Looking Back

New York Public Library An engraving of a typical American schooner of the era, published in 1807.

Around 1800, when Seth Wyman, Jr. of Goffstown was 16 years old, give or take a year, he traveled to Buckstown, Maine, a round trip of 500 miles. His purpose was to inspect a plot of land that his father had acquired there. Wyman would be the guest of James Doyle of Goffstown, who was in the process of moving his family to his new home in Buckstown. At this time, the town (renamed Bucksport in 1817) was a well-established community with an economy that included agriculture, hunting, fishing, shipping, ship building, mercantile trade and lumbering. The elder Seth Wyman had in mind that he would eventually give this property on the Penobscot River estuary to his namesake to enable the young man to build a respectable life for himself.

Wyman viewed his excursion to Maine as the perfect opportunity to practice his favorite sport — stealing. He prided himself on his cleverness in carrying out his larcenies, often under the noses of his unsuspecting victims. The first leg of his journey took him to Newburyport, Mass., where he intended to board a schooner bound for Penobscot Bay. As he needed to wait a week before the ship departed, he went looking for a place to stay. He met a man on the street who said he would let Wyman board at his house for free if he worked for him for three days. Wyman agreed and, as he wrote in his 1843 memoir, “On the second day, while at dinner, I observed a small pocket book (wallet) lying on a set of old-fashioned dressers, and I determined to get possession of it in some way.” He went for a walk in the neighborhood, circled back, and slipped into the house where he took the pocket book, which contained $23. He then went out again to finish his stroll.

The next day the woman asked her husband if he had seen the pocket book. He said “no,” so she speculated that her daughter had borrowed it. Wyman left the next morning as the schooner’s captain had asked him to help load cargo onto the vessel for a couple of days. The kind man who had taken Wyman in wished him well and gave him a $1 tip for his services and a bottle of some alcoholic beverage for his trip.

While working for the ship’s captain, Wyman met another young rogue. The two of them found a large barrel of molasses on the wharf which they tapped. They stole some of the syrup so they could make candy to enjoy on the trip. While in Newburyport, Wyman managed to shoplift a bunch of mink skins from one business, and seven pairs of gloves and 11 pairs of stockings from another.

Wyman’s ship left Newburyport about a week after he had arrived there, and he reached Mr. Doyle’s house in Buckstown at around noon the next day. He stayed with the Doyles for two or three days. He was able to survey his father’s land, and later wrote in his memoir, “…it was beautifully situated in a healthy place; but I was young then, and ignorant of the value of land. I left it then for some plan that suited my disposition, and have never seen it since.” While in Buckstown, Wyman and one of Doyle’s sons stole two otters from traps set by the local Penobscot tribesmen, and pilfered gingerbread, seed, and lemon cakes from the general store.

Wyman noticed that the schooner he had arrived on had been left unguarded at the dock while the crew was in town drinking. Although the captain had treated him well, Wyman had no problem stealing the man’s valuable watch and a few items of clothing from his cabin.

Wyman’s return trip on a smaller boat, a sloop, would take several days due to bad weather. While on a three-day stopover in Portland, Maine, he swiped a pair of “very neat pocket pistols” from a gunsmith’s shop, and a “a very fine piece of dark blue broadcloth” from an English goods store. Wyman was particularly pleased by the imported cloth, which he would later have made into a nice coat and pair of pants for himself.

Next week: Seth Wyman, Jr. gets caught for stealing. Will justice prevail?

Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriten