Bright and Shiny

Alfreda (Martin) Bernier (1903-1981) liked things to be just so. She favored rooms that sported figured wallpaper, painted woodwork, and starched curtains. When she went out, she wore dresses she had tailored to her ample figure. Her children went to Mass scrubbed pink and shiny, in clean freshly-pressed outfits and shined shoes. Even at home, Alfreda wore well-fitted bib aprons that coordinated with her equally well-fitted flowered house-dresses.

Her attention to detail was innate, but it may have served a greater purpose than pleasing her own preferences.

Mason St 1936 annot

CurtisLibrary.com.

She and her husband Edward lived just off Maine Street at 13 Mason, in a multifamily home they shared with Edward’s sister Blanche and her husband Lucien Labreque. The Berniers also lived next door to Alfreda’s younger brother Ovila Martin, his wife Irene, and Irene’s parents Joseph and Marie Helie; and just two doors up from Edward’s brother, Adelard Bernier and his wife Cecile. And all around them lived the people with whom Alfreda worked every day at the Cabot cotton mill a block to the north.

Since gossip and opinions were never in short supply in her close-knit community, she strove to give family, friends, and co-workers as little to criticize as possible.

The June 17, 1937, issue of the Brunswick Record had plenty for the neighborhood to discuss. The front page reported that nineteen-year-old Robert St. Pierre attacked two women on and near the Bowdoin College campus with a knife and a stone; described the wedding of Joseph Theberge and Rosalie Desjardins, and announced the impending Cabot Mill summer shutdown in July. Further into the paper were editorials, social doings, and national news. There was also the photographer’s feature, “People We Know.”

 

Henry and Evariste 6.17.37 9A

“People We Know” Brunswick Record, June 17, 1937, Courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais.

 

We can only imagine Alfreda’s reaction when she turned to page nine and realized the “People We Know” were her two youngest sons, Henry (age 3) and Evariste (age 5). We don’t know for certain that her family and friends teased her about Henry’s mud bath or Evariste’s Mona Lisa smile. We do know that she hatched an idea that would have made any PR expert proud.

 

Edouard & Alfreda (Martin) Bernier & 10 children cr

Bernier family portrait, courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais.

 

Inspired by her husband’s St. John’s Band uniform, Alfreda enlisted the aid of another first-rate seamstress, her daughter Priscilla. That summer the two of them sewed ten sailor suits, one for each Bernier sibling. Then, scrubbed all bright and shiny, dressed in handmade matching outfits, the dozen of them trooped to Webber’s photography studio at 98 Maine Street for family portraits.

Photo and negatives in hand, Alfreda crossed Maine Street to the Brunswick Publishing Co.’s office. The September 2nd issue of the Brunswick Record featured a photo of the ten Bernier children arranged in stair step fashion.

 

Sailor suits9 cont

Stair Step Siblings, Brunswick Record, September 2, 1937. CurtisLibrary.com.

Caption: You might expect this group to break out in a Sailor’s Hornpipe any minute. Eight boys and two girls–the family of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Bernier of 13 Mason street–all attired in jaunty navy suits. Left to right they are: Henry, 2 1/2; Connie, 4; Everest [sic], 5; Edward, Jr., 6; Robert, 8; Antoine, 7; Armand, 10; Remy, 11; Andrew, 12; and Priscilla, 15. Their father is a painter. All the children, and the parents too, are natives of Brunswick.

Alfreda’s hard work continued to pay off.

The Dec 30, 1937, issue of the Brunswick Record had plenty for the Mason Street neighborhood to discuss. The front page reported that 81-year-old farmer Walter Higgins drowned off Indian Rest after wandering away from home, described the school board’s anger over delays in opening the new Spring Street high school, and announced the Cabot workers’ holiday dance that Saturday evening at Town Hall.

Included in the issue was the Annual Brunswick Record Pictorial Supplement of the year’s highlights. It’s not hard to imagine Alfreda’s reaction when she turned to the insert’s second page and saw the reprinted photo featuring the ten Bernier children in their sailor suits. No doubt she made sure family and friends alike read the caption “picture of the year.”

Alfreda Martin Bernier 1937

Alfreda (Martin) Bernier had scrubbed away the mud to created a new image–a bright and shiny picture of the year.

 

Next Blog: Until Death Do Us Part

Sources:

  • Henry and Evariste Bernier, photograph, Brunswick Record, June 17, 1937. (Collection of Barbara A. Desmarais.)
  • Bernier Family Portrait, photocopy of original photograph. (Collection of Barbara A. Desmarais.)
  • Brunswick Directory, 1936-’37, Crowley & Lunt, Portland, Maine, http://www.curtislibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/1936-37-Brunswick-Directory.pdf, accessed May 13, 2016.
  • Stair Step Siblings, photograph, Brunswick Record, September 2, 1937, Photos from the Brunswick newspapers from 1902 to 1960, rephotographed by Richard Snow, http://www.curtislibrary.com/brunswick-history/, accessed May 24, 2016.
Posted in Martin and Bernier Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Anastasie, épouse de feu Eustache Martin

Anastasie St Johns School

Anastasie Martin before 1934, Courtesy Agnes (Martin) Maynard.

When Brunswick farmer Eustache Eusebe Martin Sr died suddenly in early 1915, his widow Anastasie, who had never held a job outside the home and spoke little English, had to figure out how to care for her brood. She and her seven children left the Bunganuck Road farm and returned to the more crowded, urban Little Canada along the Androscoggin River by Cabot mill. 

Tondreau Bakery 1922.23d

Image from 1922-’23 Brunswick Directory, Crowley & Lunt.

