“Nobly Braving the Wild, Maddened Sea in Obedience to a Sacred Sympathy for the Helpless Stranger”: 1867 Shipwreck by Manomet, Plymouth, Mass.

In Massachusetts, the nor’easter season typically ends in March. But occasionally a rare late nor’easter occurs in April, bringing heavy rain, hurricane-force winds, and rough seas. On Wednesday, April 17, 1867, an “unparalleled April gale” occurred along the Atlantic ocean off Massachusetts. Four Manomet men died while attempting to rescue the crew of the schooner Charles H. Moller, which became stuck “outside the breakers” south of Manomet Point near Stage Point and Manomet Bluffs, and had been partially wrecked by the storm.

Caught unawares by the storm, the Charles H. Moller came ashore mid-afternoon near Manomet Point, but due to the fact that the ship was “heavily ladened”, it “struck some distance from shore outside the breakers”. Unable to move, the storm continued to pummel the schooner, and its stern and upper works began to break up, which Manomet residents witnessed happening from the shore. Manomet residents feared for the safety of the schooner’s crew.

Just three months earlier, Manomet residents had rescued a crew from the shipwrecked barque Velma, under Capt. Nickerson, 340 tons burden, owned by Baker & Morrill of Boston, which had been driven ashore on the rocks off Manomet Point during a blizzard on Thursday, January 17, 1867. The snow storm was reported as “the most severe one known here for many years.” Velma’s crew “took refuge in the mizzen rigging, where they remained for ten hours, the sea making a breach over the hull.” Due to freezing and dangerous conditions, Velma’s steward and one of its sailors died after falling off Velma’s rigging into the sea and drowning. The Velma had been traveling from Smyrna in the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) to Boston with mercantile goods valued at $60,000 in gold, including figs and wool. After ten hours had passed, several volunteers from Manomet risked their lives and rowed a lifeboat out to the Velma and successfully saved the remaining crew members. All of the crew were frostbitten, and at the time of rescue it was deemed likely that one sailor would lose both feet, and another sailor would lose both hands.

On April 17, 1867, eight Manomet men grabbed the lifeboat which had been used to rescue to Velma crew three months earlier. The rescue was led by 58 year old mariner and farmer James B. Lynch, and seven younger men, including his son, 31 year old mariner James B. Lynch Jr., 20 year old mariner Amasa Bartlett Jr., 24 year old farmer Cromwell F. Holmes, 24 year old farmer Otis Carver, 25 year old mariner John Burt Briggs, 27 year old mariner William Jordan, and 21 year old Nova Scotian laborer Donald McDonald Nickerson.

1857 Plymouth Map - Marked

At the time of the Charles H. Moller shipwreck in April 1867, James Lynch Sr. and James B. Lynch Jr. lived on the west side of present-day State Rd.,  Amasa Bartlett Jr. lived in his father Amasa Bartlett Sr.’s house on the west side of present-day State Rd., Cromwell F. Holmes lived in his father Cromwell W. Holmes’ house on the east side of present-day Manomet Point Road, Otis Carver lived in the home of his father C. Carver on the east side of present-day Beaver Dam Rd., John B. Briggs lived in his father S. Briggs’ house on the west side of present-day State Road, William Jordan lived in his father John Jordan’s house by Indian Brook off present-day State Road. The residence of Donald Nickerson, a transient laborer in Manomet, has not been identified. Allen Mellancourt was working on the Capt. Joseph Simes farm (marked on this map as C. Johnson). [1857 Map of Plymouth, Mass.]

Lynch and his men “succeeded in getting through the surf safely, and rowed down outside the vessel a mile or more below. Rounding to, they stood in abreast of the vessel and got a line. Being pulled directly to the vessel broadside to the sea by those on board, instead of forging ahead and backing down straight into the wind as they intended, a heavy sea overturned the boat, and all except Briggs were thrown into the water. Nickerson, Carver, and Jordan regained the boat, now righted with Briggs still in, and drifted safely ashore.”

However, James Lynch Sr., James B. Lynch Jr., Amasa Bartlett Jr., and Cromwell F. Holmes could not make it back to the lifeboat as the turbulent sea crashed over them. All four men drowned, “perish[ing] in sight of their parents and houses, and near the vessel whose helpless crew they had so nobly resolved to rescue at the hazard of their own lives.”

With half of the rescue crew dead, the other half helplessly drifting back to shore,  and nightfall quickly arriving, no additional rescue efforts were made on Wednesday, April 17, 1867. The Moller crew spent the stormy night in darkness, trying their best to keep water out of the schooner.

Early the following morning, 32 year old Allen Mellancourt/Mellancoat/Mellencote was anxious to attempt another rescue effort for the crew of the Charles H. Moller, who remained stuck offshore but alive. The weather was still stormy, with intense waves. Allen had been enslaved in Virginia three years previously, and had made his way north to Plymouth at the end of the Civil War. He was a newlywed, and his wife Jennie Cole was nine months pregnant. They had been married two months earlier in the Manomet Church by Rev. George F. Pool in February 1867. Jennie had been enslaved in Baltimore, Maryland, and several of her relatives had escaped slavery prior to the end of the Civil War through the Underground Railroad and made their way to the abolitionist town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Allen worked as a farm laborer on the recently-constructed homestead farm of Capt. Joseph Simes, and had witnessed the previous day’s rescue efforts from the Simes’ farm.

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Capt. Joseph Simes homestead (present-day 29 Manomet Point Road) in Manomet, ca. 1870. Courtesy of the Simes House Foundation.

Allen tried to gather another rescue party from neighboring properties, but no one agreed to go out with him. His neighbors had joined an effort on the beach to search for the four bodies from the previous day’s rescue attempt, who were all still missing. Many were also reluctant to make a second attempt while the storm still swelled the sea, especially considering the previous day’s great cost of life.

