Origins 1633 – 1640

The work of a curious fellow
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In 1633 Thomas Durston/Duston/Dustan/Durstin/Dunstar/Dustin, aged twenty-seven, arrived from England at Richmond Island, Maine, off the mouth of the Saco River with the Trelawney expedition under a five-year contract to work in the fishery there. The variety of surnames reflects the casual approach to spelling common in those days. We will stick with the Dustin spelling in this narrative.

Thomas Dustin stood on the deck of the Wyndmere, which was anchored in the lee of Richmond Island, and shading his eyes against the afternoon sun studied the unimpressive bit of land where he was to serve his time of indenture. He had agreed to work at the Richmond Island fish works for five years in exchange for his passage from Plymouth England to this place.

On the island, which was less than a mile in its longest dimension, was a cluster of small crude buildings with the late June sun streaming through the gaps in the walls. Obviously the clearing in which the buildings stood had been recently cut from the forest that covered the island and the buildings hastily thrown together using rough planks hewn from the felled trees. Of the fish works there was no sign… No wharf. No warehouse. No drying flakes.

Captain Barnikel of the Wyndmere spoke.

“You are a good hand at sea Thomas. We had a good passage partly thanks to your agreeable nature and sea sense. A captain might wish you could stay aboard.”

“Like most Cornish lads I grew up on the water and would as soon sail a vessel as ride in her. But I have left England for good and here I will stay to work off my passage as agreed. What do you know of the fellow John Winter who is supposed to be captain of the fish works? And where are the fish works by the way?”

“Of Mr. Winter it is said that his employers love him and his employees hate him. More than that I do not know. As to the fish works, I believe it will be up to you to build them as you go along so to speak. Here comes the skiff for its last trip. I wish you well Thomas Dustin.”

So Thomas came under the authority of John Winter, not a happy circumstance as Thomas found out. Richmond Island lay so close to the coast just north of the mouth of the Saco River that by September, six of the twenty seven men slaving away building the fishing station had disappeared. Winter traveled to Kittery after the sixth vanishing and received a warrant from the magistrate there for the arrest of the runaways and a commission as sheriff of the regions surrounding Richmond Island.

Then Winter offered two barrels of hake, considered a junk fish by the English, to the leader of the local natives as a reward for the return of the offenders. In due course the missing men, who had taken up residence with the natives were returned, flogged and placed on half rations. Thomas who among the Richmond Island men was the best seaman as well as among the most reliable was sent north along the shore in a skiff to catch the two barrels of hake.

He returned in less than a day with the two barrels of hake and the skiff loaded to the gunwales with fat cod fish. So Thomas was promoted to fishing skipper and for the rest of his time on Richmond Island spent as much time at sea as possible. As long as the catch was good Winter was content to let Thomas come and go as he pleased, and the catch was always good.

On account of his freedom to travel during the fishing season he became quite familiar with the Gulf of Maine waters and the few settlements along the coast. During the mid-winter months the weather often kept the fishing fleet tied up so Thomas worked in the boat shop where he learned to build the small fishing boats called shallops. In 1638, having completed his tour of duty at Richmond Island, Thomas moved to the town of Northam near the headwaters of the Piscataqua River, the site of present day Dover, New Hampshire.

In 1634 Thomas Jones at age fourteen arrived from Romsey, Hampshire, England with his parents during the "Great Migration" to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Tom Jones was a happy man. With the blessing of his parents he was to leave Gloucester in the morning and accompany Mayhew Button, a friend of the family, on a mission to survey the Merrimac River as far as the mountains to the northwest. For as long as Tom had been in the new world his aim was to explore America.

Mayhew Button was an experienced map maker who had been hired by Governor Dudley to map the Merrimac. The plan was take a sailing skiff around Cape Ann to the mouth of the Merrimac and as far upriver as they could go, then to follow the river where it led for as far as they could on foot. They were provided with 50 pounds of newly forged iron nails to use as trade goods so they might subsist by trading with the natives when they could not find food otherwise.

So on the morning of June 1 in 1636 Mayhew and Tom set out from Gloucester harbor. By late afternoon they were tied up at Salisbury in the mouth of the Merrimac. In that village lived Richard North and his family. The Norths and Joneses both hailed from the same town in England and traveled to the new world together. Tom’s father had arranged that Tom and Mayhew would stay with the Norths overnight at Salisbury.

