A Maine Island Charts Its Own Distinctive Course
Only my enormous force of character caused me to decline a cultural invitation to hear yet another lecture on the history of one of our Maine towns, and instead I watched a documentary on penguins.
I feel the history of Maine towns runs about the same. First is the primitive wilderness where the light tread of the soft moccasin has wrought no innovation in the past, and then the coming of the subtle white man with his wiles and ax. Next is the establishment of the school debt, which hinders the future.
The only history of a Maine town that I consider worth study and advertising is that of an obscure island halfway down the coast that seceded from the Union back in the Civil War and consequently has no standing today and may be considered lost. I can tell you only that you will not find Loud's Island in the authoritative listing of Maine places, even though I can take you there. Ask me no further, but I can tell you this:
Loud's Island is a rock, hove like so many other Maine rocks from the sea, and except for Europeans who came there to fish some years before America was discovered, it has been home to fish hawks, sea birds present and extinct, a heronry, and seals.
The earliest human residents usually left in the winter, as do the few summercaters who come there today wholly because there is nobody else there. At the time of the Civil War, Loud's Island had a permanent but somewhat seasonal population that fished, selling the "get" on the mainland, and kept a substantial fleet of able boats. The homes were snug and comfortable and just enough. The price of ground fish and the scaling off of a fog bank were the two community interests, and Loud's Island was prosperous and happily remote.
The Civil War stirred no great interest on Loud's Island, and even the town of Bristol, on "the main," was a foreign country. Bristol, you should know, was near enough to be seen and sometimes claimed to own the island, but with canny Down East logic resisted doing anything about it.
When gentle Abraham Lincoln announced that soldiers would be drafted, the men and boys of Loud's Island paid no heed, or as island lingo would put it, harked not. The boats went to sea, and no Loud's Islander visited the draft board over at Rockland port.
Then a navy boat came, and a sign was tacked to Loud's Island trees, saying a draft company of soldiers would come at stated time and at stated place to sign up the men and the penalties would be thus and so. The men of Loud's Island had been duly notified.
So on the appointed day, the big military boat came to Loud's Island and with the aid of two drummer boys safely landed the militia, and the search began.
There wasn't a man on the island. House by house, the soldiers followed the little path through the bayberries and sweet fern around the island, past the white chapel and the red school, and all they could flush were the women, the girls, and the small children, who came out willingly and stood with hands over their eyes against the bright sun and said nothing. Not a word.
The men, and every boy-child big enough to bait a trawl, were at sea. Somewhere betwixt the Isles of Shoals and Dingwall, no doubt. But not here.
About the middle of Loud's Island, then as now, stood the wee white chapel already alluded to, which in these days is connected with the Maine Seacoast Missionary Society and is active in the newer-day community life. Next door to the chapel, on that Civil War day, the soldiers found Granny Annie-Belle, a dame of advanced years whose hearing was impaired but was in good physical condition and liked to be left alone.
Her menfolks were at sea, and she was roasting a single Green Mountain potato at the fireplace, intending to eat it with some corned hake for luncheon. The soldier who thumped on her lintel with the butt of his musket and summoned Grannie to the door disturbed her just as she was turning this potato before the embers. She resented his demands. She was Granny Annie-Belle, unaccustomed to military orders.
As the intruding gentleman burst the cottage door open, Granny picked up the red-hot potato in a cloth holder and let it fly with such unerring accuracy and enviable force that it struck the soldier on the side of his head in what may be termed a surprise attack.
Baked exactly right, the potato burst its skin, and the mealy-dry, delicious, Green Mountain texture filled the ear canal of the soldier in a manner exceeding his desires. He made three hops to the boat, a matter of 200 yards, and the draft party left Loud's Island ne'er to return.
When the menfolks came in from sea, they held a meeting and voted to secede from the Union, and it has always been said that Father Abraham, already busy with a number of other secessions, decided to ignore this one and never did a thing about it. Granny Annie-Belle was hopping mad because she had to bake another potato.
In some accounts, the historians tell us in well-documented research that Granny Annie-Belle was a Prior, one of the earlier families to make a home on Loud's Island.
There is a lovely cove on Loud's Island called Prior's Cove, and a great many Priors who live on the mainland are descended from those Priors. Accordingly they are relatives of heroic Granny Annie-Belle, who repulsed the Union Army during the great American rebellion. But other historians, giving us equally accurate accounts, most of them Priors, tell us that she was not.