Windham Life and Times – September 6, 2019

John “Daddy” Dinsmoor: Maine Pioneer

John Dinsmoor grave marker on the Cemetery on the Hill, Windham NH

On the Cemetery on the Hill, in Windham, you can find the grave of John “Daddy” Dinsmoor who was the first of the family to come to America. There is an impressive granite monument there to mark the spot, placed there by a descendant, James Dinsmoor in 1902. While a generous gift, not everything etched in stone is necessarily true. The inscription unfortunately conveys misinformation about the timing of John Dinsmoor’s arrival in America which was much earlier than 1724.

Over the past several weeks, I have been mucking about in ancient Maine history, and I have stumbled upon the documentary, written proof, that John Dinsmoor was in Maine, and was indeed taken as a captive of the Indians, at St. Georges, Maine, in June of 1722. This proves that Daddy Dinsmore was definitely in Maine prior to 1722. The entire event is described in detail in a letter from Colonel Thomas Westbrook, an English commander, dated September 23, 1722. John Dinsmore’s name, clear as day, was in the Index of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register Vol. 44.  As it turns out, John Dinsmoor was made a captive by the Penobscot Indians, and taken to what is now “Indian Island” in the middle of the Penobscot River exactly as was related in the very detailed and eloquent, family oral tradition given by Robert Dinsmoor.

I also have to fall back on Rev. A.L. Perry, the Professor of History and Political Economy at Williams College, who states emphatically in The Scotch-Irish in New England that the Dinsmores were part of the 1718 migration from Northern Ireland: “Besides Mr. Boyd, who had stayed the summer in Boston, where he found already settled a few scattered and peeled of his own race and faith, there were three Presbyterian ministers on board, —Mr. McGregor, of blessed memory, Mr. Cornwell, and Mr. Holmes. Those best off of all the passengers were the McKeens, the Cargills, the Nesmiths, the Cochrans, the Dinsmores, the Mooars, and some other families— were natives of Scotland, whose heads had passed over into Ulster during the short reign of James II…” As one of the wealthiest immigrants, Dinsmore could have had the means to purchase a large estate or tract of land in Maine, especially considering the fact the many of the land speculators were giving land away for free or on a payment plan in order to induce settlement in this wild frontier, which was under constant threat of Indian attack, even after the 1717 “peace treaty” with the Eastern Indians.

        I also reread the grant of land to John Dinsmoor in Londonderry from the proprietor’s records of 1724-5. This dating would verify that John Dinsmoor stayed in Maine many months after his captivity in 1722. We now know that he was detained as a “Pliot” or scout for Colonel Westbrook after being released by the Indians. The land was “bestowed” as a gift to him and the grant was conditional that he or his son “settle this place in the space of a year after the peace is Concluded and if so be that he or his son does not settle said place against a perfixt time yet then and at yet time said land Shall fall to the town or said grantees…”  What peace? The only war raging in New England at that time was the Indian War in Maine, so it must be alluding to that and additionally to the fact of John Dinsmoor’s preference, which if possible, was to return to his holdings in Maine. What was so special about his home in Maine that he wanted to return to it when tranquil Londonderry beckoned?

Was it possible that his home was more than a hastily constructed cabin in the woods? Could it rather have been a stone house constructed with his own hands at some place in the vicinity of St Georges?  John Dinsmoor was a stone mason and he may have been employed in construction at the settlement of St. Georges. When he came to Londonderry he built himself a stone house and also built many stone houses in the area. The construction of stone houses in 18th century (the 1700’s) New England is very rare.  The vast majority of homes are of wood frame construction. Could it have been that he had also built himself a stone house in the St. Georges area that he wanted to return to and what would be the rare chance that it could still exist? Unfortunately, land titles were pretty much non-existent at that time in Maine, and many of the Scotch-Irish pioneers in Maine had to petition the government later in the century with sworn affidavits to prove they had occupied their land.

So let’s begin again with the account of John Dinsmoor in Maine, by Robert Dinsmoor in his introduction to his book of poetry: “My father’s grandfather, John Dinsmoor, was the oldest son of this Scotchman, who came to America about the time the first settlers of Londonderry came (1718). He is yet remembered by many of the old people, and very respectfully called Daddy Dinsmoor. But, whether from accident, I know not, he was landed at a place called Georges, where there was an English fort, in the district of Maine. There he built a house, and the Indians which traversed those woods, (I believe they were of the Penobscot tribe,) became very familiar with him, calling him and themselves all one brother. This was about the commencement of the war between Great Britain and France.”

One day, when Daddy Dinsmore was shingling his house, the Indians surrounded it with a war-hoop, ordered him down saying, ‘no longer one brother, you go to Canada.’ He was taken and kept with them three months. The Chief’s name was John, and Daddy Dinsmoor became his waiter, and ‘found grace in his sight.’ On a certain day, Captain John was called to attend a council of war, and in his absence, Old Daddy was accused by two squaws, of being on a certain point of land near the shore, in conference with some Englishmen, and although in the absence of the chief, he was condemned to be burnt. He was accordingly bound to the tree, and the fatal pile made around him, and that instant to be set on fire, when providentially, the captain returned, and commanded his execution be delayed until inquiry should be made with respect to the truth of the charge, alleging if it was true, their tracks could be seen, as the place was a very sandy point.” (My father tells me that his father told him that John was involved in a little hanky-panky with the Captain’s women, however, George Dinsmore Sr. was known for telling tall tales and then watching the reaction of his incredulous listeners, so I have to believe that this is merely a family legend.)

The charge was soon proved to be false, and he was reprieved. The last three days he was with them, they traveled almost night and day, a great part of the time at a ‘dog trot,’ carrying their canoes with them. When they had a river to cross, as soon as the captain was seated in the Bark, it was Daddy Dinsmoor’s office to push it off and jump in after; and having performed this duty at a certain river, the captain being resolved to set him at liberty, forbade him to step in. He plead for leave to get in, but the chief replied ‘No, you much honest man, John—you walk Boston.’ Daddy answered, ‘The Indians will kill me.’ The captain then told him how, and where he could find a cave in a rock, where he must lie three days, and in that time the Indians would all be past.  He gave him some bear’s grease and a few nuts, saying ‘Indians and French have this land, you walk Boston, John, then take English canoe, walk your own country—you much honest man John.”

My father’s grandfather, then took his solitary way, and found the rock as the captain had told him. When he lay there three days and nights, he saw the Indians pass tribe after tribe, until they were all passed. Then he arose from his cave, and thought he must dies of hunger; but by chance, or by providence, rather, he found some cranberries, which supported him until he arrived at Fort George. From thence, he got his passage to Boston, and from thence he visited his old friends and countrymen in Nutfield, now Londonderry. They had all been acquainted with Daddy Dinsmoor, in Ireland. For the respect they had for the man, and perhaps moved by the narrative of his sufferings, which no one doubted, the proprietors of Londonderry, made a gift of one hundred acres of excellent land and confirmed by deed, to him and his heirs forever…Daddy Dinsmoor lived ten years after my father was born. He and his son being both masons. They built a number of stone houses in town, which served as garrisons in the Indian war. (And I really believe, that his once being an Indian captive, was his inducement to build a stone house on his own land, in Londonderry) The remains of many of those houses are to be seen at this day; and a great many stone chimneys, as no brick could be had. His name was ever held in honor by all who knew him.”

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