Tom and Richard North’s daughter Mary had been aware of each other from childhood but had not seen each other since they crossed the Atlantic. Tom was younger by over two years and had never received much attention from Mary. Now as a man grown Tom was a lot more noticeable. By the time Tom and Mary said good bye the next morning they each had a different view of the other even though they had hardly spoken.

Tom and Mayhew were held captive for a while by the Western Abenaki, who were more inclined to hostility toward Europeans than were the coastal natives. Another hundred pounds of nails delivered to the site of present day Manchester, NH, was enough to secure the release of the men. The deal was brokered by one of the eastern tribe who agreed to go looking for the overdue explorers. It was near the end of August when the men reached Salisbury again. When Tom went home to Gloucester it was with the understanding that he and Mary would court.

Courting meant that Tom would sail to Salisbury to spend a day with Mary and her family as often as he could manage it. By late December both families were worried that Tom would die at sea during the winter gales on the twenty mile sail each way to Salisbury so everybody agreed that the couple should marry. On February 4, 1637 Tom and Mary wed and moved in with Mary’s parents.

Thomas and Mary lived with her parents for two years while Thomas worked for a blacksmith nearby. In 1638 their daughter Susanna was born. In 1639, with the help of his father, Thomas built a small house in Gloucester with a forge in the back and began blacksmithing for the folks of Gloucester.

In 1635 Edward Small, aged 35, his wife Elizabeth and his six children ranging in age from eleven years down to eleven months, arrived in Kittery from Bideford, Devon, England. Edward was a farmer who had made some money provisioning ships stopping at Bideford.

In England Edward Small was acquainted with a well connected gentleman named Edward Godfrey. When Godfrey canvassed his acquaintances for funds to finance a venture in New England, Edward Small made a modest contribution. So it was that when He and Elizabeth arrived in Kittery he already had a foothold. Edward Godfrey was owner of the trading post at Kittery Point and provided Edward and Elizabeth a farm on the north shore of the Piscataqua River.

After the harvest of 1636 Edward began to look for opportunities outside of farming. He did well enough in his first year but the growing season was shorter than England’s and other opportunities were more abundant. With more people arriving all the time from England there was high demand for ready-to-use property so Edward sold the farm, built a modest house a ways down river, bought a strip of upriver forest land from Alexander Shapleigh and went into partnership with Edward Godfrey financing a fishing vessel to operate out of the Isles of Shoals.

“I don’t know what to think”, Elizabeth Small said in April of 1637. “God will provide, I am sure. But it is not clear to me how He is going to manage it. Money has gone out for a half-year an none has yet come in.” The financial moves pretty well exhausted the funds from the sale of the farm and the reserves they had brought with him from England.

In May of 1637 the first returns from the fishing venture came in. It was as much money as might be made in three years at the farm. Edward immediately spent a big part of it harvesting the timber from his upriver property. The sale of the raw timber for shipment to the West Indies returned his investments in the land, which he cleared and leased to newcomers for farms. With a steady lease income assured, Edward spent all his cash on new timber property. When the fishing returns came in, May 1638, more land was cleared and sold for farmland and more timberland was purchased. So Edward found himself, mainly in the timber business, becoming prosperous.

Francis, Edward and Elizabeth’s oldest child, in 1639 at the age of fourteen, sailed in the fishing vessel of which Edward was part owner. He returned with sea stories and an idea of founding a fishery of his own some day. Fernando Gorges, the Lord Proprietor of Maine, was anxious that reliable persons would settle the region of Maine between Kittery and the Kennebec so grants of land were available. With Francis’s idea in mind, Edward and Francis were looking for a ride to Casco Neck, the site of present day Portland, Maine, in the spring of 1640.

In 1635 Hugh Hallowell, at the age of twenty-two arrived from Bristol, Somerset, England at San Christobal, also known as St. Kitts, an island in the Caribbean where many English immigrants first saw the New World. Hugh's father, a successful Bristol businessman financed his journey but left Hugh to his own devices to make a living after arrival. Hugh was an experienced seaman, having grown up at the busy port of Bristol. He hung around the harbor at St Kitts for a few days looking for an opportunity.

