Thoreau’s Perfect Day in Lakeville, Mass.: Beautiful Assawompset Pond and a “Vexing” Encounter with Assawompset Indians: Part One

PART ONE:  A PROBLEMATIC THOREAU ON VACATION

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau’s birthday. This talented, problematic writer was a study in contradictions. He was an elegant writer on the subject of the natural world, but prone to didactic lecturing on the subject of humanity. He was an avid student of history, especially Indian history, but he failed to reconcile his fictional and romantic image of Indians of the past with the realities of the contemporary Indians whom he met in Massachusetts and Maine during his lifetime. Below is a story about a favorite day of Thoreau’s life while vacationing in Lakeville, Massachusetts which includes a collision of Thoreau’s conflicting beliefs, and its devastating legacy a century later, which led to the desecration of the grave of a multiracial man who Thoreau met that day.

In the autumn of 1855, 38 year old Henry David Thoreau spent a perfect day by Assawompset Pond in Lakeville, Massachusetts. It was the favorite spot of his friend Daniel Ricketson, who was eager to share its natural beauty with Thoreau. Thoreau later wrote that the memory of that day “gleam[ed] in my mind’s eye”, and would carry him through the cold winter at home in Concord, Massachusetts. Ricketson arranged the day to include Thoreau’s favorite things – an exploration and collection of local flora, and intellectual discussions about philosophy and local Indian history. The highlights for Thoreau included hunting for clamshells and Indian artifacts along several Lakeville ponds, taking botanical notes of the plants he saw along the way, venturing off the main road to view Indian petroglyphs, finding a rare blooming flower, and taking in the natural beauty of Lakeville’s “broad, shallow lakes.”

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An 1857 map of Lakeville. I have marked Thoreau’s 1855 trip on buggy from New Bedford up to Lakeville in red, as well as his detour on foot on Betty’s Neck and along the south shore of Assawompset Pond. Thoreau met Thomas and Pamelia Smith on the shore in front of Thomas Smith’s home which is marked on Betty’s Neck. I’ve highlight in blue the remainder of Thoreau’s trip to their final destination of Sampson’s Tavern (here called “Lakeville House”).

 

Only one thing “vexed” Thoreau’s day, a disappointing encounter with Thomas Smith and Pamelia Sepit Hector, a married multiracial couple with Native American and African slave heritage. They trespassed on the Smiths’ property on Betty’s Neck as Thoreau searched the beach for Indian artifacts and Ricketson lectured about “ancient” Indian history. The white men called out to the couple, who were fishing in Assawompset Pond in their boat, and asked that they approach and converse. Thoreau was flabbergasted to note that the woman was steering and fishing with her husband, quite unlike a Yankee lady. The eccentric Ricketson and socially awkward Thoreau barraged the surprised couple with a multitude of questions about their “Indian blood”. Of the couple, the man Thomas Smith (quickly ascertained to be “one-fourth Indian” and three-fourths “negro”) was more responsive to their questions, and, although he provided them with a number of useful facts about Assawompset Pond’s botany and geography, Thoreau was disappointed by Thomas’s “ignorance” of Indian history. Thoreau later even asked a white Lakeville resident to verify information Thomas Smith provided about the types of fish in the pond and the pond’s depth (it turned out Thomas was accurate in his knowledge of the pond from which he made his livelihood). Thoreau never even learned the first name of Thomas Smith’s wife, instead calling her “Tom Smith’s woman”, his “squaw”, who reluctantly revealed that her maiden name was Sepit. Ricketson and Thoreau made numerous comments about her Indian appearance, demanded to know her history, and were briefly excited to discover she was a “half-breed” from the area. But Smith’s wife was immediately insulted by these strange men and their insistent, rude questions and insensitive comments, and mostly refused to answer them, or replied sarcastically or defiantly. All the while, she had the gall to be a woman steering her own boat, which was designed and built by her husband. It is an understatement to say that Thoreau and Ricketson did not know what to make of Pamelia, whose name remained unlearned by Thoreau.

Thoreau frequently wrote flowery passages in his writings about the romantic ancient Indian, hunting, running with peaceful solitude through the woods. “The charm of the Indian to me, is that he stands free and unconstrained in Nature, is her inhabitant and not her guest, and wears her easily and gracefully. But the civilized man has the habits of the house. His house is a prison, in which he finds himself imprisoned and confined, not sheltered and protected.” Thoreau was obsessed with searching fields and shorelines for Indian artifacts, “relics of a race which has vanished as completely as if trodden into the earth.” And yet there were numerous Indian communities throughout Massachusetts in Thoreau’s lifetime who certainly had not “vanished” and yet were invisible to Thoreau. His few encounters with actual Indians rather than imagined ones inevitably ended in his disappointment that they were not the romantic figures from his mind. Instead they were impoverished and often understandably confused by the lecturing white man who unexpectedly appeared before them, demanding answers to private questions. He often left these conversations with the conclusion that contemporary Indians were unintelligent, ignorant, or lazy, and added racist theories on top of his conclusions about the “disappearance” of the “Indian race” as a result of intermarrying with the “negro” race. Poverty, Thoreau felt, led to a simplicity of life that he could almost admire, but he could not tolerate the comparison of an impoverished life to his own decision to “live deliberately” in simplicity, as he chose to do in Walden. “The savage lives simply through ignorance and idleness or laziness, but the philosopher lives simply through wisdom.”

Thoreau was a man of contradictions, many of his own making. “Why is [it] that we look upon the Indian as the man of the woods? There are races half-civilized, and barbarous even, that dwell in towns, but the Indians we associate in our minds with the wilderness.” As Thoreau walked the southern shore of Assawompset Pond on Betty’s Neck in Lakeville, he documented no indication of awareness that he was walking on the property of the Indian community there, which had been known as the Assawompset village for thousands of years, and still had a small village of Indian families. Like his views on poverty, Thoreau loved the idea of wilderness, but not the reality. If you took his description of his day in Lakeville at face value, you too might have believed that Thoreau walked through a vast wilderness of forest and shore on Betty’s Neck, alone but for their brief interruption by the Smiths. But he either did not see – or chose not to – the vibrant Indian community which still existed on their ancestral homeland.  And despite Thoreau’s finding inspiration in the beauty of Assawompsett Pond and his thrill of feeling like he was in the wilderness, his excursion along the shore was still a half-hour walk in each direction, followed by refreshments available at the popular Sampson’s Tavern nearby.

Years ago I lived in Billerica, Massachusetts beside the Concord River, which I had only heard of through Thoreau’s first book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. One of my first weekend trips after moving to the area was a visit to Walden Pond, where I was taken by surprise by the noise from the highway, train, and tourists. At the time, I thought “how things have changed!”, but upon researching more details that evening, discovered how much it had actually stayed the same since Thoreau’s time – it was simply that Thoreau had written those components out of his story in search of “solitude”. Thoreau neglected to mention in Walden his weekly walks home to his mother’s for home cooked meals and her frequent visits to bring him groceries. He hosted occasional parties with his friends in his cottage, and had the companionship of the swimmers and boaters on Walden Pond. The commuter rail from Boston brought trains along the western side of the pond. Not to mention that one year prior to Ralph Waldo Emerson allowing Thoreau to live on Emerson’s land on Walden Pond for two years rent-free, Thoreau had accidentally started a fire which burned 300 acres of his beloved Walden Woods.

Thoreau loved nature, and his ability to vividly capture what he saw in the environment still paints a graphic picture over almost two centuries later. He lectured about the need for simplicity, and his out-of-context quotes are often idolized by modern minimalists. But he was not a man who pared his possessions down by keeping only those which “sparked joy,” instead, he focused on brutal utility. Although his writings on nature could be passionate, his writings about his fellow man were filled with admonishments. He disdained food, alcohol, and beverages other than water, complained about sensuality and music, and would chastise others who engaged with those most human of things. In his journals, he commented on the ugly housing, unfashionable clothing, and crude moral characters of the impoverished people he encountered. If he truly believed “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” his pedantic beliefs did not offer them much of a solution. Schulz notes, “Only someone who had never experienced true remoteness could mistake Walden for the wilderness or compare life on the bustling pond to that on the mid-nineteenth-century prairies. Indeed, an excellent corrective to “Walden” is the work of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who grew up on those prairies, and in a genuine little house in the big woods. Wilder lived what Thoreau merely played at, and her books are not only more joyful and interesting than “Walden” but also, when reread, a thousand times more harrowing. Real isolation presents real risks, both emotional and mortal, and, had Thoreau truly lived at a remove from other people, he might have valued them more. Instead, his case against community rested on an ersatz experience of doing without it.” See Schulz’s excellent New Yorker article “Pond Scum” for more details about Thoreau’s conflicted, misanthrophic, romantic, judgmental, poetic, difficult personality. And then see Hohn’s article “Everybody Hates Henry David Thoreau”, a spirited defense of Thoreau in response to Schulz’s piece. See also a discussion in the New York Times of Thoreau’s black and Irish neighbors in “At Walden, Thoreau Wasn’t Really Alone With Nature.” And Elise Lemire’s valuable Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts.

Thoreau was a strange contrast to his friend Daniel Ricketson, who was bombastic, emotional, and eccentric. When Thoreau visited Lakeville with Ricketson in 1855, it was only the second time the men had ever met in person. Ricketson had purchased Walden immediately after its publication in 1854 and written Thoreau a fan letter. The two men struck up a correspondence, and Thoreau visited his wealthy, intellectual fan at Christmas in 1854. They enjoyed each other’s company and discourse, and became fast friends, although each man wrote privately – and sometimes directly – stark assessments and grievances of the other’s personality quirks and annoyances. The 42 year old Ricketson was a New Bedford Quaker lawyer with similar passions as Thoreau – he was a poet, author, historian, abolitionist, philanthropist, and performed many of his writings in a small shack built on his vast 53 acre estate named “Brook Lawn” where he frequently entertained the literary elite, nicknaming themselves the “Shanty Society”. It was obviously appealing to Thoreau.

