Samuel Wormwood’s Travail
By Bruce R. Tucker, Alfred Historical Society
The summer of 1812 found Samuel Wormwood, joiner, of Alfred with little to do. Samuel was the son of Amos Wormwood who lived toward the Kennebunk end of Mouse Lane- near Whitcher’s Mill. Parsons referred to the Wormwoods as teamsters and farmers but Amos’ probate listed his profession as carpenter and husbandman. Samuel, Amos’ oldest son, followed in his fathers footsteps and was called variously joiner, cabinetmaker and master builder. In 1803 Samuel married Sarah Patterson of Pepperellborough. In 1806, Sarah was admitted to the Alfred Congregational Church and children Christiana and Mary Ann were baptized. In 1809, Amos died at age fifty, leaving Samuel’s three brothers shares in the family homestead but left Sam “$2 that I have already given him.” This leads one to believe that Samuel was long out of the nest and was established in his trade.
The War of 1812, declared in the spring of that year, had smothered the Maine shipping industry, throwing many skilled tradesmen out of work. Carpenters such as Wormwood were especially hard hit for out of work shipwrights were now seeking the jobs that had kept Wormwood employed. With a family to support and a mortgage coming due on the 1/4 acre lot that held his shop (YCRD 86/181), Samuel Wormwood set out from Alfred to look for work. His first stop was Bangor, then a town of only 100 buildings. He found little encouragement there but was told of a new settlement in northern Maine where a carpenters skills could be needed. Desperate, Wormwood quickly hired an Indian and his canoe to carry him to Houlton, Maine. After a harrowing journey that nearly killed him, Samuel staggered to his destination, alone, starving, and without his tools. He was taken in by the wife of the hamlets doctor, Mrs. Rice, and promptly fed a huge meal. In his famished condition, this made him very ill for several days. Once recovered, he retraced his steps, retrieved his tools stashed in the woods and set to work building a framed home for his benefactor, Dr. Samuel Rice. This was the second frame house amid the log huts in Houlton and served as the village doctor office and school. Once completed, Sam began work on a huge house for town leader Aaron Putnam. This house, termed “the mansion”, was more in a style Sam had worked on for his affluent clients in Alfred and southern Maine. (Putnam 33,34) The house sat high on the banks of the Meduxnekeag River, a decade and a half before any road would link Houlton with the rest of Maine. It loomed two and a half stories tall with an additional attic and two large brick chimneys protruded from its roof. Its Federal style clapboard elegance contrasted sharply with the log cabins that surrounded it. It looked for all the world as if a prosperous sea captain (or well heeled Alfred lawyer ) had plopped his home down in the wilderness. (Paper Talks, p4-6) It was just the kind of house Samuel knew how to build. The house became a landmark and still stands in Houlton, known today as the Blackhawk Putnam Tavern.
In 1813, when Houlton resident Samuel Cook traveled to southern Maine on business, Samuel took the opportunity to reunite his family. His letter to his wife Sarah detailed his eventful trip and asked her to leave kith and kin in Alfred and follow him to a better life in the wilderness.
Mrs. Wormwood faced thrusting her family into the wilderness with the same fears and trepidation every pioneer wife must have felt. Houlton was truly a wilderness, having begun settlement less than a decade earlier. It was a frontier close to the border with British Canada, currently hostile to American interests. The British also had local Natives at their disposal and they could use them against American settlements, a very real and frightening prospect. After questioning Cook about her concerns and receiving reassurances, Sarah left Alfred Sept. 1, 1813 with daughters Christiana (age 9) and Sally (age 3). Wide eyed Christiana would recall the journey for her great grandchildren and relate the events that impressed her. In Portland she saw the flag draped coffins of the American and British Naval captains killed in battle offshore. She watched the military funeral procession march to the cemetery where they were interred side by side. Mr. Cook went aboard the Enterprise and the Boxer anchored in the harbor. Because of the danger of capture at sea, the party traveled overland until they ran out of road at Albion, then followed a rough trail to Old Town. There the party hired two Indians with canoes to take them to Houlton. Up the Penobscot they went, then up the Mattawamkeag to Baskahegan Stream and across the Chepulneticook, Grand, North and Eel Lakes then down the Eel River to the St. John. Mr. Cook carried little Sally over the many portages in his arms but Christiana had to walk, amid the falling leaves and an autumn nip in the air . At one point she became so disheartened she sat down on a portage and refused to continue saying, “ Mother, I know we shall die here anyway, for we can never get out of these dreadful woods.” (Putnam 37) Samuel Wormwood met his family on the St. John and brought them to Houlton by oxcart Oct. 11 after five weeks of travel. Mr. Cook was later paid $22.67 for his 34 day trip from Alfred. (Putnam 37)
Wormwood purchased 30 acres from Aaron Putnam and built himself a frame house but did not stay in Houlton long. In 1815, with only a few dozen families in town, Samuel felt carpentry work would be more plentiful in a more settled community and removed to nearby Woodstock, New Brunswick. There he built many houses that survive to this day. He always planned to return to Houlton in later years but never did, although he visited he area often. He apparently did not keep in touch with his Alfred kin at all. When his mother died in 1841, his brother administered the estate explaining, Samuel, the oldest son, was, “if alive, not living in the county.” Amen to that.
Little Christiana left an enduring legacy in Houlton. In the fall of 1818, at the age of 14 and a half, she married Amos Putnam (the son of Aaron who built the mansion) and set up house- keeping in Wormwoods Houlton house. She raised 17 children (11 sons) and watched Houlton grow from a cluster of rude log cabins to a center of commerce and agriculture. Many in the Houlton area who proudly bear the prominent name Putnam are her descendants. She lived to a ripe old age and never tired of telling her great grand children about the little Alfred girl who followed her father into the wilderness.
Melvin, C.L. History of the Houlton Area
Paper Talks in “the County” 2nd ed. 1983
Putnam, Cora C. The Story of Houlton
YCRD- York County Registry of Deeds