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The Narrows (Part 1)

May 13, 2015

In the far away - far away - old-time days,
The undisturbed forests - 'tween rivers and bays -
Had rarely been viewed by the white man's gaze,
In the day the first Hinghamites came.   

One of our winter projects, the restoration of nine over six windows in a circa 1850s cape, piqued our curiosity. This venerable old structure is located in the town of Dennysville, on a peninsula that pushes into the Dennys River, on its journey to the Cobscook Bay. This ‘pushing’ forms a topographical feature, a bottleneck in the river, known simply as, “the Narrows.”  

Today the road that bisects that peninsula is known as Foster Lane. In former times it was known as Lincoln’s or the Narrows Road. The cape’s proud new homeowners told us early on, that a local surveyor and cartographer, Benjamin R. Jones, once lived in their home. We knew his name because we’d seen his early maps and surveys of the area - some that included our own property. Clues that the house gave up, suggest a construction date of around 1850. We had to learn more.

We first started with historic maps where we located the tip of the ‘finger.’ Names like Reynolds, Benner, Preston and Sheahan began to pop up. A little census and internet searching of those names began to frame our view, but it would take a few trips to the Washington County Registry of Deeds, and a history lesson or two, to complete the picture.

In more recent times the property was in the hands of the Leighton family, an old blood line that stretches right back to the very beginnings. Leighton Point in nearby Pembroke, is named for Hatevil Leighton, a progenitor, who "carved out a clearing" there in 1770. To really tell this story, we’ll have to go back - all the way back - to just these very beginnings; when Dennysville was first settled and Maine was not yet a state, but a part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In the case of Dennysville, ‘all roads lead to Hingham’ and one of that Massachusetts town’s favorite sons, Benjamin Lincoln. As a Major General in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War he was notable for his involvement in three major surrenders. His participation in the Battles of Saratoga where he was wounded, contributed to John Burgoyne’s surrender. He oversaw the largest American surrender at Charleston and as George Washington’s second in command, formally accepted the British sword at Yorktown.

After the war, in 1784, Lincoln, General Henry Knox and George Partridge were appointed Commissioners of Massachusetts and given the task to locate the St. Croix River, named in the Treaty of 1783 as the boundary between the District of Maine and the British Provinces. The trio headed up the coast to the Passamaquoddy Region and remained there for about a month. Lincoln was impressed with the natural beauty of the area but as one made threadbare by the war, he also saw, in the abundance of rivers, streams, lakes and virgin timber, a great deal more.

Returning to Hingham, he gathered his military earnings, mortgaged his farm and with two Boston associates, Thomas Russell and John Lowell, purchased from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, two wilderness townships, a total of 50,649 acres on the Passamaquoddy Bay. The price agreed on was, 8,910 pounds, two shillings and six pence, along with the condition that the new proprietors bring in settlers to develop the towns.

Lincoln didn’t have to look very far to find people who wanted to tackle his wilderness. Land was scarce in Hingham - so scarce that the town voted to forbid new settlers from coming in. This condition was made worse by the war and resulting depression. Soldiers, paid in devalued currency, came back to find their homes impoverished by their absence, with farms and trades in ruin. Many who took up his call and joined the migration were Benjamin's friends and neighbors. Others were veterans who had served under his command. Most were artisans or farmers. Each would be granted settlers lots free of charge.

In the spring of 1786, Benjamin sent his son, Theodore, a 22 year old recent graduate of Harvard Law School, to take posession of the purchase, superintend its development and build a lumber mill. Theodore and sixteen sturdy Hingham men, set sail from Boston Harbor, on the sloop "Sally," arriving in the Cobscook Bay on the 17th of May. The ship's master, Captain Preble, did not wish to venture through the dangerous Cobscook Falls with his sloop, but instead anchored his vessel in the lower bay. Edmund Mahar, a boatman already settled at the "reversing falls" on a point that still bears his name, piloted the emigrants as they rowed up the river, through the Narrows, to a suitable landing site.

Theodore soon had the townships surveyed and laid out into 100 and 200 acre lots reserving for himself a sizable property in Township #2 (Dennysville). His lot, Lot #38, bordered the Dennys River reaching nearly to the Narrows. On this parcel he would establish a farm and build a large and elegant home. The home, known as the Lincoln House, still stands today. Our subject property was actually carved out of Lincoln's own estate, when it was first purchased by Nathan Preston in 1802.

The son of a shipwright, Nathan was born in Newmarket, New Hampshire in 1753, coming of age at the beginning of the American Revolution. In March of 1776 the Continental Congress recommended that all persons notoriously disaffected to the cause of America who had not associated, or refused to associate to defend the United Colonies, be immediately disarmed. Remaining staunchly loyal to the Crown, the 23 year old, refused to sign the “Association Test” in April of 1776. This test amounted to a virtual declaration of independence by the inhabitants of New Hampshire, with each town required to show the standing of each inhabitant as to their loyalty to the cause of liberty. 162 signed this document - 32 refused.

This strong-willed young man, who received a parcel of land in New Brunswick as Loyalist bounty, would shortly leave New Hampshire, likely the result of Patriot pressures and settle in the coastal wilderness not far from Dennysville. On July 4th,1780 he married Elizabeth Rumery, a native of Biddeford, Maine. Elizabeth, whose father was killed when he was run over by a cart wheel when she was just three years old, came to nearby Lubec with her mother, Rebecca, and stepfather, William Clark, as a young girl. Together the Prestons would rear eleven children. Within a year of the "Hingham Migration" the couple relocated to the new settlement, where Nathan went to work for Theodore Lincoln. In 1800, he was elected a town assessor and appointed to a committee whose task was to lay out the roads. In 1805, he was founding member of local Congregational Church.

In 1802, this husband and father, whose Loyalist yearnings by now may have softened, purchased for the nominal fee of ten dollars, 25 acres out of Lot #38, land he probably already occupied.Theodore likely granted the property to Nathan as payment for his services. Next door, on 9 acres, lived Christopher Benner and his wife,Thankful. A native of Holland and one of the Hingham sixteen, Christopher also worked for Theodore Lincoln. It is a matter of record that as a private in Colonel John Bailey's regiment, he marched on the Lexington Alarm of 1775, the first battle of the Revolutionary War; family lore suggests that along with his commander, George Washington, he also crossed the Delaware.

Side by side these two stalwart former foes, Preston and Benner, Loyalist and Patriot, working for a common employer, would tend their farms, raise their families and build a new town.

Preston’s deed from Lincoln contained the common condition; “within four years from the date hereof shall build upon the premises a house sixteen feet in breath & twenty feet in length and shall also clear up & improve six acres of the premises lying together so as to be fit for tillage pasturage or mowing.” In 1810 Theodore Lincoln personally acknowledged the deed to the recording official, one Benjamin R. Jones, the Dennysville Justice of the Peace.

Click here for  Part 2Part 3 and Part 4 

The Founders of Dennysville, poem by Peter Ebenezar Vose, 1886

(comments = 1)

cobscook grls
May 14, 2015

Nice work! Excellent research and presentation. A vivid and engaging picture of Washington County wilderness and Dennysville's early settlement. Cliff hanger ending, can't wait for the next installment.


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