"Who is this letter from?" I asked Penny, looking at an envelope from California. "I don't recognize the name or the return address."
"It's an invitation to a Crabtree family reunion, in Hancock, Maine, in October" she said.
We learned later that Howard and Marilyn Aldrich are relations of ours, related through Captain Agreen Crabtree. This was to be the third such reunion of Crabtree's related to Agreen.
"The fall colors should be pretty up there in early October, and we've not been to Hancock this year" I said. "Want to go?" I asked "I wonder if cousin David got this invite as well?"
I called David and Pam in Standish - they were interested in attending. (David and I are fourth cousins, once removed, and have Agreen as a common ancestor.) We all decided it might be a fun outing, and made plans to drive up to Hancock together. Penny filled out and returned the invitation, and then found us all a B&B to stay at in nearby Gouldsboro.
Crabtree Family History
Maybe I should give you a little Crabtree family history before continuing. I am the tenth generation of Crabtree's in America, descended from John Crabtree who emigrated to Boston in the early years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As far as we can tell, he shipped on one of the eleven vessels of the Winthrop Fleet of 1630 , which carried about 700 passengers to Salem and Boston. The first five ships sailed on April 8, 1630 from Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, and arrived in Salem on June 13 and following days. The other half of the fleet sailed in May and arrived in July at various dates. Listed as a passenger was "John Crabb". "Crabtree" often appears as "Crabb" or "Crabbe", so we have no real good way to verify if this was John Crabtree. No John Crabtree is listed on any of the other passenger lists for the period 1600 - 1638, but the lists are not always complete nor accurate. For example, there was a "Jo: [John] Cribb", age 30, listed as a a passenger on the Christian, which sailed from London on March 16, 1634/35 and arrived in Massachusetts Bay. This could also have been our ancestor John Crabtree.
According to Banks (see references below), John was born in Devonshire and emigrated from Broughton, near Manchester, England. He was a "Joyner" by trade - a furniture maker and skilled carpenter. John Crabb was one of the first settlers to the Massachusetts Bay Commonwealth to be granted Freeman Status, on October 19, 1630. If indeed this "John Crabb" is our ancestor, he continued to live and practice his trade as part of Boston's early history. John Crabtree was mentioned in Governor Winthrop's Journal in 1638 as being allowed an allotment of property ("a lot on the Mount for two heads"). John also took in an Apprentice, Solomon Greene, in the period 1638-1641.
John was part of the Crabtree's from England who emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony - others emigrated to the Virginia Colony, which explains why there are Crabtree's in the northeast as well as the southeast today. Click on my brother Emery's website for a more complete Crabtree family geneology.
We are having trouble finding who John's parents were in the Manchester, UK area. A relation in the UK, Peter Crabtree, has located a John Crabtree, son of William Crabtree, who was baptised at Manchester Cathedral on March 6, 1595. The record is not clear, however, that this is "our" John Crabtree. Also, the information on John's wife Alice Courtenay (daughter of Francis Courtenay and Mary Poole) is missing - we don't know where and when was she born, and where John and Alice were married. They could have been married in England, but there is no record on the passenger lists of Alice, or John could have married her in the colonies. We know that she married Joshua Hewes on Feb 11, 1657 after John died, but nothing of her earlier life. If anyone has any information, please contact me.
Moving back to Maine is really coming back home - there have been Crabtree's in Maine since 1760. That was when Agreen and Sarah Crabtree moved east from Attleboro, Massachusetts to Bowdoinham, in the District of Maine (Maine was part of Massachusetts Bay Colony then). Around 1764, Agreen moved to what is now Hancock, Maine. He bought an island in Frenchmans Bay and land on the east side of the Skillings River. Agreen developed an active business in lumbering and shipping, and built a small stone fort and wharf on a small peninsula jutting out into the Skillings River. He shipped lumber to Atlantic ports in his own schooners.
When the Revolution broke out, Capt Agreen wasn't slow in taking advantage of the opportunities offered. He outfitted a small schooner, the 25-ton "Hannah and Molly" with eight swivel guns and a crew of 14. Agreen and the "Hannah and Molly" had good luck in capturing merchant ships "employed in carying Provisions to the Enemys of the United Colonies", as well as coastal raiding. The small size of the "Hannah and Molly" was well suited to coastal operation, and the bulky warships of the Royal Navy could not pursue their more nimble opponents into coastal waters. Many mariners throughout New England turned to privateering to recoup the economic losses from British Navy attacks, such as the burning of Falmouth (now Portland), Maine. The focus of much of the privateers' attention was their northern neighbor, Nova Scotia (now New Brunswick, Canada). Captain Agreen sought the unescorted, large transports under sail from England to Halifax.
