Howard E. Nunan (1867-?) of Kennebunkport, Maine

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Howard E. Nunan
Sex: M
Birth: Aug. 1867 Orrington, Maine
Father: William H. Nunan
Mother: Ann L. Nickerson
Spouse/Partner: Bertha A. Huff
Marriage: 9 Feb. 1890 Kennebunkport, Maine
2nd Spouse: Helen Frances Ward
2nd Marriage: 5 Oct. 1929 Bath, Maine

After his mother's death Howard lived with his grandparents Charles and Emily Nunan. After his father's death he went to work with his uncle Richard and his cousins in the fishing business, helping to captain one of the ships for the Nunan fishing fleet.


Howard E. Nunan


Bertha (Huff) Nunan

On 19 Nov. 1892 Howard E. Nunan of Kennebunkport sold to Charles F. Nunan of Kennebunkport some pasture on the road from School District No. 13 to Cape Porpoise Village: "excepting the house lot where the dwelling of said Charles now stands which he bought of my Grand Father Chas. F. Nunan", signed Howard E. and Bertha A. Nunan.(1)

Howard had a fishing schooner built by the Hodgdon Brothers yard in East Boothbay in 1903 and named it after his daughter Mildred V. The Mildred V. Nunan (vessel no. 200098) was a schooner of 79 tons, 82.7 ft x 22 ft x 9.2 ft. (2) On 27 Feb. 1912 Howard and his crew of 15 men were returning from Boston after having sold their fish there. Howard was napping in his bunk and left orders to be called when they reached Cape Porpoise. The crew, some of whom were from Boston and unacquainted with the waters in the area, decided not to bother the captain until they were moored. It began to snow and they mistook a lamp in Samuel Perkins' window for Goat Island light and steered mistakenly up Turbat's Creek. The crew knowing something was amiss called Howard. While he was putting on his boots the ship struck the Vaughan Island ledge ripping off her keel and proceeded onto the rocky shore now known as Mildred's Cove. A power vessel attempted to tow her off but was unsucessfull. The men furled her sails, removed what they could and rowed ashore. The storm worsened and the Mildred V. was battered to pieces. Her wheel was recovered many years later and was placed in front of the Kennebunkport Historical Society. Also during this eventful night Bertha gave birth to her son Nelson.(3)

"The Night the Mildred Struck" was written by Henrietta Schmidt "The Captain's young daughter was having a marvelous day, one to long remember. There had been the long train trip and anticipation of the surprise that she had been promised. Then they were at their destination, East Boothbay, where on the waters of the Damariscotta floated her father's imposing new schooner, very black with sparkling white trim. Suddenly she gripped her father's hand hard. "Look! Oh,look!" she cried. "Her name is just like mine, Mildred V. Nunan!" The young passenger on her namesake's maiden voyage later became Mildred V. Jackson and is living today in Kennebunk.

The Mildred's home port was Cape Porpoise though the catch from George's Bank, Jeffrey's Ledge and other ocean shoals where fish food abounded was chiefly marketed in Gloucester or Boston. Eighteen men sailed on her, baited trawls, set them from dories, enjoyed mug-ups by the galley stove, and preferred the rugged life they led to a more prosaic existence ashore. Their captain knew all phases of "big boat" fishing, having risen from the ranks, a lot too common along the Maine coast to inspire a Horatio Alger to pen "From Cabin Boy to Captain". Motherless, he had gone at four to live with grandparents; thirteen when his father, Captain William Nunan died at Cape Haitien and was buried in the Caribbean between Haiti and Cuba, he decided to earn his own living going to sea soon after.

It was February of 1912, some half dozen years after her launching that the Mildred had disposed of her fish in Boston and received into her crew a number of Boston men unacquainted with Maine waters. Starting at the hint of dawn, the vessel had stopped to fish on Boon Island grounds; it would be dark before Cape Porpoise harbor was reached. Captain Nunan went to his bunk with orders that he should be called when they neared port.