In 1857, 26 year old Anna Alcott wrote her first impression of Ricketson to her father Amos Bronson Alcott. Her letter gives some insight into the reactions that Thomas and Pamelia Smith had while talking with Ricketson and Thoreau on Assawompset Pond two years earlier: “We were surprised Sat. evening by a funny little man walking in and introducing himself as Mr. Ricketson of New Bedford. He stared at us one by one and then said, ‘So you are Mr. Alcott’s daughters, are you?’ – then looking at me ‘You look like your father, you’ve got his eyes and complexion.” So he kept saying the funniest [viz. strangest] things. ‘How old are you? What do you weigh & how much can you bear? How’s your temper?’ He was much taken by Abby & said he should call to see her by daylight. Mother looked her very best & behaved beautifully. I knew he liked her and enjoyed his visit, for he came again on Sunday and stayed till I thought I should sink into the floor. He thinks of building a house here this year, and made fine plans, but he is a very singular man, and I shouldn’t be surprised to hear he had hung himself on a tree any day. Did you ever suspect him of being crazy at all?

Both Thoreau and Ricketson wrote journal entries detailing their own interpretations of what Thoreau later remembered as the highlight of his trip, their perfect day spent at Lakeville, Massachusetts on 2 October 1855. But even between these two friends, there are differences in their accounts which speak volumes about what each man found significant during their time together. Some important observations about the day were written by Ricketson, but never mentioned by Thoreau, and vice versa. And although both men went to Lakeville in part to discuss local Indian history, neither made the most of a chance encounter with actual local Indians to engage meaningfully with either contemporary or historical issues involving the Assawompset Indian community. And because their interaction was so blundered, Thoreau missed an opportunity to discover the significant stories about the lives and histories of Thomas Smith and his wife Pamelia Sepit Hector, which this blog series will help to reveal. On an otherwise pleasant day, only the awkwardness of Thoreau’s encounter with the Smiths “vexed” him. Yet today it seems vexing to know that Thoreau, a talented writer and observer of the world, was too caught up in racist thinking and disappointment in the disconnect between romantic “Indians in [my] mind” and the real Indian couple before him to actually connect with and learn their stories. We have access to millions of words by Thoreau, but only a paragraph and three little sketches of Thoreau’s meeting with the Smiths. The fascinating stories of the Smiths and their 19th century community on Betty’s Neck – though unknown to Thoreau – deserve more.

Learning about the lives of the Smith family is especially valuable in light of a recent terrible injustice to Thomas Smith, whose gravestone was stolen in 2008 and later recovered by Lakeville police in 2009. The recovered gravestones are now under protection by the Wampanoag tribe. A gravel pit company or housing development several decades ago removed Thomas and his brother William Smith’s headstones and footstones from their cemetery on Betty’s Neck, perched them against a tree in a nearby swamp, and bulldozed over their graves (as well as probably numerous other Indian graves whose burial plots were not marked by headstones, likely including the bold Pamelia Sepit Hector). This was not discovered until an attempt in the 2000s to document and plot all of the cemeteries in Lakeville, which resulted in the book Lakeville, Massachusetts Gravestone Inscriptions, 1711-2003. Local historians have attempted to determine where the original cemetery was, but to this day its exact location has not been precisely found.

The lack of protection for – or even community knowledge of – small, forgotten New England cemeteries is a common problem as development overtakes long unused historic places. But the Smith cemetery (also known as the Indian Shore Cemetery) was forgotten in part because it belonged to the Betty’s Neck Indian community, which was as invisible to Thoreau in 1855 as it was to outsiders a century later when the only obvious evidence of that community which remained on the property was their names carved into gravestones and the much older petroglyphs carved into stone on the shore of Assawompset Pond. Without the stories of Thomas and Pamelia (Sepit Hector) Smith and their community being well-known and valued, their gravestones were mistreated, their graves devastated, and their ancestors’ petroglyphs covered in modern graffiti.

Up Next: A Detailed Look at The Events of Thoreau’s Perfect Day on Assawompset Pond

Suffragettes Buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Seattle

In the spring of 2016, the mayor of Rochester, New York placed a poster with the following statement on it beside the gravestone of suffragette Susan B. Anthony:

Dear Susan B., We thought you might like to know that for the first time in history, a woman is running for President representing a major party. 144 years ago your illegal vote got you arrested. It took another 48 years for women to finally gain the right to vote. Thank you for paving the way.

Lovely Warren, The first female mayor of Rochester.

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Susan B. Anthony gravestone with poster from Mayor Lovely Warren. Courtesy of the Berkshire Eagle.

Following the primary, word spread as numerous social media and news media outlets picked up the story. Thousands of women made a pilgrimage to Anthony’s grave to place their “I Voted” stickers on her grave and pay respects. Mount Hope Cemetery extended its hours on Election Day to accommodate all of the visitors. The following photograph was posted on Election Day 2016:

 

Several other suffragette graves received media attention, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s grave in New York, and Ida B. Wells’ grave in Chicago.

In honor of International Women’s Day, let’s dig a little into Washington State’s history of suffrage.

In 1883, Washington Territory became the third U.S. territory to enact women’s suffrage (behind Wyoming in 1869 and Utah in 1870). The statute gave the right to vote to: “All American citizens, above the age of twenty-one years, and all American half-breeds, over that age, who have adopted the habits of the whites, and all other inhabitants of this territory, above that age…”

The 15th Amendment had been ratified in 1870, allowing American male citizens to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. According to Commercial Age (Olympia, Wash.) March 26, 1870, p. 1, black (male) Washingtonians had already been voting in Washington territory:  “Although the Fifteenth Amendment does not particularly affect us in this Territory, as the colored folks have been voters among us for sometime already, yet it will be a matter of much importance in both Oregon and California… It will be a happy day for the country when the people shall no more care to inquire whether a voter or a candidate for office is white or black than whether he is tall or short.” Several laws had been passed which banned or expelled blacks from the Oregon Trail and Oregon territory (which included Washington territory prior to 1853). With so few white women in Washington territory in the 1850s, Washington Territory passed a law allowing the adult male children of white fathers and Native American mothers – legally called “half-breeds” – to vote. In the 1860s, the “Mercer Girls” – white, educated young women from Massachusetts – were brought to Washington territory by Asa Mercer to help with the ratio of white men and women, and many of them were early Washington suffragettes.

With the passage of women’s suffrage in 1883 in Washington territory, white and black women were granted the right to vote, and women immediately participated. “A Ballot For The Ladies” stated: “Anxious to exercise their new right, women across the state voted against corrupt politicians, and voted for local option prohibition. In the 1884 election, a larger percentage of women voted than men, casting 12,000 out of 48,000 ballots. Within a few years, it was estimated that four-fifths of all the women in the territory went to the polls on election day.” Male pushback to women’s suffrage in Washington came swiftly, particularly as corrupt politicians (often town leaders with substantial ties to gambling, drinking, and smuggling opium and illegal Chinese immigrants) were voted out of office and prohibition mandates were supported by women. Women’s suffrage was legal in Washington Territory from 1883 until 1888.

However, when Washington territory became a state in 1890, women’s suffrage was not supported in Washington state legislation. For the next two decades, suffragettes continued the fight, however, and women’s right to vote in Washington state was legalized in 1910, a  decade prior to the national ratification in 1920 of the 19th Amendment. For a detailed description of the history of women’s suffrage in Washington state, see The Fight for Women’s Suffrage from the Washington State Historical Society, and HistoryLink’s Washington Woman Suffrage Crusade, 1848-1920. The 1910 law “allowed only those who could read and speak English to vote. Many women, including immigrant Asians and Native Americans, who were subject to other restrictive citizenship laws, were still denied the right to vote.”

Washington Territory and State had a substantial suffragette movement – additional details about some of these women can be discovered at the Washington State Historical Society.

On a recent rainy day in Seattle, I walked around Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Seattle (learn more about this cemetery on FindAGrave and a description on HistoryLink) in search of several local suffragette gravestones. Here are the graves of one Seattle’s earliest white suffragettes, Catharine (Paine) Blaine, who attended the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, and Bertha Adine Pitts Campbell, a black civil rights activist, who attended the first suffragette parade in Washington D.C. in 1913.

Catharine (Paine) Blaine (1829-1908)

Catharine (Paine) Blaine (1829-1908), wife of  Methodist minister Rev. David Edwards Blaine, was a missionary and the first public school teacher in Seattle. At the age of 18, she attended the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and is believed to be the youngest signer of the convention’s Declaration of Sentiments. She and her husband moved to Seattle in 1853. In 1854, she helped persuade Arthur Denny to introduce a proposal for woman suffrage in Washington Territory’s first legislative session, which failed by only one vote. At the same time, a law was passed which allowed the adult male children of white fathers and Native American mothers to vote, which dismayed Blaine, who wrote: “A question immediately arose in my mind as to whether women ought to congratulate ourselves that we were not associated politically with such a set or whether we ought to feel aggrieved that the highest privilege that can be conferred on citizens should be proffered to the most degraded and abandoned race possible to be imagined and withheld from us.” Blaine’s letter provides an example of the often inherent racism within the white suffragette (and often abolitionist) movement, in the struggle to achieve voting rights for both women and people of color. According to Catharine Blaine’s biography at the Washington State Historical Society, “Catharine Blaine was among the voters listed on voter registration rolls for the Third Ward in Seattle in 1885, making her the first known female signer of the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments to legally register as a voter.”

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Rev. David and Catharine Blaine headstone. Photograph courtesy of Mary Blauss Edwards.

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Headstone and gravestone of Catharine Blaine. Photograph courtesy of Mary Blauss Edwards.

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Catharine Blaine gravestone. Photograph courtesy of Mary Blauss Edwards.

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Catherine and David Blaine. Photograph courtesy of HistoryLink.

Bertha Adine Pitts Campbell (1889-1990)

Bertha Adine Pitts Campbell (1889-1990) was a black suffragette and Seattle civil rights activist. Her obituary stated that: “Campbell was one of the founders of Delta Sigma Theta, a national, black, public service sorority. She helped found the organization while she was a Howard University student in 1913 and that same year took part in a women’s suffrage march in Washington, D.C. When she was 92 she returned to lead 10,000 members of the sorority in a commemorative march along the capital’s Pennsylvania Avenue.” “In 1936, she became the first black woman ever to exercise the right to vote on the local YWCA board and served four terms as chairperson of the East Cherry Branch.” See biographies of Bertha Campbell on HistoryLink and BlackPast.org.

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Gravestone of Bertha Adine Pitts Campbell, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Seattle, Washington. Photograph courtesy of Mary Blauss Edwards.