The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, and on July 13 the New Hampshire Gazette (Exeter, New Hampshire) reported:
He went on in those first few weeks of Independence to capture another British merchant sloop. Unfortunately, Captain Agreen hadn't bothered to get a proper commission as a privateer, which is probably why the British Admirality labeled him a "pirate". Incidentally, the Massachusetts House of Representatives had passed an act in November 1775 requiring privateers to have commissions and authorizing admiralty courts, including a separate court for Maine. The Continental Congress, on April 3, 1776, required that privateers carry commissions, and that all seized vessels must be kept and preserved until an admiralty court determined that they were lawful prizes.
Finally, 26 days after the Declaration of Independence, Agreen applied for a Captain's Commission as a Privateer from the Council of the State of Massachusetts Bay. The Commission was granted on July 31, 1776. He lost no time in carrying out his Commission. On the last day of August 1776, the "Hannah and Molly", along with the Massachusetts privateer "Dolphin" captured the brigantine "Royal George", a 100 ton merchantman from Waterford, England bound for Halifax. The captors took her away to Crabtree's home at Frenchman's Bay. The "Royal George" had a cargo which included "200 tierces of pork, 231 barrels of beef, 270 firkins of butter, 169 barrels of oatmeal, 11 tierces of beef, 1 crock of butter, 25 sacks split peas, 25 boxes candles, 30 boxes soap, 20 barrels pork".
One of Agreen's most successful forays was to Liverpool, Nova Scotia, where he captured five ships in one raid using a subtrefuge of "shipwrecked sailors". In the Boston papers of October 21, 1776 it was reported that:
Captain Agreen went on to be known as the "Scourge of Nova Scotia" for his successful raids against British commerce there. His prizes included the Prize sloop "Polly", which sold in August 1977 for "1200 Pounds Lawful Money" to Mr. Daniel Wright and others (probably neighbors from Hancock). Also in August 1977, Agreen is granted a second Commission to command the armed schooner "Harlequin" as a Privateer. The ship was "lying in the Harbour of Boston, armed and maned...with ten Carriage Guns and sixteen Swivels, Navigated with Fifty-Five men, Provisions - ten barrels of beef and five barrels of pork". Captain Agreen also operated during the autumn of 1777 from Machias, with yet another a Privateer with "8 four-pounders and 30 men". He also fitted out a small uncommissioned privateer schooner, the picaroon "True Blue", which had several privateering cruises and fishing voyages in the first months of 1782.
As might be expected, the British didn't think so glowingly of Capt Agreen. Here is an account from the recipients of one of his raids, at the Mouth of the St. John's River in Nova Scotia:
The store was a "Truck House" erected by the British under the care of Messrs. Hazen, White & Simonds. It was reported by Colonel John Allan, the American superintendent of Indian affairs at Machias, that Agreen confiscated not only Tory property but also Indian pledges. He said: "I cannot say how this is legal for a Privateer, but I am extremely Glad it is done, and am sure that Crabtree Would not have Done it, if he tho't it not for the Best, as he has acted here with much Honour."
There are many more stories about Captain Agreen Crabtree, and his son William Crabtree, Captain of the Privateer "Rapid" out of Portland, ME during the war of 1812. I recommend checking out some of the references at the end of this journal entry.
The Hancock Reunion
Penny and I drove over to the Farmhouse on Thursday, with another load of boxes and furniture. We stopped off in York and picked up the pool cover that our Clifton Park landlord had kindly arranged for. On Friday, Paul and I closed down the swimming pool for the season and stretched the new pool cover over it. Paul has made great strides on the renovation projects since last trip - but that will be the subject of another journal entry.
David and Pam drove over Friday afternoon, and the four of us left for Hancock in delightful fall weather. The colors had nicely turned in spots, and the day was bright and crisp. We stayed at the Bluff House Inn , a wonderful place overlooking Frenchman's Bay. On the way through Ellsworth to the B&B, we stopped and had supper - and were suprised to see an article in the Ellsworth newspaper with pictures about another cousin, Captain Alan B. Crabtree. On November 29, 1967, he sailed the nuclear submarine "USS Tusk" into Frenchman's Bay to the delight of the residents of Hancock. We met Alan in Hancock in about 1986, when he was visiting from Honolulu. I told him the tale about how a lobbyist confused he and I, when he and I were both stationed at the pentagon several years ago. He was a Navy Captain, and I was an Air Force Captain. Because of the mixup, I enjoyed a lunch at the Army-Navy Club in Washington, compliments of the lobbyist, who mistook me (Captain Allen F. Crabtree - USAF) with Captain Alan B. Crabtree (USN). Alan B. Crabtree died in 1988.
Saturday morning, after breakfast, we took a drive down the Peninsula to the eastern part of Acadia National Park. David and Pam showed us Schoodic Point - such a lovely spot! The tide was out, the sky and sea were a bright blue, and the air smelled of sea air and pines. We had some crackers in the car, and Dave took them down on the rocks. He was immediately surrounded by seagulls looking for a handout. Dave and Pam talked about taking bikes around the point - what a neat idea to do sometime!
