The people and places of South Berwick, Maine, Sarah Orne Jewett's home town, clearly inspired much of her fiction. Below is a selection of Jewett's stories and essays through which South Berwick's past clearly echoes.
by Sarah Orne Jewett
"The Old Town of Berwick” is Sarah Orne Jewett’s history of her hometown, South Berwick, Maine, with an emphasis on the years before 1814 when the name Berwick applied to present-day Berwick, South Berwick and North Berwick. The essay was published in 1894 in New England Magazine with the illustrations that appear here. We are grateful to Terry Heller of Coe College for typesetting this document. Further notes on this essay are at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project
Throughout Jewett’s writings, her descriptions of the physical landscape are often very accurate. Taking her father’s advice, she wrote about what she knew, and her short stories sometimes read like 19th century travelogues. Her purpose in writing “The Old Town of Berwick” was to keep alive the places and people and stories which were familiar and dear to her. However, a few references in her essay here are not historically accurate. Because “The Old Town of Berwick” is often read as a local history, there has been a need to point out a few important inaccuracies in Jewett’s account. These will be mentioned in the notes accompanying the essay.
The Old Town of Berwick by Sarah Orne Jewett - Part I.
Low Tide. The old fishing place.
I have always believed that Martin Pring must have been the first English discoverer of my native town, when he came to the head of tide water in the Piscataqua River in 1603. Bartholomew Gosnold had sailed along the coast in 1602, and Pring's pilot was one of Gosnold's seamen. He brought his two little vessels, the "Speedwell" and the "Discoverer," of fifty and twenty-six tons burden respectively, in search of adventure and of sassafras bark, which at that time in England was believed to be a sovereign remedy for human ails. TThe records say that Pring could find no inhabitants in the Indian villages near the coast, except a few old people, from whom he learned that they had all gone up the river to their chief fishing place.
by Sarah Orne Jewett
“The Packet Boat” is the second chapter of Betty Leicester: A Story for Girls, 1890. This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller of Coe College. His annotated text, with original illustrations, can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website. Also incorporated into this text are illustrations by Beatrice Stevens, done for the 1929 Houghton Mifflin reprinting of Betty Leicester. These illustrations are available courtesy of the Iowa State University Library. Beatrice Stevens (1876-1947) was a painter and popular illustrator. The University of Connecticut Library Newsletter for November/December 2000 offers this information about her. She lived most of her life in Pomfret, Connecticut. "There she built a house and studio that quickly became a center of intellectual and artistic activity in this small but vigorous cultural community. She was an unforgettable character around town, often dressing in Grecian-style gowns while feeding the birds. She was a popular illustrator of books and, for 34 years, produced the annual Pomfret nativity play."
This chapter opens in the town of Riverport, based on Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Only 15 years old and traveling alone, Betty Leicester must make her way to her relatives in Tideshead, modeled after Jewett’s hometown of South Berwick, Maine, ten miles up the Piscataqua-Salmon Falls River. The packet boat, a regular conveyance for cargo and passengers, appears to be the region’s indigenous river craft also known as a gundalow.
by Sarah Orne Jewett
This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, “’The Stage Tavern’ appeared in Youth's Companion (74:184-5), April 12, 1900, where it was illustrated by an unidentified artist. Richard Cary included the story in Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. This text is from Youth's Companion.” Dr. Heller’s annotated text, with original illustrations, can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.
Several buildings still standing in South Berwick, Maine, were once stagecoach stops, including the former Frost Tavern shown at left, now The Bible Speaks. Decades before the author was born, the Jewett House itself may have been a stage tavern.
It was early spring weather in a Maine town, so near the coast that cold sea-winds came sweeping over the hills. Some of the old winter snow-drifts, hard and icy and stained with dust from the bare fields, barred the road in places, and now and then a scurry of snow came flying through the air in tiny round flakes that hardly gathered fast enough to mark the wheel-ruts. Two persons, a man and woman, were driving together over the rough road in an open wagon. They were tucked up in a good fur robe, but it was a hard day, and a bitter wind to face.
The woman evidently belonged to that part of the country; she wore a homely old woollen shawl, and a small felt hat, which was so closely tied down by a thick veil that one could hardly tell whether she might be young or old, whether her shoulders were rounded and bent with hard work, or a slight young figure had only muffled itself against the harsh weather. The horse was unmistakably young, and the woman was unmistakably a good and sympathetic driver, not fretting him, even when she held him back and tried to check a forgivable desire to gain the journey's end.
by Sarah Orne Jewett
This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, "’Between Mass and Vespers’ first appeared in Scribner's Magazine (13:661-676) May 1893, where it was illustrated by C. D. Gibson. The story was collected in A Native of Winby, from which this text comes. Dr. Heller’s annotated text can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.
"Between Mass and Vespers" appeared about six years after the construction of St. Michael Church in South Berwick, shown at right. It still stands about a block from Jewett's home.
Mass was over; the noonday sun was so bright at the church door that, instead of waiting there in a sober expectant group, three middle-aged men of the parish went a few steps westward to stand in the shade of a great maple-tree. There they stood watching the people go by -- the small boys and the chattering girls. Now and then one of the older men or women said a few words in Irish to Dennis Call or John Mulligan by way of friendly salutation. They were a contented, pleasant-looking flock, these parishioners of St. Anne's; they might have lost the gayety that they would have kept in the old country but a look of good cheer had not forsaken them, though many a figure showed the thinness that comes from steady hard work, and almost every face had the deep lines that are worn only by anxiety. The pretty girls looked as their mothers had looked before them, only they were not so fair and fresh-colored, having been brought up less wholesomely and too much indoors.