By the 1770s, the winds of war had reached even far-off Fort Pownal in Maine. Even there, they were not immune to talk of political discontent. Settlers, merchants, soldiers, and native inhabitants all sensed something happening, as sides were chosen, and loyalties declared. Others resented the idea of being forced to declare anything, many wanted to be simply left to their own business.

By 1775, widespread discontent with British rule reached eastward into the fort. News and information flowed freely, often arriving with the regular supply ships unloading fort provisions. Vessels provided quick transportation to and from Boston on a regular basis, so whatever transpired there quickly became fodder for discussion even on the frontier. In early 1773, Elkanah Young of Salisbury Cove at Mount Desert Island, had even heard word of the planned Boston Tea Party in time to travel there and participate.

By fall, the British were seizing vessels in Frenchman’s Bay, confiscating their cargoes of lumber, salt, and fish oil. One local history recorded the lumber trade went to a standstill. Tension and unease cast a pall over everyone and everything.

A year earlier in June 1774, newly appointed Massachusetts governor General Thomas Gage of His Majesty’s British Army had dissolved the General Court, effectively declaring martial law. He had arrived in May with explicit orders to curb the growing rebellious mood in Boston and so had replaced Thomas Hutchinson, last of Massachusetts’ civilian governors. The Crown had decided to show resolve.

Fort Pownal’s second and last commander Colonel Thomas Goldthwaite (from “Col. Thomas Goldthwaite – Was He a Tory?” Proceedings of the Maine Historical Society 2nd Series, v7, Portland: MHS, 1896, pg 1)

For Fort Pownal, 1775 became the year of crisis. That season, downeast Maine had been very dry and cold, which limited food production. Dependence on supplies from Boston became critical, the needy visited the fort from as far away as Belfast, demanding provisions, gunpowder and shot. In early April, Gage learned about the cannon and munitions at Fort Pownal from the commander’s son, Thomas Goldthwaite Jr., who was in Boston at the time.

While not clear he had been sent with that express purpose, the son informed Gage of the status at the fort, as witnessed by province secretary Thomas Flucker. Gage at once recognized the opportunity and decided the guns should immediately be secured for the Crown. He wrote a letter to Goldthwaite to allow Royal Navy forces to remove the fort’s heavy guns. On April 9, 1775, five days before the fighting at Lexington and Concord, the armed 120-ton 6-gun topsail schooner Diana, with 30 men, sailed from Boston to Cape Jellison. It was accompanied by schooner Neptune with a contingent of the 64th Regiment. In command was no-nonsense Lt. Thomas Graves, nephew to Vice Admiral Samuel Graves, commander of all British naval forces in North America.

When they arrived, Goldthwaite had only seven men at the fort, including his son-in-law storekeeper Francis Archibald and gunner Jonathan Lowder. Graves made it clear to Goldthwaite and everyone present he carried orders to destroy the fort if anyone resisted. Lowder reported only ½ barrel of powder in the magazine.

: Excavated artillery button likely from a coat owned and used by fort gunner Jonathan Lowder (from collection of Charles H. Lagerbom)

As gunner, Graves ordered Lowder to itemize everything taken, while Goldthwaite composed a protest to Gage. Lowder recorded surrendering eight 6-pounder cannon with carriages, beds, quoins, and other equipment. They also took six cohorns, two small mortars with beds and gear, 308 6-pound shot, 176 4-pound shot, six rammers with sponges, seven wormers, seven ladles, 13 boxes of grape shot, 15 boxes of cannister shot, five boxes of charged cohorn shells, and 45 small arms.

Twenty-four-pound cannonball, now stored at the University of Maine Historic Archaeology lab (Photo by Audrey C. Lagerbom)

Many sources falsely blame this dismantling on Captain Henry Mowatt. But Mowatt, known for burning Falmouth later that year, was not involved nor present. Regardless, in a few hours, all heavy guns, mortars, and ordinance were transferred to Graves’ ships. Goldthwaite also composed an incident report for Thomas Cushing, member of the Continental Congress. When news of Graves’ action reached Boston, Goldthwaite was roundly vilified for having allowed this to happen, an unfair verdict in light of circumstances, but one of which rivals like General Preble made use.

In June 1775, the Provincial Congress ordered Goldthwaite to give up any remaining public arms and ammunition and divide them amongst the locals. Massachusetts promised to send gunpowder for game-hunting to augment meager food supplies. That month, Goldthwaite performed his last act as port authority for Fort Pownal, with certification of the sloop Seaflower. It departed Penobscot for New London with 30,000 pine boards and 15,000 shingles. With its departure, the fort ceased to function as an armed garrison and center of colonial authority, its run of 16 years over.

