Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Memorial Day – Part 3

Grand Army of the Republic hat insignia worn by the Horse soldiers.

by Mary Grow

GAR posts Fairfield, Windsor, China, Albion & Sidney

Continuing with central Kennebec Valley GAR Posts in the order of their formation, the next after Billings Post #88, in Clinton, was Fairfield’s E. P. Pratt Post #90 (in Somerset County, therefore not on the Kennebec County list in Henry Kingsbury’s history). According to Barbara Gunvaldsen, of the Fairfield Historical Society, this Post was organized Oct. 18, 1883.

Records at the FHS History House (the 1894 Cotton-Smith House) include a summary biography of Elbridge P. Pratt, in whose honor the Post is named. He was born in 1841, son of a farmer, Jesse Pratt, and his wife Hannah (Hubbard) Pratt.

On July 23, 1862, Pratt enlisted in Fairfield; he was mustered in July 25 (Wikipedia says Aug. 25) in Bath as a private in the 19th Maine Infantry, for three years. On July 27, his unit went to Washington, where it was stationed until September 1862. In October, the 19th was assigned to the Army of the Potomac.

Battles in which the 19th fought included Fredericksburg, Virginia (Dec. 11-15, 1862); Chancellorsville, Virginia (April 30 – May 6, 1863); and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (July 1-3, 1863).

Pratt was killed on July 2, 1863, one of 232 men – more than half the regiment’s total – the 19th lost at Gettysburg. He is buried in Gettysburg National Cemetery.

E. P. Pratt GAR Post was still active in early 1918. A paragraph in the Tuesday, Jan. 10, 1918, issue of the Fairfield Journal announced the Wednesday, Jan. 16 (either day or date must be a misprint) installation of officers of the E. P. Pratt Relief Corps (the GAR ladies’ auxiliary) at the GAR Hall. Post members and wives, Corps members’ husbands and Sons of Veterans and their wives were invited.

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South China’s James Parnell (or Parnel) Jones Post #106 was organized April 23, 1884, with 25 charter members, Kingsbury said. At first members met in the AOUW (Ancient Order of United Workmen) hall; in 1885, according to the China bicentennial history, they built their own hall (demolished in 1964) at the crossroads where South China’s Memorial Park now stands.

Kingsbury said the GAR building was “complete in itself, containing a large hall, offices, rooms for Sons of Veterans and a Woman’s Relief Corps, and suitable banquet hall.”

Major James Parnell Jones (May 21, 1835 – July 12, 1864) is locally famous as “the Fighting Quaker.” Born in China, son of Quaker missionaries Eli and Sybil Jones, he was educated at the State University of Michigan and Haverford College, Pennsylvania.

On Sept. 15, 1857, he married Rebecca Maria Runnels (1836 – April 14, 1899).

When the Civil War began in April 1861, Jones was principal of China Academy, in China Village. He and Rebecca had lost their first son, James Lecky, in 1859, at the age of six months; their second, James A. “Jamie,” had been born Feb. 16, 1861. Nonetheless, Jones promptly helped raise and became captain of the unit that became Company B, 7th Maine Infantry.

In September 1862 he was slightly wounded. In 1863, he was promoted to major. In 1864 he was wounded again, at the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-7); and on July 12, 1864, he was killed at Crystal Springs, Virginia, outside Washington D. C.

Sometime in 1863 Jones had home leave, because his and Rebecca’s daughter, Alice, was born Aug. 6, 1864. She lived five days, dying on Aug. 11; and on Aug. 14, three-year-old Jamie died.

Parents and children are buried in China’s Dudley Cemetery, on Dirigo Road, with James P. Jones’ mother, Sybil. His father Eli’s grave is in the nearby Dirigo Friends Cemetery.

Rebecca remarried on Sept. 29, 1867, to Rev. Moses W. Newbert.

An undated obituary from the Lincoln County News says Newbert was born in Waldoboro and died May 6, 1898; the accompanying picture of his tombstone shows he was aged “64 yrs. 3 mos. 14 dys.” The obituary writer praised his “natural ability” as a preacher and said, “His success in the ministry was remarkable.”

The obituary says he began preaching about 1856 “under the direction of the Methodist Conference.” Starting in Palermo, he moved to North Vassalboro, China and Southport; to Wisconsin for two years; and back east to serve in several Maine towns, including Waldoboro.

A period of ill health led to a change to an unspecified 15-year “business career…in China and Camden.” He then returned to the ministry, with posts in “Cushing, Caribou, Hodgdon and Linneus, Sprague’s Mills.” Ill health led to retirement to a farm in China for his last two years, the obituary says.

Newbert’s first wife was Helen Augusta Washburn (Oct. 6, 1829 – May 11, 1866), daughter of Zebah and Susan Washburn of China; they were married March 6, 1860. Newbert is buried in Zebah Washburn’s family plot in the China Village Cemetery.

The newspaper obituary says his second wife was “Mrs. Maria R. Jones, of China, whose first husband was Maj. Jones, who was killed during the war of the Rebellion.” A Methodist yearbook found in line adds that in his last years Newbert was “tenderly cared for by his faithful and devoted wife.”

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Grand Army of the Republic badge.

In her research into the history of Albion, Ruby Crosby Wiggin found that Albion’s first Memorial Day observance was in 1885. She wrote that Civil War veterans from Albion and adjoining China organized Grand Army Amos J. Billings Post #112 on May 17, 1884, in China Village.

Kingsbury gave June 17 as the date and said there were 20 original members.

The two towns jointly financed the 1885 Memorial Day celebration, with Albion’s March 1885 town meeting raising $25 for the holiday observance and for decorating solders’ grave.

Kingsbury listed commanders of this Post as Llewellyn Libbey, John Motley, B. P. Tilton, J. W. Brown, Henry C. Rice, Robert C. Brann, A. B. Fletcher and John Motley.

Amos Judson Billings was born Jan. 20, 1833, to Benjamin Allen Billings (1799-1870) and Sarah (Tenney) Billings (1801-1882). On May 1, 1853, in Waldo, he married a woman named Bacon, perhaps Elizabeth A. Bacon (the on-line census record is unsure).

Billings rose to the rank of lieutenant in Company G, 24th Maine Infantry. Census and town records agree that he died of disease in Arkansas on July 28, 1863. His grave is in Albion’s Libby Hill Cemetery.

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Sidney’s Joseph W. Lincoln Post #113 honors Lieutenant Joseph Warren Lincoln, who was born in 1835 and died at Falmouth Virginia, April 8, 1863. His gravestone in the Lincoln Cemetery on Quaker Road says he served in Company F of the 20th Maine; a GAR note on the Find a Grave website, dated 2016 (after the GAR ceased to exist), says Company I, 20th Maine.

In 1857, according to Find a Grave, Lincoln married Laura Ann Whitman McPeak (Jan. 4, 1837 – Sept. 20, 1869). Born in Douglas, Massachusetts, she died in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Sidney Post first met May 24, 1884, according to Kingsbury. Starting with 11 charter members, it had 26 members in 1892.

Meetings were held in the Grange Hall, Kingsbury wrote; GAR members had “contributed considerable labor” to help build it. In her 1992 history of Sidney, Alice Hammond said meetings of both the Post and the Women’s Relief Corps were “in the Town Hall for many years.”

Kingsbury’s list of Post commanders included, in order, Nathan A. Benson, A. M. Sawtell, Thomas S. Benson, John B. Sawtell, Simon C. Hastings, James H. Bean, Silas N. Waite and Gorham K. Hastings. Hammond said Bean was in charge for many years, and his wife, Vileda Bean, was the longest-serving president of the women’s auxiliary. Kingsbury listed Vileda A. Bean among charter members when the Women’s Relief Corps was organized July 29, 1890.

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Windsor’s Marcellus Vining GAR Post honors Lieutenant Marcellus Vining (May 2, 1842 – May 19, 1864).

Kingsbury wrote that Marcellus Vining was the grandson of Jonathan Vining, who came from Alna to Windsor about 1805, and son of Daniel Vining (April 27, 1810 – Feb. 10, 1890). A farmer, Daniel had 12 or 13 children by two wives; Marcellus was his oldest son by his first wife, Sarah Esterbrook (or Esterbrooks) of Oldtown.

Marcellus Vining became a private in the 7th Maine Infantry on Jan. 25, 1862. Kingsbury wrote that the 19-year-old’s “ability and courage soon pointed him out as one especially fitted to a more important place among his comrades.”

Vining received two promotions before his two-year enlistment ended. When he reenlisted Jan. 4, 1864, it was as a sergeant in Company F of the 7th Maine.

He was promoted twice more that spring, to second lieutenant, Company A, on March 9 and to first lieutenant, Company A, on April 21. Wounded at the May 12, 1864, Battle of Spottsylvania, Virginia, he died May 19 in Fredericksburg, before, Kingsbury said, receiving the federal government’s notice that he had been promoted to captain. He is buried in Windsor Neck Cemetery.

Kingsbury wrote that as Vining awaited death, he wrote his father a letter in which he said that “it was preferable for him to die in the defense of his country’s flag than live to see it disgraced.”

Vining GAR Post #107 was organized June 2, 1884, Kingsbury said. Before then, Lowden wrote, residents celebrated Decoration Day at the National Soldiers Home in Togus.

Kingsbury listed the Post commanders, to 1892, as H. A. N. Dutton, Francisco Colburn, George E. Stickney, G. L. Marson, Cyrus S. Noyes and Luther B. Jennings.

Lowden said Windsor’s Post members met every Saturday night in the GAR Hall, the second floor of the town house. The Hall accumulated memorabilia; Lowden wrote that in 1886, “a Mr. Bangs presented a picture of Marcellus Vining,” and Kingsbury added that the Vining family donated Marcellus Vining’s army sword, a life-size portrait and a flag.

Lowden believed Vining Post continued “well into the twentieth century.” Windsor voters helped fund the organization, 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,” the successor organization to the GAR.

After local Memorial Day observances began, they typically included a speech, Lowden said. Windsor’s first was in 1887, and “must have been appreciated since a $13.00 honorarium was paid to the speaker who to this day has remained anonymous.” Lowden did find names of several ministers who delivered memorial addresses in the next decade.

Gustavus B. (G.B.) Chadwick

One of Windsor’s Memorial Day speakers, according to Linwood Lowden’s history, was G. B. Chadwick, in 1892. Though not listed as a minister, he almost certainly was: Rev. Gustavus B. Chadwick, a member of a prominent South China family. In the China bicentennial history (where he is consistently referred to simply as G. B. Chadwick), he is mentioned as a school committee member, head of the Masonic Lodge, in South China, and in 1872 among the people who bought the Chadwick Cemetery, where he is buried.

Information from the on-line Find a Grave site says Chadwick was born July 24, 1832, in China. On Aug. 27, 1864, he enlisted in the navy and served as a Landsman on the USS Rhode Island until honorably discharged June 3, 1865. He was a member of China’s Amos J. Billings GAR Post.

Gravestones in China’s Chadwick Hill cemetery list Rev. G. B. Chadwick (did he so dislike the name Gustavus?) and dates; his wife Clara M. (1851-1934) (probably born Clara Erskine); their son Wallace W. Chadwick (1892-1930) and Wallace’s wife Martha Francis (Gardner) Chadwick (1891-1947).

Main sources

Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992).
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).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Holidays: Memorial Day

by Mary Grow

GAR posts Augusta, North Vassalboro and Clinton

Waterville’s W. S Heath GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Post #14, described last week, was the second founded of the eight in the part of Kennebec County covered in this series, according to Henry Kingsbury’s county history. It was the third of 19 in the whole county, Kingsbury wrote.

Kingsbury’s list begins with a post in Gardiner, followed by Augusta’s Seth Williams Post #13, organized July 25, 1872. Then came Waterville’s, organized Dec. 29, 1874.

Kingsbury then listed:

  • Richard W. Mullen Post #33, North Vassalboro, no date given;
  • Billings Post #88, Clinton, organized Oct. 9, 1883;
  • James P. Jones Post #106, South China, organized April 23, 1884;
  • Vining Post #107, Windsor, organized June 2, 1884;
  • Amos J. Billings Post #112, China Village, chartered June 17, 1884;
  • Joseph W. Lincoln Post #113, Sidney, mustered May 24, 1884.

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Brevet Major General
Seth Williams

Brevet Major General Seth Williams (March 22, 1822 – March 23, 1866), for whom the Augusta GAR Post was named, was an Augusta native, Kingsbury wrote. James North, in his Augusta history, said his parents were Daniel and Mary (Sawtelle) Williams; Mary was from Norridgewock. Daniel and his brother Reuel were prominent in Augusta business and politics.

Seth Williams graduated from West Point July 1, 1842, and served in the United States First Artillery (Kingsbury; North says it was the Second Artillery), either entering as a brevet second lieutenant (North) or attaining the rank in 1844 (Kingsbury).

(The word “brevet” means someone promoted to a higher rank, especially as a reward for outstanding service, without the higher pay that normally accompanied the new rank.)

An on-line article by Charles Francis added that among Williams’ “minor” posts in his first three years in the military was Hancock Barracks, in Houlton, Maine.

