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The Siege of Cedar Island 1896

Last Caswell on Cedar Island (COntinued)

Mr Stevens claims that he has the only clear title to the island because he bought out the Caswell heris’ interests, the island having been occupied by the Caswell family since 1776. The Laighton’s claim that the Caswells were squatters, and never obtained a title to the island.

Subsidiary to the main point at issue is a family jar that has been instrumental in bringing things to the present pass.

Lemuel Caswell is the last of the line that has been possessed of the island. He is 75 years old, and was born on the island. A few years ago he sold his interest in the island to his brother-in-law, Moses Stevens of Newburyport. Mr Stevens had already obtained Mrs Stevens; share, and the share of the other heirs. He gave Lemuel Caswell a life lease of the island, and Lemuel let the island to Clarence Caswell, his nephew.

Last year Fred Austin of this city also became a tenant of Lemuel Caswell, there being two houses on the island. Austin and Clarence did not agree, and this, as near as can be learned, led to a coolness between uncle and nephew, so that Lemuel tried to dispossess Clarence.

Action was brought against Clarnece under the "landlord and tenant act." So called, and Judge Adams of Portsmouth went off to Star Island one day last summer to have a hearing. It was soon found that Judge Adams had no jurisdiction, for though Star Island, where he purposed holding court, was in New Hampshire, Cedar island was shown to be in Maine. The matter was for the time dropped.

Later Clarence Caswell was brought before Trial Justice Neal of Kittery in a second dispossess proceeding. He showed a receipt for rent to Jan. 1, 1896, from Lemuel Caswell, and the case was dropped. Clarence Caswell stayed on the island until the last day of the year, then he moved off to Smutty Nose, The next day he moved back as the tenant of Winthrop Hoyt, who has leased the island from the Laightons. Hoyt is a hotel man, and his home is next to that in which the Wagner murders were committed 21 years ago.

The trial of Wagner raised the question of whether the scene of the murder was in Maine or New Hampshire. It was decided that Smutty Nose and all the other seven islands, except Star and white island, on which is the lighthouse, were in Maine. The state line, it was claimed in wagenr’s defense, ran through Smutty Nose island, but this claim was not strong enough to save Wagner’s neck. He was the last man hanged in Maine. (Editor’s note: This is inaccurate.)

cedarpic03.jpgThe Laighton brothers own without question all the isles of Shoals except Cedar and White islands, the latter being owned by the government. Their undisputed holdings comprise Appledore, the largest one in the group; Star island, Duck island, Smutty Nose, Malaga and Lungin (sic). Duck and Malaga are not inhabitable.

It is said here that Cedar island has long been a cinder in the Laighton eye. It was their ambition to add this to their string of north Atlantic pearls by purchase, and when the state of Maine decided to sell the island, they secured it.

John W. Kelley of this city, counsel for Moses Stevens, said today that the title given by the state of Maine was worthless.

"The commission heard by Hon E.C. Burleigh to sell this islands owned by the state of Maine and held as public lands did not attempt to give a warranty deed of Cedar island," said Mr Kelley. "Not even a quit-claim deed was given, but simply a bill of sale. On the other hand, the Caswell family has been in possession of the island since 1776. Moses Stevens bought out the Caswell interests, and owns the island."

The consensus of opinion among old Portsmouth citizens familiar with "the Shoals" seems to be that the Caswells held an undisputed claim to the island for a century.

Elvin Newton sat in his office on Commercial wharf, keeping tabs on a fare of handsome deep-water cod, when The Globe man look in and asked his opinion of the controversy. Mr Newton is a keen, genial, energetic Yankee, and he turned kindly eyes on the interviewer.

"I’ve been around the Shoals," he said, "for the last 50 years or so and I never heard any question about that being Lem Caswell’s island. ‘Live and let live,’ I say. I remember the fishermen always went ashore to spread their nets, and nobody forbid them. Lem Caswell always made everybody welcome, and there wasn’t any talk about his not having a right to the island."

Mr Newton volunteered to take the Globe man to see Mr Caswell, who is residing this winter with his daughter in this city, and temporarily left the office without a keeper. "Look at them cod," he said, indiciating a pile of big beauties on the shed floor; "they came from off the Shoals."

CONTINUE with Caswell's on Cedar Island

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