Great Works, 1989 (photo by Wendy Pirsig)Great Works, 1989 

In July 1634, William Chadbourne, James Wall and John Goddard, three English carpenters under contract with Capt. John Mason's Laconia Company, arrived in present-day South Berwick, Maine, from England aboard the vessel "Pied Cow." Their contract called for them to build a saw mill and grist mill on on what was then called the Asbenbedick or Little Newichawannock River. (Source: The Chadbourne Family in America: A Genealogy, 1994, compiled by Elaine C. Bacon for The Chadbourne Family Association, and edited by Deborah L. Chadbourne).

    The sawmill they built, thought to be the first over-shot water-powered site in America, was located in the "Rocky Gorge" below the Great Works bridge on today's Brattle Street.

    By Rick Coughlin and Norma Keim, Old Berwick Historical Society, November 18, 2004

“. . . Cometh Down to ye Great mill workes” (Patience Spencer deed, 1682)

    1621 Attempts to build saw mills in Virginia on James River
    1624 Twentieth century sign at Great Works claims first sawmills in America built here on this date

1631 Model of a saw-mill sent to Newichawannock on ship Pied Cow (from original letter from Thomas Eyre of the Company of Laconia to Ambrose Gibbons, London, the last of May 1631)

   1634 Capt. John Mason’s three carpenters begin building a saw mill and a grist mill at Newichawannock, but where in Newichawannock -- “smalle falls” or “steepe falls?”
    1638 Mason has died; mills fall into disrepair; materials pilfered, mill eventually burns
    1651 Town of Kittery grants Richard Leader mill privilege at the “steepe” falls; Town also grants Thomas Spencer and Humphrey Chadbourne tree allotments and the right of free passage for the bringing of timber down the little River unto their mill
    1651-1652 Leader brings with him from Saugus Ironworks a number of Scottish “servants” captured at the Battle of Dunbar and exiled

Partial list of sailing ships built 1700-1847 in today’s South Berwick, Maine and Rollinsford, New Hampshire
    c. 1703 - Sloop Eagle of Boston built at Berwick, Benjamin Jeffry, Master, found in register of vessels, May 20, 1703 (Source: Volume 7, p. 222 of the Massachusetts Archives Collection)

    1769 - Ship - David Moore, builder, Berwick. Joseph Field of Kittery, shipwright. Supply Clapp of Portsmouth, owner.

    1769 - Brig Laurel - Set sail for Barnstable.

    1770 - Brig Greyhound - James Garvin, Jr., master, Rollinsford. Set sail for the West Indies. Lost at sea.


Pipe Stave LandingSouth Berwick Maritime History


"Not a creek but ships are building in it;
not a river’s mouth so small, but merchants’ companies are there in possession of ships; no situation where a mill could stand on, on which there has not been a mill erected."
    -- La Rochefoucalt-Liancourt's Travels in Canada, 1795. 

For almost 150 years before the construction of the Hamilton House, Salmon Falls River sawmills processed timber for the English merchant ships and navy. One byproduct of the mast production was large quantities of material for making wooden barrels. “Pipe staves,” as these wooden barrel components were called, became one of the major exports of the South Berwick area and the whole Piscataqua. They were the most common containers of their day, used for liquids, for commodities like flour and sugar, and for the wine and rum of Europe and the West Indies.

The Launch of the Berwick:  A Memory of Seventy years Ago.
by John Marr, Rochester, N.Y.
(From Old Eliot, Vol. IV, No. I (January, 1901) pp. 42-43)

BW Hamilton House

Note:  This account is also published in Tall Ships of the Piscataqua, p. 18.  There are a few points respecting the accuracy of John Marr's recollection.  The ship was built at the yard of T.F. & T. Jewett at Pipe Stave Landing in 1832.  The insurance records for the Berwick  are included in an account book of Theodore Jewett at the Maine Maritime Museum, where it is noted that the new ship Berwick sailed from Portsmouth on her first voyage February 8, 1833.  The ship did not go down in 1833-34, as Marr claims, but sailed for 13 years.  Her sad fate is recorded in a newspaper account of the period.  Theodore's 23-year-old son Samuel Walker Jewett was the captain in 1846--not Theodore Jr., as Marr says (Theodore F. Jewett was 18 when the ship was launched and may have been its first captain).  The ship was insured in January 1846 for voyages to and from Boston and Calcutta via Mauritius (off the coast of Madagascar).   She left Boston on February 3, 1846 with a cargo of ice and spars and was lost at sea.  The tragedy is recorded in a simple notation in the account book:  "Paid by loss March 6, 1847."   Theodore had five sons, and only two of them outlived him--William and Theodore.  The Odd Fellows Club of South Berwick erected a monument to Samuel that still stands at Portland Street Cemetery. -- Old Berwick Historical Society

Old Eliot is very interesting, and recalls many persons whom I knew, and names familiar in my boyhood.

No event has a more prominent place in my memory than the Launch of the Berwick. This ship was built by Capt. Hanscom in 1832, at the lower-landing in South Berwick, a few rods north of the old Hamilton House, as seen in Miss Jewett’s "Old Town of Berwick."
At the launching of the Berwick I was sprinkled with wine from the bottle broken by Capt. Hanscom in christening the ship. Once I could repeat his eulogy; but my memory retains now but two lines:


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