Breakneck Hollow Historical Site Marker
Above: Visitors are invited to view the historical marker.
Two photos below: The stream used by Native Americans and European settlers for fresh water
You are standing in the Breakneck Hollow adjacent to the Breakneck Road (1). The Breakneck Stream runs along the road about 50 feet to the east. Both the stream and road played important roles in the history of what is now called Mount Desert Island.
For thousands of years, the Breakneck Stream was the primary water source for First Nation shell-fishers who came across Frenchman Bay from Waukeag (2) (now Sullivan and Sorrento) and other mainland locations to use the cross-island trail, now called the Breakneck Road (3). The trail starts here and then splits into two branches to reach shellfish supplies and First Nation villages found in what is now Southwest Harbor (3a) (Fernald Point) and Northeast Harbor (3b) (Manchester Point). Canoeing there against strong southeasterly winds was more difficult than traveling overland.
Prior to the intertribal fur trading wars, which began in 1607, Waukeag (2) and Mount Desert Island were among the easterly components of the Abenaki Confederacy of Mawooshen, which extended west from Schoodic Peninsula (4) to Cape Neddick at York.
Samuel de Champlain stopped for water at the Breakneck Stream in 1604 while exploring the waters to the east of Mt. Desert Island, then sailed up the Penobscot River in search of the fabled but nonexistent city of Norumbega before wintering at St. Croix Island. In 1613, the English Captain Samuel Argall destroyed the new French settlement Saint Sauveur at Fernald Point (5) on Somes Sound, which was also a shell-gathering site and First Nation village at the end of the west branch of the cross-island trail. Thus began 150 years of French-English conflict over Acadia, which can be defined as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the coastal area east of the Kennebec River in Maine. Conflict did not end until the fall of Quebec and the Treaty of Paris in 1763, when the English regained control of Acadia.
Between 1630 and 1700, numerous French fur trading expeditions visited this site for re-watering, staging, trade, and exploration, hence the name Frenchman Bay. Hulls Cove and the Breakneck Hollow were the most important French trade locations on Mt. Desert Island because they offered easy access to fresh water and the constant flow of First Nation visitors.
In 1688, the French granted a seigneurie (land grant) to Sieur Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac for Douaquet (6), which included Waukeag and Mount Desert Island. His daughter, born at Douaquet (6), gave birth to Madam de Gregoire, who lived at Hulls Cove and was the last Mount Desert Island resident of French descent.
In 1675, the King Phillip’s War began in southeastern New England and spread to Maine. Thousands of English settlers living east of Wells, ME, fled or were captured by Wabanaki warriors allied with the French. The French and Indian Wars prevented any English settlement on Mount Desert Island from 1675-1759.
In 1692, the French caught spies Armand de Vignon and Francois Albert, who had told the English of the French plan to attack Fort Pemaquid (7), newly rebuilt by the English after its destruction by the Wabanaki in 1689. The French executed them with tomahawks in front of 120 First Nation shell-fishers, probably at the Native American summer camp which is now the location of the Edward Brewer house.
Edward Somes established the first English settlement on Mt. Desert Island at Somesville (1761) (8) along the cross-island trail to Southwest Harbor. In 1817, shipbuilder Edward Brewer came here from southern New England and built his house on this site, the same year in which he built his first schooner, Huldah and Judah (95 tons) at Hadley Point. Brewer then built many ships in Hulls Cove, including the brigantine Mary Jane (1825), schooner Exchange (1829), and brigantine Cabinet (1831). He continued to build schooners and brigantines in Hulls Cove until his last ship, the E. T. Hamor, in 1889. Most ships built at Hulls Cove were used for fishing or the West Indies and coasting trade. Brewer built a sawmill just above the head of tide on the Breakneck Stream to the left of this marker.
In the 19th century, the Breakneck Road was the principal route to Northeast Harbor. It was named after several unfortunate carriage accidents on the hill that descends to cross the stream about a half mile inland from this marker.
