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The Siege of Cedar Island 1896

Intervew with Lemuel Caswell

Down the quaint old water-side street of Portsmouth Mr Newton escorted the newspaper man until they reached an old-fashioned brick house The accommodating guide went around to the back door, and soon the front door was opened.

caswell3a.jpgMr Caswell is a mild-mannered old gentleman, with fine brow and sparse silvery beard. He was glad the public took an interest in his island and the attempt that was being made by his brother-in-law, Mr. Stevens, to defend it.

"That island was my father’s," he said, "and his father’s before him. NO body ever questioned our right to it before. It has always been in the family, and the state of Maine had no right to sell our private property."

"I am 75 years old and not in good health. It will not be long before my life lease is up. But as long as I live I shall hold the island. A judge told me only the other day that nobody could deprive me of the island."

"Everything has gone against me of late years. I was well off once, and in the public house business at Gosport, where I had $16,000 invested . I had an enemy who set fire to my buildings. I had $3000 insurance and I could not collect it. Two years ago my wife died. She is buried at Newburyport. It seems hard to have to defend my right to what has been mine all my life."

Mr Caswell said his father, Joseph Caswell, inherited the island in 1820 from Mr Caswell’s grandfather, who settled on it in revolutionary times, buying the right of one Mrs Goss. This woman did not like the looks of elder Caswell , who was a wandering fisherman, and whenever he tried to cure fish on the island, she vexed his soul by throwing the fish about and spoiling them. The fisherman wanted to possess the island, and had saved the wherewithal to make payment for the same, but the athletic fisherwife would not hear to his proposition.

But the elder Caswell was sly. He made friends with one Brown of North Hampton, also in the piscatorial line, and Brown bought the island for him. Mrs Goss did not think much of the transaction when she found that Brown had acted as the elder Caswell’s agent, and she went to the mainland, where she shortly afterward died.

Such was the version handed down to Lemuel Caswell of his grandfather’s purchase of the island, and he is convinced that his title is all right. He says Mrs Goss gave his grandfather a deed. The family has been in possession more than a century, anyway, and he thinks that, by itself, is something of an argument in his favor too.

Further than that Mr Caswell said Oscar Laighton a few years ago offered to buy the island of him, and to give him a life lease. He thinks his offer showed the Laighton’s belief in the validity of his claim.

The Laighton brothers reside in Portsmouth in winter . They are not included to discuss the present trouble. They are represented by Jdge Calvin Page (sic, Paige) as counsel.

Clarence Caswell, the evicted on, is commonly known here and at the Shoals as "Cain." His family resides in winter at 15 Charles st, in this city, and here it was ‘Cain" tarried when he came to town last Saturday with a dory load of lobsters and left the island untenanted.

A policeman offered to guide the Globe man to Mr Caswell’s domicile, where the wife of the evicted keeper of Cedar Island was found. Mention of the eviction stirred a responsive chord in Mrs Caswell’s breast.

"Yes, it took seven men," she said, "to go there and seize a flock of hens, a dog and two puppies. Pretty work for men!"

Mr Steven’s present force on the island consists of himself, "Bob" Hodgkins, the ex deputy sheriff, and William Hodgdon, an ex policeman.

Fred Austin, who came ashore for provisions and a stove, will return tomorrow, if possible, and the four men will settle down for a waiting game, until the enemy makes a move. The three other men who went out to help seize the island returned the same day.

Portsmouth and Kittery are now on tip-toe, wondering if Mr Stevens will dare defy the majesty of the law when lawyer Guptill’s posse come to anchor in Gosport harbor.

Owing to Mr Stevens’ objection to having anybody approach him this morning his views on the subject could not be obtained.


Transcribed from a clipping of the 1896 Boston Globe account


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