Friday, April 6, 2018

A matter of historical record: Thomas Chute - Leader among Windham pioneers by Walter Lunt

In his 2008 book “Settling In (New Marblehead - Windham, Maine, 1738-1806)”, Robert M. Chute wrote of his ancestor, Thomas Chute - Windham’s first settler:

…all I’ve done here tires me.
They called me
Jack of All Trades – that’s fair enough, I guess
But I did master some.

Chute’s collection of poetry and prose interprets the lives and the deepest thoughts of Windham’s first white men, the hardy pioneers who carved a meager civilization out of unbroken wilderness “on the back of Falmouth” in the province of Maine, then part of Massachusetts. 

Jack of All Trades probably understates Thomas Chute’s ability, perseverance and leadership. Chute was all of the following and more, to the plantation of New Marblehead in the mid-18th century: taylor (tailor), church deacon, town clerk, town selectman, sheriff, innkeeper, storekeeper, farmer and pioneer settler of Maine’s 16th township. Had there been an ancient Chamber of Commerce of New Marblehead, Chute would have been named executive director. He enticed others to the new settlement along the Presumpscot River, and even helped them move in.

Thomas Chute was probably born in England about 1690. The historical record indicates he built a house in the seaport town of Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1729. There he established a credible reputation as a tailor and general trader, selling hardware, dry goods and crockery (and operating a horse and carriage “taxi” on the side). 

In 1733, he was appointed sheriff of Essex County where he was known to have served summonses to historical figures like William Shirley (later to become governor) and Peter Faneuil. By 1735, Chute was one of 60 Marblehead businessmen to draw a lot of land in a new township to be created in the wild lands near Sebago Pond in Maine. 

Chute Cemetery, Windham. Two monuments dedicated to the memory of the Chute family. Erected by George Washington Chute, great grandson of Thomas Chute, Windham's first settler. It is located off Chute Road, which is named for George Chute who resided on the corner of Swett and Chute Roads in the 1800's.
Moving his family to Falmouth (Portland) in the spring of 1737, Chute set up his tailoring business and opened a store selling liquor, livery products and other items. He made clothes for Col. Thomas Westbrook, the Rev. Thomas Smith (father of Parson, Peter Thatcher Smith) and Moses Pearson (founder of Standish).

Known for his energy and forethought, Chute found time to pole his boat (a punt) against the stubborn current of the Presumpscot River to lot number 12 (about 1/3 of a mile south of present day Maine Correctional Center on River Road). Here he built a crude log house not far from the river bank and cleared 7 acres for planting (a condition placed on all the land grantees). 

He moved his wife, Mary, and young children to their new home in the spring of 1738, the official First Family of Windham, Maine. It was Thomas Chute who quite literally laid the groundwork for the town to be known as Windham. He maintained a boarding house for prospective new settlers. 

Soon, he was joined by Mayberry, Farrow, Manchester, Anderson, Bolton and Bodge. Chute bought two adjacent lots, numbered 13 and 14. Eventually, he would farm 60 acres; having acquired an additional 30 acres across the main road from an additional division of lots by the Massachusetts General Court. Early on, Chute was acknowledged as a leader and advisor of the infant township.

In December 1743 a church was formally organized. Chute was chosen to manage the financial affairs and to be Deacon, making him responsible for preparing the Elements of the Sacrament.
When New Marblehead was incorporated as a town, that is, granted authority to govern itself with elections and a local government, Thomas Chute, noted for his attention to detail and extraordinary organizational skills, became the first Town Clerk. A year later, he was elected a town selectman. 

That was 1762, a momentous year in the history of the town, but tragic for the Chute family. 

Thomas’ wife, Mary, died. She had been his stalwart supporter and aide-de-camp, as well as having the distinction of being New Marblehead’s first teacher, conducting lessons for the first few children of the township in her home. Misfortune and suffering was not new to the Chute family. Six of the nine Chute children had passed even before Mary’s death. Of the three remaining, an adult daughter, Rebecca, would drown in the Presumpscot River and son, Curtis, struck and killed by lightning just two months after being elected selectman in 1767. 

Curtis’ boys, Josiah, Thomas, James and John would carry on the family legacy. Acknowledging these tragic events, Robert Chute (the author in 2008), would conclude his poem about Thomas Chute:

Is it wrong that I thank God Mary
didn’t live to learn of Rebecca drowning,
of Curtis struck by lightning? Those
six young ones lost were grief enough.
Abigail alone will outlive us.

Reflecting on Windham’s pioneers, the historian Samuel T. Dole writes in his book “Windham in the Past” (Merrill & Webber, 1916):

“They were not adventurers in search of sudden wealth or political aggrandizement, but they came to make for themselves and their families homes, with all which that word implies. By their efforts and sacrifices they laid the foundation on which the prosperity of Windham rests securely today.”

Dole tells us that Thomas Chute’s “long and valuable life came to a close in 1771, full of years and honors.” 


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