The portion of beautiful forest land that became known as the white pine belt bordered the sea from Nova Scotia to New Hampshire. So we can plainly see that Maine was truly in the heart and middle of the belt of tall white pine trees that grew to a butt size of 38 inches and a length of over 100 feet. It was no wonder that the King of England laid claim to all white pine 20 inches and over at the butt and 100 feet tall for the Royal Navy.
The first step taken by the Crown to control the forests in the interest of British sea power was to appoint men in charge of surveying pine and timber. They also found large fir trees 20-34 inches in diameter on Mount Desert Island and even in the Sheepscot area in Newcastle. Soon all trees suitable for masts or bowsprits were emblazoned with the King’s broad arrow. With a marking hatchet, the surveyor made three cuts through the bark resembling the barbed head of an arrow or the track of a crow, the ancient sign of naval property. So we see that during the 17th century, most of the Royal Navy’s masts and spars came from the coast of Maine.
In looking back into history records, we found that the Royal Admiralty did not buy its masts and timber direct, but through contractors, who in turn had mast agents in New England. There were four of these who were well known in Maine: Samuel Waldo, Thomas Westbrook, George Tate, and Edward Parry. Then came the American Revolution, and the British Royal Navy had to turn to the pine forests east of the Saint John River. One of Britain’s famous man-of-wars, the Victory, which was Admiral Nelson’s flagship, had white pine masts cut from trees here in Maine.
We now turn to the frigate Constitution, popularly known as “Old Ironsides.” With a keel of white oak from New Jersey, timber of live oak and red cedar from Georgia, she was equipped with white-pine masts from Maine. These sticks were cut in the town of Windsor on the north side of the Augusta Road, between Cooper’s Mills and Bryant’s Corner and within half a mile of the corner. Thomas Cooper of Newcastle and one Gray, who afterward settled in Windsor or Whitefield, cut the trees. After the trees were cut and lined, the two men swamped a road to Puddle Dock in Alna in the winter of 1796-97 and then hauled these tree-length sections of logs to the riverbanks of the Sheepscot River, over the tidal falls to the port of Wiscasset. The government agents yoked them at both ends. Then the three trees were towed to Boston, where they were hewed by hand into beautiful and graceful tall masts for the frigate Constitution, where on the 20th of September 1797 the frigate was launched.
We now turn to the Damariscotta and Newcastle area. Shipbuilding was going on all the way up and down the coastline of what is now the state of Maine. Before the American Revolution, George Barstow, a ship’s carpenter by trade from Hanover, Mass., was building here. We learn later that his son, Col. George Barstow, established a yard, and history indicates that he did a considerable amount of business building vessels for Salem merchants. We find that about the same time Nathaniel Bryant came from the south shore of Massachusetts and bought land and built a small shipyard and built a set of ways on the Damariscotta River.
Nathaniel Bryant was a young man when he died at the age of 33 years; he was buried in the Barstow/Bryant/Farley cemetery in the year 1772. The cemetery is located down toward the Damariscotta River from Pleasant Street. Our close friend Mr. Timothy Dinsmore, an archaeologist, has done a lot of excavation in the area of the Bryant-Barker tavern site. He has also worked around the area of Bryant’s shipyard and George Barstow’s homestead, as well as the Walter Phillips site. We have seen some of the artifacts that have been recovered from the dig site. When George Barstow Sr. came to the area, there was still a large forested area with tall white pine and tall fir trees. We have to remember that George Barstow arrived in this area from Hanover, Mass. in 1740. History records that he could have had the first shipyard in Newcastle on the Damariscotta riverside.
Nathaniel Bryant, who was a ship’s carpenter by trade, came to this area some 30 years later from the south shore area of Massachusetts at the young age of about 30. At this young age he must have been full of ambition and excitement, for he started to build a home for his wife Hannah and a tavern, and started a shipyard on the Damariscotta River. To accomplish all this in three years, he must have worked many a 16-hour day and even built one sloop named Hannah of some 69 tons. He also had started another vessel on the ways of his shipyard on the Damariscotta River, on the Newcastle side. When he died suddenly at the young age of 33 years, Nathaniel and Hannah had one son – Nathaniel II, born 1765. Hannah remarried a man named Capt. Prince Barker, who later was lost at sea. Hannah carried on the tavern business for many years.
Nathaniel Bryant II took over his father’s business and eventually moved it to Damariscotta Mills on the Newcastle side. Here there were a number of sawmills that provided all the lumber he needed to build ships. Here we find that Nathaniel II and his sons carried on the shipyard and built over 14 vessels, which consisted of schooners, brigs, and a ship called Betsy of some 290 tons. One article we read about the ship Betsy said the vessel was engaged in the lumber trade to Cuba. We both found some very interesting events in a book called “The Sailing Ships of New England.”
Some ship prints and items state that in the early shipbuilding business here along the Maine Coast, before Maine became a state, many vessels were built in private yards for the merchants of Salem, Mass. We found that this coincides with an item we found interesting in the book “Shipbuilding in Colonial Maine,” which states George Barstow Sr. had a son, Col. George Barstow, who established a shipyard and did a considerable business building many vessels on contract for Salem merchants. This may be why we find no record of these vessels sailing here in and along the Maine coast. Richard A. Herbert in his “Modern Maine, Vol. 1” wrote, “The typical Maine man along the shore was by turn a farmer, a carpenter, a fisherman, a lumberman, and always a shipbuilder.” How true this was about the men of the Twin Villages area.
The old and first shipyards in the area were the forerunners of the future builders such as Glidden, Austin, Teague, Stetson, and Madigan of Newcastle, and William Hitchcock, Abner Stetson, Algernon S. Austin, Ebenezar Haggett, Metcalf, and Norris of Damariscotta, along with other small shipyards. So now as we look back into our past history of our area, we can all plainly see why this area produced more vessels than any other state in our new nation and proudly flew the American flag on our vessels around the world. We have noticed over the year so many oil paintings displaying our beautiful sailing vessels in foreign ports and displaying the American flag flying high above the decks of the after-section of these vessels. We must all be very thankful that by the grace of God these beautiful ships were painted in oil on canvas by foreign artists while they were in foreign ports, and many are in our museums for all of us to see today at our own convenience.