Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Learning the Ways of the Road . . . To Quoz and Elswhere - Dispatches from Maine

William Least Heat-Moon turned 73 yesterday.  He was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1939 and took all of his degrees from the University of Missouri at Columbia where he was also a professor of English.  He still lives and writes along the Missouri River near Columbia.

Ever since I read his first book, Blue Highways, when it was published in 1982 (and several times since), I have looked to Least Heat-Moon as a mentor in the art of deep map travel writing.  “I can't say, over the miles, that I had learned what I had wanted to know because I hadn't known what I wanted to know. But I did learn what I didn't know I wanted to know."   Robert Sullivan, in reviewing Roads to Quoz (2008) for The New York Times Book Review, celebrated Least Heat-Moon’s "serendipity and joyous disorder."  This is what I cherish about all of his books, and this is one of the reasons I like to take road trips and write about them.  He has taught me to turn at the intersections where there are no signs telling you where you are or where the roads go.  That is how you learn about the country that surrounds you. 

These blog postings at Looking Toward Portugal are in many ways small individual tributes to what I have learned from reading William Least Heat-Moon.  Here is wishing him a very Happy Birthday.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Outside Looking In: Jefferson Davis In Canada - Part 2 - Dispatches from Maine

Fort Niagra, New York
Part 1 was posted on August 26.  Please check it out.

After enduring two years incarceration at Fort Monroe, Virginia and facing an unknown fate, Jefferson Davis, the former President of the Confederate States of America was released from custody in May 1867 after which he and his wife and young children traveled from Virginia to New York City and eventually north to Montréal where he was finally reunited with his two older children who had been sent from Savannah to Montréal before Davis’ capture and who had been living there with his mother-in-law.  “My children were assembled here to receive me and were all in good health.”  They had grown up so much during his imprisonment.  Varina Davis had hoped to settle the family in Canada where the federal authorities could not harass them and she continued to visit her children there while Davis was still in prison.  Despite reports that Davis was taunted at various stops through New York, his trip to Montréal was an easy one; “so devoid of incident that like the weary knife grinder I have no tale to tell.”

The family took up residence in a modest boarding house where Davis hoped to find some peace and quiet.  They would later reside briefly in the mansion of John Lowell, an Irish-born publisher of a Tory newspaper, at the corner of Ste. Catherine and Union across from the Christ Church Cathedral.  Lowell’s family “gave us every care and assistance that friendship could render,” Varina Davis would later write.  Perhaps Davis and his family had found a new home in Montréal, if only a temporary one.  “Davis did not like crowds, and often moved about the city incognito or stayed inside.  He declined numerous invitations to dinner and drinks, and to fishing trips into the nearby countryside.  He and Varina would occasionally attend the theater in the city.  A friend in Boston wrote to him glad to know “that you have reached a quiet home in Canada, away from the turmoil and useless excitement of our Northern cities.”  The peace and quiet lasted only briefly. 

Shortly after his arrival in Montréal, Davis received a letter from Jubal Early, one of his most reliable generals, inviting him to meet in Toronto.  Davis departed Montréal by steamer on May 29, 1867 in the company of Colonel Charles Helm, a former Confederate agent in Havana.  They traveled down the St. Lawrence River via Prescott and Kingston, arriving in Toronto on the following day where he received a warm welcome by former Confederates and Southern sympathizers. Many were surprised by Davis’ weak and emaciated appearance.  “I feel that I am once more breathing free air,” Davis exclaimed upon his arrival.  His reception was reported in The New York Times.  It “proves that the Canadians are in a very bad condition of mind.  They want to recover their equanimity until they are formally annexed by us.”

The next day he traveled across Lake Ontario in a small boat with James M. Mason, the former Confederate ambassador to Great Britain and France, to spend a couple days at Mason’s home in Niagra, Ontario.  From the outside looking in, Davis could see Fort Niagra, on the American side of the Niagra River, the Stars and Stripes flying above the ramparts.  “Look there Mason,” Davis said with some bitterness in his voice.  “There is the gridiron we have been fried upon.”  Joining other former compatriots, Davis offered some remarks about Canada that were later reported in the New York Times.
I thank you sincerely for the honor you have this evening shown to me; it shows that true British manhood to which misfortune is always attractive.  May peace and prosperity be forever the blessing of Canada, for she has been the asylum for many of my friends, as she is now an asylum to myself.  I hope that Canada may forever remain a part of the British Empire, and may God bless you all, and the British flag never cease to wave over you.
This is certainly a change of heart for a man who as a US Senator from Mississippi told the Maine Agricultural Society in September 1858 that the entire North American continent should eventually fall under US sovereignty.  Ironically, the British North American Act establishing an independent Dominion of Canada was enacted by the British parliament a month later, on July 1, 1867.  After a few days in Niagra, Davis returned to Montréal via Toronto on June 5. His health somewhat improved and his spirits raised, Davis was still saddened by his fellow Confederates forced into exile and “waiting like Micawbar.” 

Back in Montréal, Davis had to consider his own plight.  “Unless one had capital this seems to me a poor country for a Confederate; though it is due to the people to say that they have shown me more attention and cordiality than it would have been reasonable to expect.”  Upon his arrival in Montréal Davis had invested $2000 of his scarce funds in a copper mining venture near Sherbrooke; he hoped “to make something out of it.”  His Canadian partners hoped his name might lend some cachet to their business dealings there and in New York.  Upon his return from Niagra, the Davis family would move into another friend’s residence at 247 Mountain Street [today rue de la Montagne] between rue Ste-Catherine and Dorchester (today  Boulevard Réne-Lévesque).  Described as a “narrow three-storey house, with steep front stairs leading up to the drawing room level,” the house also had a facade “marked by high, stone arched windows, and a black iron fence surrounded the green patch of garden.”  It was leased from Reverend Henry Wilkes and rent was allegedly paid by anonymous Confederate donors.  The house was eventually razed in the 1980s.

