Wheeler & Wheeler Home About Wheeler & Wheeler Curtis Memorial Library Home
Previous Chapter Table of Contents Next Chapter


The earliest court ever held in this vicinity was the one held, in 1654, at the house of Thomas Ashley, which has already been mentioned. The meeting held at his house was for the purpose of organization merely, and there is no evidence that Thomas Purchase, who was appointed at that time an assistant to the commissioner, ever tried any cases. The laws and regulations adopted at this meeting, however, are sufficiently interesting to warrant their insertion here in a condensed form. They were as follows:-

1. All capital crimes, such as treason, murder, witchcraft, arson, rape, and adultery, were to be tried by the General Court at New Plymouth.

2. All other crimes were within the jurisdiction of the commissioner or the assistant. Theft was punishable by the restitution by the offender of three or four times the value stolen. Drunkards were fined five shillings on conviction for the first offence, ten shillings for the second, and for the third were put in the stocks. The punishment for Sabbath-breaking was left at the discretion of the assistant. For selling liquor to the Indians, the punishment for the first, offence was the forfeiture of double, and for the second offence, of four times the value sold, or if the transgressor was a stranger, a fine of either 10 or 20.

3. All fishing and fowling were expressly continued free to every inhabitant. All actions between party and party were to be tried before a jury of twelve men; but no civil cause above 20 sterling was triable in the local courts without the consent of both parties.

From this time until the province of Lygonia came under the jurisdiction of Masssachusetts, there is reason to suppose that all minor offences were tried - if tried at all - by Thomas Purchase, a magistrate under the authority of the New Plymouth Colony (1652). In 1660 all legal cases in this vicinity were tried at York.

No cases of trial of persons from this vicinity, prior to 1722, have

been discovered. This year the case of John Giles, of Brunswick, gentleman, vs. John Goddard, of Roxbury, gentleman and cord-wainer, is recorded. The plaintiff let the defendant a horse, with bridle and saddle, at the beginning of June, 1722, and by order of the plaintiff, one Robert Dunning, soon after, in the same month, delivered the said horse, at Falmouth, to the defendant, which the defendant promised to deliver to the plaintiff at Roxbury, or to his order, with bridle and saddle, of value of 12 , yet the defendant, though often requested, never delivered to the said plaintiff, horse, bridle, or saddle. The jury brought in a verdict for plaintiff of 8 damage, and cost of court, against the said John Goddard.1

The next case met with occurred in 1726, when Captain William Woodside was tried by a committee appointed by Governor Dummer for cheating the Indians in trade, and otherwise defrauding them. Some of the charges were proved against him, and he was required to make ample remuneration, acknowledge his fault, and give assurance that he would defraud them no more.2

Mr. John Minot was appointed a magistrate and chief justice of the Court of Common Sessions under George II about the year 1730 or 1732. An old account-book of his has been preserved, which contains on its blank leaves an account of some cases tried by him in 1732, which are here presented to the reader:-


"Whereas Complaint upon Oath hath bin made before me by Saml Boone of Northyarmouth in ye County of York that some time past he had Stole and Carried away from Merryconeag neck a black Cow with a white face and also Stole and carried away from Chebeag Island three Calves one being a Bull Calf the other a Stear and the other a heffer Calfe, which were mark'd with a Cross in the left ear and a slit in it and a flower Dlue in ye right ear - These are therefore in his Majies name to require you to make Diligent Search after said Cattle if they may be found in your precinct and them safely to keep in your Custody maiking a returne of these your proceedings to me or some other of his Majies Justice of ye peace in said County that the Affair may be Examined into, and the partyes with whom said Cattle may be found may be dealt with according to law - you are also hereby required to Summons Moses Gatchell, Hannah Smith,

1. York County Records, C. C. P., Vol. 7, p. 88.
2. McKeen, MSS. Lecture.

Wm Woodside Jas. Malcum and Eliza Malcum to give Evidence relating to this Affair hereof you are not to fail given under my hand and Seal the 16th day of Augst 1732.

"[Coppy.]                                                    JNO MINOT J. P.

"BRUNSWICK, Augst 20th 1732.

"Having made search after the within mentioned Cattle this may certifye that I have found and taiken up three young Cattle uppon Suspision which were in the hands of Capt Willm Woodside which I have taken into Custody.