Elder son, nineteen-year-old Eustache, became the family breadwinner –- and bread maker –- working at nearby Tondreau’s Bakery.

Just as before, Anastasie’s life revolved around her children, seeing to their health, safety, and Catholic upbringing. The Martins renewed old friendships and re-accustomed themselves to living cheek by jowl with other Franco American families. The close quarters created a decided lack of privacy in the neighborhood. It also meant that illness spread quickly.

Among the Martins’ friends was the Levesque family who lived on nearby Cushing Street. That August, Anna Levesque, wife of Napoleon, gave birth to Rosario. Anastasie’s daughters, in particular 14-year-old Eva and 11-year-old Alfreda, found joy in caring for infants and young children. It’s not hard to imagine the two girls walking to the Levesque home to help Anna, who was exhausted from childbirth. Anna was also weak from the tuberculosis that seemed to constantly circulate throughout the mid-coast’s urban areas. (See It Happened in 1916.) Unable to regain her strength, the new mother died two months after her son’s birth.

American Flag 1917 39709r

Many People, One Nation, 1917, Ray Greenleaf artist, Library of Congress.

L’Américain
(The American)

A Great War raged in Europe, though it had little impact on the day-to-day lives of those in Brunswick’s Little Canada. That changed on June 13, 1917, when the first American troops landed in France. First-generation American citizen Eustache registered for the draft two days later, but applied for an exemption as the sole support of his mother, brother Ovila, and sister Noella. He didn’t list his other siblings as dependents because the teenagers, ranging from thirteen to seventeen, were old enough to have jobs.

In the autumn, twenty-one-year-old Eustache did the same as many soon-to-be World War I soldiers: he married his sweetheart. Twenty-six-year-old Antoinette Favreau, a mill worker had left Canada only eleven years before. It’s interesting to note that Jr followed the same path as his late father by marrying a woman a few years his senior.

What did Anastasie think of this turn of events? Did Eustache and bride Antoinette live with the Martins? If so, Antoinette’s paycheck would have been a welcome addition to familial resources. If the couple were to have a child, would Antoinette leave her job while simultaneously adding another mouth to feed? Only time would tell.

 

Artillery 1.25

First Maine Heavy Artillery, Camp Greene, Charlotte, N. C., Brunswick Record scan courtesy Richard Snow.

By the following June, Eustache, along with thousands of other young Americans, became a soldier in the army. Now Anastasie had to face the very real possibility that her son, her first child, upon whom the family depended for their subsistence, was in danger of being injured or even killed in this war.

Eustache was luckier than thousands of other American soldiers. He served overseas in the Quartermaster Corp beginning in October 1918, just a month before the Germans and Allies signed the November 11th Armistice that ended the war. Millions of troops were demobilized and returned home, including Eustache who arrived in the States in March 1919 and was honorably discharged in April.

Anastasie’s first-born American child resumed married life. That fall, he and Antoinette moved to their newly purchased home south of Bowdoin College, on Harpswell Street near Hambleton Avenue.

 Eva and Rosario: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
(Eva and Rosario: the more things change, the more they stay the same)

That still left Anastasie and six children in one household. The 1920 census reveals that three Martin sisters worked to help sustain the family. Two had joined the throngs manufacturing cotton goods at Cabot mill: Rose (age 20) was a carder and Alfreda (age 16) was a spinner. Marie Anne (age 15) bucked family tradition: she was a sales lady at a grocer’s. Three siblings were “at home”: Eva (age 18), Ovila (age 12), and Noella (age 12).

Eva Martin grave

Photo by Barbara A. Desmarais, March 8, 2016.

Why wasn’t Eva working? About the time Anna Levesque gave birth to son Rosario and then died, Eva contracted tuberculosis. Five years later she hadn’t the strength to hold down a job. Ultimately, the move from open-aired Bunganuck back to the densely populated mill area proved fatal to Eva: she died in February 1920. Younger sister and best friend, Alfreda, mourned “the sweetest girl” for the rest of her life.

What became of Rosario Levesque and his siblings? By 1920, their father Napoleon, a beater at Pejepscot Paper on the Topsham side of the Androscoggin River, had moved into his brother’s home on Bridge Street in Topsham, without the children. The brothers and sisters were separated from one another, going to live with family and friends.

It seems that, rather than worrying about how little she had, Anastasie was of the opinion that a little was better than nothing, and could always be stretched further. Having neither the financial means nor the knowledge to proceed through the legal system, she “adopted” Rosario simply by bringing him into her home and family. Called “Pete” by his new brothers and sisters, he would tell his future Martin nieces and nephews that Anastasie “saved” him when she took him in.

Qui se resemble, s’assemble
(Birds of a feather flock together)

 The end of World War I marked the end of 19th century living and world isolation in the United States. Rural soldiers brought back first-hand knowledge of European city life and culture. Radio empires and movie palaces brought universal entertainment to American towns and cities alike. They also brought a more immediate knowledge of worldwide events. The country’s newfound prosperity and urbanism was matched by scientific and cultural advancement.

These rapid changes scared those who felt Americans had lost their “national innocence.” Some who mourned the “good old days” found comfort in religious fundamentalism and nativism in the form of the Ku Klux Klan.***

KKK Cross Burning 1925

Cross burning, Ku Klux Klan, 1925, Harris & Ewing photographer, Library of Congress.

Though we in Maine currently think of the KKK as a southern organization focused on returning African Americans to their demoralized and abused antebellum status, the white Protestant Klan did exist in New England states and Canada in the 1920s. In this overwhelmingly white region, Klan members focused their discrimination against Catholics, Jews, and the foreign-born.

