JOHN BREWER (1743 -1825)
EARLY LIFE AND SETTLEMENT IN THE PENOBSCOT REGION (1743 – 1775)
John Brewer was one of the first permanent settlers on the Penobscot River. He was born in Weston, Massachusetts on May 17, 1743 to Josiah and Hannah Brewer (Woolson) and was descended from Corporal John Brewer who lived in Sudbury , Massachusetts as early as 1642. .Josiah was a representative to the General Court of Massachusetts and moved his family to Worcester where he was a selectman. They had nine children of whom John was probably the youngest. John obtained his early education in Weston, and finished it at Worcester. As a man, John Brewer was described as “slender, but rugged, a mind well balanced and sound rather than aspiring, a countenance sedate rather than brilliant”.
In June of 1769, John married Martha Graves of Sudbury and their first child was born a year later on May 1st , 1770 at Worcester . They named him Josiah. The same year that his first son was born , the 27 year old Brewer decided to begin a settlement in Maine and start a sawmill. He had knowledge of the sailing and milling industries, but decided on milling as a vocation. It was said that he was attracted to the beauty of the location and an abundant supply of water power, so he probably had made a prior expedition to the area. John’s brother-in-law, Dr. William Crawford, was married to his sister Mary and was a surgeon stationed at Fort Pownal (Fort Point) at the mouth of the Penobscot River. That may also be a factor in his choosing the region. After John’s small vessel reached Ft. Pownall from Boston in September of 1770, Dr. Crawford accompanied him on his first exploratory search. John did not take his family on this first year. His son would have been only a few months old and his wife recovering from childbirth.
John Brewer and Dr. William Crawford made their way up the river to look for a potential mill site. According to Brewer’s journal they walked the twelve miles up along the river using an old Indian trail. They inspected the mouth of the Segunkedunk. (Sededunkeuk as stated by the many Indians in the area) stream, and after exploring the river up to the rapids at the head tide (present day Eddington), settled upon the original landing spot. That fall, John and Dr. Crawford explored the Segunkedunk stream up to the pond at it’s headwaters (present day Brewer lake) and laid the foundation for the mill- dam at what became known as Brewer’s cove. In December, they left for the winter and John returned to Massachusetts.
The following April of 1771, John returned with his brother Josiah, Dr. Campbell and several workmen. They built a landing, completed the mill dam and built upon it, a sawmill John Brewer’s sawmill was the first on the Penobscot river and the remains of the dam are still there. They felled trees and constructed a log cabin above the mill and across present day Main Street in the area where the Harriman home was later built. That house was the first in the community. As before, John returned to Massachusetts for the winter.
In April of 1772, John returned permanently with his family and 21 others, including his older brother Josiah. Josiah built a house on a point of land across the stream from John Brewer’s landing. This group formed the founders of a community which would be known as New Worcester. New Worcester later became the town of Orrington. Orrington eventually divided and the northern part became the town of Brewer. John, his brother Josiah and Dr. Campbell became partners in the mill. Dr. Campbell sold his interest to Col. Thomas Goldthwait, the commander of Fort Pownall, but Brewer purchased it back from him in November of 1774.
Now that there was to be a permanent settlement in the area, the founders needed consent from the general court of Massachusetts and a land grant from England. The founders received the consent from the court for a 58 square mile tract of land that would run twelve miles along the river from Bucks Ledge (present day Bucksport) to the tidewater (present day Eddington) . It would continue inland to present day Holden. The settlement was surveyed as Plantation Number 9, to be later known as New Worcester. By law, the land grant had to be issued within three years so a representative ( Dr Calef of Ipswich, Massachusetts ) was sent to England. Unfortunately, the hostilities of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) would prevent the grant from being issued and it would not be until after the war that New Worcester was to become legally recognized.
During the next few years, John and Martha began a home, worked the land and produced several more children. Betsey was born in 1772, Eleanor in 1774, Francis in 1776, and Lavinia in 1778.
