Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Immigrants

Waterville City Hall, upper left.

by Mary Grow

Middle Easterners, Waterville, & Irish, Augusta

The French-Canadians and the Irish were not the only groups coming to the central Kennebec Valley from other countries. Stephen Plocher wrote in his Waterville history (found on line) that in the 1860s, people he called “Syrian-Lebanese” from Syria (Lebanon and Syria were French mandates until 1943, when they became two separate countries) began arriving.

Their main settlement, shared with French-Canadian immigrants, was in the area called Head of Falls, on the west bank of the Kennebec between the railroad track and the river, east of City Hall. Former Maine Senator George Mitchell, whose mother was Lebanese by birth and father Lebanese by adoption, grew up in Head of Falls.

He wrote in his book The Negotiator (see Box 2) that the area was only about two acres, bounded by the railroad, the river and the Wyandotte Worsted Textile Mill where many residents worked. The land was crowded with apartment buildings and small houses, and the buildings were crowded with people.

Mitchell wrote that one group of houses was on the bank of the Kennebec. Another group was above them at the top of a short steep hill. In winter, the gravel path between them became a sledding run for Head of Falls children (where Mitchell suffered a broken leg in an accident the winter he was five years old).

Head of Falls was first home to French-Canadians. Plocher said the earliest Middle Eastern immigrants worked as “peddlers,” but they soon found jobs with the railroad and, as manufacturing expanded, in Waterville’s numerous, mostly water-powered, mills.

The Syrians were Maronite Catholics, and joined the Franco-American church. Mitchell explained that the Maronites are named to honor a fifth-century hermit priest in what is now Lebanon; they have been part of the Roman Catholic Church since the 16th century.

Reuben Wesley Dunn’s chapter on manufacturing in Whittemore’s Waterville history listed some of the employment opportunities in the last half of the 19th century.

The Waterville Iron Manufacturing Company started in the 1840s on Silver Street. After an August 1895 fire, the company, by then Waterville Iron Works, reopened farther north, on the Kennebec north of Temple Street.

The first cotton mill, according to Dunn, was the Lockwood Company’s, planned and built over several years and producing its first cloth in February 1876. Its immediate success led to opening a second, larger mill early in 1882. When Whittemore and his colleagues wrote their history in 1902, the Lockwood mills had about 1,300 employees and an annal payroll of about $415,000.

The Hathaway Shirt Factory was started in 1849. By 1902, according to Dunn, it employed between 150 and 175 people to run 100 sewing machines, with an annual payroll around $60,000.

The company first named Riverview Worsted Mills, soon to become Wyandotte Worsted, was organized in 1899 and began operations in February 1900 in a mill a bit north of Temple Street. Its product, Dunn wrote, was “fine fancy worsteds for men’s wear.” In 1902 the company had 80 looms “of the latest and most approved pattern”; it was moving toward 300 employees and a $150,000 annual payroll.

Hollingsworth & Whitney Paper Mill

The large Hollingsworth and Whitney mill (later the Scott Paper mill), in Winslow, opened in 1892, also needed workers. Dunn wrote that the facility started with a groundwood mill and a paper mill, and added a sulphite mill in 1899. (Groundwood is, as the name says, ground-up wood, or wood pulp, used to make paper. Sulphite is one of several additions that can make paper whiter, stronger or otherwise more useful for specific purposes.)

By 1902, Dunn said, the mill employed 675 men and the payroll was about $360,000 a year.

Dunn included the Winslow mill in a history of Waterville because, he wrote, it “contributes in so high a degree to the prosperity of our city.” To make this contribution possible, the footbridge known as the Two Cent Bridge was built in 1901, to let Waterville residents, especially those living in Head of Falls, “commute” to work in Winslow. (See Box 1)

Lebanese immigration continued in the 20th century, Plocher wrote, as more people joined friends and relatives and found jobs. Enough more Maronite Catholics arrived to organize their own church. The first Maronite priest began conducting services in Arabic in 1924; St. Joseph’s Maronite Catholic Church at the intersection of Appleton and Front streets was built in 1951.

Waterville’s urban renewal in the early 1960s eliminated the Head of Falls settlement, which by then, Mitchell said, most people would have labeled a slum. The Wyandotte Woolen Mill moved to West River Road and the housing was demolished.

Edwards Dam, on Kennebec River

In 2016 former Colby College Dean Earl Smith wrote a novel titled Head of Falls about a teen-age Lebanese girl growing up in Head of Falls in the 1950s. In the Central Maine Morning Sentinel for Nov. 13, 2016, he told reporter and columnist Amy Calder that he wrote the novel “to pay tribute to the Lebanese people and to provide a testament to their lives.”

He continued, describing the area in the 1950s: “It has always fascinated me that in this community everyone got along well. They were Arabic and there were Jews and French and Irish — they all had their separate neighborhoods. It’s sort of nice to be a community where we don’t have these kinds of tensions at all. That’s what Waterville was like.”

Russian and Polish Jews also came to Waterville, Plocher added, leading to the organization of Beth Israel Congregation in 1902. Services were first held “in the north end fire station,” he wrote; the first synagogue opened in 1905. The current Upper Main Street building dates from 1957, according to the website.

Augusta was the other major manufacturing hub in the central Kennebec Valley. According to Augusta’s Museum in the Streets, immigrant workers were French-Canadians and Irish; Middle Easterners are not mentioned. (See the related article in the May 12 issue of The Town Line.)

The Museum in the Streets says the “hard and dangerous” work of building the first dam across the Kennebec in 1834 and 1835 was done by French-Canadian and Irish workers. James North agreed in his 1870 Augusta history. Of the Irish, he wrote that many worked on the dam; others “made themselves useful in the various improvements going on about town.”

The Museum quotes Nathaniel Hawthorne’s description of the workers’ houses, when he visited Augusta in 1837 with Bowdoin College classmate Horatio Bridge. He called them “subterranean” in appearance, with sod roofs and turf walls.

To accommodate the Irish population, Augusta’s first Catholic services were held in 1836 in the former Unitarian church building on the east side of the Kennebec. In 1845, Thomas B. Lynch wrote in Kingsbury’s history, a new Catholic church was built on State Street; it was dedicated September 8, 1846.

North cited a census taken in Augusta in 1836 (not the federal decennial census, and he did not explain it) that showed a population of 6,069, including 54 Blacks and 407 “Foreigners not naturalized.”

In 1845, North wrote, Augusta began a fast industrial expansion mostly based on the water power the dam supplied. A large cotton factory was started in 1845 and went into operation in November 1846. Six sawmills and “a large and expensive flour mill” began operations around the same time, and other factories followed.

The owners of the cotton factory built workers’ boarding houses and sold by auction 50 50-by-100-foot house lots on about 5.5 acres “on the table land above the factory.”

Another employment opportunity arose when the railroad was extended to Augusta, with the first locomotive arriving Monday, Dec. 15, 1851. North wrote that it came during a snowstorm and during a session of the Supreme Court, which had to be suspended because the “exultant and joyous” train whistle drowned out the proceedings.

Museum in the Streets says the various factories had 600 employees by 1858. The cotton mill alone employed 229 women and 61 men in 1860.

North described the by-then-City of Augusta as continuing to thrive until his book was published in 1870, despite dam washouts, fires, economic changes and a civil war. In contrast to Dunn and Plocher, he focused on the entrepreneurs, the financiers, the occasional political issues related to development and the building and rebuilding, and said nothing about the thousands of people who worked in the various mills and factories.

Ticonic Footbridge

The pedestrian bridge across the Kennebec River linking Waterville and Winslow was officially named the Ticonic Footbridge when it was built in 1901 for the Ticonic Foot Bridge Company, Wikipedia says.

The original bridge was carried away by a Dec. 15, 1901, flood. By 1903 it had been replaced.

When the bridge first opened, the fee to cross the river was one cent, collected at a tollbooth on the Waterville end. An on-line description of the bridge’s historic marker says the charge was doubled to pay for the 1903 rebuilding, and the bridge became known as the Two Cent Bridge or the Two Penny Bridge.

George Mitchell, whose family lived close to the bridge for the first few years of his life, wrote that children from Head of Falls became adept at sneaking past the toll collector for a free walk to Winslow. Early in the 1960s the Ticonic Foot Bridge Company gave the bridge to Waterville and city officials made it free for everyone.

The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The marker calls it “the longest [at 576 feet] and oldest wire suspension footbridge in America.

Selected contemporary sources

1) In the May 20, 2022, edition of the Central Maine newspapers, Amy Calder wrote about two Colby College seniors whose documentary about life in Waterville’s South End premiered at Railroad Square Cinema May 17. Her piece is titled Opening a door to Waterville’s South End.

The documentary by Charlie Jodka and Quinn Burke, available on Youtube, features interviews with people who grew up in The Plains.

George Mitchell

2) George Mitchell described The Negotiator as stories about his life, not a formal biography, and the description is accurate. Your writer recommends the book to readers interested in Maine, in government and politics or in this unusual man. (Former Senator Mitchell was profiled earlier in this series, in the July 23, 2020, issue of The Town Line.)

3) As your writer picked up a copy of Mitchell’s book at the South China Public Library, volunteer librarian Dale Kilian offered a small paperback titled War in the South Pacific A Soldier’s Journal (copyright 1995). The author was Thomas J. Maroon (1914-2002), a local man of Lebanese heritage who enlisted in the Maine National Guard in 1940 and fought in the Pacific theater for more than three years in World War II. Based on the informal diary he kept, it should appeal to students of military history; area residents will find many familiar names.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Mitchell, George J., The Negotiator (2015).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Plocher, Stephen, Colby College Class of 2007, A Short History of Waterville, Maine Found on the web at Waterville-maine.gov.
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: French-Canadians – Part 2

Water St., Waterville, The Plains, circa 1930. Note the trolley in the center of the photo. The trolley ceased operations on October 10, 1937. Many of the buildings in this photo are no longer there. (photo courtesy of Roland Hallee)

by Mary Grow

(See part 1 of this series here.)

French-Canadians Part & other Catholics

The story of French-Canadian immigrants in the Augusta and Waterville area, as presented by the writers cited, is partly a story of separateness and discrimination evolving into cooperation and mutual respect.

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One of the stations of Waterville’s Museum in the Street in front of the home of Waterville’s first permanent Canadian settler, Jean Mathieu.

Steven Plocher’s on-line history says Québecois began to come to Waterville in the 1820s, first as temporary workers and after Jean (or Jean-Baptiste) Mathieu (or Matthieu) arrived in 1827 as permanent residents. Their numbers increased after the Kennebec Road from Québec Province was improved around 1830.

An on-line history by a writer identified as Bob Chenard, drawing on other histories of Waterville’s French-Canadian community, says in the 1820s Mathieu came as far south as Shirley (between Monson and Greenville) and started a food delivery service for lumber camps and settlers north of Bangor.

When he came to Waterville, he moved a wooden house from Fairfield to the east side of Water Street, in an area in southern Waterville called La Plains, “The Plains”. Plocher said his house served as the first French Catholic meeting house. Whittemore, in his 1902 Waterville history, said Father Fortier said the first Mass there. Neither historian gave a date.

Chenard described The Plains as the area along Water Street and side streets off Water Street. When settlement began, the land was “thickly wooded,” with occasional small clearings where livestock could graze. He said there were about 300 French families in Waterville, mostly in The Plains, by the early 1830s; your writer considers the figure of about 30 families in 1835, given by George Dana Boardman Pepper in his chapter on churches in Whittemore’s history, more likely to be accurate.

Most of the inhabitants of The Plains “were very poor,” Chenard wrote. “Some excavated and reinforced shelter in steep slopes as temporary homes. The most prosperous owned some domestic animals.”

Whittemore added an anecdote: “One of the citizens whose wealth now amounts to several tens of thousands of dollars tells how an unsuspicious cow who had strayed upon one of these turf roofs came down through it into the midst of the astonished family.”