Y ss

"BRUNSWICK, Aug 21st 1732


"Having issued out a warrant to search for severall Cattle that Saml Boone uppon Oath Swore he lost at Chebeag Isl. & Merryconeage neck and having Summons'd Sundry witnesses as by said warrant will appear, I have Examined said witnesses uppon Oath (they all having veiw'd the Cattle) whether they knew them Cattle to be Mr. Boons which they all deny to have any knowledge of saving Mrs Malcum who says she remembers something of one of them but not perfecktly so as to give her Oath to it. I find therefore Cost for said Boon to pay and have ordered the Cattle to be Delivered to the said Wilm Woodside again.



Notice of complaint of James Smith against Anthony Vincent for calling his wife Hannah Smith improper names. "The Complaint of Hannah Smith against Willm Mackness in behalfe of our Sovereign Lord the King that shee goes in Dainger of her Life."

"The Complaint of Willm Mackness against James Smith and his wife Hannah that lie lives in dainger of his Cattle and Substance that they will be destroyed by them they using threatening words to kill their piggs &c. and that they will burn his house.

"[Signed]         "JOHN MINOTT."

No other records of Judge Minot's cases have been met with.

At the October term of the Court of General Sessions in 1743 the selectmen of the town of Brunswick made a complaint against

Isaac Snow, "in manner following, viz., that Isaac Snow of Brunswick aforesaid, husbandman, the thirtieth day of August, 1743, at a legal town meeting held at Brunswick aforesaid, was chosen one of the constables for said town for the year 1743, who was legally notified thereof, but refused either to take the oath of a constable or to pay the fine for not serving as a constable." After a full hearing by the court the case was decided in favor of the defendant, and the complainants were charged with the costs.

At the April term of the same court, in 1744, committees were appointed by the court "to inform against and prosecute the violators of an act made in the seventeenth year of his Majesty's reign, entitled 'an act to prevent the great injury and injustice arising to the inhabitants of this province by the frequent and very large emissions of bills of public credit in the neighboring governments.' . . . And Messrs. William Woodside, Peter Cooms, David Dunning, Samuel Hinkley and James Thompson, Inhabitants of the Town of Brunswick in said County, were appointed by said Court to the office aforesaid."

At the April term of the Court of General Sessions for Cumberland County, in 1765, William Hasty, of Harpswell, was fined ten shillings "for sailing his coasting schooner in Quohog Bay to the open sea, the space of three miles, on the Lord's day." At the same term of court, William Blake, of Harpswell, was fined ten shillings, and costs, 1 5s. 4d., for neglecting to attend public worship for the space of two months.

About this time, probably the next year, John Orr, of Mair Point, accused Captain William Woodside of cheating the Indians "by selling them brass rings for gold rings," and the case was informally tried by the judges of the Court of Sessions in a dining-room at Falmouth. Woodside was acquitted, made friends with Orr, and having just obtained his commission as a justice of the peace for Cumberland County, he "stood treat" for the court.

In those old times physical punishment was often made use of towards offenders.. The whipping-post and the stocks were found in every settlement and generally in close proximity to the meeting-house. These implements of the law were, doubtless, at the time they were in vogue, of great service in restraining the evil-intentioned from committing many misdemeanors and minor crimes, and although the objections to their use are many and serious, yet one is tempted to believe that their occasional use might be fraught with good even in these days. The punishments by means of these implements were inflicted by the constables, in accordance with the sentence of the selectmen,

when there was no justice of the peace, or other magistrate, to give sentence. Petty crimes, in which the damage did not exceed forty shillings, came under their cognizance. No account has been preserved of any stocks or whipping-post in Topsham. The only reference in regard to Harpswell is the indictment of that town, in the April term of the Court of Sessions for 1769, "for not being supplied with stocks. against the Peace of the Lord, the King and the law of the Province." The selectmen appeared, and after a full hearing, the attorney for the king decided be would not further prosecute. Possibly the selectmen promised to provide these necessary instruments of correction thereafter.

Frequent allusion is, however, made to the stocks in the Brunswick records. In the latter town they are said to have stood a short distance back of the old west meeting-house.

The whipping-post was about a foot square, sharpened at the top like a picket, and the sharpened part was painted red.

