Maine: An Encyclopedia

Sewall, William Wingate

(1845-1930), a Maine guide and log driver, was the first white child born in Island Falls, April 13, 1845. He climbed Mount Katahdin for the first time in September, 1867 when he was twelve years old.

The Sewall House (2001)

The Sewall House (2001)

Bill Sewall was introduced to Theodore Roosevelt by an acquaintance whom Sewall had guided the year before. On September 7th, 1878, Roosevelt, in his early 20’s and fresh from Harvard, appeared at the Sewall house after an exhausting trip from Boston.   A few days later he was canoeing on the Mattawamkeag River on the way to Mattawamkeag Lake. During most of that month Sewall and Roosevelt hiked, fished, and hunted in the area around Island Falls.

Hunting in Maine (left to right) Bill Sewall, Wilmot Dow and TR

Hunting in Maine (left to right) Bill Sewall, Wilmot Dow and TR

Though he left Maine in late September, TR was back at Sewall’s place for a few weeks in February of 1879.  This time it was winter, with plenty of snow.  They again hunted and, this time, visited two logging camps.

Not able to stay away from the Maine woods, Roosevelt returned in August of 1879 with the goal of conquering Mount Katahdin.  After losing a shoe attempting to ford the swift Wassataquoik Stream on the 26th, he, Sewall and others in their party summited the mountain on August 29th.

During September, just Sewall and Roosevelt completed an arduous trip to the Munsungan Lakes, passing through “The Oxbow” where they entered the Aroostook River, endured prolonged rains, and finally returned to Island Falls.

In 1884, Roosevelt invited Sewall and a friend of his to accompany him out West to engage in the cattle business. He became the foreman of TR’s Elkhorn Ranch in North Dakota. But the business soon failed and Bill returned to Island Falls in 1886.

By the 1890’s the railroad was under construction in Island Falls. The Sewall house, built in 1875, was home to many workers on the railroad, and later to the throngs of  people who came to town to work in the new F.W. Hunt Tannery Company.

In August of 1902, Roosevelt was traveling by train from Boston making a series of speeches. According to Edmund Morris,

At Bangor, Maine, an old loyalty reawakened. “If anyone sees or knows where Bill Sewall of Island Falls, Aroostook, is,” Roosevelt yelled from the balcony of the Bangor House, “I wish he would tell him that I want him to come in and lunch with me right now.” The bewiskered woodsman who had toughened him as a teenager pressed dazedly through the crowd, and went inside to roars of applause.

Headstone for William Wingate Sewall in Island Falls Cemetery (2012)

Bill Sewall Headstone (2012)

Bill Sewall was well known across northern Maine.  His friendship with Roosevelt is legendary.  Now he rests in the Island Falls cemetery.

Additional resources

* William Sewall, Wilmot Dow, and Theodore Roosevelt Hunting in Winter. Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.

Harmon, Harriett S. and Harriett H. Miller. Recollections of William Wingate Sewall (1854-1930) of Island Falls Maine. Island Falls, Me. 1972.

Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. Random House, NY. 2001.

Sewall, William Wingate. Bill Sewall’s story of T.R. New York. Harper & Brothers. c1919

Vietze, Andrew. Becoming Teddy Roosevelt: How a Maine Guide Inspired America’s 26th President. Downeast. Camden, Me. 2010.

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This entry was last modified: May 12, 2017 03:11 PM

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