Job opportunities Chenard listed included clearing the area that became Pine Grove Cemetery, working in sawmills and other manufactories, farming, lumbering, quarrying and brick-making. In 1855, construction of the first railroad through Waterville provided more jobs and created a second Franco-American settlement in the north end of town.

As mills and manufacturing developed in the 1860s and 1870s, job opportunities multiplied, and more French-Canadians, in Plocher’s words, left behind “their struggling farms and the British government in Québec for the economic prosperity and relative freedom found in the U.S.”

Chenard said “Waterville’s first grocery stores” were opened on Water Street in the 1860s, by “Peter Bolduc and Frederick Pooler (Poulin).” New French-Canadian stores continued to open in the 1870s; Chenard mentioned clothing and jewelry stores, and Plocher wrote,” After the first French store opened in 1862, dozens of other businesses and services followed suit: before long there were stores, doctors, dentists, lawyers, even a theater, all in the Plains.”

A successor store that Kingsbury described was John Darveau, Jr.’s, grocery, opened in 1876. Darveau was born in St. Georges, Québec, Kingsbury wrote; assisted by his brother, Joseph Darveau, and Henry W. Butler, he ran the store until he died in 1891.

The old Lockwood-Dutchess Textile Mill, on Water St., in Waterville. Now the Hathaway Creative Center. It was a mill where many Canadians went to work upon their relocation to Waterville.

The Civil War and post-war industrial development encouraged more immigration. For Waterville, Chenard wrote, the opening of the Lockwood Cotton Mill at the north end of Water Street in 1874 “attracted the greatest number of Franco-American immigrants.”

Mill owners sent representatives to the Province of Québec to solicit workers. Chenard wrote that substantial immigration continued until 1896, when the province got its first French-Canadian minister and all of Canada became more prosperous.

Kingsbury wrote that in the first six months of 1892, the Lockwood Mill produced “8,752,682 yards of cotton cloth, weighing 2,978,000 pounds. To produce these large results, 2,100 looms, 90,000 spindles and the labor of 1,250 people ten hours each week day are required.” In addition, the mill employed 50 to 75 “skilled mechanics” to keep the machinery running.

Chenard wrote that a small minority of the immigrants were doctors or other professional people, but most were extremely poor, and working in the mill was not a way to get rich. “Even the best weavers made only $1 a day”; average workers made 25 to 50 cents a day.

The mill owners helped workers find conveniently-located housing, Chenard wrote. There were “large boarding houses or small cozy homes known as ‘maison de la compagnie [company house],’ which were mostly owned by the Lockwood Company.” Another choice was an apartment in what Chenard called the Bang’s estate, “a long row of tiny red-painted houses.”

Kingsbury wrote that the French Catholic church in Waterville started as a mission served from Bangor, beginning in the 1840s. Chenard described as “Waterville’s first Catholic Church,” St. John’s on Grove Street, built by Jesuit missionary Father Jean Bapst. Pepper quoted an 1851 article from the Waterville Mail encouraging “those connected with other sects” to support the effort to provide a Catholic house of worship.

The first resident pastor was Father Nicolyn, in 1857. After two other priests, Father D. J. Halde came in 1870 and in 1871 bought a lot on Elm Street and had a larger church, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, built. It opened in 1874; Kingsbury said it cost $22,000, plus another $8,000 in following years (to 1892).

By 1874, Chenard said, St. John’s church had been moved to Temple Court and converted to a school. By 1902, Pepper wrote, it was a private home.

In 1880, Kingsbury wrote, Father Halde was succeeded by Father Narcisse Charland, who in 1886 bought a house for a “parochial residence” for $3,600 plus $1,000 worth of repair work. The next year the priest spent another $7,000 to build a parochial school, opened in 1888, which contributed to providing education for mill workers’ children.

In 1891 Father Charland invested $8,788 to build and furnish the Orders of Sisters Ursulines convent. Kingsbury wrote that it served “as a residence for the sisters, a boarding house for girls, and has class rooms for recitations.”

In 1892, Kingsbury wrote, there were between 450 and 480 parochial school students, 21 of them boarders. The church seated 1,100 and had two Sunday morning services, but was “too small to accommodate the worshippers from this large and growing parish, which numbers, including Winslow, over 3,000 souls.”

At that time, Kingsbury continued, Father Charland was also holding monthly services at missions in Vassalboro (see below) and Oakland.

Meanwhile, Chenard wrote that Waterville’s Second Baptist Church, also called the French Baptist Church, opened on Water Street in 1884.

Chenard went on to list a variety of French-Canadian organizations that provided social services to the French community, and cultural activities – music, drama – that spread to the entire Waterville community. Plocher added, “The Franco-Americans also introduced hockey to the city.”

Plocher and Chenard agreed that relations between French-Canadians and the rest of Waterville improved over the years. Plocher wrote, “The Anglos in Waterville were forced to adjust to the new presence, and although there was some prejudice in the Yankee population, it was not long before every business had at least one French-speaking employee.”

Whittemore and Chenard both reported much animosity between the young men of the two communities in early days. Whittemore wrote that young Anglos did not visit The Plains “with good intent,” and when young Francos came into Anglo territory “they came in bands strong enough for offense or defense, as the case might require,” sometimes adding out-of-town muscle.

The two writers further agreed that the animosity was past. “In time, it gave way to a more peaceful understanding which often resulted in warm friendships,” Chenard wrote.

Pepper’s view was that relations among adults were reasonably friendly all along. He wrote that Protestants contributed to St. John’s Chapel in the 1850s and to “larger and later” Catholic enterprises. The Mail often ran notes from the Catholic priest of the time thanking all Waterville people for “generous aid furnished especially in connection with church fairs,” he wrote.

“This liberal disposition and grateful appreciation at and from the beginning have contributed not a little to the development of that marked good will which has ever characterized the mutual relations of Catholics and Protestants, French and Americans in this town and its neighborhood,” Pepper said.

As evidence of late 19th-century integration, Chenard called Frederick Pooler/Poulin “the ‘Father’ of French politicians in Waterville,” elected selectman in 1883 and 1887, member of the first board of aldermen after Waterville became a city on Jan. 12, 1888, overseer of the poor from 1889 to 1892, board of education member in 1898-99 and legislative representative in 1906.

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In Fairfield, according to the Fairfield Historical Society, the first French Catholic Mass was celebrated in 1870 by Father Halde, from Waterville, “in a public hall.” By 1882 there were 104 French-Canadian families in the town, and Bishop Healy had Father Charland from Waterville put up “a small chapel on the grounds of the present church” on High Street.

The first “resident pastor” was Rev. Louis Bergoin, in 1891. The history says he thought “the chapel was too small”; it gives no date for the building of the larger church, but says Right Rev. William H. O’Connell, Bishop of Portland, visited the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the first time on Aug. 18, 1901.

A Portland Press Herald article from April 27, 2015, says the building was put up in 1895. The article says “The church was closed by the Waterville-based Corpus Christi Parish four years ago at the same time it shuttered St. Theresa Church, in Oakland, and St. Bridget Church, in Vassalboro.” New owners in April 2015 planned to convert it to their home.

* * * * * *

Speaking of St. Bridget’s Church, in Vassalboro, it, too, was built primarily by and for an immigrant population of mostly mill workers, the Irish who came to North Vassalboro beginning in the 1840s to work in John D. Lang’s woolen mill. In her history of Vassalboro, Alma Pierce Robbins told the story of the church as she found it in “an anonymously-written history” from 1926.

Robbins explained that Vassalboro businessmen had already opened sawmills, gristmills and tanneries in North Vassalboro, using waterpower supplied by China Lake’s Outlet Stream. But the woolen mill required workers with different skills, so, she wrote, Lang and partners advertised “in English and Irish newspapers.”

The ads brought many Irish workers, both from Ireland and from earlier Irish communities in Boston and as far away as New York. Robbins found in the 1850 federal census a list of “new names” in Vassalboro with the countries of origin. Thirty-eight families were from Ireland; 12 were from England; four were from Canada; two were from Scotland; and John McCormack’s birthplace was given as “Atlantic Ocean.”

Many of the Irish were Catholic, and the nearest Catholic church, in Waterville, was a five-mile walk, Robbins wrote. Irish workers began departing for other mill towns where Catholic churches were nearby.

The unnamed mill agent in 1857 arranged for Mass to be said in workers’ homes. When attendees overflowed the houses, the “old Engine House Hall” became the new venue, where Waterville priests held services, at first four times a year and later once a month.

Workers continued to move away, however, and, Robbins wrote, in or a bit before 1874 mill agent George Wilkins, with the help of Waterville’s Father Halde, bought from the mill owners a lot at the intersection of Main Street and Oak Grove Road on which to found St. Bridget’s Catholic Church.

The original building was moved farther south on Main Street and served until it was destroyed by fire on Nov. 5, 1925. A new building was started the next year; the first service was Nov. 14, 1926.

St. Bridget’s Church was also sold and is now Vassalboro’s St. Bridget Center, available for rent for private and public gatherings.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Plocher, Stephen, Colby College Class of 2007, A Short History of Waterville, Maine
Found on the web at Waterville-maine.gov.
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902)

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: French-Canadians – Part 1

St. Augustine Church in Augusta (photo by Eric Austin)

by Mary Grow

Augusta

Two distinctly non-British peoples who came to live mainly in Augusta and Waterville, the largest manufacturing centers in the central Kennebec Valley in the 19th and early 20th centuries, were French-Canadians who came south from Canada’s Québec Province, and Middle Easterners, especially Lebanese and Syrians.

This article will talk about French-Canadians in the Kennebec Valley and specifically in Augusta. The next article in the series will be about French-Canadians in Waterville and Fairfield and, if space permits, Middle Eastern immigrants.

* * * * * *

Wikipedia says the first European to visit what is now the Canadian Province of Québec was the Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano, whose expedition in 1522 or 1523 was authorized by King Francis I, of France. Successive French explorers followed, and in 1608 Samuel de Champlain founded Québec City.

The area was a French colony from then until the British conquered it, a victory recognized by the 1764 Treaty of Paris. The province has been under British rule ever since, in varying forms.

However, relations with the British government and with the rest of British Canada have been stormy at times. The Catholic Church has been important in the province, and French remains the official language. French-Canadians brought a distinctive culture and formed separate communities when they came to Maine.

Le Club Calumet’s on-line history (see box #1) says there have been French-Canadians in the area that is now Maine since 1611. Around 1830, improvements to the route called the Kennebec Road or the Canada Road facilitated north-south movement.

An on-line genealogy of a family whose ancestors followed the Kennebec Road describes it thus: “The road begins in Beauce, Québec, then in Maine in the Jackman area and follows the Kennebec River through Skowhegan, Waterville, southeast to Phippsburg, Maine.”

Another on-line source calls it “a system of water and portage routes linking the Chaudiere River in Québec to the Kennebec River in Maine” and says it “served as the primary transportation corridor between Canada and Maine until the construction of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1853.” Used for thousands of years by Native Americans and since the 17th century by European missionaries, traders and other wanderers (and occasionally soldiers), it remained in primitive condition until the 1830s.

By then the Kennebec Road was used mostly by “drovers taking livestock to the market in Québec City,” the source says. A few people lived along the route, though, and as they became more numerous they got the clout to demand improvements, especially after Maine became a separate state in 1820.

Between 1828 and 1835, the source continues, Maine state officials added “a customs house, postal service, a stage line and roadhouses. A ten-dollar ticket would buy a two-day stage coach ride from Québec City to Skowhegan.

“Construction of the state capital (1829) and the Kennebec dam (1834) in Augusta drew French Canadian workers with their families to Maine. A cholera epidemic in 1832 and the depression, famine and rebellion of 1837 [against British monarchical rule] hastened this migration.”

Urban jobs were not the only attraction for French-Canadians. Robert P. Tristram Coffin, in Kennebec Cradle of Americans, described 19th-century Maine loggers:

“Yellow and brown mustaches and many more black ones, for a great many of the men were ones who had stemmed from ‘P.Q.,’—the Province of Québec, – who had followed the Maine rivers down from the forests of the St. Lawrence, who spoke Canuck, and who handled their slim symphonies of curving wood and steel, their axes, as if they were attractive and tender young women.”

