FROM: SWAN ISLAND IN THE KENNEBEC by T. BLEN PARKER – PAGE 347 –
WHIDDEN – NOBLE ABENAKI RAID ON SWAN ISLAND
Lieutenant James Jones Whidden married at age 20 in March 1734, first wife Abigail Sanborn Whidden (1716–1768).
He later moved his family to the south end of Swan Island where they had a full view of the Kennebec River both upriver and down, enjoying views of Dresden as well as Bowdoinham, part of which is now Richmond. The Plymouth Company granted Lieutenant Whidden 325 acres of land on Sowangen in 1756, for his service at Louisburg. He married his second wife Mary Gould at age 27 in 1740 in Rockingham, New Hampshire. Their first daughter, Martha Gould Whidden died in infancy. Abigail Gould Whidden and Nabby Gould Whidden were born on Swan Island, where the family built a large, garrisoned home. Son, David Gould Whidden, was also born on Swan Island/Sowangen.
Lieutenant Whidden became friendly and comfortable trading with the Abenaki who visited the island, across from where Chief Kenebiki had lived in his stone fortress on little Swan Island. During that same year, the newly settled “Dunbar towns” included Walpole, Townsend (Boothbay), New Castle (Newcastle), Witchcassett (Wiscasset), and Harrington. “Pejepscot towns” encompassed Brunswick, Topsham, and Georgetown. Major Samuel Goodwin, a resident Kennebec Proprietor, lived in a garrisoned house where Pownalborough Courthouse is today. The major was directed by the Proprietor’s Agreement to set aside two lots in each town, one for the first ordained minister, the other for a parsonage and the minister. Major Goodwin felt nearly as much responsibility for residents within his jurisdiction along the Kennebec as he did for his family members.
James Jones Whidden went on to have children: Samuel Gould Whidden, Sarah Gould Whidden, Simeon Gould Whidden, and Elizabeth Gould Whidden, probably all born in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Lazarus Noble married Abigail, daughter of Lieutenant James Jones Whidden of Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1750, leading those families to establish permanent residency together on Sowangen. The Kennebec River Valley (Quinnebequi) was the main highway into prime fishing, hunting, trapping, and possible farmlands on the fertile intervals bordering the rivers and streams. The territory had been a pantry, from which the Abenaki had sustained themselves, and before them, the Red Paint peoples back into the Paleo time period.
Driven by the king’s charters to claim certain portions of the property, reported by previous explorers to be lushly forested, rivers and seas teeming with huge fish of all kinds, and streams flowing over steep falls, providing waterpower for factories and mills. Englishmen came in waves to claim Abenaki territory. Certain bushes such as the sassafras or angelica and other herbs produced the much sought-after medicinal and culinary elements. Europeans coveted sassafras as a cure for syphilis, then rampant on that continent. Angelica was a popular remedy administered by a midwife for the birth mother’s comfort following the birth.
On the evening of 6 September 1750, Major Samuel Goodwin visited his friend Lieutenant James Whidden and his son-in-law, Lazarus Noble at their large garrisoned, two-story home at the south end of Sowangen. Samuel was in a serious mood, his face flushed, his eyes wide and there were deep creases of concern above his bushy eyebrows. Major Goodwin, a Kennebec Proprietor who lived in a fortified residence a short distance upriver near Hathorn Rock (across the river from Indian Point), had come to issue a warning about impending raids by the Abenaki. Neither James Whidden nor Lazarus Noble was willing to accept the caution. Whidden was confident in his friendly trade relations with Chief Kenebiki as well as Chief Abigadasset on the western bank of the Kennebec River, and Chief Robin Hood of Arrowsic Island, a few southerly miles distant and on the eastern side of the Kennebec toward the sea.
