Take the Second Left, Not the First

Although it's not much different than dozens of other seacoast settlements with its weirs, wharf’s and weather-torn smokehouses, one of my favorite New England villages is Bailey's Mistake.

Bailey's Mistake: Lower Left
Lubec Narrows: Upper Right
It wasn't very funny at the time, but ever since Captain Bailey made his famous mistake 125 years ago one generation or the other has been getting quite a chuckle out of the incident. In fact, even the staid and terribly proper Coast and Geodetic Survey of the U.S. Department of Commerce is going along with the gag on its maps of the area.

The section of coast in question is located about seven miles west of Lubec, Maine and was settled in the early 1800's by John and Hiram Balch.

The place was originally named "Trescott," incorporated in 1827 and the natives were busying themselves in lumbering, farming, fishing and shipbuilding, although they never managed to build a lasting reputation in this last enterprise; the only large boat ever constructed here carried coal during the War of 1812 and was sunk by the British shortly after it went into action.

Around 1830 the thing that was to set this typical bit of Maine coastline off from the rest of Trescott and, in fact, from the rest of any normally-named villages, happened one stormy night.


The term "down-east" really applies here. Tallship navigators coined the term in the 1800's because heading along the coast of Maine eastward they were usually heading downwind. Today the term down-east generally refers to anywhere on the coastal State of Maine.
Bailey's Mistake

A self-assured, confident and experienced skipper named Bailey was making his way down-east from Boston in a four-masted schooner. The fog swirled so thickly it became impossible to see from mast to mast. The ship edged cautiously through what Bailey thought was the Lubec Narrows and ground to a rending, shuddering and utterly complete halt astride what is now called Bailey's Ledge. The ship wasn't nearly as badly damaged as Bailey's reputation when it was found that, despite his crew's diligent use of the sextant and compass, they had made a seven-mile error in his coastwise navigation.

When the skies cleared the next morning Bailey and his crew could see that their ship lay in the center of a mile-wide bay at the end of which was a tiny settlement of houses, a couple of shipbuilding docks, a lumber mill and a few farms.

Aft of the schooner were some narrows formed by two jutting headlands and not by, as Bailey had apparently thought, the Lubec peninsula and Campobello Island.

The story goes that Captain Bailey and some members of his crew, reluctant to return to Boston and face the music in the home office, took his cargo of lumber off the ship, built some homes right here in Washington County and settled down.
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