking the Brunswick side of Pejepscot falls.
Despite the safety promised by the shelter of Fort Andros, the settlers once again left for safer locales. Only the garrisoned soldiers remained.
Periodically, the locals united with French foreigners to battle the English foreigners. There would be other skirmishes and another war before the Pejepscot Proprietors were able to entice families to come back to Pejepscot.
Next Blog: They’re Baaack!
- Desmarais, Barbara A. Pejepscot River from Topsham looking toward Brunswick. July 24, 2016. Digital Image. Androscoggin from Topsham side.jpg.
- Flickr.com. Red wolf watching deer at Cades Cove – Great Smoky Mountain. 2004. Color image, B. Crawford, USFWS, https://www.flickr.com/photos/trackthepack/6350, accessed July 30, 2016.
- National Archives. Environmental Protection Agency: RG:412. Pleasant Point on Merrymeeting Bay in the Brunswick Area Near the Confluence of the Androscoggin sand Kennebec Rivers. 12.2/1970. DOCUMERICA: The Environmental Protection Agency’s Program to Photographically Document Subjects of Environmental Concern. National Archives Identifier: 550750. Local Identifier: 412-DA-8265. Pleasant Point 11-0386a.gif. https://catalog.archives.gov/search?q=androscoggin%20river, accessed July 26, 2016.
- Osher Map Library. Brunswick Village Town of Brunswick from Cumberland County Atlas. Brunswick, Maine. Anonymous/No Author, 1871. Accession No: OML-1871-10. http://www.oshermaps.org/map/11717.0001, accessed July 30, 2016. .
- *Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/index.html, accessed July 30, 2016.