Williams was promoted to first lieutenant in 1847, during the Mexican War (April 25, 1846 – Feb. 2, 1848). North wrote that he was in battle at Palo Alto (May 8, 1846) and Resaca de la Palma (May 9, 1846), and during the latter “his gallant bearing attracted the notice of a distinguished general officer, who invited him to become a member of his military family.”

(The officer was General Robert Patterson [Jan. 12, 1792 – Aug. 7, 1881], an Irish-born Pennsylvanian, veteran of the War of 1812. He was wounded at the April 18, 1847, Battle of Sierra Gordo, not seriously enough to keep him from becoming a successful businessman and serving in the Civil War.)

When Williams visited Augusta in July 1847, North said, Colonel James L. Child hosted a party at the Arsenal and townspeople gave Williams an inscribed sword.

Kingsbury wrote that Williams was brevetted captain the day of the Battle of Sierra Gordo in recognition of his “gallant and meritorious conduct.”

After the Mexican War ended, Williams served in other minor posts until he became adjutant at West Point from September 1850 to August 1853. Francis wrote that he “was held in the highest esteem, and was remembered with affection” by the cadets he supervised.

Next he became a captain and assistant adjutant general in Washington, where he remained until the Civil War began in April 1861.

Williams served in both staff and battlefield positions. Kingsbury’s account of his service includes membership on General George McLellan’s staff in the early days; becoming a major in August 1861; and later that year becoming “adjutant general of the Army of the Potomac” and “brigadier general of volunteers.”

Although these were challenging jobs, North and Kingsbury wrote that Williams’ performance was approved by the various commanders he supervised. Francis wrote that Williams was made a brevet colonel for his gallantry in the July 1, 1863, Battle of Gettysburg.

In November 1864 (North) or on Jan. 12, 1865 (Kingsbury), failing health led to his reassignment as Inspector General on General Ulysses Grant’s staff. In this position he inspected parts of the army in Virginia before taking part in the final Civil War campaign and the negotiations for General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, in April 1865.

Williams remained in the army after the war ended, serving on General George Meade’s staff. Kingsbury said his final “special service” was as a member of a January 1866 commission that investigated charges brought by the government of Prussia about “the enlistment of some of its subjects into our army.”

Sources differ on how Williams became a brevet general. Kingsbury and North imply he was promoted before his death in March 1866; they wrote he became a major general as of August 1864 (North) or effective March 13, 1865 (Kingsbury). Wikipedia says President Andrew Johnson nominated him to the two ranks on April 10 and July 17, 1866, with both appointments retroactive to March 13, 1865.

Kingsbury praised Williams as a man who did his duty even if he thereby hurt others, but was in private “one of the most lovable of men.” Kingsbury’s adjectives for him included courteous, tactful, beloved, admired and respected. North concurred. He called Williams “modest” and “unassuming,” with “sterling qualities of mind and heart that won the respect and confidence of acquaintances and associates.”

When General Grant heard that Williams had died in Boston, Massachusetts, he telegraphed sympathy to Williams’ father and asked that the body be buried at West Point. The family chose Forest Grove Cemetery, in Augusta.

Williams’ body came to Augusta “by special train,” North wrote. There was a service at St. Mark’s Church and another at the graveside, but at the family’s request, the only military ceremony was a 15-gun salute at the Arsenal.

Afterwards, North wrote, Williams’ father commissioned a memorial stained-glass window in St. Mark’s Church.

Francis mentioned one more memorial to Seth Williams: Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, named on April 13, 1899, honored the Augusta soldier. The fort was active through the two world wars and beyond; it was closed on June 30, 1962, Wikipedia says, and since July 1979 has been Fort Williams Park.

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Richard W. Mullen Post #33, in Vassalboro, honors the man identified in Alma Pierce Robbins’ Vassalboro bicentennial history as one of the first officers in the 14th Maine regiment when it assembled in Augusta in 1861.

From its position on Kingsbury’s list, the Post must date from mid-January, 1881. Kingsbury said it had 18 charter members and by 1892, 42 members.

Kingsbury located Post #33 in North Vassalboro, but he was probably in error. The Vassalboro Historical Society owns a black and silver DAR ribbon with the Post’s name and number that plainly says “East Vassalboro, ME.”

Writing in 1971, Robbins said, “All older citizens will recall that the Richard W. Mullen Chapter, G.A.R., was active in Vassalboro for many years until they turned their records over to the American Legion Post #126 (1942).”

Over those years, she reported, the town donated to the Women’s (or Woman’s) Relief Corps (the GAR’s ladies’ auxiliary) to decorate veterans’ graves and hold Memorial Day services. The Legion and Auxiliary took over those responsibilities.

Capt. Richard Wright Mullen, son of Richard Mullen, was born April 19, 1831, in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and died May 14, 1875, in New Orleans, Louisiana, according to the Find a Grave website.

The Maine Adjutant General’s Report for the year ending Dec. 31, 1861, lists Richard W. Mullen, of Vassalboro, as the captain of company B, 14th regiment. When the report was compiled, the 14th was in camp at Augusta.

(The regimental commander was Colonel Frank S. Nickerson. Col. Nickerson, born in Swanville, Maine, became a brigadier general and survived the war, dying in Boston in 1917.)

Wikipedia says the 14th Maine was mustered into active service Dec. 31, 1861, and mustered out Jan. 3, 1865. Attached to General Benjamin Butler’s New Orleans expedition, the men took ship from Boston Feb. 6, 1862; they were in Mississippi from early March to mid-May, got to Louisiana early in July and fought in the Aug. 5, 1862, Battle of Baton Rouge.

Mullen is buried in the North Vassalboro cemetery. On his gravestone above his name is the Latin phrase “In hoc signo vinces,” commonly translated as “In this sign, thou shalt conquer” and a cross.

A long inscription says he was “severely wounded” at the Battle of Baton Rouge. Despite only partially recovering, he was “called into public service” and when he died was collector of customs in Franklin, Louisiana, a town west of New Orleans.

(State records say 86 members of the 14th Maine were killed or died from their wounds, and 332 died of disease.)

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Billings Post #88, organized in Clinton on Oct. 9, 1883, had 19 charter members and 23 members in 1892, Kingsbury wrote. Meetings were held in Centennial Hall.

Capt. Charles W. Billings

The Post honors Clinton native Captain Charles Wheeler Billings (Dec. 13, 1824 – July 15, 1863), son of Abijah (or Abaijah) Munroe Billings (1797-September 1881) and Rhonda (or Rhoda) (Warner) Billings (1798-1836).

An on-line article by Paul Russinoff, a Marylander who collects Civil War photographs, says that Abijah Billings ran a wool carding mill and was postmaster in Clinton. He sent his son to a private school; when Charles was 22, he bought a half-interest in his father’s mill.

In 1849, Charles Billings married Ellen Libby Hunter (July 1, 1833 – 1924), daughter of a prominent local family whose patriarch was in the lumber business. They had three daughters, Isadore Margaret (Billings) Timberlake (1850 – 1897), Alice Warner Billings (1856-1860) and Elizabeth W. “Lizzie” Billings (1860 – Dec. 7, 1863).

By the outbreak of the Civil War, Billings was an established businessman and active in town affairs, holding office as a selectman and as town clerk. He did not volunteer for military service in the excitement of 1861, but did on Aug. 9, 1862.

Russinoff quotes from a letter to his father suggesting his motivation: he saw the war as a choice between protecting liberty and “let[ting] the sword of despotism and ignorance sweep over our fair country.”

In the fall of 1862, as a second lieutenant in Company A of the 20th Maine, Billings started keeping a diary, which Russinoff said ended in April 1863. Also that month, he returned to Clinton for the last time on a 15-day-furlough.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 7, 1863, Russinoff wrote, he had been transferred to Company C and promoted to captain.

Billings was wounded in the left knee at the Battle of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. His wife got word, and with his younger brother, John Patten Billings, came to Gettysburg; they arrived on July 15, a few hours after Billings died in the Fifth Corps field hospital at Gettysburg.

The 20th Maine monument at Gettysburg lists him as the highest-ranking officer in the regiment to die as a result of the battle.

Ellen had his body brought back to Clinton. She did not remarry; Russinoff found that she later lived with daughter Isadore, in Lancaster, New Hampshire.

Where she was between Isadore’s death and her own, Russinoff did not say. Ellen is buried with Charles, their daughters and his parents in Clinton’s Riverview Cemetery.

On the Men of Maine Killed in the Victory of Baton Rouge, Louisiana

(A poem by Herman Melville, 1866)

Afar they fell. It was the zone
Of fig and orange, cane and lime
(A land how all unlike their own,
With the cold pine-grove overgrown),
But still their Country’s clime.
And there in youth they died for her –
The Volunteers,
For her went up their dying prayers:
So vast the Nation, yet so strong the tie.
What doubt shall come, then, to deter
The Republic’s earnest faith and courage high.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971)

Websites, miscellaneous

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: May holidays

Nearly 50 years after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Civil War veterans marched down Main Street, in Waterville, on May 30, 1913, in the annual Memorial Day parade. The decades since the war had thinned the ranks of these members of the GAR, who fought in the war.

by Mary Grow

The month of May hosts two well-observed national holidays in the 21st-century United States: the second Sunday is Mother’s Day, and the last Monday is Memorial Day.

There will be no story about Mother’s Day; it’s too new (but see the box). Nor will your writer trouble you with details about the many other May holidays listed on line.

May 11, for example, is National Eat What You Want Day, National Twilight Zone Day, National Foam Rolling Day and National Technology Day. The seven May 12 observances include National Limerick Day, National Nutty Fudge Day and National Odometer Day.

Later in the month, those so inclined can celebrate National Frog Jumping Day and National Fruit Cocktail Day (May 13); National Sea Monkey Day (May 16); Pack Rat Day and World Baking Day (May 17); International Red Sneakers Day and World Bee Day (May 20); World Turtle Day and National Asparagus Day (May 23); National Paper Airplane Day and World Lindy Hop Day (May 26); National Paperclip Day (May 29); and on May 31, National Flip-Flop Day, World No Tobacco Day and World Otter Day – and those are from only two lists.

Memorial Day, celebrated this year on Monday, May 29, had its origins almost 150 years ago. The day was first called Decoration Day, and it honored soldiers who died in the Civil War.

Local groups in former Confederate states and in Pennsylvania started putting flowers on soldiers’ graves each year soon after the war ended in April 1865, leading to debate about who started what became national recognition of deceased veterans.

Wikipedia says as of last year, the National Cemetery Administration (part of the Department of Veterans Affairs) gave credit to Mary Ann (Mrs. Charles J.) Williams, of Columbus, Georgia. She was president of a group who, in March 1866, began a newspaper campaign to persuade people to decorate both Confederate and Union soldiers’ graves in the South. Their chosen day was April 26.

The national holiday began May 30, 1868, when, Wikipedia says, General John A. Logan called for decorating Union soldiers’ graves. After the 20th-century world wars, the holiday expanded to honor all veterans.

Congress officially named it Memorial Day in 1967, and in June 1968 passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, effective Jan. 1, 1971. This law moved Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day to Mondays and created Columbus Day as another Monday holiday.

(In 1978, Veterans’ Day was moved back to Nov. 11, the date World War I ended. Labor Day was a Monday celebration before 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was added in 1986.)

General Logan was in 1868 commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union veterans founded in 1866 in Springfield, Illinois. The GAR held its first national meeting on Nov. 20 that year in Indianapolis, Indiana. It dissolved in 1956, after its last member died.

Several local town historians included information about Memorial Day. Linwood Lowden, commenting on his research in the history of Windsor, said that Decoration Day, Independence Day and Christmas were “the holidays that seemed to be of the greatest importance.”

Lowden wrote that the GAR’s Department of Maine, established in 1867 or 1868, was “instrumental” in persuading the Maine legislature to make Memorial Day a legal holiday in 1874.

Two on-line sources say that in 1885 Maine had 130 GAR posts with 8,235 members and in 1888 150 posts with 9,345 members. It was in June 1885 that Portland hosted the 19th National Encampment, attended by 20,000 Civil War veterans including, Lowden wrote, Abram Choate, of Windsor.

From the 1860s into the 20th century, most municipal Memorial Day celebrations were led by local GAR posts.

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Gen. Isaac Bangs

Waterville’s W. S. Heath Post #14 was chartered Dec. 29, 1874, with 26 members, according to charter member General Isaac Sparrow Bangs’ chapter in the Waterville centennial history.

The Post’s name honors Lieutenant Colonel William Solyman Heath, Colby 1855. Born March 13, 1834, in Belfast, he married Maria E. Moor (born 1838) in Waterville in 1856, soon after he graduated from Colby.

The couple had three children, Ethel Maud Heath (born Sept. 1, 1857, in Minneapolis, according to an on-line genealogy, and died in 1898 in the state of Washington); Sidney Moor Heath (born Aug. 27, 1859, in Waterville, died April 3, 1919, in Hoquiam, Washington); and William Francis Heath (born Oct. 13, 1861, in Waterville, and died there April 26, 1863).

When the Civil War began, Heath raised and captained a company of Waterville volunteers, who joined the 3rd Maine Volunteers. He became a colonel in that regiment and later a lieutenant-colonel in the 5th Maine.

Heath was killed in the June 27, 1862, Battle of Gaines (or Gaine’s or Gaines’) Mill in Hanover County, Virginia, where, Bangs wrote in 1902, “for forty years he has slept under the grass and flowers in an unknown grave.”

