January 22, 2013

George Felt Jr.'s Attempt at Heroism Cost Him His Life

George Felt Jr.’s Attempt at Heroism Cost Him His Life       

By Melanie Jensen Johnson
This story might be titled, “Don’t Be a Hero!”  I wonder if our hero’s wife said that very thing.  For George Felt Jr. died while trying to retrieve food for his family and perhaps save his property from the invading American Indians.  

George and Phillippa Felt lived under constant threat of attack in Casco Bay, Maine.  Although George traded with the natives, there was a very fragile truce between the two peoples.  George and the other settlers of Casco Bay built their homes in such a way that they were within sight of each other, so as to keep an eye out for one another.   And they built  fortified homes on each island in the area, as places of refuge and trade.

Trading with the Native Americans and owning land were the keys to wealth in the early settlements of the 1600’s in America.  George learned both trades from his immigrant father George Felch.  Like him, George Jr. prospered using this formula—farm a homestead and trade gun powder, liquor, blankets and other commodities for valuable furs and fish.  (Corey)
By 1875, George and Phillippa owned several parcels of land and even some islands in Casco Bay, an amazing feat.  Some of the land had been given to them by Phillippa’s wealthy widowed mother; other parcels they had bought with the proceeds of trading.  Among the properties the Felts owned were Lower Clapboard Island, Three Brothers Island, and Little Chebeaque Island.  They made their home on the mainland in Mussel Cove, within view of these lovely islands.

Thanks to Google maps for images used to make this map
It must have been a happy life, living with their children on a cliff overlooking these beautiful islands.  THEIR islands.  But it didn’t last.

In 1675, King Phillips war broke out.  Native Americans attacked George’s neighbor’s homes.  Smoke rose from the burning houses.  George gathered his family into a canoe and paddled around to their homes for a better view.  When he saw neighbor’s belongings in the water and scattered along the shore, he knew they needed to find refuge.

Paddling across to Cushing Island, George knew that there was a fortified stone house on that island.  Other families were huddled in the cellar of the home.  In their haste, they hadn’t brought much provision with them.  One night, some of the men sailed to their homes to retrieve some gun powder, to defend themselves if necessary.

A military group stumbled onto the refugees, probably looking for shelter themselves.  The leader, Captain William Hathorne, enlisted the men in the group and commandeered their boats.   But the civilians were all getting hungry.  And they were worrying about their possessions.  Some of the men had left their wives and children at home, which also worried them.

George was among the group of seven men that asked Hathorne for permission to go to nearby Peaks Island to round up some sheep for food.  Hathorne refused, asking them to wait a bit longer.  He hoped things would settle down and allow the families to return to normal life soon.  The men insisted, taking a small boat and rowing to Peaks Island on  Saturday, 23 September, 1676.

The seven men quietly landed and went ashore.  Native Americans saw them and attacked!  The men scrambled to the fortified home on that island.  Or at least what was left of it.  The Palmer family had fled when the Natives had burned the home to the ground sometime earlier.  The ruins offered some shelter from the attackers for a time, but eventually the gunshots and stones hurled at the huddled men killed them all.   An eyewitness said that the natives set fire to what remained of the home to finish the job.

Had Phillippa begged her husband to ‘not be a hero?’  Or had the howls of her hungry children persuaded her to urge him on?  We may never know.  But we know that the family keenly felt the loss of their husband and father.  With him gone, holding onto the property became impossible.  They all ended up living in Salem where they rebuilt their lives.  

Disclaimer:  This was written using currently available resources in good faith.  Author is solely responsible for content. 

Works Cited

Corey, Deloraine Pendre. The History of Malden, Massachusetts, 1633-1785. Malden, Massachusetts: Self, 1899.
Johnson, Melanie Jensen. "George Felt Jr. and Phillippa Andrews Felt."  Saints, Witches and Murderers. 22 Jan 2013. 22 Jan 2013

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