Missing Places: Wither’s Island, Kittery Maine

Map of Lower Kittery, 1635-1700 from Old Kittery and her families, by Everett Stackpole, 1903

Map of Lower Kittery, 1635-1700 from Old Kittery and her families, by Everett Stackpole, 1903

Though I am blogging about an island in Maine, the history of this place is intimately connected to that of New Hampshire’s in several ways.  Thus, this tiny isle in the Piscataqua River deserves an article in my blog.

Maine’s islands, like some other locales, often changed names when ownership did.  Either the new proprietor better fancied his surname, or the locals began to call it by his name, and the moniker ‘stuck.’  I do not know if the Native Americans gave this island a name, but by 1643 it belonged to an European immigrant, Thomas Withers, and was called Withers Island, part of a grant of 400 acres from Fernando Gorges.

john langdon

John Langdon, by Hattie Elizabeth Burdette (1872 – 1955) Oil on canvas, 1916; from Wikipedia

Thomas Withers had two daughters, Elizabeth marrying as her first husband, Benjamin Berry,  and giving birth to a son Benjamin.  One of these Benjamin Berrys lived on this island, then  known as Berrys Island.  James Heard built a house lot here in 1671. Even later when it was owned by John Langdon, who represented New Hampshire at the Constitutional Convention (signer of the Constitution), it was known as Langdons Island.

The island was sold to William Badger.  As owner of Badger’s Island, he built a house and as Master shipbuilder, ran his own business here for many years.  It is known by this same name today.Badger house iisland kittery maine watermark

[Editor’s note: Wikipedia states that this island was once called Rising Castle Island.  This is erroneous. William D. Williamson, in his book, “The History of the State of Maine,” lists the Piscataqua River islands as: “on the N. and E. side of the channel, in proceeding to the sea, are Rising Castle, Furnall’s or Navy, Seavey’s Bagers, Trefethin’s and Clark’s Islands.”  Clearly ‘Bagers’ refers to Badgers Island, quite separate from Rising Castle.]

The Portsmouth Athenaeum holds the William Badger papers, and they provide a detailed biography and family history, so there is no need to repeat it here.  I will, however go into a bit of trivia about Badger’s Island as it relates to New Hampshire history.

I’ve already mentioned John Langdon’s ownership of the island where he was involved in shipbuilding.  On May 12, 1792 John Langdon petitioned the General Court to have a bridge built from his Island to Kittery and to keep a Ferry from said Island to Portsmouth.

1850 Seal of New Hampshire

1850 Seal of New Hampshire

William Badger starting building ships at least by 1775-1776, when he was an apprentice shipwright, working on the Privateer Raleigh at Langdon’s Island for the master builder James Hackett. This was the first ship authorized by the Continental Congress on 13 December 1775 that was built here.  The Raleigh is found on New Hampshire’s state seal and flag.  [Editor’s note: a bit of trivia, is that the Raleigh on NH’s state seal and flag is shown ‘in stocks’ (being built and ready to be launched) on the edge of land in the Piscataqua.  This is the only U.S. state seal or flag that shows land that is in a different state.]

Admiral Paul JonesThe sloop of war, Ranger (initially called Hampshire) was launched 10 May 1777 also by James Hackett, master shipbuilder, at the shipyard of John Langdon.  Its first captain was the famed Paul Jones (born John Paul aka John Paul Jones).  Dennis Robinson of Seacoast.com has written a number of wonderful articles about JPJ, and his recruitment for the Ranger.




