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Tuesday, April 23, 2013
A 1893 Interview of James Richards (The Oldest Man in Town), IV by Wilder W. Perry
Book: Scrapbook History of Camden-Rockport (Maine),
Camden Herald Newspaper
Collection Organized by:
Jacqueline J. Young Watts and Isabel Morse Maresk
Cooperation of Bill Patten
Article: James Richards
Reporter: Wilder W. Perry
Friday, March 31, 1893-- James Richards
James Richards, the oldest man in Camden, who passed away March 13 (1893) in his 95th year, was visited a few weeks previous by a representative of the press, who found him comfortably seated by the fire at his home on Free Street, one bitter cold day in February and was welcomed by a hearty handshake and pleasant smile.
“Yes,” said he, “I suppose I’m the oldest man in Camden. I was born in Camden in a log cabin on what is now Pearl Street, near where I now live, and have lived my life time. My grandfather, James Richards, was the first settler in Camden, coming here in 1768 and building a log house right back of the village hall lot, about where the Methodist Church stood before the fire. I was the fifth child in a family of thirteen. My grandfather came from Bristol, Maine, to which place he had moved the year before from a place on the Piscataqua river, New Hampshire. My father’s name was James and he married the first white woman born in Camden, Mehitable, daughter of Robert Thorndike, who was the next settler after my grandfather. My grandfather Thorndike lived to be 104 years old. Soon after my grandfather Richards settled in Camden, his father, who was also named James, came here from Dover, New Hampshire and in a few years died and was buried in Camden.”
“This locality was a great place for hunting and fishing, and my grandfather came here to settle on that account. He came in a small vessel with his negro slave. When they rounded the Southern entrance to the harbor the negro pointed to the little island of ten acres, and said: ‘dar, dats my island and I’se gwin to have it.’ So the island has ever been called Negro Island. It is now owned by the Government for the Camden harbor light house station.”
“Did he get along well with the Indians?”
“Yes, the Penobscot Indians were always very friendly. They used to come to his log cabin and make use of his grind stone to sharpen their tomahawks on. Sometimes grandmother was afraid of them. They came once when grandfather was away, bringing some rum with them, and had a drunken pow wow. When he returned in the evening, he drove them out, one of them being so drunk that he had to be dragged out of the cabin. That was the only time he ever had any trouble with them. They used him well except once when they found out he had quite a lot of beavers housed up side of a brook on Beach Hill meadow. Grandfather would go and get one when he wanted it, but the Indians tore open the houses and got them all. Grandfather was a great bear trapper and hunter. Once a bear got into John Thorndike’s barn and took a calf. They came for grandfather, and he rigged a log trap. The bears returned that night, two of them, and both got caught in the trap. One was headed one way and one the other, when the log came down on them, both happening to be passing through the trap at the same time. One night, when grandfather came home, his wife told him that she had heard a bear growl near by on the side of the mountain during the afternoon. He went out and in a few minutes shot him. He weighed over 400 lbs. and was the largest one he ever killed. Grandfather used to go hunting a great deal with Leonard Metcalf, who ran away from the English service druing the Revolutionary times and settled in Camden, whom Locke in his history speaks of as having rode a bear bare back down Mt. Battie, finally killing him. They were once hunting for moose. That animal defends himself with his forward feet. They found a moose yearling in the deep snow, where the moose had trodden out a place to feed. Metcalf was on the point of getting down into the yard, when grandfather saw a big moose coming, and pulled Metcalf out by the collar just in time to save him from being pounded to death by the moose.”
While the old gentleman was relating the incident, his nephew, Mr. Fred M. Richards, who had been listening, returned from the attic with an old gun, a long single barreled flint lock English piece, the identical one used by the old hunter. It bore this inscription: “This gun is more than 200 years old used by James Richards the first settler. He killed 70 moose with it and over 100 bears”. He also brought down from the attic the large old steel bear trap, with its well worn links, which the primitive hunter used.
“My grandfather,” continued the old citizen, “had a hard time during the Revolutionary war. The English burned his cabin but did not find him or his family. He went up river about 2 miles and built another log cabin. The English also came up and burned that too. One of his boys saw them coming and gave the alarm in time to get the cattle away off in the woods where the English could not find them. The English burned the grist mill and the settlers then had to carry their corn through the woods twelve miles to the Warren mill. It was grandfather’s brother, Dodapher who was held at bay one night in the woods by wolves, on his return from Warren with a half bushel of meal on his shoulder. He stood up back to a big tree and fought them with his cane and a little dog; he would throw the dog out among the wolves, and for a little while they would fall back, and then return, the dog being afraid and coming back to his feet. In this way he kept them off until morning, when the wolves slunk away, and he returned home safe with his grist.”
“I can remember all about the war of 1812,” said he, “and saw the English fleet of twenty vessels sail up the Penobscot when they took Castine. The also took Belfast, but did not take Camden. They were afraid to try it. My brother, Asa, defended the harbor from the top of Mt. Battie with a few men and one small cannon which he carried a ball about 6 inches in diameter. I saw him fire it several times, and the balls struck the water out beyond the ledges at the entrance to the harbor. There were two other small cannons in use at the settlement. So the English passed by what they thought a strongly fortified town. My brother Asa and Peter Ott were afterwards taken prisoners at Clam Cove. They took Asa for a pilot, but he would only pilot them away, and so they let him go on Lassells’ Island.”
On being asked to what he attributed his long life, our aged friend could give no special reason, except temperate habits. He followed his father’s occupation of running a saw and grist mill and has always been active in life until within a few years. When a young man he was a great wrestler. Few could ever take him down. He went by the name of “Stiff Back”. He also used tobacco freely until he was 72 and then thought it hurt him and left it off. He never was married. He has 2 sisters living in Camden, one Mrs. Eliza Simonton, aged 90 and Mrs. Nathaniel Crooker, aged 86. These three with eight other near relatives in Camden all over 80, had a picnic a year ago last summer at Lake City, at the summer cottage of his nephew, Mr. E. E. Richards, of Boston. Mr. Richards always had a habit of greeting everyone with a smile and then as he was nearing the century mark, he found life a pleasure, and was enough interested in passing events to enjoy it as he was passing along.
The Pedigree of the man being interviewed, and how he is related to me: I am related to James Richards II through his brothers, Dodipher and Joseph. Their sons (both Joseph) each married a Young daughter and each daughter had a child (then 3 more generations) that married, eventually creating my Great Grandmother, Charlotte Richards Berry.