Ships, Swindlers, and Scalded Hogs by Frederic B. Hill

Ships, Swindlers, and Scalded Hogs

When I first picked up this book, Ships, Swindlers, and Scalded Hogs, I wasn’t sure it would be all that interesting. Sure, a history of the famous Crooker Shipyard in Bath is a worthy subject, and the book is written by the great-great-grandson of one of the Crooker brothers, but I’ve got a pile of books to read and write about, so I decided to simply flip through it quickly.

Well, it only took a few pages before author Frederic B. Hill had me hooked. There’s a whole lot more here than simply building ships. Swindlers and scaled hogs indeed.

Hill established the Office of Special Programs for the U.S. State Department, after serving as a reporter and editorial writer for the Baltimore Sun from 1965 to 1985, where covered the news throughout Europe and Africa from London and Paris. But despite the allure of those wonderful places, he retired to Maine, his native state. Smart move!

He didn’t know much about his great-great-grandfather Charles Crooker, other than he had built ships in Bath in the mid-1800s. For example, he didn’t know that Charles and his brother owned entire townships in the Moosehead Lake region, or that they were the most prominent shipbuilders of their day.

Oh, but there’s more, a lot more. “What I discovered was not one but two stories,” he writes, “a very interesting history of several generations of shipbuilders and leading citizens of a nationally vital port but also a compelling story of ambition and intrigue, trusting partnerships and double-crosses, success and failure, tragedy and redemption – all in a young vibrant, and transforming America.”

Turns out it’s a story of amazing accomplishments, but also of “tangled relationships, personal rivalries, and complex financial transactions within a large and influential family, beset by bad blood and betrayal, not one but two major cases of fraud and theft involving approximately $2 million in today’s currency, a sensational divorce trial, and protracted spells in a form of debtors’ prison.”

After quickly flipping through the book, I returned to page one and began a very interesting journey through this complex and compelling story. It’s a good one!


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.