Historical Mapping of the Burning of “Falmouth Neck” in 1775

References to the Fore!

Detail of Cullum 1836

Historical Mapping of the Burning of “Falmouth Neck” in 1775



As the town of Portland grew, its residents created an historical narrative that yoked the port-settlement’s 1775 destruction to still earlier disasters, when the Abenaki had pushed the English off the neck in 1676, and again in 1689 and 1703. Early Portlanders adopted the phoenix as the port’s emblem. When Portland was chartered as a city in 1832, it took the motto resurgam: “I will rise again.” (The same word had been inscribed in a foundation stone for Christopher Wren’s new St. Paul’s cathedral in London, rebuilt after the medieval, gothic church had fallen victim to the Great Fire of 1666.)

This narrative of destruction and reconstruction was enshrined, just as Portland received its city charter, by the lawyer, historian, and future mayor of the city, William Willis (1794–1870), in his pioneering, two-volume history of Portland. The first volume (1831) covered the English settlement and then depopulation of Falmouth from 1650 through 1690; the second (1833) began with the recolonization of the town after 1700. In the process, Willis gave the village-port its own name ~ “Falmouth Neck” ~ that both distinguished the nucleated settlement from the rest of the original town of Falmouth and allowed it to be unambiguously construed as the urban precursor of Portland before that name ever existed. While locals had long referred to the peninsula as “the neck,” no one before Willis seems to have actually called the nucleated port-settlement “Falmouth Neck.”

Willis’s history had several images, including a map of the extent of damage fifty years before. This map established a new genre of historical maps of the city. The maps in this genre borrowed the orientation of the booster maps, so that the shoreline is mostly horizontal, and copied the true-north compass rose, now set in the Fore River. But their spatial frame was much more tightly focused. Willis’s map depicted the nucleated settlement and the port facilities, and downplayed the rural remainder of the rest of the town of Portland. The result reinforced the new name: as an urban place, the modern city of Portland was the lineal descendent of Falmouth Neck, and the rest of Portland’s history as a town could go hang! Mowat’s destruction of Falmouth Neck was thus the defining moment in the history of the city of Portland.

The historical genre was distinctly local in nature and was sustained by a local interest in Portland’s history. The various historical maps, with only slight variation in content, invited their local readers to compare Portland’s past with its present. (Even if readers had no access to the contemporary booster maps in the city directories, Portland remained a small city that could be readily walked and understood.) The results of such a reading can be readily conjectured: horror at the extent of damage; pride at the extent of Portland’s recovery.

Moreover, the publication of Willis’s first map could not have been more timely, appearing as it did in 1833, just a year after Portland received its charter and motto. Now, through the map’s several incarnations, the Portland public could focus on the manifest differences between the past and the present and relish Portland’s resilience and phoenix-like character. In other words, while the historical maps ostensibly focused on the urbs, their readers could use it to construe a particular character for the civitas.

Lemuel Moody’s Historical Mapping of Falmouth Neck

William Willis (1831–33, 2:329) admitted that he had not reconstructed the destruction of Falmouth Neck de novo. To capture the event that had occurred over five decades previously, he had used a view of the destruction made in 1776 by one John Pointer, now lost. He also included in several historical publications, in conjunction with different versions of the historical map, a transcription of a letter criticizing Pointer’s “draft” at length, with the implication that his map had corrected those errors. (See the appendix to this section, below, for full details.)

Willis did not himself do the work of reconfiguring Pointer’s view as a map. Earle Shettleworth recorded a claim that that work had been accomplished by Andrew Scot, a Portland merchant and amateur artist. Shettleworth (1971, 110n8–9) quoted Scot’s 1880 reminiscence that “the map of the town in Willis’s History is my drawing” and further suggested that this referred to the historical reconstruction, not to the other maps in that book. However, Jamie Kingsman Rice, director of the Maine Historical Society’s library, has noted (in conversation, in January 2015) that Scot made several such claims and they cannot be considered reliable.

The person who undertook the work was undoubtedly Lemuel Moody, the mariner and entrepreneur behind the Portland Observatory, who had been eight years old when Mowat had bombarded his home town, who in the 1820s had engaged in some map making (Sections 1 and 3), and who already had a base map of the modern city onto which he could plot out the content of Pointer’s view (Map 3 in Section 3). It is unclear when Moody worked to reconfigure Pointer’s view for Willis (Outwin 2000, 134), but it is likely to have been in the late 1820s or early 1830s.