Known in Canada as les negre blanc francophones (french-speaking white Negroes), French Canadian Catholics were both the wrong religion and foreign-born. What was American-born, Great War veteran Eustache to think when the Maine Klansmen and women sang:

     It’s your land, and my land, to own, to rule, to love.
     It’s bled for, and died for, and blessed by God above.
     It’s your land, and my land, and while the world shall be,
     We’ll fight to keep it our land, America the free.*

Garrison Cove 7.5.23 17B-2

Garrison Cove, Brunswick Record scan courtesy Richard Snow.

In a 1923 social column entry in the Brunswick Record listing a change in night of the Klan’s weekly lodge meetings in Harpswell and Orrs Island, the writer estimated that 65% of the islands’ residents were members of the group. Another entry in the Brunswick Record that year described a Klan “Americanism” event at the Brunswick Town Hall that drew an audience of 800 men and women.**

The Klan’s anti-Catholic, anti-French Canadian sentiments served to reinforce and prolong the Franco community’s tendency to send their children to parochial school, to speak French whenever possible, trade with other francophones, and to marry within their own group.

Indeed, Anastasie’s children continued that tradition in the first half of the 1920s as three daughters married men from the area’s close-knit Franco community: Alfreda to Edouard Bernier (house painter) in 1921, Rose to Louis Laffely (laborer) in 1922, and Marie Anne to Emile Lachance (railroad sect hand) in 1925 .

Remaining with Anastasie were sons Ovila (bakery truck driver) and Pete, as well as youngest daughter Noella (spinner at cotton mill). How different it must have felt to Anastasie, used to a boisterous group of six or seven, to have only half that number around her.

Sainte Anne

Prayer Card from CarmeliteHeritage.blogspot.com

By 1930 Anastasie’s three married daughters had given her a baker’s dozen grandchildren. It was appropriate, then, that she found companionship and sisterhood within St. John’s church in the women’s group, Ladies of St. Anne. Anne, as any Catholic knows, was the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus, as well as the patron saint of grandmothers.

Throughout the years, Anastasie also kept in touch with her remaining siblings in Quebec.

Helie Bakery 1929 d

Image from 1928-’29 Brunswick Directory, Crowley & Lunt.

The stock market crash of 1929 precipitated the Great Depression, which resulted in unemployment and breadlines in some urban areas. Many Brunswick businesses, however, continued to thrive. Entrepreneur Joseph Helie even expanded his Mill Street bakery.

Helie’s optimism was contagious. By 1932, Ovila Martin, Anastasie’s second son, was a weaver at the cotton mill and apparently felt financially secure enough to wed Joseph Helie’s daughter, Irene.

When Ovila moved into the Helie home at 11 Mason Street, only two children remained with Anastasie.

La pomme ne tombe jamais loin de l’arbre
(The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree)

Anastasie had shown her children by her deeds that life is to live and love is to share. Following her example of opening her home to one in need, when Anastasie’s health failed in late 1933, her daughter Rose Laffely brought Anastasie to the Laffely home on Thomspon Street. Eustache followed suit, inviting his siblings Noella and Pete to move into his current home at 26 Cushing, just around the corner from his trucking business and wood dealership at 10-12 Swett Street. Still living close to the mill, Noella and Pete were able to continue walking to their jobs at the cotton factory.

Eustache and Anastasie  3 photos

Funeral Card, courtesy Agnes (Martin) Maynard

After a brief illness, Anastasie (Paradis) Martin died January 3d, 1934, at age 67. Her obituary was published in the Brunswick Record the very next day:

Mrs. Eustache Martin
     Mrs. Eustache Martin, formerly Anastasie Paradis, died last night at the home of her daughter    Mrs. Emile Lachance on Thompson street at the age of 67, after a short illness.
     She was born in Chicoutimi, Canada, on September 2, 1866, and had resided here for over 40 years. She was a member of the Ladies of St. Anne. She is survived by two sons, Eustache Martin, Jr., and Ovila Martin and one adopted son Rosario Levesque, four daughters, Mrs. Rose Laffely, Mrs. Alfreda Bernier, Mrs. Emile Lachance, and Noella Martin, two sisters, Mrs. Lida Levesque of Iberville, Canada, and Mrs. Juliette Tremblay of Lac St. Jean, Canada, also two brothers, Adelard Paradis and Xavier Paradis both of Chicoutimi, Canada.
      Her funeral will be held Saturday morning at 8 o’clock from the Church of St. John the Baptist.

Forty years after Anastasie left her Canadian homeland, not twenty years after her husband’s death was unremarked by the local newspaper, the Franco community had become American enough to fight for their country, had spread from the mill’s Little Canada to all parts of Brunswick and Topsham’s villages and countryside, owned thriving businesses, and finally warranted a mention in the local English language newspaper.

Nous sommes arrivés.

Next Blog: Bright and Shiny

Notes:

  • Translation of Anastasie Paradis Martin funeral card:
    In sweet memory of
    Anastasie Paradis Martin
    Widow of Eustache Martin
    Born in Canada and died in Brunswick,
    Maine, January 3rd, 1934.
    At age 67 years and 4 moos.
    R.I.P. (Rest in Peace)
  • Translation of Nous sommes arrivés: We have arrived.
  • For more on Franco American history in Brunswick and beyond, please read David Vermette’s blog http://frenchnorthamerica.blogspot.com.
  • For more on the Ku Klux Klan in New England, please read Not a Catholic Nation: The Ku Klux Klan Confronts New England in the 1920s by Mark Paul Richard.

