A governor, a king, a hermit
By Charles W. Brewster
Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.
Sagamore Creek--Origin of name--Residences--The Bridge--Lear the Hermit.
A SAIL down the river, and a visit to the Shoals, is a pleasant excursion, but a sail to Little-harbor and thence up Sagamore creek, presents greater attractions to the lover of the picturesque. Passing down the western channel of the river, and under Newcastle bridge, the first object which attracts the curious eye is the romantic mansion now occupied by Mrs. Cushing, formerly the residence of Governor Wentworth. The style of its architecture, as we have already stated, would be a poser for any builder to decide. Without any particular height, size, order or front, the appearance of the mansion, from the river, in connection with its romantic situation on the point, is agreeable. After passing the point on the Piscataqua on which this mansion is situated, we enter the beautiful inlet, extending up several miles, which bears the name of Sagamore creek.
As we pass up its broad channel, and mark the outlines of the green banks on either side mirrored in the unruffled surface, we have an opportunity to answer the inquiry often made but not so often answered--"from what does the creek derive its name?"
Native American Sagamore Home
When the discoveries were first made of our country, it was found that in the northern parts, (where the severity of the winters rendered the residence less inviting than at the south), there were no large collections of Indians together, and their government was rather more of the patriarchal than monarchical kind; that is, some family commonly took a precedence above the others, of which the oldest son had absolute government over the region,--and this governor received the title of Sagamore. When the English commenced their settlements, there were twenty locations of these Sagamores between Kennebec river and Connecticut; the first at Kennebec, second at Casco bay, third at Saco, fourth at Piscataqua, fifth at Merrimack, etc. On the Piscataqua were many families under the Sagamore, extending up the several streams of the river,--and on this Creek it is supposed the Sagamore resided.
History informs us that such places as they chose for their abode were usually at the falls of great rivers, or near the sea-side, where there was any convenience for catching such fish as every summer and winter used to come upon the coast: at which times they used, like good fellows, to make all common; and then those who had entertained their neighbors by the sea-side, expected the like kindness from their friends higher in the country: and they were wont to have their great dances for mirth at those general meetings. With intercourse of this kind were the affairs and commerce carried on between those who lived in the interior and those who were seated on the sea-coast about the havens and channels that issued into the sea, where there used to be at all times, clams, muscles, bass and sturgeon, of which they used to take great plenty, and dry them in the smoke, and keep them the rest of the year.
So as we pass up the beautiful creek, we cannot but admire the good taste of the aborigines in selecting this location for their head-quarters; nor does it require any great stretch of imagination to see the red men seated on the banks, roving in the woods, plying their paddles, perched upon the elevated rocks which are met with on the shores, or encircling the domicil of their respected Sagamore.
A Tour Along the Creek
On the north side of the creek, after passing the Cushing farm, and the pleasant seat of T. S. Coffin, we approach that of Mrs. Martine, which has recently been purchased by Clement March. It was at this house that Louis Philippe with his brothers, when on a visit to Portsmouth in 1798, spent a week to enjoy the beautiful scenery*. (*In an account of Louis Philippe's tour in the United States, in 1797-8, published at the time of his death, we find this extract: "Talleyrand was busy in makiang purchases for the West India market, and wishing to visit the lumber contractors in Maine, the Princes joined him. They left Boston in a covered wagon, and passed some days at Newburyport, riding up one bank of the Merrimac to Haverhill, and returning by the other. Journeying northward, the Princes were for a week guests at the Martine farm, on the borders of Sagamore creek, near Portsmouth. The Martine homestead is still standing and some flowers sent from its gardens to the Tuilleries soon after Louis Philippe had ascended the throne, were acknowledged by an autograph letter. At Gardiner they accepted the hospitality of Gen. Henry Dearborn.") In this same house was the eccentric Estwick Evans born; and here the author of "Resignation" found scope for the range of her imagination, and gathered her landscape sketches.
We next approach the site selected by Abner Greenleaf, the first Mayor of Portsmouth, for his residence. From this place, in 1850, the city extended the bridge over the creek. Next after passing the bridge is the farm of Spencer Holmes. On the south side of the entrance to the creek is the Sheafe farm, which the heirs have recently sold to Edmund Davis. It extends west of the bridge. Next on the south of the creek comes the farm of James Moses, which has been in the family for two centuries. Then we arrive at the old Beck farm, on which Gideon of the Gazette was born. It is now owned by John Johnson. At the head of the creek on the south, is the farm of John Elwyn, on which his grandfather, John Langdon, was born, and in this beautiful locality were early nurtured those principles of liberty, which shone so brightly in his after years.
Benjamin Lear the Hermit
A little west of Sagamore bridge, on the south side of the creek, may be seen the spot where lived and died one of the most singular men of the age. No one has been more deserving the title of hermit. His name was BENJAMIN LEAR. He died on the 17th of December,1802, aged 82.
For more than twenty years, Mr. Lear dwelt entirely alone in a hut, which scarcely any one would have thought decent for a barn. He made his own garments, which were in fashion peculiar to himself. He tilled his land, milked his cows, and made his butter and cheese; but subsisted principally on potatoes and milk. Owing, no doubt to his simple and temperate mode of living, he exhibited, at the age of eighty-two, a face freer from wrinkles, than is generally seen in those of fifty.
The farm on which he lived, and which he owned, was of sufficient extent and fertility to have supported a large family, with proper management, in a comfortable manner; but he had long imbibed the idea that he should live to need and spend the whole. He always spoke of the town, where he made his appearance once or twice a year, as the Bank, the ancient name of the place, which he had heard his grandmother use.
His mother lived to be more than a hundred years of age, and died in the cottage, which her son inherited from his parents. When she was at the age of one hundred and two years, some people visited her on a certain day, and while they were with her, the bell was heard to toll for a funeral. The old woman burst out in tears, and said, "O when will the bell toll for me! It seems to me that the bell will never toll for me. I am afraid that I shall never die."
Mr. Lear, although repeatedly invited and urged to repair to some of his neighbors to spend the winter months, where he might be comfortable, always declined, alleging that he had every thing he wanted. He would not suffer any one to spend a night in his house to take care of him, even in his last illness. For several weeks he had been in a very feeble state of health. On the evening before his death, the cold was so extreme that the mercury fell to four degrees below zero. In the evening he was so well as to be laying out his business for the ensuing spring; but in the morning he was unable to rise. He had his senses; but soon expired. Almost any one else would, in similar circumstances, have been totally frozen long before morning. According to his usual custom, he was without a shred of linen on his back; but was clad in an old tattered cloth garb, and his only covering for the night, besides, was a small ragged blanket, and his bed was a parcel of straw! He was of an inoffensive disposition towards his fellow-creatures; but with the means in his hands, he denied himself of almost every comfort of life.
The cellar of the hermit's residence is near the shore, and the underpinning of his barn, a few rods distant, when we last saw it remained undisturbed. The apple trees, which used to yield him fruit, are still on the spot, though age has placed its rough hand upon them, and decay has entered their heart.
Early postcard a gift from Margaret Fish.
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