Also on the St Kitts waterfront in those days was a Dutch woman named Kaylene ‘tHooft. Miss ‘tHooft managed a brothel in an abandoned ship beached on the harbor shore. Her girls were French, English, Spanish and Carrib. Fortunately Kaylene was an accomplished linguist so she managed alright. In fact she made a good sideline out of tutoring transient English speakers in French and Spanish. It was in that capacity that Hugh first came into contact with her.

During one of his Spanish lessons Kaylene said, “You seem a likely lad Hugh. I think you might be interested in a position I just learned about. There is a sailing vessel in port that arrived without its captain. If you want the job and if I can arrange it would you consider a sixteenth share of any profits for me a reasonable price?”

“Who would this vessel’s owner be?”, Hugh asked.

“Well it is not entirely clear. It seems that it might be owned by the crew, now that the captain is out of the picture. Why don’t you have a talk with the crewman who mentioned the situation to me?”

“And do we know how the captain came to be ‘out of the picture’ as you call it?”

“I think you will have to talk to the crew about that. Come around this evening and I will help translate for you and this Spainiard.”

Shortly after dark that day Hugh found himself and Kaylene addressing a sharp eyed fellow who stood about 4 foot eleven, named Ramon. It turned out that the vessel, the Maria del Mar, was an undersized caravel of Spanish design from Hispaniola. Ramon claimed that he and his two brothers and three cousins were hired by the captain only weeks ago to man the ship. On the trip from Hispaniola the captain disappeared one clear but moonless night, presumably over the side. It was with great difficulty that the crew of six found its way into St Kitts.

The crew found themselves in possession of a ship they could not navigate with no idea of where to take her even if they could. They wanted to trade the ship to a qualified captain for the guarantee of continued employment. Even though the story of the missing captain left some serious questions, Hugh was sufficiently intrigued to ask to inspect the ship the next day.

The following morning, Ramon met Hugh at the dock. The Maria del Mar lay at anchor in the harbor. Ramon had a bit of English and by this time Hugh had more than a bit of Spanish so Ramon was made to understand that he was to take the small boat to the ship and return with the entire crew to the dock. Then Hugh would go and look over the ship.

Caravel 1
Spanish Caravel

“But you will not take our ship without us?” asked Ramon.

“I cannot sail the ship without you any more than you can make a profit from her without me.” Hugh answered. “I do not know you well enough yet to let myself be taken to sea with odds of six to one.”

So Ramon went and returned with his brothers and cousins. They stood on the dock looking a bit apprehensive as Hugh took the small boat out to the ship. On board he went over her from stem to stern, climbed the rigging and inspected the bilges. The vessel was showing a lot of wear and dirt but was basically sound. Back on the dock Hugh found the six crewmen looking like students at exam grade time.

Hugh told Ramon to go and bring Kaylene so there would be no misunderstanding among them about the arrangement under which he would become their captain. The arrangement was that whatever the ship earned would be divided into ten parts. Two parts went to the ship for maintenance. Each of the crew got one part. Hugh was to get two parts, from which he would pay Kaylene the one sixteenth share she had asked for. The agreement was to run three years, after which Hugh could sell the ship, if he wanted, and share the sale price in the same way as the income except the ship’s share would go to Hugh. Kaylene had one of her clients, a lawyer, draw up the contract. So it turned out that Hugh "came into possession" of the Maria del Mar.

Hugh found the crew congenial within the limits of very bad English and an inclination to petty thievery which they called “piracy”. He showed them how to make reasonable money by carrying goods and passengers, avoiding the constant concern for the authorities that comes with the pirate business. He evolved a practice in which he sailed north along the east coast of America during the spring, shuttled up and down the coast of New England in the summer, sailed south sometimes as far as St Augustine in the late fall and shuttled up and down from the Carolinas to Virginia in the winter. He never went near Hispaniola out of concern for the shady past of the ship.

The arrangement suited all parties so well that in late April 1640 they were still in business. On the 25th of the month the Maria del Mar put in at Boston. There Hugh found a message from his father in Bristol, England. He asked that Hugh return to England to help defend the family property in the looming civil war between parliament and the crown.

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