In a later chapter titled Yankees from the Province of Québec, Coffin described French-Canadian mill workers. From the early 1800s, and especially from the 1860s, large mills making cloth, paper and other products were powered by the Kennebec and needed workers, and many of those workers came from Québec.

In mill towns and cities, Coffin saw the French immigrants as a separate group in the second half of the 19th century. He imaginatively described the original Yankee home-owners moving uphill away from the river as French families settled near the mills – and moving farther as the French multiplied and prospered and they, too, claimed more living space.

Each riverside town and city had its Frenchtown, he wrote. “Two nations keeping apart, eating their different foods, having their own ways, their own schools, their own barbers and bakers.”

The Yankees considered the French-Canadians foreigners, Coffin wrote, even though they had been on the continent longer than most of their detractors. He praised them as holding onto the values of the “most civilized of all the Europeans,” describing them as family-loving, religious and hard-working.

* * * * * *

Thomas J. Lynch, contributing to Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history, traced the first French Catholic influence in the Augusta area to September 1646, when Father Gabriel Druillettes, a Jesuit, opened a mission to the Abenakis. The Mission of the Assumption was in a log cabin on the east side of the Kennebec, about three miles north of the Cushnoc trading post.

Lynch saw Augusta’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church as the successor to the Mission of the Assumption, even though by the time the Kennebec County history was finished in 1892, it was “restricted to the English-speaking Catholics of the city” and there was a second Catholic church for the French-speakers.

In the 1880s, French immigrants found jobs in the Edwards Manufacturing Company’s cotton mill at the river end of Northern Avenue. The Franco-American community formed near the mill in the north end of the city, an area variously called Sand Hill, Cushnoc, Cushnoc Heights or simply “the hill.”

The mill owners provided housing for some of their employees, and in 1887, in response to French-speakers who wanted services in their own language, provided space for a French Catholic church on Washington Street, which runs north off Northern Avenue part way up Sand Hill. The company sold one lot for $600 and donated a second lot.

St. Augustine Church’s website says most of the parishioners in the late 19th century were from rural parts of Québec and New Brunswick. Whole families worked in the mill, including “children as young as ten years old.”

Working hours were long, and non-French neighbors were often unfriendly. To the French-speaking families, “Sunday was a day to worship God and rest, beginning with attending Mass, followed by getting together with friends and relatives, as well as getting ready for next week’s labor.”

Bishop James Augustine Healy

Bishop James Augustine Healy, who served in Portland from 1885 to 1900, came to Augusta to bless the cornerstone for the new church on Aug. 28, 1888, and it was built that year. Kingsbury called the wooden building “second to none in the city in the beauty and richness of its interior decorations.”

“Folklore has it that the parish was named after Bishop Healy,” the website says. The parish at that time consisted of 160 families.

The church was accompanied by a school, taught from 1892 by the Ursuline Sisters and from 1904 by the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary. Rev. Telesphore Plante served as pastor from October 1887 until he retired Nov. 27, 1889. His successor was Rev. Arthur Hamel, who serve until he moved to Lewiston in 1907.

Under Rev. Hamel’s guidance, the website says, the construction debt was reduced; the church’s interior was redecorated; and the parish cemetery was opened in 1894, “with a solemn blessing by Bishop Lafleche of Trois-Rivières [Québec] with permission extended by Bishop Healy.”

The parish women’s organization, “Les Dames de Sainte Anne,” was organized in 1897. The website credits its members with raising thousands of dollars for “the betterment of the parish” and for “scholarships and other school-related activities.”

Construction of the present granite church building began in 1913, on land donated by Edwards Manufacturing. By then, the website says, the parish included 2,783 people from 553 families. The first service in the new church was the December 1916 Christmas Mass.

Le Club Calumet, Augusta

Le Club Calumet

On Sept.21, 1922, two dozen members of Augusta’s Franco-American community met “in the basement of Morin’s Shoe Store, on Water Street,” and organized Le Club Calumet, called on its website, calumetclub.com, “one of the foremost of Augusta’s civic organizations.” Its motto is “Unis pour toujours” (United forever); its headquarters is at 334 West River Road (Route 104), in Augusta.

The organizers’ goal was to give the Franco-American community more of a voice in city affairs. The website quotes: “The purpose of Le Club Calumet shall be for the propagation of the French language and intellectual development, by means of music, literature, education, and anything else the club shall judge beneficial to the interest of Franco-Americans.”

The club sponsors multiple activities open to the public, including at 8 p.m., on May 21, Comedy Night with The River Comics (ticket information is on the website). A Hundredth Anniversary Dance was held May 7, and a hundredth anniversary celebration is scheduled for Sept. 22 through 25.

Club members have always supported education for local Franco-American youngsters. In 1922, the club’s Calumet Educational & Literary Foundation website (calumeteducationfoundation.org) says, the club “appointed a committee to encourage students to continue their education by enrolling at Cony High School.” Now scholarships and grants are offered for education beyond high school; the website does not say whether aid is still limited to students of Franco-American heritage.

Since 1957, part of the scholarship money has come from the club’s “birthday dollar program,” started at the suggestion of Irenee Pelletier: club members pay one dollar into the education fund on their birthdays. The calumeteducationfoundation.org website has information on making tax-deductible donations. The website says for 2020-21, the foundation provided 20 scholarships with a total value of $107,000.

Augusta’s historic Colonial Theater, revisited

Colonial Theater

In the Feb. 4, 2021, issue of The Town Line, the Colonial Theater on Water Street, in Augusta, was described as an individually-listed historic building within the downtown Augusta historic district. Built in 1913, after a fire destroyed its predecessor, and rebuilt again after another fire in 1926, its style was described as “Beaux Arts and Georgian Revival…[with] Art Deco features.”

The 2014 historic register listing called it “an eclectic example of early 20th century design by a noted architect.” The architect was Harry S. Coombs (1878 – 1939), based in Lewiston.

The 2021 The Town Line article drew on Keith Edwards’ article in the Dec. 2, 2019, Kennebec Journal describing work to restore the historic building. Edwards’ follow-up article in the May 5, 2022, Kennebec Journal was headlined “Colonial Theater to host its first show in 53 years in downtown Augusta.”

Edwards described the theater as “in the midst of a major renovation project to bring it back to life.” For the May 6 show by Las Vegas magician and mind reader Kent Axell (a Manchester, Maine native, Edwards wrote), seating capacity was 300; Edwards quoted executive director Kathi Wall as aiming for 1,000 seats.

The theater website, colonialtheater.org, says more than $3 million of the estimated $8.5 million cost has been raised so far. In April 2022 the National Park Service awarded the theater $160,229 that will be used to restore windows and exterior doors.

The website has information and illustrations about the theater’s history and the restoration plans, as well as an on-line donation button and contact information.

Main sources

Coffin, Robert P. Tristram, Kennebec Cradle of Americans 1937.
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).

Websites, miscellaneous.

EVENTS: Open house to be held at Nathaniel Hawthorne home

Hawthorne House

Kicking-off with a celebratory open house on Saturday, May 7, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.—to which the public is cordially invited—the boyhood home of the legendary author of The Scarlet Letter, in Raymond (40 Hawthorne Road) will be transformed into a cozy, inviting events center available for everything from meetings to receptions to small weddings to crafts fairs to birthday parties and more, from May through September each year.

The free open house on May 7 will feature refreshments, hors d’oeuvres , and live music from popular singer-guitarist Gary Wittner from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. The occasion will mark the successful completion of Phase 1 of The Hawthorne Community Association’s three-year-long effort to raise $75,000 to make urgent structural repairs to the building affectionately referred to as “the Hawthorne House.” Those funds enabled essential repair of the building’s foundation and other critical elements of its structure, as well as an attractive makeover of the interior into a cozy, welcoming meeting place. Phase 2 of the fundraising campaign will seek to raise an additional $30,000 to cover the costs of a new roof and new siding and painting.

Event rentals at the Hawthorne House will help fund Phase 2 of the fundraising campaign. Rates are $25 per hour for nonprofits and Hawthorne Community Association members, and $50 per hour for nonmembers (minimum of two hours).

To donate to Phase 2 of the effort to fully repair Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Boyhood Home, please consider a much-appreciated check payable to “Hawthorne Community Association” / PO Box 185 / South Casco, ME 04077. PayPal donations may be made online at: https://www.hawthorneassoc.com.

For more information, please contact Abel Bates at (207) 318-7131 or jbates4@maine.rr.com.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Blacks in Maine – Part 4

by Mary Grow

Waterville, Winslow, Windsor

The Samuel Osbornes discussed in last week’s article were not the only Black family in 19th-century Waterville. Various sources mention several others, though details are often scanty and/or confusing.

Local historians did not consistently state the race or nationality of people they wrote about. For example, the index to Whittemore’s history of Waterville lists Samuel Osborne on three pages; on only one is he described as “colored.” There is no indication of the race of other Osbornes (and Osborns) mentioned in the history.

At the end of his chapter on early settlers in Whittemore’s history of Waterville, Aaron Plaisted wrote that for many years, Waterville’s population was “entirely American.” Your writer assumes he meant British, because he goes on to differentiate French Canadians (who will be discussed in the next article in this series) and Irish (whom your writer combines with the British, and who were numerous in other towns, sometimes specifically mentioned as Irish [in Lowden’s Windsor history, for example]).

Plaisted wrote that there was a colored Seco family in Waterville in the 1820s (see the April 14 issue of The Town Line for China Secos, and below for a few more). And “the first barber in town, George Boardman, was a colored man, very much of a dandy and more elegant in his dress and manners than many of his white fellow citizens.”

Prince Henry lived with his wife Venus on the small farm he owned on the west side of Waterville, on what Isaac Bangs, in his chapter in Whittemore’s history, called the second rangeway. Bangs wrote that Prince Henry must have died before 1825, because Venus was a widow by 1826.

According to Bangs, Venus Henry’s second husband was a free Black Revolutionary War veteran named Sampson Freeman. On-line information about Sampson Freeman is confusing.

Bangs wrote that Freeman lived in Salem, Massachusetts, when he enlisted in the Continental Army from the first Essex County regiment. He is recorded as a private who served from Feb. 1, 1777, to Feb. 5, 1780, including a stint at Valley Forge in 1778.

This information is challenged by an on-line list of early Waterville families, which says Henry (died about 1841) and Venus Freeman were the parents of Sampson Freeman, born about 1765 in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Ipswich and Salem are about 10 miles apart, north of Boston; a man born about 1765 would have been very young to be a soldier before and during the Revolution.

The soldier Sampson Freeman whom Bangs described came to Peru, Maine, and from there to Waterville in 1835, where he married Venus Henry “after a brief acquaintance.” (The on-line Sampson Freeman would have been close to 70 by 1835, and Bangs’ Sampson Freeman likely even older.)

The Freemans lived on the farm Venus had inherited until her death six years later (about 1842?), Bangs continued. Sampson Freeman died in 1843.

The Sampson Freeman listed in the genealogy on line married Catherine “Cata” Coburn on Oct. 6, 1788, in Dracut, Massachusetts.

Sampson and Catherine Freeman had three daughters, Peggy, Jane and Rhody (b. 1806), and one son, Jefferson (born 1809). A search for Jefferson Freeman gave no additional information; but a source cited on-line for him and his sister Rhody was a history of Peru, Maine.

On June 7, 1835, the Sampson Freeman described on line and Mary Foye filed marriage intentions in Waterville.

Mary Foye was “of Augusta” in 1835 and was the widow of Hosea Foye, identified on line as “a black barber in Augusta.” She died before 1843. (Perhaps the marriage intentions were not carried out, and Sampson Freeman married Venus Henry instead?)

One point of agreement between Bangs and the on-line genealogist is that Sampson Freeman died in 1843 – March 28, according to the on-line source – and was buried in Waterville’s Monument Park – near Venus’s grave, according to Bangs.

