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July 13, 2010
Article

Betrayal at Fort William Henry

by Harry Gratwick

One of the oldest and strongest forts in New England was the scene of a cowardly and treacherous act of betrayal by Pasco Chubb, the British officer commanding Fort William Henry in 1696.

The fort guarded the entrance to the Pemaquid River, which leads to present day Damariscotta. In 1692 when King William's War (1689-1697) intensified, Massachusetts Governor William Phips spent 20,000 pounds to construct a large stone fort to protect the northern frontier from attacks by the French and local Native American tribes. Workers built high walls and a 29-foot high watchtower. With a garrison of 60 soldiers and 20 cannon, the fort appeared to be impregnable.

William Phips was no longer Governor when, in 1696, Fort William Henry was threatened by local Abenaki tribesmen, unhappy with their treatment by English settlers. Under French leadership, the Abenaki surrounded the fort. According to one report, a sagamore's (chief's) son appeared with a flag of truce to request an exchange of prisoners.

Although warned of a trap two Abenaki chiefs, Edgeremet and Abinquid, went out to parlay with Captain Chubb. Then, in the words of 19th century historian Samuel Drake, "Chubb took his advantage to lay violent hands on them". The English raised their guns and shot Edgeremet and his two sons, though Abinquid managed to escape. Enraged by Chubb's action the Indians and the French besieged the fort.

The supposedly impregnable Fort William Henry crumbled under a persistent attack. The garrison's ability to withstand a siege was limited by the fact that fort's water supply was outside the walls and the mortar holding the stones together was of a poor quality.

Chubb's next traitorous action came when he surrendered Fort William Henry, having been promised safe conduct by the French and Indian attackers. The garrison was apparently left to fend for itself; one report says the defenders were massacred. The Abenaki destroyed the fort after finding another of their chiefs who was being held captive, "half dead in irons".

Pasco Chubb fled to Boston, where he was interrogated by the angry governor and thrown in jail. When he was released he crept away to live in seclusion with his wife in Andover. His fate will be discussed in due course.

Fort William Henry was actually the third of four forts to be built in the Pemaquid area. The first was a fortified warehouse built by Abraham Shurte in 1630. In 1632 a 17th century New England pirate, Dixie Bull, sailed boldly into Pemaquid Harbor and pillaged the town as well as Shurte's warehouse. Some stories say he later joined the French, others say he returned to England and was hanged in London. There are tales that Dixie Bull left buried treasure on Damariscove Island and on Cushing Island.

Fort Charles was built during King Philip's war (1676-1677) to protect the remaining English settlers in the region. The area had been left defenseless following a raid by French and Indians in 1676. At that point New York's Governor Andros decided to bring New England under the jurisdiction of his colony. Accordingly he sent an expedition to build Fort Charles, which was completed in 1677. 

At full strength Fort Charles had a garrison of 150 men enclosed in a wooden stockade. In 1688, however, the political situation in England changed when King James II was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution. As a protégé of King James, the unpopular Governor Andros was arrested and deported. At Fort Charles the result was that most of the soldiers immediately deserted. When King William's War (1689-1697) broke out, only a handful of men remained to protect the local population.

In August 1689, Edward Randolph, one of Andros's subordinates, wrote from prison in Boston, "The Indians have overrun two hundred miles of coast. They have taken the town and fort of Pemaquid." The town was cut off from the fort so that only a few survivors were able to find refuge. At Fort Charles, Lieutenant James Weems wrote, "I was attacked by a great body of French and Indians, and having lost all but eight of my men I was obliged to capitulate".  Fort Charles was destroyed and the English abandoned mid-coast Maine until 1692, when the decision was made to build Fort William Henry.

For years, following the destruction of Fort William Henry in 1696, the Colony of Massachusetts refused to re-fortify the Pemaquid area, citing the expense and strategic insignificance of the location. Then in 1729, Colonel David Dunbar, imported Scots-Irish immigrants from Boston and re-established a settlement.

In 1732 Fort Frederick was built on the ruins of Fort William Henry. For the next 27 years the size of the garrison varied, depending on relations with the French and Abenaki tribes. Finally in 1759 the Massachusetts legislature decided that the site had become irrelevant due to the construction of Fort Pownal in Penobscot Bay, and the end of the French and Indian War. The remaining garrison was removed in 1761 and the fort was destroyed at the start of the American Revolution.

Whatever happened to Pasco Chubb? The traitorous Captain, and his wife and daughter, were discovered living in Andover. In 1698 a group of 30 Abenaki attacked and killed the family to avenge the death of Chief Edgeremet and his sons. The villainous Captain Chubb was reportedly shot several times through the head, just to make sure he was dead.

Today the tower of Fort William Henry and the nearby Fort House, are open to the public. An impressive exhibition, "Guns, Politics, and Furs," by Neill De Paoli, can be seen on the second floor of the fort's stone tower, which also provides a magnificent view of John's Bay. Fort William Henrys is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day.

click to enlarge
Photo: courtesy of Ft. William Henry

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