On 25 January 1804 the Oracle Post newspaper of Portsmouth NH advertised:
FOR SALE at No. 4, Langdon’s Wharf
12 hhds. Tobago Rum;
10 do. Grenada do.
600 Quintais Pollock FISH;
10 bbls. Pickled Cod FISH;
apply to Elisha Whidden

A 1732 diving bell, illustration from  A Letter to the Reverend John Theoph. Desaguiliers, L. L. D. F. R. S. from Mr. Martin Triewald, F. R. S. Captain of Mechanics, and Military Architect to His Swedish Majesty, concerning an Improvement of the Diving Bell; published 1753

A 1732 diving bell, illustration from A Letter to the Reverend John Theoph. Desaguiliers, L. L. D. F. R. S. from Mr. Martin Triewald, F. R. S. Captain of Mechanics, and Military Architect to His Swedish Majesty, concerning an Improvement of the Diving Bell; published 1753

The August 3, 1805 issue of the Portsmouth Oracle announced: ” A diving-bell has been built by several citizens of the town in hopes to take up the Iron and Lead sunk at Simes’ wharf and off Langdon’s Island. They tried the experiment in town, and two men continued in it an hour and ten minutes under water. It was again tried yesterday at the island, and brought up a large and heavy piece of timber. This proves that it is capable of bringing up any heavy substance that lies on the surface of the ground. Lead and Iron which have been sunk any time must be supposed to have penetrated the earth to a considerable distance, and renders the task much more difficult.”

William Badger purchased the island, and for many years the local newspapers announced the long series of ships he built there, the Sagamore being the last. [Editor’s note: Samuel Badger, nephew of William Badger also had a shipyard, but it was located on the Kittery mainland, and never received the importance that the Badger Island shipyard did.]

The Saturday December 30, 1876 issue of  Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics announced: “We notice the sale of the ship Sagamore at the port of San Francisco. The Sagamore was the last of a long catalogue of ships built on Badger’s Island and where Martin William Badger, after whom the Island was called, built his hundred ships, the last of which was named for him. This island was once owned by Gov. Langdon and bore his name, before it received the name of “Badger’s Island.” Here the America was built, and Paul Jones often was pulled across the rapid tides of the Piscataqua to inspect her construction. After passing the ownership of several persons, the site of this yard was purchased by Messrs. Wm. Jones and Son and others, and the Eagle Speed and Sagamore were built by a company consisting of the late Messrs. Jones & Son, Capt. John E. Salter, and John Yeaton. They employed Chas. W. Stimpson as Master Constructor. The Messrs Jones contracted for the Eagle Speed, and continued to own and sail her. The Sagamore was rigged at Pray’s wharf, and on one fine day in April 1857, was sold at auction to Mark W. Wentworth, Esq. and associates for sixty-five thousand dollars, ready for sea, and left this port for Lepreux to load for Europe under the command of Capt. Edwin A. Gerrish. Twenty years has shown the last of the Badger’s Island ships to have been such as maintained the reputation of the Piscataqua built

Painting of William Badger, painted probably between 1800-1810. Property of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.

Painting of William Badger, painted probably between 1800-1810. Property of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.

vessels for strength and speed.”

William Badger died (actually 22 February 1830) before April 17, 1830 when the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics carried an Executor’s Sale, At Badger Island, in Kittery, “property belonging to the Estate of William Badger, deceased, viz” which included unfinished parts of ships, timbers, metal and “a small loot of groceries and other articles in the store, and shop furniture, casks and boxes, &c &Uc. The executors were S.E. Coues and Joseph Sherburne.”  Four months later, the publication announced that the shipyard was available for rent: “the establishment for ship building at Badgers Island was to “bet let” and that it comprises a Dwelling House and Garden: Ship Yard: Wharf; Timber Deck; Workshops; Block and Mast Shop; Store and Counting-room; with 1-1/2 acres of Mowing and Orchard Land. Apply to Joseph Sherburne, or S.E. Coues, Portsmouth, August 21, 1830. ” [His papers can be found at the Portsmouth Athenaeum].

In January of 1831 William Badger Jr. died. Saturday, January 1, 1831, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, Vol XLII, Issue 1, Page 3.  DIED–At Badger’s Island, Mr. William Badger, 50.

A year later the shipyard was up for sale.  Saturday, January 21, 1832 Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics: “Will be sold at Public Auction, on the last of April or first of May next, the SHIP YARD and other Real Estate of the late William Badger, situate on Badger’s Island, together with four Dwelling-houses, a new Store, two Work Shops, Blacksmith’s Shop, Barn, &c &c Appertinent to the Ship Yard above named is a Water Privilege for a Ship-builder or Merchant, superior to any other on the Piscataqua river. Further description of the property and a designation of the time and place of sale, in future papers.  Joseph Sherburne and John Ball as listed as Guardians.

