1776-1815; The Captain Lord Mansion, The Beginning:
Fear gripped the entire New England coastline during the War of 1812. The British marched on Washington and loosened their anger at having lost the previous war with the colonies. They looted and burned. There was a British blockade of all commerce and meaningful threats to burn all coastal towns that continued to engage in commerce. Enterprising citizens in seaports from Virginia to Massachusetts believed their cities and towns could be next to bear the wrath of English man-o-wars. It was in this atmosphere of restricted mercantile activity that Nathaniel Lord, a wealthy Kennebunkport merchant and shipbuilder, decided to build his beautiful “Mansion”.
Nathaniel was born June 1, 1776 in Wells. He was the second son of Lieutenant Tobias and Mehitable (Scammon) Lord. Nathaniel’s early childhood was marked by tragedy when his mother died in her twenty-eighth year, 1781, shortly after giving birth. Records indicate a daughter named Mehitable was born and died in 1781! Nathaniel was only five and his brothers Samuel and Tobias were seven and three, respectively. Imagine the hurt, anxiety and fear felt by the young boys at being left motherless at such young ages. Their father let little time pass before finding a mother for his three sons; he remarried on November 7, 1781. Hepzibah Conant, Tobias’ second wife, was a sixth generation descendant of Roger Conant, a former governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Between 1782 and 1806, Hepzibah bore Tobias nine more children. We’ve not seen diaries to give us a window into their family life; however, we can wonder how the three boys fared in an expanding household with the regular arrival of new step-sisters and step-brothers. Nathaniel must have learned self-reliance and hard work because those traits were certainly evident throughout his short life. Nathaniel, at a relatively youthful age, became actively engaged in the family ship-building activities and the commerce of shipping goods by sea. He became a very wealthy young man.
Twenty-one year-old Nathaniel Lord married sixteen-year-old Phebe Walker on July 2, 1797. Phebe was the daughter of another wealthy citizen, Daniel Walker. Daniel gave the young couple a dowry of land that encompasses the area between Pleasant, Pearl and Maine Streets, where they built their first home in 1799. Still standing, it is a white clapboard Colonial home of modest proportions. That parcel of land also provided enough space where Nathaniel & Phebe would build their “Mansion” fifteen years later.
Merchant and shipbuilder, Nathaniel is reported to have been a skilled businessman noted for his remarkable memory. Carrying many of the details of his prosperous shipping business in his head, he met all his obligations promptly. Nathaniel became successful by means of his industriousness, his honesty and his willingness to take risks.
Seemingly, one risk he was unwilling to assume was testing the British resolve for exacting punishment for continuing to engage in economic activity during the War of 1812. Reportedly, Nathaniel used profits from a shipment of salt delivered before the British blockade to employ his idle shipwrights to build a magnificent home. The diary of Daniel W. Lord, Nathaniel’s oldest son, reveals that construction commenced in April of 1814 and was completed in October of that year. This record contradicts the commonly held opinion that the house was built in 1812. It is nothing short of amazing that such a large house with extensive interior and exterior detailing was completed in the relatively short span of seven months.
Mary Patterson Lord, Nathaniel’s granddaughter and unmarried daughter of Nathaniel’s son Daniel, recounts in her diary certain events relating to her father’s role during construction of the house. Mary wrote that her father, then a boy of fourteen, rode a horse to and from the Saco Bank securing money (silver dollars) to pay the workmen. One silver dollar being the wage of the day, each man was given his coin at the close of a day’s work. It is a wonder that one so young was given such responsibility. Seriously, consider the distance Daniel traveled each day and the danger of theft that he faced! Either Daniel was very brave or the times were very different from today, or both!
Recent investigation of York County court papers documents that distinguished Maine house-wright, Thomas Eaton was involved with the design and construction of the Mansion. Nathaniel Lord’s estate papers include among the administrator’s expenses, several payments to a “T. Eaton. Today, Thomas Eaton is widely recognized for the excellence of his Federal buildings which include Kennebunk landmarks as the Taylor Barry House, the Unitarian Church and Wallingford Hall.
Nathaniel’s death on February 24, 1815 was four months before his 39th birthday. Nathaniel’s brother, Tobias’ diary is of interest in telling us about Nathaniel’s last days; it says that because of sickness, Nathaniel was confined to his bed beginning in the fall of 1814. Daniel tells us; “He (Nathaniel) had been confined to the house for the most part of the winter. In the morning of his death, he was as well as he had been till about two hours before he died, when he was taken with a fit which terminated in his death.” It seems that Nathaniel never lived in his “Mansion”. Consider Nathaniel’s life. He lost his mother at age five, endured growing up with nine half brothers and sisters, married at twenty one, fathered ten children between 1797 and 1815, became a very successful shipbuilder and merchant and built the largest, most prominent home in his home town. He accomplished all this before age forty. Nathaniel’s legacy to the town of Kennebunkport is his “Mansion” which fortunately was handed down with most original architectural features preserved from generation to generation.
As we approach the 200th anniversary of the Captain Lord Mansion, we are sharing interesting points from the history of this wonderful old “Mansion”. We’ll continue this history in future monthly History Blog posts. Your innkeeper, Rick Litchfield