Another charter member of W. S. Heath GAR post was William Heath’s younger brother, Francis “Frank” Edward Heath, Colby 1858. Joining the 3rd Maine with his brother, he later became lieutenant-colonel, then colonel and finally brevet brigadier-general in the 19th Maine, Bangs wrote. Francis Heath survived the war and died in Waterville on Dec. 20, 1897.

The Friday, June 3, 1881, issue of the Waterville Mail (available on-line through Colby’s digital commons, which your writer has previously praised as a valuable resource) had several articles about Memorial Day observances on Sunday, May 29, and Monday, May 30, 1881.

Sunday evening, the newspaper reported, Baptist church pastor Rev. W. H. Spencer addressed Waterville’s W. S. Heath GAR Post, the Waterville Light Infantry and interested residents. Vassalboro’s R. W. Mullen Post members were invited, but because of rain only a few men came.

Post and infantry members “marched to the tap of the drum” to the church, where they sat “giving good attention to a soldier speaking to soldiers.” The paper explained how Rev. Spencer compared military soldiers to soldiers of Christ.

The next day, Memorial Day, about 50 Post members, again escorted by the infantry regiment, took donated wreaths and set out for Pine Grove Cemetery, by way of Monument Park where they put a long wreath on the monument.

Monday was rainy, too, and before the veterans got to the cemetery a “copious shower” made it “advisable to double-quick for shelter in the hearse house.” After waiting out the heaviest rain, they went into the cemetery, heard a prayer by Congregational pastor Rev. E. N. Smith, distributed the wreaths and marched back to their (unspecified) assembly point.

Monday evening, the Baptist Church ladies put on a program that raised $104 for the Post, to be used “to aid needy soldiers and their families.” The Mail gave the program, which included war songs, reminiscences and a group of young women performing the “Waiters Drill,” which the anonymous writer said was “so prettily done, and so gratifying to the large audience that long continued applause compelled its repetition.”

After the program, those present enjoyed cake and ice cream and conversation in the vestry, decorated with flags and pictures and with war memorabilia on display. The writer added a bit of editorializing:

“The ranks of the veteran soldiers are thinning every year, and they will not long remain with those for whose benefit they fought and suffered. Do them good while they are alive and can appreciate your grateful service, and do not content yourselves with building monuments to their memory, or helping to decorate their graves after they are dead.”

The origin of Mother’s Day

Wikipedia dates holidays recognizing mothers and motherhood to the ancient Greeks and Romans and early Christians. In the United States, Wikipedia credits West Virginian Anna Maria Jarvis (May 1, 1864 – Nov. 24, 1948) with starting Mother’s Day observances.

Jarvis’s mother, Anna Maria (Reeves) Jarvis (Sept. 30, 1832 – May 9, 1905), founded groups called Mothers’ Day Work Clubs. Before the Civil War, club members focused on public health issues, helping families improve sanitation, reduce infant mortality and control disease, including, Wikipedia says, creating milk inspection programs “long before there were state requirements.”

Anna Jarvis

During the Civil War, the western part of Virginia where the Jarvises lived was so split between North and South that part of it became the separate, pro-Union state of West Virginia. The older Anna Jarvis insisted that her clubs be neutral; members helped provide food, clothing and medical care to Union and Confederate soldiers alike.

Wikipedia describes the 1868 Mothers Friendship Day she organized in Pruntytown, West Virginia, attended by veterans from both armies and their families, with bands playing Dixie and The Star-Spangled Banner and everyone singing Auld Lang Syne at the end.

The younger Anna Jarvis remembered that her mother often wished there were a national holiday honoring mothers. Another proponent was Julia Ward Howe (May 27, 1819 – Oct. 17, 1910, best known as the author of The Battle Hymn of Republic), who in 1870 combined two causes when she called on all mothers to cooperate to promote peaceful resolution of disputes.

On the morning of May 10, 1908, Jarvis organized, and Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton, West Virginia, hosted, the first public Mother’s Day celebration in the United States. Jarvis also organized a larger celebration – 15,000 attendees, Wikipedia says – that afternoon in Philadelphia.

Her idea spread, and she lobbied to make the day a nationally-recognized holiday. Congress considered it in 1908, Wikipedia says, and rejected it amid jokes about Mother-in-Laws’ Day. Within three years, however, a day honoring mothers was celebrated nation-wide and was officially a holiday in some states, including West Virginia.

Wikipedia says: “In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrase ‘Second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, Founder’ and created the Mother’s Day International Association…. She specifically noted that ‘Mother’s’ should ‘be a singular possessive, for each family to honor its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.'”

On May 11, 1913, members of the United States House of Representatives wore white carnations in honor of mothers, complying with a May 10 resolution sponsored by Representative James Heflin (D-Alabama; later a United States Senator). In 1914, Heflin followed up with legislation making the second Sunday in May officially Mother’s Day.

Heflin’s bill directed that the United States flag be flown on Mother’s Day “as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” The House approved promptly; Senator (former Representative) Morris Sheppard (D-Texas) led Senate supporters.

President Woodrow Wilson received the bill on May 8, 1914, and signed it that day.

Carnations are not in the law, but remain associated with the holiday, along with cards, flowers and candy – a commercialization that Anna Jarvis deplored.

Two buildings related to the founding of Mother’s Day are on the National Register of Historic Places: the Anna Jarvis House in Webster, West Virginia, where Jarvis was born; and the International Mother’s Day Shrine, at 11 East Main Street, Grafton, West Virginia.

The Shrine, according to its website, was incorporated in 1962 in the 1873 Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church as “an international shrine to all mothers and as a memorial to Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day.”

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).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Plagues

Fairfield Sanatorium circa 1940. One of the scourges of the late 19th century through the mid 20th century was Tuberculosis. According to Wikipedia, Tuberculosis (or TB), is an infection caused by bacteria. Typically, it affects the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body. In 90% of cases, the infection remains dormant and goes undetected. In about 10% of cases, the infection goes active. Common symptoms of the active infection include fever, night sweats, and weight loss. Because of the weight loss, the disease was often called “consumption”. Back when it was a major health crisis, those who were infected were often quarantined in sanatoriums. This was common practice across the United States, even here in Maine. The idea was that these sanatoriums would not only separate the sick from the people they could infect, they would also treat the TB. The thought was that they would treat them through good nutrition and fresh air.

by Mary Grow

Note: “The first article in this Kennebec Valley series appeared in the March 26, 2020, issue of The Town Line. Having completed a three-year run, your writer intends to take a few weeks off.”

Since this historical series started in the spring of 2020 as a way to distract writer and readers from the Covid-19 pandemic, part of the plan has always been a survey of past local disease outbreaks.

Someone at the Maine State Museum had the same idea. The museum has a one-page document uploaded in 2020 and headed Maine’s Historic Pandemics.

(The difference between an epidemic and a pandemic is that an epidemic is localized to a country or region; a pandemic affects multiple countries or the whole world. Since this article is focused on the State of Maine, your writer reserves the right to use “epidemic” even when the disease described sickened people outside Maine.)

The museum website lists five diseases, three too recent to qualify for your writer’s attention in this article:

  • Smallpox was at its height from 1600 to 1800; the worst epidemics had a 30 percent death rate; and it was especially severe among Native Americans (who, unlike Europeans, had no previous exposure to give them a chance to develop immunity).
  • Cholera was most frequent in Maine between about 1830 and 1850, with seven separate outbreaks, the museum’s chart says. The death rate is put at 50 to 60 percent.
  • Tuberculosis became epidemic from 1900 to 1950, with a 25 percent death rate. One of Maine’s three tuberculosis sanatoriums was in Fairfield – see the Sept. 22, 2022, issue of The Town Line.
  • Maine’s polio epidemic ran from 1900 to 1960, mainly affecting children. The death rate is listed at 5 to 15 percent; many who survived were paralyzed or lamed for life.
  • Influenza is listed as a pandemic in 1918 and 1919, when the disease spread world-wide. The death rate was 2 percent.

Abandoned Fairfield Sanatorium today

Some Maine local historians frequently mentioned epidemics; others ignored them. Diseases most often noted were smallpox, scarlet fever and diphtheria.

In a 1995 paper for Maine History (reprinted on line in the University of Maine’s invaluable Digital Commons series), John D. Blaisdell called smallpox “one of the most frightening of all diseases.” Often fatal, especially to children, the virus left survivors with permanent scars; the Maine State Museum website says it also caused blindness.

A National Park Service (NPS) website discusses the development of inoculation, the practice of deliberately sharing smallpox by transferring pus from an infected person to a healthy one. Doctors discovered that the person being inoculated would usually have a mild case and would seldom develop the disease again.

The website uses colonial Boston as an example. In a 1721 smallpox outbreak, Puritan minister Cotton Mather heard about inoculation from his African slave, Onesimus, and talked Dr. Zabdiel Boylston into trying it.

The website calls this trial inoculation “incredibly controversial.” People got so angry that someone bombed Mather’s house. Many feared the health consequences, and clergymen insisted that smallpox was “God’s punishment for sin” and therefore inoculation “interfered with God’s will.”

Boylston, undeterred, took the experiment seriously and followed up. He found that the 1721 outbreak killed 14 percent of the people who accidentally caught it from others, versus only two percent of those who were deliberately inoculated.

People slowly accepted inoculation, including George Washington, who promoted it regularly during the Revolutionary War to keep his army healthy enough to fight. In 1777, he ordered soldiers inoculated, “the first medical mandate in American history,” the NPS website says.

Inoculation was succeeded by vaccination, a process using a weakened or altered version of the pathogen against which immunity is desired (an on-line site says today the terms inoculation and vaccination are used synonymously). Blaisdell wrote that the earliest smallpox vaccine was developed in Great Britain by Edward Jenner in 1798; the idea came to Boston in 1799 and was “quickly accepted by the American medical community.”

The earliest local reference to smallpox your writer found was in James North’s history of Augusta. He mentioned an October 1792 outbreak among Hallowell residents; “Mr. Sweet and two of his children died with it,” he wrote.

In 1816, Vassalboro historian Alma Pierce Robbins said in her chapter on schools, there was enough fear of a smallpox outbreak that, she quoted (from town records), “a sum was voted to insure the Inhabitants against small pox.”

The earliest disease outbreak Wiggin mentioned in her Albion history was in 1819.

Smallpox was spreading among townspeople, and there was agreement on what to do about it, so voters created a committee to “use every effort to prevent the further spread of small pox.”

Wiggin added that there was no further information on the committee’s success or failure in town records, and neither she nor Robbins gave any hint as to the method(s) used. Wiggin wrote that she found records of another outbreak years later.

Also in 1819, Blaisdell referenced a Penobscot Valley outbreak, starting in Belfast and moving up the river. He said that Hampden doctor Allen Rogers used vaccination as one method of fighting it.

Blaisdell noted another outbreak in early 1840 in Winterport and Bangor.

Linwood Lowden wrote in his history of Windsor that an 1864 town meeting warrant asked for money to compensate Patrick Lynch “for damage received on account of being fenced up [quarantined] for the public safety in the case of small pox.” On May 14, 1864, voters approved paying Lynch’s doctor’s bill.

Lowden found a record of a smallpox vaccination – probably not the first one in town, he wrote – on Thursday, Nov. 12, 1885, when a Dr. Libby, from Pittston, vaccinated Orren Choate.

Another 19th-century method of controlling smallpox, diphtheria and other contagious diseases was fumigating the premises with a gas like chlorine, cyanide or formaldehyde, Lowden wrote.

Cholera, an intestinal disease characterized by severe diarrhea, is caused by a bacterium that is usually transmitted through contaminated water or food. The disease is often fatal unless it is promptly diagnosed and treated.

The major way to prevent cholera is adequate sanitation. It is now uncommon in developed countries, but epidemics still occur in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Cholera vaccines are available and are recommended for residents of and travelers to areas where the disease is common.

Your writer found no records of cholera in the Kennebec Valley, but it could well have killed residents here, because it has been documented elsewhere in Maine. An on-line site, citing an April 2020 article in the Bangor Daily News, mentions outbreaks in Bangor in 1832 and in 1849, and one in Lewiston in 1854 that caused 200 deaths.

The article says the cause of the 1832 Bangor outbreak was a trunk of clothing that had belonged to a sailor who died of cholera in Europe. When his belongings were sent home and shared among family members and friends, the disease was shared, too.

The history article in the Dec. 1, 2022, issue of The Town Line mentioned an 1883 case of scarlet fever in East Machias that was attributed to contaminated clothing brought from an infected area.

Closer to home, Martha Ballard’s diary recorded scarlet fever in Hallowell in the summer of 1787. Entries in June, July and August describe patients with “the rash” or “canker rash” (an old name for “a form of scarlet fever characterized by an ulcerated or putrid sore throat,” according to the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary).

Captain Henry Sewall’s son Billy died June 18, a week after Ballard was first called to see him because he was “sick with the rash.” By the end of July Rev. Isaac Foster had it and was unable to preach. (Last week’s history article summarized relations between Sewall and Foster.)

Early in August, Ballard was back and forth among several households with sick children, some she explicitly said had scarlet fever and others so ill they must have had it too. All the McMaster children caught it, and William McMaster died; Ballard sat up all night with him before his death, and wrote of her sympathy for his pregnant mother.