At the time stocks and whipping-posts were used, many towns had also a ducking-stool, and at one time all towns in Massachusetts were, by law, required to have one. No account, however, has been found of any in this vicinity. This implement of punishment consisted of an upright post, with a cross-piece, from which was suspended a seat. The arm could be swung out over the water, and the occupant of the seat could thus be easily ducked. It was used more especially for the punishment of scolding wives.

The following description of the stocks actually used in Brunswick is from the pen of a former minister of Harpswell: "They consisted of two upright posts of oak, set in foot-pieces of the same material, and strongly braced. Between them was secured a thick plank, set on one edge, rising up a short distance from the ground. The posts above this were grooved, and in these another plank was inserted, which could be raised or lowered. In the lower edge of this were arched holes, just large enough to fit a person's legs above the ankle. In the top edge of this plank were hollows to receive the wrists, while another came down upon it to secure them. The criminal was made to sit on the ground and place his legs in the hollows of the lower plank, when the upper one was let down by the constable, and locked with a key, as a door. Sometimes this was the only punishment; at other times both hands and feet were put in,

when the officer, putting the key in his pocket, left the prisoner exposed to sun, wind, and rain."1

The only person in this place known to have been punished by being put in the stocks was one Jenny Eaton. When Deacon Stanwood's house was torn down, Mr. James Dunning found an old document purporting to be a decision upon the trial of this individual. She had permitted the embrace of a man named Rogers, on the promise of some sugar, tea, and coffee. The man failed to keep his word, she averred, and she therefore entered a complaint against him, and the case was tried before Esquire Woodside. The plaintiff could not prove the charge, and the magistrate gave the following verdict:    "That Jenny Eaton be stretched upon the public stocks and rotten eggs thrown at her by the passing spectators for abfaming the character of an innocent man."2

Some time, probably between 1752 and 1770, one Ann Conner committed suicide by hanging herself from a pine-tree. The magistrates ordered (old Roman law) that she be buried where four roads met, and a stake be driven through her body. It was done on the Harpswell road a little way south of the college. It is said that, although it was in force at that time, this was probably the only instance when the law was put into execution in this country. 3

Cumberland County was set off from York County in 1760, and, as a matter of course, a new county court was soon established. The first grand jurors drawn for this county from Brunswick were Isaac Snow and John Orr; from Harpswell, Thomas McGregor and John Hall.

At the June term of the Court of General Sessions of the Peace, held at Pownalborough in 1777, Mr. John Merrill, of Topsham, took his place on the bench as one of the justices. He officiated in that capacity as late as 1783, but no records of any cases tried before him have come to hand.

In 1783 James Hunter, Esquire, George White, John Reed, William Malcom, all of Topsham, and John Lemont, Esquire, Samuel Lemont, Esquire, William Swanton, George Andrews, and Stephen Sampson, the two latter blacksmiths, all of Bath, were bound over to the court to answer to the charge of breaking open the jail at Pownalborough, and for rescuing two prisoners who were lawfully committed. They were tried, and each sentenced to pay a fine of six shillings and costs.

1. The Sophomores of Radcliffe. Kellogg.
2. Pejepscot Papers.
3. Pejepscot Papers. McKeen, MSS. Lecture.

At the May term of the court for Cumberland County, the next year, Isaac Rolf, of Brunswick, was sentenced to pay a fine of 7 10s., and to receive five stripes on his naked back, for stealing five sheep. If he returned any of the sheep, "the owner was to restore him back one fold, the fine being treble value of the property stolen."

In 1796 a Commissioner's Court was held in an old red school-house, which stood near the lower end of the Mall, in Brunswick. It was held to consider the respective claims of the Plymouth and Pejepscot proprietors. Governor Sullivan and other distinguished persons were present. This building was afterwards moved away and placed on the bank of the cove, near the building where General A. B. Thompson afterwards had an office, and which is now a factory boarding-house.

In 1800 terms of the Court of Common Pleas for Lincoln County were appointed to be holden in Topsham, and on the ninth of September of that year the court opened there for the first time.1 It is said that this first court was held in an unfinished house belonging to a Mr. Sprague, the Court House not being finished until some time the next year. Mr. James Wilson, father of the James Wilson now living, gave the land for it, for a term of years. Few cases of importance, affecting the citizens of the three towns, were ever tried in it, but such as have been found will be given in the proper order.