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Gravestone of Bertha Adine Pitts Campbell, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Seattle, Washington. Photograph courtesy of Mary Blauss Edwards.

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Bertha Pitts Campbell. Courtesy of HistoryLink.

 

If you are in the Seattle area, be sure to visit these local suffragette gravestones.

P.S. – Please avoid placing stickers on these women’s gravestones- the adhesive can damage the stones and Seattle rain can quickly turn those stickers to trash. The articles mentioned at the start of this post all mention that the cemeteries featuring the graves of Anthony, Stanton Cady, and Wells placed posters beside the gravestones to encourage people to place their stickers on the posters rather than the graves themselves (although obviously, particularly in Susan B. Anthony’s case, they were not always able to effectively enforce that).

Honor these pioneering women with a visit and remembrance in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Seattle. Happy Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day!

Augusta’s Forgotten Minister: John Eason (1786-1879)

Last week I transcribed a remarkable interview from 1877 detailing the life of John Eason of Augusta, Maine, an African American Freewill Baptist preacher who played by Plymouth Rock as a child. The interview contains numerous fascinating stories from John Eason’s life, as well as several inaccuracies. So let’s dive a little deeper into his background and life.

 

John Eason’s Controversial Birthyear – 1776 0r 1786? 

The reporter stated “The old bible in the chimney corner bears this record: John Eason, born May 14th, 1776, making Mr. Eason one hundred and one years old the 14th of May last [1877]. It is just to say that the old gentleman doubts the reliability of this record and believes himself ten years younger, but the evidences are against his theory.”

However, John Eason’s belief that he was ten years younger seems to be accurate, based on both the stories he told in this newspaper interview, as well as a reconstruction of his origins. Eason recalled that he was about 12 at the time of George Washington’s funeral, which occurred in 1799, making his birthdate more likely to be 14 May 1786. He also said he remembered Baptist minister John Drew preaching when he was 4 or 5 years old [Drew became a preacher in 1789], that Eason’s family moved to Maine when he was about 13, and that he was baptized at the age of 17 by Rev. Ebenezer Hamlin in Maine, which I will further argue helps to support a birthdate of circa 1786 rather than 1776. Thus, John Eason did not quite live to be a century old, despite the paper’s claims. Their mistake, however, was a valuable one, since their curiosity led to Eason’s interview.

John Eason’s Origins

The newspaper never named John Eason’s father and mother, who are both referred to in the article. John Eason was the son of Caesar Eason Jr. and his second wife Eleanor Boo/Booy/Boas/Boaz/Bowes of Middleborough, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, and later Wareham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, and Green Plantation, Maine.

Caesar Eason Jr. was the son of Caesar Eason Sr. and Mercy Gundaway, a free black couple who were granted land by the Titicut Indians on the Titicut reservation in Middleborough, Massachusetts. Caesar Eason Jr. was the grandson of Richard and Mingo Gundaway of Plymouth, Mass., an enslaved married couple who were the first black family in the First Plymouth Congregational Church, and later granted their freedom.

Caesar Eason Jr. first married Eunice Sewall in the Fourth Church of Christ, North Bridgewater (now the First Congregational Church in Brockton), on 19 March 1778. Eunice died sometime prior to 1785, and it is unclear if they had children. Eunice (Sewall) Eason’s brother, Elias Sewall, moved from Brockton, Mass. to Vassalborough, Maine by 1790. Elias Sewall moved to China, Kennebec, Maine by 1800.

Following Eunice’s death, Caesar Eason Jr. married Eleanor Boas. They published intentions in Middleborough, Mass. on 12 June 1785, described as “black persons, both of Middleborough.” Eleanor’s surname was mis-transcribed as “Bass” in Middleborough’s printed vital records, but the original reads “Boas”. She was the granddaughter of Sambo, who was enslaved by Middleborough minister Rev. Peter Thacher, and Titicut Indian Martha Chummuck/Chubbuck, who married in 1749. Sambo was manumitted shortly after Rev. Peter Thacher’s death, and he moved to Scituate with his wife and children in the 1750s. There, he went by the name Sam Bo, and his children took the surname “Bo”, which was alternatively spelled “Bo”, “Boo”, “Booy”. Years later, the surname also transformed into “Bowes”, “Boas”, and “Boaz”.

Sambo and Martha’s eldest son James Boo, born circa 1749 (although he later reported his birthdate as ca. 1754) married a Marshfield, Mass. Indian woman named Bethiah circa 1765. On 6 June 1767, Middleborough constable Job Macomber warned “James Booy, a negro man, and his wife Bethiah and small children Daniel and Eleanor, lately come from Marshfield to reside in this town, they being no inhabitants of the same, to depart.” James fought in the Revolutionary War as a soldier from Plymouth, Mass., and later moved his family to Maine where he received a Revolutionary War pension. His 19 year old daughter Eleanor was a resident of Middleborough, Mass. when she married Caesar Eason Jr. in 1785. Shortly thereafter, Caesar Eason Jr. found work in Wareham, Mass.

 

John Eason was the firstborn child of Caesar Eason Jr. and Eleanor Boas. He reported that he was born in Wareham, Mass., although no record of his birth has been located. John believed that he was born May 14th, 1786, rather than the reporter’s belief that the family bible stated he was born May 14th 1776.  Eason could not read, so it is difficult to assess if the reporter mis-read the handwriting in the bible. Although a birthyear of 1776 could place John as a son of Caesar Eason’s first wife Eunice Sewall, his claim that he was born ca. 1786 and the memories of events in his childhood teenage years better fit a birthyear of 1786. Even the family’s residence helps to support this – the Easons resided in Middleborough and Brockton, Mass. in the 1770s, and in Middleborough and Wareham in the 1780s.

Another probable son of this couple, Peter Eason (likely named in honor of his paternal uncle Peter Boo, b. ca. 1763 in Scituate, a half brother of James Boo through Sambo’s second marriage to Indian woman Hannah Richards), was born to Caesar and Eleanor Eason in November 1787 [birthdate calculated from his age at death]. He was also probably born in Wareham, although no birth record can be identified for him.

In April 1788, white Rochester yeoman Jeremiah Clap [b. 1762, a descendant of Kenelm Winslow] was presented at Plymouth Court for assaulting Caesar Easton at Wareham. The case was brought forward to October 1788, where it was argued that Clap “did beat, wound, and ill treat” Caesar Easton. However, the court ordered a nolle prosequi, and the case was dropped. The family’s surname in Plymouth County records was spelled as both Eason and Easton.

John Eason’s “memory goes back to the age of four or five years, can recall distinctly to mind a Baptist minister who at that time preached in his town – Elder John Drew, who afterwards took to drinking, working Sundays, and behaving like any other backshodden critter, and finally left the ministry.” This refers to Rev. John Drew (b. 1759), who was ordained by Middleborough, Mass. Baptist minister Rev. Isaac Backus in 1789. John’s memory here is likely spanning several years and locations – he perhaps remembered a childhood visit that Rev. John Drew made to Plymouth County, Mass. sometime during the early 1790s – Rev. Backus did record visits with Rev. Drew. However during the 1790s Drew was based in Hartford, Vt. Drew became the Baptist minister at Carver, Plymouth County, Mass. from 1802-1803, but by then the Easons had removed to Green Plantation, Maine. Drew himself then moved to Green Plantation, Me. were he occasionally preached from 1803-1814, before moving to Pennsylvania. According to Eason’s memories, Drew was not an “ideal” minister during his time in Green Plantation.

John Eason recalled that when he was about 13, circa 1799, Caesar Eason and his family moved from Plymouth County, Massachusetts to Green Plantation in Maine. The town had first been settled circa 1790,  and was known as Green Plantation, Green’s Plantation, or just “Green”/”Greene”. It was incorporated as the town of Belmont in 1814. In 1855, North Belmont incorporated into the town of Morrill. The Easons lived in the section of Green Plantation that became the town of Morrill.

John “remembers when Washington’s funeral took place [1799] and all the men wore crape on their sleeves. He was then some 12 years old [b. 1788] and this establishes his present great age.”

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Massachusetts mourning arm band for George Washington. 1799. Courtesy of the MFA.

 

The Eason family was not listed in early Green Plantation, Maine census records. There were no black heads of households in Green in the 1790 Census.  There were two black heads of household residing in the town in the 1800 Census: 11 people of color resided in the household of Charles Bowes, and 7 people of color resided in the household of Sampson Freeman. Additionally, one person of color resided in white family of Jacob Stevens. The family of Sampson Freeman was discussed in “Appendix: Sampson Freeman”, from “Peter and Jane (_____) Freeman of Ipswich, Massachusetts, and Their Descendants in Maine: An African-American Family” Register 164 (Jan. 2010), 52-54, which establishes that the Freeman family were not related to the Easons.

Caesar Eason and his family probably lived for a time with Eleanor (Boas) Eason’s brother Charles Boas/Bowes in Green Plantation, Maine. Caesar Eason perhaps died shortly after the move to Maine. In John’s memories of his religious conversion at the age of 17, he makes repeated references to conversations with his mother about the subject, with no reference to his father. Unfortunately, the Belmont [Green Plantation] Vital and Town Records burned in 1855, so early records related to the Eason family do not survive.

Curiously, there are two probable records for Eleanor (Boas) Eason in Massachusetts records. In the 1800 Census, Eleanor Easton was a  black head of household with 3 freepersons (perhaps Eleanor, John and Peter) residing in Middleborough, Massachusetts. And on 18 March 1822, a division of the poor between Bridgewater and West Bridgewater included: “To West Bridgewater: Ellenor Ceaser”. Additionally, Peter Eason married Rhoda Cuffe, a daughter of Capt. Paul Cuffe, in Westport, Massachusetts in 1819. Rev. Peter Eason became a minister to the Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut from 1821-1823, before returning to Westport, Mass. where he died in 1824. Peter and Rhoda Eason had three sons who all died young: Peter Paul Eason (1819-1834), Charles Eason (1820-1845), and Daniel H. Eason (1822-1840). Perhaps Caesar Eason died immediately after the family’s removal to Maine, after which Eleanor returned (willingly, or unwillingly if Green’s selectman and Overseers of the Poor warned the family out) to Massachusetts with her two young sons circa 1800 before deciding to return back to Maine. In the fall of 1805, when John was 17 years old, he was working in Maine producing shingles and living with his mother when Rev. Ebenezer Hamlin, the Freewill Baptist minister of Knox, Maine, preached at Green Plantation and baptized John.

