The Durrell Family of Cape Porpoise

My 9th Great Grandparents were
Philip Durrell and his unknown wife

This is their Life Story

Cape Porpoise, Kennebunk hand painted photograph by Charles Henry Sawyer
Cape Porpoise, Kennebunk hand painted photograph by Charles Henry Sawyer

Cape Porpoise was named by Captain John Smith of the famed Pocahontas legend. On a trading mission in 1614, Smith visited the cape and likely seeing the large number of porpoises that resided there, named it Porkpiscis. This name was given to the fish due to their similarity to hogs, porpoises being often called sea-hogs at that time. Gradually the orthography of the word changed to Porpus, by which the town was incorporated in 1653, and then to Porpoise in 1672. The cape itself was likely “settled” by 1620 as a summer home for fisherman who would return to Europe during the winter. It is believed that the first permanent settlement started around 1630. From its onset, the settlement was sparsely populated and a consistent target of French and Native American hostilities. Porpoise town later became known as Arundel, and then Kennebunkport, Maine. [1]The area now known as Arundel, while sometimes referred to by that name, was a part of Kennebunkport until 1915, at which point it was set off and … Continue reading

Philip Durrell, the progenitor of the Durrell family of Maine and New Hampshire, immigrated from Guernsey, according to family tradition, and first appears in New England records on 20 Feb 1689/90, when his mark was affixed to a New Hampshire province petition. While his original settlement was in Exeter, Philip would remove to Porpoise cape in 1700. Philip remained but a short time at Cape Porpoise. The French and their Native allies attacked the settlements of present day Maine over a six day period starting on August 10, 1703. “Cape Porpoise, being inhabitated by a few unshielded fisherman, was wholly laid desolate.” [2]Samuel Penhallow. Penhallow’s Indian wars; a facsimile reprint of the first edition, printed in Boston in 1726, with the notes of earlier … Continue reading

Unfortunately, for the Durrell family and a few others, the toll was much worse than their homes and crops being laid desolate. Stephen Harding, residing across the Kennebunk River from Porpoise town, first heard the shots in the direction of Wells. He, his wife, and young child, barely escaping the coming attack, sought shelter the following day at the garrison house in Wells. [3]You can read more about the attack on Stephen Harding and his family and their daring escape in Charles Bradburys, History of Kennebunk Port, … Continue reading After discovering that the Harding’s had eluded them, the force headed across the river, and attacked the family of William Larribee. William was at work near the marsh. Seeing two Indians approach, William hid until they gave up looking for him. Returning to his house immediately after, he found other Indians sharing the provisions of his home – his wife and three children lying dead on the ground nearby. Seeing no survivors, William also headed to the garrison house in Wells. From there, this band of warriors headed further upriver until they reached the home of Philip Durrell. Philip was also absent from home. The Indians carried off Mrs. Durrell, her two younger sons, Benjamin and Philip, and their two daughters, Susan and Rachel. The Indians carried their prisoners as far as Paywacket (Fryeburg), when Mrs. Durrell “pursuaded” them to let her return with her infant, Philip. One of the Indians carried her child for her to the stone fort at Saco, from which place she returned home.

The other children remained with their captors. The two daughters are reported to have been taken to New France, where they adopted the Catholic faith, and married two Frenchmen. The son, Benjamin, is said to have died in a canoe accident on Saco River. None of this can be confirmed with existing records. That all three of the children appear in lists of captives developed by New England towns in 1710, and submitted to the English and French governments, is ascertained. That they never returned home is also true.

The family unit at this time comprised of Philip, Mrs. Durrell, Joseph, and little Philip, Jr. Where Joseph, the eldest son, was at the time of the attack is never mentioned. Obviously, he was not at home.

After the 1703 attack, the French drew off a great number of Indian families from the Penobscot, Norridgewock, Saco, and Pequaket tribes, and settled them at St. Francis, in Canada, as a protection against the Iroquois Confederacy. These were called the St. Francis Indians.

