American History and Genealogy Project


Biographical Sketches of Early Settlers

Thomas Kench

Thomas Kench was the first white settler within the present territorial limits of Swan's Island. He was an Englishman by birth, and came here near 1777, and settled on Harbor Island. He built a log house and cleared a small farm, and soon" bought a cow and a few sheep. Here he lived like Robinson Crusoe, many years alone, no habitation visible; the nearest settlement was at Mt. Desert. The fishing boats passing this island, and seeing the smoke curling up above the trees from the chimney of this little isolated abode, would land to see who this lonely dweller could be. They found a reserved, eccentric man who did not encourage their visits. Many incredulous stories were told concerning him, but, no doubt, they had their origin in the minds of the imaginative fishermen.

Kench planted an oyster bed at Old Harbor, but it is not known whether it proved profitable or not. Oyster shells have been found in abundance in the soil around Mr. Kench's old cellar, which can still be seen near the shore of Old Harbor.

Kench was a Revolutionary soldier in the service of the American colonies, and was one of those who accompanied Benedict Arnold up the Kennebec river and across the wilderness to Quebec in 1775. During this march the soldiers suffered terribly from exposure and for want of food. When they arrived Arnold, in conjunction with Gen. Montgomery, with only one thousand men, besieged the city for three weeks. At last it was decided to hazard an assault. In the midst of a terrible snowstorm, they led their forces to the attack. Kench is said to have been one of the few who reached the top of the wall, but was obliged to jump down to save his life. They were soon overpowered by superior numbers, and were obliged to surrender. A remnant of the army, crouching behind mounds of snow and ice, blockaded the city until spring. At the approach of British reinforcements, they escaped and made their way homeward, disheartened by failure and sickened by want and exposure. Kench was among this small band of survivors of this most dreadful campaign of the Revolution.

Soon afterwards Kench deserted from the army, and came here, where he could be free from molestation, preferring the solitude of his island home to the horrors of warfare. No other person came to share his solitude, and he held undisputed possession of this island until after Swan's purchase, when, in 1791, David Smith brought his family to Harbor island.

In 1796 Kench removed from the place that had been his solitary abode for so many years, and went to what is now the town of Brooksville. There he bought of Edward Howard one hundred acres of land fronting on Buck's Harbor, for which he paid $100. (414.) He spent the remainder of his life as a farmer. He died there, over ninety years of age. His wife was Miss Jane Maker, of Cutler, whom he married soon after going to Brooksville, and by whom he had six children, three sons and three daughters. His sons Thomas and William lived and died at Brooksville. The other son, Stephen, settled in Dedham. His oldest daughter, Betsy, was the wife of a Mr. Witherspoon, who lived on Butter Island in Penobscot bay. Mary was the wife of John Ross, of Brunswick. After his death she married Jephtha Benson, who lived for many years on Marshall's island. After her second husband's death she came to this island and lived with her son until her death, which occurred in 1874, at the age of eighty-two years. The last daughter, Lucy, was the wife of a Mr. White, of Orland.

David Smith

David Smith, who was commonly called "King David", was the first permanent settler on this island. He was born in 1760, in New Hampshire, where he spent the early part of his life. He was married there and had three children. Concerning his first wife and children we have no record. When the Revolutionary war broke out, he was a lad sixteen years old. He left his home and enlisted in the New Hampshire regiment under Gen. Cilley. He served throughout the war, being in many of the engagements of the North. He fought at the battle of Bennington, Vermont, where, it will be remembered, the Americans had collected a large amount of supplies. Burgoyne sent a detachment under Col. Baum to seize them. Gen. Stark with the militia met him there. As Stark saw the British lines forming he exclaimed:

"There are the redcoats. We must beat them today, or Betty Stark is a widow."

His bravery so inspired these raw troops that they defeated the British regulars, and took six hundred prisoners. Smith was also at the battle of Bemis Heights, near Saratoga, where he was badly wounded. For his services during the Revolutionary war he received a pension during the remainder of his life.

After the close of the war he came to Maine, with many others who were then leaving the older states to take up land in the district of Maine, which was then being rapidly developed. He settled at first at Deer Isle, where he lived for five years. Here, on October 23, 1786, he married Eunice, daughter of John Thurston, who came to Deer Isle in 1784 from Gloucester, Massachusetts. By this wife Smith had sixteen children. In 1791 he came here with the other workmen employed at Swan's saw and grist mills, and for a number of years he worked at the mills. He lived for a few years on Harbor Island, and afterwards moved into the "Big House". His wife died in 1809.

No longer having employment at the mills, Smith bought of Rufus B. Allyn, Swan's agent, a tract of two hundred and forty acres of land at the "North." One hundred acres of this land is now owned by his grandson. Benjamin Smith, esq., one hundred acres by Capt. John C. Kent, and forty acres by Charles Kent. On this place he first built a log house near where Charles Kent now lives, and later built a timber house forty feet square, which was located just across the highway from Capt. John C. Kent's house.