John Eason published marriage intentions with Eliza Swain in Belfast, Maine on 28 March 1810, and both were listed as residents of Green, Maine. They had three children, a son Peter (likely named in Rev. Peter Eason’s honor), a daughter Mary, and another son.

Perhaps following John Eason’s 1810 marriage, his mother Eleanor and brother Peter again returned to Massachusetts, since Peter married in Massachusetts in 1819. But Eleanor may have again returned to Maine in 1820, when she may have been the woman of color over the age of 45 residing in the household of John Eason in Belmont, Maine. The household consisted of two colored males under the age of 16 (Peter and the other Eason son), 1 colored male 26-45 (John), 1 colored female under 14 (Mary) and one colored female over 45 (perhaps Eleanor). John’s first wife Eliza had died by 1820, and he shortly thereafter married his second wife Catherine. Perhaps Eleanor again removed to Massachusetts by 1822. Or perhaps the “Ellenor Ceaser” in Bridgewater, Mass. in 1822 was a different woman altogether, since there were several people of color with the surname (or first name which was later used as a surname of a spouse or parent) Caesar in the area in the late 18th/early 19th century.

 

John Eason’s Conversion and Baptism by Elder Ebenezer Hamlin – Circa Autumn 1805

“I first felt a change of spirit in the fall of the year when I was 17 years old [1805]. There was Calvinist Baptist preaching in town [including Rev. John Drew] – no Free Will Baptists… The Freewillers were made fun of, when one was seen coming, the people would sing out, ‘Run, run, the Freewillers will take you and tear you all to pieces.'”

John worked as a laborer in a camp shaving shingles, and one night while working there alone he had a vision that God reproached him, and the same night he had a dream that it was judgement day, which he awoke from terrified. “The very next night went to hear the Free Will Baptist preacher, Elder Ebenezer Hamblen, who is buried in the Insane Hospital Cemetery [in Augusta, Maine] and who baptised me. They had got him down from Knox to preach, to make fun of. He came with some deacons and a number of young converts, meetings were held in the tavern. I had to walk two miles, and the minister was done with his sermon when I got there. As I sat down my dream came to me – the day of judgment, and I felt as though I ought to pray for mercy.”

As he prayed he had another vision, this time of falling into a pit to Hell. After his experience, he was baptized by Rev. Ebenezer Hamlin. His friends and family were perhaps confused by his experiences: “People said I had been frightened into religion, but bress de Lord, I wish everybody would be as scared as I was! Went home and they had a praying season. Mother says, ‘John, can’t you kneel down and thank God?’ I said, ‘O, mother, such as critter as I am, with no faith?’ When I sat down to breakfast the next morning, the words came to me, ‘Except ye eat my flesh,’ &c. and after that I felt happy – and was confident that God had mercy on my soul for Christ’s sake.”

John Eason’s Life in Belmont and Norridgewock, Maine

“The parson has had three wives, all of whom have ‘gone before'”. John Eason first married Eliza Swain in 1810, who died in Belmont, Maine by 1820. He married his second wife Catherine in Belmont, Maine circa 1822, who died in Augusta, Maine sometime between 1860 and 1868. He married his third wife Priscilla Thompson in Augusta, Maine on 21 January 1869, who died in Augusta, Maine sometime between 1870 and 1877.

In 1810, “he married his first wife [Eliza Swain] in Belmont.” Their children were mentioned above.

Following his second marriage to Catherine, “he removed from Belmont to Sidney where he remained a few years, cultivating the soil and doing odd jobs.” They had sons John Eason Jr. (b. ca. 1822), Daniel Eason (b. ca. 1833), and a third son, as well as a daughter Margaret (b. ca. 1829).

In the 1830 Census, John Eason was the head of household in Norridgewock, Maine. His household consisted of 2 colored males under 10 (John and another son), 2 colored males 10-23, (Peter and another son), 1 colored male 36 thru 54 (John), 1 colored female under 10 (Margaret), 1 colored female 10 thru 23 (Mary), and 1 colored female 36 thru 54 (Catherine). John reported in 1877 that he was been in Augusta, Maine for 43 years – moving about 1834 (and witnessed the January 1835 execution of wife murderer Joseph Sager in Augusta). John’s son Peter Eason, a mariner, was a resident of Norridgewock in 1836 when a seaman’s protection certificate was filed for him in Bath, Maine.

Moving to Augusta, Maine

John Eason moved to Augusta “43 years ago [circa 1834], and he has resided ever since here.” In January 1835, John Eason “Saw Sager hung, his whole family were there, and he had the baby [Daniel] in arms. He remembers distinctly Sager’s last words, ‘Gentleman, I am – but the fatal rope chocked the utterance of the last word – innocent.'”  On 2 January 1835, Joseph J. Sager of Gardiner, Maine was hanged in Augusta after being convicted of poisoning his wife. “He was charged with putting a “substantial amount” of arsenic in a wine-egg-sugar drink he gave her for breakfast. Joseph was executed on a gallows erected on Winthrop Street near the jail. It is reported that thousands, including many women, witnessed the execution.” Sager claimed his innocence to the end. At his trial, with anti-Catholic sentiment, Sager accused his Irish servant girl of the crime, stating the Catholics “believe they can have all their sins pardoned by the priest at all times.”

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Sager murder trial report, courtesy of Harvard

When John Eason first moved to Augusta, “he says he got in to a state of back sliddeness because he didn’t join the church when he came here, although his hope was not at any time clean gone. He thought he wouldn’t go to meeting but keep up family prayers, then family prayers were dropped, and he prayed in secret, finally he laid down the duty of family prayer and that’s the way darkness temporarily shadowed his soul. He first lived near the State House, but afterwards removed to North Street. There were only three or four stores in the place. The Congregationalists, Baptists, and Methodists had meeting houses. He helped raise the belfry of the old Baptist meeting house.”

John Eason was an Augusta taxpayer in 1838. In 1840, the family of John Eason was enumerated in Augusta, consisting of one colored male under 10 (Daniel), 2 colored males 10 thru 23 (John and another son), 1 colored male 36 thru 54 (John), 1 colored female 10 thru 23 (Margaret), and 1 colored female 36 thru 54 (Catherine).

 

The Ministry of Parson John Eason, Augusta Free Will Baptist Church, ca. 1838-1852

“We refer to Mr. John Eason, the colored man better known as “Father Eason” or “Parson Eason”…He was sexton of the Baptist Church the first year he came here, but when Elder [Simon] Curtis came here to organize a Free [Will] Baptist Church, that being the people of his choice, he went with them. The Free Baptist Society then had meetings in the old Town House, and after Curtis left [circa 1838], Eason conducted the meetings, often taking texts and expounding in his original and quaint manner, the meaning of the Word, as it appeared to him. From this service he obtained the title of Parson, although the old gentleman in his great modesty, disclaims any such honor.”

“Father Eason never could read, but his memory was so retentive that it appropriated everything he heard, and thus he is able to quote scripture freely…In regard to preachers, his criticism is, “Any man is a good preacher who has the Holy Spirit to aid him, that is enough.”

Although never officially ordained, the illiterate Parson John Eason preached for over a decade with Augusta’s Free Will Baptist Society. “He did not, however, become a member of the church until the coming of Mr. [Oren Burbank] Cheney as its pastor [who served Augusta’s Free Will Baptist Church for “five years” beginning in 1852]. In the early struggles of the church, he often went into the woods, cut wood for fuel, to burn in the meeting house, and toted it home on his hand sled.”

Later Life in Augusta

In the 1850 Census, John Eason (67, laborer) was enumerated with is wife Catherine Eason (64), and 15 year old son Daniel Eason.

In the 1860 Census, John Eason (70, laborer) was enumerated with is wife Catharine Eason (66) and boarder Olivia F Too (61, widow). Olive Mann, an Indian woman, married David Too in Leeds, Maine in 1832. Monhegan, the cradle of New England: Genealogy of Some Livermore Pioneers claimed that David Too “was a negro [who] died in 1859 and as the town gave them assistance, his wife [Olive] asked the selectmen to give her a pint of camphor to rub on David’s face until his burial. This they did, but instead of David’s face being embalmed by the use of the camphor, she drank it all. The third day after, she was with David.” Since Olive was still alive in the 1860 Census with the Eason family in Augusta, this anecdote’s conclusion is obviously erroneous.

John Eason’s wife Catherine died by 1868. He then married Priscilla Thompson in Augusta, Maine on 21 January 1869. In the 1870 Census, John Eason (80, laborer) was enumerated with his wife Priscilla Eason (75, keeping house), his son John Eason Jr. (45, laborer), Mary Eason (49, keeping house), his son Daniel Eason (40, laborer), Daniel’s wife Hannah Eason (35), and Daniel and Hannah’s son Raphael Eason (10).

In the 1871 Augusta City Directory, laborer John Eason resided in the rear of a house located on North St. near Bennett St. His son Daniel also lived in the house, and worked as a hosteler at 4 Reed St. His son John Eason Jr. worked as a laborer, and had moved to a house on Bangor Road near Pettengill’s corner.

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North Street and Bennett Street in Augusta, Maine, where John Eason lived in 1871. From 1851 Augusta Map, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On 20 September 1873, the Daily Kennebec Journal reported that: “Uncle Eason, or Parson Eason, that good old colored man, nearly 84 years of age, now feeble and past all labor, sits calmly and peacefully in his hut in North Street, in this city, waiting for the Son of Man to take him home to the place where all good colored folks go. He asks for nothing, but is very grateful for anything given him, of which food and firewood is most needed.”

Laborer John Eason still resided in the rear of a house on North St., near Bennett St in the 1876 Augusta City Directory. His son Daniel Eason lived in a house on Prospect St., working as a hosteler on 4 Reed St.

 

Where did he live at the time of the interview?

“He lives with his daughter, Mrs. [Margaret] Williams, on Cushnoc heights in this city. The other day in company with his beloved pastor, Rev. Mr. Penney, we visited Father Eason and spent a delightful hour in his company. The cottage in which he resides on Washington Street is a humble, though a comfortable one, a one story wood colored domicile. Kindly hands prompted by warm hears minister to him and perform those loving offices so comforting to a person in his present condition.”

