Pemaquid, the Patent and Dixie Bull – Maine Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin
Today, the Maine Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the patent for the Pemaquid area of 385 years ago and their settlement challenges such as the pirate Dixie Bull.
The Pine Tree Magazine of May 1907 included an article, Pemaquid—Jamestown of the North by Herbert O. McCrillis. An excerpt follows:
There were at least three claimants to Pemaquid lands in the beginnings of the settlement.
The first was one John Pierce, who held under a Patent from the Plymouth (Eng.) Council granted June, 1621, a tract of land here.
Then, as already stated, John Brown bought of Samoset, the illustrious chief of Plymouth Colony renown, and Unongoit a tract of land twenty-five miles square. Think of the price paid and mentioned in the deed. It was fifty skins.
The Patent or right to the land which appears to have been the most import ant and most authoritative, however, is the one signed by the Earl of Warwick and Sir Ferdinando Gorges, given February 20, 1631, to Robert Aldworth and Gyles Elbridge, merchants of Bristol, England, by the authority of King Charles I.
This long document, a notarial copy of which is now in the possession of the American Antiquarian Society of Worcester, Massachusetts, commences as follows:
“This indenture made the nine and twentieth day of February Anno Dm 1631 and in the Seaventh yeere of the Raigne of our Soveraigne Lord Charles, by the grace of God King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, Defender of the ffaith” etc.
Land and privileges were conferred on Aldworth and Elbridge as follows: twelve thousand acres of land for themselves; and, as their purpose stated in the patent was to bring people over to build a town, one hundred acres was allowed them for each person transported to the settlement during the next seven years, who should stay three years.
They were to pay to the King one-fifth of all gold and silver ore found, and one-fifth to the Council. Two shillings rent should be gathered from every one hundred acres every September after the first seven years. They were to have the right to trade freely with the natives.
And the Patent reads, “it shall be lawful for the said Robert Aldworth and Giles Elbridge, their heires and assignes, from time to time to establish such laws and ordinances as are for the better Government of the said persons soe transported, and the same by such officer or officers as they shall by most voices Elect, and choose to putt on execution.”
They were also empowered to fortify and defend the place, and appoint an attorney or agent.
Abraham Shurte was appointed the agent of the patentees. His influence extended through the next thirty or more years and whatever law and order prevailed here was largely due to him.
It is known that in 1662 he was eighty years old. He is spoken of in the “History of New England,” written by Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts.
There has been continual litigation over the different claims to this territory based on this deed and the two Patents. It is no wonder, for the sections covered overlap each other, causing confusion in boundaries.
As to the number of colonists brought here by Aldworth and Elbridge, no statistics are to be had. From remains of civilization own on the spot and stray items, it is known that a goodly village for those times existed here for more than a generation.
Aldworth and Eldbridge used a seal with a picture of a ship upon it and its name, “Angel Gabriel.” The ship of this name started from Eng land with passengers for Pemaquid, and was wrecked in the harbor in the terrific storm recorded as happening August 15, 1635.
Several lives were lost in this wreck. Undoubtedly other ships, perhaps many, came here, as to Plymouth and Jamestown, laden with men and women hopeful of great things in the new land.
The will of Robert Aldworth was proved in Bristol, England, January 12, 1634. He is called “Merchant and Alderman of Bristol.” Giles Elbridge is mentioned as his kinsman and named as executor. He was also heir to much of the property.
One clause of the will reads as follows: “I give and bequeath unto Abraham Shurte, my servant, if he live till my decease and shall return to Bristol, the sum of two hundred pounds.”
Shurte was certainly in Pemaquid years before the giving up of the Patent to Aldworth and Elbridge. Without doubt, they traded there before that time.
Aldworth died in 1634; Giles Elbridge in 1643.
“As early as 1650 Thomas Elbridge, second son of Giles Elbridge, had his residence at Pemaquid. He inherited (after his brother John) the property here.
“Here he made grants of land, held courts, tried causes, and punished offenses. On December 10, 1650, he mortgaged to Abraham Shurt the island of Monhegan by a deed in which he describes himself as ‘Thomas Elbridge of Pemaquid a New England merchant.’
“On the first day of February, 1651 or 1652, he sold to Capt. Paul White, ‘one-half of the Patent and Plantation of Pemaquid.
“On the 3d of September, 1657, he sold the other half to Nicholas Davison of Charlestown, who had previously purchased the first half mentioned. These deeds are on record.”
Thomas Elbridge lived in Pemaquid in 1672, as his name is on a petition asking that the town and territory be taken under the protection of Massachusetts. He is reported as exercising a good influence in the settlement.
In 1632 occurred the raid on the place by Dixie Bull, a pirate of the day.
Pemaquid is unique in having had four forts built and destroyed around and upon its great rock before the union of states was formed.
The one which Dixie Bull and his men attacked was a rather simple affair, as is supposed, a sort of blockhouse, known, it is said, as Pemaquid or Shurte’s fort.
Not much resistance was made to the attack at first, but the people finally gathered in sufficient force to drive the pirates in hot haste to their ship.
Dixie Bull’s threats to the plantations on the Maine coast further to the west aroused them to send out all the forces they could against the pirates, which were four pinnaces and shallops and about forty men.
These, constituting New England’s first naval force, lay wind bound in Pemaquid harbor three weeks.
The settlements had asked also for help from Governor Winthrop at Boston. But, judging from the very leisurely way he and the good men in Boston set about the matter, it seems that the eastern settlements, of which Pemaquid was so important, did not have the special good will of the Bostonians of that day.
Dixie Bull, the pirate, met his deserts in England later on.
Shurte’s fort is supposed to have lasted until the time of King Philip’s war, about 1675. Just when the place reached its greatest prosperity it is hard to say. Evidently it was not much like Plymouth with its strict laws and religious air. It was not settled by the kind of people that settled Plymouth.
Those who came to Pemaquid were many of them adventurers, traders, and fishermen. However, it is stated by Williamson in his history of Maine that as early as 1630 Pemaquid had eighty four families beside fishermen, and an estimated population of five hundred people.
Thornton mentions this also in his book and says that at this time, 1629, Pemaquid was a larger and more important settlement than Quebec, the capital of Canada.
Increasing value and population required a stronger defense, so the fort (already spoken of) was built. This was four years before the “Castle” was built at Boston.
More than one historian has described Pemaquid as lawless and disorderly. During its earlier years it was undoubtedly so.
“Weakness of authority invited lawlessness and crime, as in crude societies of primitive settlements,” says Thornton.
The arrival of Shurte improved the condition of affairs; and authority was more evident after the Great Patent. “The plantation had a gradual uninterrupted growth until 1676; with commodious harbor, fort, and court of justice, it was a place of great resort and much business.”
The Maine Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of the early days of Pemaquid Harbor and St. John’s Bay.