Buried chests of silver teapots?

Half Seas Over: Interesting Research Related to Maritime Main
By Charles H. Lagerbom | Oct 15, 2020
Courtesy of: Charles H. Lagerbom Pictured is a view from observation platform of Penobscot Narrows Bridge. Odom Ledge is just visible. Mill Cove is to the right.

Odom Ledge, named after early settler John Odom Sr., is almost three miles above Fort Point, right in the throat of the Penobscot River where it narrows between its western bank and Verona Island, originally called Hog Island. A danger to navigation, the ledge is clearly marked on all charts.

Classed as a bar, a shallow ridge or mound of coarse unconsolidated material in a stream channel, it is located at 44.5153527N, 68.8008644W. In nautical parlance, it is considered a ‘drying ledge’ where it spends half the tidal cycle above surface dry at high tide. Harbor seals tend to congregate there, the University of Maine has conducted studies of them.

An unlighted nautical marker, called a daybeacon, sits atop it as a warning to mariners, there is also a nearby floating buoy. The beacon was established in 1934.

Before August 1779, little notice had been paid to the ledge. That is, until 40-some ships of the Massachusetts fleet, brought to Penobscot Bay to dislodge the British at Fort George in Castine, approached it on their ignominious flight upriver to save themselves from a superior, recently arrived British fleet under Admiral Sir George Collier.

This was the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition, Massachusetts’ attempt to clear Midcoast Maine of an occupying British force. In June 1779, British naval forces from Halifax landed an army under Brigadier General Francis McLean. In addition to construction engineers and artillerymen, McLean brought 450 Argyle Highlanders from 74th Foot regiment and 200 Hamilton Rangers from the 82nd Foot, a force totaling roughly 700 men. They began to build Fort George.

On June 18, 1779, Massachusetts authorities learned of McLean’s landing at Penobscot. It was a tremendous blow to them; access to Penobscot and further down-east was now jeopardized. With Rhode Island to their south currently under British control, and now eastern Maine occupied, state leaders for the first time in nearly three years of war felt surrounded by the enemy.

Without consulting Continental authorities, Massachusetts immediately called for recruits, supplies and ships to retake Penobscot. They also dispatched letters to neighbor New Hampshire. Governor Meshech Weare responded with offer of the 24-gun ship Hampden. It joined the assembling fleet called the Penobscot Expedition.

This hastily assembled naval force, under command of Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, also had land forces under command of General Solomon Lovell. The expedition was a military disaster and our worst naval defeat in American history until Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, December 1941. It also saw American icon Paul Revere court-martialed. Revere, as expedition artillery commander, faced charges of insubordination and was accused of trying to save his personal baggage rather than looking after the welfare of his men.

Collier’s arrival effectively bottled up the Americans in Penobscot Bay with no way out. A few ships tried to get around the British by heading to the west side of Penobscot Bay around Long Island, present-day Islesboro. They were captured or forced to ditch and burn their own ships, the Defence at Stockton Springs being one of them.

The rest fled upriver. Instead of protecting the slower moving transports, Saltonstall’s faster warships sailed right past and left them behind. It soon became everyone for themselves, which may partially explain Revere’s focus on his personal baggage.

As the warships sped by Odom Ledge and up the narrows, 19 slowly laboring transports with the British right behind them, instead hung a left and made for the sand beach at Mill Cove. In the aftermath, no ships escaped, they were beached and set afire by their own crews. Wrecked ships burning to the waterline were strung out along the west side of Penobscot River all the way to Bangor. Once ashore, the men just melted into the Maine woods and began their long trek back to Boston.

Joshua Davis, agent for Massachusetts transports and Superintendent of Boats for the expedition, later testified when the transports beached and burned themselves on the shoreline below Penobscot Narrows, he obtained a small boat and tried to save provisions. That night, he saw numerous transports burning while British ships stood off, afraid to get too close with their own wooden ships.

As near as can be determined, it is estimated 19 transports of the expedition beached themselves along the sand shore at Mill Cove during the retreat. Crews unloaded what they could, then fired their own ships to keep them from falling into the hands of the British.

Mill Cove is a quiet stretch of sand and rocks, a slight indentation along the west bank of the Penobscot River. The wooded hills behind it provide a picturesque tableau of New England countryside. Route 1 is less than 1,000 feet from Mill Cove with Hersey Retreat Road between the two. While it sounds like it should be involved, the road has nothing to do with the Penobscot Expedition. Instead it came later, named for Samuel Hersey, a rich 19th century local banker and lumberman. The road was traversed by Universalist Church of Bangor in the late 1800s for its churchgoers to enjoy cool ocean summer breezes at Hersey’s cottage at French’s Point.

But in August 1779, Mill Cove was a scene of destruction, strewn with smoking hulks. The wrecked ships burned to their waterline or blew apart in violent explosions as powder stores ignited. Wreckage, ordinance, goods and materials lay scattered along the sandy shore.

Immediately after battle, British forces swept upriver to salvage what materials they could find, especially cannon and ordinance. For years, the wrecks were visible along the shoreline, occasionally scavenged for materials like wood or metal fastenings. At times, more attempts were made at salvaging cannon, especially during the War of 1812.

But time, winter ice, and flood conditions were not kind to the wrecks. Remnants were battered and scattered, broken up or eroded away. Still an item or two that came from these doomed transports might be plucked out of the sand or mud by shore walkers.

Which brings us to Paul Revere and his baggage. As a silversmith and metals craftsman, Revere was noted for his teapots, utensils, bells and other metal wares. The story goes that in anticipation of their coming victory, it is reported he brought along with him a chest or two of metal wares from which he would personally engrave the event and make a handsome profit.

As the expedition collapsed, Revere’s interest in those chests of silver wares now makes sense. If they indeed existed, they might have been aboard one of the transports that went aground and burned at Mill Cove. No sources have come to light of the presence of those wares being saved, reclaimed or captured by the British. Their value would have been noted.

Paul Revere went on to be exonerated in his court martial, more likely Massachusetts wanted the entire mishap to just go away. The expedition nearly bankrupted the state, Massachusetts did little for the rest of the war, much to the detriment of down-east Mainers.

As for Odom Ledge and Mill Cove, they went back to being a quiet little scenic stretch along the Penobscot River and Paul Revere’s chests of silver wares became an interesting sidebar mystery of treasure associated with them.

Pictured is a view of Odom Ledge from Sandy Beach at Mill Cove. (Courtesy of: Charles H. Lagerbom)
Pictured is the sandy beach of Mill Cove looking upriver. (Courtesy of: Charles H. Lagerbom)
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