Davis ventured out of the city from time to time during the summer months of 1867.  In late June he traveled to Sherbrooke and Lennoxville, Québec situated 85 miles east of Montréal in the province’s Eastern Townships, a bastion of English-speaking communities. He also visited the copper mines near Montréal and Sherbrooke for several days throughout July, and visited his good friend Charles Helm in Toronto, in early September. 

Montréal life proved too fast paced for Davis who sought a quieter environment.  With his  lease set to expire, he wrote to Helm in mid-September to inquire whether he might suggest an inexpensive furnished house in Toronto for the winter.  “We require but a small and plain one.”  Davis took a long looked at Lennoxville, which he visited earlier in the summer and which Varina described as “this little out of the way village.  He finally moved his family there in late September or early October.  “This is a very quiet place and so far agreeable to me,” Davis told Helm in mid-October when Davis visited Toronto and nearby St. Catherine, Ontario.  “A village tavern is a thing which you can comprehend without description.” Continuing to live on the charity of others, he boarded at Clark’s hotel and tavern for almost a month while Varina returned to visit her mother who had fallen ill during a visit to Burlington, Vermont.  Varina brought her back to Montréal were she died on November 24, 1867.  Davis took long walks through the quiet streets of the village and along the banks of the Massawippi River and up to College Hill. “This is a very quiet residence, therefore pleasant to me.  The weather has been fine for out door [sic] exercise and we have taken advantage of it.”  Sometimes Davis would chat with the locals but more often than not he preferred his own company.

While in Lennoxville Davis considered writing his memoirs and a history of the Confederacy, and Varina surged him to use this time in Canada to do so since a large store of his personal and official papers and books had been brought to Canada in one of his mother-in-law’s trunks and were held in storage by the Bank of Montréal.  Davis quickly abandoned the idea.  “I cannot speak of my dead so soon.”

As the autumn of 1867 arrived, Davis had to once again think of his upcoming trial in Richmond which was tentatively scheduled to begin in November.  He also had no great desire to live through a cold northern winter, if he could help it.  Hoping he might be going home for good, he departed Canada by ship on November 19, traveling first to New York and then to Richmond where his wife eventually joined him, leaving their children in Canada in the care of her sister.  His trial was postponed again, this time until the spring of 1868, and so Davis and his wife departed for Baltimore on December 19 and then traveled by boat, first to Key West and Havana, and finally arriving in New Orleans on New Year Eve.  They traveled throughout the South visiting friends and family, eventually ending up back in his home state of Mississippi during the height of  Reconstruction.

Frederick W. Terrill, one of Davis’ principle partners in the Canadian mining venture, wrote to Davis in January 1868 concerned about his silence since leaving Lennoxville. Given recent assays studies, it would be a favorable time to consider selling the venture at a healthy profit.  “We have equal interest in the proceeds of any sale that may be effected.”  Terrill also suggested that Davis’ deferred trial date in Richmond was to prevent his eligibility to run for the US presidency; “so strong is this opinion among many Canadians that it has been common to offer a wager that you rather than General Grant would be elected.”

Departing New Orleans on March 11, 1868, they returned to Baltimore by ship.  They returned to New York on March 25, and departed two days later by train for the return trip to Montréal, and eventually to Lennoxville to rejoin their children and where Davis could once again monitor his partnership in the local copper mines.  It was difficult for him to find real employment until his legal status could finally be resolved and Varina complained they were “vexed by every anxiety that could torture us.”  Still the family was together; Jeff Jr. and William attended Bishop’s College Grammar School, in Lennoxville, while daughter Margaret was enrolled in a convent school in Montréal.

The family quickly fell back into the routine of village life in Lennoxville.  They continued to reside at the Clark’s Hotel and Davis would occasionally walk through the village.  “This is a very quiet place and so far agreeable to me but further I have little to add.”  That said, he delivered some formal remarks upon his return.
I thank you most kindly for this hearty British reception, which I take as a manifestation of your sympathy and good will for one in misfortune.  It bespeaks the true instincts of your race.  I trust you may ever remain as free a people as you now are, and that under the union of your provinces you will grow great and prosperous as you are free.  I hope that you will hold fast to your British principles and that you may ever strive to cultivate a close and affectionate connection with the mother country.  Gentleman, again I thank you.

By May 1868 Davis feared he may have to soon return to Richmond to finally have his day in court.  He traveled as far as Montréal before he learned that his presence in Richmond was no longer required.  The trial had been postponed again until at least October 1868. He returned again to Lennoxville, growing restless about his future and his ability to find gainful employment.

John Taylor Wood, a grandson of President Zachary Taylor and Davis’ nephew who served as an important naval commander in the Confederate Navy and was traveling with Davis when he was captured, managed to escape to Cuba.  He eventually settled in Nova Scotia with his family and became a successful merchant there.  He wrote to his uncle in April 1868 telling him the advantages of living in Halifax.  The climate was mild, the residents congenial, and servant wages were relatively low.  There were good Catholic schools and the local archbishop was enthusiastically pro-Confederate.  Wood had not yet located reasonably priced lodging and board.  Wood promised passage from Lennoxville to Portland, Maine where Davis and his family spent several months in the summer of 1858, as well as steamer tickets to Halifax.  Wood made additional inquiries in May concerning summer lodging for the family, but nothing ever came of this offer.  James Mason was also concerned for his old friend.  “You are not dead I take for granted . . . [yet] I infer that you are nevertheless buried in Lennoxville.”  He invited Davis to visit Niagra again; “we shall have for the summer quite a large and attractive Confederate circle.”