December 24, 1822, a military court was held at Brunswick for the trial of Lieutenant-Colonel David Stanwood. It will be referred to hereafter, in another connection.

At the May term of the court, held in Portland in 1823, one Patrick Cole, of Brunswick, was convicted of manslaughter, and was sentenced to undergo six months of solitary imprisonment and four years at hard labor.

In 1824 the selectmen of Brunswick were authorized by the town to erect forthwith a House of Correction on the town lot in the village, and one hundred and fifty dollars was appropriated. This building, which to judge from its cost could have been nothing more than a lock-up, stood where the poorhouse used to be, back of the present residence of Mr. Robert Bowker.

At the August term of the Court of Common Pleas, at Topsham, in 1825, Honorable John Dole, a justice of the Court of Sessions for Lincoln County, was tried on a charge of slander against Samuel H. Clark, of Jefferson, the former having charged the latter with having

1. Jonathan Ellis's Diary.

committed adultery and other such crimes. Verdict for plaintiff. Damages, $1,058.

In 1826 five persons were brought before Charles R. Porter, a justice of the peace, of Topsham, on suspicion of having set fire to the barn of a Mr. Millet, of Bowdoin. Four of them were discharged, but the fifth, Reuben Jones, was bound over for trial before the Supreme Judicial Court, to be held at Wiscasset.

This year a case was tried in the Court of Common Pleas, of Cumberland County, of considerable interest. It was the First Parish of Brunswick vs. Joseph McKeen, on a plea of trespass. The First Parish had erected a fence from the meeting-house to the corner of what is now Cleaveland Street, claiming the land enclosed as belonging to the parish. Mr. McKeen caused the fence to be torn down, and the parish thereupon prosecuted him for trespass. His defence was that the Harpswell road was laid out in the rear of the church, and had always been used as such until fenced by the parish. On the other side, the parish claimed that the Harpswell road came out south of the church. The case was carried to the Supreme Judicial Court, and was there decided in favor of the defendant. Packard and Longfellow were the counsel for the plaintiffs, and Orr and Greenleaf for the defendants.

In 1827 a case was tried at Topsham which excited considerable local attention at the time, on account of the character and standing of the parties, and the questions involved. The case was that of General Samuel Veazie vs. Henry Jewell, both of Topsham. It was an action for damages on account of assault and battery, brought, in reality, to test the ownership of property.

The facts in the case seem to be as follows: Messrs. Henry Jewell, Stephen Jewell, Gardner Green, Samuel Perkins, and Nahum Perkins owned the "Great Mills" and the ground under the same. Four undivided fourteenth parts of the land (a bed of rocks) was within twenty-four feet of this mill, on the south side below the dam, which was owned by Gardner Green, Ezekiel Thompson, James Thompson, and Mary Thompson, the three last being heirs of Brigadier Thompson. General Veazie, without permission from Green or the Thompsons, and against their wish, attempted to lay the foundation of a saw-mill, and collected several sticks of timber and placed them under the floor of a mill-shed on the premises claimed by Green and others. Thereupon Jewell, by direction of Green and the Thompsons, in order to compel him to desist and to leave the premises, threw slabs, and afterwards emptied buckets of water upon Veazie and his workmen. Veazie defended himself with an axe-haft and a pitchfork, and for a while a serious

quarrel was threatened. Veazie at length desisted from his attempt, and this suit was ultimately brought to test the respective rights of the two parties to the bed of rocks. Veazie had purchased the right to it from some of the heirs of Brigadier Thompson, but not from those mentioned. The case was decided against Veazie. This decision, though undoubtedly a just one, in all probability was a cause of depriving the towns of Brunswick and Topsham of the services of one who afterwards did so much for the manufacturing interests of Bangor and the neighboring towns upon the Penobscot. The above-mentioned affray occurred February 5, 1827.

In November, 1829, one Patrick Kincaid, of Brunswick, was fined by the Supreme Judicial Court $1,100 and costs, for breach of promise to a young lady whom he had engaged to wed, -a warning, it doubtless proved, to all bachelors, hereabouts, of inconstant minds.

