By Lydia Webster Brown
The history of human activity on the Turner Farm traces long and deep. From the Native American settlements to the Thomas and Turner families’ long ownership, from the time as a summer estate to the now renewed life as a working farm, the land holds many stories. This presentation begins with the arrival of white settlers in the 18th century, reflects on the Native American history, and lastly leads to the present.
In October of 1784, Samuel and Mary (Cushing) Thomas came to North Haven from Marshfield, Massachusetts (an area from which many early island settlers came). Their sons, Samuel Jr. and Cushing, ages 33 and 15, came to the island with them. The Thomas family settled on the southern shore of North Haven, at an area of land called Fish Point. Samuel was 63 and Mary was 54 at the time of their move. When the Thomas family came to the island they disassembled their house in Marshfield, Massachusetts, shipped it north, and rebuilt the structure on Fish Point. Reportedly Samuel Jr. wrote in his diary of the Thomas family’s journey, “October 16, 1784, Samuel Thomas and his family sailed from Marshfield, the place of their nativity. Safely arrived at the Fox Island October 26th. Moved into their own house on Fox Island, Wednesday, May 18th, 1785.”
Samuel Thomas lived on the farm for another ten years until his death in 1795. His wife, Mary died in 1810 at age 80. They are both buried at the small cemetery on the farm. Their son, Samuel Jr. continued to manage the family farm. Their other son, Cushing, began farming on land nearby, at the place now belonging to Jamie Carpenter and Toshiko Mori. Samuel Jr. served as a corporal in the Continental Army during the Revolution. He married Sarah Glover, daughter of James and Lois (Bent) Glover. Together Samuel Jr. and Sarah had ten children. Sarah died in 1809 at age 38. Samuel Jr. died in 1832 at age 81. He is buried at the Kent Cemetery on West Kent Cove.
Among Samuel Jr. and Sarah’s children, they had twin boys, James and Glover, born in 1802. James was the next to inherit the Thomas farm. He was known for being a farmer, carpenter, and merchant. He was also a Deacon of the Pulpit Harbor Baptist Church and proprietor of pew #18. In 1832 James married Sarah Waterman, daughter of Thomas and Lucy (Sampson) Waterman. Sarah grew up nearby on the Waterman farm, just across the Cubby Hole from Fish Point. The Waterman and Thomas farms were both settled at approximately the same time and by families from Marshfield, Massachusetts. James and Sarah Thomas had ten children: three sons Leander, Winslow, and James and seven daughters, Harriet, Marion, Lucy, Clara, Mary, Sarah, and Etta.
At the time of the 1850 Agricultural Census when James Thomas was 48, the farm encompassed 280 acres. Of those, 175 acres were “improved” (defined as “tilled, in pasture, orchard, or vineyards”) and 105 acres were “unimproved” (defined as “woodlands or old fields”). In 1850 the farm was valued at $4500. The total farm machinery value was $100. The Thomas family kept 1 horse, 10 milk cows, 2 oxen, 18 other cattle, 80 sheep, and 3 swine. The total livestock value was $794. According to the 1850 Agricultural Census, the Thomas farm produced 45 bushels wheat, 80 bushels corn, 50 bushels barley, 150 bushels potatoes, 8 bushels peas and beans, 260 pounds wool, 500 pounds butter, 1200 pounds cheese, and 55 tons hay. Of the things produced on the Thomas Farm, it is unclear what was sent to market. One could speculate that with a family of twelve and a significant amount of livestock, the majority of what was produced on the farm, stayed on the farm. Of the 71 North Haven farms on the 1850 agricultural census, the James Thomas farm was the largest in acreage. In comparison to other island farms, the Thomas farm kept the greatest number of milk cows, other cattle, and sheep. The farm tied for first place in amount of cheese produced. In addition, the Thomas farm reported the largest harvests of wheat, Indian corn, and hay on North Haven.
In 1853, three years after the census was taken, James Thomas died at age 51. He left his wife Sarah, age 43, and their ten children to manage what was at the time one of the largest, most productive farms on North Haven. At the time of James’ death, the oldest of the ten children, Leander, was 20 and the youngest, Etta, was 1. James’ widow, Sarah never remarried. She continued to run the farm and care for her family. At the time of the 1860 census, Sarah was noted as the farmer on the property. The acreage had decreased from the 1850 census and one could surmise Sarah sold a significant portion of the property after her husband’s death. At the 1860 census the farm totaled 120 acres, with 80 acres improved and 40 unimproved. The farm was valued at $3000. The farm machinery was valued at $150. The Thomas farm kept 1 horse, 4 milk cows, 2 oxen, 12 other cattle, 50 sheep, and 1 swine. The total livestock value was $600. Sarah and her children raised 25 bushels wheat, 8 bushels rye, 50 bushels corn, 250 pounds wool, 6 bushels peas and beans, 125 bushels potatoes, 72 bushels barley, 400 pounds butter, 200 pounds cheese, and 30 tons hay. The 1860 census noted the value of homemade manufactures from the Thomas Farm as $150 and the value of animals slaughtered as $250. The harvest reported by Sarah Thomas in the 1860 census show indicate the farm was among the five most productive farms on North Haven.
Also in 1860, one of Sarah Thomas’ daughters, Clara, married a man named Jewett Turner. Jewett’s parents, James and Lois (Gilpatrick) Turner came to North Haven from Palermo, Maine in 1856. They lived on the North Shore at the place commonly known as the Cookie Tree Farm or the Mink Farm, the present home of John and Lauren Storck. James and Lois Turner died on North Haven and are buried in the Fuller Cemetery. Jewett and Clara were 24 and 20 when they married in 1860. Upon their marriage, Jewett moved to the Thomas Farm with Clara and her mother and siblings. This likely was a rare event for a husband to move to the wife’s family land but one can imagine it came about because of the premature death of Clara’s father, James. Jewett left North Haven to serve in the Civil War from 1862 to 1865 and then returned to continue running the farm. Jewett and Clara’s marriage and their inheritance of the farm marked the point when the property became known as the Turner Farm. Jewett and Clara Turner had four children at the farm, three daughters, Clara, Lenora, and Isa and one son, Charles.
