Little Talks #886, March 28, 1971

It is time that this program had something more to say about place names.

Androscoggin is an Indian name meaning fish-curing place. Kennebunk is long-cut

bank. Cobbossecontee means plenty of sturgeon. Bagaduce, the old name for

Castine, meant big tideway river. Damariscotta, very appropriately, is plenty

of alewives. Kennebago is simply long pond. Saco is river mouth or outlet.

Machias is bad little falls. Mattanawcook means small, broken islands. Matinicus,

again appropriately, is cut-off island, for it lies twenty miles out to

sea. Medomak is mouth of stream alewives. Mattawamkeag means gravel bar in

stream. Macwahoc, on the road from Bangor to Houlton, means simply big bog.

Other Indian places signifying distance are Pemaquid (far out) and Monhegan

(out to sea). Sabbatus is just a corrupted form of St. Jean Baptiste.

Some interesting Maine places that do not have Indian names are Belfast,

named in 1770 by immigrants from Northern Ireland; Linneus, for Carolus Linneus,

the great botanist; Mars Hill, for the place where the Apostle Paul preached;

Mercer, for Gen. Hugh Mercer, killed at the Revolutionary Battle of Princeton

in 1777; Wales, for John Welch, a pioneer from Wales; Wayne, for the renowned

Revolutionary General Mad Anthony Wayne.

German immigrants introduced into the Waldoboro region by General Samuel

Waldo, brought to Maine localities their old country names of Dresden and Bremen.

Now let us, for a few minutes, leave Maine and note several odd and even

humorous place names in other parts of the United States. There are Add, Kentucky

and Bumblebee, Arizona. How about You Bet, California and Calamity,

South Dakota? Careless Creek, Montana goes along with Chance, Maryland.

Chipmunk, Colorado has a companion in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. Bear Mug, Wyoming

gets you ready for Court Martial, Florida, and goes along with Jug, West

Virginia. Jim Jam, California matches Jo Jo, Wyoming. All beginning with Fare

Fact, Kansas; Faith, North Carolina; Fame, Oklahoma; Fickle, Indiana; and Flea

Valley, California. In these days of astronauts, take note of Moon, South Dakota.

That state also has a town called Nameless. And how do you like Peppersauce,

Arizona; Preparation, Iowa; Prong, West Virginia; and Peroxide, Arizona?

At the end of the alphabet come Yum Yum, Tennessee and Zigzag, Oregon.

Now I want to tell you about a man who spent four college years in Waterville

more than 130 years ago. He was Samuel Lunt Caldwell, who turned out to be

one of the most distinguished Colby graduates of the 19th century. Born in Newburyport,

Mass. in 1810, he was 25 years old when he showed up as a freshman at

what was then the tiny Waterville College. He graduated in a class of 18 men in

1839. One of his classmates was Stephen Coburn, brother of Governor Abner Coburn,

and himself a member of Congress from Maine at the outbreak of the Civil War. Another

classmate was one of the few staunch Confederates during that war, Nathaniel

Fay. Fay, a Congregationalist in a Baptist college, graduated from Bangor

Seminary in 1842, and immediately went to the South, where he served as Congregationalist

pastor for 32 years. Another member of that same class, Isaac Chipman,

helped develop Acadia College at Wolfeboro, Nova Scotia. Caldwell’s closest

friend in that Class of 1839 was Joseph Ricker, for whom was named the educational

institution at Houlton that is now Ricker College. Altogether it was a

distinguished class for one so early in the college existence.

As for Sam Caldwell himself, he decided to become a Baptist minister, and

graduated from Newton Seminary in 1845. After serving several pastorates in

Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, he became Professor of Ecclesiastical

History at Newton, from which post in 1878 he was called to the presidency of

Vassar College, already distinguished among the colleges for women known as the

Seven Sisters. There Caldwell served for seven years, then retired to Providence,

Rhode Island, where he died in 1889. He was the author of several books,

the best known of which was “Literature in Account with Life”.

Joseph Ricker, in his memoirs published many years after that Class of 1839

had graduated, wrote about his first sight of Caldwell. The occasion was Caldwell’s

oral examination for admission to the college. Ricker commented: “Caldwell

was standing, half bent, by the side of Prof. Keely’s chair. Both had their

eyes fixed upon the same page, and the professor was trying to take the gauge of

the boy’s knowledge of Latin. The boy was tall and awkward. In fact he was

really not a boy at all, because he was 25 years old. He was so diffident and

awkward that, if I had predicted that his future would be brilliant, I would only

have provoked mirth.”