Kingsbury wrote in his Kennebec County history that the bodies buried in Monument Park were moved south to Pine Grove Cemetery, on Grove Street, after that graveyard was dedicated in May 1850.

The Find a Grave website inventory of Pine Grove Cemetery gives Sampson Freeman’s birth year as 1765, says he was born in Ipswich, was a Revolutionary War veteran and was 77 or 78 years old when he died March 28, 1843. Find a Grave lists no other person whose last name is Freeman known to buried in Pine Grove Cemetery.

• • • • • •

Linwood Lowden said in his 1993 history of Windsor that that town’s early settlers included one Black family, who apparently did not stay long. William Swain, from Pittston, acquired a lot in the south part of town in 1803, although Lowden wrote that he had settled there before the area was surveyed in 1802.

The lot was on Hunts Meadow Road, which runs southwest from the intersection of Routes 17 and 32. Lowden wrote that a hill on the road “where Dan Wilson built his home (and lived until recently) was once known as Swain Hill.”

On Aug. 7, 1799, Swain and Mehitable “Hitty” Griffin filed marriage intentions in Hallowell; Lowden assumed they followed through. Swain sold his lot on Feb. 27, 1804, and “apparently returned to Pittston,” Lowden wrote.

Kingsbury, in his chapter on Windsor, wrote that “the first negro who came into the town” was named George Brown. He worked for James Wingate, who came from the Bath area and established a farm in South Windsor, where in 1892 his grandson, also James Wingate, lived.

Brown evidently died in Windsor, because Kingsbury wrote, “His body lies under the pines on land owned by Mrs. Townsend.”

Unfortunately (and not untypically), Kingsbury gave no dates, though the context suggests Brown came to Windsor before 1820; nor did he say whether Brown came with Wingate or went into Wingate’s service after each arrived separately.

• • • • • •

The Seco family, some of whose members in China were mentioned in the April 14 issue of The Town Line, scattered into many other Maine towns, reportedly including Vassalboro, Windsor, Winslow and Palmyra, and some moved out of state.

Price and Talbot cite Vassalboro librarian and historian Elizabeth “Betty” Taylor’s story with additional information about William and Almira Seco’s son, Charles L. (March 18, 1830 – about July 12, 1916), when he lived in Winslow.

He was a “respected lumberman and river driver,” who helped build a bridge that he predicted would fall down. It did; and “the engineer who had ignored Seco’s warning asked to have Seco fired. The construction boss refused and said, ‘I don’t see how I can; he is one of my best men.'”

Charles L., according to an on-line genealogy, was born in Fairfield. The 1850 census listed him in Kingfield, Maine. His first wife, Eliza Sewall, was born in China about 1829; the genealogy says they were married in Boston, Massachusetts, on Sept, 19, 1852.

Their only child is listed as John T. Seco, born about 1857 in an unspecified Maine town. He apparently spent his adult life in New Haven, Connecticut.

Eliza died Dec. 13, 1863, and on Jan. 14, 1865, Charles L. married his second wife, Olive Williams (born about 1836), in Winslow. Their children were Eliza May (born in Maine in 1867) who had moved to Massachusetts by 1891, and Charles E. (born in Maine about 1871, died Dec. 20, 1919, in Augusta).

Eliza May was in Chelsea, Massachusetts, when she married for the first time, on Nov. 25, 1891, to John Eatman from New Brunswick. On June 27, 1900, she married again, to Edward William Boston from the British West Indies.

On June 26, 1899, Charles E. married a French-Canadian woman from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, Harriett “Hattie” Huding Luddlen, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. (Did he meet her through his sister’s first husband?) By the 1900 census, the couple were in Winslow; Charles E. was described as a boilermaker.

Hattie Seco died May 20, 1909, in Winslow; her widower died Dec. 20, 1919, in Augusta.

According to a comment historian Taylor made years ago to this writer, there was a Samuel Seco in Vassalboro, known as Sammy. Residents had a saying, “As black as Sammy Seco.”

In Palmyra, the 1820 census lists a widow named Rachel Seco, and the 1870 census lists Eliza Seco. Palmyra is in Somerset County, north and east of Pittsfield, connected to the Kennebec River Valley by Interstate 95 and the Sheepscot River.

More about Samuel Osborne

Samuel Osborne

Since writing about Osborne for the April 21 issue of The Town Line, your writer has found that he was mentioned several times in the Waterville Mail, Waterville’s weekly newspaper from 1863 to 1906.

Three short articles appeared early in 1896. The first, in the Jan. 10 issue, read: “Sam Osborne of Colby University is wearing a Good Templars’ badge, a very pretty affair made of gold and handsomely engraved. Sam is very proud of it but doesn’t know whom he has to thank for it. All that he knows about it is that it came from a member of the class of ’92 at Colby.”

The second, in the Jan. 31 issue, announced that Osborne was about to get a uniform; he had already been measured for it. The writer commented, “This move, while it is a source of pleasure to all interested in the college, is only in keeping with the example set by other institutions of the kind, in this and in other states. Nearly all have their janitors in uniform.”

Two weeks later, Feb. 14, 1896, the Mail announced: “Janitor Sam Osborne of Colby University appeared this morning in his new uniform, and never looked more happy and contented. The uniform is of dark blue cloth trimmed with silver buttons The coat is a straight front sack, similar in style to the Pullman car porter’s coat. The head-gear is a square-topped, low cap with a straight visor, over which are the words ‘Janitor Colby Univ.’ in silver letters. Altogether it is a neat uniform and is admired by the faculty and students as much as by Sam himself.”

An article in the May 30, 1900, issue commemorated his 35 years as the janitor at Colby. The headline called him “Genial Sam Osborne,” and the writer said that, “Thirty-five years is a long time for a man to work for one concern and give entire satisfaction to all, but Sam has done that for Colby and has won besides, the esteem and regard of more Colby students probably than any one man living.”

After Osborne’s death, the July 6, 1904, issue of The Mail ran a two-column obituary prominently on the left side of the front page.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Price, H. H., and Talbot, Gerald E. Maine’s Visible Black History: The First Chronicle of Its People 2006.
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Blacks in Maine – Part 3

(Luther Jotham: A Journey for Country and Community) An excerpt from the paper: On paper, Luther Jotham’s Revolutionary War service record reads like a typical service record of a Minute Man from rural Massachusetts in 1775. Volunteering to serve at a minute’s notice in case of an emergency, Jotham trained weekly with his neighbors in battle tactics. On April 19, 1775, when the alarm sounded at Lexington and Concord, Jotham joined his company of Bridgewater Minute Men in defense of their community.
Luther Jotham, however, differed from most Minute Men. As a free man of color, Massachusetts law excluded men like Jotham from participating in militia training days in peacetime. Yet in the midst of a looming emergency, he volunteered to protect his neighbors. Following the April 19 alarm, Jotham ultimately signed up to serve on four different occasions during the Revolutionary War. (photo courtesy of National Park Seervice)

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro

Records tell of a Kennebec Valley slave-owner, Captain Abiel or Abial Lovejoy (Dec. 15, 1731 – July 4, 1811), who lived in Vassalboro from 1776 and in Sidney after the west side of the Kennebec River became a separate town in 1792 (see the Feb. 3 issue of The Town Line). He was a native of Andover, Massachusetts, who came to the lower Kennebec Valley as a Massachusetts soldier (rising to the rank of captain) in the 1750s.

An on-line source says when Lovejoy and his wife Mary (Brown) married in 1758, they were given their first two slaves, a man named Boston and an unnamed woman who became Boston’s wife. After they moved to Dresden in 1761, Mary’s father gave them two more slaves, Salem and Venus.

In 1776 the household moved to a farm on the west side of the Kennebec, where Lovejoy became a leading Vassalboro citizen. Henry Kingsbury, in his 1892 Kennebec County history, listed him as a selectman from 1779 through 1784, apparently doubling as town treasurer in 1780. The on-line source tells two stories from those days.

Capt. Abiel Lovejoy

One is Lovejoy’s reaction when told Massachusetts ordered slaves freed, in 1788: he summoned “Salem and Venus, and offered them their liberty. They refused to leave and Salem’s answer to the Squire was, ‘You’ve had all de meat, now pick de bones.'”

The second story is about the time Lovejoy brought a jug of liquor to the field where a mixed group of slaves and hired hands was cutting hay, not to his satisfaction. When he demanded to know who did the poor job, the hands blamed Boston. Lovejoy said since Boston did all the work, “he shall have all the grog.”

The Lovejoys, their child who was born and died in 1784 and Boston, Venus and Salem were all buried in a family cemetery on the Sidney farm. The on-line source says, “As similar stones marked the burial place of the negroes, it is impossible to know which are the graves of the master and mistress and which are the graves of their servants.”

Remington Hobby (also Hobbey or Hobbie) was another Vassalboro slave-owner, briefly. Kingsbury called him a prominent Vassalboro citizen, listing him as town meeting moderator in 1774, selectman in 1777 and treasurer in 1778.

One on-line genealogy says Hobby was born in 1746 and was a Harvard College graduate. Converted to Quakerism, he became a “powerful” preacher, and died in Winslow in 1839. Different sources list his wife’s name was Anstrus or Anstress. The genealogy writer just cited said he married her about 1837, pointed out that by then he was in his 90s and wondered if there were a father and son of the same name and it was the son who got married in 1837.

The story in the Vassalboro Historical Society records (in the form of a letter in the Feb. 12, 1910, “Kennebec Journal”, reprinted in the Feb. 2, 1997, issue of what was by then the Central Maine Newspapers) says that a Boston merchant who owed Hobby money gave him as part payment an enslaved Black man from Guinea named Denmark. Hobby gave Denmark his freedom and sent him to join the Black “colony” in northeastern China.

Denmark soon returned to Vassalboro, claiming his new neighbors had robbed him, the story continues. After Hobby’s death, Hobby’s son John and John’s brother-in-law, Steven Jenkins from China, took care of Denmark. When he died, they arranged his burial in the Friends Cemetery on the east (lake) side of Neck Road in China.

Kingsbury’s history talks about a Black section of a cemetery in East Vassalboro in the early 1800s. He wrote that the cemetery was beside the First Baptist Church building on Elm Street.

(The1856 map of East Vassalboro shows the south end of present-day Main Street, from the four corners south, as Elm Street; north of the four corners is Water Street. Kingsbury wrote in 1892 that John Greenlowe was “well remembered” by East Vassalboro residents for the iron plows he patented and manufactured at the dam and for planting “most of the trees that so beautifully shade the streets of the village.”)

The First Baptist Church was organized June 3, 1788, and prospered for about a decade. In the 19th century membership declined, and about 1832 the building was sold for $43 to Ezeziel or Ezekiel Small, who let it deteriorate until it was removed.

This church building was “north of the old grave yard and south of the outlet landing,” Kingsbury wrote. The cemetery had not been maintained, and after the church was torn down, it was ignored, “except that the portion next to the mill [one of several owned by members of the Butterfield family] has been used by the colored people.”

By 1892, Kingsbury wrote, the area north of the mill was “an enclosure called the Baptist burying ground,” without headstones or grave mounds, shaded by tall elms along the street. The site of the former church had become “John Warren Butterfield’s garden.”

In her Vassalboro history, Alma Pierce Robbins gave the First Baptist Church a few paragraphs, including a reference to “the Baptist Burying Yard at the outlet of 12 Mile Pond [China Lake].”

At the Vassalboro Historical Society, the following Black families are listed from the 1810 census: James Bennett, with a three-person household; Prince Brown, 10 people; John Foy, six people; Luther Jotham, seven people.

In 1820, census-taker Abijah Smith listed Jotham with two others in his household, an adult woman and a male child. In 1830, he was living with two adult women and two male children. Smith also listed Bennett, but not Brown nor Foy.

Your writer has found information on only one of these families, the Jothams.

The author of an on-line paper by the Boston National Historical Park (hereafter BNHP), titled Luther Jotham: A Journey for Country and Community, used military, census and other records to find details about Jotham’s life.