In 1843 occurred the. trial, at Portland, of Thomas Thorn and Mrs. Lois Wilson, for the murder of Mr. Elisha Wilson, of Harpswell. The facts of this case were as follows:-

In 1840, Thomas Thorn came to Great Island, Harpswell, from New York, to visit his sister, the Widow Dyer. He remained in Harpswell during the summer, and while there he made the acquaintance of a young lady named Lois Alexander, with whom he became quite intimate. He, however, left town and did not return until early in the winter of 1842-43. In the mean time, Miss Alexander had married Elisha Wilson, and Mrs. Dyer had married Elisha's brother Benjamin. On his return, Thorn went to Elisha Wilson's, where he remained. On the morning of the fifth of February, 1843, between the hours of three and four, Mr. Samuel Toothaker was aroused by Thorn, who told him that Elisha had fallen out of his bed in the night, in a fit, and was dead. Toothaker immediately repaired to the house, and found Wilson dead, and to all appearances as if he had been so for some hours. Some bedclothes, which had been washed and carried up stairs wet, at once aroused suspicion of foul play. An inquest was held, and Thorn and Mrs. Wilson were apprehended, and bound over to the April term of the Supreme Court, at Portland, at which time they were indicted for the murder by the grand jury, and were tried. Mrs. Wilson was acquitted, but Thorn was convicted and sentenced to be hung. His sentence was afterwards commuted to imprisonment for life. He was taken to the State prison, where he remained for over thirty years. A few years ago, on account of his good behavior while in prison and his failing health, he was pardoned, and returned to New York, where he was recently living. The

following letter, which had been passed to Thorn wrapped up in a piece of tobacco, was produced at the trial:-

"poor lois i pity you and my hart akes for you and you must mind when you Come to Cort and clear me if you dont tha will hang me and you must mind how you talk i will wright to you once in fore days i whant to see you once more and then if you dont clear me i shall be willing to dy fore you i want you to write back."

This letter, with the piece of tobacco, are, it is said, on file in the clerk of court's office in Portland.

In 1847, Topsham ceased to be a half-shire town, and Mr. Jonah Morrow was appointed by the court a committee to sell the Topsham Court House. He did so, and reported the amount received for the building to be nine hundred and ten dollars; and for the furniture, eleven dollars and forty-seven cents. The bell was reserved to be afterwards disposed of as might be directed by the county commissioners.

The state of morals among the young in Brunswick must have been rather low about this time, as the town in 1849 passed the following resolution:-

"Whereas it is currently reported that boys and other persons are in the habit of visiting the mills and other places near the water on the Sabbath, for the purpose of gambling, voted, that the selectmen employ a suitable person to see that the Sabbath and the laws of the State are not violated; also, to stop the playing at ball or flying of kites in the streets."

In 1850 the legislature passed an Act, approved August 28, entitled "An Act to establish a Municipal Court in the town of Brunswick, in the county of Cumberland." At a meeting of the town subsequent to the passage of this Act, it was voted to accept its provisions and to establish such a court.

In April, 1855, Charles Crips, of Topsham, was indicted before the grand jury at Bath for the murder of his wife in the fall of the previous year. He caused her death by beating her with a club. He was tried before the Supreme Judicial Court at Bath, in the September following, and was convicted of manslaughter, and was sentenced to the ,State prison for life. He was pardoned by the governor before the expiration of his sentence.

This year there were numerous burglaries committed in Topsham, but the perpetrators of them were not discovered.

On Monday night, November 9, of this year, Eliphalet Berry, of Topsham, was murdered near Perkins's lumber-shed on "the island."

He and several others had been to Brunswick and were returning home, intoxicated, with a jug of rum. A difficulty arose between Berry and David Y. Dudley in regard to the possession of the jug. They both disappeared for a few minutes, and Dudley returned alone. Berry was soon found a short distance off in a dying condition, having been stabbed to the heart. Dudley was tried before the Supreme Judicial Court at Bath in 1858, and on September 4, the jury in the case brought in a verdict of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to five years of hard labor in the State prison. He was pardoned for good behavior before the expiration of his term of service.

In 1875, John Miller, of Birch Island, opposite Mair Point,was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to the State prison for life. Miller was abusing his wife. His son interfered and his father shot him. Miller is a descendant of Reverend John Miller, a former minister of the First Parish in Brunswick.