At the 1870 Agricultural Census, Sarah Thomas was still noted as the resident farmer on the property. Jewett Turner was noted on the census as well but likely represented the farm belonging to his parents, James and Lois Turner. Sarah Thomas on the 1870 census reported the Thomas farm had 110 acres improved and 10 acres in woodland. The farm was valued at $3,000. The farm machinery was valued at $100. The farm had one horse, 5 milk cows, 2 working oxen, 8 other cattle, 55 sheep, and 2 pigs. The livestock was valued at $1,005. The farm produced 8 bushels of Indian corn, 83 bushels of barley, 9 bushels dried peas and beans, and 185 bushels of potatoes grown on the farm, 200 pounds of wool, 500 pounds of butter, and 30 tons of hay. Produce from the market garden was valued at $8 and animals slaughtered or sold for slaughter were valued at $342. The farm’s value on home manufactures was $80. The estimated total value of all farm production was $1,335. Sarah Thomas was the only woman to report on the agricultural census of 1870. Her family’s farm continued to be among the most productive on the island.
A Pierces Memorandum and Account Book, “designed for farmers and mechanics and all people who appreciate the value of keeping memorandum of business transactions, daily events, and items of interest or importance for future reference”, contained notes pertaining to activities at the Turner Farm. Dated 1876 and signed by Charles Turner, a handwritten note read “Charles W. Turner and Jewett Turner raised 125 pumpkins and 160 bushels of corn and 5 bushels of beans on one acre and 132 bushels of potatoes on one half acre and 42 [writing unclear] bushels and 29 bushels of oats on one acre.”
The 1880 Agricultural Census again noted Jewett Turner as the farmer on the property. Jewett kept 30 acres tilled, 80 acres in pasture, and 10 acres in woodland. The farm was valued at $2500. The Turner family spent $12 on building repairs and $100 in wages for farm help. The estimated value for all farm production was $921. The livestock was valued at $676. The census showed detailed notes of livestock, sold, slaughtered, and numbers of young. The Turner Farm had 1 horse, 2 oxen, 4 milk cows, and 8 other cattle. They had 4 calves and purchased 1 cow and sold 3 living and 1 slaughtered. They had 55 sheep and 35 lambs. Among their sheep, the Turners sold 35 living and 6 slaughtered. They kept 3 swine and 14 poultry. The farm produced 400 lb. butter, 55 fleeces, and 120 dozen eggs. On one and a half acres they grew 59 bushels oats. On another one and a half acres they grew 81 bushels wheat. On three-quarters of an acre they grew 75 bushels potatoes. The farm also produced 2 bushels peas and 4 bushels beans. On half an acre of orchard the Turner family had 25 bearing apple trees and the orchard production value totaled $10. From their woodlot, the Turners sold 10 chords of wood at total value of $20.
In 1896 Jewett Turner died at age 60. His wife Clara died in 1915 at age 75. Clara’s mother Sarah, who ran the farm for several years as a widow and mother to ten children, lived to be 96 and died in 1904. The farm was passed on to Jewett and Clara’s four children, Charles, Clara, Lenora, and Isa. Reportedly, Charles Turner opened a resort at the farm in the early 1900s. He made changes to the house to accommodate guests, including raising the roof and piping water from the Fresh Pond. His business was successful for a few years until World War I, when Charles went into debt and closed the resort. Each of the Turner children married and it seemed no one continued to manage the family property as a working farm. Charles married Margaret Smith and they had two sons, Everett and Carl. Clara married Lewis Foss and they had one child, George. Lenora married Edward Rice and they had one child, William. Isa married Winfield Ames and they had one daughter, Dorothy. William Rice inherited his mother Lenora’s share of the farm upon her death in 1924. Dorothy Ames inherited her mother Isa’s share as well as her uncle Charles’ share of the farm.
In the 1970s, Bill Rice and Dorothy Ames permitted archeologist Dr. Bruce Bourque to conduct a series of digs at the Turner Farm. The digs revealed the remains of a settlement of the Native American Red Paint people. Numerous tools found in the dig dated back as far as 7,000 years. Bourque found evidence that the Red Paint people were living on the island year round, contrary to the common belief that they only came to the Penobscot Bay region in the summer. In 1976 the Turner Farm joined the National Register of Historic Places and was recognized for having the earliest dated Native American settlement in Maine.
In 1984, William Rice, the last living descendent of the Thomas and Turner families with ownership to the farm, sold the property to George and Joyce Moss. Until that transaction, the land remained in the Thomas and Turner families for 200 years. The Mosses maintained the property as a summer estate for 24 years. The original Thomas homestead that was moved to the property from Marshfield, Massachusetts, no longer stands on the property. In 2000 David and Nancy Webb purchased the building, disassembled it, and moved it to their property on Crabtree Point. Consequently, the over 200-year-old farmhouse has seen two moves in its lifetime thus far. In 2008 the Mosses sold the Turner Farm to Donald Sussman. Since then, the property is once again managed as a working farm, with pigs, chickens, turkeys, cattle, goats, three movable greenhouses, and extensive vegetable gardens.
Agricultural Census of 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880. Courtesy of the North Haven Historical Society.
Thomas and Turner family genealogical files at the North Haven Historical Society.