The Maine Public Broadcasting Network
Listen Live
Classical 24
Maine's Hidden History: Castine Man Plays Role in Revolutionary War
04/17/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

This is a time of year when many in New England look to the past. Friday marks the 238th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which marked the start of the Revolutionary War. As part of our ongoing "Maine's Hidden History" series, we talk once again with historian Herb Adams.

Related Media
Maine's Hidden History: Castine Man Plays Role in Listen
Hear more from Herb Adams
Originally Aired: 4/15/2013 5:30 PM

William Hutchings

He has the story of William Hutchings of Castine, Maine, who fought in the war. Hutchings would live to the age OF 102, And when he died in 1866, he was one of just four surviving Revolutionary War Veterans. Adams says Hutchings (right) took up arms as a teenager when the British sent a force to occupy the Castine Peninsula in 1779, the action that prompted the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition.

Herb Adams: "On the very first day of the American Revolution, the famous 18th of April 1775, he was less than 10 years old, a little boy living on a hardscrabble farm in York, Maine. Up they moved to the Penobscot, and there he and his father both were ready when the British came and into the service they went. Now young William, as a boy, literally an early teen, was so tiny that he was able to walk back and forth across the lines as a messenger, and was allowed off the Castine peninsula to do various things, so, a - his family had somebody to go and get them sustenance and, b - he was a source of information and intelligence, which he carried to the other side."

Tom Porter: "He was a spy then?"

Herb Adams: "Absolutely. The British said to him with some resentment, in passing him, 'You damned little rebel,' which indeed he was, and very proudly so."

Tom Porter: "He lived to be 102. There's an extraordinary photograph of him online you can look at, and although he looks extremely old and wizened, there's still an alertness about his eyes, and his hands look strong as he's gripping his cane. He seemed to be very much in control of his faculties."

Herb Adams: "In 1864, he was nearly 100 years old, and he walked 3-and-a-half miles to vote for Abraham Lincoln in the town of Castine. He's one of the maybe four Americans who lived long enough to have voted twice for George Washington, and twice for Abraham Lincoln, and proud of both every time."

William Hutchings 2Tom Porter: "And indeed there's a little bit of a description of him written when he was almost a centenarian: 'He has been throughout life an early riser and a hard worker; not particularly regular in his habits, often going without food till he could get what he relished...He smokes regularly, and uses spirituous liquors moderately. His mind is still vigorous, though his body is feeble.'
An example to us all. I think."

Herb Adams: "Indeed, not an abstemious Mainer but a darned tough one."

Adams says that as an old man Hutchings mind remained sharp, and he could recall in vivid detail his Revolutionary War experiences.

Hutchings - painting"When the British arrived and landed on the Castine peninsula with the intention of stopping smuggling between Canada and Maine, and to command that part of the coast, his eyes caught the fact that when they came ashore - this is what he said: "They seemed as frightened as a flock of sheep, they kept looking about them as if they expected to be fired upon by an enemy hid behind the trees.' Which of course was the way we'd fought at Lexington, and the British knew it fully well."

But this was not to be a repeat of Lexington or Concord. Despite superior numbers, the American force - known as the Penobscot Expedition - was plagued by poor leadership and poor discipline. They lost the element of surprise and the British held on.

William Hutchings 3"The little boy overhears the British commander saying that every day that the Americans delay their assault is worth a thousand men to him," Adams says.

The life of William Hutchings, says Adams, spanned a period of extraordinary change in America.

"When William Hutchings was born in 1764 there was neither a state of Maine nor a United States, and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were young men in their 20s just starting out. When he dies in 1866, the United States stretches from coast to coast, and Thoms Edison and Henry Ford are alive and starting out. William Hutchings' life embraced the two American Revolutions, political and industrial, that changed all the world, and he was witness to them both."

Photo of William Hutchings courtesy of the Janus Museum. 

Photos of Hutchings memorial and gravesite courtesy of the town of Penobscot.

Painting: "Destruction of the American Fleet" by Dominic Serres. Courtesy National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, UK. All rights reserved.


Become a Fan of the NEW MPBNNews Facebook page. Get news, updates and unique content to share and discuss:

Recommended by our audience on Facebook:
Copyright © 2014 Maine Public Broadcasting Network. All rights reserved.