“It is about to happen soon, and I tell you it will be swift and violent.” The major raised his voice to impress upon his friend James, further emphasizing his passion by pounding his fist down on the tabletop so hard it startled Mrs. Mary Gould Whidden, Abby Noble, and some of the older children who remained awake in nearby rooms of the garrisoned house they shared. The major continued to inform them that, “The reason those Indians are so upset is due to the assault at Sheepscott. I rode over to Pemaquid to glean more knowledge of Indian activity and whether those fishermen thought there was agitation in the air. Likewise, I know some of those ‘Praying Indians’ (Abenaki converts of Jesuit priests who lived within their village) in Norridgewock have worked themselves up too. Captain Phips has received word via a messenger sent from Commander Jabez Bradbury of Fort George, expressing his concern that over 65 Indians had marched from Penobscot to invade Sheepscott.”
Lieutenant James Jones Whidden promised quietly to keep the children and women inside the garrison for a couple of days but insisted on working in the fields with his son-in-law, Noble, and his sons and grandsons would need to go on each day as usual. He was steadfast in his beliefs that he had in the local Abenaki, trusted friends. He had been trading with those Abenaki for a couple of years without problems, managed to learn much about his neighbors, and respected their wishes. Why he even felt a sense of security from what he perceived as their “protection.” James Whidden was aware of other settlers who were not as respectful of the Abenaki and discouraged them from any attempt at trading, certainly not to venture farther into the wilderness or upriver much above Sowangen. The visit between Major Samuel Goodwin and James Whidden lasted long into the night. The major excused himself at dawn, attempting to travel the river while it was quiet, proposing to continue his alerts to Fort Richmond, issuing the same warning to Captain Lithgow. He was left frustrated and worried, paddling energetically upriver toward Fort Richmond and his garrison house beyond on the east side of the river at Pownalborough.
The point Major Goodwin was attempting to make to his friend was that Abenaki had been showing signs of agitation for days. War whoops were heard throughout the forest during the days as bowmen ran along footpaths, and long nights of drum beating echoed up and down the river. To further reinforce his point, Samuel Goodwin looked Lieutenant Whidden straight in the eye to tell him that he had visited Sheepscott from a close distance where he observed some of the actions within the local Abenaki villages along his journey without much reaction from his friend James. Any details of his trip to Sheepscott told by Major Goodwin to Lieutenant Whidden were not comforting or positive information.
The next morning was unusually peaceful on Sowangen, lulling Lieutenant Whidden into complacency even as he considered Major Sam Goodwin’s warning. Stepping outside, he took a deep breath of morning air as he assessed his surrounding property, looking sharp through the fields and woods. He reassessed his gut feelings and as he did so, noticed a stately eagle circling in the sunrise far over the entrance to the Eastern River. Seeing the familiar regal eagle added to his complacency. Everything seemed normal on the little island. The eagle had a nest on Spaulding’s Island, nothing more than an outcropping of trees on a half-acre island at the head of little Swan Island, north of his property on Sowangen. When he returned to the kitchen, he cautioned the women who were up to tell the young girls to stay inside the compound for a couple of days. Unfortunately, everyone neglected to impress upon his young grandsons the importance of not venturing outside the gate that morning, not fully believing what their grandfather considered Major Goodwin’s outrageous warning. The boys did manage to sneak outside the gate just because they thought they could, but hearing voices back at the house, felt guilty thinking they had gotten away with something forbidden. Quickly they retreated inside the fenced-in yard—somehow without remembering to close the gate securely.
The household servants of the Noble-Whidden family were rushing around the kitchen that morning preparing a harvest and birthday celebration for the family. Just after a couple of hungry young ones came trundling down the stairs from their beds, decorating began as promised the night before as a bedtime incentive, and plates of multi-colored sweet cakes of all sizes had been laid out. The activity created a playful, carefree mood throughout the house. James Whidden was sitting in his favorite chair, giving horsy rides to little Fanny, who was giggling so much James had to hold his stomach. What a delight that child was to James, who enjoyed a houseful of activity among his extended family.
