A Description Of The Town And Village by Judge Benjamin Chadbourne, 1790s

This article was written by Judge Benjamin Chadbourne, great grandson of Humphrey 2 Chadbourne, who gave the land upon which Berwick Academy was built in 1791 in South Berwick, Maine. Written in the style and language of that period, this text was forwarded to Judge Chadbourne's friend, Hon. James Sullivan (1744-1808), the Berwick native who wrote The History of the District of Maine in 1795, and in 1807-1808 was governor of Massachusetts. "A Description of the Town of Berwick" is believed to have been reprinted in the THE INDEPENDENT, a newspaper published in South Berwick in the late 1800s and early 1900s by Edward Townsend, a trustee of Berwick Academy for many years.


    To give a history of the town of Berwick without taking some notice of the town of Kittery would afford but few materials of antiquity as Berwick was originally a part of Kittery and never separated and incorporated into a town until A.D. 1713.

    Before the separation took place what is now Berwick was called Newickawanock. I suppose it took its name from the name of the river on which it lies and was the boundary between the Province of Maine and Newhampshire. How early settlement was made in the upper part of Kittery I can not precisely determine perhaps as early as 1636. The first settlers were men of property and fond of acquiring lands for themselves and children. They were greatly attached to fresh meadows which afforded them present fodder for their cattle. The first adventurers as far as I have heard were Shapleigh, Heard, Frost, Chadbourne, and Emery.

    They took most of the land opposite Bloody Point in Newington to the upper part of the town which included a very large tract of fresh meadow ready cleared by the Beavers, through which runs a creek called Sturgeon Creek and as far as the tide flows afforded them salt-fodder as there is considerable marsh and thatch beds which lie on each side of the Creek.

    I do not remember that I ever saw records of Kittery more ancient than 1648 and that I think was two years before the town was incorporated.

    Humphrey Chadboume, my great grandfather, was the first town clerk. This Chadbourne, it seems, had a peculiar fondness for fresh meadows and mill-privilege. He soon penetrated into Newickawanock and chose a mill-privilege and a tract of land adjoining which he purchased of the Indians as early as 1643. A copy of this deed is now in the hands of Geo. R. Minot, Esq., to whom I gave it as a piece of curiosity. This is the farthest I can revert back. When Berwick was separated from Kittery she being the mother took care of herself retaining five-eighths of all the common and individual lands in that town. They ran three miles from the river upon the head line of the town and took a course keeping that distance from the river extending their line from the upper to the lower part of the town.

    This has ever since been called the Interest Line. The proprieters of Kittery owned all to the eastward of that Line and those of Berwick to the westward. There were then three incorporate bodies within the town. Berwick as a town, Kittery Proprietors on the east and Berwick Proprietors on the west, so that Berwick only had the jurisdiction and the Proprietors the soil and free hold.

    In 1736 the Proprietors divided their interest in 100 acre lots which comprehended the best land in the town and is now settled which I think includes more than half the inhabitants now in the town. For some it caused uneasiness, but now we are so intermixed that we have forgotten past grievances. By a revolution of the wheels of human events within fifty years

    past, those families that were the lowest are now the highest, and those that were the most respectable are now the lowest.


    The town of Berwick contains about sixty-five thousand acres of land, and is bounded by Newickawanock and Salmon Falls River to Isinglass or Stair Falls, from thence a course northeast by east eight miles to certain marked trees, east and southwardly by the towns of Sanford and Wells, York and Kittery.

    It was located by a committee from the General Court before a separation took place which was about the year 1707. I do not remember of hearing that an exact admeasurement of the length of the town was ever ascertained, but from Kittery to Lebanon as the road goes, which is pretty straight is I think about sixteen miles.


    As to the soil it varies, some good, some middling, and some fit for no improvement.

    In some parts of the town, Iron Ore is found in considerable quantities.

    The land is pretty good for Indian Corn, Barley, Flax, Potatoes, with the assistance of manure.

    This town formerly abounded with a growth of valuable timber. Pine for logs and large masts, Oak fit for ship building, but little of either is now left.


    On the west side of Bonnybeag Pond are three hills, the largest of which is called Bonnybeag Hill. The other two bear the names of those who live on them, and are the only hills remarkable in the town.


    The only pond of any consequence is called Bonnvbeag Pond, situated about three miles from Doubty's Falls.

    The inhabitants of the town according to the last census amounts to three thousand eight hundred and ninety-four. (1796)


    Lumbering formerly was the principal business but since I can remember those who did the most of it for a living failed many years ago. Their estates, after laboring hard for many years have generally fell into the hands of traders who purchased their lumber. The people in general are now more independant and live much better by improving their lands, than they did formerly by lumbering, although their advantages at times were great.


    The most considerable river in this place was formerly called Newickawanock River being the Indian name of the river.