Goldthwaite and his family remained in his house between the fort and cliff overlooking the river. Fort personnel, such as Lowder, quietly ended their service and moved elsewhere.

That summer in response to a British landing in the area, which took lumber on Islesboro (Long Island at the time), James Cargill sent part of his local regiment to Fort Pownal. There, they assisted Goldthwaite in removing his belongings into the nearby chapel, another source states their actions were more in line with capturing Goldthwaite.

He was ordered out in the night, his portrait mutilated and himself threatened with violence. Cargill mentioned nothing of Goldthwaite’s treatment and Goldthwaite never wrote of it either, so one is left to wonder. But it did involve his entire family, Francis Archibald and wife Mary were also turned out from their accommodations.

Wine and Case green bottle glass fragments excavated at Fort Pownal, now stored at the University of Maine Historic Archaeology lab. (Photo by Audrey C. Lagerbom)

Cargill’s men ransacked the place and saved whatever shot, lead, or old iron they could find, then burned the blockhouse, “reducing it to ashes” ostensibly to keep it from being used by the British. They also torched the fort’s wooden work, which included flankers, pickets, and drawbridge, although another source says the fort was not completely destroyed until June 1779, when fired by retreating American forces from the Penobscot Expedition disaster.

Fort Pownal stoneware fragments excavated at Fort Pownal, now stored at the University of Maine Historic Archaeology lab (Photo by Audrey C. Lagerbom)

In actions reminiscent of the destruction of Carthage, Cargill’s troops filled in and leveled much of the fort’s barriers, spending lots of time and effort in erasing the fort. Archibald continued to record store transactions, although unclear from what structure he operated. In August 1775, Jonathan Buck of Buckstown, present-day Bucksport, was placed in charge of what was left of the fort.

Goldthwaite and his family continued to live quietly near its remains. The fort store under Archibald, perhaps in the same building which Goldthwaite and family lived, operated until 1777.

After its dismantling, Fort Pownal and the area grew quiet, although locals still made use of Archibald’s store. Ships became infrequent, the busy port days and constant flow of supplies and information to Fort Pownal were no more. It remained this way until June 1779, when British forces from Halifax landed an army downriver on Castine Peninsula. Construction immediately began on Fort George.

Upon the British arrival, Goldthwaite and his family including Archibald and Mary, were removed to Castine. It is not clear whether by choice. One source says Goldthwaite, Archibald and their families had been harassed by locals, so at first opportunity they sought British protection at Fort George. Another suggests the British took it upon themselves to remove Goldthwaite and take him to Castine. One son, Henry, either chose or was allowed to remain near the ruins, to keep an eye on the family farm.

During the ensuing battle, Massachusetts forces committed some blatantly irresponsible acts. On August 7, many local inhabitants were rounded up and forcibly detained aboard ships. According to Loyalist witnesses, these unfortunate locals were thrust down ship holds heavily laden with irons on hands and feet. Resident Joseph Perkins attested to this mistreatment as did John Lymburner. Henry Goldthwaite, who had remained at the fort to look after his father’s lands, was taken prisoner by the Americans and apparently stripped of his clothing, his goods plundered.

During the fighting at Castine, an improvised hospital for the Americans was set up across the river at the Fort Pownal ruins. Shortly after arrival of the British relief ships, Massachusetts forces evacuated these men farther upstream to Penobscot Falls. At that time, they may have burned whatever structures remained.

British forces occupied the area for the rest of the war until 1783. Before their presence ended, soldiers at Castine were known to row across the river to the Fort Pownal ruins, around which a dozen families still resided. They were apparently interested in the many daughters of Thomas Shute, who lived near French’s Point.

One evening, two officers quarreled over the affections of one. Words came to blows and one knocked the other down the cellar steps of Shute’s house. The fall killed the man and from that point on, French’s Point was said to be haunted. Few ventured onto the point at night for nearly 25 years, until the story was forgotten.

Local Henry Black, apparently disgruntled with Dudley Saltonstall’s handling of the Penobscot expedition, was arrested after he publicly criticized the commodore’s bravery. Black died in Prospect in 1817 and was buried at Sandy Point. His brother-in-law Benjamin Shute settled at French’s Point near the old Indian burial ground and an even older Indian trail. For years, Shute family operated a tavern called Halfway House. Stagecoach horses were changed there on regular runs from Belfast to Bucksport. One of the Shutes became well known for searching for Captain Kidd’s supposedly buried treasure in the area. His favorite spot to dig was around Fort Point Cove, near the old fort ruins.

Ghosts, warfare, treasure, history…what else could you want for a good story?! Next: Colonial material culture, pipestems, and starfish!

Charles Lagerbom teaches AP U.S. History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport.  He is author of “Whaling in Maine” and “Maine to Cape Horn,” available through

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