Unable to secure backup, and worried the men aboard the wrecked schooner might soon drown, Allen took a fishing dory and rowed out to the schooner alone, risking his life and the possibility of leaving his new wife a widow and his unborn child fatherless. Allen navigated the choppy water, and as he approached the Charles H. Moller, heavy waves hit his dory and he lost one of his oars while trying to prevent his boat from overturning. Witnesses from shore reported that Allen remained calm at this dangerous situation, and was not “daunt[ed] by his perilous position”. With his one remaining oar he steered his skiff back to shore. The Moller crew felt helpless as their second rescue attempt failed. By the time Allen landed back on shore, three of the four bodies had been recovered. Cromwell F. Holmes, Amasa Bartlett Jr., and James B. Lynch Jr. were carried up and prepared for burial the the Manomet Church, while the body of rescue crew leader James Lynch Sr. remained missing in the Plymouth waters. Those who had been searching the shoreline for their bodies reported that “pieces of the stern and bulwarks scattered on the beach indicate” that Moller was “an old and weak craft ill-calculated to stand the strain of such a position long,” and thus the crew was in imminent danger of Moller completely sinking.

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Allen Mellancourt’s fishing dory was small enough for him to row alone, had room to fit several crew-members in the rescue attempt, and was likely an easily beach-launched model like the Swampscott Dory. The Swampscott dory shown here was created by Old Wharf Dory in Wellfleet, Mass.

Allen Mellancourt then led a third rescue attempt, this time with the lifeboat that had overturned the previous day. For this attempt Allen was able to recruit a small party of Manomet volunteers who had been impressed by his brave, but unsuccessful, solo rescue mission. Allen risked his life a second time as he led the lifeboat to the Charles H. Moller.  Allen and his men successfully reached the wrecked schooner, and together they “brought the crew safely to land” with no further casualties.

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The Plymouth town clerk recorded the deaths of Cromwell F. Holmes, James Lynch Sr., James B. Lynch Jr., and Amasa Bartlett Jr., who all “drowned by the upsetting of a boat” on 17 April 1867.

All four men from the first rescue attempt were buried in Manomet Cemetery with each of their gravestones noting their dramatic and heroic cause of death. It is unclear if James B. Lynch Sr.’s body was ever recovered. James Lynch Sr. left a widow, Sarah Annie (Woodbury) Lynch (1815-1901), and six children, their ages ranging from 29 years old to 8 years old: 29 year old Rebecca W. (Lynch) Ayers (1837-1915), 24 year old Charles Greenleaf Lynch (1842-1891), 21 year old Emeline L. Lynch (b. 1845), 19 year old Mary Elizabeth Lynch (1847-1900), Martha H. Lynch who had just celebrated her 18th birthday the previous week (b. 1849), and 8 year old Samuel Bartlett Lynch (1858-1899).

James B. Lynch Jr. left a 33 year old widow, Sylvia Ann (Bartlett) Lynch (1833-1904). They had married 31 December 1865, and had celebrated their first wedding anniversary only several months previously. Sylvia remarried Thomas B. Vinton in 1873.

James Lynch Sr. and his son James B. Lynch were memorialized on the same gravestone. Their epitaph stated that they “Drowned in Plymouth Bay April 17, 1867.”

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James Lynch Sr. FindAGrave and James B. Lynch Jr. FindAGrave. Photograph courtesy of FindAGrave user Caryn.

The epitaph of Cromwell F. Holmes stated that he “Drowned while endeavoring to save the Crew of the Sch’r CHARLES MOLLER, April 17, 1867. Loved son and brother, may we all meet thee in Heaven.”

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Cromwell F. Holmes FindAGrave. Photograph courtesy of FindAGrave user Sandra Lennox.

The epitaph of Amasa Bartlett Jr. stated that he “DROWNED while endeavoring to save the crew of the Sch’r CHARLES MOLLER, April 17, 1867. DEATH IS CERTAIN, THE HOUR IS UNSEEN.”

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Amasa Bartlett Jr. FindAGrave. Photograph courtesy of FindAGrave member Sandra Lennox.

 

The tragedy made national news. “This most melancholy tragedy has stricken with deepest grief the families and a large circle of neighbors and friends of those brave martyrs to a sacred philanthropy. Possibly for one’s own flesh and blood a man will lay down his life; but he who nobly braves the wild maddened sea in obedience to a sacred sympathy for the helpless stranger, daring and losing all, bears a soul indeed heroic and worthy of highest honor. Lives so offered up are holiest teachings. Such exemplars challenge sacred emulation and elevate a generation in true nobility.”

Allen Mellancourt attended the funerals of the four Manomet men at Manomet Church, mourning their loss. He was thankful that his life had been spared and that he had been able to rescue the crew of the Charles H. Moller almost 24 hours after it had first wrecked off Plymouth. Life soon followed death when Jennie (Cole) Mellancourt gave birth to their firstborn child Daniel W. A. Mellancourt on 29 April 1867, two weeks after the shipwreck. Together Allen and Jennie had seven children until Allen died of consumption a decade later.

The Charles H. Moller disaster led the the construction in 1874 of a Coast Guard station at Manomet Point, which went on to save numerous lives until it was dismantled in 1955.

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Coast Guard Station Manomet Point ca. 1909 (built in 1901, replacing the 1874 station). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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1937 Map of Manomet, Plymouth, Mass. Courtesy of UNH.

 

Citations: “Marine Disasters,” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Penn.) 21 Jan. 1867, p. 1; “The Storm in New England,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Ill.) 24 Jan. 1867, p. 2; “Sad Catastophe,” Old Colony Memorial Newspaper (Plymouth, Mass.) 19 April 1867, p. 1; Plymouth Rock (Plymouth, Mass.) April 1867: “The Plymouth Rock gives the following particulars of the loss of six young men while attempting to rescue the lives of others placed in peril by the gale on Wednesday last”; “Marine Disasters and Loss of Life at Plymouth, Mass.,” The New York Times (New York, N.Y.) 22 April 1867, p. 1; Plymouth Census and town records.

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The Thomas Family: A 19th Century Multiracial Family of Middleborough and Carver, Mass.

On a cold December day in 1854, Baptist minister Josephus W. Horton performed the wedding of 19 year old Mary E. M. Pierce and 38 year old widow John Atwood Thomas. The couple’s nineteen-year age difference was not unusual for the era. What was unusual was the legality of their marriage itself. Only a decade previously, their marriage would have been illegal in Massachusetts. But in 1843, the state repealed a law from 1705 which banned interracial marriage. John A. Thomas was white. Mary E. M. Pierce was multiracial: black, white, and Native American. After a century of Massachusetts’ anti-miscegenation law, John and Mary Thomas became the first interracial couple to be married in Middleborough (although there had been numerous Wampanoag-African American marriages in town during the 18th-19th centuries).