In 1835, Brewer and John de Gilmore bought 6,144 acres, which included Cadillac Mountain, from the trustees of the William Bingham estate. This land later became part of Acadia National Park, which is still traversed by remnants of the ancient cross-island trail, including the Breakneck Rd.
When the great forest fire of 1947 swept through this area and destroyed much of Bar Harbor, water from the Breakneck Stream was used to save the Brewer residence and several other buildings in Hulls Cove village.
The Brewer family sold its residence in 1947, and the property was resold a number of times until H. G. Skip Brack bought it in 1983 and established the Hulls Cove Tool Barn. Brack started a sculpture garden in 1990, and it became the Davistown Museum Sculpture Garden in 2000, with a focus on the museum’s theme of the marriage of tools, art, and history. The museum sponsored this historic marker in 2015.
Key to Maps
1. Breakneck Hollow historic site at Hulls Cove
2. The Native American community of Waukeag and their shell middens at Taft Point (2a)
3. The cross-island trail, which splits into the Southwest Harbor branch (3a) and the Northeast Harbor branch (3b) at the intersection of Route 233, which now, along with Route 102, overlies the trail to Southwest Harbor.
4. Schoodic Peninsula, the eastern-most component of the Confederacy of Mawooshen
5. Fernald Point, the location of the French settlement of Saint Sauveur and the Fernald Point shell middens
6. Douaquet, the French land grant of over 100,000 acres made to Sieur Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac which included Waukeag (2) and Mount Desert Island
7. Pemaquid Harbor and the British Fort Pemaquid, site of the 1692 planned attack by the French, which was betrayed by the spies executed at the Breakneck Hollow
8. Somesville, location of the first permanent English settlement on Mt. Desert Island (1761)
9. Damariscotta oyster shell middens along the Damariscotta River
10. Norumbega, coincidental to the Wawenoc homelands and the center of the Confederacy of Mawooshen
11. St. Georges Harbor, probable location of George Waymouth’s 1605 kidnapping of the five Wawenocs, including Chief Tahanedo, later interviewed by Ferdinando Gorges
12. Saco, site of the Souriquois (Tarrentine) attack on the Abenaki in 1607
13. Site of the Battle of Hatchet Mountain in Hope (1615) and the defeat of the Abenaki by the Souriquois (Tarrentine)
14. Muscongus Island, site of the Wawenoc Samoset’s residence and burial. Samoset told Gov. Bradford about the availability of corn and codfish at Monhegan Island (1621-1622), a key element in the survival of the Plymouth Colony.
15. Wawenoc homelands, also called the Norumbega bioregion
16. Arambec, the archaeological site at the loop in the St. Georges River in Warren and probable location of the largest Wawenoc community, which may have been the home of the last Bashebas who was killed at the Battle of Hatchet Mountain.
The term “Abenaki” is used here to denote the communities of Mawooshen prior to its destruction by Souriquois (Tarrentines), which included the Micmac, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy.
The term “Wabanaki” or “People of the Dawn”, now an inclusive regional designation of all First Nation communities, refers to the amalgam of survivors from the great pandemic (1617-18), many of whom participated in the French and Indian Wars (>1675) for control of Acadia, including the Penobscot, the Micmac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and surviving Abenaki.
The Confederacy of Mawooshen
Mawooshen Confederacy. Prins, Harald E.L. and McBride, Bunny. (2007). Asticou’s island domain: Wabanaki peoples at Mount Desert Island 1500-2000. Vols. 1 and 2. Acadia National Park and The Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor, ME. Reprinted with permission from Dr. Harald Prins. Numeration added to mark the locations described by the map key.
The middens at the ends of the cross-island trails, as well as many along the northeast shore of Mount Desert Island, attest to the presence of First Nation summer visitors here both before and after fur trade related warfare and pandemics destroyed the Abenaki Confederacy of Mawooshen. This historical marker has been erected in memory of the First Nation communities of this Confederacy, also noted as Norumbega (10) on many maps, including Champlain’s shown below.