Moody’s historical mapping of Portland is preserved in two manuscripts now held by the Maine Historical Society. First, there is an undated and anonymous manuscript (MHS map F 219), probably donated to the society by Nathan Goold in 1894, that has long been attributed to Moody. (Outwin’s 2000 was mistaken in his argument that map F 219 was actually Pointer’s own work, not Moody’s; see appendix below.) Unfortunately, map F 219 is so distressed that it is now barely legible and simply not worth imaging. (It would likely make a good candidate for multispectral imaging). Its attribution to Moody stems from its relationship to the second manuscript, map F 517.

Moody-Edwards, Falmouth Neck, 1883

[“Plan of Falmouth now Portland as it appeared the day before its destruction by Mowat on the 18th October 1775 by Lemuel Moody | Copied from original plan by Wm. S. Edwards July 1883.” Manuscript, 77 x 114 cm. Maine Historical Society, Portland. Map F 517. Click on map for high-resolution image.]

Map F 517 is a copy made in 1883 by William Edwards of a map owned by Nathan Goold’s father, William. Goold senior had recorded that he possessed

an authentic plan of the Neck with every building and wharf. The title is this: “A Plan of Falmouth now Portland as it appeared the day before its destruction by Mowatt on the 18th of October 1775; by Lemuel Moody.” … The plan came into the hands of Mr. York, whose wife was the grand-daughter of Captain Moody. By him it was loaned to me to have it restored. It has been elegantly copied by Mr. William S. Edwards, the civil engineer. It adds to the value of the plan to know that it was drawn by one who was born in the town, and was familiar with every street, wharf, and building of the then little town. (Goold 1886, 348–49n)

A manuscript label pasted onto map F 517 reads, “Made under the direction of Hon. William Goold of Windham and presented to the Maine Historical Society by his family.”

Careful study demonstrates that Edwards copied map F 219 to make map F 517, so map F 219 is therefore the map that Goold had acquired; map F 219 is thus reliably attributed to Moody.

There are of course differences between the two works, not least because Edwards used only black ink to reinterpret, in a late-nineteenth century engineering style, what the original had displayed in a combination of pencil, ink, and watercolor. Edwards also cleaned up the title block and index key in the earlier map (which had been worked over heavily and is now illegible). But the only significant difference in content stems from Edward’s omission of map F 219’s anachronistic depiction of Mount Joy Street (laid out in the 1790s) and the Observatory (built in 1807). Note that the blue ink and watercolor of the Observatory’s footprint match the coloring of other portions of map F 219, strongly suggesting that the Observatory, at least, was indeed part of the original design, further supporting the argument that Moody had made the map.

At the same time, Edwards perpetuated and enhanced another anachronism, that of the spatial frame depicted. The frame of map F 219 is very similar to Moody’s large 1826 manuscript map of the town of Portland (Map 3 in Section 3) and embraced both Munjoy and Bramhall hills and some of the mainland. Edwards actually enlarged the frame in his copy so as to cover still more land, even as he kept the scale the same (15 rods to an inch, or 1: 2,970). Edwards also applied the representational conventions of late nineteenth-century engineering mapping to depict different land cover across the neck. That is, both Moody and Edwards mapped not the port-village that Mowat had mostly destroyed, which had been just one part of the ancient town of Falmouth, but the post-1786 town of Portland or the post-1832 city. Moody’s title reflected this spatial ambiguity: “Plan of Falmouth now Portland.”

Comparison of Moody’s historical map to the historical maps printed for Willis indicate that Moody was indeed the source of Willis’s map. Moody’s work includes details of the event that were omitted from the printed maps, such as the depiction of two ships at Waite’s and Distillery wharves. But, barring the reduced spatial frame of the printed maps, they are very much the product of Lemuel Moody’s work.

Map 6. The First Printed Map of the Burning of Falmouth Neck (Willis 1833)

William Willis included three maps in his history of Portland. In the first volume (published 1831), placed facing the title page, the first map located the seventeenth-century English farmsteads and larger grants within the original, or “ancient,” bounds of the town of Falmouth (Willis 1831–33, 1: frontispiece). The narrative of post-1720 resettlement in the second volume (published 1833) was focused by a second map, necessarily rather confused, that reconstructed the property lots granted on the middle portion of the neck by the Falmouth proprietors in 1720–1728 (Willis 1831–33, 2: opp. 20).