For a short time, John Mugridge must have owned the shipyard for the New-Hampshire Gazette, Portsmouth NH, Sept 12, 1837 announced: “A fine ship … and still another, in Mr. John Mugridge’s yard, Badger’s Island, is fast being completed, and will soon ride upon the bosom of our noble river….”

By 1838 Charles Raynes and Frederick W. Fernald owned the Badger Island shipyard and began to produce vessels. Saturday, November 3, 1838 Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics: LAUNCH–On Thursday last, a ship of 610 tons, of fine model and workmanship, called the COLUMBIA, was launched from Badger’s Island. She was built by Messrs. Charles Raynes and Frederick W. Fernald, is owned by Messrs. Haie & Rollins, and is intended for freighting.” Additional ships from the same shipbuilders included:
—September 7, 1839–A fine freighting ship of 620 tons burthen, the Robert Parker, and is owned by Captains William and Wm. A. Rice.
—August 3, 1841–700 tons burthen; owned by Messrs John Haven, Robert Rice & J. M. Tredick. She is the largest ship ever owned in this town.
—August 1844 – The ship Empire, 1150 tons burthen.

Starting in June 1845 the shipbuilders were now Frederick W. Fernald and William A. Pettigrew.  Some of the ships they launched included:
—June 1845 – 750 tons burthen owned by Messrs Judah Touro & R.D. Shepard of New Orleans named “Judah Tourto.”
—August 18 1846-Ship “R.D. Sheppard,” of 850 tons Built under the direction ofCapt. Daniel Marcy of Portsmouth.
—August 25, 1846, a packet schooner launched, “Catharine” of 150 tons owned by Heman Eldridge Jr. (Master) and others.
—August 1846,”Messrs Fernald & Pettigrew, who within 14 months have launched two thousand one hundred and som odd tons of shipping from their ship-yard at Badger’s Island…”

On Tuesday March 2, 1847 the New-Hampshire Gazette newspaper detailed local ship building of that year: ” Beginning with the yard of Mr. Samuel Badger, on the opposite side of the river, near the Navy Yard from which a fine bark (the Alice Tarlton) Was launched a few weeks since. Here we find workmen busily engaged upon the frame of a ship of 800 tons burthen. Mr. Badger is buidling this ship upon his own account, although he could engage her at any time upon highly advantageous.
–Above and near to Mr. Badger’s yard, at the new yard of Mr. Charles Stimpson, far advanced to completion, is a noble barque of 350 tons, under contract.
–Next we come to the yard of our enterprizing fellow citizens, Messrs. Fernald and Pettigrew, on Badger’s Island. Here there are three vessels going up, in different stages of progress–a brig, or schooner, of 200 tons, a ship of about 550 tons, and another of about 1500 tons, a three-decker, which will be a magnificent craft, and the largest merchant ship ever built on the Piscataque, and we believe, in the United States. These are all under contracts.
–Crossing to this side of the river, we come to the yard of Mr. Geo. Raynes, in which two fine ships of about 750 tons each are in rapid progress. Both engaged.
–Passing up about three miles to Eliot, at a yard which has been unimproved for years, Mr. William Hanscom is building a ship of 700 tons–contracted for.
–And further up still, at the yard of Mr. Mark Goodwin, in South Berwick, a bark of about 300 tons is in progress.