Mary Elizabeth Macy Pierce was born in Swansea, Bristol County, Massachusetts, 28 March 1835, the daughter of Angier Pierce, a white man, and Susan Boston, whose mother Diadema Simons was Wampanoag and whose father Cato Boston was a former slave. Cato Boston and Diadema Simons lived in Dighton, Massachusetts when they published marriage intentions on 27 April 1804. The widowed Diadema (Simons) Boston was a head of household in the 1830 Census in Swansea, Bristol, Massachusetts. Mary E. M. Pierce was probably born in her grandmother Diadema’s house.

At the time of their relationship, marriage between Angier Pierce and Susan Boston was illegal. Still, the couple had two illegitimate children together. Mary E. M. Pierce was the oldest, born in 1835. Their youngest child John Angier Pierce was born in 1841. Both Mary and John had the distinction of receiving their father’s surname “Pierce” rather than their mother’s surname “Boston”, which was likely an intentional choice made by Susan Boston to grant her children legitimacy in name, if not in legality. Despite the fact that two years following John A. Pierce’s birth, the Massachusetts court allowed interracial marriage, Angier Pierce and Susan Boston never married. In 1850, Susan Boston married Wampanoag Indian Frank Francis, and Mary E. M. Pierce moved into her step-father’s home in Rochester, Massachusetts with her mother at that time.

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1850 Census. Rochester, Mass. Frank Francis, Susan Boston, and Mary E. Pierce.

Shortly thereafter the Francis family rented a house on Miller St. in Middleborough, where Frank Francis died in 1852, and Susan (Boston) (Pierce) Francis died in 1862.

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1855 Middleborough Census. Widowed Susan Boston and her son John Pierce.

19 year old Mary E. M. Pierce met the widowed John Atwood Thomas when he was working as a laborer in Middleborough. John Atwood Thomas was born in Carver, 8 May 1816, the son of Eli Thomas and Lydia Shaw. He was a descendant of Great Migration immigrant William Shurtleff, who was infamously killed by lightning in Plymouth Colony in the 17th century. John A. Thomas first married Mary Ann Tracy in 1849. Together they had two children:

  1. Eli John Thomas (1850-1932).
  2. James Willard Thomas (1852-1926).

Mary Ann (Tracy) Thomas died at the age of 23 in Middleborough on 26 September 1852, shortly after giving birth to James. When Mary E. M. Pierce married John A. Thomas two years later, she became step-mother to four-year old Eli and two year old James.

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1855 Census. Middleborough, Mass. John and Mary E. (Pierce) Thomas, Eli J. and James W. Thomas.

Soon after their marriage, Mary (Pierce) Thomas became pregnant with their first child, George Washington Smith Thomas, who was born on 6 December 1855 – exactly one year after their wedding.

For 23 years, between 1855 and 1878, John and Mary (Pierce) Thomas had ten children together:

  1. George Washington Smith Thomas, b. Middleborough 6 Dec. 1855, d. Carver 20 May 1901, m. (1) 1877 Louisa Jane Cornell (d. 1887), m. (2) 1899 Abbie Shaw Cole (d. 1950).
  2. Sarah Jennett Thomas, b. Middleborough 3 March 1858, d. Carver 2 July 1884, m. 1879 Lyman F. Dean (1852-1942).
  3. Diadema Patience Thomas, b. Middleborough 3 Sept. 1860, d. Carver 22 Nov. 1875.
  4. Darius Gardner Thomas, b. Middleborough 29 Jan. 1863, d. 7 August 1929, m. Emeline Beatrice Haven (1869-1950).
  5. Abraham Lincoln Thomas, b. Middleborough 27 March 1865, d. Middleborough 22 June 1949, m. 1 January 1891 Joanna Barry.
  6. Frank Thomas, b. Middleborough 26 Sept. 1867, d. Middleborough 20 August 1960, m. 1884 Mildred Myrtella Appling (1865-1905).
  7. Mary Elizabeth Thomas, b. Middleborough 10 Dec. 1869, d. 31 January 1953, m.  4 November 1899 Edward Warren Lowe (1866-1900).
  8. Susan “Susie” Frances Thomas, b. Carver 7 April 1872, d. 1941.
  9. Silas Thomas, b. Carver 8 April 1875, d. Middleborough 8 April 1936, m. 1911 Emma Carroll Smith (1866-1940).
  10. Amy Thomas, b. Carver 27 March 1878, d. 13 February 1965, m. 1889 James Joseph Vigers (1873-1958).

In the 1860 Census, there were 835 households in Middleborough, the majority of whom were white. There were only three multiracial families in town – the household of John and Mary Thomas, the household of Mary’s mother Susan Boston, and the household of William and Kate Ives. William Ives, a black man from Connecticut, and his wife Kate Mahoney from Ireland, had married in 1857. Additionally there were seven white Middleborough households who had black domestic servants living in their homes.

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1860 Census, Middleborough, Mass. John A. and Mary E. M. (Pierce) Thomas, and children Eli J., James W., George W.S., and Jane S. Thomas.

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1865 Census, Middleborough, Mass. John A. and Mary E. M. (Pierce) Thomas and children Eli J., James W., George W., Sarah J., Diadema P., Darius G., and Abraham L. Thomas.

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1870 Census, Middleborough, Mass. John A. and Mary E. (Pierce) Thomas and children Eli J., James, George W. S., Sarah J., Diadema P., Darius G., Abraham L., Frank S., Mary E. Thomas.

John and Mary Thomas resided in Middleborough until 1871, when the family moved to Carver, Massachusetts. Carver was a much smaller town than Middleborough. When the Thomas family moved to Carver in 1871, there were 238 households, only one whom was a family of color: 71 year old widow Hannah (Hector) Casey, who headed a household with several of her adult children and several former Southern slaves who had recently made their way North after the Civil War. Hannah Hector was the daughter of Lurana Sepit, a Wampanoag Indian, and Thomas Hector, a former slave from Bristol County, Massachusetts. In 1823, Hannah Hector married Augustus Michael Casey, a fugitive slave from the South, and they raised nine children in Carver on the ancestral Sepit homestead known as the “Indian Land” on the south shore of Sampson’s Pond. During the 1870s, the Casey family dispersed to nearby towns, leaving the Thomas children as the only children of color in the town of Carver. By the 1880 Census, the Thomas family was the only non-white family living in Carver. All of the Thomas children went on to marry white spouses.