The BNHP writer said Jotham was born a free Black in Middleborough, Massachusetts, about 1751. Sometime before 1775 the family moved to Bridgewater, Massachusetts. As tension with Great Britain increased, rules were changed to allowed Colored men to join the militia; when the Revolution began April 19, 1775, Jotham was a member of the Bridgewater Minute Men.

The essayist surmised he might have joined for the shilling he earned for every half day of training, or because “For men of color, joining a military community helped forge a more equal status with their white counterparts.”

After this first stint, Jotham enlisted in militia units three more times. On Aug. 1, 1775, he began five months’ service as a private “in Josiah Hayden’s company in the Plymouth County regiment of militia, stationed in Roxbury.” From January to March 21, 1776, he was again in Roxbury as a member of “Captain Mitchell’s company in Colonel Simeon Cary’s regiment,” identified in another on-line source as the Plymouth and Barnstable County Regiment (Cary was also from Bridgewater, which is in Plymouth County).

In September 1776 Jotham re-enlisted in Cary’s regiment. The regiment was ordered to New York City, then partly under British control.

On Sept. 16, British forces attacked near Harlem Heights, and General George Washington ordered several regiments, including Cary’s, to counter-attack. This was Jotham’s first experience of battle, the BNHP writer said; it was soon followed by another at White Plains. Jotham then “faithfully completed his term of service on December 1, 1776 and returned home to Bridgewater.”

Jotham’s fourth enlistment, in October 1777, put him in “Captain Nathan Snow’s company, in Colonel [Cyprian] Hawes’ regiment,” which was sent to Rhode Island in an unsuccessful effort to chase the British out of Newport. The American success at Saratoga, New York, on Oct.17, 1777, took enough pressure off New England that militia units were sent home that fall.

The BNHP writer found that Jotham and Mary Dunbar were married soon after he came home. In January 1779, he wrote, Jotham paid 320 pounds for “about 15 acres of land.” He thereby elevated his status from “labourer” (who worked for someone else) to “yeoman” (who “farmed his own land”) in relevant documents.

The couple had three children, Loriana, Lucy and Nathan.

The BNHP writer found records that Bridgewater officials “warned out” Jotham – and many others – in November 1789. Such a warning, the writer explained, was a notice to anyone who might become a town charge that he or she was not eligible for town support, and a demand for evidence of self-sufficiency. Since Jotham was a landowner, the writer surmised that his getting such a notice might be evidence of racial discrimination.

Jotham apparently satisfied the selectmen, because the 1790 and 1800 censuses showed his family in Bridgewater.

Sometime in the early 1800s, the Jothams moved to Vassalboro, where he bought 20 acres and presumably continued farming. The BNHP writer did not know why he moved to Maine, nor why he chose Vassalboro.

Mary Jotham died before 1816, and all three children by 1820. On May 25, 1816, Jotham married his second wife, Reliance Squibbs; they had two more children, Mary Anne and Orlando. Rachel and both her children had also died by May 1820, when Jotham applied for one of the veterans’ pensions the U. S. Congress approved in 1818.

(Robbins said that the 1818 federal law set pension payments for anyone who had served at least nine months during the Revolution and was in “reduced circumstances:” privates got eight dollars a month, officers twenty dollars a month.)

The BNHP writer found Jotham’s application, in which he wrote that his property consisted of “a house, small hut, a few tools and household items, and several animals, including one cow, three sheep, and one pig.” He said his annual income was $5; at age 69, he was unable to work much.

“Jotham seemed well connected to other Black families living in Vassalboro and the surrounding area. His pension application includes many testimonies from friends and acquaintances who vouched for his military service,” the BNHP writer said.

Jotham was awarded an annual pension of $96.

On Dec. 20, 1821, Jotham (by then about 70 years old) married for the third time, to a woman information at the Vassalboro Historical Society identifies as Rhoda Parker or Rhoda Dunbar. The BNHP writer did not list a last name for Rhoda; he said the couple had “at least” three children.

The next set of documents the writer found date from August 1827, when a Vassalboro overseer of the poor found that Jotham was mentally incompetent and arranged for a man named Abijah Newhall to be his legal guardian. Sometime after the 1830 census, the Jothams moved to China, where Luther died on June 22, 1832, aged 81, and, the writer said, was buried in the Talbot Cemetery.

Rhoda applied for a widow’s pension in 1860, when she was 73. The BNHP writer did not say whether her application was successful.

The writer concluded with a summary that applied to many Black veterans.

“Jotham attempted to build a better life for himself in the new nation he helped fight for. Though respected for his service by those who knew him personally, his honorable status as a Revolutionary War veteran did not make him invulnerable to the “colorphobia” that plagued many in his community.”

The writer continued by pointing out that many veterans, regardless of their race, eventually had to go through the humiliating process of demonstrating that they were so poor they needed a federal pension.

“Luther Jotham’s story is just one of many post-war experiences of ordinary soldiers who later struggled to support themselves, despite the valiant sacrifices they made while serving this country in its fight for liberty and democracy.”

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed. , Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Blacks in Maine – Part 2

by Mary Grow

Black Kennebec Valley residents

The first two Black men recorded in Augusta, according to Anthony Douin, one of the contributors to H. H. Price and Gerald Talbot’s Maine’s Visible Black History, were “York Bunker and Cuff.” They were in the garrison at Fort Western, built in 1754, “listed as servants and paid as privates.”

As the area near the fort was settled, Douin found limited evidence of Black residents, and no evidence of Black slaves.

He wrote that at the 1776 town meeting, voters approved taxing “Negroes and Mulatto servants at the same rate as apprentices and minors.” And he referred to several Black families mentioned in Hallowell midwife Martha Ballard’s diary; she delivered at least two of their babies.

After Augusta separated from Hallowell in February 1797, Douin wrote that small numbers of Black residents (five in the 1800 Augusta census) worked in “the few occupations opened to Blacks in the nineteenth century – laborer, barber, house servant, waiter, and hostler.”

By 1850, 55 of Augusta’s about 8,000 people were identified as Black, Douin wrote. One was a mill worker, originally from Tennessee, who had married a Maine woman; others were sailors.

(Douin said that Black sailors “played a role in the rich maritime history of the Kennebec River.” Price and Talbot added that in the 1850 census, Maine’s “maritime industries were combined under stevedores, fisherman, stewards, and shipwrights, which represented more than 50 percent of the black population.” The examples they gave suggest that most lived along the coast, from Portland to Machias.)

Maine Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Weston, Jr. (1782-1872; see the Dec. 10, 2020, The Town Line article on chief justices from Augusta) had a Black servant named Lucretia Crossman from 1820 on. “When she died in 1859, she was buried in the Weston Family Tomb at Cony Cemetery,” Douin wrote.

Three Black men left public records that Douin drew on for profiles.

John D. Carter was an outspoken opponent of slavery whose views were radical enough to split the Augusta Baptists into two churches in the spring of 1844. First Baptist parishioners considered slavery a sin and a violation of human rights. Carter and the rest of the Second Baptists went farther, holding that slave-holders could not be church members or ministers. Carter died July 17, 1844; the churches did not “reconcile” until 1849.

(In his 1870 history of Augusta, James North recorded the schism; he named the radical as J. T. Carter and did not mention his race.)

John Eason (May 14, 1776 – 1879) was a Free Will Baptist who helped build the Augusta church building and preached there when there was no regular preacher. Douin wrote that though “unlettered,” he had an excellent memory; he was called “Parson Eason” because of his sermons.

Levi Foye (May 29, 1799 – 1870) owned “one of the most popular restaurants in Augusta,” his Water Street oyster bar, opened around 1830.

A Massachusetts native whose father brought the family to Vassalboro, Foye’s first profession was as a sailor; during the War of 1812, he was a British prisoner in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His restaurant was successful enough that he was able to buy his family a Western Avenue house.

Among Augusta residents Foye was “well respected,” Douin said; but some of the troops who mustered in Augusta during the Civil War were so disrespectful that Foye closed the restaurant.

“An embarrassed Augusta community hosted a farewell party and presented Foye and his family with a very nice silver service,” Douin wrote.

After the war, Foye reopened the restaurant and ran it until his death.

Douin names two Black men from Augusta who served in the Civil War. Jackson Phillips (born in 1842; later in the book called Phillip Jackson) was a cook on the USS Tallapoosa, launched Feb. 17, 1863, a wooden steamer equipped with heavy guns and howitzers for stopping blockade runners and bombarding shore installations.

Adarastus Brown was in the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, a Black unit that “did garrison duty in Louisiana late in the war.”

William Lewis

The later list of Black Civil War veterans in Maine adds two more Navy men, William H. Lewis and William H. Manuel.

Lewis, according to an online source, served on two ships in the Union’s North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Through September 1863 he was on the USS Commodore Perry, a former sidewheel ferry. She patrolled the North Carolina and Virginia coasts from January 1862 to the end of the war, helping capture Confederate ships and coastal towns and cities.

From December 31, 1863, through March 31, 1865, Lewis was on the USS Whitehead, a screw steamer built in 1861 that also patrolled off North Carolina.

Manuel first served in 1863, briefly, in USS Sabine, also in the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. The Sabine was an 1855 sailing frigate that had seen service off Paraguay before becoming one of the first ships to serve in the Civil war, watching the Florida coast.

By Nov. 18, 1863, Manuel had transferred to the USS Niagara, where he stayed until April 1, 1864.

USS Sabine

The Civil War Niagara was the second of that name, built for the Navy in 1855. She had already helped lay the first transatlantic cable in 1857 and 1858; returned Africans rescued from a slave ship to Liberia in 1858; and carried the first Japanese diplomatic delegation to Washington back to Japan in 1860 and 1861. In April 1861 she joined the East Gulf Blockading Squadron off Alabama and Florida.

When northern soldiers came home after the war, Douin wrote that freed slaves who had joined the army sometimes came with them. In Augusta, he said, more than a dozen Black families settled in the area that is now Ganneston Drive (running south off Capitol Street, west of the State House complex); the area was called Nigger Hill.

Douin wrote that their dwellings “were described as log cabins. By 1896 the colony had disappeared, leaving old cellar holes and broken stone fences to mark its existence.”

One former slave, Frederick Brown (1835 – 1919), connected with the 15th Maine when Union forces captured New Orleans. Coming to Maine with a captain from Bath, Brown moved to Augusta and got a job with Governor Samuel Cony’s son-in-law, Joseph H. Manley.

Manley was a close friend of James G. Blaine (see the Aug. 20, 2020, issue of The Town Line for a profile of one of Maine’s most famous politicians), and Brown found a new position as Blaine’s coachman, Douin wrote. Through these connections, he became the Augusta post office janitor when Manley was postmaster and later the State House night watchman, serving for 26 years.

Peter Samuel from Virginia was another former slave, who helped guide fellow slaves into Union-held areas before taking himself to safety. Douin wrote that in Augusta, Samuel married a French-Canadian – his first wife had been sold away from him before the war — and converted to Catholicism. He died June 1, 1904, aged 100, “and is buried in a segregated part of Old St. Mary’s Cemetery.”

The website Find a Grave identifies this cemetery as St. Mary of the Assumption Cemetery on the south side of Winthrop Street. Your writer found the “segregated part” is a strip about 12 feet wide on the extreme eastern edge of the cemetery, between the east fence and a one-lane paved road; the Samuels graves are in a north-south line between two large trees.

Many of the inscriptions have become less legible with time. Most of the dates below are from Find a Grave, which lists seven Samuels/Samuells.

The northernmost marker is a small stone for Anna Samuel, 1885-1886 (not listed by Find a Grave). There is a gap; then a twin headstone for Martha (June 14 – Aug. 17, 1893) and Mara (? 1891 – Aug. 16, 1891); a small stone for Rosie Samuell (1887-1896); another gap; a twin stone for Annie (Aug. 18, 1888 – June 1889) and Edie E. (May 20, 1891 – June 22, 1892); and Peter Samuel’s larger stone.