Their home and crops destroyed, the Durrells soon returned to their land in Exeter, New Hampshire, that Philip had not yet sold. The Durrell’s Exeter land was eventually incorporated into the formation of Durham, New Hampshire, and this land is where their son, Joseph, remained the rest of his life.

In Exeter, the Durrells continued to propogate, and fill their home with additional children (all dates are approximate): Sarah, in 1705; Elizabeth, in 1707; Benjamin (2), in 1711; Lydia, in 1712; and John, in 1714. Mrs. Durrell would bear at least eleven children in her marriage with Philip.

I wish I could say that the whole family remained in Durham and lived out a more peaceful existence. But the draw of beautiful Arundel, and the bountiful sea, once again drew the Durrells to their holdings there. Once peace returned to New England, Philip picked up his remaining family, and removed to what was then known as Arundel. On 30 May 1720, his old rights were recognized by the new town vote:

At a Leagal Town meeting at Arundel May the 30th, 1720, then Given & Granted unto Philip Dorriel Senr. All the Right the Town have to the land he lives now on, and in possession of

Attest              Thomas Perkins, Town Clerk

It was not long before the peace of the quiet Maine seashore towns were shattered again. Soon after Philip’s re-settlement at Arundel, new New England towns began to appear on land which both the Wabanakis and French asserted were sovereign lands of the French. Spurned on by Father Rale of the French and royal Governor Shute of Massachusetts and New Hampshire province, an undeclared war began in January of 1722. By June of 1722, an all out war between New France and the northern portions of New England started in earnest. Arundel was continually harrassed by bands of Indians, especially when residents left their homes to work. The Durrell’s had a garrison house built next to their home, where they and area residents could retreat if needed. A peace treaty, ending what is known as “Dummer’s War,” was signed in December 1725. Encouraged by hopes of lasting peace, residents began to more boldly leave their garrisons again.

The sagamores of the local tribes were generally satisfied with the treaty, and on 6 August 1726, met at Falmouth and ratified it. The French, however, were not satisfied, and induced several parties to cause mischief.

On the 28th of October 1726, a couple of hours after sunrise, Philip Durrell left his house in Arundel to head to work; along with him was his son (son-in-law), John Baxter. They returned home a little before sunset, finding all of Philip’s and John’s family gone, Philip’s house set on fire, chests split open, and clothing gone. [4]Massachusetts Historical Society Collection, vol. vi. p. 103 as sourced by Charles Bradbury in his History of Kennebunk Port, from its First … Continue reading Quickly searching the nearby woods, they were unable to find any person killed. Raising an alarm, some townfolks joined the men in pursuit of the attacking force, but no such force was found.

John Wheelwrights letter, written the day after the tragedy, and sent to Boston from Wells, is referenced in the council records of November first. [5]John was the grandson of Rev. John Wheelwright of early Puritan Massachusetts. Rev. Wheelwright was a controversial reverend, who had sided with his … Continue reading After describing the assault on the Durrell and Baxter family he says three suspected Indians had been seized and secured in Fort Mary, the same stone fort at Saco that Mrs. Durrell had been brought to by her first captives. These Indians were taken to Boston, where they were interrogated. Claiming they knew nothing of the attack, or the whereabouts of the captives, they promised, if allowed to leave on probation, they would learn of the “author of mischief” and to have the captives restored. The council agreed, allowing two of the three to leave, but retained control of the son of one, to insure they returned. A reward was offered if they succeeded.

In December, 1726, Philip petitioned for financial relief from the Massachusetts and New Hampshire house stating that he had “all imaginable Reason” to believe that his home had been beset by Indians, “who not only took away all the Household Goods, and what else was Valuable in the House, but carried away Captive his Wife and Daughter and a Child of his Daughters” and also his Son. Those “carried away” were his wife Mrs. Durrell, their son John Durrell, their daughter Sarah (Durrell)  Baxter, and her child, John Baxter.

In July of 1727, a conference was held by Dummer and the Indians at Falmouth. An accounting of captives were demanded. A chief replied with a short list of five captives, none of which described the Durrell boy. Pressed on the issue if the boy from Kennebunk was one of the five, the chief replied, no, he is among the French.