Willis - Falmouth Neck, 1833

[Map 6. Falmouth Neck, As it was when destroyed by Mowett, Oct. 18, 1775, engr. Pendleton’s Lithography, Boston. In Willis (1831–33, 2: opp. 156). Lithograph. Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education, University of Southern Maine. OS-1831-1. Click on map for high-resolution image.]

Willis’s third map was an historical reconstruction, based on Lemuel Moody’s work, of the destruction of the port of “Falmouth Neck.” Compared to the likely extent of Moody’s original, or at least to Edward’s 1883 copy (above), Willis’s first published map is tightly focused on the nucleated settlement of the port. From Moody, and the dictates of fitting the map to the paper, Willis inherited some of the aspects of the communal-booster maps of Portland (Section 3): the neck is oriented so as to lie across the page, with true north indicated by a simple compass rose set in the Fore River.

Maps 7–9. Later Maps of the Burning of Falmouth Neck

Willis reproduced his historical map at least three times, each new version being prepared from a new printing plate. Each had a subtly different title.

Willis - Falmouth Neck, 1849

[Map 7. Falmouth Neck, when it was burnt by Mowatt’s Fleet, Oct. 18, 1775 ([Portland], 1849). Issued in Smith and Deane (1849, opp. 338). Outwin (2000) mistakenly thought that this map had been published in Smith (1821). Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education, University of Southern Maine. OML-1849-5. Click on map for high-resolution image.]

For his edition of the journals of Portland’s first ministers, Willis prepared a new version of his historical map, apparently produced as a woodcut, with its title set from printer’s type. Willis tailored this new map to the journals. In his history of Portland, Willis had given a substantial account of the bombardment, but the journals provided only brief summaries. For his 1849 map, Willis accordingly identified key locations for the bombardment in a numbered key, or list of “references,” once again set out in the Fore River. The character and placement of this list was undoubtedly influenced by the then well-established practice in communal-booster maps of Portland.

Willis - Falmouth Neck, ca. 1850

[Map 8. Falmouth Neck, As It Was When Destroyed By Mowatt, October 18th, 1775 (Portland: Bailey and Noyes, ca. 1850). Lithograph, 42 x 61 cm. Maine Historical Society, Portland. Map F 264. Click on map for high-resolution image.]

A separately issued lithographic print appeared in about 1850, published in Portland. I remain uncertain just why this map was produced, other than as a commercial venture to make the image more widely available.

Willis - Falmouth Neck, 1865

[Map 9. Falmouth Neck at the Time of its Destruction by Mowatt in 1775. Issued in Willis (1865, opp. 520). Lithograph, size. Maine Historical Society, Portland. Map F 603. Click on map for high-resolution image.]

Finally, Willis included yet another version of the map in the second edition of his History of Portland, in 1865. This edition of the book omitted the map of property lots on the neck, present in the first edition.

The Afterlife of the Moody–Willis Historical Reconstruction

The Moody–Willis historical reconstruction of Falmouth Neck would not be reprinted after 1865, although Willis’s name for the colonial port-village would stick as a common label to retroactively distinguish a proto-Portland from the rest of the town of Falmouth. The end of the printed historical maps coincides with the destruction wrought by Portland’s great fire of 1866. I have to think that the great fire redirected the community’s historical attention to the latest and most palpable devastation. Mowat’s bombardment was suddenly only of interest to historians and antiquarians, some of whom, like William Goold, made further manuscript copies of the Willis–Moody maps:

1) in about 1880, before he copied Moody’s manuscript for Goold in 1883 (above), the civil engineer William Edwards made a more ornate and much more spatially expansive map of Falmouth neck and nearby lands at the time of Mowat’s bombardment: “Falmouth Neck as It Was When Destroyed by Mowatt Oct. 18, 1775” (Maine Historical Society map F 318);

2) George N. Fernald drew his “Plan of Falmouth now Portland as it appeared the day before its destruction by Mowett on the 18th October 1775,” in 1883 (Maine Historical Society map FOS 50), also copied from Moody’s map (map F 219) or Edwards’ copy thereof (above), but with the confused statement, “with additions from Willis’ Map”; and

3) Mildred Burrage painted a map, “Falmouth Neck As It Was When Destroyed by Mowatt October 18, 1775” in ca. 1925 (Maine Historical Society 2004.314), apparently derived from the map printed in ca. 1850 by Bailey and Noyes (above).

