The Eccentric Hermit of Davistown.

Mike Beaudry


In Come Spring, the romantic novel about the settlement of Union, Ben Ames Williams describes an odd eccentric, hermit from the area of Davistown (Montville) that Williams calls “I’m Davis.”He has a long white beard and hair, dresses in animal skins, hunts and traps from the Kennebec to Penobscot Bay.His home is a hovel dug out of the stream bank at the headwaters of the Georges River, beyond Quantabacook and Ruffingham Meadow.

The question is often asked, “ Did such a character actually exist, or was this merely the whimsical creation of Williams?”

The answer is that the “I’m Davis” character is rooted in historical fact, but that the character was based not upon a single person, but the merging of two very peculiar people that lived in the early settlement of Davistown.

The first was a person that went by the name “Davis”.Cyrus Eaton, in the Annals of Warren, describes him as follows:

1784. About this time, began to appear in the woods, and occasionally visit the settlement, a man by the name of Davis, one of those singular characters that sometimes vary the picture of life; a sort of “Leatherstocking” of the wilderness, hovering on the borders between civilized and savage society.He lived a solitary life in the woods, clad in skins, and subsisting on the products of the chase, which formed his sole occupation.He had no intercourse with the settlers, except an occasional visit for the purpose of exchanging furs for ammunition and other necessities; but his path was frequently crossed by the hunter, who was oftentimes entertained by him with such refreshments as his camp afforded.On these occasions, he was hospitable and social, talked of his dangers and accidents by “flood and field, he hair-breadth ‘scapes,” and causeless frights, with apparent satisfaction; but it was evident his heart was not with his guests – he sighed not at their departure, and returned with pleasure to the society of his own feelings.His grotesque appearance, his hairy costume, his beard descending to his breast, and his white locks streaming to the wind, excited the curiosity of children, and rendered his coming a memorable event.Nor was his behaviour more free from whimsical peculiarities, than his dress.One of these was that of bowing, with great reverence, when favored with the sight of bread.Whether this proceeded from religious, or other motives, his distant and taciturn manners rendered it difficult to determine.He shifted his quarters to various places, as convenience required, and followed hunting and trapping from the Kennebec to the Penobscot.From his long residence in the present town of Montville, that place, before its incorporation was called Davistown.Of his early history, and the time of his coming hither, nothing is known.Rumor ascribed his eccentricity to disappointment in love, and it was said that he had one daughter in the western country to whom he contrived to remit the proceeds of his hunting.On one occasion, after a hunting tour of some days, he returned to his camp, kindled a fire, and sat down to his lonely musings; when suddenly startled by the most piercing cries proceeding from his fire.At first he could ascribe it to nothing but the foul fiend himself; but a huge tortoise, crawling out from the ashes in which he had made his bed, soon relieved his apprehensions, and afforded him a delicious repast.At another time, he was confined to his camp near starving.In this time, his traps were found by a hunting party from Warren, and, from their neglected appearance, being supposed to be abandoned, were carried off.The owner, however, recovering in season to observe the tracks of the party, pursued them, and recovered his property.He continued this kind of life for a long period, when, his hunting range being gradually curtailed by the settlement of the country, and his natural powers abating, he was at last compelled to receive support from his fellowmen, and is said to have died a pauper, in one of the towns that had sprung up beneath his eyes on the borders of the Penobscot.

Eaton, however, introduces us to a second character that filled the eccentric void left by Davis; and who Williams merged with Davis to create his character “I’m Davis.”

But the majestic groves and lofty peaks of Montville, were not slow to attracting another kindred spirit, to enjoy its primeval society, before it should all be transformed by the sturdy hand of advancing industry.Toward the close of the [18th] century, a man equally eccentric, but more communicative and intelligent, by the name of Barrett, wandered hither from New Hampshire, and for more than 40 years, passed a life of solitude in the woods of that town.

Timothy Barrett, at the age of 30, came to Davistown in 1793.He lived a hermit’s life.His home was a cave dug into a clay bank ledge up above Ruffingham Meadow, on a stream that now bears his name.The Montville Comprehensive Plan says he dug a canal between Center Stream and Thompson Brook to furnish power for the old mill below [ Barrett’s mill].In 1807, Barrett sold his 62 acres to Samuel Campbell for $100 and moved to the shore of True’s pond.His manner of living did not change with his move.The following was recorded in the Rockland Opinion:  

Sixty years ago the coming summer four of us visited Timothy Barrett.He was dressed shabbily and his habitation was decidedly primitive.It was made of poles stood apart at the bottom and drawn together at the top.He had a small stone fireplace on one side, and on the other a nest – it could not be called a bed.He had a piece of white cloth about his head and his feet were bare.We told him we should not think his food would be good.He said it was not.His bread was not half baked.His hut was near a mill pond on which he had a floating garden, a raft of logs with soil enough on them to grow vegetables.The way into his habitation was through a grove of young wild trees interspersed with bearing apple trees, of which, by his leave, we partook – not the trees but the apples.

Timothy Barrett died in 1847.

Sources: Eaton, Cyrus.Annals of Warren.Masters & Livermore : Hallowell.1877.

Goodwin Papers.Special Collections.Fogler Library.University of Maine, Orono.

“History.”Montville Comprehensive Plan.1991. 

Additional mention is made of Davis in William White’s A History of Belfast.