by Martha Gandy Fales
In 1884 the Boston Globe carried an article entitled “A Mystery of the Seas.” It told of a portrait with a very strange history. “Looking at it closely,” said the reporter, “you can see that it is very rough and creased, the effect of salt water.” The portrait was of a sea captain named James Fairfield of Kennebunk, Maine and its mysterious history is linked with that of Captain Daniel Nason whom Kenneth Roberts immortalized in his novel The Lively Lady. It makes a fascinating tale
A good-looking, self-assured man, Fairfield was dark and handsome, if not tall. Five and a half feet tall and stocky, he had curly sable-brown hair and long sideburns. His eyes too were dark brown and direct as well. Only a few years younger than Nason, James Fairfield was born in Arundel in the district of Maine in 1784, the son of William and Sarah (Burnham) Fairfield. His father, a ship captain (or sailing master as they were called then), was the grandson of John Fairfield who had come to Kennebunk from Worcester, Massachusetts, about 1725. James Fairfield had numerous brothers and sisters but was especially close to his sister Mary, familiarly known as Polly, who was just a few years younger and who married Joseph Lord in 1805.
Like his father, James Fairfield sailed ship owned by Tobias Lord, Jr. In 1806 the newly-built brig Somers was put under his command when it was launched. The following year on November 12, James was married to Lois Walker, daughter of Daniel Walker. Shortly thereafter he and his brother-in-law Joseph Lord bought a house and six acres of land on South Maine Street in Kennebunkport from John Perkins. Since both men were mariners and much of their time was spent at sea, their joint ownership of property had several advantages not the least of which was that their wives were not left entirely alone when one or both of their husbands were away.
According to family tradition, it was on a voyage shortly after his marriage that Captain Fairfield decided to have his portrait painted at one of the first ports he visited on his trading mission. Being in the cotton trade he frequently sailed to Charleston, South Carolina, or New Orleans,then to southwestern Europe, on to England and then back to New England.
Since he was not coming directly home, he sent the portrait to Lois by another ship. Imagine his surprise and disappointment when he arrived back in Maine months later and he discovered that not only had his portrait not yet arrived, but that the ship by which it was sent had been lost at sea!In 1810 the command of another newly-launched, two-masted square-rigger, the Adrastus, was given to Fairfield. Letters that he wrote to his wife have been preserved at the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk. One was written to Lois from Charleston in 1811 where he had put in for provisions after an unusually long coastal passage lasting sixty-three days. He hoped to get freight for either Spain or Portugal.
“My voyage will be much longer than I expected when I left home but after going to Europe I Shall Come home if my life is Spared,” he promised her.
Fairfield’s life was spared; but, with the coming of President Jefferson’s hated embargo and the War of 1812, both he and his brother-in-law Joseph Lord felt called upon to enter into a privateering venture with Captain Daniel Nason and two other sailing masters, Joseph Perkins and Abner Stone. No sooner had they successfully made their way out of Kennebunkport on their brig Macdonough, which had been named for the stunning victory on Lake Champlain two months earlier, than they were captured on November 1, 1814, by the British frigate Bacchante and taken into Halifax.
In a letter written on November 17th, James related the story of their capture to his wife Lois:
. . . the next morning after leaving home we fell in with the Frigate Bacchante which gave Us Chase at 2 PM Both of Our Topmasts wint Over the Side which Made Us a Compleet Wreck but by heving our guns Over Board and other articles to lighten our Vessel She did not Make us her prize before 7 in the Evening.
Fairfield and Lord were both put on board the British ship Penelope and in a few days were being transported to England with 250 other American prisoners in their ship and another accompanying frigate full of prisoners. James was most concerned for his wife and wrote to tell her to turn to Captain Tobias Lord for help if she needed anything.
I think he wont let you Suffer,” he said.
On another occasion he assured her that they were all well and in good spirits considering their situation. He suggested that she sell her horse to cut down on expenses and to sell anything else she might need to, rather than suffer any deprivation.
“I don’t know what Part of England we Shall go to but Shall write Every oppartunity. Could you find out where I am Nothing but my Liberty would give me more Pleasure than a line from you.”
Perhaps Captain Fairfield and his friends would not have been in such good spirits had they known that their destination was the dreaded Dartmoor Prison. It was the day before Christmas when James Fairfield, Joseph Lord and the rest of the Arundel crew were checked into this formidable compound and issued only a hammock, bedding and blanket.