Ricker continued: “Caldwell’s financial resources were very limited. He got

the job of ringing the college bell. I can still see him with one hand grasping

the be 11 rope, and in the other hand a book.”

“When Caldwell was at Newton”, wrote Ricker, “the air was filled with philosophical

speculation. Emerson was at the height of his fame and Theodore Parker

was beginning his work in Boston. Transcendentalism wrestled at Brook Farm. The

seminary students plied their teachers with embarrassing questions, aroused by

the rising tide of Unitarianism. The classroom debates spilled over into the

dormitories. Caldwell began to doubt whether he had a serious call to the ministry.

But he finally decided to see the course through and enter a Baptist pulpit.

Little did he, or any of his Waterville or Newton classmates, think he would someday

be president of a prominent college for women.”

It was truly remarkable that so many of those Colby graduates of 1839 should

have such distinguished careers, for the college was not only poverty-stricken in

those days; it was also woefully understaffed. The President was the only man

who ever served twice in that office, Robert E. Pattison. His first term coincided

with Caldwell’s last three college years, 1836-39. He was again called

to head the college in 1854. Two men who had served on the faculty with the

first president, Jeremiah Chaplin, were still there when Caldwell was a student:

George Washington Keely, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy,

and Calvin Newton, Professor of Rhetoric and Hebrew. Until the beginning

of Caldwell’s senior year the only other full-time member of the faculty was

Phinehas Barnes, Professor of Greek and Latin. But a man who gained national

fame was a part-time teacher of Modern Languages. That man was the pastor of

the Waterville Baptist Church, Samuel Francis Smith, who won distinction as the

author of the hymn America, that begins with the words “My country ’tis of thee,

sweet land of liberty”. So during Caldwell’s freshman, sophomore and junior

years the college faculty had only four full-time teachers, including the president.

Then in the fall of 1838 came Justin Loomis as Professor of Chemistry

and Natural History. He made chemistry an important subject at Colby, and was

so highly regarded that, when Waterville’s first murder occurred in 1847, and it

was suggested that the contents of the victim’s stomach be sent to the Bowdoin

Medical School for analysis, Dr. Stephen Thayer declared there was no need for

that. Right in town at Waterville College was Professor Loomis, fully capable

to make the analysis. And Loomis did it satisfactorily.

Perhaps a bit of explanation is in order about the titles of Professors

Keely and Loomis. Keely’s was Mathematics and Natural Philosophy; Loomis’ was

Chemistry and Natural History.

In the early 19th century there was no such subject as physics. The various

physical laws that had come into men’s knowledge, especially through the brilliant

work of Isaac Newton in England, were grouped under what was called natural

philosophy. The term physical science had not then been formulated, and

the new field of chemistry was regarded as quite different from physics and not

a natural science at all.

Though no one taught such a subject as biology in the 1830’s, there was considerable

interest in botany, physiology and human anatomy. Young Louis Agassiz

was just beginning his work on the anatomy of animals, as well as deepening his

botanical knowledge. What we call the life sciences was then called Natural

History. So in 1839 Colby had a professor of Natural Philosophy and a Professor

of Natural History.

Recently I found further information about Isaac Ilsley, whom I told you

on a broadcast about a year ago was the first contractor employed by Governor

Shirley in 1754 to build Fort Halifax at Winslow. Although other contractors,

including the well known Gershom Flagg, worked on the Fort before it was completed,

Isaac Ilsley was first. A friend recently sent me a Xerox copy of several

columns in the Portland Transcript in April, 1892, under the heading “Old Houses

and Builders”. This is what it said about Isaac Ilsley:

“A noted Portland joiner was Isaac Ilsley who was probably the architect as

well as the builder of some of Portland’s best known early houses. He came to

Maine from Newbury in 1735 and stopped in Kittery long enough to build a meeting

house. He came on to Falmouth, now Portland, and became its most prominent

builder. More than that, he was a bold, adventurous man, an officer of the expedition

that captured Louisburg in 1745, and captain of many scouting parties

against maurauding Indians. In 1759 he remodeled Portland’s Old Parish Church,

cutting it in two and inserting a big addition. He was the master builder of

the five timber buildings at Fort Halifax. After erecting many homes and public

buildings in Portland, Isaac Ilsley died in 1781 at the age of 78. One of his

sons, Daniel Ilsley, was a Representative to Congress. Two other sons, Isaac,

Jr. and Enoch, followed their father’s trade of carpenter and builder. But

Enoch left carpentry for merchandising and became Portland’s wealthiest merchant

at the turn of the century in 1800.”

And with that salute to the first builder of Fort Halifax, we must say

goodby until next week.