On Aug. 7, Ballard started at Mrs. Howard’s where her son James was “very low”; went to see Mrs. Williams, who was “very unwell”; to Joseph Foster’s to check on the children there; and to her back field to gather some “cold water root” that she took to Polly Kenyday for a gargle, “which gave her great ease.” When she got home, she found her husband with a very sore throat; he too benefited from the cold water root and “went to bed comfortably.”

The 1899 Windsor Board of Health report, cited in Lowden’s town history, recorded eight scarlet fever cases.

Local historians mentioned two diphtheria epidemics in the second half of the 19th century.

During the 1862-63 school year, according to a town report Wiggin cited, 17 students in Albion schools died of diphtheria – she found no record of infant or adult deaths. (That was a sad winter, she pointed out; it was during the Civil War, from which, according to one report she found, only 55 of the 100 Albion men who enlisted returned.)

The 1988 history of Fairfield mentioned a diphtheria epidemic in 1886.

Lowden listed repeated outbreaks of typhoid fever in Windsor. He wrote that it killed four residents in 1850 and “three young men” in 1877; and the 1899 Board of Health report recorded two more cases.

Biographical sketch of Fairfield’s Dr. Frank J. Robinson

The context for the mention of the Fairfield diphtheria epidemic was a biographical sketch of Dr. Frank J. Robinson (Jan. 23, 1850 – February 1942).

A native of St. Albans (about 30 miles north of Fairfield), Robinson taught school before enrolling in Maine Medical School (later Bowdoin College) in January 1874 and graduating from Long Island College of Medicine in 1875 (the writers of the Fairfield bicentennial history do not explain how he did this; they do say he took numerous post-graduate courses).

Robinson practiced in Fairfield for 65 years, in an office in the Wilson block on Main Street until 1936 and thereafter from his 71 High Street home. The Wilson Block was evidently a medical center; the Dec. 16, 1902, issue of the Fairfield Journal, found on the Fairfield Historical Society’s website, reported that “Dr. Austin Thomas, who has come here from Thomaston, is not as has been reported, associated with Dr. I. P. Tash but has leased the offices in the Wilson block, formerly occupied by Dr. Goodspeed.”

Robinson treated people in Benton, Clinton and as far away as Norridgewock, according to the history.

He was still active at a public commemoration of his 89th birthday, the occasion on which the history says he remembered the diphtheria outbreak that infected 44 Fairfield residents.

The Fairfield historians added that he was again honored on his 92nd birthday, the month before his death, recognized as “one of the oldest practicing physicians in Maine, if not in the country.”

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Lowden, Linwood H. good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Augusta families – Part 5

Henry Sewall

by Mary Grow

Henry Sewall, part two

Last week’s article on Henry Sewall (Oct. 24, 1752 – Sept. 4, 1845) omitted (or rather postponed) an important aspect of his life: he was a deeply religious man.

James North, in his history of Augusta, summarized: “He was upright, conscientious, pious and rigidly orthodox in his religious views. Towards the close of his life his religious rigor was much softened.”

Sewall’s diary is a main source for North’s history into the 1790s, and fellow Augusta historian Charles Nash excerpted it from 1830 to 1842. Sewall wrote where he went to church and who preached almost every Sunday, and there are frequent references to weekday services and religious organizations.

Especially in his earlier years, Sewall often had public disagreements with whatever minister the town hired.

In 1784, North wrote that the preaching of Rev. Nathaniel Merrill “was not acceptable to Capt. Henry Sewall, who soon discontinued his attendance.”

The next year, voters hired Rev. Seth Noble from September 1785 to mid-March 1786. Sewall disapproved of Noble’s doctrines, too, and joined other dissatisfied residents who gathered Sundays for worship at Benjamin Pettingill’s (sometimes Pettengill).

Despite having contracted with Noble, North wrote, when voters got a recommendation to hire Rev. William Hazlitt, they named Sewall, Cony and North as a committee to hire him for two months. On Nov. 13, Sewall heard his morning sermon, declared him an “Armenian” and probably an “Arian” and went to Pettingill’s for the afternoon.

(The Encyclopedia Britannica defines Arminianism as a Protestant doctrine that denied predestination and said the idea free will did not contradict belief in a sovereign God. The same source says Arianism “stresses God’s unity at the expense of the notion of the Trinity.”)

There were at least two ministers who did meet Sewall’s standards. In 1785, he once “went nineteen miles to Jones’ plantation” (later China) to hear a Rev. Kinsman (North gives no first name), who also preached in Hallowell, including at Thomas Sewall’s house (Thomas and Henry were brothers). That same year, Sewall praised Rev. Ezekiel Emerson when he came from Georgetown to preach in Hallowell.

In 1786, a 15-man committee including Sewall (and James Howard and Daniel Cony) recommended a salary for a new young minister named Isaac Foster, from Connecticut. Foster began preaching in July; North quoted from Sewall’s diary: “preached poor doctrine”; “preached rank Arminianism.”

In August, according to Sewall’s record, he met twice with Foster, but failed to “convince him of the impropriety of his doctrines.” As most of the rest of the townspeople prepared to ordain Foster their minister on Oct. 11, 1786, Sewall remained opposed, even preparing written objections to Foster’s beliefs.

A council of ministers approved Foster as Hallowell’s minister and a “public tea­cher,” after an all-day debate at Daniel Cony’s house. North surmised that Sewall skipped Foster’s sermons and went to Pettingill’s on Sundays, where he “probably officiated to the few who sympathized with him.”

At some point, Sewall called Foster a liar. As a result, he and his brother Thomas (who “was in some way connected with the charge,” North wrote) were brought to court, convicted and fined. Thomas Sewall paid his 12 shillings; Henry Sewall appealed his fine of “fifteen shillings and costs.”

He claimed to have proof of his accusation against Foster, but apparently the corroborating witness was unavailable when the appeal was heard in June 1787, and the higher court refused to allow a continuance (because the parties couldn’t agree on where it should be held). Lacking evidence, Sewall gave up and paid his fine – “wisely,” North commented.

Foster (who had been accumulating enemies and detractors) on May 9, 1788, sued both Sewalls. North said he demanded 500 pounds from each man.

The Sewalls sent a friend to Foster’s previous ministerial post to find evidence against him. Thomas Sewall again ducked out of the case, trusting a three-man committee to rule on his role.

Henry Sewall’s case was initially scheduled in June and postponed to January 1789. But in the fall of 1788, after long and acrimonious debates, Hallowell fired Foster, and apparently the case died.

After the Foster affair, North wrote, some Hallowell people got together with a group from Chester Plantation (now Chesterville, some 35 miles northwest of Augusta; Henry and Thomas Sewall’s brother Jotham lived there) and in 1790 formed the Chester Church. On March 15, 1791, these members met at Sewall’s house and renamed themselves “A Congregational Church of Christ in Hallowell.”

In June that year, Sewall found – met in a tavern on his way to visit another minister, North claimed – Rev. Adoniram Judson, who preached briefly in Hallowell to the “new” – Sewall’s – church but was spurned by all but one member of the “old” Hallowell church.

In the fall of 1792 the two Hallowell churches tried to merge, but agreed only to invite three outside ministers to help them. In mid-January 1793, the outsiders drafted a merger agreement.

But, North quoted (from Sewall’s diary, your writer suspects), the “new” church people (specifically, Henry Sewall, your writer suspects) “had weighty objections…to several members of the other church on account of doctrines and moral character.”

After a private session, the objectors agreed to the merger on condition that it could be undone at the request of a majority of either church. In June 1794, North wrote, after some former members of the “old” church had been disciplined “on account of doctrine and unbecoming conduct,” the former Chester church again became a separate entity. North did not name Sewall in describing the split, though he based his description on Sewall’s diary.

The original single congregational parish in Hallowell became three in 1795. When Augusta became a separate town in 1797, what had been Hallowell’s middle parish, with its 1795 meeting house, became Augusta’s south parish.

By the time your writer was able to pick up Henry Sewall’s story again at the beginning of 1830, he was regularly attending “Mr. Tappan’s church” (Rev. Benjamin Tappan) in the south parish, where a series of visiting ministers preached on Sundays. Sewall often attended more than one Sunday service, as well as weekday meetings.

From June 22 through June 24, 1830, he (and on June 23 and 24 his wife) were at the Maine Missionary Society’s general conference in Winthrop, with enough delegates from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Kentucky to fill the meeting house.

From Sept. 14 through 16, the Sewalls were at the County Conference of Churches, where he was a delegate. The conference was in Chesterville, so he visited Jotham, but the Sewalls stayed with a non-relative who lived nearer the meeting-house.

In October 1830 he was gone for almost two weeks to Boston for the annual meeting of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. He went to Boston by steamboat from Portland; the ocean was rough when the meeting ended, so he came all the way home by stagecoach, via Portland and Brunswick.

Sewall went to another A.B.C.F.M. meeting in Portland in September 1838. His diary does not explain either time whether he was a delegate or an observer.

On May 4, 1831, Sewall noted that Tappan began a four-day meeting. Each day’s schedule had an hour of morning prayers at 5:30, prayer meetings and preaching at intervals all day and a 7 p.m. lecture that lasted up to two hours.

Sewall mentioned his personal opinions in two contexts: he opposed Masonry (the fraternal organization, not the building-trade skill he practiced), and he supported temperance.

He noted in his diary that on Jan. 7, 1830, he responded to a request for his “views of freemasonry.” On Jan. 28, he wrote, “My Renunciation of Freemasonry appeared in a Boston anti-Masonic paper.”

The July 29, 1831, publication of a new anti-Masonic newspaper in Hallowell was worth mention; and he sent to “Gen. Crosby” in Houlton a letter and “4 anti-masonic Almanacs.”

On July 4, 1832, Sewall noted the Anti-Masonic state convention at the “new courthouse,” whose members nominated candidates for governor and for U.S. president and vice-president. They attended Tappan’s church in the afternoon.

In mid-October, Sewall wrote about going to Wiscasset and after discussion with “Major Carlton,” advising the anti-Masons to join the National Republicans on a “union ticket” for presidential and vice-presidential electors, “provided there should be no adhering Masons thereon.”

Sewall sometimes attended temperance lectures, and on March 31, 1841, wrote in his diary, “A remarkable reformation among the intemperate here, and through the country in general. Hope and pray it may not prove a failure, as some other reforms have done.”

Less than a month later he recorded the formation of a Washington Temperance Society in Augusta by the local rum drinkers. By May 14, he wrote, 150 local men had pledged abstinence.

The inscription on Sewall’s tombstone in Augusta’s Mount Vernon Cemetery reads: “An officer in the Revolutionary War. Major General of Militia in Maine; yet more honorably known as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, and a faithful officer in the Christian Church.”

Rev. Benjamin Tappan

Rev. Benjamin Tappan

Rev. Benjamin Tappan, D.D. (Nov. 7, 1788 – Dec. 22, 1863), was pastor of Augusta’s South Congregational Church from 1811 to 1849.

A plaque in the church at 9 Church Street, Augusta, is dedicated “to the glory of God, and in memory of” Rev. Tappan. It reads: “His children here reverently record their undying gratitude and love for a Father in whom wisdom, integrity and a large-hearted benevolence were joined to steadfast faith in Christ, and untiring activity in His service.”

Tappan, son and grandson of Congregational ministers, was born in West Newbury, Massachusetts; graduated from Harvard College in 1805 (before his 17th birthday); taught in Massachusetts; and in 1809 became a tutor at Bowdoin College. He was later vice-president of Bowdoin’s board of trustees.

In October 1811 he was “ordained over” the Augusta church, where he stayed until 1849.

Adjectives North applied to Tappan include “active, industrious…zealous, devoted, benevolent, learned and pious…humble and accessible to the lowly.” An on-line biography describes him as “an immense worker,” “noted for his hospitality and generosity” and “an effective preacher…[with] a remarkable gift in prayer.”

In June 1814 Tappan married Elizabeth B. T. Winthrop, from a wealthy Boston family; they had seven children. North wrote that he gave so much to charity that by the time he died his wife’s fortune was reduced, but “she was as charitable as she was kind, and encouraged his giving.”

Tappan was an early supporter of the temperance movement; the biography says his first sermon on temperance was in 1813.

Henry Sewall noted in his diary that on Sunday, July 4, 1830, Tappan’s sermon was on slavery, and he “had a contribution in aid of the Colonization Society.”

(The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 to help ex-slaves and other free blacks emigrate from the United States to Africa, especially to Liberia. Many African-Americans and many abolitionists opposed it. Its activity declined after the Civil War, but Wikipedia says it was not officially dissolved until 1964.)

While supporting colonization, Tappan appears to have been an abolitionist. Nash wrote that when the Maine Anti-Slavery Society was organized in Augusta in October 1834, Tappan hosted British abolitionist George Thompson.

Tappan left the Augusta church in 1849 to become secretary of the Maine Missionary Society, a position he held until his death.

The biography says his honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees came from Waterville College (now Colby College) in 1836 and from Bowdoin in 1845.

The church in which Tappan preached was not the present Gothic Revival building, but the second of three churches on the site, built in 1809 and struck by lightning and burned in 1864 (see the Nov. 10, 2022, issue of The Town Line).

