Garrisons, Block-Houses, and Forts in the Saco Valley

During the Indian wars various kinds of fortifications were built by the settlers along the Saco river. Some of these were put up by individuals for the better protection of their own families, and others were built by authority of the Provincial Government and paid for from appropriations voted “for the defense of the frontier.” When the Indians threatened the settlement along the coast the people importuned the Great and General Court for funds to erect forts and blockhouses. 1Block-houses were not thus named because built of timbers, but from blocks of wood fitted to the tray-shaped loopholes in the stockades and flankers for the use of muskets. One such block was supplied for each opening in the timber walls; had a long wooden handle, and was connected with the stockade by a piece of cord. While the men within were loading their pieces the block was thrust into the loophole; when ready to fire, it was removed and allowed to hang within easy reach. These were to be built of stockades, or square timber, in such places as would best accommodate the inhabitants in each settlement, and at such distances from each other as would be most convenient for accommodation of such scouts as might be employed in ranging the woods, and such forces as, in case of war, might be sent out for the annoyance of the enemy in any of their settlements. The commissioners appointed in 1747 by Governor Shirley to have charge of establishing these frontier defenses, “must take care to purchase the materials and agree with the workmen in the best and clearest manner.”

Saco Fort in 1699
Saco Fort in 1699

In 1693, a very strong stone fort was built on the river bank at Saco Falls, where the Waterpower Machine Company’s works now stand, and remains of the structure were removed when the grading for this plant was in progress in 1840. This fortification was built by Captain Hill and Major Hook, under direction of Major Converse, the noted Indian fighter. The existence of so strong a place of refuge was a great guarantee for the safety of the inhabitants, but from imprudence and reckless exposure outside the walls several were cut off. The soldiers stationed at the stone fort were under the command of Capt. George Turfrey and Lieut. Pendleton Fletcher. We have a record of fourteen persons who lost their lives, or were captured, while venturing away from the fort. The Indians could not subdue the forces kept stationed there by direct attack, but lurked about in the adjacent woodlands, watching every movement of the soldiers and settlers who lived there, ready to intercept them or shoot them down when they ventured outside. Soldiers were stationed in the stone fort until 1708, when they were removed down river to the new fort built at Winter Harbor, the remains of which are visible on the point at the entrance to the Pool, called Fort Hill. The General Court voted an appropriation of three hundred pounds for the erection of this structure which was built under the supervision of Capt. Lewis Bane and Maj. Joseph Hammond. This sum was found insufficient, and in 17 10 an additional £100 was granted for its completion. It was named Fort Mary, and became a noted landmark on the coast. A garrison had been built at the Harbor long before this, but had been taken by the Indians, an event which, no doubt, stimulated the inhabitants to ask assistance from the government to build Fort Mary, which was evidently a place of considerable strength for the times. A supply of snowshoes and moccasins were voted for the use of those stationed there.

In 1723, when hostilities were again threatened, the forts and garrisons were supplied with men, ammunition, and provisions. At this time Captain Ward was in command at Fort Mary. There were fourteen garrisons between Saco Falls and the mouth of the river, many of them dwelling-houses protected by stockades. The localities where some of these stood are still pointed out. Scamman’s garrison was about three miles below the falls; Captain Sharp’s garrison was at Rendezvous Point; here four men were stationed. Hill’s garrison on Ferry Lane was allowed three men. The garrisons of Dyer and Tarbox were at the Pool; here three and four men, respectively, were stationed. Five men were placed in Richard Stimpson’s garrison, four at Stackpole’s, and four at Saco Falls in the garrison of John Brown. The same year a sergeant and fifteen men were stationed in garrisons about the falls. Major Phillips had a strong fortified house below the falls, where he was wounded in the shoulder as he exposed himself at a window in the loft. Magnus Redland did not settle in Saco until 1729—30, but his house on Rendezvous Point was garrisoned.

Some of the structures called forts were simple stockades built of hewed timber entrenched in the ground and rising from ten to fourteen feet. These enclosed an area of sufficient extent for the erection of a strong interior building, called a blockhouse, with over-jutting second story, for the soldiers’ quarters and the stores. Sometimes the settlers who owned land in the immediate vicinity erected small cabins within the stockade for occupancy when compelled to resort thither in time of danger. Others built their dwellings near at hand on the outside so they could, in case of attack, quickly remove their families within the fort.

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Great suffering was often occasioned during the Indian troubles to the inhabitants on the Saco river by being crowded into these enclosures promiscuously, on scanty food, where they were obliged to remain for weeks together before they could safely venture back to their own houses or were conveyed by vessels to settlements westward.

