East of Boothbay Harbor, Maine 3
Seaward Side of Monhegan Island
East of Boothbay Harbor III
As waves pounded the rocky shoreline of Ocean Point, fog rolled in from offshore, and the mystical foghorns blared through gray stillness. Ships at sea blew their horns at regular intervals in the oncoming night as nearby cottage lights cut dim patterns through the ever-thickening fog. My family and I worried over whether or not the next day would be nice to sail twenty miles out to Matinicus, one of the outermost inhabited islands off the coast of Maine.
Ten hours later at 5:00 am, the ocean was azure under a cloudless sky, and so we drove fifty miles upcoast to Rockland to board a supply ship Mary A through the Penobscot Bay out to our island. When we arrived at the Maine State Ferry Terminal, the tide stood at rock-bottom low, and the Mary A stood so far down in the water that her mast top remained equal with the level of the dock. The central Maine coast has thirty-foot tides and if you go up to New Brunswick, Canada along the Bay of Fundy, tides can be over forty feet during a full moon.
Our Sea Voyage Out to Matinicus
After we took our seats in the stern, I looked up at the wharf pilings to notice countless thousands of edible mussels and brightly colored periwinkles which, if boiled, taste as sweet as a nut. I often wonder why early English settlers on the Maine coast continually ran out of food--they must have come from the Midlands and not from the sea coast. In clear icy water beneath the dock, many bright red starfish slithered along the bottom and an occasional eel bobbed its head out of concealment.
At exactly 7:45 am, the Mary A chugged slowly out of Rockland Harbor past fisheries and moored ships and out past the impressive Rockland Breakwater, a half mile-long pile of huge rocks to shelter the harbor from any possible storm. Perched at the end of the breakwater stood a small lighthouse. The farther we moved out to sea, the more magnificent the rugged shoreline appeared to be. The Camden Hills, rising to 1,300 feet, formed the background lending a Mediterranean look. The last lighthouse, Owl's Head, stood up high on a spruce-clad cliff.
Once out at sea, ocean swells grew larger and larger giving a pleasant roll to the ship. Far on the horizon ten miles toward Nova Scotia, Matinicus appeared as a faint sliver of darkness. Though today the sun felt warm, I could readily imagine this ship caked with ice during winter as it is a year-round supply and mail ship. To our portside, two large gray porpoises curved gracefully through the water. Mainland seagulls followed our ship all the way from Rockland as Matinicus gradually loomed larger and larger. The clanging of a bell buoy and larger flocks of sea birds marked our closeness to the harbor of Matinicus--an Abenaki word having two meanings: "a group of grassy islands" and "a flock of wild turkeys." Indeed several small grassy islands lay offshore including Wooden Ball. In the old days, wild turkeys were in abundance out here.
As we pulled into the island harbor at 10:00 am, we caught sight of a large floating lobster pound shack where lobstermen store their catch. About 15 homes surrounded the docks with clotheslines in their backyards loaded with wash to dry in sea breezes. Most of the hundred or so permanent residents earn their daily bread through lobstering. Lobster floats and traps laced all the docks.
We disembarked and took a walk out of the village into the peaceful and fragrant forests of balsam fir and spruce. Among the creaking trees, there stood a historic plaque dedicated to the first settler, Ebenezer Hall, who was "ruthlessly killed by the Penobscot Indians in 1757." There was a good reason why, however that one Ebenezar Hall met his fate on this peaceful island. In 1749, according to the Maine Historical Society records, Governor Dummer signed a treaty with the Penobscot people that stated white man could settle as far as salt water flows and no farther. The islands belonged to the Indians, and any Englishman or Frenchman caught on the islands was to be captured by the tribal people and brought back to white man's justice. In 1752 the Penobscot and Saint John Indians (of the Abenaki Group) complained that Ebenezar Hall and family had broken the treaty by settling on Matinicus to kill seals and wild turkeys.
The Ebenezar Hall Episode
Not only this, but in 1751 Hall had killed two Indians and buried them in his Matinicus garden because they had been fighting this white fishermen who should not have been there in the first place. In 1753 Hall and family (a wife and stepson) were removed from the island, but they returned within a few months. Those Matinicus turkeys must have been mighty tasty. Finally, as the plaque states, Ebenezar Hall was killed by the Indians. However, the plaque does not state that Hall had killed one more Indian that year who, with a group, was trying to capture this unlawful settler and bring him to justice. Instead this "sterling" settler was killed in a provoked battle. Present-day Matinicus, so peaceful with its forests and rolling meadows, bears none of the scars of 250 years ago except for a misleading plaque.
Today the people of Matinicus, unlike unruly Ebenezar Hall, have been "Matinicused" into living in harmony with nature having no desires whatsoever to live on the mainland. As they say to tourists, "We like our island the way it is." As we boarded our ship to return to the busy mainland, an old man stood by the dock and told the captain, "ya ain't goin' nowhere--yer headed the wrong way!" As our ship proceeded and Matinicus grew fainter and fainter on the horizon as did the sweet scent of its forests, I sensed that a little piece of me remained out there.
Boothbay Harbor has some fabulous seafood restaurants and blueberry muffin coffees hops,
Monhegan Island, Maine
© 2010 Richard Francis Fleck