Humphrey Spencer (c. 1674 – 1712)

Humphrey Spencer (c. 1674 – 1712)

With William Spencer’s death in 1696, Humphrey Spencer assumed ownership and occupancy of his uncle’s homestead and much of his extensive property holdings of crop, grazing, and wood lands. Humphrey also acquired the services of Moses Spencer, William’s former servant who would serve out the remainder of his indenture with him. By 1700, Humphrey had married Mary Cutts, the daughter of John Cutts of Portsmouth. Together they raised three children while living at Old Fields; William, the eldest, followed by Sarah, and Samuel. Humphrey Spencer had two primary sources of income, farming and inn keeping. Spencer was well equipped for the former undertaking with the farmland he inherited from his uncle and had purchased himself. At the time of Spencer’s death in 1712, he still owned crop and grazing land and orchards near his home, pasture adjacent to Cox’s Pond, and 20 acres of land (meadow?) “above the beaver dam.” The Spencer homestead included, in addition to the dwelling, a barn where Humphrey Spencer would have stored his hay and crops and sheltered his livestock and a dairy that contained a still, cheese press, and a large barrel of bread. His stock of farm animals consisted of 2 oxen, 5 cows, 4 yearlings, 2 heifers, 10 swine, and 17 sheep.

Humphrey Spencer established himself as an inn/tavern keeper soon after he occupied the home of his late uncle, William. In 1699, the York County Court licensed Spencer with three other men and two women to sell “strong drink.” The following year York County officials upgraded Humphrey Spencer’s license so that he could operate a “Publick house of entertainment.” County officials continued to do so every year until his death in 1712. A walk through of the kitchen of the Spencer home, as it appeared in 1712, would have revealed a large room capable of serving the needs of the general public and the Spencer family. The room included a table and six chairs, twelve “ordnary” (quite possibly a reference to “tavern” chairs) chairs, 8 pewter platters, 3 pewter basons, 28 pewter plates, 3 pewter tankards, 3 pewter quart measures, and single pint, half pint, and gill measures. The still and 30 bushels of malt stored in a second floor bedroom in the Spencer dwelling indicated that Humphrey Spencer made beer? and hard liquor (probably rum). The Berwick tavern keeper probably intended these stocks to supplement those that he purchased for his tavern. Humphrey was carrying on a tradition established by his grandparents in the early 1680s. Thomas and Patience Spencer operated a tavern in their home in 1681 and 1682.

Humphrey Spencer rapidly established himself in community affairs. He served as one of old Berwick’s constables in 1696 and 1697. In 1701, 1706, and 1707, Berwick residents appointed him to a committee responsible for overseeing construction of Berwick’s new meetinghouse on the site of the original Old South Street edifice. He was also tasked with Benoni Hodsdon and Nathan Lord Sr. to hire laborers who would erect fencing around the “ministry land” near the church.

Nonetheless, life must have been difficult for Humphrey Spencer and his family. Berwick, while it survived the worst of the Indian attacks of the late 1680s and 1690s, remained exposed to attack and its inhabitants lived in an atmosphere of fear and financial stress in the decade that followed. There was only a brief period of peace between the end of King William’s War (1697) and a new round of Anglo-Indian conflict that broke out in 1703 and continued until 1713 (Queen Anne’s War) in northern New England. In the summer of 1703, a force of Wabanaki and French attacked the settlements of Casco, Black Point, Cape Elizabeth, Purpooduck, Saco, Winter Harbor, and Wells. Many of those that were not killed were captured. The attackers also “killed abundance of Cattle & left them untouched.” Other attacks were closer to home. In the fall of 1707, a party of Wabanaki warriors killed James Ferguson and his wife on their way home after attending Sunday service at the Old South Street meetinghouse. Not surprisingly, sixteen old Berwick residents established or maintained garrisons within the confines of old Berwick. At least six of the garrisons were situated in present day South Berwick; at Quamphegan and the homesteads of Humphrey Chadbourne, Captain John Hill, Mr. Lord, Mr. Nason. Humphrey Spencer’s was the largest of the sixteen, capable of sheltering 100 people comprised of 10 families, 13 men, and 4 soldiers. It is likely that this garrison was the same complex as that maintained by his uncle William Spencer two decades earlier.

The Spencer’s, however, did not live in isolation. Berwick’s new meetinghouse and the parsonages of Reverend John Wade and his successor Reverend Jeremiah Wise were only a few hundred yards northeast and east of the homestead of Humphrey Spencer. Humphrey’s good friend John Hill and his family lived a half a mile down the “road to Wells”(today’s Brattle Street).

Humphrey Spencer, despite these difficult times, appeared to have fared reasonably well. At the time of his death in 1712 (36), Humphrey Spencer’s estate was worth £781, a considerable amount for the time and his relatively young age. His estate consisted of a dwelling, barn, outbuildings, “cellars”, and orchard valued at £450 and personal estate worth £ 261. It is likely that Spencer’s garrison was still standing in 1712 since the fortified homestead was listed a year earlier in the inventory of old Berwick’s garrisons. Some or all of the above listed buildings were quite possibly part of the Spencer garrison based on the locational information. Unfortunately, none of the aforementioned structures nor the descriptions of their interiors clearly identify elements of the garrison. It is possible, however, that the “cellars” mentioned in Humphrey Spencer’s probate inventory could have been crude buildings that local inhabitants used as temporary shelter inside the confines of the Spencer garrison during King William’s (1688-1697) and Queen Anne’s wars (1703-1714).

(Article by Neill De Paoli, Director, Old Fields Archaeology Project, Old Berwick Historical Society)