Davis and his family remained in Lennoxville during the early summer of 1868.  They took carriage trips throughout the surrounding countryside and Davis also made a trip up to Québec City.  On June 25, while carrying his youngest daughter Winnie, Davis took a nasty spill down a staircase at the Clark’s Hotel.  His daughter was uninjured, but Davis suffered two broken ribs.  His recuperation was very slow and his wife and friends feared for his health.  His “soul is wearing out his body - inactivity is killing him,” Varina wrote to a friend.  “I feel sure that he would recuperate if he could once get something to do.”   His doctor suggested an ocean voyage.

Davis’ attention turned however toward Europe as an opportunity to explore further  employment options and to live more frugally.  He announced on July 6, 1868 that he planned to travel to Liverpool where he hoped he might use his name and reputation to trade cotton and tobacco.  Varina was glad.  She never really liked Lennoxville which she found “tolerably comfortable” yet “stupid but quiet.”  Davis’ partners in the Québec mining venture granted Davis power of attorney and asked that he serve as an agent in an attempt to sell their interests.  Davis would recoup his initial $2000 investment and make a very healthy commission on the side.

Davis and his family departed later that month for Québec City where they took passage across the Atlantic on board the Austrian.  Davis was praised and feted upon his arrival in Liverpool, and with his children enrolled in school, he and Varina traveled to Scotland and Wales.   They remained in Britain until the end of the year, and unable to find employment or to sell the mining interests due to the depressed market in Great Britain, they left for Paris where they stayed for a month before traveling on to Switzerland.  They returned to London via Paris in early February 1869 and remained in Britain until late September although Davis was still unable to find suitable employment.  He and his family finally set sail for America, arriving in  New Orleans in late October.  As the government had still not scheduled a trial, Davis petitioned to have the indictment quashed in November, and it was dismissed on December 5, 1869, almost two and half years after he was released from Fort Monroe.  Davis had always hoped to vindicate himself in court.  That opportunity would never come.  Now, perhaps, he could seek his fortune in the United States.

Varina returned to Canada for reasons of health in early July 1873, now referring to “the dear old days in Lennoxville.”  Davis hoped to travel there from Memphis to meet her at Drummondville, Québec and go “wherever there is a prospect of getting something to do.”  But he never left Memphis and Varina eventually returned there in December.  Davis would return to Canada one more time, in the summer of 1881, to arrange for the Canadian publication of his two-volume memoir, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.  

Jefferson Davis’ time spent in Canada following his release from prison in 1867 was memorable despite the physical and financial hardships he endured during those difficult years.  “Of my wanderings it is proper to say that in Canada the hospitality of the people was everywhere most cordial.”

Thanks to Charlie and Donna Jordan of The Colebrook Chronicle (New Hampshire)  and to the George and Helen Ladd Library at Bates College, Lewiston, Maine.  Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Outside Looking In: Jefferson Davis In Canada - Part 1 - Dispatches from Maine

I posted a piece on August 11 dealing with Jefferson Davis’ visits to Maine in 1853 and 1858.  It grew unexpectedly out of the research I undertook to write this look at Davis’ time spent in Canada following the Civil War.  It is always interesting to me how some of these topics spring to mind.

Back in early July my wife and I were spending the Independence Day holiday weekend in the Connecticut River headwaters in far northern New Hampshire.  We had only been at the Maine lake cottage for a few days when we whisked ourselves away to one of my favorite places on God’s Green Earth.  While we were there, we had dinner with new friends, Donna and Charlie Jordan, who own, edit and publish The Colebrook Chronicle, a weekly newspaper that has become the voice of the North Country of New Hampshire, Vermont and the bordering areas of Québec’s Eastern Townships.  I first met Donna and Charlie in January 2012 when I attended a community meeting held in Colebrook, New Hampshire.  Since then we have chatted and corresponded on this and other subjects of mutual interest, and I was delighted to join them for a pleasant evening and dinner in their home when I returned to the North Country this past January.  So it was good to see them again in July and for Sally Ann to have the  opportunity to meet them.  We got along famously and talked well into the evening.

Charlie said something that evening that has long resonated within me each time I find my way back to this unique little corner of northern New England where New Hampshire’s Great North Woods, Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, and Québec’s Eastern Townships (Estrie) all come together - while sitting on the edge of an isolated pond or stream with moose and other critters lurking nearby in the woods, it is hard to imagine that cosmopolitan Montréal is only a couple hours away.  A quiet and unsettled edge of America bumping the underside of one of the more populated regions of Canada.  But you don’t need to travel to Montréal.  Step across the almost invisible line that is the US-Canadian border and the changes become visible.  All the signs are in French; another factor underscoring the uniqueness of this region. 

Most of my visits to this area include a pleasant foray across the border.  I especially like driving up Provincial Route 253 from the border at Beecher Falls, Vermont through East Hereford and St. Venant-de-Paquette as it parallels the international border after it turns north following Hall Stream and the Height of Land.  I frequently stop along this route and stare eastward to the rolling hills of far northern New Hampshire and the United States and I am reminded of Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), in Out of Africa, describing the locale of her four thousand acre coffee plantation at the foot of the Ngong Hills, in British East Africa (now in the vicinity of Nairobi, Kenya).  “The geographical position, and the height of land combined to create a landscape that had not its like in all the world.”  At the conclusion of her African memoir, as she describes her final departure from the farm, she looks back at the Ngong Hills from Samburu Station, she tells how the “outline of the mountain was slowly smoothed and levelled [sic] out by the hand of distance.”  I know exactly what she means.

