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Genghis Khan, Charlemagne,
and Ebenezer Hall

The Sons of Ebenezer are thick on the ground…

by Eva Murray


From very nearly
the beginning it
would seem that
Hall had trouble
with the Indians.


Other islands and towns along the Maine Coast have what I’d consider pretty interesting historical background, with cool artifacts, ghost stories, shell middens, famous shipwrecks, arrowheads, Viking coins, etc.

We have some guy from away who moves in, gets all la-la about how he’s found his dream home, starts to change everything to make the neighborhood more resemble back where he came from, and can’t get along with the regulars because he thinks he’s better than they are. Ever heard of that phenomenon?

On top of that, the locals petitioned an admin type (known snob Governor Spencer Phipps of Massachusetts, as it happened) for redress, and were ignored, because they weren’t paid-up members of the country club and didn’t generally respect the dress code.

After having attempted to go through the approved chain of command and having received no response from the authorized state agency, the locals on the island had no choice but to deal with the problem themselves.

Some things never change.

According to historian Charles A.E. “Gene” Long in Matinicus Isle: Its story and its people (1926), European fishermen would almost certainly have used Matinicus as a “fishing station” just as they did many other mid-coast islands and peninsulas, even though our new Historical Society hasn’t got any extremely interesting artifacts to prove it. In the 1720s, we read that a William Vaughan of Damariscotta established a fishing station on the island where he built some employee housing and at least one wharf. The structures were of course destroyed by heavy weather, but remains of a wharf in what we’ve always called “Old Wharf Cove” may have been that one, and Long tells of “cinder, scraps of iron, and debris from an ancient blacksmith’s forge” found on the old Tolman farm. These days, even “the old Tolman farm” is history.

The first settler claiming to be a permanent resident has always been considered to be Ebenezer Hall, who basically squatted on Matinicus with his family sometime around 1750. There is no record of “by what right” Ebenezer Hall claimed ownership of the island—whether he bought it, was given it, or “just took it” (Suzanne Rankin, our Town Historian, asserts the latter).

Long puts it this way: “From very nearly the beginning it would seem that Hall had trouble with the Indians.” He explains in his book that the Penobscots had “from time immemorial” used the island for fishing, sealing, bird hunting, collecting of eggs, berries, etc. In 1754 a James Clark, who worked for Hall on the island and lived with his family, reports witnessing Hall shoot two Indians who came to Matinicus, and burying the bodies in his garden. Evidently there had been long standing strife between Hall and the Penobscots. Representatives of the tribe had written to Governor Phipps already asking for Hall to be removed, as his actions were wrecking the Indians’ livelihoods. Phipps brushed them off. Supposedly Hall was burning islands to make room for agriculture. There is indication that Hall may have been ordered to move off, which directive he of course ignored. Suzanne Rankin told me that there had been a charge of murder filed against Hall in the State of Massachusetts over the incident, but nobody went to any particular trouble to try and arrest the culprit.

In 1757, the story goes, a band of Indians came to Matinicus and attacked Hall’s house. Ebenezer was shot – some say scalped – the house was burned, Mrs. Hall and four children were captured, and a twelve-year-old stepson escaped out the back. Hall’s older son, also named Ebenezer Hall, was away on a fishing voyage. We are told that Mrs. Hall was taken by the Penobscots through the woods to Quebec, where somebody paid her ransom (or bought her,) after which she sailed to England, and then back to New York, and then made her way back to Maine. In 1765 she married again, moved to Gorham, and lived to be 89.

Joseph Green, the twelve-year-old who had escaped, managed to hide until the Indians left, attract the attention of a passing boat from “Fox Islands” (Vinalhaven/North Haven) and get off the island. (Sometimes it is still this difficult.) He later married Dorcas Young, who was sister to the younger Ebenezer’s wife Susanna. Doing business with his step-brother Ebenezer didn’t prove easy, and Green was supposedly dissatisfied with his share of the island, so he and Dorcas moved to what they now call Green’s Island off Vinalhaven. Susanna imported another sister, Phebe Young, married to somebody named Abraham. Suzanne Rankin assures me there were plenty of sisters. There was some story about Dorcas insisting on a sister in the neighborhood because otherwise island life would be too boring.

One of the Hall daughters, after having been “rescued” from the Penobscots and delivered back to “civilization,” reportedly returned to the Indians, having enjoyed life more with them.

The younger Ebenezer went on to found a rather enormous family. George Washington Hall, for example, who was born on Matinicus in 1783, had Jonathan, Ezekiel, Timothy, Sally, Olive, Calvin, Joseph, George, Lydia, Elisa, James, Julia, John, Harriette, Nancy, and Elsie. You can do the math.

A number of friends are the relatives of this famous first white settler, although there are not many still on Matinicus. Hang around the mid-coast any length of time, though, and you’re sure to run into a few hundred more. They say half of Europe claims to be descended from Charlemagne, and the genealogy folks will tell you that nobody has as many relatives as Genghis Khan. I’m not so sure; it seems our Ebenezer Hall is definitely in that category, if you go by the word of those who claim him as an ancestor. Suzanne Rankin told me that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, by the way, was an in-law.

At any rate a lot of people – in the Rockland-Camden area, or with tangential connection to Matinicus, or who used to live here – have made the statement, standing up a little taller with obvious pride, that: “I am a direct descendant of Ebenezer Hall!” My experience has been that pretty much every random line of customers waiting to check out at Hannaford’s before a ferry includes at least one direct descendant of Ebenezer Hall.

Good for them. One is tempted to wince a little and wonder why that’s even a thing, given Hall’s almost stereotypical bad-neighbor-from-away sort of behavior, but I suppose we ought to remember that our First Settler’s attitude toward eminent domain, followed by his fairly ham-handed effort at landscaping by fire, wasn’t atypical of the times; the Anglo-Saxon types were behaving like that more or less everywhere. More to the point I suspect that the reverence paid to connection with Ebenezer Hall boils down to an advanced case of I’m From Here and You’re Not. (Disclaimer, Truth in Advertising, and Full Disclosure: I am not from Matinicus. My only claim to credibility whatsoever on the island is that in nearly 30 years I’ve never spent a single day here on vacation.) For people to be able to say, straight-faced and all, that “my family has been on this island longer than yours” carries some very real satisfaction, at least for those who aren’t already in the running to win the Oldest House on the Island contest (this is a thing. Just ask the women.) At any rate, the people of Matinicus, natives especially, are known among the anthropologists as a tribe long given to a practice of ancestor worship.

There are still a bunch of unanswered questions. People ask these all the time and I sure don’t have any answers. There are questions about the daily lives and routines of Maine’s Native Americans, chief among them “What kind of boats did they have?” This query demonstrates the priority interest around here. Hopefully, given that they were almost certainly rather small boats, they left Rockland by 5:00 a.m. and called home when they got here. Also, “If the Penobscots only came here in the summer, who did they use for a caretaker, and how much wine did they bring?” and “Why in hell would anybody go to all that trouble to get seagull eggs? Yuck!” There are questions about the redoubtable Mrs. Hall (more or less the same question, beginning with “Why in hell would anybody go to all that trouble…?”) There is often some very earnest rumination about who gets to decide whether to call it a massacre (we might have called it self-defense,) and chipper speculation on what sorts of berries the annual harvesters picked and what they made out of them (probably not smoothies,) and curiosity about why the Penobscots stopped coming since they seemed to have won that first round, and about whether there were apple trees in those days before there were school kids to fling their apple cores off the sides of the road, and about how to spell “Phebe Young” (no o).
Further research may be required.