Ancient skulls uncovered at Cape Arundel

Olean Evening Times October 17, 1919
Olean Evening Times October 17, 1919

Atwater Kent’s neighbors called him a grave robber when he bought the land next to his Cape Arundel home near St Ann’s and dug up the graves of early Cape Porpoise Settlers to expand his lawn.

In a letter to her daughter Alice, Eleanor Rogers, who summered at what is now the Franciscan Monestary, wrote of Atwater Kent:

“Since he bought the point and dug out the old fort and burned off the rubbish, he has just had permission from relatives left, of the buried ancestors to remove their bones.  It is hard to locate those without stones as it was the habit of that day to remove the handles from the coffins and the name plate and mount them on velvet, as a parlor ornament.  He had in his pocket a white obsidiary arrowhead, one of the best I ever saw, which was under a skull as they lifted it, and the skull had a hole into which the arrow had just fitted, at the base of the brain.”

The Biddeford Weekly Journal reported the remarkable discovery on October 10, 1919.  The story in the Biddeford newspaper varied slightly from the one Mrs. Rogers told.   The reporter considered the discovery of special interest to students of the earliest history of Maine.

“In removing a grassy mound which was situated close to the fort and was no doubt embracedin the land occupied as a cemetery the workmen came across at a depth of about six feet a perfect skull (not skeleton) of a white man imbedded in which was an indian arrow, the weapon sticking out from the top of the skull just as apparently it had been left when the victim was buried after being slain by a redskin with bow and arrow.  Equally remarkable and interesting was another find in almost the same spot, which was that of a skull showing plainly that the man had been scalped by Indians.  The very tip of the victim’s head had in this case been cut off as clean and smooth as the most skillful scalper could do the job.”

The only partial skeleton found, according to the Biddeford reporter, was that of the man that based on the size of individual bones was hypothosized to be seven feet tall.  “It is certain,” the newsman continued, “that when the facts reach the ears of the of the officials at the Maine Historical Society… doubtless further excavations will be made.”  Apparently that never happened, in spite of the fact that Henry S. Burrage, the State Historian, summered in Kennebunkport.

The cemetery was that of the Jeremiah Smith family.  Atwater Kent moved most of the Smith’s to the Landing Cemetery and Arundel Cemetery but the skeleton and two skulls found under the grass mound adjacent to the old 1812 fort must have been much older.  Indians were using guns for hunting  during the 17th century but arrows and tomahawks were war weapons into the 18th century.  Many of the Indians described in Bradbury’s history used guns to attack the settlers.

Mrs. Rogers calls the arrowhead “white obsidiary”.  Even assuming she meant “obsidian,” it is still puzzling since obsidian was reportedly not found in New England.

The Kennebunkport Historical Society has a human skull in the vault that in the catalog is described as a skull found by Atwater Kent at Kennebunk Point.  It is further explained that at one time the arrowhead accompanied the skull but it was lost before the Historical Society received it.  The damage to the skull looks more like the clean cut described as having been caused by a tomahawk.  There is one scalping described in Bradbury’s history.  Old white-haired Mr. Joseph Bailey was scalped by an Indian at the site of the Garrison House in Cape Porpoise in October of 1723.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to learn how old the skull at the Historical Society is?

Read about the Indian attacks that we know took place in the Kennebunks.  Included are attacks that took place on Trotts Island and on Vaughn’s Island.