In the 1879 map of Carver, the family of “J.Thomas” resided on the corner of Beaver Dam St., West St., and Holmes St.

1879 Carver John Thomas

1879 Map of Carver, Massachusetts. John Atwood Thomas household marked as “J. Thomas” at the intersection of Beaver Dam St., Holmes St., and West St., just south of Beaver Dam Brook.

In 1880 Census, their newlywed son George W. S. Thomas took possession of the house on the corner of Beaver Dam St., West St., and Holmes St., and John Atwood Thomas was enumerated there. Separately, Mary E. M. (Pierce) Thomas was enumerated as the head of household in a home near Wenham Pond with their five youngest children, and married daughter Sarah. It is unclear if John A. and Mary Thomas had separated after the 1878 birth of their youngest child, or if John A. Thomas was simply spending time in his son’s house. John A. Thomas was listed as “married” when he died in 1895.

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1880 Census, Carver, Mass. John A. Thomas living with son George W. Thomas, daughter-in-law Louisa J. Thomas, and grandchildren Abby E. and Luther E. Thomas.

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1880 Census, Carver, Mass. Mary E. (Pierce) Thomas and children Frank, Mary E., Susan F., Silas, and Amy Thomas, son-in-law Lyman F. Dean and daughter Sarah J. Dean.

Additionally, Mary E. M. (Pierce) Thomas and her children were listed as paupers who were supported by the Carver Almshouse in the 1880 Census. John A. Thomas was absent from this list. Perhaps this was because he was separated from Mary, and therefore refused to be financially responsible for his family. Or perhaps it was racially motivated, and the Carver overseers of the poor thought that John A. Thomas, as a white man, was  less of a possible financial burden than his wife and children.

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Following John A. Thomas’ death in 1895, the widowed Mary (Pierce) Thomas purchased a house located on the corner of Purchase St. and Rocky Meadow St. in the Thomastown neighborhood of Middleborough.

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1903 Map of Middleborough, Mass. Purchase St. Households of “Mrs. M[ary] Thomas”, son-in-law “J[ames] J[oseph] Vigers”, and son “A[braham] L[incoln] Thomas” underlined in red. Map courtesy of Historic Map Works.

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1900 Census, Middleborough, Mass. Mary E. (Pierce) Thomas residing on Rocky Meadow St. with son-in-law James J. Vigers, daughter Amy Vigers, and grandson James Vigers.

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1910 Census, Middleborough, Mass. Mary E. (Pierce) Thomas, daughter Susan F. Thomas, daughter Elizabeth Lowe, and grandson Edward W. Lowe.

Mary (Pierce) Thomas was described as a person of color throughout her entire life. She was described as “black” in the 1850, 1855, 1865, 1870, 1900, 1910 Censuses, “Indian” in the 1860 Census, and as “mulatto” in the 1880 Census. But a different pattern of racial-identity emerged in her children. The Thomas children were described as “mulatto” in their youth – the 1865, 1870, and 1880 Censuses. Once they left Mary’s home, married white spouses, and began families of their own in Carver and Middleborough, however, town records more consistently listed the Thomas children as white. Since Mary Pierce’s father Angier Pierce was white, and John Atwood Thomas was white, John and Mary (Pierce) Thomas’ children were three-quarters white, one-eighth Wampanoag, and one-eighth black. By the 20th century, the Thomas children were regularly identified as white. The exception to this rule appeared to be when one or more of the adult Thomas children lived for periods of time in their mother Mary’s household, in which case they were again identified as “black” or “mulatto.”

Mary E. M Pierce’s younger brother, John Angier Pierce, eventually moved to the town of Norwell (then known as South Scituate) and became intimately connected with Norwell’s larger black community.

As a young man, John A. Pierce lived in Middleborough with his widowed mother Susan (Boston) Franks throughout the 1850s and early 1860s.

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1860 Census, Middleborough, Mass. Susan Francis and son John Pierce.

In 1862, John buried his mother Susan next to his step-father Frank Francis in a grave next to the Francis house in Middleborough, in a cemetery now known as the Susan Francis Burial Ground. A week later, he married Sophronia Ann Franks, a black woman whose maternal grandmother’s family had been enslaved by the white Clapp family of Scituate for generations. Together they had two children, born in Middleborough:

  1. Eliza Annie Pierce, b. 22 Oct. 1863, d. Hingham 13 Oct. 1910, m. Norwell 21 May 1896 Henry W. Winslow (1858-1919).
  2. Angie Hattie Susan Pierce, b. 26 April 1865, d. Norwell 11 Aug. 1874.

Sophronia Ann (Franks) Pierce died two weeks after giving birth to daughter Angie, and John Angier Pierce buried her next to his step-father and mother. He then moved to Norwell, where he married Caroline S. Beach in 1867. They had the following children:

  1. William Angier Pierce, b. Norwell, Nov. 1867, d. young.
  2. Martha A. Pierce, b. Hanover, 24 Dec. 1869, d. young.
  3. Caroline “Carrie” Frances Pierce, b. Norwell, 1 June 1873, d. Norwell, 9 June 1874.

1874 was a devastating year for John Angier Pierce. His one year old daughter Carrie died in June of “inflammation of the brain”, his nine year old daughter Angie died in August from an infected abscess, and his 32 year old wife Caroline died of consumption in September. That winter, 33 year old John A. Pierce sought refuge in the home of his sister Mary E. M. (Pierce) Thomas in Carver, where he unexpectedly died 19 January 1875, for reasons “unknown”. His only surviving child, Eliza Annie Pierce, went to live with extended family in Norwell, where she married Henry W. Winslow, a multiracial man with black, white, and Massachuset Indian heritage. Together Eliza and Henry W. Winslow raised four children in Hingham, Massachusetts, where she died in 1910 of pneumonia at the age of 46.

When Mary E. M. (Pierce) Thomas died in Middleborough in 1921 at the age of 86, her younger brother John Angier Pierce had been dead for almost half a century. Mary E. M. (Pierce) Thomas was buried beside her husband John Atwood Thomas and her brother John Angier Pierce in a plot in Central Cemetery in Carver.

 

 

 

1882 Tragedy in Daniel Eason’s House – Augusta, Maine

On 13 November 1882, the Daily Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Maine) reported a terrible accident:

“An eight year old daughter [Bessey Martha Eason] of Daniel Eason, colored, who resides on Prospect Street, in this city, was so horribly burned by her clothing being set on fire Saturday morning that she died yesterday. It seems that Mrs. [Sarah Jane] Eason had left her three children abed about half past 6 in the morning to go to Mrs. Russel’s, where she had been engaged to work. Mr. [Daniel] Eason, who went away earlier in the morning, was returning to the house in order to take the children up and give them their breakfast, as he had often done before when his wife was obliged to go away early, was met by a man who told him that his child had been horribly burned. The only evidence they have as to how the child’s clothing came on fire is from the two remaining children, aged 2 [Frank] and 5 [Daniel Jr.] years respectively. The oldest child [Daniel Jr.] says that the youngest [Frank] lit a stick in the fire and then touched it to his sister’s dress. After the child’s clothes were on fire, she rushed into the door yard and was met there by an Ayer boy who had been attracted by her screams. He tried to remove her clothing, but finding that impossible took off his coat and smothered the flames. Dr. Webster was called and his directions followed, but to no purpose, the child dying about 10 o’clock yesterday morning in great distress.”

 

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Prospect St., Augusta, Maine, where the family of Daniel Eason lived. From 1878 Bird’s Eye Map of Augusta, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

 

Daniel C. Eason, born circa 1833 in Norridgewock, Somerset, Maine, was the youngest son of Augusta’s Freewill Baptist minister John Eason and his second wife Catherine. He moved as an infant with his family to Augusta, Maine. As a “babe in arms” he was held by his father John Eason when the Eason family witnessed the hanging of murderer Joseph Sager in Augusta in 1835.

Daniel C. Eason first married Hannah B. Jackson (1834-1916) in Augusta on 22 January 1854. They had three children: daughter Alvaretta Eason (1855-1906), an infant son (1856-1857), and son Raphael Eason (1860-1891).

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1860 Census Augusta, Maine. Daniel Eason, his wife Hannah, and children “Alfretta” and Raphael.

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1870 Census Augusta, Maine. Daniel Eason, wife Hannah, son Raphael living with Daniel’s father Rev. John Eason, steph-mother Priscilla Eason, brother John Eason and sister-in-law Mary Eason.

Daniel and Hannah separated sometime between 1870 and 1875, and Hannah and their teenage children moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Once there, the spelling of their surname became Eastman rather than Eason.

Daniel then published marriage intentions on 19 June 1876, and married in Augusta on 21 August 1876, Sarah Jane Smith, a possibly multiracial English woman [who was called Sarah Jane Gloss in their marriage intention]. In 1880, she was listed as black and born in England, the daughter of a father born in the West Indies and a mother born in New Brunswick. She was listed in 1885 as black, born in England with parents born in Virginia.

In the 1880 Census, the family was enumerated as Daniel C. Eason (46), his wife Jane Eason (45), and their children Martha Eason (5, b. RI), Daniel C. Eason (2), and Frank Eason (1).

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1880 Census Waterville, Maine. Daniel C. Eason, wife Jane and children Martha, Daniel C. and Frank.

By 1882 the family had moved from Waterville, Maine back to Augusta, Maine where Daniel C. Eason worked as a hostler.

“Mrs. Russel” who employed Sarah Jane Eason was possibly Nancy, the widow of Israel Russell, who in 1882 lived on Winthrop St. in Augusta, near the Eason home on Prospect St. The “Ayer boy” who attempted to put out the fire on Bessey Eason may have been a family member or employee of candy peddler John C. Ayer who lived on High St., behind the Eason family on Prospect St. “Dr. Webster” who tended to Bessey Eason’s burns was Augusta physician John Ordway Webster, a Harvard graduate who began his Augusta practice in 1875.

 

Following the tragic death of Bessey Martha Eason, the family left their home on Prospect St. in Augusta, Maine and moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where Daniel worked as a hostler in a Providence tavern, and the spelling of their surname transitioned to “Eastman”. Bessey Martha Eason’s birthplace was listed as Rhode Island in the 1880 Census, so it is possible the family had moved briefly to Providence in the mid-1870s and then returned to Augusta, Maine. Bessey, born circa 1874, may have been an illegitimate child of the couple, who then moved to Augusta where they were married in 1876 (or perhaps she was a child of only Sarah Jane). In February 1885, Daniel and Sarah Jane had another son, George W. The family was enumerated on 1 June 1885 in Ward 6, Providence, R.I., as Daniel C. Eastman (53, b. Me., hostler), wife Sarah J. (51, b. England, illiterate), and children Daniel C. (8), Frank (5), and George W. (4 months). The family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts by February 1886, when they retroactively recorded George Eastman’s birth record in Cambridge. They perhaps moved to Massachusetts to be closer to Daniel Eason’s children from his first marriage.

Sarah Jane (Smith) Eastman died sometime prior to 1900, and Daniel C. Eason/Eastman reunited with his first wife Hannah. They lived together in Hyde Park, Massachusetts in the 1900 Census, and Daniel was enumerated at Hannah’s address in Hyde Park throughout the early 1900s in Boston City Directories. In 1910, Daniel C. Eastman was listed as a widowed black farm laborer, boarding and working for Daniel M. Hardy in Pepperell, Massachusetts. However, he again was listed as a resident of Hyde Park living with Hannah until her death in Hyde Park in 1916. A death record for Daniel C. Eason/Eastman has not yet been identified.

No gravestone has been identified for Daniel’s daughter Bessey Martha Eason, but she may have been buried in either Mount Hope or Forest Grove Cemetery, both located close to the Easons’ house on Prospect Street in Augusta, Maine.