Finally, arriving late to the conference were the two Indians who were sent to retrieve the captives, or information about them. One of the Indians had wounded his leg, and that had hindered a quicker return. One of the Indians stated: “I heard When the Indians took that family, the English pursued them very quick, and the Indians were afraid of being Discovered and so they kill’d three of the English and the Boy they carried away.”

The Indians belonged to St. Francis, the Nowenicks and Scatacooks.

Philip sent another letter to the council at Boston, praying for some consideration: “on the Account of his Son John Dorrels being carried away Captive by the St Francois Indians, who at the same time carried away his Wife, Daughter & her Child, & destroyed much of his Substance, his son now being returned from Captivity almost naked.” This consideration was answered on 5 June 1729, with 10 pounds being allowed to clothe John.

John Durrell remained with his Indian captives for two to three years. He was a boy of 12 when he left his home, but came back a man of 15. In his captivity he had grown fond of the Indian lifestyle and preferred their mode of living over that of the Colonial lifestyle, for the rest of his life.

When the St. Francis Indians fled from the Durrell residence, in 1726, they spent the night camped in the woods. When they left that camping area they left behind the family Bible of the Baxters. This Bible was found in the woods the next spring. The family took the leaves out of it, dried them off, and had it rebound. To my understanding, it still exists today.

My Thoughts

I tried as I wove this article to leave my thoughts out of it, and just tell it like it’s known, dangling threads and all. But, I believe some of those dangling threads can be snipped to provide a better explanation of events. I will try to do that here.

What is the given name of Mrs. Durrell?

The name of Mrs. Durrell is never given in any records, she always being referred as Mrs. Durrell. There is a line, however, in the Arundel Town Records which may provide a clue to her identity. On 12 May 1720 Joshua Purington of Hampton Falls, NH, had laid out to him “one hundred accers of Land as he is Executor to his fathers Estate Deceased, only a highway excepted for Rode between his lot and his brother Dorriels lot.” The word “brother” in Puritan New England could refer to a real brother, half-brother, step-brother, or a brother-in-law. All of those possible options would have to be researched further. Looks like I have a fun job to do!

Why was Mrs. Durrell released after the first capture?

Before removing from Cape Porpoise (or soon after) in 1703, Philip and his wife welcomed another child into their home, Mary. I believe Mary is the reason Mrs. Durrell was freed by her captives the first time, she likely being pregnant, and the child Philip still nursing. But there is no mention of such in the records, other than the likely birth in 1703 of Mary at Cape Porpoise. [6]Possibly taken from the Baxter Family Bible. More on that Bible can be found later in this article. Perhaps, when the marauding Indians returned to their own town, another Indian took sympathy on Mrs. Durrell.

When did Philip know his wife, daughter and grand-daughter were killed?

The hardest thing I found proving was exactly when Philip knew that three of the four taken in the 1726 raid were killed. Since the Baxter Bible was recovered in the Spring of 1727 at the camp where the three were killed, we can reasonably assume that they found their remains at that time. This would also explain why in July 1727 Dummer questioned about the boy, but not the remainder of the family.

How were the three killed in 1726?

I have intentionally left out the details of how Mrs. Durrell and Mrs. Baxter were killed by the Indians, most especially how the baby was killed. In all three cases their deaths were similar in manner to how others were dispatched by the Natives in similar circumstances, and the deaths were both horrible and cruel. The actual manner in how they were killed was relayed by Wahwa, chief of the Eastern Wabanaki, to Mr. Baxter – but it serves no purpose to repeat here.

What happened to Philip Durrell after the death of his wife?

Philip would remain in Arundel for the remainder of his life. While the attackers succeeded in setting fire to his cabin they did not succeed in burning it down. By 1727, Philip and his son Philip, Jr., purchased additional acreage. In the 1730s Philip began to divest his properties to his sons. In 1743 a petition was written for the establishment of a meeting house nearer to Arundel which bore the signature of Philip, Jr. A petition of 1749, however, bears the sons signature without the Jr. It is likely that Philip Sr. died between those two dates.