Find a Grave lists a headstone for Henry Samuell (1885-1886) that your writer did not see. South of Peter Samuel’s stone is one marking the grave of Fred, son of Fred? and Sadie Barton, who died July 27, 1911, aged three months and ? days. Find a Grave lists no Bartons in St. Mary’s Cemetery.

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Samuel Osborne

One of Waterville’s best-known Black residents was Samuel Osborne (1833 – July 1, 1904), janitor at Colby College from 1867 until 1903. Known as “Janitor Sam” and as “Professor” because of his appreciation for education and knowledge of the Colby campus, he has been the subject of many articles and a book, Samuel Osborne, Janitor, by Frederick Padelford (Colby 1896).

An on-line People’s History of Colby College says Osborne was born in slavery on a Virginia plantation. He married a fellow slave, Maria Iverson, before the Civil War. In May 1865, Colonel Stephen Fletcher, Colby 1859 and captain of the 7th Maine, helped him come to Waterville, and Colby President James Champlin helped him get a job in the Maine Central Railroad shops.

Two daughters came with Osborne, and in October 1865 Waterville Baptists raised money for him to return to Virginia for his wife, a third daughter and his father, “who had been a slave for seventy-two years.” The father promptly got the janitor’s job at Colby; when he died in 1867, his son quit the railroad and took over at the college.

The Osbornes had one son and seven daughters. Their son Edward “Eddie” Samuel Osborne entered Colby with the class of 1897, but dropped out and went to work for the railroad.

Price and Talbot wrote that Eddie Osborne was a messenger for 56 years for “what became the Railway Express Agency,…logging a million or more miles.” In 1944 he received the Agency’s first “diamond-studded pin” recognizing 50 years of service.

Samuel and Maria’s daughter, Marion Thompson Osborne (later Matheson), born about 1879, was Colby’s first female Black graduate, Class of 1900. (The first male Black graduate was Adam S. Green, Class of 1887.)

In addition to his extensive Colby responsibilities – “everything from keeping fires burning in all fireplaces to delivering the mail” – Osborne was active in the Waterville Baptist Church and in the Waterville Lodge of Good Templars, the national temperance organization.

Marion Matheson’s 1950 tribute to her father, excerpted in Price and Talbot’s book, includes anecdotes from her father’s life. One is a summary of his 1902 trip to Stockholm, Sweden, as a Good Templars delegate to an international convention. On the voyage over and back, he ate at the ship captain’s table; in Stockholm he was granted permission to sit on the royal throne; and he took a side trip to Scotland to visit former Waterville residents.

When he fell ill, Matheson wrote, college President Charles Lincoln White in his 1904 Baccalaureate address called him, “the Head Janitor whom all had learned to love and respect for his faithfulness and devotion to the interest of the college, of his gentle, warm and confiding nature because he cared for the sick, chided and erring and encouraged all by his simple, pure, and unaffected Christian life.”

The day of his death was “an incredibly sorrowful day for Colby,” the People’s History says. President White was at his bedside until the end. The college bell tolled 71 times. Matheson wrote that his funeral was the first one “held in the Chapel in Memorial Hall, as was his wish.”

An article in the 2018 issue of the Colby Echo, found on line, says Osborne was the subject of “vicious and despicable racism” and was not paid enough to support his family. The author is Alison Levitt, identified on line as the college’s Online & Social Media Editor.

The People’s History does not totally contradict Levitt’s portrait. The author wrote that Osborne “tirelessly endured their [students’] pranks and assaults on his intelligence” – and stood up for them when they got in trouble with faculty or administration members and joined Maria in inviting them for Thanksgiving dinners.

The author agreed that Osborne was not paid generously. In 1896, after 29 years on the job, he earned $480. Meanwhile, the college had grown from three buildings in 1867 to (by 1903 when he retired) seven buildings.

(These buildings were on the old campus by the Kennebec River; the college did not begin the move to Mayflower Hill until the 1930s. The People’s History writer said Colby had only one full-time janitor for “several decades” after Osborne’s retirement.)

Samuel and Maria Osborne and some of their children are buried in the family plot in Waterville’s Pine Grove Cemetery.

Main sources

Price, H. H., and Talbot, Gerald E., Maine’s Visible Black History: The First Chronicle of Its People (2006)

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Blacks in Maine – Part 1

Headstone of Eliza Talbot and Sarah Freeman, in Talbot cemetery, in China.

by Mary Grow

So far, people in this history series have been almost entirely the group that is still Maine’s majority population: white people descended mostly from inhabitants of the British Isles, plus representatives of other northern and western European countries.

For example, Millard Howard wrote in his Palermo history that early settlers in that town came mostly from Massachusetts or New Hampshire, sometimes via coastal Maine. These settlers’ ancestors, he wrote, had usually been religious dissidents (Puritans especially) who emigrated from Great Britain in the 1630s.

This picture is incomplete. In addition to the Native Americans, who lived here for generations before Europeans arrived, the central Kennebec Valley has had a small Black population for almost as long as the Europeans have been here, and since the 19th century people from the Middle East and French Canada have created distinct minority cultures.

Readily available sources tend to provide only scanty information on these groups, and as readers will soon learn, what information is available is sometimes inconsistent.

An invaluable source on Blacks in Maine is H. H. Price and Gerald E. Talbot’s Maine’s Visible Black History: The First Chronicle of Its People, published in 2006.

(Gerald Talbot is a descendant of the Talbots who lived in the Town of China in the 19th century. He was the first Black member of the Maine legislature, and is the father of current House assistant majority leader Rachel Talbot Ross, of Portland.)

The book lists the following Black families among early China settlers: Brackley, Foy (also Foye or Fay), Freeman, Jenkins, Jotham, Seco, Sewall (also Sewell) and Talbot (also Talbert, Talbet, Tallbet, Tarbet or Tarbot).

Price and Talbot found that China had 24 Black residents in 1820 (of a total population of 894); 15 were men and nine women. In 1830 there were six Black families (headed by Peter Freeman, Enock Jenkins, Calvin Jotham, Ambrose Sewall, John Sewall and Ezekiel Talbot), totaling 29 people.

Other records showed that Abram Talbot and Ezekiel Talbot lived in Gardiner before they moved to China “by the 1840s.” If Abram and Abraham are the same man (as seems likely, but not certain; records show Abraham Talbots in multiple generations in the family), he was born in 1756 and died in 1850.

Abraham Talbot is described as “a former slave who owned a brickyard on the east side of China Lake.”

One man named Ezekiel Talbot was born in 1760, according to Price and Talbot. An on-line genealogy lists an Ezekiel Talbot who was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, on Dec. 21, 1787, and died in China, Maine, in 1879.

His parents are identified in this and other sources as Abraham Talbot (May 27, 1756 – June 11, 1840) and Molley or Mary Dunbar (1758-1850); they married in Bridgewater, now part of Brockton, in September 1787. An on-line site says the couple appears to have moved to China before 1800, “as he is enumerated in a collective district for the 1800 federal census which included Three Mile Pond, areas east of Winslow, and Freetown Plantation [later Albion].”

This Abraham Talbot was a Revolutionary War veteran, and he was living in China when he applied for his veterans’ pension on April 18, 1818.

Abraham and Mary Talbot had eight children, according to an on-line family history. Their births are recorded in Fairfax (now Albion), indicating that they lived in the area that was added to the north end of present-day China in 1816 and 1818.

The reference to the 1800 census cited above says: “Due to his status as a free black, the census record only gives the number of persons in Abraham’s household, which totaled 6 persons. As the couple had six children born by 1799, it would appear that two of their children died at an early age.”

Abraham and Mary’s oldest son was Ezekiel (also called Eschiel Tarbet), who was born Dec. 21, 1787 (in Massachusetts, or Maine?), and died in China in 1879. The third son was Abraham, born Feb. 28, 1792; the website says he married Edith Griffin Freeman, in Gardiner, in 1818. He was buying land in Portland in the spring of 1847, in partnership with William Jones; the two are called “mariners.” There is no evidence that he returned to China; he “was buried on 25 January 1862, in Portland.”

The Ezekiel Talbot who was born in 1787 married Eliza or Elizabeth Seco (see below for more about the Seco family). He was a farmer and a landowner; on-line sources list records of land transfers.

One source says Ezekiel and Eliza had three sons (Abraham and Mary’s grandsons), all born in China: Charles C., born in 1814; Alvin Austin, born in 1836; and Henry H., born in 1839. Another source adds a daughter named Sarah, and a son William appears in the 1850 census.

A 1984 Waterville Sentinel article says Ezekiel Talbot was a China resident in the 1830, 1840 and 1850 federal censuses. In 1850, the household was listed. Ezekiel was 65 years old and Eliza was 64. Alvin A. and William C., aged 19 and 17, were farmers; Henry H. was 10 years old; Sarah D. Augustine was 28, a sailor named Homan L. Augustine (Sarah’s husband) was 24 and Eliza J. Augustine was four years old.

On Nov. 5, 1852, the family history compiler found that Ezekiel sold a 50-acre lot bounded on one side by the Palermo town line to his son Alvin, for $200.

Charles C. married Margaret Crossman and moved to Aroostook County.

Alvin Austin, born about 1831 and in China in 1850, married Lucy Peters, in Boston, Massachusetts, in March 1855. The writer of the on-line family history surmises she must have died almost immediately, because the 1860 census listed Alvin as a laborer again living with his parents, in China.

Alvin also moved to Aroostook County, where he married his second wife, Georgia Ann Cornelison, from New Brunswick. He worked as a barber in Houlton and Bangor; the couple moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he died Dec, 22, 1901.

Henry H., born in or around 1840 (according to the on-line family history), spent his life as a farmer in China, never married and died of liver cancer Oct. 2, 1915.

Enough Talbots died in China so there is a Talbot cemetery, a small graveyard east of Yorktown Road on the China-Palermo boundary, just south of China’s Thurston Park. A legible stone marks the graves of Eliza Talbot and Sarah A. Freeman – although the dates do not match exactly, they are probably Ezekiel’s wife Eliza and her daughter Sarah (Augustine) Freeman. There are remains of three other stones in the same row, and two others separately (that might be footstones). Henry H. Talbot was reportedly buried “in a private cemetery,” perhaps the Talbot cemetery.

* * * * * *

Another Black cemetery is on the east side of China’s Pleasant View Ridge Road, west of the Talbot cemetery. This one holds graves of the Sewall and Seco families.

Among those buried there are Ambrose Sewall (1787 – Jan. 22, 1851) and his wife Mary (Shay) Sewall (died in 1849). Nearby is the grave of Griffin Sewall, son of Ambrose and Mary Sewall, who died Nov. 29, 1818, at the age of 17. (Another source gives Griffin Sewall’s dates as 1831 to 1848.) There are at least three more stones that appear to be from the same family.

Ambrose Sewall was a son of Elias and Amee Dunbar Sewall. Elias, born Aug. 1, 1751, in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, was a Revolutionary War veteran; an on-line source says he was listed in Harlem (now China) census records in 1800 and 1810, and died in China, date unknown.

Sharing the graveyard are at least seven stones that probably mark the graves of members of the Seco family. Between the two areas, the Waterville newspaper article says, in 1964 there appeared to be remnants of one or two more rows of graves.

According to the article, the Secos seem to have come to China in the 1850s (but Eliza Seco must have connected with Ezekiel Talbot earlier than that). Various other sources, including the 1860 census, describe two Seco families in China. One consisted of William, age 67 (born about 1793, in New Hampshire, and by 1860 blind), his wife Almira (Sewell), age 50 (born about 1809 or 1810, in Maine; one on-line source says she was the daughter of Ambrose and Mary Sewall) and seven children.

The other family included William Seco, Jr., age 30, his wife Elizabeth, age 27, and living with them seven-year-old Anna Talbot.

William, Sr., and Almira were married in December 1825 or thereabouts. An on-line source says he died Sept. 5, 1866, and she died March 23, 1879; both are buried in the Seco cemetery.