Four months later the men were still at Dartmoor when the bloody massacre of prisoners took place there on April 6, 1815. James described it to Lois,
“the Ridiculous and Infamous Conduct of our Commander in this place Barbarously and cruelly fireing upon us . . . and killing 8 and wounding 45 of the poor Innocent and defenceless prisoners.” “Fortunately” he said, “none of our Kennebunkers fell Victim to British cruelties on that never to be forgoten day.”
The days in prison following the massacre must have been the worst of all. From the beginning, Fairfield realized that he would be imprisoned
“Untill peace which god Send may be soon.”
The day that he was incarcerated at Dartmoor, the Treaty of Ghent had been signed, but news of the signing did not reach this country until February and peace was not proclaimed by President Madison until February 17, 1815. From that time on, the men expected to be released from prison. As Fairfield wrote to Lois,
“I soon did expect to be clear from this prison but our expectations have failed owing the negligence of our agent. … My anxiety to get home is beyond description,” he told her in a letter sent by the cartel ship on which Captain Nason had been allowed to return to Kennebunkport.
Fairfield had hoped himself to be in that first draft of 250 men who boarded the cartel ship in Plymouth on April 20th. He had, in fact, bought another man’s place on that ship, but to his bitter dismay, when the prison authorities called out the name of the prisoners, the man he had given the money took his own turn and left Fairfield to wait for his.
While he did not have much money, he still had a little cash, “thank god and good friends,” but the conditions were very disagreeable, “being confined within the dismal walls of a prison deprived of all the comforts of life and the agreeable and pleasing company of a wife and friends.”
At length, James Fairfield’s name was called, he and his brother-in-law were released, transported by a cartel ship, and ultimately discharged by the British on July 3, 1815, in time to celebrate their own independence day on American soil.
The year after their return they were living in a new double house on the corner of Green and Pleasant Streets in Kennebunkport. Lois’ father had given to her and her husband six acres of land here in 1813 as a measure of his affection and appreciation of their many kindnesses to him.
There were no houses on the land then, but about the time Nathaniel Lord built his mansion on the opposite corner, the Fairfields completed their big house, and in September of 1816 they sold half of the house and land to Joseph Lord so that he and Polly could continue to live under the same roof. Neither James Fairfield nor Joseph Lord, unfortunately, were destined to live long in the house. The ship Joseph was commanding in 1817 in the cotton trade to Europe was lost at sea. His widow Polly soon married again. Her husband’s brother Captain John Lord was the groom, and they continued to live in the house conjoined to the Fairfields’ home.
Early in the summer of 1820, James Fairfield became mortally ill and on July 23rd he died at the age of thirty-six. Lois sold their part of the house on Green Street to his privateering associate Abner Stone and probably lived with Polly and Joseph until her death the following year. It was two years after Fairfield’s death that the unusual event occurred. Word was sent to Tobias Lord from a Swedish bark that had come into Portland that his presence was requested on board their ship. There on the Swedish ship was the life-like painting of Captain James Fairfield. In the background of the portrait was a ship under sail and flying an American flag. Furthermore Fairfield was shown holding a letter in his right hand to Messieurs Tobias Lord and Co., Kennebunk, Maine, his employers at the time.
It was the letter in his hand that made it possible for the painting to be delivered to Kennebunk at last. Apparently the portrait had been rolled up and put in a tin case when Fairfield sent it home from the port where it had been painted. After the ship in which it was conveyed went down, the encased portrait was buoyant enough to make its way to the surface of the water and travel many miles away where it was spotted and retrieved by the men on the Swedish ship.
So it was that Polly Lord received the portrait of her brother after his death. The painting and the story of its history were cherished by her descendents and one hundred and seventy-five years later the address on the later shown in his hand prompted the inheritor of the portrait to make it possible for it to be returned once again to Kennebunk, where it can now be enjoyed by all who visit the Brick Store Museum.
The Captain Fairfield Inn is proud to welcome an authentic reproduction, painted by a well-known local artist, of this famous portrait of Captain James Fairfield to grace our living room mantel. We’d like to Thank the Brick Store Museum for their generous cooperation and Martha Gandy Fales for her marvelous sleuthing to unravel The Mystery of the Seas.
Our Kennebunkport bed and breakfast has come to the rescue — just in time for fabulous holiday parties and family get-togethers — with this unique holiday cookie recipe: Fried Sage Chocolate Shortbread.
Because this brand new treat was crafted in boutique bed and breakfast Captain Fairfield Inn’s kitchen, we’re sure you’ll be the only one on the guest list to bring it. The best part? We can even guarantee they taste amazing.
Captain Fairfield Inn won Kennebunkport Christmas Prelude‘s Cookie Crawl contest by baking this crowd-pleaser. As a Lark Hotel, we love to create just the right amount of mischief in our guests’ vacation experience. We hope this Fried Sage Chocolate Shortbread will do the same for your holiday.
