Historical Sites along the Maine Coast: Kittery to York

Kittery, Maine, situated on the northern shores of the Piscataqua River, was a home to seamen and fishermen. Most such men of the salt sea were not well known in their own time and forgotten today. An exception was Lieutenant Andrew Newcomb, son of Captain Andrew Newcomb, the son following the father in the life of the sea. Captain Newcomb lived in Boston during the 1660s to 1680s, sailing his shallop laden with cargo up and down the Atlantic coast. Where his son Andrew was born is unknown. He appears in the historical record in the 1660s at Hog Island, one of the northernmost of the Isles of Shoals; Hog Island was under the jurisdiction of Maine in the 1600s, and has been ever since. The Isles of Shoals was an important center of the New England fishery during the colonial period. Fishermen such as Andrew Newcomb would set sail for daily or longer voyages to the Gorges Banks or other such fishing grounds where haddock, cod, mackerel, and other fish were captured. Back at Hog Island, the fisherman would cut and salt the fish and let it dry in the sun before being stored in a barrel for export. Andrew was married to Sarah, whose maiden name is unknown, but who bore seven children, Simeon, Andrew, Simon, Thomas, Sarah, Mary, and Peter. Sometime in the late 1660s Andrew and Sarah bought land at Kittery, in the north parish, what is today Eliot Maine. Here the family resided while Andrew carried on his trade and stayed involved in Hog Island affairs. For example in 1671 he was a constable on Hog Island serving a warrant on a drunken sailor who resisted. Mary died within a few years of their move to Kittery; Andrew, in debt and looking for new opportunities, moved his family to Martha’s Vineyard, where he married again and had eight more children with Anna Bayes, and became a prominent citizen.

Kittery is also famous as being the home of Sir William Pepperrell, the hero of the assault on Louisburg in 1745. William Pepperrell, Sr., arrived in America from Wales by way of Newfoundland in the mid 1600s; he settled at the Isles of Shoals and took up fishing. His business was sufficiently profitable to allow him to relocate on shore at Kittery Point, a peninsula jutting into the Piscataqua east of Kittery town. William married Margery Bray, daughter of Kittery shipbuilder and merchant John Bray, establishing by his alliance with the Bray family a foundation for future mercantile success. William Pepperrell, Jr., was born to William Sr. and Margery on June 27, 1696. Already his father was a major landowner and merchant involved in naval stores, shipbuilding, and the trans-Atlantic trade. By the time William Jr. was 21 years old, he was made a partner in the firm, “The William Pepperrells,” and assumed supervision over Pepperrellboro, the town and immediate environs of the lower Saco River and the village of Saco, most of which the Pepperrells owned. William Jr. rose rapidly in political circles as well, becoming Colonel and commander of the Maine militia, and a Provincial Councilor to the General Court of Massachusetts, representing Maine. Indeed Maine had been under the political control of Massachusetts since the 1650s and would be designated the District of Maine until it became an independent state in 1820. Pepperrell was a leader, then, in the political affairs of Maine and Massachusetts. He was a close associate of Massachusetts governors, being made Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas by Governor Jonathan Belcher, and working with Governor William Shirley to plan the audacious assault on the French fortress of Louisburg on the island of Cape Breton.

During the second to the last of the Great Wars for Empire fought between the French and the English, the Cape Breton War (King William’s War, 1744-1749), William Pepperrell, Jr. led New Hampshire and Maine soldiers to accomplish what most observers of the time considered improbable if not impossible. The French fort of Louisburg guarded the approaches to the St. Lawrence River. The English controlled Newfoundland and, by the Treaty of Utrecht ending Queen Anne’s War (1703-1713), Nova Scotia. However Cape Breton Island lay in-between, and the fortress at Louisburg promised to harass English shipping and colonial possessions during conflicts between the two great empires. Massachusetts Governor William Shirley realized the strategic importance of Louisburg, and decided, with William Pepperrell, to eliminate the French threat. Pepperrell amassed a force of over four thousand men; they journeyed north to Port Royal, Nova Scotia, then crossed Gabarus Bay to the southern shores of Cape Breton. They quickly marched the short distance to the fortress, to the surprise of the French commander Duchambon. Through subterfuge, will, and courage, the English succeeded in capturing the fort. Pepperrell became immensely famous as a consequence, and was granted the title of Baronet by King George II.

