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The Gilley Family of Mount Desert

by William Otis Sawtelle

As Published in Spragues Journal of American History Vol 12 # 1&2

Among the first settlers at Mount Desert Island was William Gilley, the ancestor of the family in this region. According to tradition William was born in England, or Ulster County, Ireland. When a mere lad he ran away to sea, serving some time, so it is said, in the British Navy. That Gilley was at Cranberry Isles during the Revolution is shown by a "Declaration" that he made before Colonel John Allen, May 10, In April of that year, H. M. S. Scarborough, under the command of Captain Henry Mowat. anchored in the harbor of Cranberry Isles and Gilley went on board. He was informed that the Scarborough had come, "not to molest but to protect" the inhabitants, provided that they did not disturb Mowat’s boats as they procured food and water. "But if otherwise," threatened Mowat, "I am determined to level every house on the island."

In this document Gilley is referred to as "of Cranberry Island, the Mass. State Fisherman." Since Mowat declared that he would destroy every house on the Island, should there exist the slightest provocation for so doing, the question at once arises, where were the dwellings that might have suffered the fate that this officer inflicted upon the town of Falmouth less than two years before?

During the Revolutionary war, the British Admiralty published a beautiful set of charts of the Atlantic coast, twenty years or more having been consumed in their making. Attention was paid to most minute details, for not only were coast lines and harbors carefully drawn, but settlers’ houses located as well. On the Mount Desert section of these charts four houses are shown on Little Cranberry Isle and one on Great Cranberry.

As Benjamin Spurling is said to have been the first permanent settler on Great Cranberry Isle, occupying the point which still bears his name, as early as the year l768, the house located on the old map at the northern end of the Island undoubtedly belonged to him.

Of the four houses on Little Cranberry, one is shown on Maypole Point, the extreme southwestern end of the Island, one on Gilley Beach some distance to the eastward of the farm buildings built many years ago by the late Samuel Gilley, grandson of William, another on the Sand Beach, just north of the row of boat houses, and the fourth, in the hayfield near the town landing. Recent excavations on the sand beach and in the hayfield have revealed the remains of rough stone fireplaces, while on the site of the hayfield house broken crockery, fragments of rum bottles and blue china, hand wrought nails and battered relics of household paraphernalia turned by the spade, proved beyond a doubt that the place had been long occupied. No one living today has any recollection of having "heard tell" of any house on Gilley Beach before Samuel Gilley lived on his farm. Several men now dwelling on Little Cranberry have recalled that when they were small boys, they used to play in what probably was an old cellar on the "Maypole." Turning next to the records in the office of the Register of Deeds at Ellsworth, it is learned that in 1792 the whole western end of Little Cranberry, one hundred acres, was deeded by Madame deGregoire to Samuel Sewall, of Marblehead, administrator of the estate of John Stanley, deceased, consideration five Spanish milled dollars, which shows the deed (2:256) to have been a validation of a squatter’s claim. Since. John Stanley, Jr., also received a squatter deed (1:455) for one hundred acres, next adjoining his father’s lot, he too, was an early settler; but no house is shown on his property on the old map. A third De Gregoire deed (2:517) which granted one hundred acres at the eastern end of the Island stands in the name of William Nickels. As the consideration in this case was also "Five Spanish Milled Dollars" Nickels must have been a squatter on Little Cranberry and as the map indicates a house on this land, it might have been he who built it. Hence, it would seem that William Gilley lived either on the Sand Beach or on the Maypole.

How long Gilley lived at Cranberry Isle, before removing to Mount Desert, is impossible to determine. Published accounts place him at Norwood’s Cove before the year 1784, but there is documentary evidence to the effect that he was not living upon what was afterwards his property there until a later date. In the early day’s of Mount Desert, land titles were much confused. Some settles had been induced by Governor Francis Bernard to take up residence there, as early as 1762, the year in which Bernard received from the general court his grant of the entire Island for his "extraordinary services." but upon investigation, it appears the grant was made for political reasons. A clause in the charter of William and Mary made it obligatory to obtain the King’s sanction before any grant of land made ‘by the Province of Massachusetts east of the Penobscot river, could become valid. Although Bernard’s petition to accept this grant was before the Lords of Trade in 1762, it passed back and forth between that body and the Privy Council for nine years before the King’s approbation was finally obtained. Meanwhile, squatters occupied land or cut the marsh hay, much to the annoyance of the Someses, Richardsons Gotts and Stanwoods, whose grievances were set forth in a petition to Bernard in 17688. Bernard’s lack of a clear title was a hardship both to him and to those whom he had induced to settle upon his grant. The confiscation of the Governor’s American estates during the Revolution, the restoration of one half the Island to his son, John, after the war, the validation of a portion of the old Cadilac grant of 1689, in favor of the granddaughter, Madame de Gregoire in 1787, two years after John Bernard’s grant, have accorded to Mount Desert Island, a land title history as complicated as it is interesting.