Bessey Martha Eason’s young brother Frank Eastman, who accidentally set the fire which led to her death, went on to marry in Massachusetts and serve in the Philippine-American War. He married in Boston, 14 April 1898, Georgie Ellinor Gray, and they had two daughters born in Boston: Sarah Lavinia Eastman (b. 16 Sept. 1898) and an unnamed daughter born in 1900 who likely died young. Frank Eastman served in Company D and M in the 9th Regiment of the U.S. Calvary, a black regiment. He died 3 January 1902 in Nueva Cáceres in the Philippines and was buried there. His body was disinterred and brought back to the U.S. on 21 November 1903, and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

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Frank’s widow Georgie received a widow’s pension following his death in 1902. Frank’s brother Daniel C. Eason/Eastman Jr. named a son Frank in honor of his brother who had died so far from home.

1902FrankEastman.jpg

 

Up Next: Part Four: Deacon John Eason III (1849-1942) of Malaga Island, Maine

Previously: Part One: The “Man of A Century”: Parson John Eason of Augusta, Maine

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

Origins of the Quacum Sisters: Founding Mothers of Wilberforce Colony, Ontario

Sisters Vilana, Rosanna, and Salome Quacum were born at the turn of the 19th century on the south shore of Massachusetts, the daughters of a multiracial family with African, Mattakeeset (Massachuset) Indian, and Herring Pond (Wampanoag) Indian heritage. Although they had lived as free New England women, they each married husbands in the 1820s who were fugitive slaves. After spending several years in their hometown of Marshfield, Plymouth County, Massachusetts and Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, each of the married sisters made the decision to leave their extended family behind and become founding members of the Wilberforce Colony in Ontario, on land which was owned and governed by African Americans, and thus offered security to the Quacum sisters’ husbands from American slave catchers, as well as the possibility of living in a more welcoming community with black governance.

The Origins of the Quacum Sisters

Their father Thomas Quacum was a resident of Marshfield, Massachusetts in 1782. He was likely a grandson or great-grandson of Wampanoag Indian Quacom/Quakom who was a member of Rev. Thomas Tupper’s congregation of Christian Indians at Herring Pond in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1693. His English neighbors had a difficult time mastering the Wampanoag roots of his surname, and over the course of his lifetime and his children’s lifetimes, their surname would be spelled in numerous variations by American officials – Quacum, Quaqum, Quagum, Quawko,  Quackow, Quocko, Quokum, Quoker, Quarker, Quicco, Quiccow, Quaker.

Thomas “Quagum” and Phillis Dolphin, both residents of Marshfield, published their marriage intentions in Marshfield on 21 December 1782. Rev. Daniel Shute performed their marriage on 23 December 1782 in the Second Parish Church in Hingham. Phillis Dolphin’s origins are uncertain, but she was likely the daughter of a local enslaved or free black family. Together they had a daughter, Phillis Quacum, born about 1783. Little is known about her childhood, but at an early age she may have been indentured with a local white family. Phillis Quacum married at the age of 15 in 1798, and at the time of her marriage her name was listed as “Phillis Quacum alias Sarah Rodes”. The surname Rodes was rare in Plymouth County at that time, perhaps she had lived with the family of Samuel Rodes and Peggy Darling of Duxbury. Phillis published marriage intentions with John Mevas “a black man” in Plymouth on 3 November 1798. Phillis (Quacom) Mevas died in Plymouth 3 February 1803. Mevas was likely a black Portuguese mariner, and he remarried in New Bedford the year after Phillis’ death.

Shortly after their marriage in 1782, Thomas and Phillis Quacom found employment in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Perhaps things quickly turned sour in their marriage, however, because in 1784 Phillis became pregnant with a married black Revolutionary War soldier and former slave Jupiter Richards.

While still enslaved, Jupiter Richards had two illegitimate children: Jane Richards (b. 11 Dec. 1772) and Judas Richards (b. 3 Nov. 1775) with free “mulatto” woman Lettice Stewart of Bridgewater, who was the daughter of Amos Stewart/Steward (who likely had African heritage) and Mattakeeset Indian Hannah Moses. Once the Revolutionary War began, however, Jupiter Richards served in the military and used his bounty money to purchase his freedom. As a free man, he published marriage banns with Lettice in Bridgewater on 24 Feb. 1776, then served another stint in the military, then returned home to marry Lettice in Abington on 27 September 1777. Following their marriage, they had two additional sons born in Bridgewater: Elisha (b. 20 Feb. 1778) and Amos (b. 28 June 1781), with Jupiter serving additional military service between and after the births of his sons.

Sometime in September 1784, Jupiter Richards and Phillis (Dolphin) Quacum had an affair and Phillis became pregnant. They apparently chose to leave both of their families behind in Bridgewater, and together moved to West Springfield, Hampden County, Massachusetts. There, on 24 May 1785, Phillis gave birth to a daughter Renah Richards.

 

Back in Bridgewater in the spring of 1785, Lettice (Stewart) Richards  was left to care for her four children – 12 year old Jane, 9 year old Judas, 7 year old Elisha, and 3 year old Amos. The oldest children may have been sent to live with white families as indentured servants. Lettice (Stewart) Richards and Thomas Quacum commiserated together over over their respective spouses running off with each other. And in the summer of 1785, Thomas and Lettice published marriage intentions in Bridgewater. Thomas’s daughter Vilana was possibly born from this relationship.

 

In West Springfield during the year 1786, laborer Jupiter Richards was paid £1.19s. for working 13 days at the Springfield Arsenal, “piling shot & shells for the Public”. In 1787, Phillis again became pregnant, and they had a son Sylvester Richards born in West Springfield on 20 April 1788. In 1787, Jupiter purchased groceries such as tobacco, suet, and beef from the Dwight store in Springfield. On a cold winter day on 22 January 1789, Jupiter Richards “with Force & Arms did feloniously steal take & carry away One bushel of Rye” valued at 3 shillings from his neighbor John Warner. Jupiter was imprisoned and his case was brought to trial in February 1789, then postponed until September 1789.

Although the court case does not reveal the details of why Jupiter Richards stole a bushel of rye, it was most likely to feed his struggling family through a cold winter. But his imprisonment in January only made his family’s financial difficulties worse, and as days turned into weeks, and his trial was postponed in February, Phillis made the difficult decision to return back to Bridgewater, and it is unclear if she did so with or without her young children, of whom no additional records have been identified.