Everyone was in the gayest of moods when suddenly a dozen painted Indians stormed directly into the house making angry whooping noises, jamming sweet cakes into their mouths, ripping down the decorations, and pouring vessels of milk across the kitchen floor. One of the Indians began grabbing crocks of sugar, flour, spices, and molasses, overturning them onto the floor, smashing mugs and various crockery on the hearthstones, laughing all through his uncouth antics, satisfied with his mess. Another decided to stomp the wooden kitchen chairs, breaking them up with his heavy war club while piling the splintered wood in the middle of the parlor with any other flammables he could quickly grasp. Still, another wrestled with Timothy Noble, stronger than he looked.
Much to the horror of one of the servants, an already tearful one-year-old Fanny Noble was scooped up like a sack of corn under the arm of a muscular, tall, young Indian. She was last seen being carried down over the hill to be loaded into one of several hidden canoes down on the riverbank. All during this time, screaming, yelling, and loud smashing frightened everyone present including the invaders who quickly began jumping on the upholstered furniture, slashing the upholstery with ghastly-looking knives, and tossing metal cookware about by earsplitting clanging noises as the pans hit. Every member of the household was horrified and paralyzed to do anything in their defense. A few of the other Natives stopped whooping and began to take members of the Noble-Whidden families and their neighbor’s captives.
The lieutenant’s son-in-law, Lazarus Noble, and a hired man scrambled as silently as possible to nearly fly up the back stairs of the garrisoned house, attempting to fire upon the Indians in the yard with no success. Even before they slipped back down the bottom of the stairway, they could see waves of feathers flying, heard fabric ripping and women screaming. Featherbeds had been slit to reveal the goose down feather stuffing, and the Abenaki were enjoying their “snowstorm,” while sliding barefoot through the molasses, as if they thought they were ice skating on the river, cackling away like hyenas as they slid. Under other circumstances, the fantastic performance would have prompted great peals of laughter from the audience.
At least they did not show violence toward any persons, but the children were all so frightened they were crying and yelling for their mothers as some of them were carried outside and down to the riverside. One of the servants had made his usual morning trek to the barn to collect eggs, and man- aged to escape capture by hiding under the floorboards of the barn. Lieutenant Whidden pulled his wife Mary Gould Whidden by the arm down into the root cellar to hide until the Abenaki tired of destroying the house and furnishings. When everything became quiet above them in the house, they smelled smoke and the couple realized they might be the sole survivors of their combined family.
Lieutenant James Jones Whidden grabbed panicked Mary’s hand, pushing her outside into the woods behind the house. Scarcely any clothing to cover themselves, he led her through the dark underbrush for a frightening barefoot trek along the three-mile island ridge, emerging at the north end where a huge boulder sat in a thick stand of bushes on the riverside, just across from Fort Richmond. There, they began to yell out to the commander of Fort Richmond, Captain Lithgow for help, waving their bare arms out from behind the leafy brush cover.
The captain sent one of his men over to the island to investigate the reason for the panicked cries for help. As the soldier paddled closer to the shore where he could hear them, he asked the couple what was the severity of their situation. They shouted back that their garrison was under attack by Indians and some of their family members had been kidnapped. They smelled smoke and thought the house was in flames. Feeling he too was in grave danger; he veered his canoe away from Sowangen to return to the fort at high speed. He immediately reported to Captain Lithgow, saying that the Indians “had murdered Lieutenant Whidden and his whole family.” Nearly chuckling at the insanity of the comment in an otherwise grim situation, Captain Lithgow assured the soldier that he must be mistaken, as he had personally heard distressing shouts for assistance coming across the river from the riverbank just moments prior.
The soldier continued to insist on his original statement, reinforcing his unreasonable assumption by stating with his shocked, pale face, “It is certain, for I received the news from Lieutenant Whidden’s own mouth.” If the actual event had not been so severe, both men would have been bowled over with laughter! Unfortunately, the report was mostly accurate except the fact that Lieutenant Whidden himself and his wife were still living. Captain Lithgow shook the soldier by his shoulders, looking him directly in the eye, saying, “Buck up soldier, we have a rescue to conduct.” The soldier recovered from his embarrassment on the return trip bringing clothing for Lieutenant James and Mary Whidden to cover their naked bodies, quickly ferrying them across to the safety of Fort Richmond. During the less than five-minute paddle, he nervously looked this way and that toward both shores so quickly the Whidden’s thought his head would snap off. That evening, approximately one hundred Abenaki surrounded and violently assaulted the fort.