Today’s Maine Route 103 takes the exploring motorist from Kittery to Kittery Point, where the Lady Pepperrell house stands as well as the Pepperrell family burial ground. Nearby is Fort McClary, maintained by the State of Maine. On this site, at the southern extreme of Kittery Point looking out over the mouth of the Piscataqua River flowing into the Atlantic, William Pepperrell, Sr., had established basic fortifications to protect his property. In 1721, the Acts and Resolves of Massachusetts Bay Colony records a vote of the General Court “to erect breastworks in the town of Kittery for defense of the river”; these defenses were built on the site of Pepperrell’s initial fortifications. For years the fortifications were known as Fort Pepperrell or Fort William. At the beginning of the American Revolution, the New Hampshire revolutionary government confiscated the land and fortifications from the loyalist Pepperrell family. Soon after the fortifications were abandoned, and remained so until 1808, when the United States purchased the land from the State of Massachusetts and erected new fortifications named after a hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill. A granite wall and earthwork hosted several cannon to be manned by soldiers who lived in nearby barracks. The remains of these 1808 fortifications still exist; the foundation for the barracks also remains. A magazine to hold powder and balls was built in 1808 as well; this structure can still be toured by the visitor to the Fort.

Fort McClary is an astonishingly beautiful place to visit. The brisk salt air flows in from the Atlantic. In the far distance one spies Whaleback Lighthouse. Nearer, across the mouth of the Piscataqua one sees Fort Constitution, which guarded the entrance to Portsmouth harbor from the New Hampshire side. In the background is the town of Newcastle. The old stone walls of Fort Constitution stand next to the lighthouse of the U. S. Coast Guard. Fort McClary likewise is surrounded by ancient granite walls, fortifications built during the early nineteenth century. Below the walls the surf pounds at the natural granite of the shore. Spring wildflowers bloom even in this hazardous environment. Extending from the wall in several locations around the fort’s perimeter are caponiers, which provided defensive postures for artillery to fire at the enemy. In lieu of cannon, marksmen aimed from the caponiers or from the massive blockhouse at the center of the fortifications. The hexagonal blockhouse is several stories high. Its foundation is built into native granite; the first floor walls, likewise, are of granite. The second floor is built of timber. The blockhouse has numerous portals for lookouts and defenders.

The exploring motorist leaving Fort McClary departs north on the road (Route 103) to York. The old town of York, centered about the Old Gaol, the Jefford’s Tavern, the Old School House, and the Old Burying Ground. The Old Gaol held prisoners awaiting trial or corporeal punishment.

The Old Gaol [jail] at York was built in 1656, and was the sole gaol of the District of Maine during most of the colonial period. The present structure dates back to 1719. It had quarters for the gaoler and his family as well as two cells in which supposed ne’er-do-wells were kept pending trial and punishment. Stocks still exist at the site, revealing the proclivity of corporeal punishment in colonial New England regardless of gender or age. The Old Gaol is part of a complex of old structures maintained by the Old York Historical Society, including Jefford’s Tavern, dating from 1750, and the Old Schoolhouse, dating from 1745. The latter structure is located off Route 1 in York Village, and is adjacent to a delightful colonial graveyard featuring the best in period macabre headstones. The headstones of the Old Burying Ground tell in brief through pictures and epitaphs the lives of York men, women, and children.

The site of York is in the shadow of nearby Mount Agamenticus, which for a small mountain (691 feet) has a full history. Indian legends make Agamenticus the site of the famous chief of the Penacook tribe Passaconaway’s final resting place. The first explorers along the coast used the small peak as a seamark for bearings. Today’s journeyer can either drive or hike of Agamenticus; there a fire tower allows for quite an astonishing view for so small a peak. Jeremy Belknap, who ascended the mountain in 1780, observed “a most enchanting prospect. The cultivated parts of the country, especially on the south and south-west, appears as a beautiful garden, intersected by the majestick river Piscataqua, its bays and branches. The immense ranges of mountains on the north and north-west afford a sublime spectacle; and on the sea-side the various indentings of the coast from Cape Ann to Cape Elizabeth are plainly in view in a clear day; and the wide Atlantick stretches to the east as far as the power of vision extends.”

To read about an 18th century minister along the Maine coast, see

About theamericanplutarch

Writer, thinker, historian.
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2 Responses to Historical Sites along the Maine Coast: Kittery to York

  1. Jeanette Baigert says:

    Thanks for the article. Andrew Newcomb was my 9th great grandfather. Although I have traveled to Maine almost yearly for the last 20 years, I never knew anything about him.

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