Howard and Marilyn had made the arrangements for the clan to gather at a local restaurant for luncheon on Saturday. There was a goodly crowd from all over the country - all were related in one way or another to Captain Agreen. We got to see folks we had never met, and swapped stories about the family. This is the third year that the reunion has been held, and there seemed to be a good deal of interest in continuing it, even turning out some sort of newsletter. A long lineage chart was laid out on several of the tables, and we were asked to put a colored dot on our name tags depending on who our ancesters were. Photos were taken of each group according to the color of their dots.
Lois Johnson, the Hancock Town Historian and Crabtree cousin, is the heart of the Crabtree Family History. She has been very helpful in tracking down nearly all of our kin, both famous and infamous, and has been extremely helpful in filling in many of the gaps in the history that I had gathered. Lois brought along big scrapbooks with lineage charts for each of the Agreen's sons, with family photos and clippings of uncles and aunts going back a hundred years or more. Unfortunately, no one has turned up a likeness of Agreen, his sons or grandsons, except for a portrait of Lemuel Jr. that hangs in Lois' living room. Lemuel shows the same broad forehead that my grandfather, my father and I all share - it would be nice to see what other family resemblences there still are, many generations later.
As my contribution to the gathering, I brought along some copies of "Uncle Charlies' Tapeworm...", a collection of my father's yarns growing up in Effingham, NH. In it are photos of my father, grandmother and grandfather. The little booklets were quite a hit, and several cousins asked me to autograph their copies.
Looking For Agreen's Fort
"If anyone would like to hike down to Agreen's fort this afternoon, my daughter will lead the group" announced Lois at the reunion. The fort was built as protection during the French and Indian times, soon after Captain Agreen arrived in Hancock around 1764. He bought land from Ezra Ide on October 5, 1768 for 70 pounds. According to the deed, the land roughly encompassed a peninsula in Youngs Bay on the east side of the Skillings River that was then known as Ide's Point.
Penny and I had been down to what we thought was the site, behind Maynard Foss' place, several years ago. I was eager for another look at it. Lois has a piece of ship's timber from one of Agreen's vessels, and Maynard has a ship's timber and a piece of cannon from the fort. David and Pam had been hearing the stories about Agreen's fort, and these artifacts, and wanted to take a try at finding it as well. In addition to the fort and wharf, Agreen had a saw mill located down on the east side of the Skillings River, at a place between Ide's Point and Hill's Island. Lois also mentioned that one of Agreen's ships is rumoured to be sunk in the mud just offshore of the fort, and can be seen from the air during low tide.
Maynard keeps the lane behind his barn well mowed, and it was inviting as only a walk in the fall woods can be. We flushed a partridge along the way to the river, and saw plenty of deer tracks. It was a flood tide, and there was only a narrow strip of beach to walk on between the incoming tide and thick growth of spruce and pine on the point where the fort ruins are located. I remembered that the stone ruins that we'd found on our last trip were a ways back from the water, and on high ground. Elizabeth had been down on the site once also, and she remembered pretty much the same that I did about the location back from the water. We spread out and walked in long traverses as best we could with the dense trees and blowdowns. Although we worked our way well around the point, other than lots of old stumps, we were not able to find the fort. Looking at photos and maps, I think that we did not look far enough to the west around the point. On my next trip up, I'll take more time, and look a little harder. My son, Allen, has offered the use of his metal detector to help in the search.
While we were on our walk, Lois opened up the Historical Society Museum for Penny - we could spend a day or more there just looking at stuff! Back from the walk and the museum, we gathered in Lois' living room for a cup of tea, and went through some of the photo albums she has. She is putting together an updated compilation of material on Agreen, to incorporate much of the new information she's received from relations and friends.
The next morning, David, Pam, Penny and I headed back down to Sebago. We learned a lot about David's maple syrup business, and Pam's activities. David's and my verbal exhanges were enough for Penny and Pam to make a couple of joking remarks about the problems of having two Crabtree's in the car at the same time. We all had a wonderful time. We're already planning on attending the next reunion, and I've got a lot more to do in learning about my ancestors. Howard and Marilyn have made reservations for the end of September 2000, at the Holiday Inn in Ellsworth. If anyone is interested in more information, please send me an e-mail (email@example.com) and I'll put you in touch with Howard and Marilyn.
It isn't enough to just compile a geneology chart of names, dates and places - I really want to put some "meat on the bones" of our family history, and learn more about what sort of people they were, what they did, and how they lived. There are lessons to be learned from our past, and I am eagerly looking forward to having more time during retirement to dig into it.
Allen and Penny Crabtree
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Last updated september 27, 2000
Copyright © 2000 by Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2000 by Allen Crabtree