Fortunately, Captain Lithgow had taken Major Goodwin’s warnings seriously, briefed his soldiers, readied cannon, rifles and ensured there was enough ammunition, barricading the massive, thick gate, and was as prepared as he could be to resist with all his might and power. By then, the Whidden’s had obtained suitable clothing to cover themselves but were trembling again although confident the fort would provide the protection they did not have at their unsecured garrison that very morning.
Captain Lithgow owed a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. Jennings, a fervently religious resident of Dresden who chose not to heed Major Goodwin’s warning to stay off the river and prepare for an Indian assault. Mr. Jennings opted to shave shingles, as was his usual habit, claiming his God would protect him from any undue harm. However, several of the Indians captured him on their way to attack Fort Richmond that day. Through torture, Mr. Jennings uttered only one “white lie,” in telling his captors that the previous night Major Goodwin had entered Fort Richmond with “many soldiers” to ready for battle. The Indians satisfied themselves by slaughtering nearly a dozen cattle, which they butchered, packing the bloody chunks of meat into several retreating canoes. Mr. Jennings traveled with the Indians by canoe until being marched into Canada and thrown into a prison where he eventually died of starvation.
Mr. Pomeroy, another resident of Dresden, was in the field tending his cattle that day when he realized Abenaki were pursuing him. He ran toward his house, but a small party of Indians who crossed the river to Frankfort (Dresden) slit his throat as he was standing at his front door. Mr. Davis a gentleman then living in an apartment in the house of Mr. Pomeroy, sprang to his door to find an Indian shoving his gun barrel inside to prevent closure of the door. Davis and two women inside the room wrestled with the firearm to defend themselves. Davis’ child was in the summer kitchen of the house and was quickly taken captive. His son gone, Mr. Davis ended up with only the firearm as a trophy of the scuttle to recount the gory details of the attack and kidnapping of his son with his friends.
On the west shore of the Kennebec above Fort Richmond was a point of land called Indian Point, across from where Pownalborough Courthouse stands today. The raiding Indians took the butchered cattle meat, Mr. Jennings, and the thirteen captives from Sowangen to camp on Indian Point that night to rest, furthering their plans before moving northward to Canada. There was such a body of agitated Indians after the raid that their celebratory noises echoed up and down the river and through the thick woods as far upriver as Nahumkeag Island throughout most of the smoke-filled night on the Kennebec River.
The day following the raid on the Noble-Whidden family in 1750, Lieutenant Whidden could not bear to wait any longer, having recovered from nearly suffering a heart attack with all the panic of the morning previous. The acrid odor of smoke still hung in the air and could still be seen rising from the south end of the island. Mary Whidden was as anxious as her husband James to discover what the level of actual damage was at their garrisoned home on the island and whether any of the family or neighbors had survived as well. They did not know then whether any of the household had been murdered, later realizing none of their family or servants had been killed, at least during the raid on the island. Cautiously in the early morning to see what was left, they paddled across the river in a canoe loaded with borrowed rifles from the fort. They were not calmed to discover that thirteen members of their family had disappeared with the marauders. What happened to them? Were they still breathing, were they being paddled upriver, were they being tortured?
Months, or in some cases years later, some of the ransomed or released captives returned from Canada to report they did not sustain any torture, in fact, were treated humanely and with unexpected gentleness, although food had not been plentiful along their rough journey. The raiding Indians were believed to have been young rogue Indians from the Pemaquid settlement, who had worked themselves into fits of anger, not understanding what they perceived as passive attitudes of the elders, sachems, or even of Chief Bomazeen. The braves believed they were going to change the white men; teach them whose land they were stealing. The small group thought they would make big money by ransoming the captives in Canada. Lazarus Noble, one of the kidnapped, was released but forced to leave three of his children in Canadian captivity. A census report from 1754 shows Lazarus Noble farming on Sowangen. Lazarus, of Scotch descent, was born in Dover, New Hampshire, and died on Sowangen in 1763. One of his sons married after the raid on Sowangen, choosing to settle in Nova Scotia, Canada, and one daughter willingly stayed with the Indians in Canada.
