The earliest inhabitants of Roque Island were Passamaquoddy Indians. Seasonally, they would arrive in canoes and establish temporary camps along the sheltered coves to dig for clams, gather berries and hunt seals. Though the area was explored by Samuel de Champlain in the 17th Century, white settlers did not appear in any great numbers to the Jonesport region until after the Treaty of Paris (1763). There were several intermittent settlers on Roque Island in the 1760’s and ’70’s, but it was not until 1788 that Roque Island passed in deed to a group of eleven Boston and Salem (MA) merchants who purchased a vast tract of land (Township XXII) primarily for timber (for shipbuilding) which included the island. In 1806, Joseph Peabody (1757-1844), a successful maritime merchant from Salem, acquired a half-interest of Roque Island, and in 1814, Peabody acquired full title of the island. In order to support the shipbuilding endeavor, the island was farmed, animals were raised for food, and an infrastructure was built, including a tidal dam which took advantage of both incoming and outgoing tides and supported a saw mill and a grist mill. Several ships were built on Roque Island in this period.
Joseph Peabody died in 1844, and the shipyard activities ceased at his death. Ownership of the island passed to his descendants through his daughter, Catherine, wife of John Lowell Gardner of Boston (1804 - 1883), and the island became a family resort, especially during summer months. One family member was Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), art patron and founder of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. In 1940, a Homestead Corporation (Roque Island Gardner Homestead Corporation) was formed under Maine law to perpetuate the family stewardship of the island. Today, there are over 100 members of the corporation. The corporation is run by a board of trustees, and the island is managed by a manager and a staff. The farm at Roque Island is the oldest continuously operating salt water farm in Maine.
Clipper - The Peabody
Isabella Stewart Gardner
Catherine & John Lowell Gardner
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