“Though for about four years deprived of the privilege of attending preaching services, the old man has been comforted by the frequent visits of praying friends, and on the very day of our visit he was looking forward with kindling ardor to a prayer meeting appointed to be held at the house that evening. ”

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Washington St. on Cushnoc Heights, where John Eason resided at the time of his interview in 1877. From 1878 Augusta Maine map, courtesy of the Library of Congress

Death of Parson John Eason, 1879.

John Eason died in Augusta, Maine, 12 February 1879 at the age of 92 [local newspapers, relying on the 1877 Daily Kennebec Journal article, reported his age at death as 102].

Bangor Daily Whig & Courier (Bangor, Maine), 18 February 1879, reported: “John Eason of Augusta, colored, known as Parson Eason died Wednesday, aged 102 years. He was born in Wareham, Mass.”

Daily Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Maine) 24 February 1879, p. 3 reported: “The funeral services of Mr. John Eason, known in the community as Father Eason, will take place at the Free Baptist Church tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon at 2 o’clock.”

No gravestone has been identified for John Eason or any of his family members in Augusta, Maine. However, he may have been buried in an unmarked grave in the Forest Grove or Mount Hope cemeteries, located in downtown Augusta near where John Eason lived.

 

Parson John Eason spent his childhood years playing by Plymouth Rock, a descendant of Wampanoag and Massachuset Indian families, as well as one of Plymouth’s earliest enslaved African families. Poor and illiterate, he moved with his family from the south shore of Massachusetts to the frontier in Maine in the wake of the American Revolution, and went on to became a leader of Augusta’s Freewill Baptist Church for over a decade. Since he was not ordained, he was not recognized as an official minister of the church during this time, but his 1877 interview makes it clear that both black and white citizens of Augusta recognized John Eason as the Freewill Baptist minister during those years and valued his passionate sermons. Eason’s replacement at Augusta’s Freewill Baptist Church, Rev. Oren B. Cheney, went on to famously create Bates College, but it appears that Augusta’s history books have forgotten Rev. John Eason and his fascinating life.

 

Up Next: A Tragedy in the Home of Daniel Eason (son of Parson John Eason)

 

The “Man of a Century”: Parson John Eason of Augusta, Maine

In the autumn of 1877, a reporter for Augusta, Maine’s Daily Kennebec Journal documented a remarkable interview with an elderly African American man known as “Parson Eason”, a former Baptist preacher with Massachusetts roots.

 

FATHER EASON. The Man of a Century – Something of His Life and Experience.

“It may not be generally known that there lives in our midst a man whose birth day dates back more than one hundred years who stands among us a living monument of a past age and whose memory travels back almost to the time when the foundations of the republic were laid in tears and agony and blood. We refer to Mr. John Eason, the colored man better known as “Father Eason” or “Parson Eason”. He lives with his daughter, Mrs. [Margaret] Williams, on Cushnoc heights in this city. The other day in company with his beloved pastor, Rev. Mr. Penney, we visited Father Eason and spent a delightful hour in his company. The cottage in which he resides on Washington Street is a humble, though a comfortable one, a one story wood colored domicile. Kindly hands prompted by warm hearts minister to him and perform those loving offices so comforting to a person in his present condition.

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1878 Map of Augusta, Maine. In 1877, John Eason lived with his daughter on Washington St., seen here just above the Kennebec river. Image courtesy the Library of Congress.

 

The old bible in the chimney corner bears this record: John Eason, born May 14th, 1776, making Mr. Eason one hundred and one years old the 14th of May last. It is just to say that the old gentleman doubts the reliability of this record and believes himself ten years younger, but the evidences are against his theory. He is still straight as an arrow and has the appearance of enjoying good health, though appearances in this case are deceptive for he has almost constantly an excruciating pain in the head that is quite unendurable. He has a pleasant face, the hair is still quite thick upon his head, de place whar de wool ought to grow, no bald place appearing as yet, the hair and whiskers are of an iron grey color. The mind always clear has apparently lost none of its distinctive characteristics, though the family can see that there is occasional limping and halting of the memory. He always enjoys the calls of the minister and those who “love de Lord.” “Bress de Lord I love everybody who loves God, is born of His spirit, and is trying to do better.”

He was born in old Wareham, Mass. and in his youthful days often sported in the vicinity of Plymouth Rock. His memory goes back to the age of four or five years, can recall distinctly to mind a Baptist minister who at that time preached in his town – Elder John Drew, who afterwards took to drinking, working Sundays, and behaving like any other backshodden critter, and finally left the ministry. When John was about 13 his father removed with his family to Belmont, in the eastern section of Maine. The town is now named Morrill, in honor of Gov. Anson P. Morrill. He remembers when Washington’s funeral took place and all the men wore crape on their sleeves. He was then some 12 years old and this establishes his present great age.

At the age of 17 years John was converted, after a most wonderful leading, and in a manner almost as dramatic and vivid as that of St. Paul’s. A portion of this wonderful experience we will let the venerable father tell in his own language as nearly as we can recall it. “I first felt a change of spirit in the fall of the year when I was 17 years old. There was Calvinist Baptist preaching in town – no Free Will Baptists. I was under worriment of mind for long while, thought I could be a christian and not let anybody know it, howsomever the Lord had his way. The Freewillers were made fun of, when one was seen coming, the people would sing out, ‘Run, run, the Freewillers will take you and tear you all to pieces.’ I was working shaving out shingles, in camp, and was always a dreadful critter to fulfill my word. The man I was at work for wanted the shingles right away. The other boys had been invited to go to a certain place, but I felt as though I ought to make the shingles as I had promised. Mother says, ‘John, you are a dreadful afraid of your word and so you may go,’ As I was passing on to work a loud voice seemed to speak to me from Heaven, saying, ‘He that being often reproved and hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.’ I cried, ‘Lord, have mercy on me – I am de very one. Cause me to be convinced what my duty is, and I will do all I can.’ Still, I did not find peace, and while under great concern of mind, next day before I was converted, I had a dream. I dreamt I was riding along, expecting and fearing that the devil would take me and drag me down to hell. I looked up into the heavens and saw three suns, hanging in an angling position, the biggest one at the top. (This represented the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit) I thought the day of judgment had come sure, was in deep distress, and begun to cry and beg for mercy. Got into the edge of a wood and met a woman, whom I had seen when a boy. I pointed to the suns and asked her what this all meant. ‘Why,’ she said, ‘this is the day of judgment.’ I again cried for mercy, ‘O, Lord, have mercy on my soul!’ I turned a little in my course, and all at once saw three men, very tall, standing between me and the suns. They said it was the day of judgment, and that they were going to hell. They snapped a pistol at me, but it didn’t go off. I soon got on to a milk white steed and the men disappeared. I soon reached me own home, and saw by the door my mother and [blank] family [blank] and praising God. Then I awoke and found my pillow wet with tears. The very next night went to hear the Free Will Baptist preacher, Elder Ebenezer Hamblen, who is buried in the Insane Hospital Cemetery and who baptised me. They had got him down from Knox to preach, to make fun of. He came with some deacons and a number of young converts, meetings were held in the tavern. I had to walk two miles, and the minister was done with his sermon when I got there. As I sat down my dream came to me – the day of judgment, and I felt as though I ought to pray for mercy. Something said to me, ‘Perhaps if you get up and go to that dark corner and pray, God will have mercy.’ I did so, but was in much again distress as before. Then I thought if I go into the front room, where christians are, I would find peace, but as I stood on the threshold, it seemed as though the floor opened and let down into a pit. I fell and was caught in the arms of a lady. The hole in the floor shut up. I recovered strength and stood upon my feet. Converts were praying and shouting, Deacon Smith, the Baptist, was so mad that he told them if they wanted to make such a touse they had better go out of doors. I walked out into the kitchen, in the deepest distress, not caring whether I went to hell or not. Well, chil’ren, when I got to the outside door, I screamed from the bottom of my heart, ‘God have mercy on my soul!’ and I fell prostrate upon the stone door step. Then, as I was helped up, everything seemed changed. It looked like a summer’s day. It was a bright moonlit night, and it was past midnight. Earth and heaven appeared the same color as salmon scales, and everything was praising God. O, how weak did I feel, but I was as calm as any critter you ever see. Some one said, ‘John, the Lord’s had mercy on your soul!’ I saw a young man with whom I had been made before, and I just went and embraced him, oh, how I did hug him! When I went to him, I seemed so light, that I scarcely touched the earth. O, what a different feeling I had towards him. People said I had been frightened into religion, but bress de Lord, I wish everybody would be as scared as I was! Went home and they had a praying season. Mother says, ‘John, can’t you kneel down and thank God?’ I said, ‘O, mother, such as critter as I am, with no faith?’ When I sat down to breakfast the next morning, the words came to me, ‘Except ye eat my flesh,’ &c. and after that I felt happy – and was confident that God had mercy on my soul for Christ’s sake.”

Thus, between alternate tears and smiles, did the old patriarch related his ‘sperience. He married his first wife in Belmont [known as Green Plantation prior to incorporation in 1814]. The parson has had three wives, all of whom have “gone before”. He removed from Belmont to Sidney where he remained a few years, cultivating the soil and doing odd jobs, and came from thence to Augusta. This was 43 years ago, and he has resided ever since here. At one time, he says he got in to a state of back sliddeness because he didn’t join the church when he came here, although his hope was not at any time clean gone. He thought he wouldn’t go to meeting but keep up family prayers, then family prayers were dropped, and he prayed in secret, finally he laid down the duty of family prayer and that’s the way darkness temporarily shadowed his soul.

He first lived near the State House, but afterwards removed to North Street. There were only three or four stores in the place. The Congregationalists, Baptists, and Methodists had meeting houses. He helped raise the belfry of the old Baptist meeting house. Saw Sager hung, his whole family were there, and he had the baby in arms. He remembers distinctly Sager’s last words, ‘Gentleman, I am – but the fatal rope chocked the utterance of the last word – innocent.’ He was sexton of the Baptist Church the first year he came here, but when Elder Curtis came here to organize a Free Baptist Church, that being the people of his choice, he went with them. The Free Baptist Society then had meetings in the old Town House, and after Curtis left, Eason conducted the meetings, often taking texts and expounding in his original and quaint manner, the meaning of the Word, as it appeared to him. From this service he obtained the title of Parson, although the old gentleman in his great modesty, disclaims any such honor. He did not, however, become a member of the church until the coming of Mr. Cheney as its pastor. In the early struggles of the church, he often went into the woods, cut wood for fuel, to burn in the meeting house, and toted it home on his hand sled.

