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Spinney Brothers Were Kittery Fishermen

Portsmouth sea captain on


Brewster takes a trip across the Piscataqua to focus on the Spinney family, fishermen of Maine. He recounts the legend of the two lost brothers and the tale of David Spnney’s hair. Strange reading and good genealogical info.




A step over the River -- The Celebrities of Kittery in former days --
The Spinney Family.


Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and do not reflect current research or current values.

ABOUT Charles Brewster

DAVID SPINNEY died in Eliot Nov. 24th, 1862, at the age of 92 years. He was the last of six brothers, who all lived and died old men, after spending  years of their lives in canoes, and much of the time three or four miles outside of Fort Constitution, fishing. Mr. David Spinney was probably the last survivor of the workmen on the U. S. Frigate Congress, built here on Badger's Island, 1799. The pay roll for the month of August of that year we have before us. Mr. Spinney's pay was 58 1/3 cents. He was then 28 years old. The highest pay on the roll of eighty-nine men is two dollars per day, and but two master-workmen received that sum. The average pay of the whole was about 83 cents.

Brewster on SeacoastNH.comA remarkable incident marked his old age. Mr. Spinney's hair, after he became advanced in life, for many years had been very white. Within the last few years it all came off, and a new growth of fine silken black hair grew out, covering his head (except a part which had been previously bald) and so continuing until his death. His wife was Mary Mariner, sister of that

well-known market woman, Hannah Mariner.There were six of these brothers, nearly all of whom lived in the same neighborhood in Eliot, a mile or two above Portsmouth Bridge. There was Samuel Spinney, who died about half a century since. His business was to catch lobsters and plaice, and he was ever punctual to his post in the market.

Jeremiah and George were also fishermen. William Spinney, however, was not content to be confined to his canoe, and was a skipper of a Chebacco boat.

Then there was John Spinney, or as more generally known from the perpetual knit covering of his head, Cap Spinney, an account of whom is given in Ramble 132.

The first of the Spinney family who came to America was born in the interior of England, near Manchester. He went to Wapping Stairs, near London, and shipped to go Cod Hauling, (as fishing was then called,) to the Bay of Chaleur, on the northern coast of America. From the fishing ground he was carried to the Piscataway by a Capt. Fernald, and about the year 1630 he settled in Kittery, Me. He was the first schoolmaster of the place, and the ancestor of all the Spinneys on the American continent, so far as known. [The first one of the name came from Normandy to England with William the Conqueror. The name, according to English Heraldry, was three times knighted -- first "DeSpiny," second "Spiny" and third "Spinney" as it is now spelt.]

There is a legend in the family that after Thomas, the first settler, came over, a brother who had not seen him from childhood, emigrated, having no knowledge that his brother was living. The new comer landed at Kittery Point. Taking his gun one day he struck up through the woods on the shore of the river in pursuit of game. He came to a small house and asked for refreshments. They were provided, and it was not until after some general conversation, in which the stranger said he came from the same town in England in which the host was born, that the name was given and they discovered themselves to be brothers.

As Thomas Spinney had a grant of 200 acres of land and lived on Eliot Neck, in 1657, it is probable that he was a son of the first settler; and as the residence of the family is still on the same spot, it has probably never been alienated from the name.

About the year 1690 there appears to have been James, Samuel and John Spinney living in Kittery. They were probably sons of Thomas.

Samuel had eight children, Samuel, James, John, Thomas, Nathan, David, Jeremiah, and Jonathan. His son John married Mary Waterhouse in 1727, and their son John was the father of the family of hardy fishermen, the death of the last of whom is mentioned at the beginning of this Ramble.

Thomas Spinney, who died in 1850, at the age of 83, and Joseph Spinney, who died in 1852, at the age of 83, were the sons of Thomas Spinney, and grandsons of (probably) John Spinney of 1690. We cannot make out the line distinctly from the records.

The location of the small cottages of the Piscataqua tribe of Zebulon was at Eliot Neck, near the site of the old Salt-works. Their cottages which, a few years since made a small village, are now either enlarged and modernized or torn down, so that the appearance of former days, like the inhabitants, has passed away.

SEE ALSO:  Apologies to Kittery

       ALSO: How Kittery Got Its Name   

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
This digital transcript  © 1999


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