It will be seen from the foregoing accounts that Topsham suffers from rather an unenviable reputation, for so small a town, on account of the number of persons it has had of marked homicidal proclivities. Besides those already mentioned, two other persons from this town, a Mr. Clough and Henry Richards, have suffered the penalty of the law for murders committed by them elsewhere. Notwithstanding this unpleasant fact, it is believed that the integrity of its business men and the general character of its citizens for morality, justness, and temperance will compare favorably with that of other similar communities of even a larger population.

Of late years but few trials, except of minor importance, of any of the citizens of either of the three towns, have been had, and but few crimes of importance have occurred here.


The earliest lawyer in Brunswick is said to have been a man by the name of HOBBS, who is described as a shrewd, smart man, but not very well educated. Next to him came PETER O. ALDEN, who was admitted to the Cumberland bar in 1797. He was the only lawyer in town for the remainder of that century and for several years in the present one. He continued to practise his profession until his death in 1843, but his business was very small for many years previous to his death.1

After Alden came HENRY PUTNAM, who practised law in Brunswick

1. See Biography.

from 1806 to 1823, or thereabouts. His practice was not extensive. From 1807, ISAAC GATES, for a few years only, practised law in this town.

DAVID STANWOOD, of the class of 1808, Bowdoin College, studied law for one year with Peter 0. Alden, then with Benjamin Hasey for one year, and afterwards one year with Samuel Thatcher. He was admitted to the bar in 1811, and removed from Brunswick in 1833.

EBENEZER EVERETT commenced the practice of his profession in Brunswick in 1817, from which time to 1828 he was also cashier of the Union Bank. He afterwards devoted his whole time to his profession until 1858, when the infirmities of age compelled him to retire from its active duties. He had a large practice and was deemed a very excellent counsellor.1

ROBERT P. DUNLAP1 was in practice from 1818 until about 1830, when he entered into politics and gave up his law business.

BENJAMIN ORR1 moved to Brunswick from Topsham about 1822, and continued in practice until his death, in 1828. He was one of the most eminent lawyers in the State.

CHARLES PACKARD1 had a remunerative practice in town between the years 1825 and 1834, at which latter date he entered upon a course of study for the ministry.

PHINEAS BARNES practised law in town between 1839 and 1841. He was likewise a cashier of one of the banks at the time.

LEONARD P. MERRILL1 was in the practice of the law, for a few years, about 1845.

WILLIAM G. BARROWS, now judge of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, practised law in Brunswick from 1842 to 1863.

HENRY ORR commenced the practice of his profession in town in 1850, and has pursued it up to the present time. In 1853 he was appointed by Governor Crosby a judge of the Municipal Court.

J. D. SIMMONS also practised here from 1850 to 1870.

From 1859 until 1861, George Barron and Edward Thompson, the latter of the class of 1856, Bowdoin College, followed the practice of law in partnership. Mr. Thompson entered the army in 1861, and since then Mr. Barron has practised alone. Since 1871, Mr. Weston Thompson has been a practising lawyer in town.

The first lawyer to settle in the town of Topsham was BENJAMIN HASEY,1 Esquire. He commenced practice in June, 1794, and continued it for many years, but abandoned its active duties for some

1. See Biography.

time before his death. His office was at first in a small building which stood just south of the Bank building. It was afterwards removed to the northeast corner of Summer and Main Streets, where he continued to occupy it for many years. Still later his office was over the bank.

In 1801, BENJAMIN ORR commenced practice here. His office was over T. G. & N. Sandford's store, in the building where Mountford's shop is now. He removed to Brunswick about 1822, and was succeeded by his brother, ROBERT ORR, who practised there until his death, in 1829.

During the latter year MOSES E. WOODMAN opened an office in the building formerly occupied by Nathaniel Green as a post-office and Registry of Deeds. He remained for a few years only.

In 1843, JOHN W. Davis was practising law in Topsham. When he first came, or how long he remained, has not been ascertained.

The town of Harpswell can boast of never having a professional lawyer settled within its limits. There were, of course, trial justices, but never any lawyers. The first justice of the peace in this town, that is now remembered, was Benjamin Dunning.

Next Chapter

Wheeler & Wheeler Home About Wheeler & Wheeler Curtis Memorial Library Home
Previous Chapter Table of Contents Next Chapter