Diary of an 1829 Visit to Coastal Maine


This is a journal written by Edgar J. Doolittle in the summer of 1829 as he visits a small island off the coast of Maine, explores Thomaston on the mainland nearby, and visits Boston on his way back home to Wallingford, CT. Though only 19 years old, he is suffering from a health crisis and is also doing some soul searching.

He must have recovered his health because he went on graduate from Yale Divinity School, serve as an ordained minister of the Congregational Church, and raise a family.

The journal begins on July 19 with Edgar sitting at a table in the home of Captain Josephus Bradford and family, the only house on St. George’s Island, after his three-and-a-half day sail from new Haven, CT.

The island has been known as Hupper (Hupper’s) Island since John Hupper Jr. bought it from the Bradford family in 1852. Part of the municipality of St. George, situated in the St. George River a mile from the mainland, it’s about 400 acres in size and is home to 20+ private vacation properties today.

On the island he rambles around, admires the scenery (“glorious works of God”), finds delicious fruit to eat, drinks salt water as a medicine, and does some sailing. After two weeks, he finds his way up the river to Thomaston, purchases a berth on a Boston-bound schooner, and sticks around for a week while the ship waits for wind.

Thomaston is a resort destination today, noted for its antique architecture. In 1630 ships were already navigating up the St. George River to harvest timber for shipbuilding in England. By the time the town was incorporated in 1777, two lime kilns were in operation. The first records of ships being built there are from 1787.

Edgar thought Thomaston “quite a large place.”

By 1828, according to an 1865 book about Thomaston, the town had a population of 3,700 (643 families) living in 476 houses.

There were four meeting houses, the Maine State Prison (Edgar was given a guided tour), a hospital, a lighthouse, 15 school houses, two post offices, 13 professional offices, a printing office, 32 stores, a watchmaker/jeweler, a book binder, three cabinet makers, 15 blacksmith shops, 12 shoemakers’ shops, a hatter’s shop, a pottery, two saddlers, five inns, two marble factories, and several kinds of mills (including cotton and wool).

Hanging around town were several companies of different types of soldiers. Hailing from the port were four ships, one bark, 22 brigs, 53 schooners, 14 sloops, and one boat, with a total tonnage of about 21,000. There were shipbuilding yards, 30 wharves, and 160 lime kilns.

Edgar would have seen a canopy of smoke from the lime kilns hovering over the harbor and the town. He visits a lime kiln before returning to the schooner on his first night in town. He would also have seen a very beautiful harbor with small islands stretching out into the ocean, and, in the other direction, beautiful timbered hills.

In July 1828, the town had installed its first sidewalks and proper roads and planted ornamental, shade, and fruit trees. The houses were of tasteful and practical design, their grounds adorned with flowers and shrubs.

Edgar mentions checking out the “the largest house in the state,” Montpelier, up on the hill. The mansion was built in 1795 by Major General Henry Knox, the country’s first Secretary of War, as a place to retire and develop his land grant of almost 576,000 acres.

After his first day of wandering around Thomaston, Edgar makes a comment in his journal about “wicked inhabitance” and having to hear people cursing and swearing in every town he passes through. An 1865 book about Thomaston reports on the topic of vices and “offensive” language a few times.

Once under sail, his schooner arrives in Boston after nearly five days and Edgar spends three days seeing the sights there before finding a vessel bound for Hartford, CT. Boston’s population at that time was about 60,000.

He visits the market, the commons, the State House, and some monuments including a statue of Washington made of marble. He also has a tour of the Navy Yard (very impressed), and attends a Roman Catholic service for the first time (not impressed).

The sail from Boston to Middletown takes about five days with some intentional stops (Hyannis and Barnstable Harbor) and an unscheduled adventure along the way. With Mr. Doolittle now home again, his summer 1829 journal ends.

Selected Images

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Preview of Diary of an 1829 Visit to Coastal Maine

This preview of Diary of an 1829 Visit to Coastal Maine contains the diary entries of July 1829.

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