Optional chocolate drizzle: 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1 cup chocolate chips
Take things over the top: Heat heavy cream in a sauce pan until just boiling. Turn off heat and add chocolate chips. Whisk until melted. If you have some fried sage left over, sprinkle up to 1/2 tablespoon into your melted chocolate and mix. Drizzle over the top of your fried sage chocolate shortbread. Enjoy!
Our very popular garden suite, The Library just completed an upgrade and we are loving the new look. Until we can get professional photos taken we are offering a sneak peek with a few Instagram shots. Check out photos here.
If there’s one item that’s high on the list of things people hope to do with their limited leisure time, it’s catch up on their reading. Many guests at Captain Fairfield Inn simply peruse the ‘Newsstand’ on the complimentary iPads we provide for guest use.
Still more leaf through current magazines provided in their rooms and in our boutique hotel’s lounge overlooking the Kennebunkport River Green. Like us, though, you may like to tackle a tome cover to cover when you travel.
Need a beach read? Forgot or finished your fiction? Just around the corner from Captain Fairfield Inn is Louis T. Graves Public Library, pictured here. They are open seven days a week and have a helpful program allowing our guests to gain temporary membership with a small, refundable deposit. Borrow books to your heart’s content!
In case you’re not a speed reader or you’re in the market for a literary souvenir, here are a couple of locally owned bookstores in the Kennebunks you could delve into:
Kennebooks has a little bit of everything housed in their bright blue building in Lower Village Kennebunk. The inside is crisp and professional, making it easy to find a Maine publication or a bestseller, and their craft & hobby section is always worth a look.
Mainely Murders is a specialty shop full of mysteries, true crime novels, and thillers. At this indie store with a blood red door, uncovering the right find for you amidst fully stocked shelves may be as great a challenge as solving the case in its pages.
Whether you have been visiting the Kennebunks for years or you are planning your first ever trip to our Maine boutique inn, the resident managers of Captain Fairfield Inn are happy to help create the perfect stay for you.
Because we live and work in town and have great connections to the local scene, we can point you to exactly what might interest you. Want activities within walking distance? Absolutely. Need the low down on the best places for gluten free guests to eat? No problem. Looking to make a quick trip up to Portland but don’t want to break the bank? We’ve got you covered.
The day trip starts after your three course creative breakfast at our Kennebunkport inn. For photo ops of lighthouses instead of tolls, we’ll give you turn by turn directions for the scenic route up the southern Maine coast. When you arrive in Portland just snag our favorite spot for free parking: on India Street right in front of Miccuci. This Italian grocer is the perfect place to grab a satisfying lunch. Dine there or take your Sicilian Slab pizza, cannoli, and maybe a bottle of wine to a nearby park. (you can not drink wine in the park) Portland is a very walkable city, so you can explore the waterfront and independent shops in the Old Port for the afternoon.
As a special treat, make your way to Maine Mead Works for a free tasting of the dry and sweet meads they create on site. While there are more great food options in Portland than we can possibly name, here are a couple of affordable options for dinner: try Little Tap House for casual, locally sourced fare or Schulte & Herr for a BYOB German feast.
If chatting with us and hearing our thoughts isn’t how you want to make the most of your trip, we’ve still got you covered. As with other Lark Hotels, Captain Fairfield Inn staff will be present when you want them and absent when you don’t. You can peruse area information and procure a local map while grabbing a complimentary soda or tea in our 24 Hour Guest Pantry. Or, stay snug in your room and fire up the iPad given to you at check-in. The iPad is curated by us and each alternative vetted, so you have top quality recommendations to explore on your own. Because of the electronic medium, the information never gets stale. You can easily browse attractions you may not have visited before and even see the menus of local restaurants who change their offerings daily.
It’s been a beautiful spring so far in Kennebunkport, and our guests here at Captain Fairfield Inn are making the most of it. Some gather shells and sea glass while others visit Cabela’s for outdoor supplies. We love balmy days and the mild climate of the Southern Coast of Maine, but spring can be unpredictable — and we have our wet days, too.
Don’t let precipitation stop you from venturing out from our Kennebunkport Bed and Breakfast and exploring the many rainy-day Maine attractions and activities!
We think there’s truly something spectacular about strolling a deserted beach as the rain softly falls or savoring seafood chowder while gazing out the window at the misty town and sea. Go ahead, grab one of our large, complimentary umbrellas and wander to a few of the fabulous local shops. Don a wetsuit and kayak on the Kennebunk River. Devour a double-scoop ice cream cone.