Close-up of Champlain’s 1613 map from Norumbega Reconsidered (Brack 2010) fig. 8, pg. A-12.
The Breakneck Hollow and Mt. Desert Island lie in the eastern region of the Confederacy of Mawooshen, which was described in detail by five Native Americans kidnapped by George Waymouth in 1605 near St. Georges Harbor (11). Ferdinando Gorges (1565-1647) recorded their description, which Samuel Purchas published in Purchas’s Pilgrims (1623). James Rosier, who accompanied Waymouth and documented his voyage, describes the presence of 275 Abenaki warriors who approached Waymouth’s vessel, probably to trade, on the day prior to the kidnapping. These natives were residents of the Abenaki community in central coastal Maine historically known as the Wawenoc, who lived between the Penobscot and Kennebec Rivers and used rapid canoe travel to trade in oysters, furs, and corn throughout the Confederacy. Later trade with the French involved exchange of furs and moose hides for axes, knives, kettles, and firearms. The oyster shell middens at Damariscotta (9) were among the largest in the world (see photo) and document the presence of a highly populated Abenaki community on the central Maine coast.
Contemporary Map of the Wawenoc Homelands
also known as the Norumbega Bioregion
Oyster Shell Middens at Damariscotta
Most of the oyster shells shown in this picture were excavated and used as fertilizer by local farmers in the 19th century
Rufus King Sewall. 1895. Ancient voyages to the western continent: Three phases of history on the coast of Maine. Lincoln County News. pg. 24.
The downfall of the Confederacy began at the Battle of Saco (12) in 1607, where the Souriquois (Tarrentines), which included the Micmac, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy, attacked and defeated the Abenaki of Mawooshen with the help of firearms supplied by the French. The ongoing fur trade wars between competing Native American communities culminated in the Battle of Hatchet Mountain in Hope (13) (1615), where the last Bashebas or chieftain of Mawooshen, possibly Asticou, was killed.
“[Bessabez] had under him many great Subjects... some fifteen hundred Bow-Men, some others lesse, these they call Sagamores... [He] had many enemies, especially those to the East and North-East, whom they call Tarrentines... [H]is owne chief abode was not far from Pemaquid, but the Warre growing more and more violent between the Bashaba and the Tarrentines, who (as it seemed) presumed upon the hopes they had to be favored of the French who were seated in Canada[.] [T]heir next neighbors, the Tarrentines surprised the Bashaba and slew him and all his People near about him.” (Gorges 1890).
In 1617-18, a vast pandemic, probably viral hepatitis, swept the New England coast, killing 90% of the First Nation population east of the Narragansetts in Rhode Island, including all but one member of the Plymouth community of Pawtuxet. Only a few hundred Wawenocs, including Samoset, who lived on Muscongus Island (14), survived to witness English settlers arriving at Pemaquid (7) in 1623 at what was then New England’s busiest port.
Use of Native Americans to help with careening and contaminated trade goods were the two most important sources of pathogens that caused the great virgin soil epidemic that swept the New England coast in 1617. Illustration from Jane Curtis, Will Curtis and Frank Lieberman. (1995). Monhegan the Artists’ Island. Down East Books, Camden, ME, pg. 14.
The lingering presence of the Wawenoc community was noted in hundreds of documents, letters, and town/state histories. Frank Speck interviewed Francis Neptune, the last speaker of the Wawenoc dialect, at Bécancour, Quebec in 1912. Academic revisionists deleted mention of this First Nation community after 1990, as well as other Abenaki riverine communities, such as the Kennebecs; they are now referred to as “western Etchemins” (Prins and McBride 2007). Bourque’s Twelve Thousand Years: Native Americans in Maine (2001) makes no mention of either the Wawenoc nation (15) or the Confederacy of Mawooshen.