After the death of his second wife, he married Betsey, daughter of George Gross, who came to Deer Isle in 1784 from Harpswell. Gross was a Revolutionary soldier, and was pensioned by the government. By this wife Smith had eight children, twenty-four in all after coming here, besides the three by his first wife in New Hampshire. Mrs. Smith died in 1868, aged eighty years.

After moving upon this tract of land Smith cleared a fine farm, and spent the remainder of his life as a successful farmer. The soil was then rich, and excellent crops were harvested. He died in 1840, aged eighty years. Most of his large and interesting family settled here. Their children were as follows:

John, born in 1787, was lost at sea while engaged in the West India trade, at about the age of twenty-one years.

Eunice, who was born in 1789, became the wife of Anthony Merchant, jr., of Merchant's Island. He was born in 1790. Merchant's father settled Merchant's Island, and from him it received its name. They had one son, David S., and one daughter, who became the wife of Willard Mathews, who at that time resided on Merchant's island. After his marriage he removed to Belfast out of which place he sailed for a number of years as master mariner. After Eunice's death, Mr. Merchant married Maria Gross. He was for many years collector of taxes in the Isle au Haut collection district, and was a faithful and efficient officer. He died about 1865, at the age of seventy-five years.

David, 2d, born in 1791. These three children were born at Deer Isle previous to his coming here.

Sarah, born in 1792, on Harbor Island, became the wife of Benjamin Stinson, esq.

Benjamin, born in 1795, at the "Big House". He was the first white child born on this island.

George, born in 1799, never married.

Asa was born in 1803.

Ann, wife of Benjamin Kent, was born in 1808.

All the rest of the children by his second wife died in childhood.

By his third wife his children were: John; Mary, who became the wife of Samuel Kent; Eliza, wife of Johnson Billings; James; Lucy, wife of John Stinson, who after his death married John Valentine and lived at Irish point; William; Dorothy, who married Benjamin Smith, 2d; Solomon, who died young.

Smith's sons, named above, being among the young settlers, most of whom were the first settlers on the land they occupied, will be further noticed.

I. David Smith, 2d, took up a tract of one hundred acres of land, a part of which is now occupied by Pearl Smith, and built a house near where he now lives. This land was a part of the property which had been taxed to O'Maley, but failing to pay the tax thereon for many years, the plantation took possession of it, after which it was taken up by settlers. In 1840 Mr. Smith married Lucy Gross, daughter of George Gross, before mentioned, by whom he had eleven children. Mr. Smith died in 1868, aged seventy-seven years. His wife died in 1886, aged eighty-seven years. The following were their children:

Betsey, wife of Edmond Stanley; Abigail, wife of Joseph Stanley; Susan, who was three times married, her first husband being Joseph Dunbar, from whom she was separated; her second husband was Joseph Smith, of Jonesport; her third, Peter Stanley; David, 3d; Asa, who died at sea; Mary A., wife of Moses Conary; Lois, wife of Samuel Whitmore, of Deer Isle; Sarah J., who married Curtis Robinson and now resides in Boston; Dorinda, who died unmarried; George W.; Lucy, wife of Charles Little, of Rockland.

II. Benjamin Smith took up the tract of land adjoining his father's on the south which extended to the Stewart lot. It contained one hundred and thirty-six acres, and was bought of Swan and O'Maley's agent. He afterwards took up a lot of fifty acres of the proprietors' lots, such as were mentioned in the last sketch. This adjoined the land of his brother David. He built a house on the hill near where the Irish point road joins the highway.

Mr. Smith was an enterprising, intelligent man, taking an interest in all public affairs. He served on the first board of assessors after the plantation was organized in 1834. His other associates on the board were Benjamin Stinson and James Joyce. He was a firm friend of the public schools, doing much to encourage their establishment. He offered the use of his house in which the first term of public school was taught on this island. The next year a schoolhouse was built. Previous to this time all schools had been supported by private donations.

Mr. Smith's wife was Marjory, daughter of Elijah Toothaker, who came to Deer Isle in 1798 from Phillips, in Franklin County. He was drowned near 1810; while coming from the main land he accidentally fell overboard. Mrs. Toothaker was married five times. After Mr. Toothaker's death she married in succession, Belcher Tyler, Thomas Stinson, 2d, Samuel Jordan and Dominicus Carman. Mr. Smith died in 1872, aged seventy-seven years. His wife died in 1882, aged eighty-eight years.