During the summer and autumn it became necessary for the settlers to go forth for the cultivation of their ground, and at times they were scattered about the plantation and in the woodland borders thereof; always with musket slung to their shoulder by leather strap, or standing near their place of employment. When no Natives were known to be in the neighborhood, the women went down to the riverside to wash their clothing, while their daughters strayed about the clearings, gathering berries and wild flowers.

When an alarm was given by the firing of a gun, all ran for the garrison or fort. At one time two girls at Saco ferry had been down the river bank, and had wandered a considerable distance from the garrison, when noises were heard about the woods sounding like blue jays; but the quick ears of the vigilant planters detected in these sounds the signals of the Indians, and they hastened toward the blockhouse, where a gun was fired and the gate held ajar for the absent daughters, who were seen in the distance, running with desperation toward the place. What was their horror when one, looking from a flanker, reported that two Indians were running across the clearing to cut off the two girls! They were beyond musket range, and those at the garrison seemed helpless when they would have rendered assistance to their children. But the girls had the advantage, and when the Indians saw that they could not capture them they sent their leaden missiles after them. Although neither was harmed, one of the bullets went through the skirt of one’s gown, and a piece of the fabric, handed down through the generations that have succeeded, pierced by the lead, has been seen by the author.

One of the most extensive and substantial fortresses built on the Saco river, and which became a place of considerable note, was the truck-house, originally so called, established in the Plantation of Little Falls, now in Dayton, which was built — so says history — for a trading post from which to supply the Indians with such English goods as they required, at a reasonable price, in exchange for their peltry, in time of peace. The house was built by direction of the General Court in 1730. When danger was imminent the establishment was enlarged and fortified. The principal building was surrounded by a high timber wall, with flankers at the corners which commanded all sides of the stockading. Sufficient space was left within for a parade ground and a building for the stores. This stood on the river bank, on the old Bane farm, below Union Falls and near an ancient burial ground. It was at first garrisoned with ten men. In 1744, thirteen men were stationed here, and after the declaration of war between France and England the force was increased to twenty. In the upper story of the blockhouse within the stockade, which was the wooden castle’s “dungeon keep,” several small cannon were mounted. These were sufficiently elevated to sweep the surrounding country, over the walls of the palisade, and the waters of the river eastward. There is no recorded account of an attempt upon the part of the Indians to take this primitive stronghold of the Saco valley. They were frequently seen in the vicinity, and when the neighboring planters, nearly all of whom had settled near the fort, were safe within the walls, one of the cannon was fired off and the lurking men would betake themselves to their distant retreats. After the peace, some of the Indians going down the river in a canoe visited a shingle camp on the bank and asked the workmen about the “thunder-guns” down the stream.

This fortification was built under the supervision of Capt. Thomas Smith, father of Rev. Thomas Smith, the first minister of Falmouth, now Portland, who was the first commander. The following account, rendered to the General Court for building and repairing the “truckhouse” on Saco river is so curious that, although long, we give space to it. It speaks for itself.

Province of Massachusetts to Thomas Smith Dr.

Built a Parade 19 foot & 25

For sundry men employed in working and cash he expended in building or finishing the Truck-house by order of the Honable General Court, on Saco River, as follows:

To cash pd Wm Tyler for nail locks bolts & Co. as pr perticular accot there of………………………………… 29:  2:  0
To ditto pd Wm Wheeler for lime as pr said accot………………………………………………………………………..   5:  3:  6
To Ditto pd Wm Peek for casements glazing & Co. as per his accot………………………………………………..  8: 15:  2
To Ditto pd John Anthony & Elisha Snow for work by them don as per their accot…………………………. 15:  6:  0
To cash pd Samuel Rounds for work don there as per his accot…………………………………………………….. 13:  8:  6
To cash pd Thomas Killpatrick for his son Josephs working there as per his accot…………………………..   1: 12:  0
To cash pd John Bryant for 8 M of shingles dd at the Truck house…………………………………………………..  8:  0:  0
To cash pd Wm Dyer for his son John’s working there as per his accot…………………………………………….  1: 12:  0
To Ditto pd Daniel Smith himself and team drawing timber & Co. as per his accot………………………….  4: 0:  0
To Ditto pd Joseph Favor for working ten days as per his accot @ 6 | – per day………………………………….  3:  0:  3
To cash pd Nathanl Dairell for 14 days work in making brick @ 7 | – per day…………………………………….  5:   1:  6
To Daniel Chevers for working 64 days as per his accot @ 6 | – per day & subsistance……………………… 19:  7:  0
To Nathl Favor for working 71 ½ days at 6 | – per day & his subsistance as per his accot……………………. 21:  9:  0
To John Robbins for working there & Co as per his accot……………………………………………………………….. 21: 17: 8
To cash pd Abial Goodwin and man for carrying up the chimneys, making a new one & Co
          as per his accot……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..  5:  0:  0
To 6 men, soldiers working as follows —
                    Joseph Lewis 46 days
                    William Gibbs 56 days
                    Jno. Barrows 36 days
                    William Brown 32 days
                    William Hughes 14 days
                    John Morin 46 days
To cash pd Benj Joy as per his accot for enlarging of hinges and making nails…………………………………. 23:  3:  0
To Benj Haley as per his accot for boards & work himself and others & Co……………………………………… 72: 18:  3
To cash pd John Snow for hay for the cattle while drawing ye timber, Bricks & Co…………………………….   1: 10:  0
To John Howard for 1 gall Linseed Oyle, 10 of ground priming & 1 lb red Led…………………………………….  1: 17:  4
To 4½ galls Rum at 5 | – ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 10: 6:  3
To 10lb sugar @ 11 d per lb ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………  9:  0:  2
To 19½ lbs cheese @ 12 d per lb……………………………………………………………………………………………………..  0: 19:  3
To 1 bushl Indian meal @ 7 | – ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….  0:  7:  0
To horse hire to Arundel, Wells 2 times, Winter Harbor 5 times, Scarborough and Falmouth about
          getting workmen and expences travelling & Co……………………………………………………………………….  6:  5:  6
To sundry hinges, nails, axes locks latches, priming & Co, as per perticular accot………………………………32: 12: 5
 ————————————————————————————————————————- £313: 10: 6
Boston Septy 28th 1730
          Errors Excepd per Thomas Smith,
Middlesex SS Camb – Sept. 29, 1730
The above named Capt. Thomas Smith personally appeared and made oath that the within and above
accompt is just and true.

Before Samuel Danforth Jus. Pasis.

Dr { Province Massachusetts Bay to charges in Building a house for the Indians* of 32 feet long & 16 wide, adjacent to the Truck House on Saco River – viz: –

1735
To 2 M Boards at £3 per M………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. £6
To 6½ M shingles at 25 | – ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….   8:  2:  6
To 2 M 10 d & 7 M 4 d nails by Sherborns accopt……………………………………………………………………………….   7:  7:  4
To Benjamin Healey 7 days and ¾ work done at 8 | – ………………………………………………………………………..  3:  2—-
To Benjamin Nicholas 3 days work at 3 | – ………………………………………………………………………………………..    :  9—-
To William Buzzell 8 days work and ½ at 3 | – …………………………………………………………………………………..  1:  5:  6
To Abram Johnson 8½ days work at 3 | – ………………………………………………………………………………………….  1:  5:  6
To Uriah Gates 6½ days work at 3 | – ……………………………………………………………………………………………….    : 19:  6
By cash received of Jere Allen Esq Treasurer & Co  £30: Ballance due to Thomas Smith carried to
          ye Dr. of ye new accopt…………………………………………………………………………………………………………… £1: 14: 4
—————————————————————————————————————————- £31: 14: 4

*This building was probably erected for the accommodation of the “remnant of the Pequawkets,” who went to some fort occupied by white men and expressed a desire to live with them. They were afterwards sent to Boston.

Acct of Disbursements for ye Garrison and Truckhouse on Saco River November 1736.

Province of Massachusetts Bay to Thomas Smith Dr.

To 1563 feet of boards for a floor for the corn and meal room, a shed to cover the smiths bellows
          and cole house, and a shed for washing in, at £3  : 10:  0 per thousand………………………………………….£  6:  3:  9
To 2000 Shingles used in covering ye foresaid sheds @ 25 | – per M……………………………………………………£  2: 10: 0
To cash pd Caleb Young for working about ye chimneys, hearths and ovens, pointing & Co.
          5 days at 10 | – per day……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….£  2: 10: 0
To Caleb Young at my table 18 meals and drink between meals…………………………………………………………£  1:   7:   0
To several young men in doing the carpenters work on above floors and sheds and assisting
          & tending the mason in his work – altogether 57 days work at 3 | – per day……………………………………£  8: 11:  0
To sundry charges for wooding ye Garrison from Oct. 1735 to Septr 1736…………………………………………….£ 24: 16: 4
—————————————————————————————————————————-  £ 50:  11:  6

