The Fort That John Built

casco_bay-blog

The Harbour of Casco Bay and Islands Adjacent by Capt. Cyprian Southicke. 1720. Boston Public Library. Annoted by B. Desmarais.

 

The year was 1715. Some twenty years earlier, during King William’s War (1689-1697), Native American and French soldiers had forced the British to abandon some New England settlements. Now a Boston-based investment group strove to profit from the abandoned Pejepscot Plantation on Casco Bay in Maine.

Calling themselves the Pejepscot Proprietors, the eight men reached an agreement with the Massachusetts legislature to resettle the plantation. The legislature, in turn, agreed to provide £500 toward the construction of a new fort there, and to supply fifteen soldiers to man it.

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The Harbour of Casco Bay and Islands Adjacent by Capt. Cyprian Southicke. 1720. Boston Public Library. Annotated by B. Desmarais.

 

That August, four New England sloops sailed up the Kennebec River and into the Androscoggin until they reached the first set of waterfalls. In those days the river accommodated vessels as large as sixty tons. They carried everything necessary to build a fort: men, a team of horses, building materials, tools, and food.

Capt. John Wentworth, one of the Pejepscot Proprietors, piloted a vessel from Piscatequa, New Hampshire, filled with almost 11,000 board feet of pine planks. Another sloop carried 500 bushels of shell lime and forty hogsheads of stone lime from Newbury, Mass. A third arrived from Boston with:

‘…Bricks, Shingles, Clapboards, Nails, Provisions, a horse Team, Six Wheelbarrows, Arms, Crows, Pickaxes, Mauls, Shovels, Blankets, Kettles, Pails, Dishes, Horse Cart, Ox Cart, and a pair of Trucks.’

The fourth sloop may have carried Capt. John Gyles and his fifteen soldiers. John Gyles was the same man who had survived a decade of enslavement as a prisoner during King William’s War.

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Dead wood by Barbara A. Desmarais. August 31, 2016.

 

English settlers landing at Pejepscot a century before had heard eagles screaming from the tops of the ancient oaks that draped the shoreline. The new arrivals, though, saw embankments lined with blackened tree trunks, young saplings poking through the ruins. They disembarked onto a land ravaged by war, its plains barren, dotted here and there with small stands of pine.

Even the zigzag fort built some twenty-five years earlier was nothing but rubble. That’s because during the war, enemy troops commanded by Chief Obomsawin had dug an underground passage to Fort Andros, planning to place enough gunpowder beneath the wall to blow it up. Though the English had interrupted the excavation, the Natives eventually took possession of the compound and demolished it.

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Steelyards by Augustin Privat-Deschenel, 1884. Florida Center for Technology.

 

Physical evidence of Obomsawin’s campaign remained for nearly two centuries. The tunnel’s depression was still visible after the Revolutionary War. Still later, when nineteenth century diggers removed the last of the stone from the site, they uncovered the skeleton of a man with a gun and a pair of steelyards (scales) beneath the remains of a chimney, presumably a soldier or settler killed during battle.

The site for the new fort was mainly ledge, perhaps to prevent tunneling underneath. Where there was no ledge, masons used flat stones mortared with lime to build the foundation three feet below ground. They may have recycled material from the crumbled Fort Andros.

It wasn’t long before the locals protested this latest English attempt to settle Pejepscot. Gyles was in no way dissuaded by the Native Americans before him. He wrote some years later:

Soon after our arrival there the Indians came in the night, and forbid our laying one stone upon another. I told them I came with orders from Governor Dudley to build a fort, and if they disliked it they might acquaint him with it; and that if they came forcibly upon us, they or I should fall on the spot. After such like hot words they left us, and we went on with our building…

fort-george

Fort George, Brunswick by Daniel Stone. 1878. http://community.curtislibray.com/CML/wheeler/ww_pt2_ch23.html

 

And so, the work continued. Masons built three-foot thick, ten-foot high walls to form a fifty-by-fifty foot square. To this they added two bastions or projections for better defense, with space atop the wall to mount cannon. Within the fort, they erected a two-story house large enough to house the soldiers, plus future settlers, in the event of an attack.

After the foundations were completed, carpenters added two wooden half-bastions to the fortification. Then they finished the house, shingling the roof, building doors, window frames, and other fittings, and likely the furniture used by the occupants. (The house is in the center of the drawing, peeking above the surrounding walls.)

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Finally, on November 25th, 1715, Capt. John Gyles ordered his soldiers to raise the flag of their homeland over Fort George. Named for Great Britain’s newly crowned king, a German who spoke no English, the fort that John built was ready to protect the next wave of British immigrants.

Next Blog: Men with No Names

Sources:

  • Gyles, John. Introduction by Hannay, James. Nine years a captive, or, John Gyles’ experience among the Malicite Indians, from 1689 to 1698. Saint John, N.B.? : s.n. 1875. Internet Archive.  https://archive.org/stream/cihm_24033, accessed Sept. 3, 2016.
  • Johnson, Ben, editor. Kings and Queens of England and Britain, Historic UK. http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/KingsQueensofBritain/, accessed Oct. 11, 2016.
  • McKeen, John. Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. Brunswick, Curtis Memorial Library, 1985. Call No. 974-191.
  • Privat-Deschanel, A.(ugustin) Elementary Treatise on Natural Philosophy Part I. Mechanics, Hydrostatics, and Pneumatics. D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1884, 40. Florida Center for Instructional Technology. http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/53300/53379/53379_steelyard.htm, accessed Sept. 15, 2016.
  • Southicke, Cyprian. The Harbour of Casco Bay and Islands Adjacent. Richard Mount Thomas Page and Company, London, 1720. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. http://maps.bpl.org/id/17665, accessed Oct. 10, 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.

© Barbara A. Desmarais 2016

 

 

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About Barbara Desmarais

Writer and amateur historian
This entry was posted in Brunswick History and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Fort That John Built

  1. Bossy lot, those colonists. Efficient, though. What happened next?

  2. There’s plenty more story to come, Marilyn.

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