–July 22, 1847 – launch on Badger’s Island by Fernald & Pettigrew, a ship named Samoset in memory of the Indian who welcomed the Pilgrims.
–September 21, 1847. Launch-The “Columbus,” a three decked ship of about 1500 tons–the largest merchantman, perhaps, in the United States–will be launched from the yard of Messrs. Ferland & Pettigrew, at Badger’s Island, next Saturday at noon. Owned by Messrs. D. & A. Kingsland of New York city, who intend to run her as a packet between that place and Liverpool. Capt. Samuel Weare has superintended her construction, and she is to be commanded by Capt. Robert McCann.’
–August 28, 1849-launched: Ship, John Haven of Portsmouth, owned by Messrs. J.M. Tredick, Robert Rice, George W. Haven and Captain Harding, her commander and build by Fernald & Pettigrew, was launched from their yard at Badger’s Island.
–September 21 1850-Messrs Fernald & Pettigrew at Badger’s Island have commended laying the keel of a clipper ship, to be called the “Typhoon.” She will be the largest clipper ship ever built in the U.S. The length of her keel is 205 feet, over all about 220 feet, width 40 feet. Government measurement 1630 tons, rising 2000 tons carpenter’s measurement.

On Saturday, June 1, 1861 the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics announced:
AND OLD SHIP. Ship Wm. Badger, 334 tons and ship Roman, 2d, 350 tons, both having lately arrived at New Bedford, have been withdrawn from the whaling business, and sold to parties who will transfer them to the merchant service. Both were towed from New Bedford for New York, and it is stated that they are to be used as store ships at Aspinwall. The ship William Badger was built at this port in 1828, for Messrs. L. Barnes and T.J. Harris. Being the fiftieth vessel built by Master Badger, at his yard on Badger’s Island, she received the name of the venerable builder, and it has thus been perpetuated and sent over the world for thirty-one years. Master Badger used to say, that he should “come back” in a hundred years from the time of his death. Perhaps the old ship may yet be his representative till that term expires. It is no small compliment to our Piscataqua shipbuilders that their work can stand the storms of a third of a century, and be sound still and fit for service.” [Editor’s note: A separate source states, without giving a source, that Master Badger named his 100th ship after himself, not the 50th as mentioned in this article.]

In October of 1866 the 20 October 1866 Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics newspaper noted that “Badger’s Ship Yard” of four aces on Badgers Island was up for sale, including two dwelling houses, store house, barn and timber shed.

The shipbuilding industry of the region shifted to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard about this time. Badger’s Island became less important as a shipbuilding island.

Fast forward to today….

Badger’s Island is connected to both Kittery, Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire by bridges (Route 1 and Memorial Bridge respectively).  The island no longer builds ships, but it does have a boat marina, boat rentals, and a storage facility. There are condominiums, a pizza shop, restaurants (Weathervane, Union House ) and more.   See for yourself, at the Badger’s Island web cam. And yes, if you have not guessed by now, Wither’s Island is really not missing, it is just using a different name.

This entry was posted in History, N.H. Missing Places, Not New Hampshire and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Missing Places: Wither’s Island, Kittery Maine

  1. Great timing for this article. I recently attended a mini BERRY family reunion at Warren’s restaurant in Kittery, and we took the bridges from Portsmouth, over Badger’s Island to Kittery. I saw on the GPS screen that we were on Badger’s island, which was new to me although I have passed that way hundreds of times. Double serendipty on the names BERRY and BADGER.

  2. bscottb8 says:

    Sorry, but Wikipedia is correct that Badger’s Island was once known as Rising Castle Island, as official US Navy websites about constructing the USS Raleigh and USS Ranger make clear. Read William D. Williamson’s list of Piscataqua River islands again. In sequence down the channel toward the ocean they are: “Rising Castle, Fernald’s (or Navy), Seavey’s, Bager’s, Trefethen’s and Clark’s Islands.” What island is upriver from the present day navy yard? Badger’s Island. Bager’s (not a misspelling of Badger’s), Trefethen’s and Clark’s Island are/were small islands downriver of Seavey’s Island and, over time, attached to it (see Wikipedia’s page on Seavey’s Island history.) Although published in 1832, Williamson’s book cover’s Maine history until 1820, and so refers to the island furthest upriver by its earlier name, Rising Castle, before it was renamed in honor of the illustrious shipbuilder.

  3. Pingback: New Hampshire’s Signers and the U.S. Constitution–17 September 1787 | Cow Hampshire

Leave a Reply