Sources:

  • Ancestry.com: Various including City Directories, Family Trees, United States Federal and State Censuses, Vital Records (Birth, Death, and Marriages).
  • Mrs. Eustache Martin obituary, Brunswick Record, January 3, 1934,. p4
  • Tondreau’s Bakery image, Brunswick Directory Including Topsham 1922, Crowley & Lunt, Portland, Maine, http://www.curtislibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/1922-23-Brunswick-Directory-Including-Topsham.pdf, accessed May 12, 2016.
  • Helie’s Bakery image, Brunswick Directory, 1928-’29, Crowley & Lunt, Portland, Maine, http://www.curtislibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/1928-29-Brunswick-Directory.pdf, accessed May 13, 2016.
  • Sainte Anne prayer card image, Carmelite Heritage, Victoria Forrester,  http://carmeliteheritage.blogspot.com/2010/07/sts-joachim-and-anne-feastday-july-26.html, accessed May 12, 2016.
  • Many People, One Nation poster, Ray Greenleaf, Library of Congress http://cdn.loc.gov/service/pnp/ppmsca/39700/39709r.jpg, accessed May 14, 2016
  • Cross burning, Ku Klux Klan, 1925, Harris & Ewing photographer, Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/hec2013015121/, accessed May 13, 2016.
  • Photo of Anastasie (Paradis) Martin before 1934. Courtesy of Agnes (Martin) Maynard, May 2016.
  • Anastasie Paradis Martin funeral card, ibid.
  • *Not a Catholic Nation: The Ku Klux Klan Confronts New England in the 1920s, Mark Paul Richard, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst & Boston, 2015, P 23.
  • First Maine Heavy Artillery, Camp Greene, Charlotte, N. C., Brunswick Record, January 25, 1918, Photos from the Brunswick newspapers from 1902 to 1960, rephotographed by Richard Snow, http://www.curtislibrary.com/brunswick-history/, accessed May 13, 2016.
  • The Cove, With Orr’s Island in the Distance, Brunswick Record, July 5, 1923, ibid.
  • **French North America: Clan in the North: Klan Activity in Brunswick, Maine  http://frenchnorthamerica.blogspot.com/2012/08/klan-in-north-ku-klux-klan-activity-in.html, David Vermette, August 1, 2012, accessed April 22, 2016.
  • ***The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: History by EraThe Roaring Twenties, Joshua Zeitz, https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/progressive-era-new-era-1900-1929/roaring-twenties, accessed April 23, 2016.
Posted in Martin and Bernier Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Farmer

Anastasie and Eustache, Part 2

French Canadian immigrants, Anastasie Paradis and Eustache Martin came to Brunswick, Maine, from the Chicoutimi region of Quebec to work at the cotton mill. (See Le Cultivateur) In 1895 they married and started a family. By 1910, they were a family of nine: Anastasie; Eustache; sons Eustache Jr and Ovila; and daughters Rose, Eva, Alfreda, Marie Anne, and Noella.

Libby to Martin 4016_4_24_1913 cd

Both Eustache Sr and Jr worked at the Cabot Company’s cotton mill. Like many French Canadian immigrants who had left the family farm, Eustache Sr likely saw himself as a farmer working a supplementary job. He was a weaver at the mill, a stonemason, and operated his own wood-sawing machine business. He may have held onto the dream of returning to Chicoutimi, for, unlike a large number of his fellow immigrants, Eustache Sr never sought to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. As his American-born children grew, perhaps he gave up the idea of going back to a place he hadn’t called home for twenty years. Instead, in April 1913, Eustache Martin Sr bought a farm on Bunganuck Road near Maquoit Bay.

Eustache Farm 1910 Brunswick Map cd

Because Bunganuck was at the other end of town from the Cabot Company and commuting was still by foot or hoof, it seems unlikely that either Eustache Sr or Jr continued at the mill. Instead, the entire family would have developed a daily rhythm of rising early to feed the horse, pigs, and chickens; feed and milk the cows; collect the eggs; pasture the animals; clean the barn; tend the crops; build or repair fences; and, finally, bring the livestock in for the night. In between all that they did household chores: cooking, cleaning, sewing, mending, chopping wood, building a fire, and doing laundry — all without the electric appliances we take for granted in 2016.

The next day, they’d do it over again.

Eustache_Anastasie c1915

Anastasie and Eustache Martin Sr at Jalbert Farm at Gurnet before 1915, courtesy of Agnes (Martin) Maynard

As all consuming as the work was, it paid dividends mill work never could: brisk ocean breezes, bird song, swimming in the brook, the scent of freshly mown hay, independence, and a return to a life tempo that seemed natural for the Martins.

Then, suddenly, everything changed.

Without warning, on Thursday, January 21, 1915, Eustache Sr died of a stroke.

The Brunswick Record didn’t publish a death notice or obituary for Eustache Martin Sr. Perhaps Jr, the only family member who spoke English, didn’t know he could bring a notice to the newspaper. Or perhaps the death of one more French Canadian wasn’t of interest to the readers of an English language publication.

Since it was the dead of winter and the ground was frozen, Sr’s body was stored until the spring thaw. When the earth was soft enough to be parted by a handheld shovel, Eustache Eusebe Martin Sr was buried at St. John’s Cemetery on Pine Street.

380 Bunganuc Rd

“Bunganuc” Road in area of Martin Farm

An age-old story repeated itself: lacking the wherewithal to pay the mortgage, the family lost the Bunganuck Road property. Anastasie and the children moved back to Little Canada, to 9 Union Street Extension between Cabot and Mill Streets, just to the west of the cotton mill by the river. Eustache Jr, and then each sibling as they became old enough, went to work to support the family.