Main sources:

Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Augusta families – Part 4

A drawing of a “great canoe”.

by Mary Grow

Henry Sewall, part one

The fourth early Augusta settler, prominent citizen and diarist your writer promised to introduce was Henry Sewall (Oct. 24, 1752 – Sept. 4, 1845).

His diary poses a puzzle. James North, whose history of Augusta was published in 1870, relied heavily on it from the 1780s through the late 1790s, and mentioned it in footnotes to events in 1820 and 1828, but not thereafter. Charles Nash, in his Augusta history published in 1904, wrote that from the end of Sept. 1783 to 1830, “the MS of Capt. Sewall’s Diary is missing.” Nash excerpted entries for 1783 and from 1830 to Jan. 31, 1843.

Diary entries are brief. Sewall recorded the weather; church-related events; and local deaths and funerals, including many in his own family. He often mentioned a town meeting or beginning of a legislative session, but said little about their outcomes.

Thanks mostly to the diary, Sewall’s life is well enough documented to provide material for two articles in this series. They will be followed by one more story on central Kennebec Valley towns planned for March 16; then your writer intends to take a break at least until the end of April.

* * * * * *

Some sources call Henry Sewall Captain Sewall, others call him General Sewall, and he is entitled to both ranks.

He was born in York, Maine, son of Henry and Abigail (Titcomb) Sewall. His father was a farmer and a mason, and he followed both occupations.

At the beginning of the Revolution, North wrote, Sewall enlisted in a Falmouth company that in May 1775 joined a Massachusetts regiment. He was promoted to captain as the regiment fought in New England and New York before British General John Burgoyne’s army surrendered at Saratoga on Oct. 17, 1777.

In November, North said, the Massachusetts soldiers joined the Continental Army in Pennsylvania. Sewall spent the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge; he “served the remainder of the war in New Jersey and the highlands of New York.”

North and an on-line article by a Sewall descendant agree that Sewall became a major, maybe as of May 19, 1779. His military service earned him a government pension; by the 1830s, he was recording in his diary semi-annual payments of $240.

The on-line source says Sewall was an “Original Member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati from 1783 until 1845,” and in 1845 (the year of his death) its vice-president. In 1836, he described in his diary the week-long trip he and his wife took to the society’s annual meeting in Boston. They went again in July 1838, and this time, at his wife’s urging, had their portraits painted by “Mr. Badger” (Thomas Badger, 1792-1868).

(The Society of the Cincinnati, which one source calls “the nation’s oldest patriotic organization,” was founded by Revolutionary officers and is named for Roman general Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus [c. 519 – c. 430 BC]. It is now a nonprofit educational association headquartered in Washington, D.C.

(The society’s website says members are male descendants of Revolutionary War officers [former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill became a member in 1947], but anyone sharing an interest in promoting “the understanding and appreciation of the American Revolution and its legacy” can be an associate member.)

Your writer found two stories from Sewall’s later life harking back to his army days.

North wrote that when the Marquis de Lafayette (the French general famous for his help to the Americans during the Revolution) visited Portland in 1825, Sewall, who had known him well, was in the crowd honoring him, but held back. Lafayette “saw and recognized him and perceiving his design exclaimed, ‘Ah! Henry Sewall you can’t cheat me.’ They embraced, and the aged soldiers wept.”

In the spring of 1839, U. S. General Winfield Scott passed through Augusta on his way to and from Aroostook County, where border troubles with Canada had flared up. Scott, born in 1786, had never soldiered with Sewall. Nonetheless, on March 27, as Scott returned south, Sewall wrote one sentence in his diary: “General Scott called on me.”

Sewall’s generalship was as Major-General in the Maine militia, Eighth Division, in which he served from 1790 to 1820. The division included men from Lincoln County and later Kennebec (established Feb. 20, 1799) and Somerset (established March 1, 1809) counties.

North wrote that Sewall moved from York to Hallowell in September 1783. Except for a brief unsuccessful attempt to start a business in New York in 1788-89, the central Kennebec Valley was his home for the rest of his life.

Other Sewall men who came from southern Maine to the Kennebec were Henry’s brother Jotham, who had a “plantation” in Chesterville but was often in Hallowell; David and his brother Moses; and Thomas, Henry’s cousin and close friend (born Sept. 24, 1750, came to Hallowell in 1775, died May 4, 1833).

There were other Sewalls on the coast in and around Bath and Georgetown. Sewall’s diary entries from 1783 mentioned uncles named as D., Dr., Dummer and Joseph; a sister married to a man named Parsons; and a cousin named Samuel. North added a David Sewall, who visited Hallowell at least once.

A short series of diary entries from late August 1783 describes typical family connections. After dinner with Uncle Joseph at Arrowsic on Aug. 27, Sewall wrote that he and Jotham, whom he met at Dr. Sewall’s, canoed upriver to Hallowell and spent a night at cousin Thomas’s.

On Aug. 29, “Helped my brother build T. Sewall’s chimneys.”

And on Sept. 1, “Helped my brother lay out a cellar at Hallowell….”

Besides working as a mason, Sewall, with a partner named William Burley, ran a store on the east side of the Kennebec for about five years, starting in late 1783.

In the spring of 1784, Henry and Thomas Sewall and Elias Craig (previously mentioned in several 2022 articles about Augusta) built what North called a “great canoe.” Using Sewall’s diary as his source, North described some of its uses; for instance, in early July Henry, Jotham and their cousin Tabitha Sewall (see below) from Georgetown went downriver to Bath on a Saturday and to Georgetown for church on Sunday.

Henry’s horse was at Georgetown, so when the wind was against them Monday he rode back upriver, leaving Jotham to bring the “canoe” – and presumably Tabitha – back later.

Sewall’s first involvement in official town business seems to have been in 1785, when Hallowell voters chose him, newly elected town clerk Daniel Cony and Joseph North to petition the Massachusetts Court of Sessions for a new road.

On Feb. 9, 1786, at Georgetown, he married his first wife, his cousin Tabitha (Thomas’s younger sister, born on or before Nov. 25, 1753, died June 19, 1810). North said they had two sons and five daughters. Other sources give varying numbers.

Henry Sewall’s son Charles (Nov. 13, 1790 – June 28, 1872) had a son named Henry, born Dec. 3, 1822, who was a “lieutenant and adjutant” in the 19th Maine Regiment in the Civil War. This second Kennebec Valley Henry Sewall named his sons Harry (born July 4, 1848) and Charles (born July 5, 1861).

After Tabitha’s death, North wrote that on June 3, 1811, in Salem, Massachusetts, Sewall married another cousin named Rachel Crosby (Dec. 12, 1754 – June 15, 1832). On Sept. 9, 1833, he was married for the third time, to Elizabeth Lowell (Oct. 6, 1777 – March 13, 1861), in Augusta, with Rev. Benjamin Tappan performing the ceremony.

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In 1789, North wrote, Sewall came back from his venture in New York City on Sept. 12, and the next month went to Boston “to see President Washington,” who was there on Oct. 24, and was in a parade of ex-army officers.

In Boston he crossed paths again with David Sewall, newly-appointed “judge of the District Court of the United States for the Maine District.” David Sewall chose Henry Sewall as the court clerk, a post he held until 1818.

District Court was held in Portland, and North wrote that until 1794, Sewall’s trip on horseback from Hallowell took almost two days, via Bath. By June 1793 enough new roads had been built so that he could go by way of Monmouth; if he started early enough to have breakfast in Monmouth (about 20 miles on his way), he could be in Portland fairly early the next morning, North wrote.

By June 1800, he had a third choice, through Brunswick, still requiring an overnight stop.

He became Hallowell town clerk in 1789, North wrote, was re-elected at Harrington’s first town meeting in April 1797 and continued in Augusta, for a total of 32 years. Nash, in his chapters on Augusta in Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history, listed his terms as 1797-1801, 1806-1815 and 1818-1829.

When Hallowell’s first court house was built in 1790, North wrote that Sewall contributed $10 “in labor and materials,” and “built the chimneys,” with his brother Jotham helping intermittently. He also helped build Hallowell’s meeting house, started in 1782 and used for both civic and religious assemblies.

Sewall was briefly a Hallowell selectman; North mentioned him in the position in June 1791. After Augusta became a town, Nash wrote that he was elected selectman in 1798 and served two years.

According to North, Sewall was not heavily involved in discussions of Maine statehood, nor was he active in the debates leading to the division of Augusta from Hallowell in February 1797.

When Kennebec County was separated from Lincoln County in February 1799, Sewall was its first register of deeds, North wrote. He held the post until April 1816.

Augusta residents did not learn of George Washington’s Dec. 14, 1799, death until Jan. 1, 1800, North wrote (quoting Sewall’s diary). A Feb. 6 town meeting appointed a committee, including Sewall, to plan a suitable observance on Feb. 22. More than 1,000 area residents attended.

As a militia officer, Sewall was on alert much of the time in the early 1800s. During the settlers’ insurrection that culminated in open violence in 1808, he (and Daniel Cony, as mentioned last week) were part of the volunteer patrol in Augusta. On Jan. 19, county sheriff Arthur Lithgow asked for 400 militiamen to resist the “insurgents,” and Sewall held them ready until Massachusetts Governor James Sullivan overruled Lithgow on Feb. 2.

When the jail in Augusta caught fire on March 16, 1808 (see the Oct. 27, 2022, issue of The Town Line), Sewall was again asked for help. Court of Common Pleas judges Joseph North and Daniel Cony requested soldiers to protect the court house and to prevent jail inmates from escaping from the nearby private house to which they had been moved.

Sewall “ordered the Augusta Light Infantry upon duty; and they continued under arms during the night.”

The arrest and incarceration in Augusta of a band of settlers who had killed a surveyor named Paul Chadwick led to a more serious episode during the first full week of October 1809.

As North told the story, an armed group of 70 or so men planned a jailbreak; they reached the Augusta bridge around midnight Oct. 3, were spotted, and by 1 a.m. Oct. 4 the new sheriff, John Chandler, again had Sewall calling out the militia. This time neighboring towns’ units were included, cannon guarded the bridge and a gun from the Hallowell artillery company “was planted so as to command the entrance to the jail.”

North wrote that when Sewall reported what he had done to Massachusetts Governor Christopher Gore, the governor’s Oct. 14 ordered commended his “promptitude and alacrity.” After a week on full alert, precautions were gradually relaxed.

The Sept. 11, 1814, report of an impending British landing at Wiscasset again led Sewall to dispatch troops. North wrote that he got notice while in church, immediately ordered two regiments plus the Hallowell artillery company to the coast and on Sept. 15 went himself and took charge.

As described previously (see the Feb. 17, 2022, issue of The Town Line), there was no landing.

After Augusta became the state capital, Sewall commented in his diary for 1830 on the progress on the new State House: the pillars “began to be raised” Oct. 21 and were “all up” on the 25th. On Dec. 11 he wrote that the outside of the building was done “except the dome.”

On Oct. 24, 1832, Sewall wrote: “My birthday – 80 years old! My friends and my companion gone! [His second wife, Rachel, had died June 15, after being unwell since the beginning of the year.] Can I expect to stay?” Then, as he often did on his birthday, he quoted poetry:

“Still has my life new wonders seen, repeated every year;
The scanty days that yet remain, I trust them to thy care.”

Henry Sewall died Sept. 4, 1845, and is buried in Augusta’s Mount Vernon Cemetery, with his third wife and four descendants.

Next week: Henry Sewall’s religion

Main sources:

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Augusta families – Part 3

by Mary Grow

Daniel Cony

Daniel Cony

Daniel Cony (Aug. 3, 1752 – Jan. 21, 1842) has been mentioned in previous articles in this series in various contexts, including as the founder of Augusta’s Cony Female Academy and the man after whom Cony High School is named. He was profiled in the Sept. 2, 2021, issue of The Town Line.

Cony was born in Stoughton, Massachusetts, south of Boston, the third generation of a family that had lived there since his grandfather moved from Boston in 1728.

Kennebec Historical Society archivist Emily Schroeder called him “a Renaissance man” and “a man of many hats.” She, and most other historians, referred to him as a doctor; but, emphasizing his many roles, one source identified him as a jurist, and Charles Nash, in his chapter on Augusta in Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history, called him Judge Cony.

Cony learned medicine in Marlboro, Massachusetts, about 30 miles west of Boston, from a doctor named Samuel Curtis. By April 1775, when the first battle of the American Revolution was fought, one source said he was practicing medicine in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, farther west; James North, in his Augusta history, put him in Tewksbury, north of Boston.

By North’s account, Cony was “a lieutenant in a company of minute men.” Awakened at 2 a.m. by a messenger who shouted, “American blood has been spilled and the country must rally,” he joined his company at the pre-arranged meeting place, where they “paraded, received the blessing of the parish minister” and were on the way to Cambridge when the sun rose.

On Nov. 14, 1776, in Sharon, Massachusetts (abutting Stoughton), Cony married Susanna Curtis (May 4, 1752 – Oct. 25, 1833), daughter of Dr. Samuel Curtis’s brother, Rev. Phillip Curtis. Soon afterwards, he joined an infantry regiment sent to General Horatio Gates’ army at Saratoga, New York.

North told another dramatic story about Cony volunteering to lead a party across an area known to be under British guns. North wrote, “the young adjutant at the head of his men by his wary approach drew the enemy’s fire, felt the wind of their balls, then dashed forward with his command unharmed.”

