In 1759, shortly after Fort Pownal’s completion, its first commander Gen. Jedidiah Preble moved in with a garrison of 100 men; one source says 80. Total project cost for the structure was just over £5000. Fort Pownal had been built for a bargain and over the years paid huge dividends in economic development of the region.

Fort Pownal ruins today, almost wiped out like the ruins in Carthage (Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom)

For the next 15 years, the fort served both private and governmental needs as a storehouse for crops, animals and furs taken in trade. Its fort became the center-point for a web of growing communities, land developers, commerce and maritime trades, settlers, and traders. The fort allowed the men to engage in buying and selling land, timber, shipbuilding, hunting, fishing and operating saw and grist mills. Often the sole governmental authority around, Fort Pownal officers performed multiple services including doctor, lawyer, sheriff, undertaker, judge, and chaplain.

The occupations of fort soldiers included stone masons, wheel-rights, carpenters, iron workers, shoemakers, and tailors. Fort Pownal provided tools for the men to do these multiple jobs. A fort store was established for both military and local inhabitants; it offered a wide array of items, constantly supplied with fresh regular shipments from Boston. The fort even had its own boat, a small schooner Penobscot locally built in 1761. One source suggests Penobscot was around even earlier, owned by Fort Pownal’s original commander, Jedidiah Preble, for duties as Truckmaster to the Penobscot Indians.

Soldiers who had helped build the fort or were garrisoned at it — many, war veterans — returned home after service with glowing reports about the economic possibilities of the Penobscot region. Many chose to stay, such as Aaron Banks, Josiah Colson, Andrew Herrick, Nathaniel Veazie, Joshua Treat, Zetham French, Jonathan Lowder and Charles Hutchings. Many settled near the fort, farther upriver, or on Penobscot’s east side near the old French ruins at Castine.

Maine opportunities were widely known by Bostonians, especially among military men who had visited or served there. In the mid-1760s, Boston native Jonathan Lowder, a veteran of the Crown Point campaign, chose to emigrate to Fort Pownal. Helping him make his decision was newly appointed fort commander, Col. Thomas Goldthwaite who had succeeded Preble in 1763.

Preble was also its first Truckmaster. Trade had originally been conducted within fort walls, but out in open air. As early as March 1760, Preble tried to convince the Penobscots to move closer to the fort for their protection. That year, in a letter from Gov. Pownal, Preble was given treaty terms for the Penobscots and told to treat them kindly but keep an eye on them.

Penobscots met in Boston for a two-day conference in August 1763, where they discussed complaints and grievances, especially about low prices for beaver pelts and deplorable conditions at the fort Truck house. These grievances were directed against Preble as Truckmaster.

That same month, Massachusetts looked into Preble’s dealings with the Indian trade, as well as his treatment of garrison soldiers. The resulting political pressure resulted in Preble resigning as Truckmaster and fort commander by month’s end, although one source states he resigned because he did not need the extra income he earned at the fort. Regardless, Preble was out, and Gov. Bernard nominated Thomas Goldthwaite as the fort’s new commander.

Life at Fort Pownal settled into a regular routine for the men. Garrison troops heard reveille by drummer each morning at 6 am. Work parties formed for anyone not on guard duty or practicing drill. In stormy weather, men drilled in the fort’s upper story, above their barracks. They practiced firing coehorn mortars mounted on the roof near the sentry box and occasionally fired shots across the river from cannon mounted between the breastworks and fort walls.

Men cut wood, hauled supplies, and repaired equipment during daylight hours. Goldthwaite and officers often visited the surrounding area. The commander’s wife and children lived with him in a residence outside the fort walls. Other men had their wives and children live with them at the fort. Several bought items at the fort store such as coffee, tea, chocolate, and tallow. Each soldier earned six dollars a month if he furnished his own gun.

For extra income, women participated in fort routines and helped by cleaning, washing, spinning, weaving, cooking, or stacking firewood. Goldthwaite’s daughter Mary, who eventually married Francis Archibald, earned extra income by making deliveries for her storekeeper future husband.

