Fort Frederick, Pemaquid, Maine

The English clenched hand, which answered the brandishing of the French mailed fist at Pentagoet, now Castine, was Fort Frederick at Pemaquid, that anciently known peninsula which marks the entrance to the Kennebec River. Parts of the walls of old Fort Frederick are still standing, its entire outlines are plainly to be discerned, and it is a favorite point of visit with the many people who make their homes in this part of the Maine coast during the summer months.

Pemaquid, itself, is one of those long arms of rock, which are characteristic of the Maine coast. A good word picture of the locality has been painted by S. A. Drake, the chronicler of Maine coast history. “A belt of rusty red granite stretches around it above low water mark,” he writes, ” and out into the foaming breakers beyond. Pastures pallid from exhaustion and spotted with clumps of melancholy firs spread themselves out over this foundation. In the extreme corner of this threadbare robe there is a lighthouse. You look about you in vain for the evidences of long occupation which the historic vista has opened to you in advance.”

While there have been many wild reports that the settlement on Pemaquid antedated that on Massachusetts Bay, itself, there is lacking weight of historical evidence to support this contention. Pemaquid was visited by Captain John Smith in 1614, but that doughty mariner makes no mention in his account of his visit of having seen any Europeans at the place, as he undoubtedly would have done had his vision encountered any such settlers. William Bradford, the conscientious chronicler of early Plymouth doings, tells us that in 1623 ” there were also in this year some scattered beginnings made at Pascataway by Mr. David Thompson, at Monhegan and some other places by sundry others,” and it is very conceivable that Pemaquid Point might properly be included amongst these ” some other ” places. In 1625 we find Samoset, the famous chieftain of Pilgrim days, selling to a certain John Brown land at Pemaquid, the sign manual Samoset used, according to his custom, being a bended bow with an arrow fitted to the string.

In 1630 there were certainly the beginnings of a settlement at Pemaquid and the foundations of a fortress. Shortly after this time the locality was visited by Dixy Bull, one of the freebooters of that day, who pillaged the place in leisurely and thorough fashion. Another settlement was developed and this shared the fate of its predecessor during the evil days of King Philip’s War. But the close of King Philip’s War brought better days to Pemaquid, when the government of New York, under royal letters patent, assumed control of that place and constructed a strong timber redoubt there with a bastioned outwork. This was to provide a rallying point for the frightened settlers. It was completed in 1677 and garrisoned by soldiers from New York. The fort was known as Fort Charles and the town around it, which was built up on the site of the old settlements, was known as Jamestown. Under the new regime a military government was established, of which the commandant of the post was the head. The free-living inhabitants of the post were irked at being under strict martial rule.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Breda, Acadia had been returned to France and with it Pentagoet (Castine) and the possession of the Penobscot River. The French, in the general fashion, which they affected, declared that the Kennebec and the country tributary thereto belonged to Acadia. This contention the English disputed. We have, therefore, the rival powers at their two extreme outposts, the French at Pentagoet and the English at Pemaquid, in violent opposition to each other.

In 1688, Sir Edmund Andros, Governor of Massachusetts, made a sudden descent upon Castine, the town, and plundered the place. Castine, the man, incited his friends the Abenakis and soon had the border in a blaze. He planned a retaliatory descent upon Pemaquid. Spies were sent to New Harbor, an outpost of Pemaquid, and preparations were made to move in force.

In August 1689, the war party, led by Castine in person, landed on the eastern shore of Pemaquid Peninsula without being discovered. The attack was planned with care. The main village lay about a quarter of a mile from the fort. The farms where most of the inhabitants were at work were three miles from the fort. One band of the assailants was to throw itself upon the fort and village, and another to cut off the village from the farms.

The plan was carried out without a hitch. The men at the farms ran for the fort and were shot down or taken prisoners. The assailants next turned their attention to the fort. The big rock in back of the fort, which makes so conspicuous a feature of the locality today, was occupied by savages, who fired down upon the defenders of the stronghold, and the attack was pressed fiercely from other quarters. For twenty-four hours Weems, the commander, held out. Then, when fourteen out of his garrison of thirty had been wounded, he surrendered on condition that the occupants should be free to leave unmolested. Fort and village were set on fire and Pemaquid for the second time had been swept out of existence.