Still, Eustache the farmer left an internal legacy to his family and their descendents. Even though they had lived at Bunganuck only two years, his farming identity had taken root and grown to maturity in the hearts of his children. Daughter Alfreda, for instance, was born in the shadow of Cabot mill; lived there for all but those two years until she was thirty-eight; and worked for decades at Cabot’s successor, the Verney Mill. Yet, years later she would tell her grandchildren that her parents were farmers from Chicoutimi and she herself was raised on a farm. Millwork, after all, was simply supplementary income. Farming was the Martin’s lifework.

Next Blog: Anastasie, épouse de feu Eustache Martin

Sources:

Posted in Martin and Bernier Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Le Cultivateur

St. Lawrence River 1901 LOC

St. Lawrence River at Riviere du Loup (Library of Congress)

Québec

As early as 1536, French pioneers harvested the natural bounty of Quebec’s dense forests. They transported their furs and timber via the rivers of New France to ports along the Atlantic Ocean and thence to France itself. Since even trappers and lumberjacks needed their daily bread, cultivateurs (farmers) soon followed, clearing the rocky land on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in southern Quebec, to raise wheat in a growing season even shorter than Maine’s. Still, the farmers were successful enough that, by the mid- to late-1800s, their families had outgrown the ancestral farms. Desiring homesteads of their own, some families moved to ever more remote villages, such as Hébertville in Chicoutimi.

Unfortunately, the land in the further reaches of Quebec was infertile, had poor access to large markets, and had a shorter growing season. This meant farming in these newer settlements, as in much of Maine, was often subsistence, never yielding a surplus to sell at market. Just as in parts of Maine, farmers worked in other trades such as timber for the better part of the year. The timber industry in Quebec, in fact, was its biggest employer. Many of these businesses took full advantage of their positions, often paying workers with company scrip that could only be spent in company stores. Lumber merchants became richer; les cultivateurs became increasingly indebted, and, thus, poorer.

Asher and Adams' Maine and New Brunswick:with portions of Quebec

From Hébertville (Laq St. Jean), Quebec, to Brunswick, Maine, via Le Chaudiere and the Old Canada Road

Seeing opportunity in both the poverty and great numbers of Québécois, agents from New England mills traveled to Quebec to recruit single men and women, and entire families, to head south for work. Conditions must have been dire for so many to choose to make the arduous journey on foot or in horse-drawn wagons, and later by rail, from French Canada to English-speaking New England. The Québécois left behind close-knit families and traditional rural communities to travel to foreign industrialized cities, all in hopes of landing an unguaranteed and unfamiliar job operating dangerous machinery in a noisy, crowded mill.

Some of those who emigrated from Quebec intended to stay in the United States just long enough to earn the cash denied them at home. Others never looked back.

Les Émigrants

The families of Anastasie Paradis (1868-1934) and Eustache Martin (1870-1915) both relocated from the east bank of the St. Lawrence River to the west bank, both to the farming village of Hébertville in Chicoutimi. The Paradis family left St. André sometime after 1851; the Martins would leave St. Anne thirty years later. The fathers, Olivier Paradis and Eváriste Martin, were just two of the 469 cultivateurs in Hébertville in Canada’s1891 census. More than one quarter of the men in the village of just 1850 people were farmers, including boys as young as fourteen. The handful of other occupations listed included modiste (dressmaker), journalier (day laborer), and cordonnier (shoe maker).

Anastasie Paradis 1891 crpd

Olivier Paradis family in 1891 Canadian census (Ancestry.com)

 

Eustache Martin census 1891 crpd.jpg

Eváriste Martin family in 1891 Canadian census (Ancestry.com)

The census recorded that both twenty-seven-year-old [sic] Anastasie and twenty-one-year-old Eustache (cultivateur) were of French origin, Roman Catholic, single, and living with their parents and siblings on their families’ farms. Anastasie’s father farmed with the aid of his only son still at home, plus a hired hand. Eustache, two of his brothers, and their father, worked the Martin farm. In the Paradis home, only Anastasie’s mother could read and write. Eustache’s family was the better educated: he, his parents, and three of his siblings were literate.

Twenty-three-year-old Anastasie might well have felt some pressure to find a way to relieve the financial pressures faced by her family of eight. Her choices all involved leaving the farm: marriage in Chicoutimi or finding work – perhaps as a servant or mill hand in a larger Quebec town. She chose emigration and a job: by the following year Anastasie was 375 miles away from Hébertville, working for the Cabot cotton mill at the head of Brunswick’s Maine Street, along with Eustache and other French Canadian expatriates.

Future U.S. Federal censuses would show that Eustache had already come to the United States between 1888 and 1890. It’s possible he hadn’t returned to his parents’ farm but was reported as being there by a parent or sibling who hoped his absence was temporary. If Eustache had returned to Chicoutimi in 1891 it might have been to visit his family, bring home funds earned in the States, or perhaps to encourage others to seek new lives away from Quebec.

Another possibility is that Eustache came home to ask Anastasie to leave Chicoutimi for Brunswick, Maine, and a job at the mill – and, perhaps, a future life with him.

Eustache_Anastasie wedding day

Wedding photo of Eustache and Anastasie (Paradis) Martin. Courtesy of Agnes (Martin) Maynard.

Le Mariage

On Monday, May 6, 1895, Anastasie, in full corset, donned her very modern gown: bell skirt (no bustle!), fitted bodice, and leg-o’-mutton sleeves. Eustache wore the latest waistcoat (vest), low cut to allow more freedom of movement, and a jaunty boutonniere in his coat lapel. It was spring: shade trees were in full leaf and lilacs were just beginning to bud. Far from home, yet surrounded by Quebecois friends, Anastasie and Eustache married. Although a recent flood had left the roads muddy, the newlyweds and their wedding party likely took a celebratory ride in carts “…driven abreast, as rapidly as livery horses can travel…the occupants being all in high glee.”* Perhaps they drove to the local photographer’s studio to have their wedding portrait taken.

