American History and Genealogy Project


Four Forts of Pemaquid

Forts, Pirates and Indians!! Are there any three words which would grip the average boy harder and hold before him better the Great Adventure? Where were these four wonderful forts, is the first question. If you will follow the jagged coastline of Maine from Portland to beyond where the Damariscotta River flows into the ocean, you will find a long point of land marked Pemaquid, at the south end of which stands a noted lighthouse. This point is about three miles long and extends to the mouth of the Pemaquid River where that meets Johns Bay and forms the inner harbor and nearly surrounds a small peninsula of about eighteen acres upon which the four forts have been erected. Here, too, were found the buried paved streets, of which no one knows the history, and hundreds of walled cellars, which have been mostly filled up. That little spot holds more history to the square foot than any town in Maine. This point forms the east side of the great bay, which with its island in the center, was named by the celebrated Capt. John Smith of Pocahontas fame when he was sent to this country by the King of England in 1614, six years before the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. A few men had come there and built rough cabins for a bare shelter while they traded in fish and furs, bartered from the Indians in exchange for beads and bits of finery. Later other men came really to settle there; to build small houses; to farm the land as well as to engage in fishing.

The Indians, at first friendly, had been brought into the troubles between England and France, who in those days were always fighting each other. For the most part the tribes of Maine sided with France in the quarrel. The English had cheated them a bit more and had been much more cruel to them and now were trying to drive them away from the coast to the inland forests. The Indians, angered by these acts, often attacked small groups of settlers. Thus the pioneers at Pemaquid found they must have some protection against wandering bands of Indians, so they built a house called a block house. It was round without windows, but with loop-holes through which to put the muzzle of their muskets to fire on the foe. It was large enough to hold all the men, women and children of the settlement, though of course they were crowded. Around it was a high fence called a stockade which enclosed a yard where there was a well in case of siege.

Ten years after this fort was built on what is now called Fort Rock, while Captain Shurt was in command, there was an attack. Remember it was built to keep away the Indians and who do you suppose made that attack! Did you ever hear of Dixy Bull? All along our Maine coast were little schooners gathering up the fish caught and cured by the fishermen and the furs sold by the Indians and taking them either to Plymouth Colony or to the Mother Country (England). Every little while a pirate ship flaunting its black flag would sail along the shores, making an attack sometimes on a fishing boat and sometimes on the poor settlers. One of the boldest of these pirates was the famous Dixy Bull and in 1632 he swooped down on Shurt's fort, plundered it and plundered all the farms near. He was the leader of the whole pirate crew and lost but one man in this attack.


Old Fort Pemaquid
Old Fort Frederic, Pemaquid

Fort at Pemaquid as it Looks Today

When Gov. Winthrop at Boston learned of Bull's wicked deeds, he sent four small vessels with forty men aboard and others joined in the pursuit, determined to drive all pirates from the Maine coast. However, this time Dixy was quick enough to escape. Some years after he was captured and taken to England where he was severely punished.
The second fort at Pemaquid was called Fort Charles. It was built in 1677 under the direction of Sir Edmond Andros, then colonial governor of New York. Like the first fort, it was built of wood, two stories high, with a stockade or high fence around it. It also was built to keep the Indians away.

On Penobscot Bay at a place called Pentagoet (Castine) lived a Frenchman, Baron Castin, who owned a trading house there with a fort and Catholic Mission. In 1689 France and England were not in open war but were constantly making raids against each other. The year before, Andros had pillaged Castings house and now the Baron plotted revenge on Andros' fort at Pemaquid. He easily secured the help of the Indians because he had married the pretty young daughter of the celebrated chief, Madockawando, which made him a member of their tribe.

Castin sent three canoes ahead to see that the way was clear and the plan was for them to wait two leagues from the fort, probably at what is now Round Pond. After landing, they marched, with great caution, toward the settlement. On their way, they took three prisoners, from whom they learned that about 100 men were in the fort and village.
One of the three captives was named Starkey and, in exchange for his own liberty, he told the Indians that at that particular time only a few men were in the fort, as Mr. Giles, with a party of fourteen men, had gone up to his farm to work, three miles up the Pemaquid River. The Indians, thereupon, divided their little army. Part, going up to the Falls, killed Giles; the rest started for the fort and took their position between the fort and the village, so as to cut off the men as they came in from the fields where they were at work.

The firing between the Fort and the Indians ceased only with darkness, when the besiegers summoned the commander to surrender the fort and received as a reply from someone within that "he was greatly fatigued and must have some sleep."

At dawn, the firing on both sides was renewed; but soon the firing from the fort ceased and Lieut. James Weems, the commander, agreed to surrender. Terms were made, the commander soon came out, at the head of 14 men, all that remained of the garrison. With them came some women and children with packs on their backs.

The terms of surrender included the men of the garrison and the few people of the village who had been so fortunate as to get into the fort, with the three English captives who had previously escaped from the Indians. They were allowed to take what-ever they could carry in their hands and to depart before, from Capt. Padeshall, who was killed as he was landing from his boat. All the men and women and children of the place who had not been in the fort and had not been killed in the fight, were compelled to leave with the Indians for the Penobscot River. They made the passage, some in birch-bark canoes and the rest in two captured sloops. The whole number of captives thus taken was about 50; but how many were killed no one knows exactly. The number of soldiers killed was about 16. Weems himself was badly burned in the face by an accidental explosion of gunpowder.

