A RIVER DAMMED
The History of the Presumpscot River from 1725 to 1800
1725 -- Col. Thomas Westbrook, in a letter dated May 21, 1725, describes
finding Indian fishing stations along the Presumpscot River:
"Wee judge that the greatest part of the Enemy are drawn some distance
back, on the great Rivers, this being their time to fish for Salmon &
other fish up the fresh Rivers on which the Indians yearly make a fishing
voyage. Our winter scouts discovered sundry of their fishing places on Saco,
Pesomscott & Amuscoggin Rivers where they made large quantities last
Summer. The new recruits are not yet come, notwithstanding wee have had
so many Westerly winds. As soon as they arrive, if Arm'd, I will endeavor
to visit some of their fishing places." (Trask, p. 111)
1734 -- Construction begins on a dam owned by Col. Thomas Westbrook
and others at Presumpscot lower falls, near the present day site of the
Smelt Hill Dam. The Journal of Rev. Thomas Smith for Nov. 8, 1734 states:
"I rode with my father to see the Colonel's great dam."
1735: The dam at Presumpscot lower falls is completed. Willis (1862)
states: "in 1735, Col. Westbrook, Samuel Waldo, and others built a
sawmill on the lower falls of the Presumpscot." The October 10, 1735
report of a Falmouth highway committee mentions locating the new road "about
ten or twelve rod above the Head of the Falls above the new Mill on Pesumpscot
River." (Collection of Maine Historical Society, Second Series, Vol.
6, p. 43.)
1736 -- A Sept. 7, 1736 letter from an unnamed agent of Massachusetts
Governor Jonathan Belcher to Col. Thomas Westbrook indicates that local
Indians threatened and protested very soon after the dam at Presumpscot
lower falls was built in 1735. The letter also indicates the local Indians
relied on the Presumpscot River's migratory fish for food. The letter reads:
"His Excellency, the Governor, has lately received a letter, dated
the 23rd of May past, from Harrow House, in Falmouth, without being signed
by any person, complaining of Insults and Threatenings &c. some of your
people have met with from some of the Indians, without giving reason for
in said Letter. Which inclosed a letter from Capt. Thomas Smith of the Truck
House at Saco Falls, directed to yourself, wherein His Excellency was informed
that three Indians were at Biddeford in Order to take Passage on Board a
Sloop bound here, and that their business was to complain that the River
leading to the Sebagoge Ponds was so dammed and obstructed.
"Fish is their principal Subsistence in the Summer time and that for
the want of which they are like to be Starved &c. which is thought to
be the reason that they have troubled you. In your letter you speak of sending
up Affidavits of the whole affair in a little time. His Excellency thinks
it not proper for him to give any order in this matter until the Complaint
be more properly laid before him.
"I believe it will be therefore Advisable if the Indians continue their
Complaints & Insults to get your evidences sworn & their depositions
sent up, with your complaint in form and what Claims you have to make to
the River & so as to Justify the stopping the Course and then the affair
probably may be fully heard and determined. But you must look upon this
only as my private opinion."
1737 -- A letter from Col. Thomas Westbrook, dated August 25, 1737,
informs a Mr. William Pepperell of Kittery: "I hope we shall saw some
time next month and as soon I can get any quantities I will send word immediately."
An undated letter from the same period from Col. Westbrook states: "I
received your favours per Mr. John Wilson, of the 9th instant, and am very
sorry we have not water to saw you a sloop load of boards as you desire,
our dam not being mended at Presumpscut ... " (Trask, p. 183).
Jan. 19, 1738 -- Proprietors of New Marblehead township (Windham) vote
to give several petitioners the water rights to any of the falls lying above
the "Great Bridge" to build a mill and dam and to have it constructed
by no later than August of the year next. Minutes of the proprietor's meeting
states that the petitioners "made the choice of the falls next above
the aforesaid bridge, Called by the Indians Nagwamqueeg ..." Dole (1974)
locates the site of this falls as Horse Beef falls, also called Mallison
Falls, the first falls above Saccarrappa. Various sources place the "Great
Bridge" just above Saccarappa Falls.
1738 -- Indians protest and do not allow the settlers to complete the
dam at Nagwamqueeg (Mallison Falls). The Indians claim the dam will block
fish migrations and that they own the land on both sides of the falls site
(Dole, 1974). Construction of the dam is halted. A year earlier, the settlers
of New Marblehead (Windham) encountered similar protests by Indians when
they attempted to build a meeting house in the same area, after voting on
June 9, 1737 to build one. (Dole, pp. 20-24).
A petition dated March 16, 1738 states: "... the Indians hath forbid
the proceeding of the workmen in Building the Meeting House on said Land
hath not only put a stop to said proceeding, but is also of great discouragement
to those who designed Settlement on several Lotts this spring (The time
being near expiring for said settlement according to the Conditions of the
Great and General Court)." (Dole, p. 21).