Fifteen Seco children are listed, born between about 1827 and 1850. William W. (the one who was still in China in 1860) was the third child/second son, born about 1830, in Waterville, died after 1879 in Michigan.

The oldest son was Charles L., born March 18, 1830, in Fairfield, and died about July 12, 1916, in Winslow; his grave is in Winslow’s Fort Hill cemetery. His first wife was Eliza Sewall, whom he married in Boston in 1852; his second wife was Olive E. Williams, whom he married in 1865 in Winslow.

Hiram was William and Almira’s fifth son, born about 1838. A 2015 story from the Bangor Daily News, found on line, says Hiram was described as a blacksmith in the 1850 census (though if the birthdate is anywhere near right, he would have been a very young blacksmith). Most of the other adult males were listed as farmers, the article says.

On March 29, 1863, Hiram Seco and Lydia Perkins were married in Gardiner. Lydia was born, in Brunswick, on March 18, 1838. The couple had five children, born between about 1865 and 1873; they named their sons Hiram, William and George and their daughters Lydia and Mary, in honor of older family members.

Lydia Seco (the mother) died Oct. 24, 1901, and is buried in Brunswick. Hiram died sometime after 1910, probably in Brunswick, and is the only one of William and Almira’s children specifically listed as buried in the Seco cemetery.

George W., William and Almira’s sixth son, was born, in Waterville, in May 1841. He apparently spent his life in China, because the newspaper article quotes a China town report: George Seco, widower, age 67, died Feb. 17, 1909, “and was buried in a private cemetery in the town.” Also buried in a private cemetery was four-month-old Alton W. Seco, who died Aug. 2, 1904. This “private cemetery” might well have been the Seco cemetery.

Ellis Island and Castle Island

April 17 has been designated National Ellis Island Family History Day. The web explains that the designation “encourages families to explore their ancestry and discover family who immigrated through Ellis Island,” which was the busiest point of entry into the United States from 1892 until 1924.

During those years, the website says, about 12 million immigrants came into the country through Ellis Island. One million arrived in 1907 alone; on April 17, 1907, the center processed 11,747 people, the busiest day on record.

After the first world war, the web says, the United States established consulates all over the world. One of their functions was to process immigrants, so Ellis Island was no longer essential. After 1924, the web says, the facility became a detention center for illegal immigrants, then a World War II military hospital and a later a training center for the Coast Guard.

Apparently there was a residual immigration center there, too, because the web says the last immigrant was processed on Nov. 12, 1954, the day the federal government closed Ellis Island. He is identified as “a Norwegian merchant seaman named Arne Peterssen.”

New York’s first immigration processing center was Castle Island, which was jointly run by New York City and New York State from August 3, 1855, to April 18, 1890. Some 11 million immigrants are recorded as coming through Castle Island.

When the federal government took control of immigration in 1890, Castle Island center closed. The web says a temporary site at the U. S. Barge Office “on the eastern edge of The Battery waterfront” was used while the federal Office of Immigration built the Ellis Island center.

The web lists castlegarden.org and ellisisland.org as on-line resources for lists of names and other information from each center.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Wars – Part 14

The battleship USS Maine.

by Mary Grow

Mexican & Spanish-American

The wars on which this series has provided information so far began with fighting against the European power that once claimed the United States and continued with the 1861-1865 war between two parts of the United States.

Ongoing were a third category, wars the United States’ founders fought to establish and expand its land area. From their first arrival in the 1600s, Europeans pushed aside the Native Americans, from the eastern seaboard first and the rest of the continent later.

(Consequences of those years persist as Natives reclaim parts of their historic home. See, for example, here in Maine the restoration to the Passamaquoddy tribe of 140 acres of the 150-acre Kuwesuwi Monihq, Pine Island [or White’s Island], in Big Lake.)

Starting with 13 states facing the Atlantic Ocean, the country reached to the Pacific with the 1850 admission of California. Adding Utah in 1896 brought the number of states in the continental United States to 45 by the end of the 19th century. Oklahoma was added in 1907, Arizona and New Mexico in 1912.

Alaska went from a territory to state in January 1959. Hawaii became the 50th state in August of the same year.

Two formally declared wars were part of 19th century growth, one with Mexico (April 25, 1846 – February 2, 1848) that added land in the southwest and one with Spain (April 21 – December 10, 1898) that gave the United States its first overseas territories.

(Liberia, in west Africa, was settled beginning in 1820 by former slaves from the United States, under the auspices of the American Colonization Society [ACS]. The historical consensus is that it was never a United States colony or possession; in fact, Wikipedia says, “The United States government declined to act upon requests from the ACS to make Liberia an American colony or to establish a formal protectorate over Liberia, but it did exercise a ‘moral protectorate’ over Liberia, intervening when threats manifested towards Liberian territorial expansion or sovereignty.” Liberia became an independent country on July 26, 1847.)

* * * * * *

Wikipedia explains that the prelude to the war between the United States and Mexico was the declaration of independence by residents of part of northern Mexico in 1836. The Battle of the Alamo in late February and early March 1836 was part of that struggle.

Mexico did not recognize Texas as an independent republic. The United States (and Britain and France) did. Most Texans, Wikipedia says, were willing to join the United States, and after political maneuvering, Texas became a state on Dec. 29, 1845.

In the spring of 1846, President James Polk sent United States military forces into the new state. Mexican forces resisted, leading to battles in April and May followed by a May 13 United States declaration of war.

A series of battles stretching as far west as present-day California led to United States occupation of major Mexican cities, including in September 1847 Mexico City. The war was officially ended by the Feb. 2, 1848, Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexico gave up the area that, Wikipedia says, became “the present-day states of California, Nevada, and Utah, most of New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming.”

* * * * * *

The proximate case of the Spanish-American War was the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor on Feb. 15, 1898. Built at the navy yard in Brooklyn, at a cost of almost $4.7 million, and commissioned Sept. 17, 1895, she was the first ship named in honor of the State of Maine.

Wikipedia says the Maine had been sent to protect United States interests as Cubans fought for independence from Spain. Later in 1898, a naval inquiry concluded a bomb had been the cause; but, Wikipedia says, some naval officers suggested instead an internal explosion in a coal bunker. A 1974 re-investigation supported their theory. Wikipedia says the cause of the sinking “remains a subject of debate.”

Meanwhile, however, United States opinion had settled immediately on Spain as the villain. With “Remember the Maine!” as its battle cry, Congress approved a declaration of war on April 21, 1898. Fighting in Cuba and in the Spanish possessions of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines was over by August. On Dec. 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris ended the war and gave the United States the former Spanish territories.

* * * * * *

The effects of the Mexican War and the Spanish-American War in Maine were slight. Exceptions would be the few families with members who served, who had connections with the affected areas or were otherwise involved on a personal level.

In his history of the State of Maine, Louis Hatch didn’t mention the Mexican War. About the Spanish-American War, he wrote that in response to President William McKinley’s call for volunteers, Maine sent “one regiment of infantry, four batteries of heavy artillery and a signal corps, amounting in all to 1,717 non-commissioned officers and men.”

Other Maine men volunteered, and Portland’s and Bath’s “volunteer naval reserve associations” were “mustered into United States service,” Hatch wrote. The troops assembled in Augusta. He said nothing about casualties.

The 1898 Maine Adjutant General’s report, found on line, has long lists of Kennebec Valley volunteers.

Most local historians omit any mention of either war. Two exceptions are Alma Pierce Robbins, in her Vassalboro history, and General Isaac Bangs, in the military history chapter of Edwin Whittemore’s Waterville history.

Robbins wrote that when the “off and on” Mexican border dispute led to the United States declaration of war in 1846, not many people in Vassalboro cared. “Those who had gone west and those who were ‘tired of farming’ did go,” she wrote.

In the 1890s, as tension with Spain mounted preceding the Spanish-American War, Vassalboro was involved in national military exercises.

“Encampments and ‘war games’ were encouraged everywhere,” Robbins wrote. Massachusetts troops came “to compete with Maine men to demonstrate proficiencies in military techniques, with official sanction.”

Some of the encampments were on Horace Sturgis’ River Road farm. Robbins’ history includes a photograph of then-Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s mounted Rough Riders in front of Sam Mitchell’s house on the River Road at Riverside in 1897, as they recruited area volunteers.

About the actual war Robbins was silent. But, she said, names of Vassal­boro residents who died in the Spanish-American War and World War I share a bronze plaque on the bridge at North Vassalboro.

The plaque has been moved since Robbins’ history was published in 1971 and is now on the larger of the two stones in the memorial on Main Street, in North Vassalboro. The memorial sits in front of the large building that used to be the North Vassalboro schoolhouse, then the town office and later a health clinic.

The names from 1898 are Prince Bessey, John O. Brown, Alton M. Lord, Andrew Peterson, Agra Pooler (state military re­cords list his name as Ogra), Fred Pooler, Bert J. Priest, Charles H. Priest, Charles H. Simpson, David Simpson and William J. Surman.

Prince Manter Bessey

Robbins erred when she wrote that all these men died in the Spanish-American war; your writer has found post-war information about several of them.

On-line sources say Prince M. Bessey was born Sept. 14, 1879, in China, Maine. On May 17, 1898, he enlisted from Augusta as a private in Battery A, Maine Volunteer Artillery Battalion; he was discharged May 31, 1899, in Savannah, Georgia.

After the war Bessey lived in North Vassalboro from 1907 to 1911. He worked as a salesman in several places, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he met and married Nora Smith in 1920. After he retired from Gimbel’s Depart­ment Store in 1948, the couple moved to Nora’s home town, Ceredo, West Virginia, where he died.

Charles Henry Priest was born July 12, 1881, in East Vassalboro, and died June 27, 1960. He is buried in Priest Hill Cemetery.

Peterson and Fred Pooler were privates in Battery A; each was 19 when he enlisted. Both Poolers were reportedly born in Waterville. Ogra or Agra Pooler, who enlisted at 21, was a North Vassalboro resident.

David Simpson, a Waterville native, was 24 when he enlisted. Surman was 27; his birthplace is listed as Dover, England.

Most Battery A men were from Lewiston or Auburn. In addition to those from Vassalboro, an on-line list includes First Lieutenant and Assistant Surgeon Robert J. Martin and Privates Harvey J. Libby, Nathan T. Shaw, of Augusta. Bangs’ chapter in Whittemore’s history gives names of a dozen privates from Waterville in Battery A, including Joseph Butler, who enlisted May 17, 1898, and deserted at Fort Popham July 16, and another deserter named Edward Lessor.

Battery C included 21 more Waterville men and smaller numbers from Augusta and Fairfield.

Bangs added a list of a dozen Waterville men who served in the First Maine Infantry in the Spanish-American War. William J. Surman is one of them. In the Maine Adjutant-General’s Report for the year 1901, Ogra Pooler, Charles H. Priest and William J. Surman are listed among Company D men who received $22 each in “Extra Pay of Maine Volunteers.”

The war with Spain continued until 1902 in what some historians call the Philippine-American War, as the United States consolidated its power over those islands. It was an appropriate introduction to the 20th – and 21st – centuries, as one country or ideology after another used – and uses – force against others.

Update from Brown Memorial Library in Clinton

The Dec. 2, 2021, article in this series talked about the Brown Memorial Library in Clinton, named in honor of William Wentworth Brown (April 19, 1821 – Oct. 22, 1911). The article said that Brown gave the library a portrait of himself by Frederic (or Frederick) Porter Vinton (Jan. 29, 1846 – May 19, 1911); in November 2021, the portrait had been sent away for cleaning.

William Wentworth Brown

It is now back on the wall, and assistant library director Cindy Lowell says she and Director Cheryl Dickey-Whitish are very pleased. Mr. Brown is “holding a pair of red gloves you couldn’t even see before,” she said. The head of his cane is visible and his hair and beard have turned from salt-and-pepper to almost pure white.

The following information is copied from the March-April 2022 issue of the Clinton Community Newsletter.