After, the couple might have strolled across the new pedestrian bridge between Brunswick and Topsham to watch the sunset. Perhaps, finally, they went to their room or apartment in one of Cabot Mill’s tenement houses on the banks of the Androscoggin River. Imagine the sigh of relief as Anastasie loosened her whalebone corset and Eustache removed his spit-shined leather shoes.

The Martins would not have been lonely – by the early 1890s, French Canadians and their American-born children were a third of Brunswick’s population.

Cabot Mil MS_0419_Folder_W_Z_031

The Cabot Company

Unfortunately, unlike companions, money was scarce. Just like the timber companies in Quebec, the Cabot Mill initially ran a grocery store where their employees were expected to shop. The Martins would see this change, partly at the urging of Brunswick merchants who were anxious to profit from 2500 potential new customers in a town of just over 6000. Recognizing the necessity of having French-speaking clerks, some merchants hired mill hands’ children and grandchildren. This would soon pave the way for French Canadians and their children to start their own businesses.

Money was tight, but when Anastasie and Eustache first arrived in Brunswick, the living conditions were worse. The Cabot Company spent as little as possible on employee accommodations. The apartments were small, the families large. The company saw no need to invest in sewers: the tenements discharged waste directly into the river that was also the source of the workers’ drinking water. Both the close quarters and unsanitary conditions contributed to typhoid and diphtheria epidemics in the French community. When the epidemics touched the families of Brunswick “natives,” the town began a three-year sewer project, laying down nine miles of pipe between 1894 and ’97.

Little girl and Pig LOC crpd

“Take a ‘poon piggie.” Library of Congress

Though at the beginning of their marriage both worked six days a week at the mill, Anastasie and Eustache were only a handful of years away from the farm and still cultivateurs at heart. On the farm, their families had likely raised pigs, using every part of the animals to feed their large families through the long, cold winters. Requiring little more than a sturdy pen, water from the nearby river, and scraps for food, the couple could have raised a spring piglet to a butcher-ready hog by early autumn. The animal would yield thick slabs of bacon, chops, and roasts. Wasting no part of the animal, Anastasie would have rendered lard to spread on homemade bread and for pastries such as tourtière (meat pie). Finally, she would have used the rest of the animal to make headcheese (lunch meat) and cretons (pork pâté).

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Eustache and Anastasie Martin family in 1910 census. Ancestry.com

 La Famille; Le Travail

Employed, housed, and fed, the Martins started their family in earnest. First came Eustache Jr (1896-1964), then twins Marie and Marion (1897-by1900). The unhealthful living conditions took a toll on the family. By 1910, Anastasie had given birth to thirteen children. Only seven were still alive: sons Eustache Jr and Ovila, and daughters Rose, Eva, Alfreda, Marie Anne, and Noella.

Maintaining a family of nine was as labor-intensive in a modern mill town as it was at the farm. The boys no doubt chopped wood or carried coal to fuel the cook stove, fired on all but the hottest days for cooking and heating water. The girls sewed and mended clothing, cooked, and cleaned the house. Each week there was the muscle-building work of doing laundry. Someone, probably Anastasie, lifted heavy kettles of water to heat on the stove. Then she would have boiled and bleached the whites to remove stains made by coal and wood smoke, sweat, and work grime. Starching came next to protect the color, allay wrinkles (no permanent press), and repel dirt. Then the girls might have hung the clothes to dry outdoors in the sun or inside on lines strung overhead during inclement weather. Finally, for the better part of the following day, one of the Martin women heated a heavy flat iron on the stove to use in smoothing the wrinkled clothing, stopping to reheat the iron each time it cooled.

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Back boy – Mule room – 14 years. Berkshire Mill. by Lewis W. Hine, 1916. Library of Congress.

Mill hands Eustache Sr and Jr both put in long days of their own, working ten to twelve hours, six days a week. As a weaver Eustache Sr watched the looms, waiting for a thread to break, then repairing it by weaving in a new one. Though fourteen-year-old Eustache Jr seems a child to us, back in Quebec he would have been a full-fledged cultivateur, working along side his father. Now he worked at the mill instead, as a back boy in the spinning room, tending the bobbins. Cotton dust floated freely in the factory, dampening the light from the tall windows, thickening the air they breathed. Perhaps at noontime one of the younger Martin girls brought their father and brother a lunch of homemade bread layered with cretons or headcheese.

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Image from gulagbound.com.

At the mill, Sr and Jr were required to speak English, partly for ease in communication with English-speaking workers and bosses, partly to assuage the bosses’ pride as they sought to prevent unintelligible personal insults or, worse yet, seeds of strike. At home and throughout Little Canada, though, both Eustaches spoke their native tongue, the only language Anastasie and her girls understood.

Eustache Sr, unafraid of hard work, may have struggled with the rhythm of a workday designed around the starts and stops of machines, rather than the more natural and familiar cycle determined by seasons, crops, and livestock. Still hoping to save enough money for his own farm, he supplemented his income with stone masonry and by 1910 operated his own business, a wood-sawing machine.

Three years later, Eustache’s hard work would change the family’s circumstances, both for the better and the worse.