    The tide flows as far as Quamphegan Landing, Quamphegan being an Indian word, it is difficult to give a just definition of it. When I was a boy I conversed with an aged man by the name of John. Holmes.

    In his youth had been a pioneer with the Indians and learned their language and was a sensible man. I had the curiosity to ask him what was the meaning of Quamphegan. He told me it was a compound word and signified several things. I can only remember that it conveyed this idea: “A place for scooping fish out of the water with a net." About one mile below this landing is a large rock which has been called Newickawanock Rock as long as I can remember. The river from this rock to the harbour's mouth was anciently called Piscataqua and above the rock, Newickawanock River. Near this rock are Falls and ledges of rock, which much impede the transportation of lumber unless in very full tides.

    The river to the distance of six miles below Quamphegan is frozen over about four months in the year so that the water communication is cut off from this to the Capitol of Newhampshire during that time.

    In the summer season there is a constant passing and repassing in boats to and from Portsmouth, which in distance by water is about fourteen miles and nearly the same by land. The inhabitants set out upon the ebb find time to transact business in Portsmouth and return next flood.

    Formerly large fish such as salmon, bass, and shad came up the river in plenty, but they have forsook it and now there remains only Tom Cods, or what we call Frost fish which come in the month of December, smelts in the month of April, alewives in the months of June and July, and eels in about all seasons of the year. Before the dam was built at Quamphegan, salmon ran up the river and were taken in great plenty at the falls above since which they have borne the name of Salmon Falls, and are situated one mile of Quamphegan Landing. About three miles farther up are the Great Falls, so called as they are the largest in the river.

    Six miles from there are Isinglass or Stair Falls, which is the north or upper corner of this town. These Falls derive their name from the impregnation of the rocks with Isinglass and ascending like a flight of steps which is the occasion of their being called sometimes Isinglass Falls and sometimes Stair Falls.

    The river called Great Works River originates in the town of Sanford, passing through low flat land and a pond called Bonnybeag, enters the town at the N.E. corner running generally from N.E. to S.W., empties itself into Newickawanock or Salmon Falls River short of a mile below Quamphegan. About one mile above the mouth of this river there is a remarkable fall of water which rolls with great rapidity over rocks perpendicular into a basin very deep, formerly it was said to be unfathomable but of late it is supposed to be much shallower.

    The falling of the water, the height of the banks, together with the ruggedness of the rocks, form a noble and pleasing prospect to the spectator. These Falls were named the “Great Works” by the two men who came from England and settled there, by the name of Ledres. They obtained a grant of land of the Town of Kittery, I think of five hundred acres, and located it on both sides of the river, including these Falls. I have heard that they brought great property with them, and with it they built a sawmill which carried eighteen saws. The carriages were made of Cast-Iron and when broke were used, and still are in use, for Kitchen hand Irons, whence originated the name of Great Works River and Falls. There are now two saw-mills and one double Grist-Mill at this place. About ten miles (as the river runs) above this are Falls called Doubty's Falls, whence it obtains that name I cannot determine, but suppose it merely accidental. There is nothing particularly worth noticing here. The stream runs with a gradual descent, on it are now standing one saw and one grist mill.

    Iron works through this town are very beneficial to the Inhabitants, but expensive building and maintaining the bridges that are necessary.

    At every convenient place on these streams are erected not less than twelve Grist-Mills and many saw-mills, as likewise a fulling mill and Iron Works, yet since my

    remembrance at Salmon Falls only eight saws were continually going. It is a question with many whether the advantages arising to the inhabitants from their mills are so great, as Salmon Fishery would have been, had no mills been erected.


    We now have an Academy nearly completed, a handsome and commodious building, situated upon an eminence which commands an extensive and delightful prospect, and which will be fit for the reception of scholars the first of May next. The first Grammar School that ever was kept in this Town was begun by the late Rev'd Mr. James Pike, and we have had a succession of good grammar schoolmasters ever since – the present instructor is H. Weld Noble.


    There are two Congregational Societies in this Town, one large Society of Friends and several others of different denominations. Before Berwick was incorporated into a Town, I cannot say how long but I suppose as early as 1700, a Parish was incorporated which extended from Sturgeon Creek to the north part of Kittery, by the name of the parish of Unity, and sometimes by the name of the parish of Berwick. Their first minister was Mr. John Wade, who was ordained in November, 1702 and died in November, 1703. The next, Mr. Jeremiah Wise, who was ordained 1707 and continued minister till his death, which was in January, 1756. His character is too well known to need any encomiums.

    After his death Mr. Jacob Foster was ordained minister in 1756 and continued in his ministry about twenty years.

    Mr. John Thompson is the present minister installed in 1783.