Cony left the army after the war. His parents, Samuel and Rebecca (Guild) Cony, had moved to Fort Western on the Kennebec River in 1777. Daniel and Susanna joined them in 1778, with their first daughter, Nancy Bass Cony, who died that fall at the age of 13 months. They subsequently had four more daughters, Susan Bowdoin, Sarah Lowell, Paulina Bass, and Abigail Guild Cony.

North wrote that the family made their home on the east bank of the Kennebec. Their second house, built in the summer of 1785 and known in 1870 as the Toby House, was “just below the hospital” (the earliest iteration of Augusta’s insane asylum).

In 1797, North wrote, Colonel William Howard sold Cony a “beautiful spot on Cony street,” a bit farther north. Howard seldom sold land, but his estate had benefited from the new Kennebec bridge and Cony had been a bridge supporter, so Howard expressed his gratitude, North explained.

The first house Cony built on his new land burned in 1834, North said. Cony replaced it with a brick house where he lived the rest of his life.

Sources agree that Cony was successful as a doctor for many years. Augusta had few other doctors in the late 18th century; North mentioned Obadiah Williams, until he moved away, and one other.

In March 1789, North recorded (without explanation), Williams amputated a young man’s leg and “brought it…to Dr. Cony to dissect.”

Cony was a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, North wrote, and “was on terms of intimacy and in correspondence with the leading medical men of Massachusetts.”

Schroeder wrote that in 1797 members of the Kennebec Medical Society elected him the organization’s first president.

Cony’s government service was varied. He was first elected Hallowell town clerk in 1785; North commented that after he took over, “the records began to assume a more regular form.” Schroeder wrote that he held the post until 1787.

Also in 1785, North wrote, a Hallowell town meeting chose Cony as delegate to a convention to be held in Falmouth in January 1786 to consider separating Maine from Massachusetts. At another meeting on Dec. 26, a five-man committee (including Ephraim Ballard) gave him instructions that North reprinted in full.

The instructions emphasized the committee’s desire to avoid conflict. Cony was to support separation only if “the people” were unanimously in favor and if it would not create discord or benefit one part of Maine over another. Any agreement must keep Maine in “the Federal Union,” and the committee members intended to continue to pay Maine’s share of the federal debt.

“Strengthened by the instructions,” North wrote, Cony went to Falmouth “and participated in the deliberations of the convention.”

This convention appointed a subcommittee that drew up a list of complaints about Massachusetts’ government, sent them to the towns whose delegates had attended and asked for representatives to another session in September 1786 to discuss separation. Hallowell voters again sent Cony.

At an April 1, 1786, town meeting, Cony was elected to his first term as representative to the Massachusetts General Court. In mid-April, North said, Cony wrote to the selectmen saying that he believed it was customary for legislators to reward their voters by standing a round at a local inn, to the tune of six or eight dollars; instead, he enclosed eight dollars, to be used for tax abatements for needy residents.

Schroeder wrote that Cony was also elected a Hallowell selectman in 1786; North did not name that year’s board.

The report of the September 1786 convention came to a Jan. 8, 1787, Hallowell town meeting. North recorded 35 voters favored “separation agreeably to the proceedings of the convention”; three disagreed. The majority then instructed Cony “to pursue such further measures as may be considered necessary to obtain a separation.”

Another statehood convention was called for September 1787, and Cony was again Hallowell’s delegate. By this time, North wrote, anti-statehood groups were organizing; the Massachusetts government was offering concessions, like establishing court sessions in Hallowell as well as Pownalborough (as mentioned in the article on James Howard two weeks ago); and interest in statehood waned briefly.

In 1788, North wrote, town meeting voters argued at length whether to send any delegate to the Massachusetts legislature. Eventually they voted to do so, 50 to 19, and re-elected Cony.

After the United States Constitution was adopted in 1787, on Dec. 18, 1788, Hallowell voters chose Cony as a presidential elector from the District of Maine. He also received votes for representative to Congress, but was out-polled by George Thatcher, a “distinguished lawyer” from Biddeford.

In 1789, Schroeder and North agreed, town meeting voters elected Cony one of Hallowell’s three selectmen.

By Hallowell’s May 2, 1791, town meeting, separation from Massachusetts was again being considered. As North told the story, the north-south division that would lead to the separation of Hallowell and Augusta in February 1797 was also in play.

The meeting began with a vote on sending a representative to the Massachusetts General Court, approved 41 to 38. A motion to reconsider was then approved, and this time representation was rejected, 20 in favor and 40 against.

After the election, North wrote, a separate meeting “for the transaction of town business” appointed Cony and four others a committee to consider separation from Massachusetts.

Enough voters, mostly from the area that would remain Hallowell, objected to the first action on May 2 to get another meeting called May 13. This time the vote to continue to be represented in Massachusetts was 52 to 46; Cony was elected over William Howard, on a 61-46 vote.

The May 2 committee then reported, favoring separation and urging a Lincoln County convention authorized to draft a state constitution. Voters approved 50 to 20.

The Massachusetts General Court did not approve, and instead in March 1792 called for special town meetings. Hallowell’s, held May 7, approved separation by a 56 to 52 vote; other towns voted the other way and separation was defeated.

Proponents brought the question to a November 1793 Hallowell meeting and asked for a delegate to a convention in Portland. Cony was chosen, “by 36 votes”; North blamed the low number on bad weather.

Meanwhile, in May 1792 Cony had been re-elected representative to the General Court; but he was also elected a senator, so in September a new representative was elected. North wrote that the same thing happened in 1795.

In the fall of 1792 several sources said Cony was a Massachusetts member of the electoral college that elected President George Washington to a second term. In 1794, he was again in the Massachusetts legislature.

Cony moderated a 1794 meeting that divided Hallowell into three parishes, a movement toward the division into two towns. North said after the “lengthy and warm discussion,” voters formally thanked Cony for “his impartial services as moderator.”

In May 1796, voters in future Augusta petitioned the General Court to divide Hallowell and appointed Cony to present the petition. It was approved Feb. 27, 1797; the new town named Harrington was officially renamed Augusta on June 8.

Cony moderated Harrington’s first town meeting, held April 3, 1797. He was Augusta’s delegate to an Oct. 23, 1798, convention that petitioned for the separation of Kennebec County from Lincoln County, a request granted Feb. 20, 1799.

Cony served on Kennebec County’s Court of Common Pleas. He was a judge of probate before and after Maine statehood; he retired in 1823.

In 1819, Schroeder wrote, Cony was chairman of the Portland meeting where delegates discussed a constitution for the about-to-be-created State of Maine. She called his suggestion that the new state be named Columbus (after Christopher Columbus) “unfortunate.”

North recorded that, like Ephraim Ballard, Cony served on local committees charged with finding a minister, beginning in 1786, when the choice of Rev. Isaac Foster generated years of controversy, in which Ballard and Henry Sewall were involved. Cony served on similar committees in 1792, 1794 and 1809.

That Cony was an active church-goer is attested by references to him as Deacon Cony. North recorded occasions on which he filled in as a preacher.

In 1806, he was one of a committee tasked with choosing a site and building a new meeting house for the “first Congregational society in the South parish.”

All his life, Cony was a promoter of education. North wrote that in the Massachusetts legislature, Cony actively supported a petition for “the incorporation and endowment” of Hallowell Academy, approved March 5, 1791. A new building was built to house the school, and it opened May 5, 1795, North wrote. In 1821 Cony was president of the Academy’s board of trustees.

In 1793 Cony was one of five men appointed a committee to oversee local schools.

Requests for a college in Maine began coming to the General Court in 1788, with proposed locations in Portland, Gorham and Freeport. In 1794, a three-man committee directed Cony, as a Massachusetts legislator, to do his best to get a Maine college established and funded.

The result, North wrote, was Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, chartered June 24, 1794, and given “five townships of land” from which to generate income. Cony was a member of the board of overseers from 1794 to 1797.

(North and Cony would have agreed on this topic, judging by North’s rhapsodic comments on a 1789 Massachusetts law regarding public schools. “This early provision by the parent commonwealth for the education of the people is one of those luminous pages in her history which shed their light upon every step she has taken in the pathway of her greatness,” he wrote.

The law “commanding” that everyone be educated, he continued, was to ensure “that a broad and sure foundation for republican government might be laid in the intelligence and virtue of the people.”)

In his spare time, Cony became a corporator of the Lincoln and Kennebec Bank and of the Augusta and Hallowell Bank, both in 1804, and a director of the Augusta bank in 1814. In April 1807 he became treasurer of the Kennebec Agricultural Society.

In 1808 he was one of a number of men who organized themselves into patrols to keep watch at night during the uprising of settlers defending their right to the lots they lived on (mentioned in earlier stories in this series in the July 2, 2020, and Oct. 27, 2022, issues of The Town Line).

In 1826, North wrote, Augusta celebrated Independence Day “with great festivity” appropriate for a 50th anniversary. “Hon. Daniel Cony, aged and venerable,” (he would have been about to celebrate his 74th birthday) presided at a dinner and made a speech, though he did not stay for the fireworks.

The next year, Cony was on a committee preparing for the establishment of the state capital at Augusta.

Cony, in his old age, and historian North, in his youth, attended the South Parish meeting house. North described Cony, erect and dignified, dressed in a “tartan plaid coat,” with a red worsted cap over his “locks frosted to a snowy whiteness by age” and carrying a cane “by its center so that its large ivory head appeared above his shoulder.

Daniel and Susanna Cony, his parents and other family members are buried in the Cony cemetery, also called the Knight cemetery, on Hospital Street, in Augusta, just south of the Piggery Road intersection.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Early Augusta families – Part 2

Portrayal of Martha Ballard’s household management.

by Mary Grow


Last week readers met James Howard, one of the first settlers at Cushnoc (which became Hallowell, which divided into Hallowell and Augusta) and some of his family members; and your writer promised information on other pre-Augusta settlers, Ephraim Ballard, Daniel Cony and Henry Sewall.

Thanks to her habit of keeping a diary, Martha Ballard’s life has been documented, especially in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s 1991 A Midwife’s Tale, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history and other awards. Martha often mentioned her husband Ephraim. After her death in 1812, the last eight and a half years of his life seem to be undocumented.

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Different on-line sources claiming to know Ephraim Ballard’s birth and death dates offer for his birth May 6, 1724, May 6, 1725, or May 17, 1725; and for his death Jan. 7, 1812, or 1821. The 1812 date is obviously an error; Martha Ballard died in May or early June 1812, and on May 1 wrote in her diary that her husband “went to the settlement, bot him some tobacco.”

Ephraim Ballard was born in Billerica, Massachusetts; the family moved to Oxford, Massachusetts, in 1726. (Contemporary maps locate Billerica northwest of Boston, close to the New Hampshire line, and Oxford south of Worcester, close to the Connecticut line; the two towns are more than 50 miles apart.)

Martha Ballard, nurse & mid-wife

In 1754 (Dec. 19, two sources say), Ephraim married Martha Moore (at least once called Martha Moores) in Oxford. According to on-line sources, they had nine children (one source lists 10), the oldest, Cyrus, born Sept. 11, 1756, in Oxford, and the youngest, Ephraim, born March 30, 1779, in Hallowell.

Three daughters died in childhood during a diphtheria epidemic in Massachusetts in June/July 1769: Martha, age eight; Triphene, age four; and Dorothy, age two. Son Jonathan, born in 1763, survived; he died in Hallowell in 1838. Martha was pregnant that spring/summer; daughter Hannah was born Aug. 6, 1769.

North wrote that Ballard was 50 years old when he came from Oxford to Fort Halifax in 1775 and, another source says, leased a piece of land near the former fort. His wife and children had joined him by Oct. 15, 1777, when the family moved into a house owned by John Jones near the confluence of Bond Brook and the Kennebec River. Jones was a fellow surveyor and an avowed Loyalist who had left town under duress.

(Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, said Bond or Bond’s Brook was also called Jones Brook, Ballard’s Brook or simply the mill stream. Thomas Bond, who died in 1815, built the first brick house in Augusta.)

One source said the move south to Hallowell was because other settlers suspected Ballard of Loyalist sympathies and the local Committee of Safety advised him to leave. Others suggested he relocated to make a home for his family. In any case, he took over Jones’ house and mill or mills.

North described the Oct. 17, 1777, session of the Court of General Sessions (on which James Howard served), quoting what he acknowledged was a biased account by a Tory, Rev. Jacob Bailey. Jones and Ballard, Ballard listed as a Vassalboro resident, were among men who were charged with being dangerous to the Revolution and liberty; they faced transportation (deportation or exile).

Three jurymen named Patten, two brothers and the son of one of them, known Tory sympathizers, stood out against the rest for 22 hours. Then, North wrote, the jury sent the judges a query: “Is speaking a few exceptional words counteracting the struggles of the American States for freedom?”

The judges all said yes, North wrote, and Justice Joseph North, of Cobbossee, added that “even thinking or conceiving that the public administration was unjust or injurious was evidently a crime” deserving transportation. The Pattens were unpersuaded, the jury deadlocked and court was adjourned.

Before the court reconvened near the end of 1777, Vassalboro reconsidered its vote and exempted Ballard and others from trial if they paid prosecution costs, which North said came to $100 apiece.