Next Blog: The Farmer

Sources:

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The Rest of Hannah’s Story

In the last blog, Hannah Keeps Her House, Enos Merryman (1807-1851) died intestate and in debt. When his Rocky Hill estate was auctioned off, his widow, Hannah McManus Merryman (1806-1899), was able to keep the farm by bidding funds from a mortgage from her kin, Robert and Richard McMannus.

repossession

Unfortunately, she was unable to repay the loan when it came due two years later; the McManus men repossessed the property.

Hannah lost her home.

Her losses continued. In 1858, son George (1836-1858), a mariner like his father and his brothers, died in New Orleans. George may have been one of the 4,845 people who died of Yellow Fever there that year. Then Hannah’s world shrank even more when her ninety-three-year-old father, Robert McManus (1764-1858), died about that same time.

The following year, Hannah’s repossessed Rocky Hill property was sold.

Hannah 1860 census crpd

1860 U.S. Federal Census, Brunswick, Maine

Despite that sale, the 1860 census recorded Hannah, daughter Fannie; sons Walter (seaman), Enos, and John; plus boarder William Alexander (ostler) living together on Rocky Hill. They were two doors away from her cousin Harvey McManus, his wife Dorcas, and their five children.

Life Goes On

Still, Hannah’s family continued to grow in its convoluted way as more of her children married and had families of their own. Successful ship captain Robert Lincoln married his distant cousin Almira Merryman (1834-1899), daughter of Capt. Thomas and Almira (McManus) Merryman.

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1860 U.S.Federal Census, Brookline, Massachusetts

Some of Hannah’s children, like those of her sister, Eleanor (McManus) Merryman, moved away. By 1860 Hannah’s own daughter Harriet and her husband, Thomas Merriman, were in Brookline, Massachusetts, where Thomas worked as a carpenter.

Enos Jr civil war draft crpd

1864-65 Civil War Class 1 Registration, Brunswick, Maine

The Civil War was on the horizon. The potential for more loss and grief must have been clear to Hannah whose her mother died during the War of 1812. Now Hannah stood to lose Robert and Enos Jr., who were among twelve McManus and Merryman men registered for the draft between 1863 and 1865.

Fortunately, her sons stayed safe, and life went on.

After the war, Enos Jr. and his cousin, Ellen C. McManus, were wed in a ceremony by a Baptist minister in Brookline. Perhaps the newlyweds were in that town to be near Enos’s sister Harriet and her husband Thomas. Enos had left the sea and worked as a carpenter like Thomas. The familial marriage between Enos Jr. and Ellen was doomed, however, ending in divorce six years later, in 1871.

Harriet and Enos weren’t the only Merrymans in the Bay State. By 1870, Hannah, niece Emma Ann Clough, and widowed sister Adeline Kincaid lived in Haverhill where several of Hannah’s nieces and nephews had already moved. The three women were in the home of Adeline’s daughter and son-in-law, Affie (Kincaid) and John Chase. The census didn’t record if the women left Maine for financial reasons, to be closer to family, or because Hannah was hurt and angry that her kin turned her out of house and home.

Harriet Knights death 1873 crpd

Harriet K. Merriman death record

In any event, Hannah may have been grateful for the move to Massachusetts because she was closer to daughter Harriet, who, it turns out, did not have time to spare. In 1873, Harriet died of uterine cancer at the age of forty-one, in her home in Roxbury.

Hannah’s younger daughter, Fannie, was still unmarried at the time, perhaps inspiring Hannah to play matchmaker. The 1870 census listed Hannah living near carpenter Edward B. Bishop, his wife Mary, and their child. It’s not clear if Mary died or the couple divorced, but in 1876 Edward married Fannie (1843-1920). She seemed to be the first of her siblings to wed outside the Merryman and McManus clan. However, it should be noted that Edward was originally from Harpswell, Maine, where Bishops and Merrymans had been marrying one another for a very long time.

About this time, Enos Jr. remarried, this time to Massachusetts-born Sarah Ellinwood.

 Back Home

Capt Richard McManus monument

Capt. Richard McManus Monument in Pine Grove Cemetery, Brunswick, Maine

In 1875, Hannah’s brother, eighty-year-old Richard McManus, died of heart disease after amassing “a handsome property which, however, the reverses of later years have somewhat diminished.”* Perhaps this event prompted Hannah’s return to Brunswick, for by 1880 she lived in Brunswick village. The census that year showed she continued to surround herself with family: her son, the shipmaster John Henry, and her sister, Adeline Kincaid.

Hannah’s third child, Walter, meanwhile, had left the sea to become a farmer in the Growstown part of Brunswick. By 1877, he, too, had married. At first glance his wife, Nancy McManus, appears to have been Walter’s cousin. Nancy’s maiden name, however, was Webb; she was actually the widow of James McManus. It was she who purchased the Growstown farm in 1877. When Walter died just four years later, their farm was still mortgaged to Charles Webb of Bangor, likely Nancy’s relative. Though the widow’s situation echoes Hannah’s of thirty years prior, Nancy Merryman successfully repaid her mortgage and did not lose her home.

A New Brunswick

When Hannah left her rural hometown years earlier, several factories operated along the Androscoggin River at the head of Maine Street, but seafaring, shipbuilding, and farming were still the most important occupations. By her return, the factories had overtaken the traditional occupations in importance. Young women at the Dennison Box factory earned more than local schoolteachers. As shipbuilding all but stopped in Brunswick, the railroad gained in influence: the town followed standardized “railroad time” instead of traditional “farmers’ time” that had been determined by the sun and varied from town to town. Farmers lost additional ground as shopkeepers cut back their evening hours, the only time available to farmers to replenish supplies after a long day’s work.

