When the first settlers arrived on this pristine stretch of Saco Bay seeking a new life, they never could have imagined the history that would be written over the course of the next 400 years. From legendary pirates and buried treasure to old Captain Olsen and his tales of mythical mermaids, New Haven never ceases to surprise people with its history and charm. Beautifully preserved, the homes of the original founders are still utilized today, while the museum in our local community center brings a modern perspective on the history that built this town. Everywhere you look, new surprises await you and the more you dig, the better your chances for uncovering something truly special.
Back in a time where the rugged landscape of the northeast was primarily inhabited by Native American tribes, European exploration began to grow throughout America. Many would see the potential that lay in the new and fertile land, offering valuable resources and the opportunities for trade and expansion. Eventually, those countries seeking ownership of new territories would come to battle for control of this bountiful stretch of land in the hopes of securing their foothold in this small corner of the world. As a result, the 15th and 16th centuries became a great time of discovery and advancement in travel and trade. With historical findings by famed explorers Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain, what was once believed impossible became a reality as ships traveled far and wide to inhabit these western fronts.
In the early 1600s, small villages popped up along the rocky shores of what is now present-day Maine, where the small swath of land had previously remained untouched by the French to the North and the British to the South. By 1608, French settlers would begin to travel up along the coast. Here, they would be able to draw from the wealth of natural resources and establish trade and alliances with the local Native tribes. Lumber, hunting, fishing and farming were just a few of the industries that were available to those seeking to make their own personal fortune, or for European countries to generate more wealth to fill their coffers.
The first years on the new frontier were difficult for the settlers, being unused to the harsh northern winters. Dozens would perish from exposure and hypothermia while others would die from diseases brought in through the very same trade routes that made these settlements prosperous. But the promise of the untapped potential the land offered kept the settlers ambitious. They befriended the Wabanaki to the North, the groups of native tribes that shared with them their ways of tending to the land and wilderness survival in exchange for the advancements they had with medicine and building. Alliances were formed and in doing so, growth blossomed.
In August of 1648, the merchant ship ‘North Star’ arrived on the half-moon stretch of Saco Bay. Some 40 miles Northeast of Kittery, which had been established the year prior, the inlet of Saco Bay offered an untapped potential of resources and unhindered access to the open Atlantic. Pioneering this expedition was Neville Whitman. The owner of the North Star, Whitman was an experienced ship builder and sailor with prosperous shipyards throughout France and England. Along with his wife Elizabeth, they commissioned friend and fellow seaman Captain James Porter to voyage with them across the Atlantic. Having heard of the advantages that the new world offered, it was later said that he craved the sense of adventure that the excursion would bring, with a twinkle in his eye as bright as the stars that showed him the way.
With the great opportunities that were being offered, the Whitman’s offered passage to those brave enough to take the risk. Keen on the chance to make his mark overseas, Sir Morgan Ambrose and his reluctant wife Emily accompanied the Whitman’s. As a wealthy businessman and entrepreneur, family money drove Ambrose to invest in something that would put his name on something bigger than just his birthright, so he used his inheritance to join in the Whitman’s’ cause. They brought with them textiles, tools and blueprints, among other things, all things that would aid them in building a foundation for the future. As a founding member of many fashionable clubs and his family’s stake in manufacturing, Ambrose would become a key founding member of Nouvelle, lending the knowledge and skills of his lineage to the foundation of the new settlement.
Also on board was a wandering Frenchman seeking a fresh start in the new world. Jean-Pierre Ramsey was what historians might call a dreamer. He waxed poetic and every sentence seemed ready to tell a tale. His paintings were splashes of color on a canvas and his sketches were paper breathed to life. More importantly, he documented the voyage of the North Star and the years after until his death in 1686. Sadly, most of his written history of the town’s beginning is believed to be lost. It was in those missing years that the town of Nouvelle remains shrouded in mystery. Ramsey was also considered to have quite the way with the ladies. It was rumored he would frequent Bordello’s back in France and was often believed to have suggested bringing his favorite pastime with him to the new world. It’s been suggested that this is part of why he had fallen out of favor with the Royals and had been expelled from the French Court.