In Bridgewater, “Phillis Richards” reunited with Thomas Quacum, and they quickly remarried while Jupiter Richards was still in prison – their wedding was held in Bridgewater on 15 April 1789.

Lettice (Stewart) (Richards) Quacum then married Pito Snow in Bridgewater in December 1792, and they moved to Sutton, Worcester County, Massachusetts. Her children with Jupiter Richards remained in Plymouth County – daughter Jane Richards married in Bridgewater in 1794, son Elisha Richards married in Bridgewater in 1800, and son Amos Richards married in Hingham in 1806.

Jupiter Richards remained imprisoned in Hampden County, and his trial was held in September 1789. He pleaded guilty to stealing the bushel of rye valued at three shillings from John Warner. His punishment was to pay  Warner “threefold damages” – nine shillings, as well as a fine of 20 shillings to the County Treasury, plus the costs of the court case which totaled four pounds, four shillings, and six pence. He was also sentenced to remain imprisoned until his debt could be paid, which totaled 5 pounds, 13 shillings and 6 pence. At the same court session, a white man, David Farmer, was also found guilty of theft and charged a fine and costs of court. Neither Jupiter Richards nor David Farmer could afford their penalties, so wealthy tavern owner Samuel Flower of Feeding Hills [now Agawam] paid both of their fines in exchange for their servitude. Farmer agreed to work for Flower “in his service long enough to indemnify him.” Jupiter’s contract with Flower, however, agreed to a service of twenty years to pay off the debt: “Richards agreed to enter servitude for twenty years and ‘faithfully serve’ Flower and Flower’s family and ‘their secrets will keep, their Commands lawfull & honest will gladly obey at all times…. will do no Damage to the sd. Samuel nor his Heirs nor Assigns nor suffer it to be done by others, without giving them seasonable notice thereof.” This is especially shocking considering that it would have taken Jupiter about a month and a half of labor at the Springfield Armory to pay off the 5 pound debt, considering that three years prior he made almost 2 pounds for half a months work. The Massachusetts courts had declared slavery unconstitutional in 1783, yet in 1789, 40 year old Jupiter Richards was forced through financial desperation and Samuel Flower’s blatant abuse of the debt peonage system to enter into servitude with Flower until the age of 60.

Jupiter Richards was one of the two “free persons” living in the household of Samuel Flower of West Springfield in the 1790 census, and the same year Jupiter Richards paid a poll tax in West Springfield. A decade previously the Cuffe brothers of Dartmouth (now Westport), Massachusetts – the sons of an enslaved African father and Wampanoag Indian mother – had protested paying a poll tax, arguing that it was unfair for black men to have to pay a poll tax while being denied the right to vote, especially after serving in the Revolutionary War. “We apprehend ourselves to be aggrieved, in that, while we are not allowed the privilege of freemen of the State, having no vote or influence in the election of those that tax us, yet many of our colour (as is well known) have cheerfully entered the field of battle in the defence of the common cause, and that (as we conceive) against a similar exertion of power (in regard to taxation), too well known to need a recital in this place.”

After almost five years of service to Samuel Flower, Jupiter Richards had had enough.

1794 Jupiter Richards

Federal Spy (Springfield, Mass.) 5 Aug. 1794, p. 4.

 

Jupiter Richards left Samuel Flower’s home in July 1794, and no further records have been identified for him. Did he return to Bridgewater? Go to Boston? Change his name? See additional details about Jupiter Richards in “Freedom Stories of the Pioneer Valley.”

Back in Bridgewater, Thomas Quacum’s timeline is a bit challenging to piece together.

He had two daughters, Vilana and Rosanna, whose births went unrecorded in Bridgewater records, and whose ages are calculated from census records and their dates of death, making it unclear if they are precise or off by several years.

Vilana Quacum/Quarker was born circa 1786, and therefore possibly the daughter of Thomas Quacum and Lettice (Stewart) Richards, following their 1785 marriage.

Rosanna Quacum/Quawker was born circa 1789, and therefore possibly the daughter of the reunited Thomas Quacum and Phillis (Dolphin) Richards.

Thomas Quacum next had five younger children, all born after 1795. It is unclear if Phillis was the mother of these four younger children, or if Thomas Quacum had an additional wife whose first name is unknown.

Could Jupiter Richards have runaway from Samuel Flower in 1794, then returned to Bridgewater and reunited with Phillis, after which Thomas Quacum married another woman? Also of possible interest is the fact that the West Springfield First Congregational Church recorded the death of a Phillis Richards, who died of inflammatory fever on 26 February 1811, aged 52 [born circa 1758]. This is the only Richards death in the Vital Records of West Springfield, and no race is mentioned for this Phillis Richards. Additionally, the household of Samuel Flower had 1 person of color in the 1800 Census, and 3 people of color in the 1810 Census. It is unclear if Phillis returned to West Springfield.

In the late 1790s, Thomas Quacum briefly found work in the town of Pembroke and perhaps lived there in the Mattakeeset Indian community, where his son John Quacum/Quackow was born sometime between 1795-1800. By 1800 the family had returned to Bridgewater. In the 1800 Census, Thomas “Quawko” was the head of household in Bridgewater with 5 freepersons – likely Thomas and his wife,  and his children Vilana, Rosanna, and John (in 1800 daughter Phillis (Quacum) Mevas was married and living in Plymouth). The census enumerator confused the “freeperson” households of Thomas Quawko and James Eason/Easton and swapped their names as “James Quawko” and “Thomas Eason”.

Shortly thereafter, Thomas Quacum found work and housing in Marshfield at the Chandler grist mill. Four additional Quacum children were born in Marshfield: Betsy (b. 1802), Salome (b. 1806), Phebe, (b. by 1809), and Thomas Jefferson (b. 1810).

In the 1810 Census, the family of Thomas Quacum resided in the household of Luther Sprague in Marshfield off of present-day Old Ocean St. in Marshfield on the north side of Chandler’s Millpond. There were 9 freepersons in Thomas Quacum’s household (Thomas, his wife, and children Vilana, Rosanna, John, Betsy, Salome, Phebe, and Thomas Jefferson).

