CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — The numbers 1 and 2 have had some significance lately for Raymond Hamilton: he turned 102 on the 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year of the 21st century.
Hamilton, who was 6 when the U.S. entered World War I, has lived in the same South Road home for more than 70 years; he bought it for $2,500.
“Now as far as I’m concerned, today that’s all it’s worth,” he said a few days after turning 102. “The only reason that prices are up so high, is because people say so. That doesn’t make ’em expensive. … My father’s house … cost $1,000 to build.”
That was in 1905. Hamilton was born in that house, across the street from his current home, five years later.
His father, Alfred, was born in the house next door in the 1880s, in what was Chebeague’s first boarding house. That house was run by his grandmother Amanda, according to Donna Damon, a town historian and selectman, whose father, Ellsworth Miller, was one of Raymond Hamilton’s closest friends.
Hamilton’s grandfather, also named Alfred, was born a little further down the road, and the family has been on that part of the island since the 1820s, Damon said.
Ambrose Hamilton, Raymond Hamilton’s great-great-great-grandfather, was the first of the family on Chebeague; he arrived in 1756, Damon said. He bought 100 acres and had 14 children.
“We say there’s a little bit of Hamilton in all of us,” Damon, also a lifelong resident of the island, said.
Like his father, Hamilton spent his life as a fisherman. He started with his father at the age of 5, getting up at midnight to get onto the boat. Hamilton continued to make a living on the sea until he turned 92. Even bypass surgery a decade before didn’t slow him down.
Asked why he retired so “young,” he laughed and answered, “I guess I thought I’d had it. … If I could have died the last day I went fishing, it’d have been wonderful.”
Hard work, Hamilton said, was his fountain of youth: “It keeps your blood boiling,” he said, noting that those who spend too much time on their posterior are “no good at all.”
Refraining from drinking and smoking helped keep him young, too.
“Foolish things to do,” he said. “I lived down in Portland quite a lot; there was nothing around the waterfront in those days except for bums and drunks.”
Damon said the community has helped Hamilton be able to stay in his house, checking in on him regularly and bringing him plenty of groceries.
“The outpouring of support that Ray has had … is really important,” she said.
Hamilton has also had support on a broader scale; in honor of his 101st birthday, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, had a flag that flew over the U.S. Capital in Washington, D.C., presented to him.
He said he remembers the Chebeague of his youth as “a little fishing village. … Every man on the island (did) some kind of fishing. Today that’s gone completely.”
Hamilton also said the government has placed too many restrictions on fishing.
He doesn’t have much family left on the island. Mabel, who came from Vermont and was his wife of about 40 years, died in 1978, and his daughter Gail lives in Pennsylvania.
Island resident Beverly Johnson has been posting videos of her recent interviews with Hamilton to Youtube. The links can be found on her island news website, chebeague.org.
“He’s actually enjoying the attention that Beverly’s giving him right now,” Damon said. “She’s made him a media star on the Internet. … He has an unbelievable memory, too.”
Johnson also praised Hamilton’s memory. “I enjoy the way he tells the stories, in his own way,” she said.
With the wealth of memories he retains, has Hamilton ever thought of writing his memoirs?
“God, no,” he said, adding with a laugh, “Nobody would believe it.”
Raymond Hamilton has been a Chebeague Island resident for all of his 102 years.