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ST. JOHN'S LODGE NO. 1
[of Jonathan Hamilton]
The Portland Cumberland Gazette for February 28, 1791 contained a short but interesting item relating to John Hamilton, one of the members of this lodge. In part it reported, "an academy for the education of youth is about to be established in Berwick in the County of York." This school was built and named Berwick Academy and is still operating today (1970). It is the oldest incorporated literary institute in the State of Maine. It has had a succession of well qualified principals and headmasters. Its list of graduates indicates that men and women have been successful in their avocations and occupations in life. The land was donated by Benjamin Chadbourne. Others gave money. Hamilton's gift was 100 pounds states the newspaper report. He became one of its first trustees.
Colonel Hamilton was a successful merchant prior to the Revolution. He made his money at first by trading. He sold salt fish, molasses, rum, sugar and tea to farmers in return for wood, timber, poultry, butter and eggs. He built and owned ships. He was engaged in the West Indies trade. Beside his name in the by-laws of St. John's Lodge, his occupation is listed as "West India Gentleman". His place of business was near a spot known as the "Landing" in what is now South Berwick, Maine. His mansion house was built on an eminence at the head of the tide waters of the Piscataqua River. It is now owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Inc. It resembles the John Langdon House in Portsmouth and was built about the same time. It is open to the public during the summer months for a nominal admission fee.
Hamilton became acquainted with one of Portsmouth's best known business men of that era, Joshua Wentworth. The latter proposed that Jonathan Hamilton be made a Mason on June 23, 1772 and he was given the first two degrees in Masonry that night. On March 8, 1773, the minutes show that he was raised to the degree of Master Mason. Before and after the war, the minutes record that he was present at a substantial number of meetings when one considers that he had to travel by boat on a river where the tide runs about five to six miles per hour.
The names of some of his ships are known as: NANCY, a schooner; HITTY and FRIENDSHIP, brigs; another brig was named BETSY and was commanded by Captain Nathan Lord. Hamilton ordered his captains to take his products to the West Indies, sell all on board taking in return about one-half cash and about one-half of the items for sale in the Indies as would find a ready market in New England. No doubt rum, sugar and molasses were marketable products in New England of that day.
During the war, he was engaged to some extent in privateering. There is a record of one of his ships, a brigantine named NEPTUNE, which was fitted with four guns and twelve men operating out of Portsmouth in 1781. In 1794, there is a record that he lost a ship to the Algerians about five leagues out of Lisbon which indicates some trade with Europe. The ship was seized and the crew was imprisoned.
John, also known as Jonathan, Hamilton was born in Berwick in 1745. His first wife was Mary Manning of Portsmouth to whom he was married on February 8, 1771. After her death, he married again. He had children by his first wife. His home was the scene used by the famous author, Sarah Orne Jewett, in her well known historical novel entitled, "The Tory Lover".
Hamilton was a Colonel in the Massachusetts militia for Maine was not a State in his lifetime. He died September 26, 1802 in Berwick and is buried in the Old Fields Cemetery which is not far from his home. His tombstone relates that he was then fifty-seven years of age.
R.W. Gerald D. Foss, Historian
This sketch is from the program for November 1970 meetings of the St. John's Masonic Lodge of Portsmouth, NH. It is available courtesy of the Portsmouth Atheneum.
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