Taylor and Thankful 1737-1812

The work of a curious fellow
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Taylor Small was 18 when his mother Isabel died. Isabel and his stepfather Joseph Hatch had been married only 3 years when Isabel caught the fever. She was Joseph’s third wife and he decided to give up on marriage. He provided for his stepchildren as best he could by himself. Taylor’s brother Samuel, age 20 and his sister Mary, age 13, took over running the Hatch house and caring for the younger children. Taylor set out to restore the family fortune.

For a young man of Truro going to sea was the way to get established. Taylor and his friend Tom Ridley went down to Nantucket and shipped on a whaler. Voyages of three years length had become common, mostly due to the innovations of Taylor’s father Samuel. They returned from a successful trip in 1737 each with a sizeable nest egg and each swearing never again to go whaling.

Tom invested his earnings in a farm near Truro. Taylor had become a master’s mate during the whaling voyage so he took a position with a coastal trader sailing up and down the east coast of the colonies including Canada.

By 1741 Taylor was in command of one of the company’s ships. That summer he was on leave in Truro, staying with Tom and his wife on their farm, when he took a halibut hook through the hand in an accident on one of his cousin’s fishing boats. The wound became infected and Taylor was put to bed, perhaps to die.

He was treated by his brother Samuel who had studied under their grandfather Dr. Dyer, who had died in 1738. Samuel was a better than average physician of the time because he had no training from the medical establishment. Dr. Dyer had learned his craft from necessity and native healers.

Samuel cut open the infected hand, being careful not to damage nerves or tendons and soaked the wound in rum. Then he mixed some powder, which he got from Dr. Dyer’s native friend, with grain alcohol and prescribed a sip every hour around the clock.

Tom asked his 15 year old sister Thankful to sit with Taylor to administer the medicine and cool his fevered brow. So it happened that when Taylor regained consciousness the first face he saw was that of the lovely young Thankful Ridley.

It was a memorable experience. When Taylor had fully recovered he went to Tomas Ridley Sr. and asked if he could court Thankful. Her father laughed. “You are welcome to try”, he said, “But that girl has a mind of her own.”

Taylor had avoided romantic entanglements to the ripe old age of 25. He had only the vaguest notion of how to proceed. He approached Thankful as he would have any business deal. He asked to speak to her and when she stepped to the door his first words were, “Would you agree to be my wife?”

Thankful reacted the same way her father had. She laughed and said, “Of course not Mr. Small. I hardly know you.”

So Taylor backed off and set about to get acquainted with Thankful. In order to devote full time to the effort he left his position with the shipping firm. Thankful’s brother Tom, Taylor’s best friend, stepped in and repaired the damage of Taylor’s first approach with Thankful. Tom’s wife Elizabeth coached Taylor on how to court a woman. Through patience and persistence Taylor won Thankful’s heart.

So Taylor Small and Thankful Ridley were married in Truro on 9/15/1742. Taylor bought some property on the south side of town and built a house. With a loan from his father-in law, Taylor set himself up with a sturdy ship of his father’s design in the freight hauling business, transporting goods and raw material among Truro, Boston, Gloucester, Kittery and Casco Bay.

In 1744 Thankful began accompanying Taylor on his trips among the ports. Most of his business was Boston-Gloucester-Kittery runs. Thankful liked sailing and being with Taylor but the weather in the spring of 1744 ran cold and wet. Finally on the 27th of June the weather cleared up. Warm gentle winds and bright sunshine was the rule that summer.

During that spell of good weather Taylor took advantage of a trip to Falmouth, known today as Portland, to introduce Thankful to the Sebascodegan property currently owned by Taylor’s uncle Francis.

They left Falmouth and sailed along the coast among the dozens of wooded islands that inhabit the inner part of Casco Bay. The landscape was spectacular in 1744 and remains so today. They cruised slowly from the port out past the headland then turned east northeast up into the bay sailing close by some of the islands in the deep channels.

Casco Bay Scene
Ragged Island Shore

“Taylor, it’s beautiful,” Thankful said. “Dark green forests, bright blue water separated by white and gray ledges… just lovely.”

Taylor was well aware of the beauty and family history in Casco Bay. Cape Small was named by his great grandfather. The property on Sebascodegan remained in the family having passed down to his uncle Francis. Each year since the family had been on Cape Cod some of the cousins had spent part of the summer at the original homestead maintaining and improving the property. Whenever the Indian wars had simmered down or were focused away form the southwest coast of Maine, family members had spent the whole season there.

“It is a wonderful site,” Taylor said. “The summers are less hot than inland being cooled almost every afternoon by the sea breeze. The winters are hard everywhere in these latitudes but here in the bay they are noticeably warmer than just a few miles inland.”

They continued among the islands toward the east side of the bay and anchored in a small cove on the west edge of the river that ran into the bay. This was Sebascodegan. The crew lowered one of their two small boats and Taylor rowed Thankful ashore. They tied the skiff to an iron pin driven into the ledge at waters edge and walked up a path leading up to the level ground.

The original cabin had been replaced by a typical farmhouse. The field lay fallow but the brush had been kept cut back outside the stone wall that bordered the field. A stream ran down along the edge of the field and drained into the bay on the back side of the narrow strip of land where the farm was located.

“Taylor this is a such a peaceful spot,” Thankful said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to live here?”

“I think it would,” Taylor answered with a smile. He turned to look back at the harbor.

Thankful followed his gaze to see their ship sailing out of the cove.

“Taylor! Are we to be marooned here by your gang of cut-throats?”

“Aye,” Taylor answered. Let’s go into the house.”

Inside they found a larder fully stocked with food, a crock of water and two bottles of gin. In the shed at the back of the house was a supply of firewood.

Let’s make the best of the situation. I can think of several ways to spend the time. The ship is going to Bath over in the next bay to get re-rigged. They will be gone about ten days.

So Taylor and Thankful had a very happy second honeymoon at the Sebascodegan site.

By 1750 Taylor and Thankful had three children, Taylor, JR. Joseph and David, and enough money saved up to buy the Sebascodegan property from Taylor’s aging uncle. They settled on the homestead where Taylor’s great grandfather was born and made Sebascodegan the headquarters of the freighting operation.

In 1752 a fellow named Joseph Orr bought Little Sebascodegan Island and hired a crew to clear the trees to make farmland of it. Taylor got the contract to haul the pulpwood to Boston for sale. Folks began referring to Sebascodegan as Great Sebascodegan to differentiate it from Little Sebascodegan. After Joseph Orr and his brother Clement took possession of Little Sebascodegan in the 1750’s it became known as Orr’s Island and Great Sebascodegan became knows simply as Great Island.

In 1755 Jim Ridley, Thankful’s brother, and his family joined Taylor and Thankful at Great Island and took up farming on the shores of the cove known to this day as Ridley Cove.

In all Taylor and Thankful had eight children:
Taylor Small, Jr. 7/20/1746, Truro
Joseph Small, Sr. 8/24/1748, Truro
David Small, 1/27/1750, Truro
Thomas Small 10/21/1755, Great Island, Harpswell
Samuel Small 10/14/1757, Great Island, Harpswell
Ephraim Small 9/14/1759, Great Island, Harpswell
Lydia Small 1/14/1761, Great Island, Harpswell
Hix Small 1/1/1765, Great Island, Harpswell

In 1796 Thankful died at age 70. She had been the driving spirit behind Taylor’s success most of his adult life. She was known among her neighbors as a “goodly woman”. Taylor was 80 at the time of Thankful’s death with a large and loving family but he mourned the loss of Thankful every day until his death at age 96 in 1812. He was buried beside her in the Cranberry Horn Cemetery on Great Island.

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