Wawenock Homelands. Drawn by Kerry Hardy, Merryspring Nature Center, Camden
The Wawenoc Homelands are still clearly still represented on the map of Penobscot territories (1928). A detailed explanation of the ecology of the rich natural resources of the Wawenoc and other First Nation community homelands can be found in Hardy’s Notes on a Lost Flute (2009).
Penobscot Tribe Map. From Speck (1928) and Norumbega Reconsidered, pg. A-26, fig. 24.
Bibliography: Suggested Reading
Baker, Emerson W., Churchill, Edwin A., D’Abate, Richard S., Jones, Kristine L., Konrad, Victor A. and Prins, Harald E. L., Eds. (1994). American beginnings: Exploration, culture, and cartography in the land of Norumbega. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
Bourque, Bruce J. (2001). Twelve thousand years: American Indians in Maine. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
Brack, H. G. (2010). Norumbega reconsidered: Mawooshen and the Wawenoc diaspora. Pennywheel Press, Hulls Cove, ME.
Gorges, Ferdinando. (1890). Sir Ferdinando Gorges and his Province of Maine. In: Publications of the Prince Society. Baxter, James P. Ed., Vol. 2. No. 19. Burt Franklin, NY.
Greene, Francis B. (1906). History of Boothbay, Southport, and Boothbay Harbor, Maine 1623 - 1905 with family genealogies. Loring, Short and Harmon, Portland, ME.
Hadlock, Wendell S. (1941). Three shell heaps on Frenchman’s Bay. Bulletin VI, The Robert Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor, ME.
Hale, Richard W. (1949). The story of Bar Harbor, an informal history recording one hundred and fifty years in the life of a community. Ives Washburn, NY.
Hardy, Kerry. (2009). Notes on a lost flute: A field guide to the Wabanaki. Down East Books, Camden, ME.
Mitchell, Harbour, III and Spiess, Arthur E. (Spring 2002). Early archaic bifurcate base point occupation in the St. George River valley. Maine Archaeological Society Bulletin. 42(1). pg. 15-24.
Morey, David C. (2005). The voyage of Archangell: James Rosier’s account of the Waymouth voyage of 1605 - A true relation. Tilbury House, Gardiner, ME.
Mosher, John and Spiess, Arthur. (2004). An archaic site at Mattamiscontis on the Penobscot River. The Maine Archaeological Society Bulletin. 44(2). pg. 1-35.
Prins, Harald E. L. and McBride, Bunny. (2007). Asticou’s island domain: Wabanaki peoples at Mount Desert Island 1500-2000. Vols. 1 and 2. Acadia National Park and The Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor, ME.
Purchas, S. (1625). The Description of the country of Mawooshen, discovered by the English in the Yeere 1602.3.5.6.7.8. and 9. In: Hakluytus posthumus or Purchas his pilgrims. Vol. 4. Henry Fetherston, London.
Rosier, James. (1605). A true relation of the voyage of Captaine George Weymouth. Reprinted in Burrage, Henry, S. Ed. (1930). Early English and French voyages chiefly from Hakluyt 1534-1608. Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY.
Russell, Howard S. (1980). Indian New England before the Mayflower. University Press of New England, Hanover, NH.
Sewall, Rufus King. (1859). Ancient dominions of Maine. Bath, ME.
Sewall, Rufus King. (1895). Ancient voyages to the western continent: Three phases of history on the coast of Maine. Lincoln County News. pg. 24.
Snow, Dean. (1980). The archaeology of New England. Academic Press, NY.
Speck, Frank G. (1928). Wawenock myth texts from Maine. 43rd Annual Report of the Bureau of American ethnology. Bureau of American Ethnology, Washington, DC.
Spiess, Arthur E. and Cranmer, Leon. (Fall 2001). Native American occupations at Pemaquid: Review and results. Maine Archaeological Society Bulletin. 41(2). pg. 1-25.