The arrival of European colonists, beginning the in the beginning in earnest in the early 1600’s radically disrupted the lives of the Wabanaki: disease brought by the colonists to which the Indigenous had no immunity; land dispossession, forced removal, enslavement, eradication of ancestral traditions through conversion to Christianity, and a series of worsening conflicts despite early attempts by the Wabanaki to coexist.
Today, through persistence and resilience, the Wabanaki people living in Maine continue to thrive.
Between about 1670 and 1720, conflict between the Wabanaki and the European colonists surged, one area of conflict being the use of the waterways and land. Intent on exporting Maine timber, the colonists dammed the rivers and erected sawmills. The dams and the water pollution caused by the sawmills severely impacted the migratory fish on which the Wabanaki relied.
By the mid-eighteenth century, the European colonists had taken control of the area and incorporated the town of Berwick. They renamed the Newichawannock River as the Salmon Falls River.
One colonist profiting from the mills was Tilly Haggens, who emigrated from Ireland to Berwick around 1740 and acquired a large tract of land, including mill rights on the Salmon Falls River. Haggens’ land was framed by two early roads, one running from the river north into Berwick, today’s Main Street, and the other running east to Portland, today’s Portland Street. The two streets met at a wide intersection known simply as The Corner.
Tilly Haggens was a trader. In the mid-eighteenth century, his 80-ton sloop, The Dolphin, made regular trips between Portsmouth, NH, and Barbados, there unloading cargoes of timber and loading for import rum, sugar and cotton produced in horrid conditions by people in bondage.
Dying in 1777, Tilly Haggens, in his last testament and will, bequeathed to his son John Haggens (1742-1822) four tracts of land, a third of his mills, mill privileges, and an enslaved male, “also that negro Boy he now has with him, Caesar by name.”
While we know little about Caesar at this time, records may shed some light on his life after slavery; it is possible that after achieving freedom, he stayed on in the Haggens household.
The end of slavery in Maine is generally accepted as 1783; this is the year that Massachusetts colony, which had annexed Maine in 1652, declared slavery unconstitutional.
The 1790 and 1800 censuses list one person under the “all other persons” category used to categorize non-white, free people in Haggens’ household. It is possible that this person is Caesar.
The listed person could also have been an enslaved male named Prince. In 1772, John Haggens placed a runaway advertisement for Prince, a “well set fellow about 25 years of age, has a scar in his forehead over his left eye, had on Kersey round tail’d jacket, woolen under jacket and moose skin breeches…four dollars reward.”
Sarah Orne Jewett may have known about Caesar, and she may have heard something of his history. In her novel, The Tory Lover (1900), set at nearby Hamilton House on the eve of the American Revolution, Jewett created a world inhabited by fictional characters and nonfictional, including Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, Jonathan Hamilton, and Tilly Haggens. One character is an enslaved man named Caesar, who, Jewett writes, “…Caesar, who had been born a Guinea prince, drank in silence, stepped back to his place behind his master, and stood there like a king.”
Starting construction in 1774, John Haggens built the house that would eventually belong to the Jewett family. Wallpaper on the second floor of the house goes back to his ownership; this is known by the king’s stamp on a section of the paper, proof that the paper was imported prior to American Independence.
Around 1800, Haggens added a new one-story kitchen to the north side of the house. Haggens and his family continued to live in the house until about 1819.
In the early nineteenth century, the timber export economy of Southern Maine collapsed: deforestation, combined with Jefferson’s Embargo of 1807, fires in Portsmouth in 1802 and 1813, the Napoleonic Wars, and finally the War of 1812 shut down Southern Maine’s maritime trade.