Sworn to by Capt. Thomas Smith and allowed

Saco River Block-House, built in 1730
Saco River Block-House, built in 1730

Notwithstanding the short interval between the building of the truckhouse and the extensive repairs or additions made by Captain Smith, yet as early as 1748 Capt. Thomas Bradbury petitioned the General Court for liberty to repair the establishment. He describes the condition of the structure and its appurtenances as follows: “The side of sd Blockhouse fronting on the River is in great danger of being undermined by sd River without a wharf to prevent the same. And the side of the Blockhouse wants to be new Pallasaded. The roof of ye house wants shingling and other repairs to keep the men dry in their lodgings, as also to secure the Provissions & Amunition. Likewise newsilling. There also wants a new boat, as also one to be repaired, to carry up the provissions and other stores.” The General Court allowed ten shillings to build a wharf, twenty pounds for palisading, shingling, and repairing the house, and seventeen pounds ten shillings to build a boat for the purpose mentioned.

The first commander, Captain Smith, seems to have held the position until his death, in 1742. In the memoir of the minister it is said: “My father died at Saco, Feb. 19, 1742. He was engaged there as Indian agent, or truckmaster, and had been in the service of the government in connection with Indian affairs in the state.” He probably died, like the “faithful sentinel,” at his post in the blockhouse, where he had lived for about twelve years. The Rev. Ammi R. Cutter succeeded to the command in 1743. He was followed by Capt. Daniel Smith, of Biddeford, who soon transferred the place to Capt. Thomas Bradbury, who is said to have been in command during the last Indian war. He was there in 1748, and must have been succeeded by Capt. Jonathan Bane, of York, soon after, for it is related that the soldiers were disbanded in 1759, and the cannon removed to Fort Castle William in Boston Harbor. A son of Captain Bane was lieutenant of a company stationed here. The Bane family settled on the land about the blockhouse and held custody of the enormous iron key, which was in the hands of a descendant not many years ago. This impressive symbol of authority was wrought by some early smith, probably by Joseph Tyler, for he it was who furnished the locks for the truckhouse.

This frontier fortress long remained upon the river bank to remind the passing traveler of the times when safety was only secured by vigilance, and of the trying experiences through which the early settlers passed to hold possession of the lands on which their descendants, in peace and quietness, but with much complaining, have lived and gathered their harvests. The building gradually fell into decay, its heavy timbers were separated by the intervale frosts of many winters, and at length the ruins were removed and nothing left to mark the spot but the cellar and some old graves near by.

The evidence at hand goes to prove that there were no less than three garrisons or forts in what is now Buxton. Governor Shirley ordered the commissioners appointed by the General Court for that purpose, Nov. 30, 1743, forthwith to repair to the County of York and take effectual care that a garrison he erected in “Newbury Narragansett.” Under this order the first fortification in the township was built that year. In 1744, a meeting of the proprietors was called to see if they would “clear round the garrison” according to the order of the General Court’s committee. This was a log blockhouse, surrounded by a timber stockade like nearly all of the frontier defenses? It was built at Salmon Falls, upon land reserved for public use, near the log meetinghouse and probably because the settlers at the time were living near.

At a meeting of the proprietors of Narragansett, No. 1, held in 1750, a committee was chosen, to petition the General Court for liberty to remove the fort in consequence of inability to get water where it then stood. Upon the high ground at Salmon Falls, where this fort stood, wells could not be sunk without blasting through the granite ledge there, and the inhabitants were unwilling to assume the expense of such an uncertain experiment. But a well of good water was an important requirement within the walls of such a place of refuge, in case the settlers should be compelled to remain there during an Indian siege.

The proprietors requested their clerk to call a meeting in 1754, to see if a vote would be taken to build a fort at or near the “Broad Turn.” Also, to see if the proprietors would find men to help keep the same in case of war, which was then much looked for. In the petition it was stated that the Province fort was “very ill convenient” for the settlers on the northeasterly side of Martin’s Swamp, and that there were not accommodations for all the inhabitants in said fort. In closing, they stated that unless they could have a place of defense according to the petition they must of necessity leave the township. In compliance with the request, a meeting was held and a vote was passed to raise money and build a fort forthwith. At a later meeting, it was voted to pay William Hancock eight pounds upon his building a fort or garrison to be forty feet square with palisades or stockades three feet and one-half in the ground and ten feet above the ground, said stockades to be set double, and a good flanker, or watch-box, to be built at two opposite corners. This was to be located where the inhabitants living on the northeasterly side of the swamp could be accommodated, finished within twenty days from date, and paid for by the proprietors. There are reasons for the belief that this garrison was connected with the dwelling-house of William Hancock, and not at Pleasant Point; as in the will of Mr. Hancock he mentions “My Flanker House.” The garrison, or fort, connected with the house of Joseph Woodman, at Pleasant Point, was not the original Province fort which the proprietors wished to have removed to some locality where a supply of water could be found.