    The town was divided into Parishes about 1750. The first Minister in the New Parish was Mr. John Morse. He lived but a few years after he was settled. His successor was Mr. Matthew Miriam who is now the present Minister.


    As to Indian affairs, Doc't Belknap in his history of Newhampshire has so fully related the most remarkable circumstances that have come within knowledge, that it would be needless for me to recapitulate them, and would swell my narrative to too great a length. I suppose that there was formerly a Tribe that lived in this place called the Newickawanock Tribe.

    Their Sagamore, styled Mr. Rowles, as you may see by his deed to my Great Grandfather before mentioned. I heard when he died he was buried at Cochequo Point, with his Tin-Kettle by his side. When that Tribe removed from Newickawanock, I suppose for a while they might sit down by the Great Ponds at the head of the Salmon Falls River, and so up to Ossipee, as I well remember of hearing of the Ossipee Tribe. They were very dangerous in time of war, and troublesome in time of peace, for as soon as the wars were over, they used to come down among us, with their families and dogs, and pitched their tents in a low piece of ground just above my mill pond. Their stay was sometimes long and sometimes short, but went backwards and forwards a considerable part of the summer season. They were acquainted with the Inhabitants and the Inhabitants with them, and called them by their names, as they could all speak English. The women spent their time in going from house to house begging, the men in trading, buying and promising to pay, but seldom performed. When they could procure liquor they got drunk, would then lie down and sleep 'till they got sober, then up and at it again'. Sometimes they were abusive in their language, but do not remember of hearing that quarrels ever took place between them and our people. Their dogs were generally under good discipline, but the pain of hunger often obliged them to allay it with killing fowls and other creatures belonging to the Inhabitants. Taking them and their dogs together, they were very disagreeable neighbors. They often made boasts that the Lands all around belonged to them. These circumstances are all within my remembrance.

    As to the House that was called the Great House, who built it, and when burnt, I will give you the best accounts in my power. I always understood that it was built by Col. Ichabod

    Plaisted, who was one of the greatest men of the East at that day. This house I suppose was large at first, but a number of additions being made, that it might with propriety be called Great House, it was burnt in Jan'y 1738. This Col. Plaisted, whom I have just mentioned, I think died about the year 1718. He was a man of business and employed himself in getting masts.

    He built the mills at Salmon Falls and acquired a great estate. In consequence of employing many men in business, and supporting their families, as likewise possessing a happy talent at pleasing, he acquired the affections of the people to such a degree, that it has been generally said, since my remembrance that he had not left his equal. I have heard that he was portly well-looking man, very facetious who lived beloved and died lamented.

    Humphrey Chadbourne, my great grandfather was one of the first settlers in Kittery near Sturgeon Creek. In 1643 he purchased of the Indians the neck of land, so called, and the water privilege where I now live, as I find by his will dated 1667 in the reign of Charles the second that he gave his son Humphrey, who was my grandfather, all his lands, marshes and mills, which he had at Newickawanock, and ordered him to pay legacies to his daughters out of the profits of his mills in the same place ever since. It is the same place where my mills now stand, at present there are two Grist-mills, with three pair of stones, one for hulling barley, peas, etc., and one sawmill. This first Humphrey entailed the estate which lie had at Newickawanock to his eldest son, and the heirs lawfully of his body, from generation to generation, which consisted of two large tracts of land, and it remained until 1760, when Humphrey Chadbourne his grandson, who was heir intail, after he was more than eighty years of age, suffered a common recovery to be taken upon the whole, and as he had no children, in 1762, he made his will and divided the whole among his brothers and sisters children, of whom I am one.

    He had but two brothers who both died before him. He left one sister and one who died sometime before him. Here is an end of the entailment, an end of the history of my family, and with it an end of the description of Berwick.

    The principal families that were in the town at the time of its incorporation, as I have been informed, were Plaisted, Hill, Chadbourne, Lord, Goodwin, Spencer, Grant, Nason, Pray, Keays, (one name torn off) Smith and Abbotts. When I was first old enough to attend trainings, there was but one foot company in the town, and that not very large, and there are now as I think, seven. If I mistake not, there is no house now standing between my house and Canada, that has not been built within my remembrance by which it appears that the settlement of the country back has been exceedingly rapid, as I have not yet attained the age of seventy-five years.

    There are several persons of note, land holders who lived at Newickawanock, as I have heard, and were all gone with their families before my remembrance, the principal ones Broughton, Leader, Crowde and Wincoll. Broughton obtained a grant of land, including Quamphegan, Salmon Falls brook, and so back into the country, until five hundred acres, were completed, and another large tract at the Great Falls. It was afterwards conveyed to certain gentlemen in Boston. Dr. Elisha Cook, I think, was the principal owner, Leader's was sold to John Plaisted. The other estates, I know not who were the purchasers or what became of them.