Midcoast history revealed

By Dagney C. Ernest | Mar 22, 2014
Photo by: Mathew Brady/National Archives and Records Administration Who knew Jefferson Davis was the toast of Midcoast Maine? That and other “Hidden History” is revealed in a new paperback.

Newcastle — Patricia M. Higgins worked as a library media specialist for 30 years in Maine public schools. In the mid-1990s, she began publishing Mrs. Higgins Maine Studies links for her middle school students and began her blog, now called MaineStory.info. Eight of her Maine stories — several of them with local connections — have been published in “Hidden History of Midcoast Maine,” released last month by The History Press.

Three of the stories take place or have origins in Thomaston, including the book’s only 20th-century tale. Higgins credits Dan Allan with pointing her toward the story of the Hattie Dunn, launched in 1884 in Thomaston and, 34 years later while helmed by Capt. and co-owner Charles E. Holbrook of Tenants Harbor, the first American vessel to be sunk in World War I by a German sub, off New Jersey.

Also beginning in Thomaston is the action-packed Revolutionary War-era tale of Brigadier General Peleg Wadsworth, kidnapped one winter night in 1781 by Tories who had sailed across Penobscot Bay to the ‘Keag in South Thomaston and then proceeded up to the Mill River to raid a house in town, such as it was in those days. He was imprisoned for some time at Fort St. George in Castine from which, with Major Benjamin Burton of Cushing, he made a daring escape … and lived a long enough life to provide a Portland home for his famous grandson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Another chapter focuses on Jonathan Cilley, who settled in Thomaston after attending Bowdoin College, served as a Democrat in the state Legislature (rising to Speaker of the House) and went to Washington, D.C., as one of Maine’s representatives. Thomaston Historical Society’s Eve Anderson, editor of Cilley’s letters, contributes to the story of the man who is perhaps best known for how he died — shot in a 1838 duel by William Jordan Graves, a Whig representative from Kentucky. Higgins writes that Cilley’s death marked the official, if not actual, end of dueling (by action of Congress) … and is considered part of the long chain of events that led to the Civil War.

Another pre-Civil War tale brings Waldoboro and Belfast into the “Hidden History” mix. Higgins reveals that Jefferson Davis, just three years before becoming the first and only President of the Confederacy, spent a summer in Maine. Following a winter of ill health, Davis, then a senator and spokesman for the south, was advised by his physician to take a sea voyage to a cooler climate in the north. He spent much of the summer in Portland, although he and his family enjoyed a well-documented sojourn with fellow West Point classmate Alexander Dallas Bach, who was engaged in scientific experiments for the U.S. Coastal Survey in Washington County.

In late August 1858, Davis was invited to review the militia troops at the Belfast Encampment. He also spent some time in Waldoboro, wining and dining with Isaac Reed, a former House colleague and future “copperhead,” as a vocal group of northern Democrats who opposed the American Civil War were called. Higgins credits Jean Lawrence and the Waldoborough Historical Society with being particularly helpful in her research … and quotes the long-ago Thomaston Journal calling Reed’s political machine “the Plug Ugly Straight Whig Hunker Junto.”

Higgins, who earned a bachelor of the arts degree in history at the University of Southern Maine and a master’s degree in library and information science at the University of Rhode Island, also promises Puritan power plays, the sea fight between the Boxer and the Enterprise and more in her collection of “quirky bits of history that have remained hidden along the rocky coast from Portland to Acadia — until now.” The book is illustrated with historical images, maps and contemporary photos by her husband, photography and digital artist David Higgins. “Hidden History of Midcoast Maine” is available in bookstores and from the publisher’s website, historypress.net.

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