It is not surprising therefore that as Mount Desert became more settled, disputes over land titles became more and more frequent. Finally, in 1808, a commission consisting of Charles Turner, Jr. Stephen Badlam and Salem Towne, Jr., was appointed to repair hither, hear disputes, take testimony, settle differences, grant those claims which seemed warranted and reject the others. This committee’s report filed in the Massachusetts archives, contains much important historical material. In it is an interesting reference to William Gilley and his Norwood Cove claim, to which, the committee gave him a clear title. "William Gilley.—Benjamin Bunker saith 27 years ago Josiah Paine was in possession of this lot. James Richardson saith Paine built a house on this lot in the summer of 1785 John Day lived on the lot afterwards and, it was said, Sold to William Gilley." This report also gives the information that the land at Norwood’s Cove claimed by William Gilley was on June 23, 1785 in the possession of Josiah Paine. Since the commissioners allowed the Claim of William Gilley in September, 1808, the transfers of the property from Paine to Day and from Day to Gilley were valid, Paine having title under John Bernard, and was free to dispose of his holdings as he saw fit. From the foregoing it is evident that Gilley could not have been in occupancy of the Norwood’s Cove property "by the year 1784." On the other hand, neither was he in possession of a homestead on Little Cranberry Isle as late as 1787, for he then would have been entitled to a squatter deed from Madam de Gregoire, and no such deed is on record.

William Gilley married Eunice, daughter of John Bunker, who with his father, four brothers, Silas, Aaron, Isaac and Benjamin, with two other sisters, Mary and Hannah, were at Mount Desert before the Revolution. The mother of Eunice Bunker Gilley came from York, Maine, and her maiden name was Young. John Bunker was a descendant of John of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who was a son of James of Dover. This James Bunker had a grant of land in Dover, N. H. in 1652 upon which he settled, built a garrison there in 1675, which he, his son James and others in 1694, defended successfully against a terrific Indian attack. This James was probably an elder son of George Bunker who settled at Charlestown, Mass. in 1634, whose surname has been perpetuated in American history, because he chanced to own a hilly field upon which, nearly a century and a half later, the British and Colonial troops clashed in the Battle of Bunker Hill. John Bunker, the father of William Gilley’s wife, Eunice, This the "Cap’en Jack" who, when the people of Mount Desert were in dire straits because of lack of food at one time during the Revolution, paddled in a canoe from Somes’ Sound to Wiscasset and there with one companion, "cut out" a British vessel loaded with provisions, which he successfully navigated to Southwest Harbor, where the much needed cargo was distributed.

GILLEY William and Eunice Bunker were the parents of many children, among whom were: John, b. March 3, 1775, at Eden; m. Jan. 20, 1796, at Milford, Conn., Mary F. Woods; d. Oct. 21, 1817, at Port au Prince, Haiti.

William, b. Sep.. 11, 1782; m. Nov. 30, 1802, Hannah Boynton Lurvey; d. Sept. 17, 1872 at Baker’s Island.

Eunice, b. —. m. Sept. 18, 1805, John (Daniel) Hamilton. Rem. to Sedgwick.

Abigail, b. —. m. June 12, 1816, Samuel Lurvey.

Francis, b. —. m. Oct. 14, 1817, Ruth Gott. Rem. first to Placentia, afterwards to Orland.

Benjamin, b. 1798; m. Oct. 3, 1818, Abigail Manchester; d. Sept. 9, 1875.

Joseph, b. —. m. Jan. 2, 1821, Margaret D. Wasgatt: m. 2nd int. Nov. 24. 1823, Abigail Parker; d. 1849, lost at sea.

William Gilley died "of a fever" in 1839; Eunice, his wife, in March, 1839. Miss Mary Ann Carroll has told me that she remembers that when she was a young girl, she saw Eunice Bunker Gilley, who was then "an aged woman, mostly confined to her room."


William, son of William and Eunice Bunker Gilley, was born in the year 1782 at Mount Desert and died at Baker’s Island, 1872. On November 30, 1802, he married Hannah, daughter of Jacob and Hannah Boynton Lurvey, then living at Norwood’s Cove. Hannah was born at Newbury, Massachusetts, December 8, 1782 and died at Little Cranberry Isle March 24, 1852. William and Hannah were the parents of twelve children:

1. Hannah, born Sept. 18, 1803; m. intentions, Dec. 23, 18-0, certificate, January 4, 1821, Joseph Stanley; rem. to Dyer’s Bay.