Over dinner Charlie also told us the story of Jefferson Davis, the former President of the Confederate States of America, who had come to this very same region of Québec after he was released from prison following the Civil War.  Charlie found the story so fascinating that he published it as “Jefferson Davis in Lennoxville” in the May 1996 issue of Northern New Hampshire Magazine.  Like me, Davis would look across that imaginary line to the land of his birth.  I am always free to return home.  Davis faced a trial for treason should he do the same.
The next day Sally Ann and I crossed the border from Vermont into Québec, and toward the end of the day we passed through North Hatley, where the Riviére Massawippi enters the northern terminus of the lake of the same name, and from there we drove north to Lennoxville, now a suburb of Sherbrooke, the largest town in the Eastern Townships.  As we drove around the streets Davis once wandered I decided I wanted to know something more about this little piece of history of which I knew nothing.

Upon our return to Maine, I visited the library at Bates College and checked out a couple biographies on Davis.  These touched on his time in Canada, but did not tell me all I wanted to know.  So I went to The Papers of Jefferson Davis, a multi-volume tome published by the Louisiana State University Press and began to piece together the story on my own.  And now I am sharing it with you in two parts. 

As the Civil War drew to a close, Jefferson Davis refused to flee to Cuba or Europe, joining instead his wife and some advisors as they tried to slip away from Richmond to carry on the rebellion from beyond the Mississippi River.  Fearing imprisonment and possible execution for treason, perhaps even implication in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Davis hoped to escape to Florida and then by ship to Texas. Unfortunately for the Southern cause, the Confederate forces he hoped to join in the Trans-Mississippi had already surrendered and Davis made it only as far as southern Georgia before he was captured by Federal forces in early May 1865.  Taken first to Macon, Georgia, and then to Atlanta and Savannah by rail, he was taken by steamer to  Fort Monroe, in the Virginia Tidewater, where he was incarcerated on May 22, 1865 to await his eventual trial.

Davis would spend 720 days in confinement at Fort Monroe during which his health and mental state suffered, due in part to his disillusionment over the fate of the Confederate cause and those who fought bravely in its defense.  It improved only after a year when he was finally reunited with his wife and was allowed certain visitors, including his old Senate colleague, former President Franklin Pierce under whom Davis served as Secretary of War.  Throughout his incarceration at Fort Monroe, the federal and state judicial authorities debated when and how Davis should be tried.  Did his case come under military or civil jurisdiction?  What charges would be laid against him?  And then there was the matter of his health and competence to stand trial.  These questions and other delays would postpone any possible trial until the autumn of 1866 at the earliest.  There was also the question of whether bail should be granted before trial, and perhaps even the possibility of amnesty.  Davis was certainly entitled to a speedy trial yet by the spring of 1867 he had been sitting in jail for almost two years.  Without any definite plans to try Davis, he was eventually paroled from Fort Monroe on May 11, 1867 and remanded into civilian custody to stand trial in Richmond or to be released on bail.  A $100,000 bond was posted by Horace Greeley and other supporters and Davis was ordered released until his trial in Richmond in November 1867.

Once he was released from incarceration, Davis had to decide what he and his family would do.  He and his wife both claimed they opposed the repatriation of former Confederate soldiers and government officials to Mexico, Canada and other countries; yet he was sympathetic to those who chose to go into foreign exile.  He naturally assumed that he would have to seek a new home outside the reunited states should he ever be released from prison.  Franklin Pierce offered the Davis family use of his seaside cottage near Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Davis and his wife and their two youngest children, William and Winnie, departed Richmond on May 14 and caught a steamer from Norfolk to New York City where they arrived two days later.  There was no peace to be found there and they did not remain long, departing on May 20 and traveling up the Hudson River valley to Lake Champlain.  They crossed the Canadian border near St. Albans, Vermont and arrived in Montréal in the 21st.  There he was finally reunited with his older children, Jeff Jr. and Margaret, who had been living there in the care of Davis’ mother-in-law.  Canada would be his new home for the time being.

Part 2 will follow tomorrow.  Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Happy Birthday to My Bestest Friend!

Today is my Sweety’s 60th birthday!!!  We met and started going together shortly after her 19th birthday.  So I guess this means we were meant to be together.  So Happy Birthday to my wife, the mother of my fabulous son Ian, my confidante, the listener to my bad jokes and puns, and my very bestest of friends.  The fact that she has endured me for 41 years is a tribute to her finer qualities.  Who knows what ditch I would be lying in had I not met her when I did.  I would say more, but I still have to give her a card and a present, so I will leave it at this. Here is hoping you have a great day and that all your wishes come true.  I love you!

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Rain on the Roof - Dispatches from Maine

“Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards.”
                                                                           -- Vladimir Nabokov

Whether spending a long or a short summer vacation in Maine, one would prefer not to be cottage-bound during a dreary rainy day.  It is a day one cannot swim or canoe or sit out on the deck and enjoy a pleasant breeze off the water.  Yet every once in awhile I find days like this comforting as it limits one’s options.  It is easier to curl up on the couch with a good book, to work on a jig-saw puzzle spread across a card table, to paint or write, or to just take a cat nap when there is no place else to go or things to do in the outside world.  The sun will eventually come out and one can venture forth on new adventures.  But for the time being, life’s choices are restricted.

I have always taken a great delight in listening to the patter of raindrops on the roof of our small cottage here in Maine.  There is something calming about their random cadence that can often lull one into a gentle sleep.  This was not the case a couple of summer’s ago when we hunkered down as Hurricane Irene swept up through Maine and northern New England.  The patter of rain became a dull roar accented by the crashing sound of small branches and pine cones falling from the stately white pines surrounding the cottage.  But that was an exception to the rule.  For the most part they are gentle rain showers.  The patter of rain matched by the water dripping from the eaves.

