Windham Life and Times – September 13, 2019

Nutfield 300

John Dinsmoor in Colonel Thomas Westbrooks’ Letters

Muster Roll showing John Dinsmore as a “pilot” or scout.

During 1722, the Indians of Maine, at the instigation of the French, attacked many of the English settlements there. In June, the settlement of St. Georges was attacked and 5 men were taken captive by the Indians. From Colonel Thomas Westbrook’s letters we now know with certainty that one of the men taken captive was John Dinsmoor.

LETTERS OF COLONEL THOMAS WESTBROOK, AND OTHERS,

RELATIVE TO INDIAN AFFAIRS IN MAINE, 1722-26

COMMUNICATED BY WILLIAM BLAKE TRASK, A.M., OF DORCHESTER

From the New England Historical and Genealogical Register

For the Year 1890.

VOULUME XLIV

Page 23-32

“Thomas Westbrook of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was perhaps the son of Thomas Westbrook, for many years a member of the state council of New Hampshire, who died in 1736. Captain Westbrook, subsequently promoted to the office of Colonel, was ordered by the Massachusetts government to range through the country from Kennebeck to Penobscot, and prosecute, as had been expressed, ‘the Eastern Indians for their many breaches of covenant’ with our people. Some of the details of these expeditions, and the military movements attending them, are interestingly, and, we doubt not, correctly related, in the letters before us, from the fall of the year 1722 to 1726. The Westbrook letters, written, probably by dictation, have the autograph signatures of the Colonel. He was afterwards engaged as an agent in obtaining masts for the royal navy. His speculations in Eastern lands commenced, as we have been informed, as early as the year 1719, and were continued, notwithstanding the unsettled condition of the times, some nine or ten years. In August 1727, he became a citizen of Falmouth, and soon after built a house at Stroudtwater in that town. He was considered and important and honorable member of the place where he lived. His death occurred, February 11, 1744. The maiden name of his wife, who died his widow, at Portsmouth, in New Hampshire, aged 75 years was Mary Sherburne. Col. Westbrook left no male issue. His daughter Elizabeth married Richard Waldron , the well-known Secretary of New Hampshire, a grandson of the noted Richard Waldron, killed by the Indians in 1689.”

“The town of Westbrook, in Maine, six miles from the city of Portland, was, in the year 1815, named in honor of the Colonel. It was taken from the town of Falmouth, and included the village of Stroudtwater. In 1880, it had about 4,000 inhabitants. The late Hon. William Willis, at the close of a brief notice of Col. Westbrook (History of Portland, page 355), says: ‘The town in which he lived justly perpetuates his name, and is the only memorial of him which remains.’ It gives us pleasure, therefore, to be enabled to publish the following muster rolls and letters, as well as his journal, which is purposed, hereafter, to print, With the exception of a few extracts, and a communication or two to an eastern paper, it is believed they are now for the first time made public, presenting thereby a standing ‘memorial’ to the name and patriotic services of Thomas Westbrook.”

“See ‘Journal of the Rev. Joseph Baxter,’ 1717 Register xxi. 54-59. Also, same volume, page 348. Maine Historical and Genealogical Register.

Letter of Colonel Westbrook:

Falmouth September 23, 1722.

May it Please your Excellency,

I take this opportunity to inform you that I arrived at Piscataqua at 10 o’clock in ye morning the 15th instant and immediately waited on ye Lt. Governour [Dummer] of home I received a confirmation that there was 5 or 6 hundred Indians at Arrowsick upon which I immediately returned to ye sloops in order to sail but the wind proving contrary I was obliged to stay til ye next morning 3 of ye clock and then proceeded to Arrowsick where I came to anchor at on a clock on Monday morning. I waited upon Col. Walton who told me ye Indians were withdrawn & that he intended to march that day with 180 men to way lay the Indians in their carrying places and desired our company. But in as much as the Indians were withdrawn I was willing to make my way to St. Georges fearing ye enemy might attack it. Tuesday about 5 a clock we came to sail & came to the mouth of St. Georges River Wednesday morning and not having fair wind went up in five whaleboats to the fort which I found in good order the Indians having attacked it ye 24th of August and killed 5 men yet were out of the garrison. They continued their assault 12 days & nights furiously only now and  then under a flag of truce they would have persuaded them to yield of the Garrison promising them to give them good quarters and send them to Boston. The defenders answers were that they wanted no quarters at their hands. Daring them continually to come on and told them it was King George’s lands and that they would not yield them up but with their last drops of blood. The Indians were headed by ye friar who talked with them under a flag of truce and likewise by two French men, as they judged them to be. They brought with them five captives yet they took at St Georges 15th June last and kept them during the siege. But upon their breaking up sent Mr. John Dunsmore of the said captives to ye fort to know whether they would redeem them or no. Our people made answer they had no order so to do, neither could they do it. Upon which Mr. Dunsmore returned to the Indians and they carried the captives back to Penobscutt Bay, and then frankly released three of them Vizt. Mr. John Dunsmore, Mr. Thomas Foster and Mr. William Ligett. One Joshua Rose yet was taken at aforesaid time and place and whom the Indians had left behind at Penobscutt Fort made his escape & after six days travel arrived at ye fort ye second day after the siege began being obliged to make his way through the body of ye Indians to get to the fort and was taken in at one of the ports. I now detain the four captives aforesaid to be pilots to Penobscutt Fort until I know you Excelleny’s pleasure about them. They inform me that the Indians have rebuilt their fort at Penobscutt since the 15th of June obliging them to work on it. It contains about 12 rod square enclosed with stockado’s of 12 foot high. It has 2 flankers on the east the other on ye west and 3 gates not at that time hung, they have likewise 2 swivel guns. It is situated on an island in a fresh water river twelve miles from ye salt water. The captive’s judge there is no way of getting to the island but by canoes or flat bottom boats & it is impossible to carry up whale boats by reason ye falls are 8 or 9 miles long & [      ] is very swift and full or rocks. The captive Foster & [              ] affirm that they saw 12 or 13 barrels of gun powder brought to the fort by the Indians as they said from Canada about the middle of July. They have a meeting house within a rod or thereabouts on ye outside of ye south wall of the fort it being 60 foot long and 30 wide and 12 foot stud with a bell in it which they ring morning and evening. The said Rose informs me they had a considerable quantity of corn standing when he made his escape. After I had viewed the garrison I returned in about an hour & ½ to my sloop lying in ye mouth of the river and sent up one of them with a few hands upon deck as to carry up stones to the fort and sailed with the other sloop for Arrowsick full of men to induce the Indians spies to believe that we had entirely left the place and that there was no design against Penobscutt, and likewise to inform Col. Walton of ye state of affairs, not knowing but that he might have orders to make an attack upon them. This being all that is material I make bold to subscribe myself your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servant,

Thomas Westbrook.

Col. Walton desired me to come along with him to this place to see what forces that he could draw, which I did accordingly, and brought Mr. Dunsmore and Rose along with me. The garrison at St George has expended most of their ammunition during ye late siege and I desire your Excellency to send pray ye first opportunity 4 or 5 barrels of gun powder with ball, swan shot and flints answerable, for ye Indians are resolved to take ye fort if possible. If there be no opportunity of sending it to St. Georges please order it to Arrowsick, and I will fetch it in my whale boats.

P.S. The captives informed me that ye most part of ye Indians food during ye time of ye siege was seals which they caught daily keeping out a party of men for that purpose. They also inform us & do assert that there are great quantities of sturgeon, bass and eels to be caught even close by ye island where the Penobscutt Fort is.

 

 

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.”