June 30 – July 6, 2023Vol. 25, No. 3

Maine’s Hidden History

by Martha F. Barkley

In the foreword of this fine, 2010-published history of Maine people, David Tyler writes, “In our small state, individuals often have a greater impact on the state than impersonal historic forces.” Stories about people usually hold my interest, how about you?

My bookend review will mention only a few from the beginning and a few from the ending of Harry Gatwick’s 122-page Hidden History of Maine, but I bet you will find every single person’s life worthwhile reading.

We are very aware of the Abenaki presence in our Belgrade Lakes region of pristine waters. Father Sebastien Rale, a Jesuit missionary, compiled the Abenaki-French dictionary so very well that its manuscript is held in the Harvard College library. Other native languages were mastered by Rale as well: Algonquian, three dialects, and “the Huron dialect of the Iroquois.”

If only we could master our own English language. Everyday I find a new word or usage. Father Rale, in his multiple language skills, was very much appreciated by the Abenakis and French settlers, but the English settlers had a different opinion. “The English tended to regard all Indians as savages….”

Louise Dickinson Rich wrote kindly, “Rale was fond of the Indians and deeply concerned with their welfare. He was just one of many missionaries working equally selflessly among the tribes, but he was the outstanding example of his kind.”

History constantly holds controversy, even in the case of a poor kid from Maine who eventually becomes “the first colonial governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.” Yes, Phip’s was one of twenty-six brothers and sisters in his family, born in 1651 in the farmhouse located by the Kennebec River.

The portrait of William Phips reveals a very established, ranking self-made man who was appointed by William III, king of England. Phips had run-ins with the governor of New York, and Phips even caned and beat with his fists a customs collector for the king. Troubled times for two years, Phips was in London defending his actions when he fell ill to the flu and died February 18, 1695 at the age of 44.

Even critics of Phips admitted, “He had a flair for making himself attractive to powerful and influential men….” The famed Cotton Mather stated, “I never saw him do evil action or heard him speak anything unbecoming…”. Puzzling portrait, but read more details in this history to discover the rest of the story about a poor kid from Maine who became notorious.

Now, to the end of this interesting book, full of individuals in our state who made a difference. Margaret E. Atwood of York was Marvelous Mattie, a woman of many inventions, not just the flat-bottomed paper bag. She had oOver 80 patents to her name. “As of 2009, she was one of two women among the ninety-five inductees,” in the Paper Industry Hall of Fame in Wisconsin.

Lillian Norton of Farmington made her splash in Paris, France in 1878, when she changed her birth name to Lillian Nordica before moving to Milan, Italy. Her mother moved with her operatic daughter to St. Petersburg, Russia, where she doubled her singing salary from year to year and “dined with the Czar.”

Go for a concert this summer sometime on the lovely Farmington campus at the Nordica Concert Hall. It is a treat to attend. Three husbands and world performances will make you wonder how all this came out of Farmington.

I especially loved reading about the last Maine person of great influence in this book: Ken Roberts. “Robert’s books have aged remarkably well…Insatiably curious about the lives of his ancestors, he used their experiences as a basis for many of his novels, starting with Arundel, published in 1929.” My favorite and Northwest Passage a close second, in my opinion.

The writer Booth Tarkington was Robert’s friend, and twice he dedicated his work to Tarkington. In spite of Robert’s criticism of the Pulitzer Prize process, he “was awarded a Special Pulitzer Prize Citation ‘for his historical novels which have long contributed to the creation of greater interest in our early American history.’”

Vinalhaven Island is where the author of this collection of biographies resides summers. He taught secondary history for over forty years at the Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, while also coaching baseball. Maybe that is one reason Harry Gratwick wrote about slugger George Gore, nicknamed “Piano Legs?” Batting champion from Maine, read about him or go outside and play ball.

©2023 by Summertime in the Belgrades. All rights reserved.