HALLOWELL — “Hallowell is one of the dearest places in the wide world.” No, that is not a direct quote from the city’s Mayor Mark Walker or one of its councilors or business owners or residents.

Those are the words of John Drew, a sea captain and writer from Hallowell whose letters were read aloud Saturday afternoon during a Row House-sponsored event in the City Hall Auditorium to benefit Hubbard Free Library.

More than 50 people attended the “From the Pine to the Palm: The Library Letters of Captain John Drew” program and listened to six people read 12 of Drew’s 36 library letters. Drew wrote the letters under the pseudonym “The Kennebecker” from 1876 to 1889 while he was a contributor to the Boston Journal newspaper.

“I consider him Hallowell’s greatest ambassador,” said Gerry Mahoney, a Row House member and the program’s organizer. Mahoney discovered Drew’s journals in the library about a decade ago and had long wanted to figure out a way to share them with the people of Hallowell.

One after another, readers including Frank Omar, Kathleen Brainerd and Jim Simpson read letters from Drew about Hallowell, his travels around the world and his life while a projector screen played a slideshow of photos from Hallowell’s storied past. Omar used an accent during his reading of “Hallowell in China,” a letter about one of Drew’s many visits to the Far East.

“We have the prettiest girls in all of America,” Drew said in his letter about explaining to someone in China about Hallowell, one of the many anecdotes in the readings that drew laughs from the audience.

According to historical records, Drew was born on New Year’s Day in 1834 in East Hallowell, now called Chelsea. His first experience at sea was when he was 11, and Drew made his first extended voyage at sea when he was a cook on a trip from Bath to Louisiana at age 15.

Throughout his 45 years as a mariner, Drew rounded the Cape of Good Hope on his way to the East Indies 40 times and Cape Horn, headed to San Francisco, Hawaii and China, 14 times. Drew died at age 56 on Dec. 11, 1890, and is buried near his family’s home in Farmingdale.

Drew’s great- and great-great grandson, Bruce and Keith Harding, made the trip north from Massachusetts with their wives to enjoy the readings and share in the interest in their family’s history.

Bruce Harding said he was raised by Drew’s daughter Isabella and grew up hearing all his stories. He said he first became aware of the letters 40 years ago and has spent time transcribing them from their original form.

“It’s challenging because they were written in script, so his ‘d’ looks like a ‘cl,” Bruce Harding said. “I used to love the letters between my great-grandfather and his wife.” Harding spoke for several minutes after the readings concluded and told several stories of learning about Drew while growing up.

Row House Inc., the nonprofit organization that works to preserve Hallowell’s architectural and cultural history, has been a partner of Hubbard Free Library for many years. Mahoney said events like these help the library during its capital campaign and keep important parts of Hallowell’s history in the public’s mind.

“Captain Drew was an instrumental figure in Hallowell’s first library, and we are invoking his spirit again,” Mahoney said. Drew was approached by the city during construction of its original library, called the Hallowell Social Library. He worked out a deal with the Boston Journal so that his writings would appear in the newspaper and the money he earned would go toward finishing the library, which was completed in 1880.

The audience sat quietly enthralled during the two-hour program, listening, laughing and gasping at the words of the sea-faring lover of all things Hallowell.

Jim McCarthy read a letter about Hallowell’s whaling history, which most of the audience admitted to not knowing much about. McCarthy said he was impressed that Drew took a small wooden boat from Hallowell all the way to New Zealand, more than 9,000 miles away, especially because he himself has traveled to the island nation and is familiar with the country and its culture.

“Reading a story about a captain and crew from Hallowell and how they rescued a British family and brought them back to Hallowell is a great example of the generosity that Mainers have to this day,” McCarthy said. “It’s a phenomenal piece of America history and Hallowell history in particular.”

Cathie Murray, of Hallowell, echoed McCarthy’s sentiment and said she was impressed by how concerned Drew was about the welfare of his crew and about others throughout his life. She said it is the same type of concern for others that Hallowell residents show now.

“The fact that he dedicated these writings to help finish the library shows an incredible sense of community that we are still trying to show now,” Murray said. “He saw even then that the world was small.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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