This was standard procedure but the watch was somewhat irked. Why should they call him? After threading the traffic of Boston harbor why should this little port be too difficult for them? A lively discussion ensued but the men wanting to surprise the captain by calling him after the schooner was moored in mid-channel won out. There were plain directions in the "Coast Pilot". Watch for Goat Island with its fixed light thirty-eight feet above sea level to be their guide, then go on from there.

It had begun to snow, a few scattering flakes at first, soon becoming a fast falling curtain of white, an eerie thing, for there was hardly a breath of air stirring. There was another suggestion that the captain be called and then through that rain of snow they saw a fixed light and adjusted accordingly. But Cape Porpoise harbor abounds in little inlets and hidden ledges and is separated from tidal Turbot's Creek by Vaughan's, a largish island with a long and wicked reef, and what they had seen through that dense snowy blanket, had been the lamp of Samuel Perkins set beside his uncurtained window. The lone resident of Vaughan's Island no more had to consider neighbors than did Robinson Crusoe. Certainly he should not be blamed because the Mildred was trying to beat into Turbat's Creek. Suddently, the headstrong navigators were not so sure and sent a man to rouse the captain.

Promptly Howard Nunan slid from his bunk. He was just pulling on his boots when the vessel struck, ripping off her cast iron keel on a rock at the east end of Vaughan's Island Bar. She faltered, then continued under her momentum, there being neither time to lower the sails nor throw out an anchor, proceeded for perhaps five hundred feet then struck again, this time on the rocky shore in an indentation ever since called Mildred's Cove.

They tried to get her off, strove heroically. It was no use; they must wait for daylight with more equipment and more men. Fortunately, there was no wind. They furled the sails, removed the compass, and whatever else they could, and rowed ashore in dories. Most of the men had homes to go to. Three or four who had expected to bunk on the boat went with the captain.

Soon after the crewmen had retired the wind began to rise. Then it was blowing a living gale with snow pelting viciously against the panes. No one could sleep. Later there were sounds of doors closing, of voices. Above the whine of the wind came fitfully the sound of sleighbells, their jangling seeming to cease just outside, then another outburst of the bells and perhaps the sound of a barn door closing. Company at this hour and in this storm? What was going on?

Breakfast scents, bacon, coffee, brought the men to the big kitchen, a bustling scene. A strange woman was taking a big tin of biscuits from the oven. Older children were helping put food on the table and seeing that the younger ones had combed hair and clean ears. Outside the snow still fell, blown into hugh drifts ever changing shape at the caprice of the shrieking wind, but inside there was an air of pleased excitement, the smallest child asking if it wasn't time now to go in to see the baby. For on that night of tempest and disaster, the night the Mildred struck, the seventh Nunan child, Nelson, came into the world.

It was impossible to get out to the schooner until the terrible storm abated, but as soon as the water calmed sufficiently they crossed to Vaughan's Island and waded through the drifts to its seaward side, Captain Nunan, his eldest sons, and most of the crew. There the tide seemed like a boiling cauldron, foaming and heaving, and amidst the froth tossed the battered bits of the Mildred, pounded into kindling. Her masts had beached at Cleaves Cove on the mainland; her wheel was found years later in the mud of the harbor flats. Her name plate still adorns the Burns' barn. Part of her keel still lies where first she grated on the rocks. Little else remains of the Mildred V. Nunan."

Also, an article out of the local paper: "The Mildred V. Nunan- R. Leach and L. Inness Find Wheel of "Mildred Nunan" off Vaughan's Island

"On the afternoon of February 27th, 1912, the schooner rigged fisherman "Mildred Nunan" was returning to Cape Porpoise harbor. She was skippered and owned by Howard Nunan, nephew of Richard Nunan whose Cape Porpoise fishing fleet was known from Nova Scotia to Florida. There was no wind, and the sea was flat, according to Howard's son Nelson, one of five brothers living hereabouts. The story goes that the captain had left orders to be awakened when the vessel neared the harbor, but for some reason Captain Nunan was not called on time.