Since I was a kid I have enjoyed the sounds of rain on the roof.  So much so that when Sally Ann and I first settled in Tucson after we were married in 1974, I commented on how much I missed the rain in the desert Southwest.  It would rain briefly now and then, but nothing like what I was use to growing up in the Midwest, or during my college undergraduate years spent in Florida.  One evening I was really missing the sound of rain on the roof, and to compensate I hung a heavy rubber poncho over the shower door in our bathroom and directed the nozzle so it would spray on the poncho.  To my heart’s content it sounded just like rain on the roof.  We laid there in bed for a few minutes and reveled in the moment, but when I went to turn the shower off, I discovered that the poncho had slipped off the door and covered the drain.  Several inches of water had collected in the bottom of the shower stall.  There was no way to open the door without opening the floodgates.  The price one must pay for a little taste of home and a fond memory of youth.

So these dreary and wet days here in Maine are special and I really don’t mind them at all.  I can sit and listen to that patter of raindrops on the roof all I want without the fuss and mess of trying to recreate them in the bathroom. 

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Someone Brewing This Way Comes - Dispatches from Maine

We have just returned from another wonderful week on Monhegan Island, a small dot of land in Muscongus Bay some twelve miles off the coast of Maine.  We have been doing this for the past fourteen summers (with some days trips thrown in when the mood hits us) and these visits have become the highlight of our summer vacations, and now summer residencies in our adopted state.  We have explored nearly every nook and cranny of this delightful island over the years and one of the things we like most about the place is the fact that life here never seems to change much regardless of what is going on in the outside world.  Those like us, who come here for a few days of respite, are happy to leave the daily routines and rush behind.  Other than a few trucks used by the lobster men, there are no cars on the island.  If you need to go somewhere, you walk.  What a delight.

And so it was this year as we stepped off the boat from New Harbor.  The wharf and the waterfront looked just the same as they did when we left on our last trip in September.  Many of the boats in the harbor are the ones we have been seeing here for years.  They belong to the local lobstermen who ply their trade from October until June.  The single dirt road through the village looks the same as do the pleasant clapboard houses that line the way.  The Monhegan House, our home away from home away from home, situated in the middle of the village across from the ecumenical church, looks the same.  This is one of the reasons we like to come.  Nothing much ever seems to change. It always looks the same.

I was only on the island for a couple of hours when I learned that a change had occurred during the off-season.  A pleasant lady from Virginia with whom I had chatted on the ride over that morning saw me walking by and asked me if I had visited the new brewery up the hill.  At first I was confused; there is no brewery on the island.  There has never been a brewery here.  Yet her grandson, who had just had his first pint at this apocryphal establishment, confirmed her story.  So perhaps things do change on Monhegan.  Note to self.  Check this place out.  And this is exactly what I did later that first afternoon.  After wandering up to my favorite place on the rocks on the edge of Lobster Cove where I frequently go to write, read or to just think while watching the tide ebb and flow, I stopped by the new home of the Monhegan Brewing Company.

Matt Weber, a lobsterman and former tuna harpooner on board the Ball Breaker who has been living and working on the island for almost two decades, and his wife Mary, a schoolteacher from Bath, Maine who married Matt a couple years ago and is now the island’s sole schoolmarm, launched the island’s first ever brewery on July 4th.  The plan was to open on Memorial Day when summer residents and daytrippers began to return to the island.  There were, however, some unexpected delays. Still everything worked out fine since the weather in June was not the best and summer routines on the island were slow to get started.  And from all appearances, it was worth the wait.  Business has been fast and furious over the past month.

Lobster Cove APA, its first brew, is billed as an "easy-drinking pale ale."  That it is and it is my favorite, for sure.  Wicked good!  This was soon followed by Shipwreck IPA, which is a bit stronger and hoppier, and presently they are planning to brew Dead Man’s Cove Dark IPA in the near future.  Add to these the Trapyard Root Beer and Red Ribbon Ginger Beer, and the new establishment has something for everyone who wanders from the village down to Lobster Cove at the southern end of the island.  Some even walk up the hill from the village just for the beer!

Danny McGovern, Mary's father and a long time brewer at the now defunct Lake Saint George Brewing Company (Liberty, Maine) and the Belfast Brewing Company and now the master brewer at Marshall Wharf Brewing Company in Belfast, Maine, is their business partner and he comes out to the island every couple of weeks to brew a new batch and to teach Matt and Mary the tricks of the trade.  In fact, he was on the island while I was there brewing more Shipwreck IPA.

The idea for an island brewery dates back to early 2012 with discussions on its feasibility and success in Maine’s growing microbrew tradition and market.  Construction on the small building began shortly after we left the island last September.  Work slowed on the October 1st Trap Day and the beginning of the new lobster season, but the structure was closed in by the time the snow and the cold winds began to blow over the island.  They worked on the interior over the winter.   The brewery is very compact; a 3.5 barrel brewing system with two 7-barrel fermenters accommodating over 200 gallons of beer installed adjacent to the “sampling room” (now permitted under new Maine legislation) with taps and a small counter from which beer and souvenir glasses, t-shirts and hats are dispensed.

The Monhegan Brewing Company’s initial success is due in large part to word of mouth and small signs around the island, something I did not notice until after I first heard about it from that pleasant lady I met on the boat.  I made a daily pilgrimage up the hill while we were on the island, and each time I was greeted by several people lounging on the narrow deck or sitting on the ground amidst the piles of rope, Matt’s pink and white lobster buoys, and neatly stacked lobster traps.  Nary a person walked by who did not stop in to see what was going on.  And most came out with a pint of beer or rootbeer in their hands.  Hollie Chadwick’s “Maine Beer News” column in the August-September issue of Yankee Brewing News announced the advent of “Beer on the Sea” as the Monhegan operation is the only offshore brewery in Maine.