Born on the grey stone cliffs and backed by the deep blue sea, Nouvelle bartered with all of the natural bounty the land could offer. Lobster and fish were plentiful and filled the bellies of the townspeople when the frigid winter months made it difficult to hunt for game. Blueberries grew with wild abandon in the lush fields of the rolling hills and deer, rabbit and moose roamed freely in the canopied forests. Those same trees provided sturdy lumber in which the first homes and buildings were built, marking the historical moment that Nouvelle was born. In the following years, the founders would build their own homes to raise their families, some of which still remain in use today.
By the 1650s, trading posts were established from the Ohio River Valley, marking Nouvelle as a last stop for trade routes heading back to France. For that reason, the small town flourished and local harvests, such as blueberries and seafood were added to the wealthy trades of fur, lumber, whale oil and metal. From that point until the turn of the century, Nouvelle became a beacon for those looking to start a new life in America. But so too did it also bring a much different kind of visitor. Because of this, pirates also became known to frequent the waters in and around the Bay.
In 1707, pirate Robert “Red” Winslow sailed into Saco Bay on board his infamous ship, the Crimson Tide. After years at sea, gaining most of his fortune from unsuspecting tradesmen and royal navies, he realized that following his targets into small ports was every bit as advantageous as the open sea. With no nearby Forts or soldiers to offer protection, Nouvelle became an easy target for the wayward pirate. While the full history surrounding Winslow’s arrival remains shrouded in mystery, it was suspected that he became impressed by the beauty and possibilities of the small town and decided to retire his sea legs. Other claims say that he became enamored by a young maiden by the name of Penelope Addams, and that after he attempted to abduct her back to his ship, he was captured and hanged for his crimes. Whether either tale holds true only time will tell, for it’s long been believed that to find the truth behind the last years of Red Winslow’s life will also uncover the whereabouts of the treasure he’d left behind.
By the mid-1700s, the golden age of pirates had lost some of its excitement and made way for an entirely different sort of unsettling for the residents of Nouvelle. Tension between the French and British grew as they both fought for control of the continent. With the British advancing on the Ohio River Valley, the French would attempt to use their close proximity and early alliances with the Acadians and Wabanaki to create stronger forces, but having encountered little success thus far, British forces swept in and took the upper hand. They fell first upon the Acadians, decimating alliances and entire tribes. Thousands were deported back to the colonies, many as slaves. Others moved on to settle in the South, later emigrating to become ancestors to the modern Cajun inhabitants of Louisiana.
By 1756, the British had formally declared war, a war that would go on to last seven years. Though the French gained early victories along the New England coast, without the support of the Acadians they eventually lost control over their foothold in Canada. In 1760, the French turned to Spain for support in an attempt to block British advances on their territories in other parts of the world, but they gained little advantage and just three years later, the war came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.
For the small town of Nouvelle, the loss was much more than the next generation could comprehend. Fires from cannons on the shores of the bay burned for five days and nights as Sir Morgan’s grandson devoted his time and efforts into saving the Whitman Shipyard. Flames ate at the wooden structures, devouring everything their parents and grandparents had built up to this point. Henry Morgan stayed with his fathers workers, developing a system that purged water from the Bay and saved what structures remained. It was through his efforts that the fires were held at bay and what parts of Nouvelle that weren’t ransacked and otherwise torn apart, were saved. Despite his fathers disappointment that he would eventually choose not to carry on the family business, Henry would become the first Fire Chief in a new era of the town and mark a page in history where a dynasty was born.
Though the efforts to save Nouvelle were fought with blood, sweat and tears, little still remained after British forces swept through. Sadly, this opened the area back up to more dangerous marauders and pirates once again became frequent visitors to the rocky shores. Many would come in search of Red Winslow’s lost treasure while others would slip into the Bay, seeking shelter from storms, or searching for remote land to hide their bounty. As they were often known to target British seamen, it wasn’t long before they pushed their influence over what was left of Nouvelle and claimed the village as their own. Despite now being under British rule, the reformed groups of pirates began to settle on the land, trading pillaging and sailing for farming and fishing. For many, including the refugees and survivors from the War, this became a fresh start. And so in 1764, the French-established town of Nouvelle was renamed New Haven, offering a promise of rebirth and a bright future to all who settled there.
For generations, New Haven slowly grew as they picked up the pieces and rebuilt the foundation the original founders had started. More and more settlers, many of which were seaman- joined the reformed pirates and helped to harvest the land, finding local harvests sustainable and prosperous. Today, those enterprises have grown to make Maine a leader within the industry and every year, the annual Blueberry Festival in August honors the harvest tradition, drawing in both locals and tourists alike.