Continuing my passion of learning about the mature trees in our yard, I found myself drawn to the biggest tree here–a white pine near the southwest corner of our land. It is among several smaller pines that extend into the undeveloped land near our yard. I found a resource that helps estimate the age of a tree. It goes like this: measure the circumference of the tree at about chest height (54 inches). Divide by 3.14 (pi) to get the diameter of the trunk. Multiply that number by the “growth factor” of the tree, which can be found on a chart. In the case of white pine, the growth factor is five.
So today, I measured its girth as about 102″, which gives a diameter of about 32.5″. Multiplied by five, the estimate of the tree’s age is 162 years old. That means it might have begun its life around the year 1856. I was intrigued by what might have been going on during that time, and discovered some interesting historical facts about our land. At that time, we were part of Saccarappa–in 1871 Saccarappa divided into Westbrook and Deering, and we were likely part of Deering after that, before Deering was incorporated into Portland. In 1855, the Evergreen Cemetery was established, just several blocks around the corner from us. In 1854, S.D. Warren bought the mill in Westbrook at Amancongan, which had in ancient days been a Native farm site.
I followed my questions down the internet wormhole, and made some other discoveries. This land first came into the record of English settlers when the sagamore (leader) Skitterygussett signed a deed with the fisherman Francis Small in 1657. In many historical accounts, they claim Small bought the land “from the marshes and uplands of Capissic” to the fishing falls at Amancongan on the south side of the Presumpscot River. But my new favorite book by Lisa Brooks, Our Beloved Kin, actually talks about this very deed on page 21.
She says that Small pledged an annual “pay” of “one trading coat,” which was a symbolic recognition of Skitterygusset’s leadership, and “one gallon of liquor.”
The exchange of wampum and tobacco, as Small later testified, in this and subsequent agreements, sealed a pledge to share space, creating a negotiated relationship as much as an economic transaction. He later sold the rights to part of this tract, including a mill privilege at Capissic, to John Phillips, who transferred it to his son-in-law George Munjoy, both of whom had come to Casco from Boston.
Brooks explores the significance of this and other deeds from the perspective of the Indigenous people who contracted them. In reference to a similar deed, she says:
…these leaders of Cascoak were entrusted with diplomacy. Thus, part of their role was to create responsible relationships with the newcomers. With [these agreements], they gave [particular families] permission to live [on these lands,] but negotiated some of the terms of sharing space and required “acknowledgement” of their continuing relationship to and leadership in this place. As Alice Nash has observed, such “deeds should be read more like proto-treaties” or councils in which rights, land use, and jurisdiction were negotiated, rather “than as simple property transactions.”
While I was looking at a modern day map to place these descriptions, I noticed that the public housing development in our neighborhood is called Sagamore Village–most likely in a (perhaps misguided) recognition of the sagamore who negotiated that first deed about this land.
There were many more complications after that first deed–all of the settlers were gone from the area during 1690 to 1730, because of conflicts with the Indigenous inhabitants. Later, when people came back or new settlers came, they had disputes on who actually “owned” the land, the heirs of the first deed makers, or the new settlers. But that is a different story than today’s.
The white pine tree inspired me to explore the history it may have seen, and I found myself drawn much deeper. I wonder now, was this pine descended from earlier pines that were cut down to send posts for ship’s masts to England? How many other stories might be hidden in its branches and roots?