One of the captives was Grace Higiman and the following story of her experiences in captivity will interest you.
"On the second day of August, 1689, the day Pemaquid was assaulted and taken by the Indians, I was there taken prisoner and carried away by them, one Eken by name, a Canadian Indian, pretending to have a right to me, and to be my master. The Indians carried away myself and other captives (about 50 in number) unto the Fort of Penobscot. I continued there for about three years, removing from place to place as the Indians occasionally went, and was very hardly treated by them both in respects of provisions and clothing, having nothing but a torn blanket to cover me during the winter seasons, and oftentimes cruelly beaten. After I had been with the Indians three years, they carried me to Quebeck and sold me for forty crowns unto the French there who treated me well, gave me my liberty, and I had the King's allowance of provisions, as also a room provided for me, and liberty to work for myself. I continued there for two years and a half."

In 1692 after Sir William Phips, the first Colonial Governor of Massachusetts, of which Maine was then a part, had captured Port Royal, he came to Pemaquid to arrange to have a strong fort built which should maintain the rights of England to that eastern territory and prevent attack of the Indians on the western settlements. He knew this part of Maine well as his boyhood had been spent here. The new fort was built of stone, about 700 feet square. It had fourteen mounted guns, about half of them 18 pounders; the sea wall was 22 feet high with a round tower somewhat taller toward the west, built around the great rock at the west corner which the Indians had used to capture Fort Charles; two hundred cart-loads of stone were put into the building; sixty men were left for its defense. This fort was a great annoyance to the Indians as it was on their direct line of travel on the sea coast.

Another trouble was arising between two French frigates and two British ships sent out to capture them. D 'Iberville, commander of the French, allied himself with Baron Castin who brought with him two hundred Penobscot Indians. D 'Iberville had one hundred more aboard his ships, while Villieu, a French officer with twenty-five French soldiers, joined them. The three ships made sail for Pemaquid, the Indians covering the distance in their canoes.

The next day, August 14th, they ordered the fort to surrender. Its captain, Pasco Chubb, a born fighter, sent back word. "If the sea was covered with French vessels and the land with Indians, I would not surrender."

During the night the French came ashore with guns and the next day from a high bluff began throwing bombshells inside the fort. The soldiers and the people gathered within the fort probably had the surprise of their lives. Here, then, were bomb-shells, brought into use, probably, for the first time in the history of warfare in this country. It is certain the English had no bomb-proof covers for the protection of those within the fort. Consternation and despair came with this new shrieking element of destruction; for it seemed that they were gathered like a helpless flock of sheep, to perish together.

Then Castin sent a letter into the fort, which informed them that if they would surrender, they should be transported to a place of safety, and receive protection from the savages; but if they were taken by assault, they would have to deal with the Indians and must expect no quarter.

Terms of surrender were agreed upon by the officers of the fort. All marched out and were taken to one of the islands nearby for protection from the Indians while Villieu, with sixty French soldiers, took possession of the fort. They found an Indian confined with irons in the fort, who had been a prisoner since the previous February. He was in pitiable condition.

The fourth fort was named Fort Frederic, in honor of the young Prince of Wales. It was built in the spring of 1729, by David Dunbar, who came to Pemaquid from England for that express purpose, bringing his family with him. He had a royal commission as governor, from the British government, authorizing him to rebuild the fort, as the Massachusetts government had failed to do it.

Many bloody tales of warfare might be related, concerning Fort Frederic, stirring tales of adventures and records of trials endured by these hardy border settlers. One of the tales handed down, relates how the Indians, on one of their unexpected visits, found a mother with her two daughters, picking berries some distance from the fort. All fled for protection toward the fort and the mother and the older girl reached it, barely escaping with their lives. The younger girl, not more than eleven years old, was seized and scalped. And now comes the remarkable part of the story. The savages threw the little girl, whom they supposed to be dying, on a pile of rocks, where the sun shone directly down on her unprotected head. The kindly, healing rays of the sun quickly dried the blood and stopped any further flow and her life was saved. And so she lived to grow up, one of the very few who ever survived the scalping knife.

When the French and Indian war closed with the fall of Quebec, in 1759, the usefulness of the fort was ended. After a few years of peace, in 1762, the great cannon were carried away to Boston.

When the Revolution began, April 19, 1775, Pemaquid people became alarmed and, in town meeting, voted to tear down the old fort, so that the British could not use it against them.

Today, near Pemaquid Beach, you may see the ruins of the old fort, marked by the old Fort Rock of Pemaquid, with the date of 1607 upon it. This is the date of the landing of the Popham colonists, the first English people at that place, August 8 and 10, 1607, thirteen years before the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

Indian Horn
Indian Horn

Horn presented by the Indians to the commander of Fort Frederic. The accompanying sketch was carved on the horn, and is supposed to picture historic scenes at Pemaquid. The tall spired church as an emblem of English worship, indicated a religious community; the water sketching of the little river Pemaquid with varied navigation afloat, indicated the commercial aptitude and business of the Fort Frederic Settlement in the early period of English life there; the turkey cock, fish and deer are indications of the resources in game and the industries in furs and fisheries - fishery predominating.

Fort Rock is now surrounded by the old castle, restored on the original foundations and with most of the original stone of which it was first built by Sir William Phips in 1692. This foundation was discovered in 1893, in good condition, after being buried and forgotten since the American Revolution.

Here, also, is the old Fort House on its beautiful peninsula, with its "field of Graves," the site of the ancient capital of Pemaquid, with its paved streets, which had been buried for centuries and only discovered by accident, to remind us of a people long ago forgotten.

Note. - The material in this story is from Cartland's "Twenty Years at Pemaquid."

Source: Maine My State, The Maine Writers Research Club, The Journal Print Shop, Lewiston, Maine, 1919

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