Stories from a Down East Island
Remembering things I never knew about Grandfather Orris and his times
The author explores the history of New England through the lens of a small plot of land on the northeast end of North Haven Island in Penobscot Bay — the people who lived, worked, and played there and how the uses of that land changed over time. The focus is on his Grandfather Orris, born there in 1860. This was 100 years after a group of English colonists from Marshfield and other southern New England towns had settled there on “unoccupied” land temporarily left vacant by semi-nomadic Native Americans.
Still relatively fresh in Orris’ family history were the hardships of building shelter and clearing the land for subsistence farming and building boats to harvest the fish in the surrounding sea. Then came the horrors of the War for Independence when the fragile settlement was destroyed by the British and the long struggle to re-establish a community at the end of the war.
Orris was born at the height of the of the communities’ success in agriculture and fishing and saw the decline of this way of life after the Civil War when many young people left and the Island slowly evolved in a service economy for the Summer community. Orris joined this exodus to get an education and establish a career as a teacher and educational administrator, but kept his roots on the Island and returned every summer to raise food for his family and establish his own summer colony. He handed down his knowledge, values, and love of the land to his eight children who in turn passed them on to the following generations.
In the process of researching the life of a grandfather he never knew the author discovers much about himself. This story should be of interest to the hundreds of descendants of Orris and his siblings, and may have a wider audience among those attracted to this lifestyle and these values.