2. William, born July 8, ISOS; m. Dec. 23, 1830, Clarissa Lancaster of Sutton’s Island, by Enoch Spurling, J. P.; Clarissa died July 23. 183;; soon after Wm. m. 2nd, Phebe Douglas of Trenton. Wm. died 1894.

3. Elisha, born Sept. 12, 1807; married Jan. 18, 1831, Hannah Manchester Stanley, by Enoch Spurling, J. P.; died July 28, 10011 Hannah died May 14, 1880. (G. S., Baker’s Island.)

4. Eunice, born July 12, 1809; married October l9, 1834, Elisha Crane; die 1871.

5. Francis, born June 6, 1811; married October 19, 1837, Bathsheba Crane; died 183.

6, Joseph, born May 2w, 1813; married April 12, 1837, Adeline Doliver, by Enoch Spurling, J. P.; died July 10; 1894. Adeline died March 27, l876. (G. S. Baker’s Island.)

7. Samuel, born May 15, 1815; married Jan. 13, 1812, Emily Stanley, by Thos. Bunker, J. P.; died May 21, 1906. Res;. Little Cranberry Island.

8. Maltilda, born October 5, 1817; married October I9, 1837, Oliver L. Allen, of Sedgwick. Res. Biddeford.

9. Lucinda, born Dec. 2;, 1819; died unmarried February 18, 1813; g. s. Great Cranberry Island.

10. John, born Feb. 22, 1822; married 1st, Dec. 24, 1854, Harriet Bickford Wilkinson, of Sullivan, who died June 21, 1857; married 2nd, July 18, 1858, Mary Jane Wilkinson, cousin of 1st wife. John was drowned October 12, 1896, while in employ of President Eliot.

11. Mary, born March 5, 1821, died unmarried.

12. Elmira, born November 16, 1826; died unmarried, 1853.

In the published accounts of William and Hannah Gilley’s settlement on Baker’s Island, the date is given 1812. Miss Mary Ann Carroll, a first cousin of John Gilley, has often told me that the Gilleys were living there as early as 1806 or 07, the first settlers on that Island. Her statement is well substantiated.

There are still in existence several old account books of Samuel Hadlock, storekeeper, fish merchant and vessel owner of Little Cranberry Isle. The time stained pages, covered on both sides with closely written cramped handwriting, though quite easy to decipher, contain much important information relative to the early days at Mount Desert. In one of these Books may be read:-Sept. 16, 1807, William Gillea, Jr., dr. to use of oxen, 6 1/2 days-3.25. A little later, Gilley was again indebted to Sam Hadlock for "4 1/2, days clearen rods and haling wood-5.62," which entry evidently refers to clearing roads and hauling wood on Baker’s Island. Most of this indebtedness was discharged by William by "Neten 39 1/4 yards net—’7.02" and "twesten-l.00."

Labor was cheap on Little Cranberry Isle, for on November 28, 1809, "Francis’ wages begun at $3.00 per month." How long William’s brother Francis worked for Sam Hadlock for twelve and a half cents per day is not stated. For farm produce Gilley received credit at the rate of 16 2;13 cents per dozen for eggs and for the butter that Hannah churned, 16 2/3 cents per pound. In "4 1/2 dusan ages-75, it takes a moment to make out that the credit is for so many "dozen eggs." Other entries show that feathers, one pound, thirteen ounces, were worth a credit of .90, while for ‘fish at sundry times in company with Sam Lurvey, $9.88 was allowed. Corn was exchanged at the rate of $1.50 per bushel, coffee at .33 per pound, flax at .25 per pound and sugar at .20. Of the family life on Baker’s Island nothing can be added to President Eliot’s description as found in the "Life of John Gilley." Of John’s ancestry on his mother’s side a word may be said.


Hannah Lurvey Gilley’s father, Jacob Lurvey, was born at Gloucester, Mass., October 24, 1761. His emigrant ancestor was Peter, who with his wife Mary were at Ipswich before 1678. A son, Peter, of Peter and Mary Was born October 19, 1779, married Love Parsons at Ipswich, April 16, 1702; removed to Gloucester about 1707, where soon after the birth of a daughter. Sarah, Love Parsons died. Peter married two years later Rachel Elwell, by whom he had eight sons’ Peter, b. March 5, 1710-11,Jacob, b. August 14, 1712, Benjamin, b. January 31, 1713-14, Joseph, b. August 3, l715, Eliezer, b. July 12, 1717, William, b. April 12, 1719, Job, b. Oct. 26, 1721 and Ebenezer, bpt. August 11, 1717. These sons, many of them removed to neighboring small towns, married and raised families, presumably large. Absence of authentic records prevents any definite statement as to which one of the above mentioned sons of Peter and Rachel was the ancestor of Jacob of Mount Desert, although it is fair to assume that he was Jacob, born 1712, who married Sarah............before 1733, the only one of Peter’s many sons whose family record is to be found in Gloucester.