According to a story in The Lincoln County News (Damariscotta, Maine) shortly before our arrival on Monhegan, Matt and Mary plan to extend their off-island market this autumn by distributing a limited number of kegs to mainland restaurants, primarily in Boothbay Harbor, New Harbor and Port Clyde, where the summer boats to the island arrive and depart.  This will tide the brewery over during the off-season when Matt returns to his lobster boat Seldom Seen, and Mary takes up her duties at the island school.

Business is indeed good and I hope to stop by again next year (if not before) when I return to the island.   Sometimes things do change, and thankfully this time it has been for the better.  Prosit.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

“A stranger, and but a passing observer": Jefferson Davis Visits Maine - Dispatches from Maine”

One subject I never expected to research while here in Maine is Jefferson Davis (1808-1889), the prominent Mississippi congressman (1845-1846), senator (1847-1851 and 1857-1861), and Secretary of War under president Franklin Pierce (1853-1856).  Of course, he is best known as the first and only president of the Confederate States of America (1861-1865).  What did Davis and Maine have in common?  Like me, one would think very little.  I was wrong.

While conducting research on Davis’ refuge in Canada in 1867-1868 following the Civil War for a piece soon to appear here, I chanced across references for two visits Davis made to Maine, first as Secretary of War, in the summer of 1853, and another longer trip with his family in 1858 during his second term as senator. Both of these trips expose aspects of Davis’ character one might find revealing given his later role in the dissolution of the Union and the bitter war that followed.

How did this connection come to light?  Sifting through Davis’ collected papers and correspondence, I found a March 26, 1868 letter he wrote to Julia E.D. Shepard Carroll of New York City expressing his condolences on the death of her father, George C. Shepard, a professor of sacred rhetoric at the Bangor Theological Seminary since 1832.  Professor Shepard had shown Davis “many acts of courteous hospitality when as a stranger and an invalid I visited Portland” [during the summer of 1858].  Davis confessed that his acquaintance with her father had “remained to me a grateful memory.”  Shepard befriended the Mississippian when he first visited Maine in 1853 in his capacity as Secretary of War. “My previous connection with the works for the defense of the harbor of Portland, probably led him in many of our pleasant drives, to explain to me his views and wishes in regard to the future of the city with which he was so nobly identified.”  In his note of condolence, Davis added, “I trust his projects have been so advanced and understood that they will in their completion be an honorable monument to his efforts for the public good.”

Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire served in the Senate with Jefferson Davis, and when he was elected President in 1852, he invited his colleague from Mississippi to join his cabinet as Secretary of War. In this capacity, Davis focused a great deal of his attention on the settlement and defense of the vast areas of the American West, including the routing of a transcontinental railroad.  Proving to be a dedicated and hard worker, Pierce also charged Davis with the construction of the Washington Aqueduct and the expansion of the Capitol building, important projects beneficial to the nation’s capital.  These tasks quickly took their toll on Davis’ fragile health and he sought a respite from his duties in Washington with a trip - his first - to New England.

Davis departed the capital for Boston on August 17, 1853.  Accompanying him was Alexander D. Bache (1806-1867), a native of Pennsylvania and the great grandson of Benjamin Franklin who was also an old friend from their days together at West Point.  Bache was a physics professor and scientist prior to his 1843 appointment as superintendent of the  Coastal Survey, a civilian agency established in 1807 and charged with mapping land areas along the American coastline and their neighboring waters.  According to one of his biographers, Bache liked to spend several months of each year at one of the Survey’s mountain encampments where “there were always some extra tents for those fortunate enough to receive an invitation to visit him in his wild retreats.  Davis was one of these fortunate souls in the summer of 1853.

After spending a couple days seeing the sites of Boston, Davis and Bache departed for Concord, New Hampshire on August 20, and from there they traveled into the White Mountains where they spent a night on the summit of Mount Washington.  Davis eventually arrived in Portland on August 25 and stayed at the Union Hotel while inspecting the harbor defenses with Professor Shepard.  Two days later Davis traveled approximately 80 miles north of Portland to the vicinity of Farmington and the Coastal Survey encampment at Blue Mountain (Mount Blue today) where he enjoyed the hospitality of Professor Bache and his wife.  “I am far up the mountain and far ‘down east in Maine,’” he wrote to his wife Varina on August 28 from an elevation around 3000 feet.  There “the wind sweeps over the tent with the chilly feeling and hallow sound of wintry weather.”  He noted, too, how he had “travelled [sic] over worse roads than even in your swamp experience you ever saw.”  His health renewed and ready to get back to work after his visit to the western mountains of Maine, Davis returned to Washington on September 9, 1853 having passed through Springfield, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut.

Davis returned to his Senate seat in 1857 following Pierce’s failure to regain the  Democratic nomination for reelection in 1856 and the dissolution of his cabinet with the election of James Buchanan.  A staunch advocate of Southern Rights, Davis was a standard bearer for those who believed the concerns of all regions of the country must be addressed if the union was to endure. A year into his new Senate term, Davis suffered from a severe eye inflammation which exacted a greater toll on his general health.  His doctors suggested a climate cooler than Washington’s might expedite his recuperation. Davis recalled favorable memories of his visit to Maine five year earlier, and when Congress adjourned in June 1858, he and his family set off on an extended trip through New England.

Davis, his wife and two children accompanied by family servants departed Baltimore on board the steamer Joseph Whitney on July 3, 1858.  While at sea, Davis gave an impromptu yet stirring Independence Day speech to his fellow passengers.  Arriving in Boston on the morning of July 6, Davis and his wife toured many of the cities well-known sites before catching an overnight steamer for Portland where they arrived the following day.

