Tilly Haggens, a father of South Berwick

Jewett elms, planted by Tilly Haggens

Much of what is now downtown South Berwick, Maine, was owned at one time by an Irish immigrant named Tilly Haggens (also spelled Haggins or Higgins), who died in 1777. At the time, the town was known as Berwick and most of the population was clustered along the Salmon Falls River.  Haggens had come from Ireland and in the mid-1700s acquired much of present-day Main Street and South Berwick Village, including presumably some mill rights on the Salmon Falls River. Both he and his son John have been described as traders and entrepreneurs. Tilly's locally-built 80-ton sloop, The Dolphin, regularly sailed between Portsmouth, NH, and Barbados in the 1760s, trading cargoes of local wood products for rum, sugar and cotton produced by slave labor. In the 1798 Direct Tax Census, John Haggens is listed as one of the two wealthiest men in the town. Though Tilly Haggens' home apparently no longer remains, those of two of his children are landmarks to this day: the Sarah Orne Jewett House (1774), built by John Haggens at Main and Portland Streets, and the Haggens-Hersom House (c. 1800), built by Edmund Haggens at Academy and Main.  The elm trees Tilly Haggens is said to have planted lined Main and Portland Streets well into the twentieth century.

In Sarah Orne Jewett's 1901 novel The Tory Lover, one of the characters is Major Tilly Haggens.  The writeup below is excerpted with permission from Dr. Terry Heller, Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project.

Major Tilly Haggens and Nancy, his sister (Haggins / Higgins): 

     Though there is at least some basis in history for Jewett's protrayal of Tilly and Nancy Haggens, Jewett has created versions of them that are almost completely fictional. It is not clear why she has done this, whether because she lacked information about them or because she particularly wanted them to have the features she gives them. Since she presents Tilly as an old-fashioned, admirable, and somewhat wild action hero, her portrait at least suggests the features she believed made up such a figure. 

      The following entry will review what Jewett tells about Tilly in the novel, provide background on what we are told, and finally present information about the problems raised by these materials. 

Jewett's Tilly Haggens 

     In Chapters 1 and 8, Jewett presents Tilly as the builder of the house that became her family's home and eventually her own home, the Jewett House at the corner of Portland and Main in South Berwick. She attributes his rank of major to participation in the Indian Wars. In Chapter 2, he says that he brings several strains into "our nation's making," suggesting that he might have become a parson because of his inheritance from his grandmother, "a saintly Huguenot maiden," except that his grandfather "a French gallant" had run away with the maiden. He sees himself as divided between these two heritages. This division is reflected in his account of his name: "My family name is Huyghens; 'twas a noble house of the Low Countries. Christian Huyghens, author of the Cosmotheoros, was my father's kinsman, and I was christened for the famous General Tilly of stern faith." 

     In Chapter 8, Jewett shows Tilly in what is now the Jewett house, with his older sister, Nancy, living out his old age as a successful gentleman in the large new house he has built. 

     Christian Huyghens, also Huygens or Christiaan Huyghens, (1629-1695) was a Dutch astronomer, mathematician, and physicist. His Cosmotheoros appeared in 1698. Johann Tserclaes Graf von Tilly (1559-1632), according to Encarta Encyclopedia, was a "Flemish field marshal, born in Brabant (now part of Belgium). At the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War in 1618, he was made commander of the armies of the Catholic League. He won (1620) the Battle of Wiesserberg (White Mountain) near Prague; defeated (1622) the Protestant forces at Wimpfen (now Bad Wimpfen, Germany); and conquered (1623) the Lutheran prince Christian of Brunswick at Stadtlohn, Germany. He was then created a count of the Holy Roman Empire." In the history of Tilly's name and ancestry, we see reflected both sides of the Catholic-Protestant conflicts that form a main feature of the background of the European colonization of North America and that, to some extent, are playing out in the American Revolution.

The Historical Tilly Haggens and his family. 

     (Special research assistance: Norma Keim, Connie Higgins Smith, Glen Corbin, Martha Sulya) 

     Tilly Haggens's (d. 17 August 1777) actual ancestry is Irish. So far as has been discovered, he had no sister, Nancy, though his daughter Nancy became the owner of the Jewett house in South Berwick and sold it to Thomas Jewett, Sarah's great uncle, in 1839. It was Tilly's son, John Haggens, who built (beginning in 1774) and occupied the house where we see Tilly and Nancy in the novel. Tilly's military background in recent colonial wars is correct, and his love of spirits may derive from the indication in local records that he was the first tavern-keeper in South Berwick in 1767. The historical Tilly had been dead about 6 weeks when The Tory Lover opens. 