REVOLUTIONARY WAR PERIOD (1775 -1783)
The British occupied Castine ( called Bagaduce at the time)) a town near the mouth of the Penobscot river beginning in 1760. They patrolled the river and after the hostilities of Lexington and Concord (1775) many of the 160 people that now occupied the settlement of New Worcester became increasingly worried about the British presence. During the war many families resettled temporarily or permanently to Massachusetts or the Kennebec river area. However, some families stayed in their homes so the settlement was never completely abandoned. John Brewer was among those who remained. In 1776 he was made a captain in the militia and his older brother, Josiah, a colonel.
On June 16, 1779, English General Francis Mclean landed at Castine with 650 soldiers and built a fort. With the colonies at war and the British enemy occupying the area, the settlers decided to send Captain Brewer and a man by the name of Smith (from Marsh Bay, which is the present day town of Frankfort) to see General McLean and determine the British intentions. General McLean told Brewer and Smith that the settlers would not be bothered as long as they remained peaceful.
The next month, Brewer and other settlers made trips to Camden to stay aware of what was happening in the colonies and with the state of the war. What information they received is unknown, but a month after the first meeting with General McLean, Brewer and Smith returned to the fort at Castine and was again told that the settlers would be left alone if they remained peaceable. While at the fort, Brewer and Smith noticed that there was an increased amount of activity and decided they had better leave immediately. No sooner had they departed, then there was a general call to quarters and the fort was secured.
When leaving the area, Brewer saw an American fleet of ships sailing from the south. This fleet was known as the “Penobscot expedition” and was a flotilla of American war ships under the command of Commodore Saltonsall and General Solomon Lovell. Afraid that his small boat would be caught in the attack, Brewer sailed to the safety of a cove on the south side of the river at what is now called Ft. Point. He stayed the night and the next morning saw his brother Josiah (now a colonel in the militia) rowing ashore under orders to secure the area in and around present day Bucksport (called Buckstown at the time). Brewer was taken to the American ships to report on British operations. Captain Brewer suggested that the fleet could take Castine, but the commodore decided to wait. Brewer was ordered back to the settlement to await further orders. During this time Captain Brewer performed some operations with his brother in and around the Castine area.
The decision to wait to attack Castine turned out to be disastrous because the British received naval reinforcements forcing the American fleet up the Penobscot river where the ships were destroyed, either by the British or the Americans themselves to prevent the British from taking them. Many of the ships were destroyed in the Bangor-Brewer area of the river and remnants of the expedition have been discovered and some are still there. The Americans fled to the woods and the American fleet had the worse defeat in American naval history.
Among those American soldiers who were engaged in action at Castine, twenty or thirty became sick or were wounded. They were taken to Brewer’s home where they were treated and fed. Later, they were transferred to a Mr. Treat’s home above the head-tide of the Penobscot. Brewer again went to see General McLean who told Brewer that he could take the sick and wounded to Boston. Brewer obtained provisions, chartered a ship fitted with bunks and platforms, and hired a master to command the vessel. When Brewer got under-way he learned that Captain George Ross, one of the commanders of the ruined fleet had been wounded and was seeking passage to Boston. Brewer picked him up despite the fact that Captain Ross was not on the original authorized list of evacuees. Captain Mowatt of the British fleet was in charge of the operation and discovered that Brewer had transported Captain Ross. Mowatt was incensed and threatened to kill Brewer, but later the affair blew over.
It occurred to Brewer that he was not safe in the area because of his wartime activities coupled with the fact that he was politically a member of the Whig party. During the Revolutionary war, this meant that he opposed alliance with Great Britain and supported the revolution. So, in 1779 he decided to return to Massachusetts for the duration of the war. He packed up his family and belongings and loaded them on a large scow brought up by a Major Ulmer. Brewer himself took his stock and the stock of others in the settlement who were leaving and drove them through the woods to Camden. From there he returned to East Sudbury in the Worcester area of Massachusetts.