The brother-in-law of Governor Vaudreuil (M. St. Ange), a wealthy man, had purchased freedom from the Natives for one-year-old “Fanny” Noble. Mrs. St. Ange adopted Fanny in her heart, renamed her Eleanor, taught her a life of privilege, and around her 10th birthday, placed her in a nunnery in Montreal to get a good education. Treated to a genteel and refined education there, “Fanny Noble” became a polite, accomplished, agreeable young lady. At age fourteen, she faced another relocation when Samuel Harnden of Woolwich, sent by Fanny’s father, obtained an order issued by the then-acting (Massachusetts) English Governor Spencer Phips to return her to Sowangen where her father lived. Her sophisticated education prevented her from resisting Mr. Harnden’s efforts to carry out the orders of the governor.
An attempt was made on Fanny-Eleanor’s behalf, a payment of about two thousand dollars, for her to remain living her privileged life in Canada. The money was refused, she learned she must return to Sowangen on the Kennebec River, and she finally made the decision to return. Quiet and reflective, praying as she walked the trails, she considered and reconsidered what her fate there might be as she sat as demurely as one can in a crude Bateaux on her return, under the care of Samuel Harnden to Sowangen.
About age 14–15 when she returned, she chose Abiel Lovejoy as her necessary guardian. Abiel lost his father as a young man and managed to struggle to be successful without the assistance of his father as most of the young men of his era. He spent a great deal of his adult life offering himself as legal guardian to many young girls and boys in the Kennebec River region. Many who knew of his activities believed his motivation stemmed from thinking of himself their lost parent assisting them in life, unlike leaving them with no direction or assistance, as had been his difficult start as a young adult.
Timothy Noble, several children, and Mary Holmes were taken captive and tramped into Canada. The hired man and two of the boys managed to escape from the chaos and torching of the house and barn that day. The mother Fanny Noble did not remember had died several years before her return to the Kennebec. By that time, her father was indigent, surrounded by filth, living in a deteriorating old cabin on the island. Fanny, now known as Eleanor, could not fathom why she had been returned to such a wretched place to live with an uneducated man she did not remember but who also disgusted her. When she sought out her former local friends, they did not provide much solace. Her broken father had earned his reputation for consuming significant quantities of liquor on a regular basis to ease the pain of losing his family.
Fanny-Eleanor did not understand what her father had gone through. Soon after her return to the island, Fanny’s father passed away, leaving her free to pursue a life independent of the horrors she had endured in her short lifetime. She remembered the kindness she was shown in Canada. She decided to utilize the education she had been privileged to attain, becoming a schoolteacher in New Hampshire, first married to Jonathan Tilton and later to John Shute, at last permanently settling down in that state as Mrs. Shute. Sowangen would be changed forevermore.
Since the first ships sailed up the Kennebec River to explore virgin territory, many lives had been lost or changed, leaving burnt cellar holes as evidence of their rich lives. The Abenaki had been driven north from their homelands to join other refugees of English tactics in Nova Scotia or Quebec, leaving only burial mounds and remnants of seasonal feasts on the Dresden shore. The pristine island vista was left smoldering, smoke wafting for weeks across the river onto either shore of the mighty Kennebec. Both shores had experienced as much change as the three little islands (Spaulding, little Swan, and Sowangen) but the hearts of healthy men and women who had ventured forth from another continent were not easily crushed.
From the first landing on the shores of Sabino, Popham Colony sprang, and some of those residents were bitten with the urge to return to an island they had explored while living at that colony. Resilience is a virtue. Several descendants of the original families would come to build homesteads and farms on the islands. Just as sure as grasses and saplings forged their way through the charred remains of those who first came to love this place, in time enough settlers arrived to populate a small thriving town on the fertile islands, including Kennebec Rivers’ Swan Island, Sowangen – the Island of Eagles.
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