June 28 – July 4, 2019Vol. 21, No. 4

The Hidden History of Midcoast Maine

by Martha F. Barkley

I could not resist buying Hidden History of Midcoast Maine by Patricia M. Higgins at Barnes & Noble for $19.99. Now it is now at the Belgrade Library for you to check out.

More information about Popham Colony and how a nearby trading area by Fort Western later helped the fur traders to bring much needed profits to Plymouth. I had not realized how floundering the Massachusetts colony was and how the Kennebec River successful traders brought much needed profits for those striving to survive so far south.

Speaking of south of Maine, did you know that notorious Jefferson Davis from Mississippi and his wife Varina spent an entire summer in Maine? He had been extremely unwell with malaria and other ailments. Senators were visiting his deathbed in Washington, DC. The outspoken abolitionist Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was a regular visitor at his bedside to read aloud and write for Davis.

When he gradually improved, his doctors recommended a northern summer to help his recuperation, so they enjoyed the healthy sea air on board ship from Baltimore to Boston and then a packet to Portland. Immediately Jefferson Davis seemed to gain strength and their two children, a daughter and baby son, had more access to their frail, healing father.

Benjamin Franklin's great-grandson, Alexander Dallas Bache, invited the Davis family to be guests, participating in the Coast Survey and other scientific experiments measuring the Epping Plains Base Line in 1857. Who has heard of these science observations, triangulation for measuring?

"Humpback Mountain, where the Davises visited Bache, is now known as Lead Mountain. The road the Davis family climbed in an oxdrawn sled is known locally as the Jeff Davis Road...It must be the only road named for the Confederate president outside the South."

It was quite the turn of events to read that upon their visit to Bowdoin College, Jefferson Davis was awarded an honorary degree within yards of the famed Harriet Beecher Stowe home where Uncle Tom's Cabin was written. History is stranger than fiction, as the cliche goes...

"Davis had been toured, serenaded and wined and dined for the better part of the summer by all manner of Mainers around the state who wanted to strut their stuff before the famous man. He was obviously impressed with what he had seen during his travels...and he spoke knowledgeably about Maine's timber, industries, agriculture...Davis spoke warmly of a pleasant, hospitable and recuperative vacation...Maine was quite charmed by the well-spoken and cultivated southerner."

His capstone speech, among many around the state, was delivered right here in Augusta. "I have everywhere met courtesy and considerate attention from the hour I landed on your coast to the present time." Another chapter has quite a bit about famed Civil War regiments from our area and their importance in various battles at Gettysburg, crater explosion before Petersburg, etc.

If the practice of dueling puzzles you, find out about the Maine representative Jonathan Cilley who lost his life at the Bladensburg, Md. grounds where Congress held these odd events. Soon after this particular duel, legislation tried to end the barbaric practice.

Many decades before the Civil War, in 1837, a stowaway slave named Atticus was on board a Maine ship leaving Savannah for Rockland. "Mate Kellerman took Atticus home with him to Cushing." It became a hot and heavy issue between Georgia and Maine with neighbors in Cushing trying to outsmart officials in their house searches for Atticus the slave. Read about the peculiar fugitive slave laws of the time and imagine what you would have done if you lived in the small town of Cushing.

The bibliography is extensive, so if one topic is of great interest to the reader, there are many other sources to find and learn even more. U-boat mischief on Black Sunday, JuneĀ 2, 1918 is documented in the final chapter... numerous other coastal sinkings...

"Maine's Midcoast holds stories of daring escape, spectacular bungles, great victories and overlooked architects of American history."

P.S. I must add that now I will try Volume 1 of Varina Davis' memoir to read more about their summer in Maine. Epping Plain up beyond Castine intrigues me. I had already read her Volume 2 about life after Jefferson Davis' death. Varina made her life in New York City. The Southern belle was criticized greatly for that, just as Patricia Higgins writes in Hidden History that the Davis family was criticized greatly upon returning south after a healing summer in Maine.

What I found beyond belief in her memoir was that Varina exhumed her husband's body from its Mississippi burial site and designed a long train ride (somewhat like Lincoln's) for a final burial in Richmond. This was years after his death. Another true story that sounds like fiction. People gathered along the route to honor President Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy. The lost cause honored in such a strange way...

James Swanson has written a wonderful history comparing Davis and Lincoln: both born in Kentucky, both eloquent speakers and successful lawyers, both served in Congress, both married very sophisticated and educated southern belles, both became presidents, both lost children to untimely deaths, both loners...happenstance at the extreme...