How many of you folk have heard of Damariscove, Maine? I thought so!
It’s an island off the coast of Maine, a mere two miles long and barely a quarter mile wide, but a colony of European fishermen and traders were established here as far back as 1604 and some records suggest even 1581. That’s not as old as St Augustine (founded in 1565) but it’s quite a few years before Jamestown, Virginia or Plymouth, Massachusetts. In fact, Capt. John Smith found Damariscove a busy place when he stopped there in 1614 and in 1622 when the hungry Pilgrims sent Edward Winslow out begging for food, they were given over 400 pounds of salted cod to take back to their starving colony. In Winslow’s journal he noted there were thirty ships of sail in Damariscove’s narrow harbor. That seems like a pretty substantial community to me, in spite of the fact that our history books never mention the place. Even the Mayflower had seen Damariscove Harbor before setting out to deliver the religious Pilgrims to the new world. She had been there to haul loads of salted cod back to Europe.
Just before the start of the Revolutionary War Capt. Henry Mowat of the British Navy arrived at Damariscove aboard HMS Canceaux and commandeered seventy sheep to feed his crew before setting out to burn the coastal city of Falmouth (now known as Portland) to the ground, an effort to harass the patriots and squash open rebellion against the king. It obviously didn’t work or we’d all still be singing God Save the Queen. When our country was still young and still being harassed by the British navy, men from Damariscove watched the sea battle between the British Frigate Boxer and the American ship Enterprise on September 5, 1814
Damariscove was continuously inhabited until the mid-twentieth century. Today, the old Coast Guard Life station still stands along with a few small cottages. The once heavily forested island is shorn of trees, long since cut for building and firewood, but the harbor still welcomes the occasional yacht and local fishermen troll its waters. Should you go ashore to explore, you will find the cellar holes, filled with grass and daisies in summer, where once an entire village once thrived. Damariscove has its share of ghosts as well. A woman with flowing hair and a man with no head, said to be Capt Richard Pattishall who was killed by Indians in 1689 and wanders the island with his faithful dog. There are stories of pirates who came ashore to hide their ill-gotten loot in the pond. I thought it might have been fun to meet one of the more illustrious ghosts, but alas, when I was there, they did not show themselves. I was left to explore with just the screaming of the gulls and the rote of the sea to keep me company, and my imagination to people the place and wonder what it might once have been like to walk along this shore with so much hidden history.