Still, sometimes you just want something warm and worthwhile when the sky goes grey. To help you enjoy The Kennebunks as we do no matter what the weather, we’ve compiled this list of things to do on a rainy day in Kennebunkport. All of these attractions and activities have our stamp of approval and are just a short distance from the Captain Fairfield Inn.
10. Indulge in some comfort food – as if we need to suggest this. Whether your favorite is fish and chips, a hearty burrito, or delivery pizza, you won’t have to go far in our foodie town.
9. Attend a live theater performance. The famous Ogunquit Playhouse is not alone. There are some great choices in Portland and Portsmouth, plus Biddeford’s City Theater, and the Arundel Barn Playhouse which is 10 minutes from the inn.
8. Hop on the Intown Trolley Tour. It’s a good way to learn a bit of history, stake out the area for future exploring, or get off (and back on later) in locations you’d like to traverse.
7. Stop by a gallery or an art venue, even if only a block or so away. Mast Cove has a wide collection of artists as well as the occasional jazz event. You can meet the painter at W. Robert Paine Gallery and see pictures of him and Norman Rockwell as young artists.
6. Go to the movies. The area has a few singular silver screen options: Cinemagic & IMAX, Saco Drive-in Theater, and Smitty’s, where you can enjoy a full meal in an oversized chair.
5. Hit the gym! Boost those endorphins with a workout. You can purchase a day pass from Quest Fitness and enjoy up to date machines, classes, and even a pool.
4. Shop the outlets in Kittery or Freeport. If you can’t treat yourself, think of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day! Antiques dealers and independent shops also abound.
2. Tour a brewery like Allagash or Kennebunkport Brewing Co. We carry awesome local beers at Captain Fairfield Inn, but visit the source and you might learn a thing or two and sample something special.
1. Take a spa day. Cottage Breeze Day Spa is great for a Maine River Stone Massage or full body treatment, while Soakology in Portland earns the description “foot sanctuary”.
One of the reasons Captain Fairfield Inn is open year-round is there is something to love about the southern coast of Maine during any season. Many guests of our Kennebunkport bed and breakfast specifically choose to visit during the Spring, saying they’ve discovered the best of both worlds. The town hovers between the peace of the quiet season and the bustle of the high season. Some highly regarded attractions open their doors, and the trip is a bargain with so much to do.
Our boutique inn’s building–once the home of ship captain James Fairfield–has reached its two hundredth year in 2013. As we celebrate our bicentennial, the Brick Store Museum will highlight the historic shipbuilding and seafaring nature of The Kennebunks with the Maritime Heritage Exhibit opening April 20th. The museum is ten minutes from the Captain Fairfield Inn and open to the public throughout the year. Self-guided tours focusing on the architecture of the historic district are always available, and guided walking tours of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport begin in May.
We are especially pleased that the Portland Museum of Art resumed tours of the Winslow Homer Studio on April 2nd, and will continue them until June 14th. As the restored historic site at Prouts Neck opened its doors only last year, it is new to even long-time visitors to the region. Call ahead for tickets (or have us do it) as soon as you know when you would like to go. Locals are among those interested in seeing the artist’s retreat, and the 10 spots per tour fill quickly. Of course, there is no need to plan ahead to see some of Homer’s paintings in the museum itself. Then you can meander back down the coast and contemplate your own seascape.
Because some things improve with age, we suggest a visit to Old Vines Wine Bar after a day of art and history. This week they return with a brand new menu. Whatever changes have been made to the food and wine list, we trust that their knowledgeable staff will be back along with the warm, low-lit setting perfect for a drink or a leisurely meal.
A vacation mentality. Coastal locations. Style. Fun. Focus on the good life. . .
We realized we had a lot in common with the clothier, vineyard vines, so we hooked up with them to be the official outfitter for Lark Hotels. From managers to housekeepers (and even friends and family!), you’ll see the crew at Captain Fairfield Inn decked out in stylish vineyard vines dresses, khakis, polo shirts, tunics and capris.
Our partnership with vineyard vines benefits you, our guest, as well. You’ll receive an exclusive discount deal from vineyard vines for each stay at a Lark Hotel this summer (until September 4, 2012).
Plus, when you purchase an item at vineyard vines stores in the Boston area, Connecticut and New Jersey, you’ll get a Lark Hotels promotional piece in your bag. Simply present that piece upon check-in and receive a free vineyard vines gift.
We’re excited to join with this great New England-based company to spread style and fun in iconic coastal destinations.
Welcome to the new website and blog for Captain Fairfield Inn. On these pages we will keep you up-to-date with Kennebunkport Maine activities and events, as well as all the news here at the inn.