Davis was pleased to be back in Maine which held so many favorable memories. 
The Eastern Argus, Portland’s Democratic newspaper edited by John Milton Adams, lavished its welcome on the Senator and his family.  "We are quite sure that our citizens will cordially welcome this distinguished and gallant son of the South to our city, and will desire to render the sojourn of himself, and his accomplished lady as agreeable and as conducive to its principal object as possible."  They took accommodations in a popular boarding house run by Mrs. David Blanchard, and late on their third evening in the city they were serenaded by Chandler's Band which had  assembled in front of their lodgings on Park and Danforth Streets along with a sizeable crowd of curious onlookers.  Despite the late hour, Davis came out to the front steps and delivered a thirty minute "chaste, eloquent and very happy speech" with his "musical voice and inspiring eloquence."  He spoke of the political legacy left by the Founding Fathers and urged all citizens of the American nation to stand united against all common threats.  Furthermore, he urged the completion of the transcontinental railroad, a cause he had first championed as Secretary of War.  The Eastern Argus reported that the speech was "a pleasing, a hopeful one without distinction of party. It was in every respect the expression of generous sentiments, of kindness, hospitality, friendly regard, and the brotherhood of American citizenship."   According to the paper, Davis was touched by the reception and judged it to be "Maine's greeting to her sister state Mississippi" and a "mark of national fraternity."  He felt very much at home among his new friends in Portland.  "I came to your city in quest of health and repose,” Davis told the admiring crowd as he thanked them for their kindnesses.   “And surely no place could be more inviting to an invalid who sought a refuge from the heat of a Southern summer.”

A week later Davis was invited to the graduation ceremony for the city’s Girls’ High School at which he gave "a brief and felicitous address to the scholars,” praising the school and encouraging them to go forth in the world.”  Apparently Davis made quite an impression on those in attendance by wearing a pair of green-tinted spectacle on account of his eye inflammation.  Greater was the impression of his speech delivered by what one called his “honeyed eloquence.”   

Late in July Professor Bache wrote to his friend telling him he was leaving New York City for a trip to Albany and then to Maine.  He hoped Davis would find time to visit his Coastal Survey encampment east of Bangor.  Bache wrote again stating that he was leaving Albany and would arrive in Portland on August 11.  Former State Senator James W. Bradbury invited Davis to visit Augusta where the air was “just right for restoration of an invalid.”  For the meantime, however, Davis and his family remained in Portland through much of August. 

Davis did venture several miles north of Portland to Brunswick, to receive an honorary degree from Bowdoin College, the alma mater of his friend and political benefactor Franklin Pierce who had studied there along with classmates Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wordsworth Longfellow.  The college acted in recognition of Davis’ distinguished military career during the Mexican War and his service to the United States as a  Democratic representative and senator.  His fellow honoree was Senator William Pitt Fessenden of Maine, a staunch Republican who frequently debated Davis on the floor of the Senate.  It is perhaps ironic, too, that just two blocks from the Bowdoin campus stands the house where Harriet Beecher Stowe had recently penned her anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Returning to Portland, Davis announced that his health had “improved steadily.”  The Maine air and kind receptions extended to him had obviously had their proper effect as he began to mix more business with pleasure.  A few days after the Bowdoin commencement, the senator made an inspection of Portland Harbor.  As Secretary of War, he had supported the strengthening of coastal fortifications, including two in Portland - Fort Preble on the mainland and Fort Scammel, on House Island.  Both of these forts were erected beginning in 1808 and successfully guarded the harbor during the War of 1812.  Davis was also interested in the new Fort Gorges, being erected on Hog Island.  Funded in 1857, construction had begun in 1858 and it was intended to support the existing harbor fortifications.  It was not yet complete when the Civil War erupted in 1861 and workers rushed to finish it. As a revenue cutter bearing its distinguished guest sailed across the island-studded harbor, a cannon salute was fired in his honor as Davis returned to the city wharf.

Knowing how much her husband was enjoying his time in Maine, Mrs. Davis was also much impressed by the reception her family had encountered. "The people of Portland were as kind as our own could have been, and we met many old acquaintances and made some agreeable new ones.”  She enjoyed visiting different homes, “but most pleasant of all, were the basket parties at Cape Elizabeth.”  Evenings at the Blanchard home were always pleasant “in the society of intellectual men of bright minds and cordial manners.” 

Davis tried to steer clear of politics during his visit.  On August 14 he wrote to the Paris, Maine Democrats sending his regrets that he would not be able to address their meeting a few days hence.  He thanked them for their support of his positions in Washington and those of the Democratic party, but he was reluctant to engage in political debate just as Maine was preparing for state-wide elections the following month.  Nevertheless, in late August he did accept an invitation to address the Democratic convention of Cumberland County at the Portland City Hall.  There he attributed his membership in the Democratic party to his father and fellow southerner Andrew Jackson. When asked, he stated categorically that he rejected sectionalism; he  believed Mississippi would come to the defense of Maine just as Maine would return the favor to Mississippi.

At one point during his summer in Maine, Davis told how he watched the waves crashing against the rocky coastline only to be thrown back seaward.  Then the tide receded exposing what the waves had created.  “Thus the waves of sectional agitation are dashing themselves against the granite patriotism of the land . . . If long continued, that too must show the seams and scars of the conflict.  Sectional hostility must sooner or later produce fragments.”  Davis kept stressing the sanctity of the American union.  Writing to Franklin Pierce, he told him the months in Maine and New England encouraged him.  “The difference is less than I had supposed.”  Davis demurred on all questions concerning slavery, calling them local matters, while refusing comments on local Maine issues.  “Each man should attend to his own business.”

With his time running short before he had to return to his duties in Washington, Davis and family departed Portland at the beginning of September; “it is my purpose to leave for the mountains north of the Penobscot.”  The plan was to accompany Professor Bache and his surveying party to an encampment on Humpback Mountain (also known today as Lead Mountain) approximately 30 miles east of Bangor.  Along the way the Davis family stopped in Thomaston where the senator toured the home of General Henry Knox, a hero of the American Revolution.  Hoping to inspect a harbor on Penobscot Bay for which he obtained funding, the Davis family also visited Belfast, at the top of the bay, where he reviewed and addressed a gathering of the state militia.  Acknowledging a toast given during a banquet given in his honor, Davis recalled his own army service during the Mexican War and the importance of voluntary military service.

