Zac McDorrSuccess is attracted to the Crooker family, as anyone can tell by the fleet of yellow trucks that rumble around the Midcoast.

But it all started long before the late Harry Crooker came along. The patriarch was Isaiah Crooker, whose first experience in Maine was a shipwreck on Seguin Island in 1748. Undeterred, the tall, 300-pound Isaiah settled in Bath and became a blacksmith, landowner, and leading citizen.

Frederic B. Hill is one of Isaiah’s descendants. An award-winning journalist who lives in Arrowsic, Hill began researching the business dealings of two Crooker ancestors: Charles and William Donnell Crooker upon retirement and assuming the presidency of Maine’s First Ship from 2007-2009. The result is his book, “Ships, Swindlers, and Scalded Hogs” (Down East Books, 2016).

The healthy economy of the mid 1800s can be seen in the many large houses built here around 1850. Brothers Charles and William took advantage of the good times and became wealthy shipbuilders and business partners. Their vessels carried goods to California during the gold rush. Other ships brought timber to the Caribbean and returned with the wealth of the tropics. The Crookers bought vast tracts of land around Moosehead Lake.

Sadly, good times never last. Tension grew between the brothers as some of their vessels were lost and the shipbuilding industry took a dive. Financial difficulties with the timber industry played a part.

Finally, they were swindled out of money twice; once by a shady commission merchant, and once by a relative, for a total loss of nearly $2 million in today’s dollars. Their business closed in 1854, and they faced off in court battles as their fortune drained away.

Frederic Hill discovered this fascinating story in drawers of dusty documents at William Donnell’s mansion, which is still in the family. Frederic built on that with long-forgotten records in the Harvard Business School, the National Archives and various courts in Massachusetts, New York and California.

A more thoroughly researched tale of Bath shipbuilding history has seldom been told. You can find the book at Wilson’s Drug Store or Mustard Seed Bookstore in Bath, and Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick.

Source: “Ships, Swindlers, and Scalded Hogs,” by Frederic Hill, 2016.

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