It has long been thought that the first record of this area was by Englishman Martin Pring, who set sail for the new world with his two vessels, Speedwell and Discoverer, in 1603. Entering Penobscot Bay in June of that same year, he called his discovery the Fox Islands because of the number of silver foxes he observed on the shores.
Francis Cogswell, of Ipswich, Massachusetts, set up a temporary residence here in 1760. He built and operated a sawmill for several years. It appears that David Wooster was the first permanent settler on the North Island in 1762, and it is said his son was the first white child born on the Fox Islands. Settlements began shortly after the French and Indian War ended. The Carver family appeared in 1766, and from then until the beginning of the Revolutionary War, in 1775, many more families established themselves here. The war caused a great deal of distress for the islanders; food was scarce, as was the call for wood and lumber. Petitions were sent to the Provincial Congress asking for food, ammunition and arms. Most islanders were in support of the colonies and some left to fight the cause, while others left seeking safer quarters. Those who remained suffered at the hands of the Tories, who went about the islands in boats known as “shaving mills” robbing crops and supplies. During the British occupancy at Castine, many islanders were forced to leave their families to work on the fort and unfortunately faced many indignities while there. After the war, many of the original inhabitants returned, followed by a wave of new families.
Believed to be one of the first photos taken on Vinalhaven.
In March 1785, a meeting was held and it was voted to petition the General Court in Massachusetts asking that the people of these islands be given full possession of the lots they occupied, with the promise of constructing a place for public worship, a minister hired for such, and a public school be built for the town’s children. (A copy of the petition can be viewed at the museum.)
Following a survey conducted by Rufus Putnam in March 1786, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts granted the land to the settlers as long as the above-mentioned conditions were met. On June 25, 1789, the islands in Penobscot Bay commonly called the North and South Fox Islands, in the County of Lincoln, were incorporated into a town by the name of Vinalhaven (named after the Boston attorney, John Vinal, who was employed by the people of the islands to present the petition to the Court). In 1785 there were 75 settlers living on the islands, but by 1790 the population, including those living on Matinicus, had increased to 578.
In the ensuing years many changes came to the islands. According to town reports, taxes were collected, schools were constructed, churches erected and roads were built. For reasons unknown to us, there were many years in which neither schools nor churches were funded. In fact, it wasn’t until 1888 that Vinalhaven saw its first high school graduating class. A few other interesting facts from early reports are: In 1818, it was voted to pay four cents per hour for labor on roads, down from twenty-five cents per hour just three years earlier; from 1822-1825, an alewife fishery was set up on the North Island, the alewive privilege was sold to a local man, who in turn, was obligated to sell the fish to said town for no more than 33 cents per 100; in 1831, it was voted to build a bridge across Old Harbor Falls; in 1846, the North Island was set off and incorporated; in 1849, the contract for building a bridge across Carver’s Mill Stream was awarded to John Carver for $300; and during a special meeting in July 1862, to fill the town’s quota for the Civil War, anyone who volunteered would be paid $100 when mustered into the service.
Some Early Settlers:
John Smith built his home on 320 acres at Poole’s Hill. Married twice, fourteen children were born to him. He was one of the islanders who was forced to work on the fort at Castine during the Revolutionary War. Mr. Smith used to tell that the British got very little benefit from his labor, as he would pound his axe on a rock at every opportunity, so that it took up most of his time sharpening it.
Thaddeus Carvercame to the island with his family in 1766 when he was but 15 years old. Later he worked for Francis Cogswell who owned and operated a sawmill. In 1776, he bought Cogswell’s interest here which consisted of the sawmill and 700 hundred acres of land. He married Hannah Hall of Matinicus and ten children were born to them. Part of the original homestead still exists on the current site of the corner apartment at the John Carver Apartment complex.
Timothy Laneresided on Lane’s Island, was married to Rebecca Smith and had six children. Sometime about 1850 he commenced curing fish and furnishing outfits for fishing vessels. At one time he owned between 20 and 25 vessels. He amassed a great deal of property and wealth and in 1875, paid the largest tax to that date, ever assessed to the town.
Timothy Lane's homestead on Lane's Island. Later altered and run as Rockaway Inn.
William Vinal was the son of John Vinal (for whom the town is named), and came to Vinalhaven with a group of settlers prior to 1786. He owned land on both islands and was married twice, once to Peggy Wooster of the North Island and later to Peggy Dyer of this town. He was a man of “decided ability” and was Justice of the Peace as early as 1785. It was under his warrant that the first town meeting was held. He was a member of the board of selectmen, elected to the General Court as the first representative from this town, and later in life was a judge in the Hancock County Court of Common Pleas.
John Calderwood was born in Ireland in 1725; his family immigrated to this country that same year, settling in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Years later, John and his wife, Elizabeth McCurdy, settled on the North Island, but soon after came to the South Island and settled on the “Neck”. It is believed that his home was the first frame house built here.
Capt. Eleazer Crabtree was born in Attleboro in 1733/4. He arrived on the North Island in 1760, but was forced to leave after conflicts with local Indians. He returned again in 1784 and bought property from John Perry, now know as Crabtree’s Point. He was a master mariner and shipbuilder, one of the first Selectmen and served as a Captain in the Revolutionary War. Capt. Crabtree was well advanced in years when he died.