Rations consisted of fish, biscuit, salted beef or pork, peas, butter, and potatoes. Excavated faunal remains include pig, deer, moose, cattle, sheep, and bird. Men used small garden plots outside the fort to augment food supplies. They were also allotted a daily measure of rum, half a gill most days or a full gill on cold and wet days, when men were much fatigued. Gill was a ½ cup, also called a noggin or quarter pint, about four fluid ounces.

Mugs were for daily rum allotment or used for beer, cider, and spruce beer. Excavations recovered numerous stoneware pots and jugs. Wooden trenchers for eating were stacked near pots, while kettles, pitchers and mugs hung on wooden pegs or metal hooks on unfinished walls. Fort furniture was sparse and spartan.

Attesting to its popularity are some of the thousands of pipe-stem fragments excavated at Fort Pownal, now stored at the University of Maine Historic Archaeology lab. Also, some examples of pipe bowls recovered. (Photo by Audrey C. Lagerbom)

The day usually ended at 10 p.m. and soldiers slept two to a bed, anyone married tacked up a sheet for privacy. Extra income was used at the store for tobacco, clay pipes, rum, shirts, paper, ink, and other sundries. Officers and men and their families enjoyed some leisure time. They played ball and cards and used musical instruments, such as mouth harps, to entertain each other. The presence of numerous clay pipe fragments attests to smoking as a popular pastime. Whizzers were also present, a lead disc with serrated edges and hole in the center through which a string was passed. By rotating the string and pulling the ends taut, the simple toy created a buzzing sound.

Supply ships from Boston regularly arrived bringing a steady stream of goods and provisions. Goldthwaite kept the fort supplied with butter, rum, candles, sugar, rice, oatmeal, currants, spices, and black pepper; some items were ordered for the fort’s sick. For the garrison, he requested wick yarn, oil for the guard room, shovels, wood axes, grindstones, paper, quills, and ink powder.

For fort armorer, Joshua Treat, supplies included sea coal, German steel, iron bars, files, borax, and binding wire. Culinary items included loaves of sugar, Bohea tea, rye meal, rice, brown sugar, vinegar, molasses, chocolate, biscuits, flour, meal, oranges, lemons, limes, butter, and cheese. Cooking condiments included clove water, pepper, coarse and fine salt, allspice, and mustard.

Textile materials available included red baize, linen ticking, Irish linen, check rateen (a thick woolen cloth), buckram (a coarse linen stiffened with glue), cotton wool and Osnaburg cloth, originally woven in Germany and used for trousers and shirts. The store also offered Indigo to dye homespun cloth.

Clothing was handmade, so the fort offered tailoring services, primary choice of tailor was John Peirce. His jackets, suits, breeches, and coats were much in demand. Nathaniel Cussens and William Pratt were local shoemakers and made their pairs with leather and flax. They also repaired shoes, resoled boots, or added heel taps and buckles.

Looking up along Fort Point to the cliffs and lighthouse (Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom)

Fort Pownal ruins remained visible well into the 19th century. The old parade grounds by then had thick trees growing on it, 18 inches in diameter. Even today, its outline is easily seen by air. People can see the cellar of the commissary house, the brick chapel, and old burying ground, as well as Goldthwaite’s garden. The fort well also remained, 100 feet deep in the solid rock.

The dive site we decided to check out is just below the lighthouse point and bluffs. But you need to clamber down a set of wooden steps to reach the rocky beach. That necessitated us asking permission of the nearby homeowners to make use of them, who graciously allowed us.

Down the wooden steps, an entry and exit over slippery rocks and boulders, ankle busters if not careful (Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom)

The day was bright and sunny and the water conditions fantastic. It was a bit of challenge scrambling over seaweed covered rocks and boulders, but we managed. Visibility was better than expected, river diving often-times tends to have low or zero viz.

No colonial artifacts, but some pretty good-sized starfish along the Fort Point Cove seen during our dive (Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom)

We poked our way along, working upriver towards the cliffs and lighthouse. Saw some pretty big starfish, but sadly nothing in the way of colonial material. The slack tide was helpful in making way, but the current was still present. Our time there was limited. Still, it was a great opportunity to check out a site instrumental in the colonial development of this area. After the dive, I stood on shore and pictured in my mind cannonballs being shot across the river, supply ships from Boston lining up to bring in materials and men to the fort, and British ships passing by while chasing American vessels upriver to the Narrows.

History right there, right in our own back yard. How cool is that?!

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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