Brewer remained in Massachusetts from 1779 until the war ended in 1783. During that time he had two children born in East Sudburuy. Cyrus was born in 1781, but died after two months. He also had another son whom he also named Cyrus probably in 1782
POST REVOILUTIONARY WAR (1793- 1825)
In 1783 Brewer returned to New Worcester with his family. Some settlers had remained, but many had left for the war. Upon his return he resurrected his mill and the family again set up housekeeping. His house was in bad shape and he constructed a frame house just below where the Second Congregational Church was later built* He was made Deputy Sheriff and given command of the military company of the plantation In 1785 he was promoted to Colonel of the 5th regiment of Lincoln County and had a daughter (Martha). He joined with a number of the settlers to petition for a grant to form a township and was one of the two major players in the process. The original applications would have been nullified by the war. Because of the process involved and other rival petitioners to the area it was not until 1788 that the township was chartered. It was named Orrington and contained the area from present day Bucksport to present day Eddington and inland to present day Holden. The area was in Lincoln county, but later part of Penobscot county. During the first town meeting in 1788, John Brewer was the moderator. ). He resigned his commission in 1797. He had been an officer in the militia for over twenty years.
By 1800, John Brewer was fifty three years old. He had been one of the original founders of a settlement in the present area, had developed the first sawmill on the river, had been instrumental in activities during the American Revolution and had been a major player in the formation of the township. It was in this year that Brewer became the first postmaster of the town, a position he held for eighteen years including six when the northern section of Orrington was separated into the town which was named Brewer in honor of him. When the First Congregational Church was built that year, He and his family were at the first service.
At age 64, Martha died in 1808. After two years Brewer married Ruth Prescott, a widow, from Augusta. They remained married until she died in 1818. He married for the third time in 1819 to Abigail White of Bucksport.
Brewer retired from being postmaster in 1818 and the town was without a post office for ten years. Brewer died in 1825. An article in a newspaper said of him:
( WHEN HE DIED HE LEFT BEHIND HIM “A PROSPEROUS TOWN, THE NUCLEUS OF THE PRESENT CITY, THE RECORDS OF A RUGGED MASTERFUL PROGRESSIVE LIFE, AND A TOMBSTONE IN THE CEMETERY)
* The exact location of John Brewer’s permanent home is up to speculation.
William Phillips writes “Several years ago when the church (Second Congregational church on South Main Street) had a parking lot constructed, the workman found an old foundation deep beneath the ground there. As the land had been graded up through the years so as to deeply cover the foundation, this house would have been on a lower level than the church when the church was erected, and would have been described as ‘;just below the church’ as it was by Captain Brewer’s great-granddaughter, Mrs. Lydia Swett, in 1932. Several older residents recall that the road sloped down from the church before the road was rebuilt. The Atlas of Penobscot County, Maine (1875) does not show this building so it had been removed or burned before that date. In his early history of Orrington and Brewer, written in 1820, Judge David Perham said that Col. John Brewer was living in the original frame house in 1820. He was a neighbor, having built his home in 1811 on the land where the Sargents later constructed their spacious home in 1847. “ Phillips also writes “ in 1907 when Dagny Erickson arrived in South Brewer from Oslo Norway, she lived in what is now the Black home (1976) She recollects playing in the lot next door, a quarter-acre level plot called ‘the flat’. In the southwest corner were an old foundation and caved in shallow well, which the local residents said were from the old John Brewer house.” These descriptions would indicate that the John Brewer house no longer exists.
In 2008, Charlie Marin (IV) bought 609 South Main street and believes , along with councilman Michael Celli and others in the community, this to be the original John Brewer house. The house was constructed around 1800, as determined by a historic preservationist on land that at the time was owned by Brewer. The house sits between the Second Congregational Church and the present day Sargent house and is definitely below the church..
The city of Brewer is treating 609 South Main street as a historic landmark.
“BREWER, ORRINGTON, HOLDEN, EDDINGTON: HISTORY AND FAMILIES” BY THAYER AND AMES
“COLONEL JOHN BREWER, FOUNDER OF BREWER / A BICENTENNIAL EFFORT”
BY WILLIAM AND LORRAINE PHILLIPS
(WHEN DISCREPENCIES, I USED PHILLIPS’ WORK)