The Ivory Hovey House, on Park Street in 2003

A surgeon in the Revolutionary War, Ivory Hovey built a house about 1790 at Quamphegan Landing in present-day South Berwick, Maine. Later moved, the house still stands nearby on Park Street. Hovey became one of the town’s wealthiest citizens and a founder of Berwick Academy. In addition to merchant ships, wharves and warehouses, the Hovey family owned gristmills at Quamphegan and Chadbourne’s Falls, a fishing boat, and two gundalows for bringing their wares up and down the river. The Hovey store was the focal point of the riverfront during his lifetime.

Dr. Hovey’s son, Capt. Ivory Hovey, Jr. (1770-1822), became a sea captain who traded with the ‘wine islands’ and Spain and Portugal. Sometime before April 1801, he was captured by pirates during a time when Spain was at war with Portugal. He eventually did return home.

Dr. Ivory Hovey was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and served as a surgeon for the American forces at Fort Ticonderoga. He is listed among Revolutionary War soldiers from Berwick in the company of Capt. Joseph Pray in 1780.

In the late 1700s Hovey married first one and then another daughter of a South Berwick shipbuilder and merchant, William Hight.  William and Elizabeth Hight seem to have lived on today's Vine Street not far from Leigh's Mills. In the 1600s, Elizabeth’s great-great grandfather owned a tavern in New Castle, N. H.

William Hight, who likely had a shipyard where the Hamilton House is today, was one of Berwick's wealthiest people, and owned ships that traded all over the world, including with West Indies sugar plantations run with slave labor. Tax records show he owned six buildings, a share in what we now call Leigh’s Mill, and over 100 acres of fields.  He also owned three slaves, named Diner, Violet and Peter. Slavery existed in Massachusetts (and thus Maine) until the late 1700s. 

The Hights’ children included twin boys.  One, Francis, died when less than a year old. A girl named Frances, after her dead brother, was born a few years later. The other twin boy died in his 20s.  

The two Hight sisters, Frances and Mary, grew up just before the outbreak of the American Revolution, about the time Ivory Hovey came to town.  He married the oldest sister, Mary (Molly), and they had a baby boy they named Ivory Junior.  But she died at age 25, so Dr. Hovey, also just in his 20s, was thus left alone with a little baby son. He became engaged to another local young woman, Sarah Goodwin, daughter of Capt. Ichabod Goodwin, whose house still stands at Old Fields.  But then, the records show, she broke it off and married Temple Hight, Molly and Fanny Hight’s remaining brother.  

Dr. Hovey then married Frances (Fanny), the younger sister.  They had a boy and a girl, Temple and little Fanny.  Both were born right around the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.

Toward the end of the Revolutionary War, Mr. and Mrs. Hight, who by then were old, both died. They left their house to their son Temple and his wife, and left a fortune to Ivory and Frances Hovey and their children.  

1805 map
Dr. Hovey's store, 1805 map excerpt

The Hoveys built a mansion near Quamphegan Landing, and invested their fortune in wharves, shops, gristmills, a store near today’s Counting House Park, and property elsewhere in Maine. Dr. Hovey owned gundalows that traded on the river, fishing boats, and ships that sailed the seas.  He was the wealthiest man in South Berwick at one time, and along with other generous families donated money to found Berwick Academy, then the only high school. His eldest son, Ivory Junior, may have been among the first students, followed later perhaps by Temple.  Then Ivory Junior went away to sea, probably as a captain on one of his father’s ships.  In those days, this dangerous occupation was also one of the best opportunities for wealth that a young man could have.

But this fortunate family also suffered tragedy again and again. After having two children, Ivory and Frances had a little boy, Dominicus, who lived only one day.  Then a few years later, Frances became pregnant with twin brothers.  During childbirth, first she gave birth to Samuel. Then it was three days before the other twin arrived, another boy named Dominicus, but he was stillborn.  Samuel lived only three weeks.  

Several years later there were more catastrophes.  The Hoveys’ house burned down.  A grave in Old Fields Burying Ground on Vine Street shows that this same year, their daughter Fanny, now 20, also died.  Her grave stone reads: 

Here reƒts for a Seaƒon

Fanny

Daur of Ivory & Frances Hovey

She was born Febry 7th 1779

and fell aƒleep May 3d 1799

Parents ne'er loƒt a Child, more juƒtly dear,

A lovelier siƒter ne'er reƒided here

Her heavenly Father call'd her from our love

To join His family of saints above.

Let then each tear be dry'd, each ƒigh suppreƒt

Why should we mourn ƒince She's supremely blest

Hovey graves
Hovey graves, Old Fields Burying Ground

The Hoveys still had two sons, now grown with promising careers. Capt. Ivory Hovey, Jr. now a sea captain, traded all over the Atlantic Ocean, including Spain and Portugal, which at that time were at war. Temple Hovey was a lawyer, training with the leading lawyers here in town. But, not long after the Hoveys rebuilt their burned house, they got news that Capt. Ivory was captured by pirates. He eventually did return home. But in 1811 his brother, Temple, suddenly died at age 36.

When Frances Hight Hovey died in 1816 at age 68, one child remained, the sea captain, Ivory Jr., who had been born to Molly Hight Hovey. He had married and was raising a family in Rockland, ME, an important seaport.  But the family’s fortunes were continuing to fade.  This part of New England experienced a severe economic decline, especially those in the shipping trades.  Dr. Hovey, the wealthiest man in town, saw his fortune disappear almost overnight.  

Then, at 69, Dr. Hovey married for the third time.  Sarah March was from Newburyport, Mass., another seaport.  Dr. Hovey died in 1818, the year after they were married, and Capt. Hovey died four years after that. The captain’s son, Dr. Hovey’s grandson, sold the Hovey property at Quamphegan Landing to the Portsmouth Company cotton mill, leaving Sarah Hovey just the house.  She eventually returned to Newburyport and remarried.

Years later, author Sarah Orne Jewett, who was born in 1849, recalled the legends still told when she had been a child growing up.  Forty years after the Hoveys’ death, people whispered that at the Hovey house at the Landing, the doctor’s first wife Molly, “whose death is shrouded in mystery… cries dismally and walks to and fro in the night, to beg for pity and help.” Jewett recounted these legends in her essay “River Driftwood,” published in 1881 in The Atlantic Monthly.

Read "River Driftwood"

  (Written by Wendy Pirsig from information in the Counting House Museum archives, including "A List of Revolutionary Soldiers of Berwick Compiled from the Records of the Town" by W. D. Spencer, 1898.  Sources also include research by Sean Furness with the National Archives of the United Kingdom. Updated 2020.)

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