The venerable gentleman loves to call to mind the names of his co-laborers, and they are each and all sacredly embalmed in his memory. He recalls with great pleasure a big donation party given him some thirty years ago, when they had to prop up his house to keep it from falling, under the accumulated weight of friends and gifts. There was enough to fill two houses. All the rich people of all denominations came. There were several barrels of flour, groceries, provisions of every kind and clothing – indeed so much that he was obliged to give considerable away.

In season and out of season this venerable man has stood up for Jesus,- his pastor and the community always knowing just where to find him, and that he was always true to the right. In his enforced retirement though enduring pain, he can confidently sing –

I’ll stem the storm it won’t be long, I’ll anchor by and by.

Though for about four years deprived of the privilege of attending preaching services, the old man has been comforted by the frequent visits of praying friends, and on the very day of our visit he was looking forward with kindling ardor to a prayer meeting appointed to be held at the house that evening. He says his memory is ‘dreffvl scattering’ and his vision is somewhat obscured. He can see ‘men as trees walking’ some ten feet distant, but you must approach him within two feet before he can distinguish your features. On the occasion referred to, Rev. Mr. Penney approached him seeking recognition, when, as the features of the good minister dawned upon his slow vision, the old man cried aloud, the tears running down his wrinkled face, while he clasped the form of his dear pastor, exclaiming, “You blessed critter, how good you look to me!” Those who could look upon that scene with dry eyes have never learned the comfort of tears. Father Eason never could read, but his memory was so retentive that it appropriated everything he heard, and thus he is able to quote scripture freely. In regard to preachers, his criticism is, “Any man is a good preacher who has the Holy Spirit to aid him, that is enough.” Removed from the busy world, the example of Parson Eason is felt for good in this community, where his life has been spent for so many years, to him his humble cottage is a very bethel of prayer and a gate way to heaven, no angel of light around the throne ever had a heart more attuned to the worship of God than this dark skinned servant, who is waiting for the chariot and horsemen of Israel. How many rich men, rolling in luxury, unable to spend their income, would, if they could, exchange places with Father Eason. But his hope, his expectation, almost ripening into fruition, money cannot buy. ‘I soon shall reach that golden shore, Done with the sin and sorrow, And sing the song we sung before, Done with the sin and sorrow.’ ”

Daily Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Me.), 15 Nov. 1877, p. 3.

Next: Who was Parson John Eason?

Mattakeeset Indian Lucy Stewart (1763-1859) of Norwell, Mass.

 

Part One: The Funeral of Lucy Stewart

 

 

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Lucy Stewart died in 1859 in the Norwell, Mass. Almshouse, located at the corner of Main St. [Rt. 123] and Central St. Courtesy of Digital Commonwealth

In the fall of 1859, an unusual obituary was published across the country:

A DECIDED CHARACTER. Miss Lucy Stewart, of South Scituate [Norwell], Mass., recently died at the great age of 96 years. The following account is given of her strange personal history: Her father was a white man, a sea captain, and her mother a full-blooded Indian. She was brought up in [the Stockbridge family] one of the first families of the town of Scituate, and had, until within a year or two, lived in the family down to the fifth generation. Within that time she had been unable to support herself, and became an inmate of the almshouse.

She was a woman of good manners, and possessed a great deal of pride. She was much adverse to going to the almshouse, and until the day of her death was in the habit of dressing herself in a very gay style. She requested, just before her death, to be laid out in her bright pink dress, and to have on her lace turban, which was decked very gaily with feathers and showy ribbons, and her ‘kerchief round her neck. She also wished her coffin to be lined with flowers, and requested to be buried in the burial-ground with and near the family she had lived with most of her days. She wished to be carried to the methodist church, and have the Episcopal minister attend her funeral. She requested the minister to state – which he did – that she had never been out of the limits of the town and had never entered a church until she was carried in for burial. [“A Decided Character,” Salem Register (Salem, Mass.), 26 Sept. 1859, p. 3.]

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Norwell Almshouse, Courtesy of Digital Commonwealth

Hanover Episcopal minister Rev. Samuel Cutler performed Lucy Stewart’s funeral, and reported several additional details in his diary:

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L. Vernon Briggs, History and Records of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Boston, Mass.: 1904), 138, citing “Record of Burial Services Conducted by the Rev. Samuel Cutler, Rector of St. Andrew’s Protestant Episcopal Church, Hanover.”

According to Scituate Vital Records, Lucy Stewart died in South Scituate [Norwell] of old age on August 31, 1859, aged 96 years,  single, born in Scituate to unknown parents.

Part Two: Who Was Lucy Stewart?

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Image of Lucy Stewart, with her ribbons and bonnet, from North River Anecdotes.

Although Lucy was born free circa 1763 to a Mattakeeset Indian mother and white father during the era of Massachusetts slavery, she spent her life in service to the Stockbridge family of Norwell.

As an adult, her residences alternated between members of the Stockbridge family, as well as with the family of Jeremiah Gunderway (1787-1875), a mixed-race man of Mattakeeset Indian and African slave heritage. She apparently never married nor had children.

In the 1830 Census, Lucy Steward, a “colored female aged 55-99” lived alone in South Scituate. In the 1850 Census, taken 30 August 1850, Lucy Stewart, 86, lived in South Scituate (Norwell) with the family of Tilden Clapp (42, shoemaker), his wife Penelope (Nichols) Clapp (44), and their children Luther (23), George H. (21), Rhoda N. (18), Lucinda (16), Lucy A. (14), Caleb N. (12), Lydia (10), Susan F.  (7), and Joseph T.  (5), and the family of Benjamin Otis (44, ship carpenter) and his wife Betsey (32) and their son Henry T. (10). In the 1855 Census taken 1 June 1855, Lucy Steward, 94, resided in South Scituate with the family of Benjamin Totman (60, farmer) and his wife Eunice (59) and their children William W. (25), David O. (22), and Jesse L. (16). She became a resident of the South Scituate Almshouse ca. 1857 and lived there until her death in 1859.

Jeremiah “Jerry” Gunderway was a pilot along the North River, often shipping hay on his gundalow [a shallow boat]. [Briggs, History of Shipbuilding on North River, 1889, p. 59] “Jerry lived at one time in a little shanty at the mouth of the Second Herring Brook, by the Chittendon yard. It is a very beautiful spot with a splendid view up river. We are told by a very old lady that when she was a little girl an old woman said to be part Indian lived in this house and sold baskets through the village. Her name was Lucy Stewart. This house…has long since disappeared. The well near by is still used by the present owners of the property, Mr. and Mrs. William E. Mills.” [Merritt 1938; 161.]

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Jerry Gunderway in 1860s or 1870s [From Briggs, History of Shipbuilding on North River, 59.]

Researchers for the Norris Reservation in Norwell believes that the Gunderway/Stewart cabin may have been located “on the east side of Second Herring Brook or across the brook where the shipyard was located.” The Gunderway/Stewart cabin and its well may be one of the “unusual array of foundations and a well, located near the southern end of the River Loop Trail.”

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From North River Anecdotes

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River Loop Trail, Norris Reservation, Norwell, Mass., Courtesy of Norris Reservation Management Plan. Possible site of a shanty built by Jeremiah Gunderway and later lived in by Lucy Stewart sometime prior to 1859.

Part Three: Who Were Lucy Stewart’s Parents?

Lucy Stewart was the illegitimate daughter of a white captain from Norwell and a Mattakeeset Indian mother with the surname Stewart, and was raised in the Stockbridge family. Although her age is variably listed in records, a birthdate of ca. 1763 is listed most consistently.

The only known captain in the Stockbridge family at that time and place is a good fit for Lucy’s possible father – 15 year old Samuel Stockbridge of South Scituate (1748-1802). Stockbridge likely impregnated  a 15 year old daughter  [name unknown] of Amos Stewart and Mattakeeset Indian Hannah Moses of Marshfield and Scituate. This unknown Stewart daughter was probably born shortly after Amos and Hannah’s 1747 marriage. Amos Stewart’s race is uncertain but he may have had African heritage, since some of his other children were described as “mulatto”.

At the age of 18, Samuel Stockbridge married Sarah Litchfield in 1766 and they raised a family in South Scituate (Norwell). Samuel later became a captain in the American Revolution and was known as a sharpshooter. Perhaps Lucy’s mother died or was too impoverished to support Lucy, so Lucy was raised in the Stockbridge family – although possibly not directly in Samuel and Sarah (Litchfield) Stockbridge’s house. Perhaps instead she was raised by her possible paternal grandparents Samuel Stockbridge (1711-1784) and Sarah Tilden (1718-1786), who lived near Mount Blue in South Scituate, and following their deaths she lived with their descendants. No provisions for Lucy were made in the probates of either Samuel Stockbridge Sr. or Jr. [According to The Descendants of John Stockbridge, only Samuel Jr. (1748-1802) held the title of Captain in the family, although his father Samuel was mistakenly listed as Capt. in his death record: Register 135 (Jan. 1981), 42-43.]

Lucy Stewart was probably the great-granddaughter of Mattakeeset Indians Titus Moses  and Rebecca Opechus of Scituate who married in 1719. Titus Moses was an Indian servant of Samuel Stockbridge (1679-1758), the grandfather of Capt. Samuel Stockbridge (1748-1802). In 1724, Titus Moses was “slain in ye service of ye Province” in Dummer’s War against the Wabanaki Indian Confederacy and their French Canadian allies. Following Titus Moses’ death, Samuel Stockbridge of Scituate petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to receive Titus’ military wages. Thus the Stockbridge family benefited financially from Titus’ death, rather than his wages returning Titus’ widow and children. It is unclear if Titus’ children and grandchildren remained in service or enslaved by the Stockbridge family.

