For the second summer in a row, state archeologists have been digging up history in Windham’s first-settled area. Items they have found point to a busy little community of the mid-1700s in our town. They will be back in 2017 for further exploration and discovery.
Buried treasure was the subject of local historian William Goold, who wrote about the very same area where today’s archeological dig is taking place. In the late 1700s, according to Goold:
The Smith family was one of the wealthiest in Portland, then called Falmouth. Thomas Smith was the first pastor or minister in Portland. An inventory of Rev. Smith’s holdings included a third of Peaks Island, House Island, 64 acres in Portland and several homes.
His oldest son was Thomas Smith Jr. who had a store (or shop) at the corner of what would be later known as Franklin and Middle streets. He also had a “farm” in Windham, right next door to his brother, the parson. Parson Peter Thatcher Smith settled on the River Road as the settlement’s second minister. The home he built in 1764 still stands today – right beside an archeological dig.
The River Road property was Thomas Smith’s refuge when the October 1775 “Burning of Falmouth” took place. Although Thomas Smith’s Portland store wasn’t burned, he was afraid it would be, so prior to that event he sold the property and everything in it. Apparently he got cash, for the story goes that he put the money in a bag and he and his black “servant,” called Peter, took off for the Windham farm. The horse-drawn carriage rattled along the dirt road from Portland to Windham and when they got to Thomas Smith’s farm, they buried the moneybag in the cellar.
Sometime later, Smith’s servant, Peter, decided he wanted to enlist in the military and serve in the Revolutionary War. Those who enlisted, black or white, got a “bounty” and several of Windham’s black slaves used that bounty to purchase their freedom from their owners. In Peter’s case, he offered to “share” the bounty with Thomas Smith Jr. if he allowed the enlistment.
So, Peter Smith, the slave who had helped bury the treasure, went off to war, where he became ill and went to a hospital to recover. Two black men from Windham, formerly servants, were also recovering from wounds in the same hospital. Peter, who had been planning to return to work for Thomas Smith Jr. died in the hospital, but before he died, he told his two Windham friends about the buried treasure.
His owner, Thomas Smith Jr., meanwhile, had gone on a trip to Cape Cod to visit relatives, and he became ill and also died. He had never told anyone, except his father the Portland minister, about the buried treasure.
The war ended,and it is said that when the former slaves, now military veterans, returned home to Windham, it didn’t take long for the neighborhood to learn about the possibility of buried treasure.
William Goold wrote that over the next century, the cellar was “many times dug over,” but to no avail. He said the house was gone, but the cellar remained – and some of the townspeople became richer than their neighbors after the War.