March 1, 1739 -- New Marblehead Proprietors vote to give petitioners
additional time to build the dam at Nagwamqueeg (Mallison Falls), stating
that the delay in the past year was because, "They having been impeded
by the Menaces of the Indians." The deadline to complete the dam is
"September next," ie. Sept. 1740. (Dole, 1974)
August 10, 1739 -- Chief Polin, with his interpreter Robert Jordan of
Falmouth, has conference in Boston with Mass. Governor Jonathan Belcher.
Chief Polin tells Governor Belcher that fish cannot pass the dams on the
Presumpscot, and asks that fish passage be provided at the dams. Chief Polin
states that Indians continue to own all the lands along the Presumpscot
River above "Saukarappa", that his ancestors never sold the lands
above Saccarappa, and the Indians do not want any more settlers to move
onto the land along the river above Saccarappa. Polin states that Colonel
Thomas Westbrook had promised two years earlier to provide a passage for
fish at his dam at Presumpscot lower falls but Polin says Westbrook has
not done so. A letter is sent to Col. Thomas Westbrook on behalf of the
Governor requesting Col. Westbrook provide passage for fish at his dam to
satisfy the Indians' complaints. (Baxter, Documentary History of Maine;
Dec. 14, 1740 -- New Marblehead petitioners report to township proprietors
that the dam has been completed at Nagwamqueeg (Mallison Falls). (Dole,
1741 -- The Mass. Legislature passes a law requiring fish passage at
all dams on rivers used by migratory fish. (Mass. Laws, Acts & Resolves,
1741 -- McClellan describes the destruction of the mill at Presumpscot
lower falls by the Indians: "Cloudman was accustomed to run the mill
all night, and one night in 1741, he saw an Indian creeping up with his
gun, who twice attempted to fire at him, but his gun snapped and missed
fire. Cloudman hurled the bar used for placing the log on the carriage at
the Indian. It hit him on the head and killed him instantly. He then threw
the body into the wheel-pit, shut down the mill and went home. The night
following, the Indians burned the mill." (McClellan, p. 433)
1743 -- Dole states that the dam at Nagwamqueeg (Mallison Falls) was
destroyed by a freshet in the spring of 1743.
1740 -- First mill at Saccarappa Falls built. (Collection of the Historical
Society of Maine, Second Series, Vol. 10)
1751 -- McClellan (1903) states that Col. Westbrook's dam at Presumpscot
lower falls was destroyed by a freshet on July 31, 1751. This is corroborated
by Rev. Smith's journal entry for that day: "The freshet has carried
away many bridges, hay &c. on Presumpscot River. Saccaribig bridge and
the Presumpscot great dam broke." (Willis, 1849, p. 147)
1759 -- It appears the Presumpscot lower falls dam was rebuilt after
the 1751 flood, since an account of the estate of Gen. Samuel Waldo, who
died in 1759, states: "Presumpscot mills -- three saws." (Goold,
June 17, 1776 -- Settlers of Gorham vote at town meeting to petition
the Great and General Court of Massachusetts for fish passage on the river
October, 1776 -- Townships of Gorham, Cape Elizabeth, New Marblehead
(Windham) and Pearsontown (Standish) file petition with Great and General
Court asking for fish passage at Presumpscot River dams.
Nov. 5, 1776 -- Mass. House of Representatives hears petition of four
towns "praying that some measures may be taken by this Court to open
passages for alewives and other fish to pass up rivers into the ponds to
cast their spawns." The court directs Brigadier Palmer, Col. Lithgow,
Mr. Choat, Mr. Coddings and Capt. Hosmer to "consider the matter at
large." (Journal of the Mass. House of Representatives, 1776-1777).
April 4, 1777 -- House of Representatives passes a resolve appointing
a committee of three men to view the mill dams on the Presumpscot River
to determine "where proper sluice ways be made for the passage of said
May, 1777 -- Dam viewing committee reports back to the House of Representatives
that all of the dams viewed are impassable but that dam owners agree to
install sluice ways for fish to pass.
June 25, 1777 -- In response to the 1776 petition for fishways by the
four towns, the Mass. House of Representatives approves a resolve that the
petitioners notify all Presumpscot River dam owners that they "appear
on the third Tuesday of the next setting of the General Court, and Shew
Cause, if any he have why he should not make and keep open a sufficient
Sluice or Passage Way through and around said Dam for the Passage of Fish
up said River and pay the charge arising thereon."
Oct. 30, 1781 -- Towns of Gorham, Windham, Pearsontown (Standish) and
Proprietors of Bridgton petition Mass. Great and General Court for fishways
at Presumpscot River dams.