During the French and Indian war all the settlers in Narragansett, No. 1, left the plantation and none returned for resettlement before 1750. The dangers from wandering Indians were not then over and the garrisons were kept in repair. At one time the settlers found the door of their blockhouse, which they had left closed, wide open. These had been forewarned by an old, experienced scout that they should never go and return by the same path when visiting their clearings, and being suspicious that all was not right, they heeded the advice. When the wars were over a party of Indians who came to the settlement to trade informed the men there that some of their tribe were secreted in the fort at the time the door was found open, and that, on the following day, they ambushed the path by which the settlers came and missed them.

Capt. John Elden seems to have held command of the Province fort, so called, in Narragansett, No. 1. It is related that while the families of the early inhabitants were living in the garrison for security while the men were absent for a day and night, a runner brought news that the enemy was in the neighborhood. But Mrs. Elden, the captain’s wife, a woman who showed heroism on more than one occasion, became master, or mistress, of the situation. She donned her absent husband’s uniform, seized a sword, and with voice changed to a masculine tone, marshaled the other women, also arrayed in male attire and armed with muskets, about the fort as if preparing to resist an attack This was kept up during the night and part of the succeeding day until the “relief guard” returned and the male persuasion took charge of the garrison. Some of the first children born in the plantations on the Saco had their advent within these primitive forts, and the stirring events with which they were associated in childhood were related to their grandchildren at the fireside on many a winter evening.

The General Court authorized the erection of a fort in Pearsontown, now Standish, to be of hewed timber, one hundred feet square, with extensive flankers at opposite corners, as the custom then was. The actual building, called a “house,” was only eighty feet square. After being nearly completed, it was partly destroyed by fire, but rebuilt, and fortified with two swivel guns. This was built about the time the French and Indian war came on in 1754-5. It stood on the high ground at Standish Corner, where the open square now is. For particulars the reader is referred to the Standish town history in this work.

The next fort to be mentioned was for the protection of the Indians themselves. Of this we have little more than vague tradition to inform us. No petition from the projectors of the undertaking, nor recorded action of the Indian council, has been found to aid our description. Historians have stated, without giving their authority, that the Sokokis Indians, fearing an invasion by Mohawks, employed English carpenters from Saco to build them a fort at the mouth of the Great Ossipee river. The exact location where the fort stood is not now known, but tradition has marked the site between the present village of Cornish and the outlet of the river, near where the old Pequawket trail crossed at the fording place. This fortification has been represented as of great strength. A determined search, and suitable excavations, would undoubtedly discover the remains of the stockading where the timbers were entrenched. Some have supposed this to have been the fort in which Capt. John Lovewell left some stores and part of his men in 1724, when he went through the wilderness to fight the Sokokis at Pequawket. If the company crossed the stream at the head of the Killick pond, in what is now the north part of Mollis, not far from the old William West homestead, directing their steps toward Saco river, they may have followed the Indians’ trail to the mouth of the Great Ossipee, at Cornish, where the fort of the Sokokis stood.

As Quebec had fallen and the wars with the Indians had ceased before the other Saco valley towns were settled by the white men, there was no need of garrisons, blockhouses, or forts for the protection of the inhabitants, and here our chapter ends.


Collection:
Ridlon, G. T., Sr. Saco Yalley Settlements And Families: Historical, Biographical, Genealogical, Traditional, and Legendary. Embracing the most important events on the Saco River, from their plantation to the present, with memorials of the families and individuals instrumental in their settlement, advancement and prosperity. Portland, ME: Published by the author. 1895.

Footnotes:   [ + ]

1. Block-houses were not thus named because built of timbers, but from blocks of wood fitted to the tray-shaped loopholes in the stockades and flankers for the use of muskets. One such block was supplied for each opening in the timber walls; had a long wooden handle, and was connected with the stockade by a piece of cord. While the men within were loading their pieces the block was thrust into the loophole; when ready to fire, it was removed and allowed to hang within easy reach.

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