Alma Pierce Robbins wrote in her history of Vassalboro that town records confirm the account, though she dated the court session to the fall of 1775. She wrote that Vassalboro voters were “touched with a little compassion” when they reversed their vote, and added that the defendants paid the $100 costs.

After the Revolution, the Ballards became well-regarded citizens of Hallowell. In 1780, North wrote, Ephraim Ballard “was allowed by the town 200 [British pounds] for his contribution to the revolutionary cause.”

Ballard is listed in one source as a fourth-generation millwright, rather than a surveyor, and various sources mention mills he owned. One on Bond Brook (probably originally John Jones’) burned in August 1787; Ballard built a new one on the same site, with a lively raising celebration on July 7, 1788, followed by a dance that lasted until midnight.

Martha Ballard’s diary and other sources show that he was much in demand as a surveyor. Early work included laying out new settlements for the Kennebec Proprietors, owners of 600,000 or so acres on both sides of the Kennebec River.

In 1796, North wrote, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts hired him to survey potential settlements on the Penobscot, in what became Hampden and Bangor.

On Aug. 23 of that year, according to his wife’s diary, a committee hired him to go to Dresden “to lay out a road to the point.” After preparations that included bringing “two birch cannoes [her spelling] to our shore,” he left at 10 a.m. Sept. 5; he came home Oct. 13, Martha wrote.

North did not mention Ephraim Ballard in the early 1800s, but Martha’s diary shows him actively surveying until the spring of 1812, settling lot lines for individual landowners and sometimes laying out new roads for a town.

In mid-April 1801 he was dividing 2,000 acres somewhere between the Kennebec and the Penobscot; in late June that year he had a job in Bowdoinham, in September, in Readfield, in November, in Fairfield; Dec. 22 he spent running the Sidney-Augusta town line.

In 1803, Martha wrote that he “sett [her spelling] out to go to Davis Town” on July 26; he returned on Sept. 27 and “went to attend coart [her spelling] directly.” The length of time he was away suggests that he was working in Maine’s current Davis Town, in Franklin County north of Rangeley and Mooselook­meguntick lakes, almost 100 miles from Augusta.

The diary shows that he farmed his land, worked on his barn, attended church services more often than Martha did, went to town meetings and accompanied Martha to funerals. In July 1807, he and Cyrus (presumably their oldest son Cyrus) spent five days “raising the meeting house.” The project began July 14, when they “went to hear prayers on the raising of the meeting house; they came home and took breakfast, and went down again to the raising.”

On Sept. 20, 1809, the diary says that “Mr. Ballard went to the dedication of the new meeting house.” (The one that was started more than two years earlier?)

Ballard was also intermittently active in town affairs. At the 1784 annual town meeting, he was one of a three-man committee whose job was to find the town a minister. North recorded later involvements in the sometimes-contentious process of finding a man whose doctrines suited everyone.

In 1784, too, Ballard was elected a selectman; he served through 1787, one source said.

North wrote that Ballard was a tax collector by 1793, when he was one of two men to whom 150 British pounds worth of tax bills were committed “for assessments for the [newly-built] meeting-house.”

By June 1794, Hallowell had been divided into three parishes. North wrote that voters at a June 18 meeting in the middle parish (part of Augusta after Feb. 20, 1797) chose Ballard as tax collector. Daniel Cony was meeting moderator, and Henry Sewall was chosen as one of three assessors, North said.

Martha’s diary says Ballard was Augusta’s tax collector by 1800. She occasionally mentioned that he was doing something tax-related – for example, on Oct. 21, 1801, “collecting taxes on east side the river.”

At the end of December 1802, she recorded that he had gone “to settle with the town and county treasurers; past receipts in full for some taxes and in part for others.”

At the beginning of 1804, Ballard was jailed in Augusta, apparently for failing to collect some $800 in taxes. He was soon allowed out, as long as he checked back in at night; his wife recorded spending an afternoon with him at “Mr. Thwing’s” on Feb. 2, and in May he attended the raising of the school house and later worked on the building.

On April 26, 1805, Martha wrote that she had not seen her husband for more than nine weeks; “hear he is well, for which I bless God.” On July 4, she wrote that her husband “returned home at 10h. [hours] evening,” apparently free.

Later diary references show that he was still tax collector in 1808.

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After Hallowell was divided in February 1797, the first town meeting in the northern part (temporarily named Harrington) was moderated by Daniel Cony. North’s list of town officials includes both Ballard sons-in-law: Hannah’s husband, Moses Pollard, was on the fish committee; and Dolly’s husband, Barnabas Lambard, was a fence-viewer and a surveyor of lumber.

The 1797 “Estimate of Property” in Augusta that North quoted shows Ephraim Ballard owned a house and a barn; 240 acres (making him a substantial landowner, though not the largest), of which two acres were “tillage” and 13 “mowing”; two oxen and two cows.

By this time Ephraim and Martha were living in the second of the three Augusta houses they inhabited, all apparently rented. North wrote that their first move was because John Jones’ brother Peter reclaimed the Bond Brook house in the spring of 1791.

An on-line Maine Humanities Council guide to Ballard-related locations says, “they moved to a farm owned by Samuel Howard [probably James Howard’s son] near what would become the Hallowell/Augusta town line.” Martha’s diary gives the date of the move: Wednesday, April 21, after at least two weeks’ preparation.

The previous Sunday the two Ephraims, father and son, had gone to the Howard house to plow the garden, “which we are to improve,” during their tenancy. The senior Ephraim spent three days moving furniture and other belongings.

On November 26, 1799, Martha and Ephraim moved back to the north side of Augusta, to the farm their son Jonathan had bought, “at the fork between the roads leading to Belgrade and Sidney.” This time Cyrus helped move their possessions.

Over the winter of 1811-12, they moved from their own house to Jonathan’s from the end of November to the middle of April, according to the diary. Martha provided no explanation; your writer suspects Maine’s winter weather.

Ephraim Ballard died Jan. 7, 1821, aged 96, according to North.

Main sources

Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870)

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Early Augusta Families – Part 1

Lt. Samuel Howard (left), Capt. William Lithgow (right)

by Mary Grow

The three people whose diaries Charles Nash excerpted in his 1904 Augusta history, and who provided old weather records for last week’s article, were members of some of the first families to settle in the area.

Martha Ballard came to Hallowell in October 1777, two years after her husband Ephraim brought his surveying business to the area. Henry Sewall came “after the Revolution,” Daniel Cony in 1778.

An even earlier arrival was Captain James Howard, Fort Western’s first commander in 1754, who, historian James North said, “may be considered the first settler at Cushnoc.”

The Ballard, Cony, Howard and Sewall families were all large. They were mutually acquainted, sometimes intermarried. Martha’s diary is filled with accounts of delivering babies and attending funerals of members of all four families. No doubt the interactions that have survived in the historical record are only a small part of their neighborly and familial relations.

This week’s article is about the Howards. Next week or weeks, Ballards, Sewalls and Conys. When readers find the Howard family confusing, please do not blame your writer; blame them for re-using the same names – especially Samuel – in each generation.

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James North wrote in his 1870 Augusta history that James Howard (1702 – May 14, 1787) was one of a group of Scotch Protestants who came to Boston and then settled, in April 1735, on the St. George River, east of the Kennebec.

The settlement dissolved in 1745, when most of the men joined the expedition that captured Louisbourg, the French fort on Cape Breton Island, during King George’s War (1744-1748). North wrote that Howard came back to the St. George’s settlement in 1749; in 1754, Massachusetts Governor William Shirley put him in charge of newly-built Fort Western.

Another of the St. George settlers was James’ brother, Lieutenant Samuel Howard, who also moved to the Kennebec in 1754 and served under Captain William Lithgow at Fort Halifax. Lithgow’s sister Margaret became his wife, and after the French and Indian wars ended they moved downriver to Cushnoc, where he died April 22, 1785, at the age of 84.

James Howard’s first wife Mary and their children came to Fort Western with him. Most sources list the children as John (1733 – July 30, 1804), Samuel (died March 29, 1799), William (1740 – April 7, 1810), and Margaret (Oct. 25, 1738 – March 21, 1806). (The on-line Fort Western history lists a James Jr. who was with his father in 1754.)

Mary Howard died Aug. 22, 1778. On Jan. 1, 1781, James Howard married Susanna Cony, “widow of Lieut. Samuel Cony.” She was born Dec. 22, 1747, and was thrice married and thrice widowed (her third husband, William Brooks, whom she married in 1788, died in 1824) before her death Aug. 5, 1830.

North said James and Susanna Howard had two children, a daughter who “died in childhood” and a son, James who died at 24.

James Howard became “the most influential man in the settlement,” and “the most prominent in this region of country,” North wrote. He and sons William and Samuel were “looked upon as fathers and benefactors of the new settlement, and they had the confidence of every one. Their will was law.”

One of Howard’s benefactions, according to Captain Charles Nash’s chapter on Augusta in Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history, was a sawmill he built in 1769 on a sizeable brook about a mile north of the fort. Promptly named Howard’s Brook, by 1890 it was Riggs’ Brook (a contemporary Google map shows Riggs Branch, a stream passing under Route 201 north of the Route 3 intersection to join the Kennebec.

The three Howards monopolized water-born trade, especially in lumber. James’ ship, under Samuel’s command, was the only one operating upriver from the coastal settlement at Georgetown.

North wrote that after a few years, James Howard left “the mercantile business” to his sons and started buying land. He bought two lots on the east shore of the river in 1763 and in 1770 built a “great house” on one.

General Benedict Arnold, stopping on his way to Québec in September 1775, stayed at the house for a week. North quoted expedition surgeon Dr. Isaac Senter on the Howards: “an exceeding hospitable, opulent, polite family.”

The fort kept a small garrison until 1767, “to maintain an English presence on the Kennebec River,” an on-line site says. After the military no longer needed it, Howard bought the 900-acre fort lot and buildings in 1769, for $500; he added 1,280 acres behind the fort land in 1771.

Howard and his sons turned the fort buildings into a trading post and living quarters, remodeling the north part of the barracks into four-room living areas downstairs and upstairs. On-line sites say William and his wife Martha moved there about 1770 and John not long afterwards. Brother Samuel joined them in 1774; an aunt and a cousin in 1785; and before his death their father James, who remodeled the south end of the building.

For years James Howard was the only justice of the peace between Pownalborough and Fort Halifax (Winslow). In this capacity he performed marriages, including his daughter Margaret’s to Captain James Patterson on Feb. 8, 1763. He was supposed to build a house on each of the two lots he purchased that year, but was excused from building on the second when he agreed instead not to charge the Plymouth Company any legal fees for two years.

The April 26, 1771, Massachusetts legislative act incorporating Hallowell empowered “James Howard, Esq.” “to issue his warrant for the purpose of calling the first meeting of the inhabitants,” North wrote. Howard did so, and at the meeting at Fort Western on May 22, 1771, he was elected one of three selectmen and the town treasurer (keeping the treasurer’s job nine years, North wrote). Nash wrote that about 30 voters attended.

Howard was also supposed to buy a town record book, at town expense. North said he apparently didn’t; Hallowell acquired its first record book when Daniel Cony was elected town clerk in 1785.

By the outbreak of the Revolution in April 1775, anti-British committees of correspondence were active along the Kennebec. On May 1, Hallowell sent Howard to Pownalborough to meet with other towns’ committee members, discuss action and “get provision and ammunition.” North wrote that he was given “unlimited authority” to act on the town’s behalf. He and his son Samuel were on the five-member committee of vigilance that was empowered to investigate local “disorders, etc.”

In April 1777 James Howard was chosen Hallowell’s delegate to a county convention at Wiscasset, about which North gave few details.

By September 1777, he was one of nine justices on the Court of General Sessions of the Peace, which North explained was composed of Lincoln County’s justices of the peace. It had grand and petit juries, and criminal jurisdiction; notable cases at that time were against people accused of being Tories (one was “Mr. Ballard of Vassalborough,” surely Martha’s husband Ephraim).

North recorded that the Dec. 16, 1777, court session had to be canceled because Howard, on his way from Fort Western to the courthouse at Pownalborough, fell on the ice and was too seriously hurt to continue, and no substitute was available.

In 1784, North wrote, Howard was appointed one of three (later four) judges on Lincoln County’s Court of Common Pleas, a position he held until his death.

Beginning in 1787, sessions of both courts were authorized in Hallowell. North wrote that the first Court of Common Pleas term began on the second Tuesday in January (Jan. 9), 1787 “at the Fort Western settlement” “in Pollard’s tavern.” The judges were James Howard, William Lithgow and Nathaniel Thwing.

In the summer of 1785, Howard was one of a three-man committee – the other two were Ephraim Ballard, then a Hallowell selectman, and Joseph North, an ancestor of historian James North – sent to join similar committees from nearby towns to petition the Massachusetts General Court to hold a Supreme Judicial Court term in Lincoln County.

When James Howard died on May 14, 1787, Joseph North was appointed his successor on the Court of Common Pleas.

James North added a footnote in his history: Howard’s death was noted in Henry Sewall’s diary.

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According to North, James Howard’s oldest son John was second in command at the fort during the wars with the French. In 1759 he made a 200-mile journey through the wilderness from Fort Western to deliver dispatches to General James Wolfe at the siege of Québec. (North did not say whether he traveled alone.)