Davis and his wife spent three wonderful weeks on Humpback Mountain in the congenial company of Professor Bache and his crew, and each day the senator felt his health and stamina getting stronger.  On his return trip to Portland, and finally accepting Senator Bradbury’s invitation to visit the state capital at Augusta, Davis gave an extemporaneous speech before the Maine Agricultural Society during the state fair.  Once again he thanked the people of Maine for their many kindnesses and hospitality.  He emphasized the importance of agriculture as the source of all wealth yet recognized how manufacturing can aid the growing and harvesting of food.  There was always the need for a more efficient plow.  Davis hoped that the voices of America’s rural populace would not lose their voice in public affairs. 

After bidding farewell to old and new friends alike, the Davis entourage departed Portland on October 6, 1858.  Returning to Boston, Davis and his family toured the city again and visited Daniel Webster’s nearby estate at Marshfield.  Davis addressed Massachusetts Democrats in Boston, once again stating his opposition to sectionalism while praising Samuel Adams and John Hancock as long-standing supporters of state’s rights and community independence.  He added that “a large mass” of true New England Democrats were not fully represented in Congress.  They finally arrived in Washington on October 22 after another brief stop in New York City.

Throughout his summer months in Maine, Davis’ political views were the subject of persistent criticism from the Republican media which followed his every step.  It picked apart various statements taken to be interference in local politics.  It warned that a vote for the Democrats in the upcoming state-wide elections would be a vote against the survival of the union.  Yet personally, Davis seemed above reproach.  John G. Blaine, the new editor of The Advertiser, commented in issues appearing in August and early September, about the “invalid tourist in Maine” while conceding that "Senator Davis has personally received no discourteous notice in our columns, and he never will . . . As a private gentleman we know him to be polished, refined and courteous; of most liberal culture, and we doubt not, honorable impulses."   Granted, as Secretary of War and senator, he had advanced several causes dear to the people of Maine and “we have no desire to forget and no reluctance to acknowledge. We would certainly be very happy to reciprocate them at any time an opportunity were afforded us.”  The Democratic press lauded Davis every chance it could.  His visit to Maine could do nothing but help heal the nation’s wounds; “that many of our brethren of the South would, like himself, learn by sojourn here, to appreciate the true men of Maine, and to know how little are the political abolitionists and the abolition papers the exponents of the character and the purpose of the Democracy of this State.” 

In a speech delivered in Jackson, Mississippi on November 11, 1858, Davis harkened
back to his three months spent in New England to escape the summer heat and the “political excitement” in Washington.  He truly appreciated the sincere and friendly hospitality extend to him and his family.  Still, he recalled “a delusion practiced on the people of Maine” as the Republicans cautioned that the true purpose of the Democrats and the South was to force slavery into the free states and territories.  This was nothing new.  These same voters were also told that electing James Buchanan as president in 1856 would bring slavery to Maine as would the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case.  They really had nothing to fear.  Republicans won the Maine governorship and all seats in Congress in the election of 1858.

“A stranger, and but a passing observer of events in Maine, he [Jefferson] had nevertheless seen indications of a reaction in popular opinion, which promised hopefully for the future of Democracy” proclaimed The Eastern Argus at the conclusion of Davis’ visit in 1858.  There was reason for optimism despite the electoral defeats in the state elections.  There was a “gladness and confidence to many a heart now clouded with distrust, and loud would be the cheers which, on distant plain and mountain, would welcome Maine again to her position on the top of the Democratic pyramid.”  This promise was short-lived.  Three years later the Union dissolved and Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederate States of America and the nation descended into fratricidal warfare.

A note of gratitude to the researchers and editors who assembled and published the  Jefferson Davis papers and correspondence.  They made my work so much easier. 

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Big Dipper Over Sabbathday Lake - Dispatches from Maine

A few nights ago I walked out to the end of the dock.  The sky was perfectly clear as I stared upward into the starry night.  We are far enough away from ambient city light that blurs our night skies at home.  Here there are so many stars to see. 

“It has been years and years since I last saw the Big Dipper,” my 85 year old mother confessed to me during her visit here at True’s Point the summer of 2010, the first summer my wife and I had spent the entire season at the lake cottage on Sabbathday Lake.  We had been coming to this place each summer since 1988; at first only two or three weeks every August.  But since my retirement in the spring of 2010 we have been in residence from late June until the beginning of October.  And each of these four summers my mom has come up to spend a week with us.  She tells me it is the highlight of her summers, and I’m happy she feels that way.  She likes the peace and quiet as do we.  And then there are all the stars!

The Big Dipper has always been my favorite asterism.  I’m not sure why; perhaps because it is so easy to find in the nighttime sky.  I have long marveled at the constancy of the Big Dipper.  All of the stars, if you come right down to it.  I find it difficult to fathom that many of those tiny pricks of light may have burned out centuries, even millennia, in the past.  Only now is their light reaching earth.  Their positions never alter, however.  Their size and brightness rarely change.  A sky full of stars to look at, yet I am drawn back to the Big Dipper.  Just seven small stars that constitute part of the Ursa Major constellation.  Their geometry has brought solace to those following celestial navigation, seeking out Polaris, the North Star, as they crossed unknown seas and through unexplored lands.  Others simply marvel as they look into the immensity of the universe as children in suburban backyards in the Midwest, or standing on a dock on the edge of a lake in Maine with an elderly parent, and realizing that some things never, ever change.  Yes, we can all take solace in that.

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