March 14, 1785 -- Massachusetts Legislature
passes "An Act for Opening Sluice-Ways in the mill-dam or dams which
have or may be erected on Presumscut River, in the County of Cumberland,
and upon any Stream or Streams which fall into the same river."
The Preamble of the Act states: "Whereas it appears to this Court that
the people who live in the neighborhood of the Presumscut River in the County
of Cumberland, have heretofore, and still may, derive extensive benefits
from the fishery on the said river and streams which fall into the same,
unless prevented by the mill-dams which have or may be erected across the
said river and streams, the increase or even continuance of which unregulated,
for any considerable length of time, must inevitably destroy the annual
course of the fish up the said river."
July 29, 1785 -- The three man fish
committee created by the March 14, 1785 Act places a public notice in the
Falmouth Gazette and Weekly Advertiser stating that it has viewed the mill
dams on the Presumpscot and found none of them have passage for fish.
October, 1785 -- A fall freshet destroys bridges, mills and dams on
the Presumpscot River. The Falmouth Gazette states: "Most of the bridges
and mills, within a circle of between twenty and thirty miles, are entirely
destroyed; and immense quantities of mill-logs, boards, and other lumber
swept away, and gone irrevocably."
1789 -- Massachusetts Legislature passes "An Act to Prevent the
Destruction and to Regulate the Catching of the Fish Called Salmon, Shad,
and Alewives in the Rivers and Streams in the Counties of Cumberland and
Lincoln, and to Repeal All Laws Heretofore Made for that Purpose."
This law specifically mentions the following rivers: "The Rivers of
Presumpscot, Androscoggin, Merrymeeting Bay, Kennebec, Sheepscot, Bristol,
Muscongus alias Medumcock, St. Georges & Penobscot ..."
1794 -- Massachusetts Legislature passes "An Act, in Addition to
An Act, Intitled, An Act to Prevent the Destruction and to Regulate the
Catching of the Fish Called Salmon, Shad, and Alewives in the Rivers and
Streams in the Counties of Cumberland and Lincoln, and to Repeal All Laws
Heretofore Made for that Purpose."
The Act states: "Whereas the time during which provision is made by
said Act that good & sufficient sluice-ways & passages for the said
Fish shall be kept open has been found too short, with respect to the Presumpscut-River,
& the several rivers & streams communicating with & running
into the same."
The act extends the time fishways must be open on the Presumpscot from May
1st to July 20 to April 15 to July 20.
1798 -- "An Act for the Preservation of the Fish Called Salmon,
Shad & Alewives in the Rivers, Streams & Waters Within the Counties
of Lincoln and Cumberland and for Repealing All other Laws Heretofore Made
for That Purpose, So Far as Respects Their Operation in the Said Counties."
This law, requires fishways or sluices on, "Any River, streeam, bay,
cove, pond or water within the Counties of Lincoln and Cumberland, in, up
or through which the fish called Salmon, Shad or Alewives or either of them
do have been used and wont to go & pass into the ponds & lakes annually
to cast their spawn ..."
The law adds this language: "Be it Further Enacted by the Authority
aforesaid, that no passage or sluice-way shall be deemed sufficient, within
the meaning and intent of this Act, unless the same shall be so constructed
& made as that any of the fish aforesaid can & do actually pass
through or over the same with ease and convenience, & unless such passage
or sluice-way is at or or near the passage, route or place in which fish
prior to the erection of such dams or obstructions used to pass, as that
said fish do find such way."
Baxter, James P. Documentary History of the State of Maine. Collections
of the Maine Historical Society. Second Series. Vols. 1-24.
Dole, Samuel T. 1974 reprint. Windham in the Past. Windham Historical Society.
Falmouth Gazette and Weekly Advertiser. 1785. Falmouth, Maine. On microfilm
at Maine State Library, Augusta, Maine.
Goold, William. 1997 reprint. Portland in the Past with Historical Notes
of Old Falmouth. Heritage Books. Bowie, Maryland.
Journals of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, 1776-1777. Maine
Law Library, Augusta, Maine.
The Laws, Acts and Resolves of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 1780-1820.
Maine Law Library, Augusta, Maine.
McClellan, Hugh D. 1903. History of Gorham, Maine. Smith & Sale Publishers.
Pierce, Joshua. 1862. A History of the Town of Gorham, Maine. Foster &
Cushing and Bailey & Noyes. Portland, Maine.
Trask, William, editor. 1901. Letters of Colonel Thomas Westbrook and others
Relative to Indian Affairs in Maine, 1722-1726. George E. Littlefield. Boston,
Willis, William. 1849. Journals of the Rev. Thomas Smith and the Rev. Samuel
Deane. Joseph S. Bailey. Portland, Maine.
Willis, William. 1862. History of Portland. Maine Historical Society. Portland,
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