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Highlighting Historical Hampden

John Crosby

The Influence of John Crosby 1757-1843
by Karyn Field
based on an article by Alice Hawes

Old Custom House, Hampden, ca.
Old Custom House, Hampden, ca.

Item Contributed by
Penobscot Marine Museum

Among the important names found in the early records of Hampden is the name John Crosby, originally from Woolwich, Maine. He came to Hampden between 1771 and 1773, and was the son of Simeon Crosby who moved to Bangor around 1771. Their first ancestor was Simon Crosby who came with his wife, Ann, on the Susan and Ellen in 1635 to Cambridge, Massachusetts. John Crosby married Sarah, the daughter of the founder of Hampden. The Hampden papers show that John Crosby was born on April 19, 1757, and died on May 25, 1843.

The Crosby home is still standing today on the southwest corner of Elm Street where it meets the Main Road in Hampden. The gristmill and the sawmill that Benjamin Wheeler built on the Souadabscook Stream were taken over by Crosby after Wheeler’s death. Among the enterprises he was involved with were a brick store that he built and a share in Wheeler’s mills and the Long Wharf, located at the end of Elm Street East which went out into the mouth of the Souadabscook Stream toward the Penobscot River. He was an early trader with the West Indies, “trading largely in sugar, molasses and lumber principally.” He was the owner of the first ship, the schooner Dispatch, built in Hampden in 1793, and part owner of many other vessels. His son, Major John Crosby, and son-in-law, Elias Dudley, ran his business until 1852.

Jacob Curtis owned a blacksmith shop near Crosby’s home. It was north of Elm Street West, now called Damsite. In his dealings with Jacob Curtis’ blacksmith shop, Crosby’s trading business is evident. Crosby often bartered with Curtis for work done for him with goods from his store or trade. In the list below, “Dr.” means debtor--the work Curtis did for Crosby. “Contra” is the list of goods or services that Crosby bartered as payment for the work that Curtis had done for him. These are a few of the 1802 entries:

John Crosby Dr.
To a crow bar
To bailing a cittle (kettle) for ship
To iron work for Sett’s Mills
To mending a chain
To repairing an ax for ship Sally
To repairing a Marlin Spike, 2 augers, a crow bar
To shoeing a horse
To mending a Mill Bar for Sam’l Wheeler

Contra
By a pair of boots
By a bushel of corn
By1 gallon molasses
By 10 1/4 lbs. tobacco
By Philadelphia iron
By truckage to Boston
By a Paper of Pins
By 1/2 bushel of salt
By a bunch of thread

During the Revolutionary War, John Crosby was distinguished by promotion from Captain to General. He is said to be the only resident of Wheelersborough who can positively be proven to have gone to the War. There were other veterans of the War living in Hampden, but it is believed that they most likely settled in the area after the War.

The Town Records show that Crosby also participated as moderator of a town meeting in 1794. In addition he acted as a field driver, bringing in stray farm animals that had wandered off or roamed at large. Finally, it is noted that it was his job to settle differences between the town and anyone having a complaint against the town.

There is also mention of his business and political life in the Town Records. In 1806 Mr. Crosby was named the president of the First Bank in Bucksport. It was the only bank east of Wiscasset, but due to the carelessness of a cashier, Crosby suffered much financial loss through his position at the bank. In addition to being head of the bank, he was a Senate candidate several times, but was never elected because the Democratic-Republicans were in the majority in the area and Crosby himself was a Federalist. General Crosby worked hard to have the county seat changed from Castine to Hampden, but he proved unsuccessful in that venture as well.

The 1822 tax bill shows that Crosby owned the most expensive house in town, valued then at $1,000. It is interesting that no stock or tons of vessels are listed. He also had one purebred cow and one pig, but there is no record of him ever owning any horses. It is believed that the townspeople at the time reduced their livestock before the winter season enabling them to avoid the tax bills that arrived in March.

Hampden Congregational Church, 1893
Hampden Congregational Church, 1893

Item Contributed by
Hampden Historical Society

Originally, the Congregational Church was the dominant church of Puritan New England, but after the mid-1750s, new denominations began to appear. In 1797 the town voted to build one meeting house to serve all the religious societies in the town. John Crosby was named “vendue-master” to accept bids and sell to anyone as many pews “as he shall please.” Crosby purchased seven pews. The Methodists had twenty-three pews, the Congregationalists had fourteen and one half, the Universalists had eleven and one half, and the Baptists had two. Later on, the Congregational Society organized its own church with a covenant signed by John Crosby and nine others. In 1835 a building was erected on land presented by John Crosby. He was the Deacon of the Church from 1817 until his death in 1843.

The church records state that Crosby was involved in many issues concerning the church. Days of “humiliation, fasting and prayer” were often practiced by the church members. He was with the parishioners through difficult times when there were insufficient funds to properly support a minister, making it necessary to dismiss their spiritual leaders. Crosby’s son, Benjamin, also served as Deacon of the church. Upon Benjamin’s death, the church became the beneficiary of his home and an endowment fund. Deacon Crosby’s death was noted in the church records and a tall monument marks the Crosby lot in Hampden’s Locust Grove Cemetery, though his grave is not marked.

In later years the Crosby family continued to make contributions to Hampden. Benjamin started the first paper mill on the Souadabscook Stream. John Jr. married the daughter of Simeon Stetson, who represented Hampden on the Maine Constitution Committee. John III emigrated from Hampden to Minneapolis, Minnesota with Callawallader Washburn and founded the Washburn-Crosby Company. John IV and others bought out the company in 1928 and organized General Mills, Inc. The contributions that John Crosby and his descendants made to their town, state and nation are numerous, but they are just one part of our heritage as citizens of Hampden today.