In the 1820 Census, Thomas Quacum was the head of household in Marshfield, Massachusetts with 12 “free colored persons”, consisting of 5 males under 14, 2 males 26-44, 2 males 45 and over, 1 female under 14, 1 female 14-25, 1 female over 45. His household was located off of present-day Old Ocean St. in Marshfield on the north side of Chandler’s Millpond.

The 1820s were a momentous decade for the Quacum family (who by this time more consistently had their surname spelled Quarker or Quackow), with the majority of Quacum children marrying and starting their own families in both Marshfield and Boston.

The Thomas Quacum household on Chandler’s Millpond in Marshfield expanded with the marriages of several children. In 1820, son John married Margaret Calley alias Leonard, and they had three children born in the Quacum house: John Jr. b. 1820, Jane Mary b. 1823, and Phebe Ann b. 1829. When Margaret moved into the Quacum house she also brought her young daughter Lucretia Leonard (b. 1818). Daughter Vilana married fugitive slave Philip Harris in 1825 and had son Philip D. Harris in the Quacum house in 1826. Daughter Salome married fugitive slave Peter Butler in 1827 and had a son Peter Edward Butler in the Quacum house in 1828.

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1838 map of Marshfield. Members of the Quacum family lived on the north side of Chandler’s Millpond, near the home of Luther Sprague (here marked “L. Sprague”) from the early 1800s until the early 1830s. Their house was located off of present-day Old Ocean St. The Quacum sisters spent their childhoods here, and both Vilana and Rosanna married and had their first children born here before moving to Ontario.

The remaining Quacum children left Marshfield and joined the multiracial community in Boston. Daughter Rosanna had married John Carter and moved to Boston in the 1810s, and she married her second husband William Bell in 1824 and they had a son William born there in 1824. Daughter Phebe married Henry Carroll in Marshfield in 1825 and moved to Boston. Daughter Betsy married Charles Williams in 1829 and had daughter Betsy in 1830. Tragically Betsy died in childbirth and her infant daughter Betsy died three months later. Son Thomas Jefferson married twice in Boston in the 1830s and had children in Boston.

Thomas Quacum and his wife died in their home in Marshfield sometime between 1820-1830. Their deaths coincided with a life-changing decision among several of their daughters. Daughters Vilana, Rosanna, and Salome, along with their husbands and children, decided to leave Massachusetts and become founders of the Wilberforce Colony in Ontario, Canada, a community owned and governed by free blacks. All three of the Quacum sister’s husbands became officials of the Wilberforce colonial government. The decision to leave Massachusetts and their family behind must have been a difficult one for the Quacum sisters to make, but it was an essential one for the safety of their fugitive spouses and the protection of their children.

The Quacum Sisters of Wilberforce Colony (later Lucan, Ontario)

Vilana (Quacum) Harris (1786-1850) and Philip Harris (1775-1857). Philip Harris served as a manager for the Wilberforce Colony in the 1830s.

Rosanna (Quacum) Bell (1789-1878) and William Bell (1792-1877) and operated a tavern in the Sauble section of Lucan. William Bell served as a manager for the Wilberforce Colony in the 1830s. After moving to Wilberforce, the Bells briefly hosted Israel Lewis who had initially helped to raise money for the colony before fraudulently stealing it, leading to a contentious multi-year long series of legal battles. In 1848, an unknown party set fire to the barn and grain stores of William Bell and several other black residents, and a 50 pound reward was posted to help locate the perpetrators. The widowed Rosanna Bell was the subject of a tall tale (recorded or invented by The Black Donnellys author Thomas P. Kelley) regarding the infamous murder of the troublemaking Irish-Canadian Donnelly family, who were killed in their home in Biddulph in 1880 by a mob of townspeople. Kelley claimed that sometime prior to the murder, head of the family James Donnelly and several of his sons forced their way into “Grandma Bell’s” log cabin and asked for their fortunes to be told by reading tea leaves. She supposedly said “I see blood on the moon” and fortold the family’s impending deaths.

Salome (Quacum) Butler (1806-1873) and Peter Butler (1797-1873)  became one of the largest landowners in the area. Peter Butler had been a mariner, and in Ontario worked as a caulker and doctor. He served as a treasurer for the Wilberforce Colony in the 1830s. His estate was valued at $22,000 at his death in 1872, and multiple generations continued to live on his estate in the town of Lucan. Peter Butler is recognized as a founder of the town of Lucan on a historical plaque “Founding of Lucan” located by the Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum. Their grandson Peter Butler III became the first black Canadian police officer.

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Salome (Quacum) Butler (1806-1873), wife of Peter Butler. Courtesy of the University of Western Ontario Archives.

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Peter Butler (1797-1873), husband of Salome Quacum. Courtesy of the Donnelly Museum.

 

Once the Quacum sisters left for Ontario and several Quacum siblings moved to Boston, Massachusetts, only brother John Quacum remained in Marshfield. However, he died unexpectedly in his early 30s, and his widow Margaret married James Tuttle in 1832 and left Marshfield with her children, and together James and Margaret (Calley/Leonard Quacum/Quackow) Tuttle founded the neighborhood of Tuttleville in Hingham. John Quacum’s step-daughter Lucretia Leonard ended segregation in Hingham, Massachusetts’ New North Church by sitting with her white employers in their family pew rather than at the back of the church in the “negro pew.”

 

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Lucretia Leonard (1818-1904), daughter of Margaret Leonard alias Calley and step-daughter of John Quacum of Marshfield, Mass. Taken in Hingham, Mass. circa 1902. Photograph courtesy of the Hingham Historical Society.

Political and social activism ran strong through the Quacum family. Although the Quacum sisters husbands are better remembered as Wilberforce’s founding fathers, it is fascinating to consider that these three women, from the shores of Chandler’s Mill Pond in Marshfield, Massachusetts came together and made the decision to leave everything behind and move to Canada for the promise of a better future.

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The south shore of Chander’s Mill Pond is part of the Pudding Hill Reservation, preserved with walking trails by the Wildlands Trust. The Quacum family lived on the north shore of the pond. Map courtesy of the Wildlands Trust.

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.”

1857 Lakeville map - Copy

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: Part Three: A Tragedy in the Home of Daniel Eason (son of Parson John Eason)

Previously: Part One: The “Man of A Century”: Parson John Eason of Augusta, Maine