This Jacob and Sarah were the parents of ten children, their first born being Samuel, born June 14, l733. A son Jacob born August 6, l736, must have died young, for on May 26, 1745, another son, also named Jacob, was born. The other sons of Jacob and Sarah were: James, John, Moses, Davis and Nathaniel. It is significant that none of these names was given to any son of Jacob of Mount Desert, whose male offspring bore the names: Jacob, Samuel, Isaac and Enoch. Jacob and Samuel were Lurvey names, Isaac being perhaps from Isaac Bunker who married Jacob Lurvey’s half sister, Mary Hadlock, and Enoch, from Enoch Boynton, Jacob’s father-in-law. From a genealogical point of view, therefore, as an assumption is again necessary, it may be stated with a fair degree of certainty, since one of Jacob’s sons bore the name of Samuel, that he was named for his grandfather Lurvey of Gloucester. Hence. Jacob Lurvey may be recorded as the son of Samuel Lurvey. It is well known that his mother was Mary Graham. Who Mary’s ancestors were, I have not yet been able to determine.

When Jacob, son of Samuel and Mary Graham, was but six years of age, his father died and his mother being left in somewhat straitened circumstances, bound out young Jacob to Enoch Boynton, a farmer living in Newbury. Mary afterwards married William (Nathaniel) Hadlock by whom she had three daughters, Mary, Lucy and Hannah, all of whom came to Mount Desert before 1791, probably with Samuel Hadlock, their uncle. Hannah Hadlock married Thomas Manchester Sept. 30, l791, Lucy Hadlock married William Richardson June 9, 1794, and Mary Hadlock married Isaac Bunker March 28, 1794. But to return to Jacob Lurvey. On January 1, 1776, he enlisted in the Revolutionary Army, serving as a private in the Massachusetts line until February, 1777. It is said that he was just tall enough to pass muster. He also served in the Navy under Captain Manley. On February 26, 1782, Jacob Lurvey married Hannah, daughter of his former employer, Enoch Boynton. They lived for some years at Byfield, where three daughters were born to them: Hannah, Dec. 8, l782; Susanna, June 27,1784; Sarah, June 22, 1786. In 1787 they removed to Newburyport where two more girls, Mary and Rachel, were born. In the month of November, l791, the entire family with all their goods and chattels left Newburyport for Mount Desert in a vessel which Jacob himself had built expressly for the voyage. Jacob settled at Norwood’s Core on a homestead adjoining that of William Gilley. Here five more children were born, four sons, Samuel, Isaac, Jacob and Enoch. and one daughter, Rhoda. Hannah Boynton Lurvey died April 1, 1839 and Jacob Lurvey September 11, 1853.


Hannah Boynton, wife of Jacob Lurvey, was the daughter of Enoch and Rachel Foster Boynton, who were married at Gloucester about l747. Enoch was a descendant of William Boynton, born at East Riding, Yorkshire, England, 1606, who, in 1636, came to Rowley, Massachusetts, where he married Elizabeth Jackson. He taught school at Rowley from 1656 to 1681, probably the first school teacher in the town. In the records he is spoken of as a planter, weaver and tailor. Joshua, son of William, was born at Rowley, March 10, 1646, married Hannah Barnet in Newbury, April 9, 1678. Joshua was a soldier under Major Appleton in the Indian Wars at Narraganset, 1675. He also served under Captain Brockelbank at Sudbury, April, 1676.

Joshua, son of Joshua, was born May 4, 1679, married Mary, daughter of John and Mary Gerrish Dole, 1708. Mary was born in Newbury, November 4, 1681. They lived in Newbury Where Joshua died October 28, 177O, aged 91, and Mary, December 26, 1777, aged 96. Enoch, their twelfth child, was born November 28, 1727, died 1805. He fought at Louisburg.


A detailed record of the descendants of William and Eunice Bunker Gilley would make an important chapter in Mount Desert history, but lack of space precludes any such account. Some of their children and children’s children elected to remain in the Mount Desert region, where their offspring, in addition to those bearing the name of Gilley, are to be found among numerous Bunkers, Hadlocks, Spurlings, Moors and Stanleys. Others, in whom the pioneer spirit would not down, are found among the Goffs, Turners and Quinns of Fremont, Nebraska. Some, less venturesome, removed to towns near Boston, casting their lot in places not subject to the dangers of the sea.