Tragedies brings victims closer to each other

As happens often in tragedies, those involved become closer to other families who suffered through the same. After William Larrabee lost his first wife and three children in the 1703 attack, he remarried to Catherine Ford and had five more children with her. One of those children, Stephen, born abt 1707, married Lydia Durrell, daughter of Philip Durrell. Stephen became known as Sergeant Larrabee and was a well-known Indian fighter on the Maine frontier. See also Joseph Durrell below.

Joseph Durrells wife and family

My 8th great grandfather, Joseph Durrell, the eldest child of Philip, married abt 1710 Rebecca Adams. Rebecca was the daughter of Charles Adams, Jr. and Temperance Benmore, and granddaughter of Charles Adams, Sr. On 19 Jun 1694 in Durham, New Hampshire, Charles Adams, Sr. house was burned and he and 14 others were killed by Indians at the Oyster River Massacre. That story, however, will have to be saved for another day.


1 The area now known as Arundel, while sometimes referred to by that name, was a part of Kennebunkport until 1915, at which point it was set off and named North Kennebunkport. In 1957, following the publication of the Chronicles of Arundel by Kenneth Roberts, the town was renamed Arundel by the state legislature.
2 Samuel Penhallow. Penhallow’s Indian wars; a facsimile reprint of the first edition, printed in Boston in 1726, with the notes of earlier editors and additions from the original manuscript, p. 5. Boston, 1924.
3 You can read more about the attack on Stephen Harding and his family and their daring escape in Charles Bradburys, History of Kennebunk Port, from its First Discovery by Bartholomew Gosnold, p. 53-55. Kennebunk: James K. Remich, 1837.
4 Massachusetts Historical Society Collection, vol. vi. p. 103 as sourced by Charles Bradbury in his History of Kennebunk Port, from its First Discovery by Bartholomew Gosnold, p. 120. Kennebunk: James K. Remich, 1837.
5 John was the grandson of Rev. John Wheelwright of early Puritan Massachusetts. Rev. Wheelwright was a controversial reverend, who had sided with his sister-in-law, Mrs. Anne Hutchison in the Antinomian Controversy  of 1636-7. When both were banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Hutchison’s headed south of Boston with some of their friends to found Rhode Island, and Wheelwright headed to the province of New Hampshire and helped found the town of Essex. Unfortunately, a couple of years later, Massachusetts Bay Colony founded the town of Hampton on land which was part of Wheelwright’s claim, thereby landing him in Massachusetts Bay Colony, where he was forbidden to preach. He then headed northeast and purchased land in what would become Wells, at a time when Thomas Gorges ruled the area as deputy governor of Maine. Therefore, by 1642, John Wheelwright would become the pastor of the church at Wells Maine, across the river from Porpus. In 1644, the Massachusetts Bay Colony lifted the banishment order for Rev. John Wheelwright.
6 Possibly taken from the Baxter Family Bible. More on that Bible can be found later in this article.

5 thoughts on “The Durrell Family of Cape Porpoise”

  1. Hey there, was just researching some records on my great grandmother, Grace Durrell And saw your page. Is very much be interested in contacting you about any other material you may have on the Durrell family. My connection is through R. O. Richards of Huron, SD.
    Thanks for your consideration,
    R. O. Richards IV

  2. Hi, I have only made a direct connection back to the Philip Durrell family and haven’t done any extensive research on his children or grandchildren yet. Once I do I’ll share it here. Best wishes cousin!

  3. Jeremie berube

    Hey all you Philip Duda Durrell descendents ,My name is Jeremie Berube and I own a portion of land in Arundel Maine that was Philip Durrells original 50 acres along the Kennebunk River.Several years ago we found where the house stood,( on our property) and many artifacts.We eventually found the ancient durrell burying yard. In the process cleaning around primative stones.Are any of you relatives interested in these locations?

  4. Hi Jermeie,

    Thanks for the offer. Can you provide a plot map of the land and where the burying ground was? I take it there were no markers left?

    Thanks, Dennis

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