Mrs. Smith was the mother of ten children, six sons and four daughters. The daughters were: Eunice, wife of Moses B. Sadler; she died in Rockland in 1863, aged forty-three years; Phebe, widow of David E. Sprague: Betsey, wife of David Smith, 3d; she died in 1891, at the age of fifty-nine years; Lucinda, who died from the effects of scalding. The sons were: Elijah, who died of yellow fever while on a voyage from Wilmington to Guadeloupe; he was mate with Capt. Thomas Bunker, of Cranberry Isles; Sylvanus, who died young; Benjamin, 2d, who occupies a part of the lot taken up by his grandfather, David Smith, sr., and who has been one of the foremost men of the town, holding every town office in the gift of the people: he possessed a wonderful memory; he was well read in ancient and modern history, and he possessed the faculty, that so few people have, of remembering exactly names and dates; it was from him I received much information concerning the early settlers and their family histories; Newell, who died in Rio Janeiro while there in command of a vessel; his home was in Rockland; he married Clara Sadler, who now resides in Somerville; Eben, who was lost at sea on a voyage from New York to Havana, as mate of a schooner; she had a deck load of shooks; as he was coming on deck during a severe gale, a sea swept the deck load overboard, carrying him with it; his first wife was Betsey Brown, of Vinalhaven, from whom he was divorced; they had one child, who is now the widow of Hiram Colomy; he afterwards married Mary Sadler; after Mr. Smith's death she became the wife of David H. Sprague; Andrew, who married Clementine Lancester; while preparing for college he studied under Rev. Jonathan Adams; he was graduated from Bowdoin college, and later attended the theological seminary at Bangor, and became a Congregational minister; he preached at Camden, Boothbay and Waterford; at the latter place he died.

III. Asa Smith settled at first near Irish point, where he built a log house. He changed his residence several times. He lived at Mount Desert; afterwards he came back here, and lived where Hezekiah Holbrook now resides; later he went to Deer Isle, and finally to Saco, where he died. His wife was Abigail Kent, by whom he had ten children, six sons and four daughters.

The daughters were: Elmira, who became the wife of Benjamin Gould, of Rockland; she separated from him and afterwards, married in Boston; Catherine, who married Solomon Morgan, of New York; Melissa, who married Charles Holmes, of Boston, an excellent man, in easy circumstances; it was with Mr. Holmes that his wife's father spent his declining years; after Mr. Holmes died his widow married again and resides in Saco; Asenath, who also married in Saco.

The sons were: Samuel, who moved to Jonesport and married Julia Alley, of that place; he possessed a shiftless character; he left his wife and went to Grand Menan, where he died; Asa, 2d, who married Jane E. Davis, of Long Island, from whom he was divorced; while here he lived in the Billings house just north of where Capt. John C. Kent now lives; later he married, in 1858, Abbie Hunt, of Rockland; Henry, who, when about twenty years of age, left home for ''life on the ocean wave"; for a long time he was not heard from, but he was seen in New York City by an acquaintance from this island; he was in a large ship about to start for China; since then he has never been heard from: George, who was drowned in the cove near Buckle island; his brother Alden was in bathing, and having got beyond his depth, was in imminent danger of drowning; George went to his rescue, but became exhausted and sank, and before assistance came he was dead; Alden and Eldad, both of whom left town, and their whereabouts is unknown.

IV. John Smith bought the lot known as the Irish point farm of Samuel Kent. This place is now owned by the heirs of Capt. John Staples and David Smith, 3d. Mr. Smith married Lydia Rich, of Mount Desert. He died in 1876, at the age of sixty-five years. His wife died five years before, aged sixty years. They were the parents of six children, two sons, Benjamin and Frank, who died young, and four daughters. The oldest daughter, Angeline, married Hezekiah Holbrook; Athalana was the wife of William Withrow, of Nova Scotia; Lenora, now dead, was the wife of Warren Smith. One other daughter, Margaret, died young.

V. James Smith took up the lot north of his father, David Smith, sr. This is known as the "Narrows lot"; it includes the northern extremity of the island. The place is now owned by J. T. Crippen, of Ellsworth. On this place are located some valuable stone quarries. Mr. Smith married Mary Stewart, by whom he had four children, the present Leroy and Albion Smith, and two daughters, Matilda, wife of Moses Sadler, and Edna, who died young.

VI. William Smith, the last son of David Smith, sr., married Prudence Gott. He built the house where Capt. John C. Kent now lives. Afterwards he went to Deer Isle, where he bought a farm near Stinson's Neck bar. He died in 1890, aged sixty-eight years. His widow resides at Stonington.

Joseph Toothaher

Joseph Toothaker came here a short time after Mr. Smith, probably the same year, from Phillips, in Franklin County. He settled on a lot of land north of the carrying place. He built a house whose location can still be seen near the cove just across the carrying place. On April 26, 1792, Joseph Prince gave him a bond of $100 for a deed of one hundred acres of land beginning at the carrying place and extending around the cove far enough to include one hundred acres, after he had occupied it seven years (3-208). If he had any family here, I do not know what became of them. He was an uncle of Benjamin Smith's wife and a brother of Elijah Toothaker, who came to Deer Isle in 1798.

Mr. Toothaker had been absent from home some time when search was made, and he was found on Harbor island, dead from the effects of a gunshot wound, whether accidental or otherwise was never known, but many suspicious circumstances led to the belief that he had been foully dealt with. The cove bordering on the carrying place near where he lived is still called after him Toothaker's cove.  

Source: A History of Swan's Island, Maine, by H.W. Small, MD, Ellsworth Me, Hancock County Publishing Company, Printers, 1808



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