     According to 21st-century descendants, Fergus O'Hagan and his brother, Tilly, arrived in America around 1740 and settled in Maine. With them was Fergus's small son, Edmund. They are thought to have come from County Tyrone in Ireland. According to Willie O'Kane's "Surnames of County Tyrone" (tyrone.local.ie.content/31100.shtml/genealogy), the O'Hagans were one of the principal families, the founder of which was named Fergus. 

     G. T. Ridlon, in Saco Valley Settlements and Families, says "Tilly Higgins came from Ireland and sat down in Berwick; his brother Fergus settled in Scarborough" (727). 

     The Woodsum Family in America by Joseph C. Anderson II, with Maine Research by Lois Ware Thurston (1990), describes Tilly's family (19-20):

Mary [Woodsum], born by 1725 as she "owned the covenant" on 16 February 1742/3 indicating she was at least 18 years old (NEHGR, 82 [1928]:214) and baptized 16 April 1732. She was alive on 13 June 1781 when a debt was paid to her from the estate of her sister, Sarah (York County Probate #20796). She married TILLY HIGGINS (NEHGR, 74 1777 [1920]: 194) who died Sunday morning, 17 August 1777 (id., 74 [1920]: 192). Higgins, the first tavern keeper in Berwick, Maine, was also "an importer and trader in South Berwick, Maine in 1744. He planted some of those now beautiful elms in South Berwick; particularly those in front of the house which he built next to the Congregational Church..." (John Wentworth, LL.D., The Wentworth Genealogy: English and American, 2 [Boston MA, 1878): 40-41). It has been claimed in at least two publications that Tilly Higgins married Mary, daughter of John and Mary Woodsum (ibid.; G. T. Ridlon, Sr., Saco Valley Settlements and Families [Portland ME, 1895] 1209 in footnote). The only John and Mary Woodsum to whom these sources may be referring are John2 and his wife Mary (Brackett) Woodsum who were married in 1747. However, it is impossible that John2 and Mary (Brackett) Woodsum were the parents of "Mary wife of Tilly Higgins" since Mary had a first child in 1742 and was old enough to "own the covenant" in 1742/3. Therefore, it is judged that Tilly Higgin's wife was actually Mary2, daughter of Joseph1 Woodsum.

The Woodsum Family in America provides a good deal of information about Mary Woodsum's family, since her father is the founder of the line explored. It is noteworthy that this family was involved in a good deal of sexual scandal in Berwick before 1725, including adultery and producing children out of wedlock. 

    The Wentworth Genealogy by John Wentworth (1878) has this note on Tilly: "Tilly Higgins was an importer and trader in South Berwick, Me., in 1744. He planted some of those beautiful elms in South Berwick; particularly those in front of the house which he built (next to the Congregational church), which place is still owned by his descendants" (40). 

    Probably it should be noted that the Congregational Church located near what is today the intersection of Rts. 4 and 236 in South Berwick, was built after Tilly built his house, but presumably, they did stand next to each other. 

    The Woodsum Family in America lists Tilly's children; [I have added death dates for John and the second Edmund]:

Children (HIGGINS) of Tilly and Mary2 (Woodsum) born at Berwick, Maine (Tilly Higgins will, York County Probate #7983; NEHGR, 74 [1920]: 42, 184, 194; NEHGR, 82 [1928], 214, 216,218,325):

1. John, born 19 September 1742, baptized at Berwick, Maine 16 February 1742/3, married Lydia Chadbourn. [John died before 29 March 1822, when an inventory of his property was completed]. 

2. Abigail, baptized at Berwick, Maine 8 July, 1744. Probably died young as she is not mentioned in her father's will. 

3. Edmund, baptized at Berwick, Maine 30 March 1746 Probably died before 1760 when second child named Edmund was born to Tilly and Mary Higgins. 

4. Anna, baptized at Berwick, Maine 6 March 1747/8, probably died young, as she is not mentioned in her father's will. [Note that John S. H. Fogg in "Graveyard Inscriptions from South Berwick" (NEHGR 10, Jan 1856, p. 58) records "Here lyes the body of Ann Haggens, died Jany 26th 1748 aged 4 years and 6 months." While it is possible, it is not certain this is the same Ann / Anna.] 