Under Sir William Phips, who acted by royal instruction, Pemaquid was rebuilt and re-garrisoned in 1692. Unlike the old fortress, the new one was built of stone in a most substantial and enduring fashion, and so enlarged as to take in the high ledge of rock which had been the vulnerable point of the old defenses. The new work was known as Fort William Henry. Cotton Mather, the indefatigable chronicler of that period, speaks of it as follows:

William Henry was built of stone in a quadrangular figure, being about 737 foot in compass without the walls and 108 foot square within the inner ones. Twenty-eight ports it had and fourteen (if not eighteen) guns mounted, whereof six were eighteen-pounders. The wall on the south line, fronting to the sea, was twenty-two foot high and more than six foot thick at the ports, which were eight foot from the ground. The greater flanker, or round tower, at the western end of this line, was twelve foot high. The wall on the east line was twelve foot high, on the north it was ten, on the west it was eighteen.

Impoverished Massachusetts demurred at having to pay the bills for the work, but Phips drove the State to meet the obligation.

The ruler of New France at this time was the energetic and farsighted Frontenac, who believed that he must reduce the new English fortress or himself lose his hold on his Indian allies. With characteristic promptness he set out about the task that he had visioned. Two ships and some hundreds of savages were despatched to take the fort. The fort had been forewarned through the heroism of a young New Englander, John Nelson, who faced the Bastile or death by the headsman’s hands to get word to his brethren in New England of the expected expedition. The garrison was on its guard and so the expedition miscarried.

Frontenac was not the man to be put off with one reverse, however, as the New Englanders should have realized but did not. In August 1696, Iberville, with two warships and a mixed force of French and Indians, appeared before Fort William Henry and took the garrison completely by surprise.

There were about one hundred men in the fort under the command of Captain Pascho Chubb. Castine and his Indians who are supposed to have landed at New Harbor, two miles away, set up entrenchments in the rear of the fortress (where the cemetery is), thus cutting off the garrison on the land side. Cannon were landed and batteries erected on adjacent shores and islands. With so much energy did the besiegers work that their batteries opened fire at three o’clock of the afternoon following the day on which they appeared before the fort.

To the first summons to surrender Chubb returned a defiant answer, but when the first shells began to burst within his lines he seems to have lost his courage. Intimidated, in addition, by Iberville’s threat to show no quarter if he persisted in resistance, he hastened to throw open his gates to the foe. The Indians, hard enough to keep in order, anyhow, found one of their race in irons in the prison of the fortress and immediately began a slaughter of the surrendered English.

This outbreak was restrained with difficulty, and the English were loaded on ships and sent to Boston.

Two days were consumed by the French in destroying the fortifications at Pemaquid and they then set sail for St. John’s River, narrowly escaping destruction by a fleet sent out from Boston in pursuit.

The next attempt to fortify Pemaquid was made in 1729, when Colonel Dunbar was sent over with a royal commission to rebuild the fort at the charge of the English crown. This work he set himself to with a right good will, and he called his fort, Fort Frederick in honor of the Prince of Wales, father of George III. Fort Frederick stood until the opening of the Revolutionary War, when the inhabitants of Pemaquid destroyed the works rather than man them, advancing the unique argument that since the people were not strong enough to defend them they were a source of weakness rather than strength!

That the inhabitants of this coast were not lacking in spirit is shown, however, by an incident of the War of 1812, which may be told here. The enemy’s cruisers kept the whole coast in alarm because of their frequent depredations against defenseless points. One day one of these cruisers hove to in New Harbor and a barge fully manned put out for shore. A small militia force had been stationed by the Americans at old Fort Frederick and this force was hastily summoned. The English barge drew near. It was hailed by an old fisherman who warned the British officer not to attempt a landing.

“If a gun is fired the whole town will be destroyed,” replied the Britisher.

Not a single gun, but a number of them, answered this threat. The rocks of the shore bristled with fowling pieces and ducking guns and all manner of firearms. The barge drifted helplessly to sea, its occupants badly wounded, and the master of the warship, after taking his helpless men on board, sailed away to Halifax.

Old Fort Frederick, in 1814, saw the beginning of the historic combat between the vessels Boxer and the Enterprise, in which the Enterprise, U. S. A., commanded by Lieutenant Burrows, was victorious.

Forts, History,

Hammond, John Martin. Quaint and Historic Forts of North America. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, London. 1915.

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