Lucy may have had maternal uncles and aunts living in  the Indian villages at Pembroke [Mattakeeset] and Bridgewater [Titicut], since Pembroke Indian Caesar Stewart and Bridgewater Indian-mulattoes Sage, Lattice, Margaret, and Sarah Stewart all appear in late 18th century records, all possibly the children of Amos Stewart and Hannah Moses.

Capt. Samuel Stockbridge was buried in Stockbridge Cemetery in Norwell in 1802, where his parents were buried. However, he does not have gravestone. His death was commemorated by his 15 year old daughter Penelope:

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15 year old Penelope Stockbridge’s silk memorial embroidery marking the death of her father, Capt. Samuel Stockbridge (1748-1802). Courtesy of Stephen & Carol Hubert

 

 

Lucy Stewart requested that she be buried in the same cemetery “with and near the family she had lived with most of her days.”

Though the details of her life are few and far between, a fascinating portrait emerges of Lucy Stewart: “a woman of good manners” who never attended church, prideful, a lover of fashion and flowers, with an ironic sense of humor. A lifelong servant to a family which shared her blood, but could not accept her as an heir. Employed and housed by the Stockbridge family at times, with periods of independent living through her friendships with Norwell’s mixed-race community, where she made a living making and selling traditional Mattakeeset Indian baskets. Sent against her wishes to the almshouse, when the Stockbridge family would no longer support her in her elderly years. A woman who planned her own funeral down to the very last details, to send her off in style in her bright pink dress and best accessories, surrounded by flowers, lamented by the community where she had spent her entire life, and buried alongside her family (whether publicly acknowledged or not).

 

 

Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Life and Death in Boston

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George McClellan packed his bags and left his wife and three children behind in Hanson, Massachusetts. He took the train to Boston, and disappeared. His family never knew what became of him.

But of course, his story continued.

He settled in Boston where had lived when he first emigrated from Nova Scotia, and he continued to work as a brick mason. In the 1900 Census, taken 13-14 June 1900, George R. McClelland (b. Jan 1846, Canada English, to father b. Canada English and mother b. Scotland, single, immigrated 1880, naturalized, brickmason, 3 months unemployed in the year) was enumerated at 6 Ringold St., Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, as a lodger in the household of the widow Matilda Painchand (b. Jan 1852, Canada).

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George was listed in the 1900 Boston City directory as George R. McClellan, bricklayer, rooms 11 Hanson. From 1904-1906, he was listed as George R. McClellan, mason, rooms 27 Upton. In a particularly poignant discovery, for the majority of his life in Boston, George was listed next to his son Sherman McClellan, who attended school and worked in Boston. Sherman never realized his father was living in the same city.

After living alone in Boston for a decade, he married for a second time in Roxbury Universalist Church, Roxbury, Suffolk, Massachusetts, 4 April 1908, by Rev. James Holden of 2 Crestwood Park, Roxbury, Lillian Seaver. The 59 year old George stated  in his marriage record that he was 50, residing at 263 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 2nd marriage, divorced, occupation: mason, born Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada, son of Dougal McClellan & Christy Rose. The 25 year old Lillian Seaver reported that she was 27 years old and resided at 11 Walnut Avenue, Boston. Their wedding took place a month after the death of Lillian’s mother Emma Seaver.

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1908 Marriage of George R. McClellan and Lillian Seaver

There was a 34 year difference in age between George R. McClellan and his wife Lillian Seaver. Lillian Seaver was born in Boston, 3 February 1883, the daughter of Silas Stone and Emma J. (Gee) Seaver. George and Lillian McClellan lived in the home of Lillian’s widowed father Silas Stone Seaver at 28 Cliff St. in Roxbury. Silas Stone Seaver was born in Boylston, Mass. in 1838, the illegitmate son of Silas Howe Seaver and Relief “Leafy” Whitcomb Stone. Silas was only ten years older than George R. McClellan (born in 1848) and he had served in the Civil War.

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28 Cliff St. in Roxbury, located by the intersection of Cliff St. and Glenwood St. 1915 Map pf Roxbury courtesy of the State Library of Massachusetts.

In the 1910 Census, George R. McClellan (61, 2nd marriage, married 2 years, b. Canada English to father b. Canada English and mother b. Scotland, immigrated 1869, naturalized, a bricklaying mason, rents house) was enumerated 18 April 1910, 28 Cliff St., Boston, with wife Lillian E. (27, 1st marriage, married 2 years, mother of 0 children, b. MA to parents b. MA) and father-in-law Silas E. Seaver (70, widow, b. MA to parents b. MA).

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1910 Census, Roxbury, Mass. George and Lillian McClellan and Silas Seaver.

George McClellan was listed in the 1910 and 1911 directories as  George R. McClellan, mason, h 28 Cliff Roxbury.  He was listed in the 1912 directory as George R. McClellan, 166 Devonshire room 50 [several contractors and construction companies were based at 166 Devonshire, in 1912 room 50 was the Massachusetts Societies of Masters and Craftsmen, Brick and Stonemason, Carpenters and Joiners, Painters and Decorators where George worked], house 28 Cliff Roxbury.

On 8 November 1911, Emma Fannie McClellan, the first and only child of George and Lillian McClellan, was born at their home at 28 Cliff St. in Roxbury. George was listed as a foreman in her birth certificate. She was born three years after her parents marriage.

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1911 Birth record of Emma Fannie McClellan

George Roderic McClellan died of haemoptysis (coughing blood) and chronic tuberculosis of the lungs in his home at 28 Cliff St., Roxbury, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, 15 December 1912 at the age of 64. He was buried in the Seaver family plot in Wildwood Cemetery, Winchester, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, 17 December 1912, by J.S. Waterman and Sons. His daughter Emma was only thirteen months old at the time of his death and his widow Lillian was 31 years old. George McClellan’s first wife Imogene and their children Lillian, Roderic and Sherman never knew about George’s death or the existence of his second wife Lillian and their half-sister Emma F. McClellan.

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Wildwood Cemetery’s burial card for “George R. MacLellan”, stating he was buried 17 December 1912 in Lot 78 [originally purchased by Silas Seaver]. Courtesy of CemeteryFind.com.

Lillian (Seaver) McClellan took in a boarder Frank M. Shea following George McClellan’s death. Lillian became pregnant with their first child, and they married on 26 August 1914. Frank was born circa 19 November 1890, son of John R. and Mary Shea. He was a tinsmith. Frank and Lillian’s daughter Mildred Gertrude was born six months after her parents wedding. Another daughter, Lillian Marguerite, was born in 1919.

In the 1920 Census, Lillian E. Shea (38, literate, b. Mass.) was enumerated in 21 Wakullah St., Roxbury with her husband Frank M. Shea (31, b. Mass., sheet metal worker for steam railroad, rents home) and children Emma F. Shea [sic, McClellan] (7, b. Mass., attending school), Mildred G. (4y 6m) and Lillian G. (3 months), and her father Silas S. Seaver (78, widow, b. Mass.). Lillian’s father Silas Seaver died in their home at 21 Wakullah St., Roxbury in 1923. In the 1930 Census, Lillian Shea (47, age 25 at first marriage, b. Mass.) was enumerated 10 April 1930 in 28 Moreland St., Boston with husband Frank M. Shea (39, age 23 at first marriage, b. Mass., newspaper checker, U.S. veteran), children Emma F. McLellan (18, razer factory (Gillette?) stringer), Lillian M. Shea (10), Mildred G. Shea (15), all living as boarders in the boarding house of Geraldine A. Leavitt.

Emma McClellan married Walter Nugent in Roxbury in 1933 and they had several children. Hopefully through this series the extended McClellan-Shea family might be able to offer any stories or photographs of George Roderic and Lillian (Seaver) McClellan that have passed down through their side of the family. Was he open about his past? Did they know about his family in Hanson?

In the 1940 Census Lillian Shea (58, completed 6th grade) was enumerated 15 April 1940 in 1271 Sea St., Quincy with husband Frank Shea (49, completed 8th grade, newspaper paper checker), daughter Lillian Harvey (20, completed 12th grade, retail department store salesgirl) and son-in-law Albert Harvey (completed 10th grade, paper mill stationary pressman). Lillian (Seaver) McClellan Shea died in her home at 1271 Sea St., Quincy,  on 2 January 1947. She was buried in the Seaver family plot in Wildwood Cemetery, 4 January 1947. Frank Shea died at the Cushing V.A. Hospital in Framingham on 30 April 1949. He was also buried in the Seaver family plot.

The Wildwood Cemetery burial records were recently digitized, which helped me locate the burial site of George R. McClellan.

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In December 2015, I visited the grave of George Roderic McClellan with my father at Wildwood Cemetery in Winchester, Massachusetts. George likely never even visited Winchester, but his mortal remains were placed there as a legacy from the deaths of the children of Silas and Emma Seaver when they had lived in Winchester in the 1870s and purchased a family plot. George McClellan’s name is not inscribed on the stone, only the names of Lillian Seaver’s mother Emma Seaver and Lillian Seaver’s siblings who all died young: Arthur (1874-1875), Henry (1875-1880), Herbert (1878-1880) and George (1881-1898). But within the Seaver plot lie buried Silas and Emma Seaver and their children, and Lillian Seaver’s husbands George Roderic McClellan and Frank Shea, despite the fact that names of Silas Seaver, Lillian Shea, George McClellan and Frank Shea are not carved on the gravestone over the plot.

It was a powerful moment to stand at George’s gravesite on that cold New England day. My father, the great-great grandson of George McClellan and great-grandson of George and Imogene’s oldest surviving son Roderic Cameron McClellan, had grown up in the house that Imogene (Everson) McClellan had built after George McClellan left the family. It still stands in the shadow of the brick smokestack that mason George McClellan had built with Barnabas Everson in the 1870s. George’s disappearance had remained a family mystery for over a century. But we found him in a chilly cemetery and while there we contemplated the newly discovered details of his complicated, adventurous life.

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The Seaver gravestone at Wildwood Cemetery, Winchester, Mass. Photo courtesy of the author.

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The backside of the Seaver grave. The following names are missing from the stone: Silas Stone Seaver, George Roderic McClellan, Lillian Emma (Seaver) McClellan Shea, Frank M. Shea.  Photo courtesy of the author.

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The author and her father at George McClellan’s grave. Photo courtesy of the author.

