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Cape Porpoise Harbor and Goat Island Light Cape Porpoise, Maine

Cape Porpoise Harbor by Frank Handlen

Getting Adam’s Goat


The sparkling jewel of Cape Porpoise Harbor, now under the able stewardship of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, was not set without controversy.  Merchants and ship owners of the District of Kennebunk petitioned the United States Congress to build a light house on Goat Island in 1831. $6000 was appropriated for the project.  At the following session of Congress objections were filed by the Marine Society of Portland against the building of a light-house on Cape Porpoise.  The objection was acknowledged but the plan was to go forward.   Eastern Argus printed a request for sealed proposals for its construction in August of 1832.  Both the dwelling and the tower were to be constructed of good suitable split undressed stone.  The cone-shaped 20‘ tower was to be 16’ diameter at the base and 9’ diameter at the top.  Whale oil in Goat Island Light was first ignited in August of 1833.


Democrat Joshua Herrick, Kennebunkport’s only United States Congressman, served from   1843-1845.  His short term was not without effort on behalf of his home town.  He promoted an elaborate survey and improvement plan of Cape Porpoise Harbor which included the construction of an 852’ pier stretching “from Savin Bush Island to the extremity of an old pier extending from Milk Island, and formerly used for mooring vessels.”  While the fate of Herrick’s plan was being deliberated Kennebunk’s Adam McCulloch filed a claim against the United States of America.  The bill for his relief was presented March 3, 1845, one day before Joshua Herrick's term expired. 


Mr. Shepperd Cary, from the Committee of Claims, made the following report to the 28th Congress 2nd session:

“That it appears the United States have built a light-house upon Goat island, in the State of Maine, and that the title to said island is claimed by Adam McCulloch.”  


McCulloch’s complaint went on to outline some local history.  In 1651, George Cleave, agent of Rigby, granted to Gregory Jeffery two hundred acres of land, and three islands in Cape Porpoise one of which was Goat Island.  Cape Porpoise was depopulated in 1689, during King William's War.  Land grants were lost in the shuffle and when the settlers returned land ownership needed to be verified.  John Jeffery, son of Gregory, claimed his father’s 200 acres and three islands in Cape Porpoise.  His descendants, John and Benjamin Jeffery deeded Goat Island to Hugh McCulloch. 


"In 1834, Hugh McCulloch being dead, the superintendent of lighthouses for this district offered to purchase of the undersigned (who was the oldest son, and subsequently administrator of the estate of said Hugh) the said Goat Island, if he would give the United States a warranty deed; but not being able to find the deed to his father, and the estate of his father being insolvent, he declined doing it.  The superintendent ultimately took a quit-claim deed from the agents of the States of Massachusetts and Maine, for which he paid nothing; and the money which was appropriated for the purchase of the island was returned to the treasury of the United States.


The undersigned, being duly authorized by the judge of probate for the County of York to make sale of the real estate belonging to the estate of Hugh McCulloch, purchased the island himself.


If certain contemplated improvements should be made in Cape Porpoise Harbor, Goat Island would probably become valuable for a fishing stand, for which it was originally purchased; that business being extensively carried on there, and on the increase.  The United States government, however, having erected a light-house on the island, the undersigned is now willing to execute a good and sufficient deed to the United States, rather than to eject the light house keeper by aid of our State courts.  He therefore prays your honorable body that an appropriation be made to pay for said Goat Island.

Adam McCulloch”


Kennebunkport Historian, Charles Bradbury, offered his impeccable reputation to support McCulloch’s claim.


“I,  Charles Bradbury, of Kennebunkport, County of York, and State of Maine, having written and published the History of Kennebunkport and having been appointed by the governor of this State to superintend the copying of the early records of Maine, hereby certify that, from a careful examination of the said records, and from an attentive pursuit of the early history of this State, Massachusetts and Maine never had any title to Goat Island, situated in Cape Porpoise harbor, on which a light-house was erected in 1834; nor did they ever claim to have any title to any of the islands on the western shore of Maine till (for the purpose of enabling the United States to erect the light-house in 1834) they quit their title to Goat Island to the United States; nor have they since that time claimed any other islands on this shore, in which they would have equal right; many of which are very valuable.


I also certify that I knew John Jeffery and Benjamin Jeffery, who deeded Goat island to Hugh McCulloch; and that they owned and resided on the land held by them by virtue of the same grant by which Goat island was holden; and that John Hovey, the justice before whom the deed was acknowledged, was my grandfather, with whose writing I am well acquainted, and the signature on that deed purporting to be his is genuine.  I further certify that I was auctioneer at the sale of the real estate of Hugh McCulloch, deceased, and that Goat island was bought by Adam McCulloch, son of said Hugh, and administrator on his estate; and that the sale was according to law.

Charles Bradbury”


Certified copies of all the Deeds in question follow in the report.   


Testimony from a long-time resident of Trott’s Island also supported McCulloch’s claim.

"I, Joseph Tarbox, of Kennebunkport, in the County of York and in the State of Maine,  aged 76 years, do depose, testify and say: That I have lived on Trot's Island, on the northeasterly side of Cape Porpoise harbor and contiguous to Goat Island (at low water) for 28 years last past; and previous to that, I lived in the vicinity of said harbor; that I was  well acquainted with Hugh McCulloch, Esq., as I worked for him, more or less, for six years; that he owned Goat and Folly Islands when I worked for him and let one Bradbury Perkins set up a fish stand, and build a store and make fish on them."


Eunice Perkins’ affidavit indicates that she owned several islands in Cape Porpoise Harbor next adjoining Goat and Folly Islands.  She had long known those two islands to belong to McCulloch. 


Joshua Herrick certified that "Eunice Perkins is a person of the first respectability and credibility and that her testimony in the case in point would be considered, where she is known, as more important than that of any other person."


It is surprising to learn that the Islands in Cape Porpoise Harbor were still populated in 1845.


The evidence presented was irrefutable and on July 15, 1846 congress approved a payment of $300 to Adam McCulloch for legal title to Goat Island.


To read the quoted congressional reports and the Eastern Argus article describing specifications of the first lighthouse visit . 


The two following documents are pdf files.  You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it.  If you do not have it installed download it here.

Adam McCulloch's Complaint 

Congressman Joshua Herrick's Plan for Cape Porpoise Harbor Improvements Initiated in 1844

Eastern Argus article describing Light House specification in great detail

Directions for mariners to safely pass the new Goat Island Light


This map from an 1899 survey of Cape Porpoise Harbor shows the location of the "Old Pier"



History of Goat Island Light