In the Gilley family, as in many another in this seafaring community, the toll taken by storm and shipwreck has been a heavy one. John Gilley’s uncle Joseph was lost at sea in 1849; his cousin William, son of John and Mary, was lost when the schooner Minerva, Captain Sam Hadlock, Jr., commanding, foundered on a sealing Voyage with all hands in 1829, and his nephew Enoch, son of Samuel, was drowned by the upsetting of a skiff, off the Sand Beach, Little Cranberry Isle, December 24, 18G5.

Accidental death fell to the lot of other members of the family, for Alfred, son of Elisha, another cousin of John, was killed in the Ashtabula railroad wreck; John’s aunt, Nancy, daughter of John and Mary, was burned to death in her feeble old age at her home at Pretty Marsh. Another cousin, John, son of Benjamin, was killed in action in the Battle of the Wilderness and John B., son of John and Mary, was lost at sea, aged 22. Thus, John Gilley, drowned between Northeast Harbor and Sutton’s Island, in 1896, was the ninth member of the Gilley family to meet with a sudden death.


Some of the older generation will recall that during the last century, much excitement was caused in this country by stories of unclaimed fortunes in England, which only awaited distribution among the legal heirs. As many families in New England were of English descent, considerable interest was aroused in these numerous estates in Chancery, and the prospects of receiving vast sums of money spurred on many a Yankee to put in a claim for a portion, at least, of the estate of some ancestor or relative of the same name, who had died without leaving any direct descendants. Some claims, through the laborious process of the law, were finally allowed; but more often, a proper establishment of identification could not be effected and the claimants were doomed to disappointment.

Among these many English estates, awaiting distribution, was that of Francis Gilley, brother of William Gilley of Mount Desert. Francis had joined the British army and later receiving an officer’s commission, was detailed for service in India when the East Indian Company was making huge sums of money in that country. About the time that Warren Hastings was fist Governor-General of India, Francis resigned his commission, joined the Company, and soon, so the story goes, amassed a fortune of some four million dollars. Francis Gilley never married and upon his decease no heirs could be located.

About the year 1846 Sa11y, daughter of John and Mary Woods Gilley and granddaughter of William and Eunice Bunker Gilley, who was then living in Boston, learned that a fortune awaited the heirs of one Francis Gilley who had died in India without leaving any will. (1) Lists of estates in Chancery are frequently published in this country. In one published as late as 1893 the name Gilley. appears.

Sally Gilley well knew that Francis Gilley was her grandfather’s brother. For at the Gilley home at Norwood’s Cove letters had been received from India, written by Francis to his brother William. As William and his wife, Eunice, could neither read nor write, these letters had been read to them by Hannah Lurvey, Jacob’s wife, who was a woman of education and refinement. In fact Hannah kept up the correspondence on William’s side, for she would reply at his dictation. Finally the letters ceased to arrive and nothing more was heard of Francis until Sally learned of the unclaimed estate in England.

But all attempts to prove in the English courts that William Gilley of Mount Desert was a brother of Francis Gilley of India, failed signally. Later Harvey Hadlock, a lawyer in Boston, whose grandmother was Mary Gilley Stanwood, daughter of John and Mary Woods Gilley, visited England for the purpose of furthering the claims of the Mount Desert Gilleys to the property, but all to no avail. No proof positive of the relationship could be produced and the case was lost.

Miss Mary Ann Carroll, daughter of John and Rachel Lurvey Carroll, to whom her mother told the story of the "Gilley Millions," who in turn related it to me, said, in closing, "It pays sometimes to keep old papers. Four of those old letters of Francis Gilley would hare been worth a million dollars each to the descendants of William Gilley." And now, just one word more. As President Eliot has said, "as at the end of any worth telling you need a moral," let it be emphasized that to my own knowledge, during the past twenty years or so, much material of no money value, to be sure, but of almost inestimable historic interest, has been sacrificed to that inordinate, insatiate desire "to clean up," that well recognized characteristic of the New England housewife. As each succeeding year sees a keener interest manifested by both native born and visitor, in the history and traditions of Mount Desert, so too, with each passing season, it becomes more and more difficult to collect and preserve objects and documents which Of themselves speak eloquently of a life and a time that are long past. Perhaps there is nothing but rubbish in that little green box tucked away under the eaves for almost countless years, or in the cowhide trunk of antiquated fashion, studded with brass tacks, now black and tarnished, alongside. Rubbish, perhaps, but who knows? Remember the Gilley Millions!

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