Fernald - Falmouth Neck, 1885

[George N. Fernald, Plan of Falmouth Neck, Now Portland, 1690 (Portland, 1885). Issued in Hull (1885). Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education, University of Southern Maine, OS-1885-13. Click on map for high-resolution image.]

Finally, the booster and historical genres both informed Fernald’s reconstruction of the topography of the peninsula as it was first settled. The orientation, outline, placement of the references, and placement of the title, owed much to the booster maps; the title, street features, and landscape owed everything to the historical maps. The one element not to follow established convention was the placement of the compass rose at the top of the map.

This map has been reproduced in three recent histories as the site of the modern city of Portland, Maine. Unfortunately, historians are generally rather vague about the difference between original maps made in the past with modern reconstructions of the past. In the case of this map, all three works give the incorrect impression that the map was an early map made in 1690, rather than being a nineteenth-century construction (Holtwijk and Shettleworth 1999, 25; Conforti 2005, xiv; Levinsky 2007, 26). The map is therefore included here primarily to stress that this map was an historical reconstruction made according to local cartographic conventions established in the nineteenth century.

Appendix: John Pointer’s Lost “Draft” of the Burning of Falmouth (1776)

A key work that inspired the historical genre of early printed urban maps of Portland was John Pointer’s “draft” of the destruction wrought by Mowat on the port on the Fore River. Some confusion about this work needs to be addressed. Unraveling this confusion has been left to this appendix as it has no bearing on the actual printed mapping.

Faced with a mostly destroyed settlement, the selectmen of the town of Falmouth sought help from the Massachusetts authorities. In particular, in August 1776 they petitioned the Massachusetts General Court ~ via their representatives, who included Samuel Freeman (1743–1831) and the retired General Jedidiah Preble (1707–1784), who had lost his house and other properties ~ for financial assistance to rebuild the town. They also commissioned John Pointer to prepare an image of the destruction to accompany the petition (Outwin 2000, 133).

While Pointer’s work is not known to survive today, it served as the basis for the series of printed maps that reconstructed the destruction and that are associated with the politician and local historian William Willis (1794–1870). Willis observed, in a note he inserted into his edition of the journals of the first two ministers of Portland’s First Parish Church ~ Thomas Smith (1702–1795) and Samuel Deane (1733–1814), both of whom had been present for Mowat’s bombardment ~ that his “accompanying sketch” was “taken from Pointer’s draft” (Smith and Deane 1849, 339n4).

Almost all of what we know about Pointer’s “draft” comes from a letter that Willis transcribed in three historical works (Willis 1831–33, 2:329–31; Smith and Deane 1849, 339–41n4; Willis 1865, 898–99). The letter was written by Deane, the minister, to Freeman, the politician. (With Smith and Deane 1849, Willis completed Freeman’s earlier work on Smith’s and Deane’s journals: see Smith 1821, which included, 43–54, an account of Mowat’s bombardment.)

Deane’s letter made clear his reason for writing it. Freeman had thought that it might be worthwhile to have Pointer’s “draft” engraved and printed for the marketplace (also Willis 1831–33, 2:329), and he had further thought that Deane, as a direct witness to Mowat’s bombardment, would be an appropriate judge of the work’s quality and accuracy, to ensure that it was indeed worth the cost of publication. In response, Deane studied the copy of the draft possessed by “Mr. Preble,” rather than the copy owned by Freeman, which Deane had not seen. In other words, there were at the time at least two copies of Pointer’s work.

Unfortunately, Willis failed to provide a date for the letter, if he knew it. Deane’s evident anger at Mowat for destroying the town, together with his derision of George III and his “tory-underlings,” suggests that he wrote either when the effects of the bombardment were still fresh or perhaps when those passions were stirred by the War of 1812. However, the level of detail in the letter suggests an earlier rather than later date, when events would have been fresher in Deane’s memory.