Up Next: Imogene’s Life After George’s Disappearance And His Legacy

Previously: Part One: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan

Previously: Part Two: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: His Roots

Previously: Part Three: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: Success In Denver Turns To Smoke

Previously: Part Four: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan:Becoming Officer McClellan, the Farcical Moon Affair, and a Bribery Scandal in Denver

Previously: Part Five: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Anti-Chinese Riot and Officer McClellan’s Prostitution Scandal and Resignation from the Denver Police

Previously: Part Six: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: George and Imogene’s Life in Hanson

Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: George and Imogene’s Life in Hanson

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In the spring of 1881, George McClellan reported that he had found a new job in Denver that was more suitable than his work as a police officer. Whatever his new position was, however, he did not remain in it for long, as he had returned home to his family in Hanson, Massachusetts by the winter of 1881. Upon reuniting with his wife Imogene, they conceived their son Roderic Cameron McClellan in December 1881.

 On 1 June 1882, George R. McClellan was naturalized at the United States Circuit Court, Boston, Massachusetts. The witnesses to his naturalization were Friend White Howland of Plymouth and Hubert A. Reed of Hanson, who testified that they had known him for five years, and during that time he resided at Hanson, Massachusetts and Denver, Colorado. George McClellan returned to work as a brick mason in Hanson.

 

Roderic Cameron McClellan, George and Imogene’s third child and second son, was born 22 September 1882. “Roddy” was named in honor of George’s middle name and George’s mother’s surname.

Birth certificate of Roderic Cameron McClellan

Birth certificate of Roderic Cameron McClellan

Sherman Barnabas McClellan, their fourth child and third son, was conceived in July 1885 and born 10 April 1886. He was named Sherman Barnabas McClellan, in honor of George’s sister Annie (McClellan) Sherman as well as Imogene’s father Barnabas Everson.

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Birth certificate of Sherman Barnabas McClellan

 

George and Imogene continued to live in Deborah (Bates) Everson’s house on Indian Head St. in Hanson. However, by August 1886, with three young children (Lillian aged 10, Roderic aged 3 and Sherman under a year) it was time to build a house of their own. On 26 August 1886, 34 year old Imogene L. McClellan received a $300 mortgage and purchased from her father and mother 5.5 acres of land in South Hanson on the north side of Main Street that Barnabas had purchased from Edwin Beal. George McClellan was not a co-signer of this deed, which was in Imogene’s name only, likely another sign of the tensions between George McClellan and his father-in-law Barnabas Everson. George McClellan may have requested that Imogene cancel the mortgage on this property, since the following year George and Imogene bought nine acres from George C. Hobart on the north side of Main Street that bordered Barnabas Everson’s property, and the McClellan house was built on this property instead.  On 15 June 1887, Imogene L. McClellan of Hanson, Mass. received fire insurance from the Abington Mutual Fire Insurance Company for $15 on a $1200 policy. $1000 was for a “one and a half story frame dwelling house in process of construction, to be occupied by such as assured, when completed”, and $200 on “household furniture of every description, beds, bedding, family wearing apparel, books, pictures, painting, silver and plated ware, watches and jewelry in use, clocks, fuel, and family stores all while contained in said dwelling, situate north side of Main Street, South Hanson, Mass.” Permission for mechanic’s risk until September 15, 1887. For term 15 June 1887-15 June 1892.  History of Hanson Houses reported: “This house was built for Mrs. Imogene McClellan by Benjamin W. Josselyn in 1887 and was occupied by members of the McClellan family until 1903 when she had a new cottage built on Phillips Street.”

Two years later, in 1889, George and Imogene McClellan of Hanson sold their house lot to Barnabas Everson for $250, since they could not afford the mortgage owed to Hobart on the property. George McClellan’s attempts to avoid paying a mortgage to his father-in-law in 1886 resulting in his father-in-law outright purchasing their house in 1889 and again allowing the McClellan family to live in an Everson-owned house rent-free.

Imogene’s mother, Deborah (Bates) Everson died 16 April 1892. Imogene was extremely close with her mother and was devastated by her loss. Deborah had been essential support to Imogene while Imogene had run the McClellan household during George’s absence in Denver, and had instilled in Imogene a love of quilting, genealogy, gardening and spirituality.

On 23 August 1892, George R. McClellan loaned $10 to the Wampatuck Library Association in Hanson.

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An aging Barnabas Everson made gifts of land to Imogene and George’s children. In 1890, he gave a birthday gift to 14 year old Lillian McClellan – 2.5 acres in Hanson’s Great Cedar Swamp. In 1893, he gave a birthday gift to 11 year old Roderic McClellan – 2.25 acres in Hanson’s “Long Swamp”.  The same year, he gave as a birthday gift to 7 year old Sherman McClellan a 2 acre lot on Green Harbor Marsh in Marshfield. None of Richard Everson’s sons nor youngest daughter received gifts of land, although daughter 17 year old Mary Ella Everson received a 3.75 cedar swamp in 1890. Barnabas may have first gifted the properties to his eldest granddaughters, thinking they could most benefit from owning property, but later determined that all of the children of George McClellan should have land as a surety against their parents finances.

Barnabas Everson died in Hanson on 22 February 1896. His entire estate was divided between his two children Richard Everson and Imogene (Everson) McClellan.

 

According to family stories, George R. McClellan abandoned his family in Hanson sometime in the 1890s. You may recall that the story passed down was that sometime in the 1890s, George McClellan boarded a train at the South Hanson station (close to their house on Main Street) and said he was taking the train to Boston to purchase a rug for their house, but he never returned. He was not living with the family in the 1900 Census. Supposedly a private investigator hired by Imogene reported that he may have returned to Denver for a period of time, but so far no documentation has been identified connecting George McClellan in Denver in the 1890s. By 1900 he was living in Boston, and it appears that Imogene and her children never learned of his whereabouts after he left them. Certainly his sons were unaware that when they attended school or worked in Boston, they were being alphabetically enumerated next to their father in the early 1900 Boston directories.

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The McClellan family without George McClellan. Back row, standing: Lillian and Roderic McClellan. Front row, sitting: Sherman McClellan, Imogene McClellan, and possible Everson cousin

 

 

But did George McClellan truly abandon his family?

 

After digging into the numerous pages of probate records and deeds generated by the death of the wealthy Barnabas Everson, a curious phenomenon began to appear. Time and again, when Imogene’s signature was required on legal documents, her husband George McClellan’s signature was also required. She signed all of her records. But George’s signature is missing from these documents. In numerous records from 1897, Hanson justices of the peace John Foster and Walter E. Damon went to far as to testify that they had witnessed the signing by all signatories, with George McClellan’s signature nevertheless remaining blank. Standard legal language from these records include lines such as:“George R. McClellan husband of Imogene L. McClellan joins herein in token of his assent hereto and his release of all right to an estate by the curtesy in the premises” and “George R. McClellan, the husband of the said Imogene L. McClellan do hereby release unto the grantee all right to an estate by the curtesy and to any other estate or interest in the granted premises”. But his signature is missing from all of these deeds.

If George McClellan was missing at the time of Barnabas Everson’s death, with so much money at stake and so much paper generated by Everson’s estate, there was a legal obligation to locate and notify George McClellan, and publically print legal notices in area newspapers. Yet there was no public search for McClellan. And at least two Hanson justices of the peace – both friends of the Everson family – helped Imogene to hide her husband’s absence in legal documents. But perhaps we have a piece of the story wrong. It was, of course, told by Imogene McClellan herself – first to her children, and in years later to her grandchildren. I wonder if it was Imogene herself who kicked George McClellan out of the house, rather than George abandoning them. She grieved the loss of both her parents in the 1890s, who had supported Imogene and her children both when George was thousands of miles away, as well as when he was close at home but struggling financially. With her father’s death, Imogene suddenly found herself an heiress to half of his estate. And with financial independence perhaps came the courage to end a long-suffering marriage. While George had attempted to strike it rich twice in Denver, and another time in California, Imogene had discovered that she had the means and temperament to run her household and family independently, as well as contributing to her parents household and businesses. And when George was home, he was in constant tension with her parents and Imogene herself. Although his intentions were likely good, his attempts to bring his family wealth through schemes and dreams only brought them financial struggle. Time and again George and Imogene McClellan were forced to borrow money and property from Barnabas and Deborah Everson. And the unwillingness of George McClellan or Barnabas Everson – or both – to have George become a major player in the Everson businesses left George unsatisfied.

 

In the 1900 Census, Imogene L. McClellan (b. Jan 1852, married for 27 years, mother of 4 children, 3 living in 1900, shoe folder, unemployed for 6 months out of the year, rents house) was enumerated 19 June 1900 in 84 Harvard St, Whitman, resided with sons Roderick C. (b. Sep 1882, at school for 10 months out of the year) and Sherman B. (b. April 1886, at school for 10 months out of the year), and daughter Lillian was living with a Christian Science family in Chicago. Richard and Imogene decided to develop part of Barnabas Everson’s property into a new road with houselots, known today as Phillips Street. Imogene built a new house in 1903 for her family on Phillips Street that has been owned by her descendants ever since. In 1903, Imogene wrote a letter to her daughter Lillian that she was hoping her divorce would go through at the next court term. It is unclear if the divorce was ever officially filed, as there was no divorce record on file in Plymouth County divorce records at the Massachusetts Archives. However, she was listed as single woman in 1904 deed.

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1900 Census, Whitman, Mass. Imogene McClellan and her sons Roderic and Sherman.

Imogene may have been the driving force behind George McClellan’s disappearance, but by all accounts he did truly disappear following his departure from the McClellan house in Hanson. His wife and children never knew what happened to him, and they reportedly thought he may have moved far away, given his inclination to travel and a rumor he may have returned to Denver.

But his great-great-great-daughter became a historian, and I have been following his trail for over a decade. A century after his disappearance from the family, I finally found him.

He may have lied about going to Boston to buy a rug. But he did take the train to Boston and there he settled anew. And had another family.

 

Up Next: George’s Life and Death in Boston

 

Previously: Part One: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan

Previously: Part Two: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: His Roots

Previously: Part Three: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: Success In Denver Turns To Smoke

Previously: Part Four: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan:Becoming Officer McClellan, the Farcical Moon Affair, and a Bribery Scandal in Denver

Previously: Part Five: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Anti-Chinese Riot and Officer McClellan’s Prostitution Scandal and Resignation from the Denver Police