“The Trustees of the Brown Memorial Library recently had Mr. Brown’s very large 100-year-old portrait sent to a professional art restoration company for cleaning. Last week the portrait was returned to its place of honor displaying new details that were previously hidden by layers of coal dust!”

The newsletter has a color picture of the portrait and invites area residents to stop in to see it, an invitation Lowell seconds.

Brown Memorial Library is at 53 Railroad Street, in Clinton, on the east side of the street a block north of Main Street (Route 100).

Main sources

Hatch, Louis Clinton, ed., Maine: A History 1919 ((facsimile, 1974)
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971)
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902)

Websites, miscellaneous

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Wars – Part 13

Capt. James Parnell Jones (left), Capt. Charles W. Billings (right)

by Mary Grow

Civil War

Henry Kingsbury lists four men who served in “the late war” in the personal paragraphs in his chapter on Benton in the 1892 Kennebec County history.

Stephen H. Abbott enlisted from Winslow and served six months with the 19th Maine; he moved to Benton in 1872 and served as postmaster from 1890 and for three years as a selectman.

Gershom Tarbell was in the 19th Maine for three years. Albion native Augustine Crosby was in the 3rd Maine, credited to Benton. Hiram B. Robinson was in Pennsylvania when the war started and enlisted from there not once but twice; he fought in 37 battles and returned to Benton in 1865.

Kingsbury does not mention Benton-born Frank H. Haskell (1843-1903), described in on-line sources as enlisting in Waterville June 4, 1861, when he was 18. Sergeant-Major Haskell was promoted to first lieutenant in the 3rd Maine Infantry after being cited for heroism during the June 1, 1862, Battle of Fair Oaks (also called the Battle of Seven Pines) in Virginia. His action, for which he received a Medal of Honor, is summarized as taking command of part of his regiment after all senior officers were killed or wounded and leading it “gallantly” in a significant stream crossing.

Another Civil War soldier from the central Kennebec Valley who was awarded the Medal of Honor was Private John F. Chase, from Chelsea, who enlisted in Augusta and served in the 5th Battery, Maine Light Artillery. As the May 3, 1863, battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia, wound down, Chase and one other survivor continued firing their gun after other batteries stopped and, since the horses were dead, dragged the gun away by themselves to keep it from the Confederates.

Grave of Horatio Farrington

At least 40 China residents died of wounds or disease, including, the China bicentennial history says, the five oldest of Mary and Ezekiel Farrington’s seven sons. Horatio, age 27, Charles, 25, Reuben, 20, Byron, 19 and Gustavus, 18, died between June 1, 1861, and Oct. 30, 1864.

Records do not show how many Civil War veterans were permanently disabled, the author commented. She retold the story told to her by Eleon M. Shuman of Weeks Mills about Jesse Hatch, from Deer Hill in southeastern China, who (for an unknown reason) fought for the South and came home so disfigured from a powder magazine explosion “that his appearance frightened the neighborhood children, but his friendly words and gifts of apples made him less terrifying.”

One of China’s best-known Civil War soldiers was Eli and Sybil Jones’ oldest son, Captain James Parnell Jones. As the author of the China history pointed out, pacificism is a central Quaker tenet, but in 1861 some Quakers decided ending slavery and maintaining the Union outweighed religious upbringing.

She quoted from the Jones genealogy an account of James Jones (who was 23, married with one son) and his 18-year-old unmarried brother Richard at a troop-raising event.

“Richard immediately raised his hand when the call came but James walked over to his brother, pulled down the raised arm and slowly raised his own. ‘Thee’s too young, Richard.’ ”

Jones was in the 7th Maine, first a company captain and from December 1863 a regimental major, as the troops fought in Virginia and at Gettysburg. In 1864, in the Battle of the Wilderness, he allegedly replied to a demand to surrender his embattled regiment with, “All others may go back, but the Seventh Maine, never!”

Jones was killed in the fighting around Fort Stevens July 11 and 12, 1864, as the 7th Maine helped defend Washington.

From Clinton, Kingsbury listed Daniel B. Abbott, born in Winslow, who served in the 19th Maine until June 1865 and after the war bought a farm in Clinton and became commander and grand master of Billings Post, G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War veterans’ organization that was disbanded in 1956 after the last member died).

The post was named to honor Captain Charles Wheeler Billings (Dec. 13, 1824 – July 15, 1863), Company C, 20th Maine, who was wounded in the left knee July 2, 1863, at the Battle of Little Round Top and died in a field hospital.

Clinton’s Brown Memorial Library website and a “Central Maine Morning Sentinel” article found on line describe the June 6, 2015, rededication of Clinton’s Civil War monument and the monument at Billings’ gravesite in Riverview Cemetery. The newspaper quotes speaker Bruce Keezer, then President of the Friends of Brown Memorial Library, as saying Clinton had a total population of 1,600 in the early 1860s; 252 men enlisted and 32 died.

The website says Billings was the highest-ranking 20th Maine officer to die at Little Round Top.

Billings left a widow, Ellen (Hunter) Billings, whose 30th birthday was July 1, 1863, and two daughters: Isadore Margaret, born in 1850, and Elizabeth W., or Lizzie, born in 1860. Another daughter, Alice, born in 1856, had died in 1860; and Elizabeth died Dec. 7, 1863. Isadore died in 1897, the day after her 47th birthday. Ellen lived until 1924.

Also from Clinton, according to Kingsbury, were Isaac Bingham, Rev. Francis P. Furber, Joseph Frank Rolfe and Laforest Prescott True.

Bingham had gone to California in 1852; he came home in 1861 and served two years with the 1st Maine Cavalry. After the war he moved back and forth between his Clinton farm and California.

Furber, a Winslow native who moved to Clinton in 1845, served in the 19th Maine for three years. A wound received May 6, 1864, “destroyed the use of one arm,” Kingsbury wrote. He was ordained a Freewill Baptist minister Sept. 27, 1885, after serving as a minister in Clinton and nearby towns since 1875.

Rolfe, born in Fairfield of parents who moved to Clinton when he was about three, served in the 2nd Maine Cavalry from 1863 to the end of the war. True was in the 20th Maine from 1862 to 1865 and was wounded twice.

Fairfield’s Civil War monument is one of the oldest in Maine, according to the town’s bicentennial history. The writers noted that its dedication day, July 4, 1868, was a scorching Saturday: the temperature reached 105 degrees in the shade.

Soldiers came from all over Maine. Ceremonies included a parade; cannon salutes; speeches, including one by Governor (former General) Joshua Chamberlain; dinner prepared by townswomen and served “in the old freight depot”; and a baseball game with a final score of 60 to 40 (the history does not record the names of the teams).

“The day was not without its tragedy,” the history says. A veteran named William Ricker, who had survived the war unscathed, lost a hand when one of the cannons went off too soon. Chamberlain promptly canceled the remaining salutes.

Kingsbury found that one of Sidney’s soldiers, Mulford Baker Reynolds (Aug. 5, 1843 – Aug. 3, 1937) served in Company C of the 1st Maine Cavalry from August 1862 to July 1865, “and spent about six months in Andersonville prison” in Georgia.

Reynolds married Ella F. Leighton on Nov. 23, 1881, according to an on-line source. Kingsbury wrote that in 1892 Reynolds was farming his family place in Sidney and he and Ella had four children.

Among the many Vassalboro men whose personal paragraphs in Kingsbury’s history list Civil War service is Edwin C. Barrows (April 2, 1842 – April 20, 1918). Educated at Waterville and Bowdoin colleges, he enlisted Nov. 19, 1863, in the 2nd Maine Cavalry.

Transferred in June 1865, he became second lieutenant (but acted as adjutant, the officer who assists the commander with administration, Kingsbury wrote) of the 86th U.S.C.T. (United States Colored Troops), serving until he was discharged April 10, 1866.

After the war, Barrows got a law degree from Albany Law School in January 1867 and practiced four years in Nebraska City, Nebraska. He married Laura Alden (Sept. 5, 1842 – Dec. 19, 1909) and returned to Vassalboro in 1872. By 1892, he had been a supervisor of schools in 1882 and 1883 and since then a selectman, “being chairman since 1887.”

Edwin and Laura Barrows are buried under a single headstone in Vassalboro’s Nichols Cemetery.

Vassalboro’s G.A.R. Post was named in honor of Richard W. Mullen of the 14th Maine, one of 410 Vassalboro Civil War soldiers, Alma Pierce Robbins wrote in her town history. After the war, town meeting voters appropriated money to the G.A.R.’s Women’s Relief Corps for Memorial Day services and veterans’ grave markers. The Post disbanded in 1942 and the appropriation was transferred to Vassalboro’s American Legion Post and Auxiliary.

The Waterville G.A.R. Post, chartered Dec. 29, 1874, was named in honor of William S. Heath, who was killed in action at Gaines Mill, Virginia, on June 27, 1862. The first post commander was General Francis E. Heath, the second General I. S. Bangs. Francis Heath was almost certainly William Heath’s brother (variously identified as Frank Edw. and Francis E.; died in Waterville in December 1897), I. S. Bangs the author of the military history chapter in Edwin Whittemore’s Waterville history.

Ernest Marriner added information on William Heath’s life in “Kennebec Yesterdays”. In 1849, he wrote, Heath was 15 and “somewhat tubercular”; his father, Solyman, thought a trip to the goldfields in California would be good for him.

Young Heath “did survive the rigors of the terrible trip across plains and mountains, worked a while in a San Francisco store, then shipped off to China, from which distant land the anxious father soon had him returned through the intercession of the United States government.”

Back in Waterville, Heath graduated from Waterville College in 1853. When the 3rd Maine’s Company H was formed in Waterville in April 1861, Heath was captain and his brother Francis/Frank was first lieutenant. By the time of his death, William Heath was a lieutenant colonel in the 5th Maine Infantry, Marriner wrote. Francis ended the war as a colonel in the 19th Maine, according to Bangs.

Linwood Lowden, in his Windsor history, wrote that Charles J. Carrol, one of seven Windsor men who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg July 2-4, 1863, was mortally wounded. Three more Windsor men, George H. B. Barton, George W. Chapman and George W. Merrill, were killed May 6, 1864, in the Battle of the Wilderness.

Windsor’s Vining G.A.R. Post, organized June 2, 1884, was named to honor Marcellus Vining. Post members met every Saturday night in the G.A. R. Hall, which was the upper story of the town house, Lowden said.

At an 1886, meeting, “a Mr. Bangs presented a picture of Marcellus Vining” to the organization. Kingsbury added that the Vining family donated Marcellus Vining’s army sword, “his life-size portrait and an elegant flag.”

Lowden believed Vining Post continued “well into the twentieth century.” Windsor voters helped fund the G.A.R., usually at $15 a year, he wrote. In 1929, however, “$30.00 was appropriated for G.A.R. Memorial and paid to the Sons of Veterans.”

Kingsbury wrote that Vining was born on the family homestead on May 2, 1842, third child and oldest son of Daniel Vining by his first wife, Sarah Esterbrooks of Oldtown (Daniel and Sarah had three daughters and three sons; after Sarah’s death, Daniel married Eliza Choat, and they had six more daughters).

On Jan. 25, 1862, Marcellus Vining became a private in the 7th Maine. He served for two years, during which his “ability and courage” (Kingsbury) earned him two promotions. On Jan. 4, 1864, he re-enlisted in a reorganized 7th Maine. On March 9 he was made second lieutenant of Company A, and on April 21 made first lieutenant. On May 12 he was wounded at Spottsylvania, Virginia; he died a week later.

“A captain’s commission was on its way from Washington to him, but too late to give to the brave soldier his richly earned promotion,” Kingsbury wrote.

He continued with a paraphrase from a letter Vining, knowing he was dying, wrote to his father, saying it was better “to die in the defense of his country’s flag than live to see it disgraced.”

Kingsbury concluded: “Thus the oft-repeated tale—a bright, promising man with the blush of youth still on his cheek, willingly laid down his life to preserve that of his country.”

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988)
Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984)
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892)
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993)
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954)
Robbins, Alma, Pierce History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971)
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902)

Websites, miscellaneous