When he was called the Mildred Nunan, with 15 men aboard, was drifting without wind off the entrance to the harbor. She was strictly a sailing vessel, no power, and the land was a lee shore, if the windless afternoon permits it to be called a lee shore. She was returning from the banks where she had been dory trawling for cod and haddock and hake to be sold in Boston. Captain Nunan ordered a kedge anchor over the side but the vessel continued to drift in toward Vaughan's Island, finally grounding out on Vaughan Island ledge.

Her plight had been witnessed and a power vessel was despatched from the harbor to try to tow her off, but she was fast aground and would not budge. As the evening deepened the wind came on, and with it snow. The men were taken off the foundered hull as the wind continued to rise. Captain Nunan presumably took time out to visit his wife and next day to visit their son Nelson, born that day, but much of his time must have been spent watching the Mildred Nunan breaking up in the storm.

In the ensuing weeks and months pieces of the vessel and her gear were salvaged or found drifting or washed up on the island, and to this day some of her ribs are occasionally seen at low tides. But until Sunday before last when sea mossers Ronald Leach and Larry Inness looked down in clear water to a sandy bottom, no one had found her wheel.

According to Leach they were mossing in what is known as Mildred's Cove at the back of Vaughan's on the Turbot's Creek side in about eight feet of water. There below them the whole wheel was clearly outlined, spokes and all. It was crusty and rusty and covered with pink and white calcium deposited by marine worms, and covered with mussels. They hooked onto it and brought it aboard. It was fragile and broke in two. It was all metal but they couldn't see much of the metal. The spokes some of them, were almost gone, and it seemed that they were made of cable encased in iron sheaths. The handles are probably brass and maybe the hub and wheel itself.

They took the wheel to the Kennebunkport Historical Society where it lies outside, smelling pretty high, according to society secretary Lorinda Bradford."


Mildred V. Nunan

The half-hull model of the "Mildred Nunan" is in the George Owens collection at the MIT Museum (the half-hull of the "Elizabeth Nunan" is also in this collection).(4)


Howard E. Nunan


Bertha (Huff) Nunan

Helen was a well known poet and historian of the area. She ran a store at the Cape beginning in 1912. After she married Howard he retired from the sea to a quieter life on shore and took over the building were she began her business career and opened a restaurant known as The Captain's.(5)


Name Birth Death

Bessie Isabel Nunan 17 Mar. 1892
Kennebunkport, Maine
23 July 1983
Portland, Maine

Mildred Vivian Nunan 25 Apr. 1894
Dec. 1984

Ernest Howard Nunan 28 Sept. 1896
10 Sept. 1976

Warner Ellsworth Nunan 14 Aug. 1898
12 Dec. 1899

Lloyd Norman Nunan 31 Dec. 1900
23 Jan. 1988
Arundel, Maine

Justin Leavitt Nunan 23 Sept. 1904
20 June 2001

Bertha Geneva Nunan 10 Mar. 1908
8 Jan. 1997

Nelson Earlin Nunan 28 Feb. 1912
14 Jan. 1987
Cape Porpoise, Maine

Raymond Wilbur Nunan 29 Apr. 1913


  • (1) York Co. Deeds- Vol.455, p.159
  • (2) Merchant Vessels of the United States- Government Printing Office- 1904-1912
  • (3) The Night the 'Mildred' Struck- Henrietta Schmidt
  • (4) George Owens Collection- MIT Museum-item number GO-X-A2-2(41)
  • (5) History of Cape Porpoise- p.64
  • 1900 Census for Kennebunkport- Vol.22, ED 238, sheet 14, line 67
  • Kennebunkport Vital Records
  • Family of Charles Richard Nunan and Emily Tarrant- Florence Nunan & Mary Bryant, MSS. Kennebunkport Hist. Soc.

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