However, if the proposal to publish Pointer’s “draft” had been very early, then “Mr. Preble” would certainly have been General Preble, Freeman’s fellow representative in 1776. Yet were that the case, then Deane would probably have referred to him as “Gen. Preble.” I find it more likely that Deane referred instead to Jedidiah’s son Enoch Preble (1763–1842). A sea captain, Enoch served as president of the Portland Marine Society (1811–1841), first vice-president of the Cumberland Agricultural and Horticultural Society, and so on; he had bought the rebuilt family mansion on his father’s death in 1784 (Preble 1868–1870, 50, 184–96).

Most of the letter comprises Deane’s corrections to Pointer’s mistakes or suggestions for the work’s improvement. The corrections were many, beginning with the initial assessment:

in general I think the design very badly executed; for I can find scarcely one building drawn according to truth. King-street is not so straight as it ought to have been; and all the houses adjoining it are drawn with their ends to the street, whereas the most of them fronted it. The court-house is miserably done. … These are some of the most essential faults that have occurred to me; but it would be endless to enumerate all the errors.

Nonetheless, Deane went on and on, producing a litany of Pointer’s errors, flaws, and omissions. He thought the problems so extensive that “the gentleman who makes the plate should come and see the town; for I can conceive of no other way for him to get so true an idea of it.” Deane also thought some exaggeration was necessary for effect, suggesting that “barns, &c.” should be placed not only where they had been omitted by Pointer but also where none had been: “not only does justice require it, but it is necessary to give the appearance of a compact settlement.” And Deane suggested a title to go across the top of the engraved image ~ “A View of the burning of Falmouth, in Casco Bay, the principal town of the county of Cumberland, in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, in New England” ~ and a long explanatory passage for the bottom that excoriated Mowat and his superiors for their perfidious and incendiary actions.

Deane’s comments for improving the work give some clue as to its nature. His suggested title called the work a view rather than a plan or a map. He also suggested the addition of several figurative elements or small vignettes depicting particular episodes within the bombardment: “Especially let the taking of a man with a torch in Cox’s lane be inserted. … Perhaps it would not be amiss to have two or three teams that were belated in some of the streets, and people huddling goods into the carts. … I suppose there should be another boat attempting to land at Mr. Cotton’s, and armed men opposing it.” And so on. And, he suggested, “the sun might be placed higher above the horizon, or else left out entirely.” All told, Deane clearly implied that Pointer’s “draft” was not a map but a view. I henceforth refer to Pointer’s work as a view rather than an ambiguous (and, in Deane’s mind, derogatory) “draft.”

That Pointer’s view was not a planimetric map can also be inferred from a comment later in the nineteenth century by local historian William Goold. In his history of Portland, Goold (1886, 348) stated, “On Pointer’s draught, every house and store and public building were drawn as they stood before the fire.” This relates much more readily to a view (“drawn as they stood”) than to a plan. (See also Goold 1879, who hinted at but did not include further information about Pointer’s work; note also the implication that Pointer’s view was still a known item at this time; perhaps there is a copy awaiting rediscovery!)

Charles Outwin (2000) claimed to have identified the autograph original of Pointer’s view in a now severely distressed manuscript map in the collections of the Maine Historical Society (map F 219). This map has long been attributed to Lemuel Moody, but Outwin argued that it should be understood as Pointer’s original work that had been subsequently annotated and corrected, in turn, by Freeman (in conjunction with Smith 1821), by Moody, and finally by Willis (in conjunction with Willis 1831–33). Yet Outwin’s argument is undermined by several points. He evidently did not realize that more than one copy of Pointer’s view had been made, nor that Pointer had made a view rather than a map. His chronology was also hopelessly confused by his mistake in thinking that Freeman had included a printed map of the bombardment in his 1821 edition of Smith’s journal. (Rather, Willis included one in Smith and Deane 1849, above). In other words, Outwin’s conclusions are quite incorrect and I remain comfortable with the original attribution by the Maine Historical Society of map F 219 to Lemuel Moody (above).

Cite this Page

Edney, Matthew H. “Historical Mapping of “Falmouth Neck” in 1775.” Section 6 of “References to the Fore! Local Boosters, Historians, and Engineers Map Antebellum Portland, Maine.” www.oshermaps.org/special-map-exhibit/references-to-the-fore. Published online, 1 July 2017.