A second journey north in 1761 had a disastrous outcome for the young man. His father took him on a government-sponsored expedition to Canada intended to investigate possibilities of expanding trade with the native inhabitants. John shot at when he thought was a bear in the brush and accidentally killed another of the men. Although no one blamed him, “the occurrence so affected him that he sank into hopeless insanity.”

North described Captain Samuel Howard as “a master mariner” and a business partner with his brother William; they formed S. & W. Howard. “Samuel purchased goods in Boston and William sold them at the fort and furnished freight for the vessel which Samuel run,” North wrote.

When the new United States started building a navy during the Revolution, Samuel Howard brought masts and spars from the Kennebec. North described one load: “forty-eight masts, fourteen bowsprits, twenty-seven anchor stocks, and four thousand two hundred and ninety-nine inches of spars of various sizes.” Some of the masts were too big for Howard’s ship and had to be towed to Boston.

Samuel’s wife was Sarah Lithgow, the daughter of William Lithgow at Fort Halifax (whose sister Margaret had married Samuel’s uncle Samuel). They had two sons, William and Robert, to carry on the Howard name, and a daughter Sarah, who became Mrs. Thomas Bowman.

Colonel William Howard was, in 1759, a 19-year-old lieutenant at Fort Halifax, under Lithgow’s command. In addition to his business in partnership with his brother, he held various civic posts, including being elected on July 10, 1775, as Hallowell’s first – and until 1785 only – representative “in the General Court organized in 1775 under the revolutionary government.”

His title originated during the Revolution, when, North said, he was a lieutenant-colonel of militia; later he was a colonel in the (Massachusetts) state militia. He served on at least one town committee intended to keep an eye on Tories, and was involved in transporting Maine recruits to the army around Boston; North quoted a 1777 payment of almost four (British) pounds “for mileage of soldiers to Cambridge.”

Later, North wrote, he “was occasionally a selectman, and succeeded his father as [Hallowell] treasurer in 1780, an office which he held for twenty-one consecutive years.”

Colonel William married his cousin, fort commander James’ brother Samuel’s daughter Martha, in 1768 or 1769. She died Oct. 28, 1785. Of their five children, only yet another Samuel, “known as Col. Samuel,” and Mary, who married the rector of Trinity Church, in Boston, lived to adulthood, North said.

Other Howard family monuments

Howard Hill Conservation Area.

In addition to the reconstructed Fort Western, Augusta has two other monuments to the Howard family: Howard Street, which parallels the east bank of the Kennebec south of Fort Western; and the 164-acre Howard Hill Conservation Area west of the State House complex.

An on-line Land for Maine’s Future site gives a summary history of the conservation area, beginning in the late 1700s, when Colonel Samuel Howard acquired the southern part of Howard Hill on the west side of the Kennebec.

In the 1890s, “William Howard Gannett and his wife, Sarah Neil Hill Gannett, reside on 500 acres with extensive gardens on ‘Betsy Howard Hill’.”

The area was a state game preserve for much of the 20th century and into the 21st. In 2009, the Kennebec Land Trust and Augusta city officials started “actively pursuing conservation options for 164 acres on Howard Hill.”

Since 2017, the property has belonged to Augusta, with KLT holding a conservation easement. It presently offers three miles of trails and is described as including old carriage roads, “a cascading stream, steep ravines, large boulders, an expansive ridgeline with sheer cliffs, and diverse wildlife habitat.”

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Weather events

by Mary Grow

James North and Ruby Crosby Wiggin, quoted last week, were not the only local historians to mention the Year without a Summer. And 1816 was not the only unusually cold spell – though it was the longest spell of (fairly) consistently cold weather – recorded in the central Kennebec Valley since the settlers’ arrival.

The 1995 history of Maine, edited by Richard W. Judd, Edwin A. Churchill and Joel W. Eastman, reminds us that 1816 was also known as “Eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death.” The authors of the chapter on agriculture (James B. Vickery, Judd, and Sheila McDonald) offered it as an example of what they called Maine’s “fickle” climate.

Part of Alma Pierce Robbins’ history of Vassalboro is a summary of major events by year. 1816 she distinguished as “the year of ‘NO SUMMER,'” when “people planted their gardens with their mittens on!” July was the only month in 1816 when it did not snow in Vassalboro, she wrote.

Her account is contradicted by the authors of the Fairfield bicentennial history. Their chapter titled “Disasters” begins with “the year of no summer.” Spring was late, they wrote, with frost in May; but crops were doing well enough until central Maine got six inches of snow on June 6.

“The same thing happened on July 9 and again on August 21,” they wrote. Like other historians, including those cited last week, they wrote that the weather was one reason Maine people moved west.

They added, “The Ohio Hill road is said to be so named because of the many that left from here.” (Fairfield’s Ohio Hill Road is the section of Route 23 that runs from Route 201 a little south of the Goodwill-Hinckley School to Fairfield Center.)

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Other historians described, in more or less detail, other cold days and weeks before and after 1816.

Linwood Lowden quoted an early sample in his Windsor history, a March 17, 1762, letter from an Alna resident named Job Averill to a man in Massachusetts. (Alna is on the Sheepscot River, less than 20 miles downstream from Windsor.)

Averill described “a most terrible winter the snow has been for seven weeks past and is now near four feet deep and no business could be done and people are like to lose all their cattel….” Cattle were dying and people going hungry, he said.

North wrote in his Augusta history that 1780 was another cold winter, when Kennebec Valley residents were already stressed by the hardships of the Revolution. There was “uncommonly deep” snow that lasted into late April and the Kennebec River was frozen down to the coast.

The spring of 1785 saw the latest ice-out recorded up to the time North finished his work in 1870. He dated it by contemporary records of people crossing the river on the ice on April 22 and April 24, the ice moving on April 25 and ice-cakes from up-river still floating past Fort Western on May 1.

January 1807 saw another cold spell, according to North’s history. He quoted temperature readings for the end of the month: 22 degrees below zero on Jan. 20, minus 18 on Jan. 21, minus 24 on Jan 22, minus 32 on Jan. 23, a warming to minus 16 on Jan. 26 and a low of minus 34 on Jan. 27.

There was a major snowstorm in Augusta on May 6, 1812, with high wind. Snowfall was variously estimated at six to 18 inches. The Augusta Herald quoted a man said to be old enough to have “lived in three centuries” who “did not remember colder or more severe [May] weather.”

Windsor historian Lowden followed his report from 1762 with a quotation from the Thursday, Jan. 29, 1857, Kennebec Journal commenting on the extremely cold weather: “The night of Friday last [Jan. 23] was the coldest ever felt by any living inhabitant of Maine.” On Saturday at dawn, “the thermometer at the Insane Hospital registered 42 degrees below zero,” with readings elsewhere in Augusta from 37 to 40 below.

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Ruby Wiggin mentioned in her history of Albion multiple events related to weather and other natural phenomena – either she was unusually attentive to such events, or the small town was unlucky. For example, she wrote that there were few local records of the Year without a Summer, but people she spoke with in the 1960s remembered tales of the “grasshopper year” that she said was almost 50 years after 1816.

That year grasshoppers ate most of the farmers’ hay, as well as “other leafy crops.” Wiggin told two stories.

One Albion resident had no hay for his oxen. He kept them alive by feeding them hemlock branches and meal, buying the latter with money he earned making and selling ash baskets.

Another man found the grasshoppers had spared the hay on what Wiggin called Poplar Island on Bog Road. After ice-in, this farmer was able to cut two loads – for which someone offered him $100. He refused, because his own animals needed to eat.

(Contemporary Google maps show Bog Road crossing what appears to be a tributary of the Sebasticook River, with an island slightly downstream of the bridge – Poplar Island?)

Wiggin also noted the adventure of Lester Shorey, who lived on Drake Hill, in southeastern Albion. He attended a Grange meeting in 1901, probably on Dec. 7 (the Saturday on which that year’s anniversary meeting was held); and because the day’s hard rain had flooded out bridges over most of the streams between Center Albion and his house, it took him more than eight hours to find a road home, via Palermo.

Two historians noted a spectacular natural event in August 1787, although they disagreed on the exact date.

William D. Williamson, in his 1832 history of Maine, described an incident “too rare to be passed unnoticed.” On Aug. 26, 1787, around 4 p.m., “A ball of fire, apparently as large as that of a nine pounder” was seen in New Gloucester, Portland and elsewhere, “flying through the air in a south-western direction, at an angle of more than 45 [degrees] from the ground, when it suddenly exploded three times in quick succession, like the discharge of as many cannon, with reports resembling thunder-claps.”

There was no earthquake, Williamson wrote, but “buildings were shaken” and smoke seen. The noise was heard “as far east as Frenchman’s bay, and westward at Fryeburgh.”

North wrote that on Thursday, Aug. 30, 1787, around mid-afternoon, Colonel (Joseph, probably) North, Captain (Henry) Sewall and Ebenezer Farwell were exploring possible routes along which to lay out a road from Cobbosseecontee to Bowdoinham. Sewall recorded in his diary an aerial explosion that he compared to “a small cannon”; he and his companions “supposed it to be the bursting of a meteor.”

North pointed out that Sewall’s date differs from Williamson’s.

There was an earthquake in central Maine on Dec. 23, 1857, between 1 and 2 p.m., North wrote; it was felt in Lewiston, Augusta and Waterville, among other places. He wrote that in addition to the earth shaking, “The noise attending it, as heard by those in buildings at Augusta, was as of an immense weight in the air moving from the south and descending diagonally through the roof with a rolling and crashing sound….The noise passed off to the north with a prolonged rumbling.”

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Henry Sewall’s diary, for part of 1787 (mentioned above) and consecutively from 1830 to 1843, is one of three that Charles Nash quoted parts of in his history of Augusta, published in 1904. He also reprinted excerpts from Martha Ballard’s diary (1785-1812) and Daniel Cony’s diary (1808-1810).

(Your writer views with amazed admiration the historians who first turned such documents, hand-written and perhaps time-damaged, full of unexplained references, into sources of information for future generations.)

With varying frequency, all three diarists recorded weather and other natural phenomena, both routine and extraordinary. Examples follow.

Ballard sometimes ignored the weather for days on end; sometimes wrote briefly of blustery wind, snow or rain, cold or warmth, clouds or clear sky; occasionally mentioned a rainbow, or an odd color in the sky. On March 27, 1786, and again on May 1, she wrote that northern lights had appeared.

The summer of 1787 was apparently a chilly one. On Sunday, July 1, Ballard wrote “We had ice an intch [her spelling] thick in our yard south side of the house this morn.” On Aug. 4 (a Saturday) she recorded “A very severe shower of hail with thunder and litning [her spelling], began at half after one, –continued near one hour. I hear it broke 130 pains [her spelling] of glass in Fort Western.”

On March 22, 1792, Ballard wrote: “Cloudy, morn; clear the rest of the day. The sun eclipsed.” Later in the week, her husband and son were sugaring with a neighbor. The ice in the Kennebec was gone on April 3, and a friend sowed peas on May 5.

Daniel Cony was 56 and had lived in Augusta for 30 years when he wrote short diary entries in 1808, 1809 and 1810, Nash said. Often an entry was only a few words about the day’s weather.

For example, July 1808 was hot and wet; Cony recorded temperatures of 90 degrees or higher on July 1, 16, 17 and 23. August he summarized as “Dry, fine season to gather in the grain.”

Oct. 10, 1809, was another hot day, with the thermometer reaching 96 degrees in the shade. November Cony summarized as “extreme cold,” with the Kennebec frozen by Nov. 23; but between Dec. 5 and Dec. 16 mild weather with rain took out most of the ice.

According to Henry Sewall, late December of 1830 was similar to early December of 1809. The Kennebec had frozen over “passable for teams” by Nov. 22; but a “warm rain” on Christmas Day “broke up the ice.”

For Dec. 31, he wrote: “Warm and wet, which took off every vestige of snow, raised the river, expelled the ice, and took the frost out of the ground, so as to render the roads muddy and deep and the travelling bad.”

Sewall noted the May 1832 flood described in the Jan. 12 issue of The Town Line. In 1833 he commented on two phenomena: a meteor shower early the morning of Nov. 12, with “meteors flying in all directions over the horizon, which produced an effect like lightning”; and on Dec. 26 a total lunar eclipse.

There was a “considerable eclipse of the sun” on Nov. 30, 1834, but, Sewall wrote, it was “rendered invisible by the clouds.”

On Dec. 23 of that year, Sewall wrote: “Received a Fahrenheit Thermometer from Boston.” He used it to record the Christmas Day temperature, eight degrees below zero; but the next diary record is not until Sunday, Feb. 18, 1838, when the temperature rose from 15 below to 25 above.

The March 31, 1836, entry is an interestingly oblique reference to the coming of spring: “The stages continue to run eastward on runners, though they begin to use wheels westward.” The Kennebec opened April 12 and closed Dec. 1 that year.

Sewall noted his 91st birthday on Oct. 24, 1843, and apparently discontinued his diary at the end of the year. He died Sept. 5, 1845.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Judd, Richard W., Churchill, Edwin A. and Eastman, Joel W., edd., Maine The Pine Tree State from Prehistory to the Present (1995).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).
Williamson, William D., The History of the State of Maine from its First Discovery, A.D. 1602, to the Separation, A.D. 1820, Inclusive Vol. II (1832).