5. Mary, born 23 March 1750, died 15 January 1777, married Paul Wentworth. 

6. Sarah, born 23 December 1752, married Captain James Holland of Portsmouth, N.H. 

7. Daniel, born October 1755, baptized at Berwick, Maine 9 November 1755. 

8. Elizabeth, born 8 July 1757. Unmarried on 16 July 1777 when Tilly Higgins made his will. 

9. Edmund, born 16 January 1760, married Susanna Hamilton. [Died 29 November, 1827, according to his stone in the Portland Street Cemetery in South Berwick. Major Edmund Haggen's family plot stands next to the Theodore H. Jewett plot].

     Though it is not yet known when Tilly Haggens achieved his rank of major, he is listed as private Tilly Hagins in "The Blue Troop of Horse," William Pepperell's regiment from "Barvick" that went to Louisbourg in 1745. Old Eliot 2 (February 1898) 28. 

     There is confirmation of Tilly's children in Records of the First and Second Churches of Berwick, Maine, which shows the baptisms of Abigail, daughter of Tilly Higgins, July 8, 1744; Edmund, son of Tilly Higgins, on March 30, 1746; Anna on March 6, 1747; Mary on April 1, 1750; Sarah on January 28, 1753. Tate has Daniel Higgins "raising a grist mill at the foot of the lower mill at Salmon Falls, Berwick side," March 23, 1775. And he records the marriage of "Sarah, a daughter of Tilly Haggens to Captain John Holland" on Thursday 21 May, 1772; and the death of "Mary Wentworth, the oldest daughter of Tilley and Mary Higgins and wife of Lieutenant Paul Wentworth" on Wednesday, January 15, 1777 [Note that her older sister Abigail seems to have died before 1777 -- see above list of children of Tilly and Mary]. Captain Nathan Lord marries an Elizabeth Haggens in 1784, and this is likely to be Tilly's daughter. 

     This last marriage may be of some significance to Sarah Orne Jewett, for it appears that Nathan and Elizabeth's daughter, Elizabeth (March 31, 1791-1867), in 1816 married Thomas Jewett, Sarah's great uncle, and became her great aunt; she also became the mother of another Sarah Orne Jewett, who died apparently as a result of childbirth in 1864. 

     The above records suggest that Tilly moved to South Berwick at about the time of his marriage, since we have found no record of his presence in South Berwick before 1743, when he purchased land from "William Lord of Berwick" (York Deeds Book 24 p. 279). In this transaction, he is listed as a shopkeeper, as he is again in several other records of purchases in York Deeds books. He chaired the December 25 town meeting in 1755, suggesting that by that time he had become a person of influence in the community. 

     The Chadbourne family genealogy (available on CD) provides this basic information about Tilly's first son: 

"JOHN HAGGINS, b Berwick 19 Sep 1742, d 1822, son of Tilly and Mary (Woodsum) Haggens. John was likely a trader of S Berwick. In 1744 his father may have planted many of the elms in town. He or his father built the Jewett house in 1774." 

     The Chadbourne genealogy lists the 12 children of John and Lydia Chadbourne Haggins (1746-1815), married in Berwick 1 May 1765, daughter of Judge Benjamin Chadbourne -- see above:

1. Lydia, b 17 July 1766, d 25 Aug 1787. 

2. Anne or Nancy, b 16 Apr 1768, d 1847, unm resident of Boston when the house was sold to Dr Thomas Jewett in 1822. [Presumably this should read Thomas Jewett in 1839.] 

3. Mary (or Martha), b 15 Mar 1770, prob m Isaac C Pray of S Berwick and Boston, 3 ch. [Berwick Vital Records shows the marriage of Polly Haggins and Isaac C. Pray on 18 January 1809]. 

4. John, b 18 Feb 1772, d 7 Sep 1778. 

5. Benjamin, b 6 June 1774, d ca 1816 (Chase Charts, 1858), unm. 

6. James, b 16 June 1777, d by 1839, m 14 Apr 1819 Eunice Marsh (or March), d a widow 1839. 

7. Sarah, b 24 June 1778 (Chase Charts), d Wells 4 Sep 1810, m 24 Nov 1807 Tristam Gilman Jr, b 25 Feb 1780, d Wells 25 Mar 1828, at least 2 ch. 

8. Edmund, b 7 Oct 1780, m Elizabeth Rollins, d 16 July 1809, 1 ch. 

9. Patty, b 8 Feb 1783, d 9 Jan 1834. 

10. Tilly, b 23 Mar 1785, living 1822. 

11. Betsey, b 25 Feb 1787, d 28 Apr 1809. 

12. Daniel, b 25 Aug 1789, d 23 Sep 1801.

(From Chadbourne Family Genealogy: Information on this family written by John Frost and Dotty Keyes).