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Brunswick Town Hall 1926, Courtesy Snow Index by Richard Snow, CurtisLibrary.com

The village itself had been a typical New England hamlet spanned by dusty roads, dotted with unadorned wooden shops and homes. The railroad changed that, too. Maine Central Rail Road (MCRR) built a black iron bridge on Mill Street spanning the Androscoggin and another crossing overhead on Jordan Avenue, a new brick sidewalk was installed from the railroad station to Mill Street, and MCRR opened a roundhouse on Union Street. The newly urbanized village gained a crown jewel upon completion of the picturesque Town Hall.

The Brunswick of Hannah’s earlier years was principally an Anglo-Saxon Protestant town, but even in her time two groups challenged that homogeneity. The first was the African American settlement in East Brunswick that peaked in the 1850s at nearly sixty members, less than 2% of Brunswick’s total population of 4,977 in 1850. The other group, Irish immigrants, arrived in waves during the Irish Potato Famine before the Civil War and included not just Protestants, but also Catholics. Over time, some Bath-Brunswick African American families faded to white and new generations of Maine-born Irish lost their foreign accents, quietly blending into the community-at-large, restoring a sense of sameness.

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Undated Cabot Mill Post Card, Courtesy Digital Commons

After the Civil War, the Irish Catholics were joined by French Canadian Catholics, most having come to work in the Cabot cotton mill at the head of Maine Street. Brunswick “natives” described the French part of town as “colorful” and akin to being in a foreign country. The immigrants’ tenement homes along the river reflected their rural Quebec origins; the families raised pigs for food, cows for milk and cheese, and some even made their own beer. They continued to speak French among themselves and sent their children to a French Catholic School. Furthermore, Irish and French Catholics alike worshiped in Latin. It’s doubtful that Hannah found comfort from such an unfamiliar, albeit rural, society.

From 1870 to 1890, the “foreign” population of Brunswick roughly doubled each decade. By 1891 there were almost 2500 French Canadians in a town of 6,012 people. Surely some feared French Canadian Catholics would become the majority.

Capt Robt McManus monument

Capt. Robert McManus Monument in Pine Grove Cemetery, Brunswick, Maine

While the Catholic population increased, Hannah’s own generation continued to shrink. She lost her sister Adeline in 1886, then her brother, Capt. Robert McManus, the very next year.

By the time Hannah died in 1899 at age ninety-three of valvular heart disease, she had been a widow forty-eight years, more than twice as long as she had been married. She even outlived four of her seven children. And, though she herself had come back to her hometown, none of her remaining children or grandchildren lived in Maine. She had seen her hometown evolve from an Anglos-Saxon Protestant farming and seafaring village to an industrial town with an ever-increasing Catholic population. Did the changes reinforce Hannah’s identity or did her sense of self evolve along with the town?

Hannah’s family certainly evolved. They left Maine, some found new occupations, and others left the comfortable extended McManus-Merryman family to find spouses. In a small way, they even changed their name. Though Brunswick documents record the “Merryman” surname, records from Massachusetts to California list Hannah’s children as “Merriman.” While the family monument erected in Varney Cemetery on Pine Street reminds us of Hannah’s cherished position in her large and complicated family, the “Merriman” names inscribed on it also remind us that families change in ways small and large.

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Merriman Monument (on left), Varney Cemetery

Hannah (McManus) Merriman herself did not change in one very important way. The Merriman monument memorializes the births and deaths of her children Walter Scott, John Henry, and Harriet Knights; along with grandson Thomas P. Merriman. Even in death, Hannah is surrounded by family.

Next Blog: Le Cultivateur 

Sources:

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Hannah Keeps Her House

 

Hannah Merriman monument

When Hannah (McManus) Merryman died in 1899, no obituary appeared in the Brunswick Telegraph. Her children, though, engraved her epitaph on the family monument in Varney Cemetery. Mark Cheetham of Richmond, Maine, transcribed the stone in 2007:

In memory of
our dear mother
who tried to make
home happy and
who’s voice…her
…………..
bea………
comforting ways try to
do right…….there
is our good and loving mother
MERRIMAN

The fractured epitaph provides a glimpse of Hannah’s character but the numerous tangled connections in the McManus-Merryman family offer insight into events in her life that both aided and challenged her efforts to keep a happy home.

Hannah C. McManus

When Hannah C. McManus was born in 1806, Thomas Jefferson was president of the United States and Maine was a district of Massachusetts. She was one of seven children of Robert and Elenor (Coombs) McManus of Rocky Hill. Hannah’s future husband, Enos Merryman, was born the following year on a nearby farm.

Young Hannah and Enos grew up surrounded by siblings and cousins in a neighborhood that straddled the Brunswick-Durham border. Like the McManuses and Merrymans, most neighbors were of English and Scots-Irish stock. Several were members of the Society of Friends, though the McManus and Merryman families attended Congregational or Baptist churches.

Hannah was still a child when Americans fought the English in the War of 1812. Many local men joined the efforts to preserve the country’s independence and their own seafaring livelihoods. These included Hannah’s teenaged brother Richard and several McManus cousins, all of whom joined Capt. Richard T. Dunlap’s Company in Bath.

During that war, Hannah’s mother died, leaving seven motherless children. Though some, like Richard, were nearly adults, it would have been difficult for farmer Robert McManus to care for his children while also working the farm.

In 1813, Robert married Eleanor Crosby. Was it taxing for Eleanor to rear another woman’s young children or was she naturally warm and loving enough to nurture the grieving youngsters? Perhaps Hannah’s love of home and family was born during this time as she helped care for her six half brothers and half sisters. Or perhaps her extended family on Rocky Hill modeled the virtues that guided Hannah throughout her life.

Hannah’s teenage years during the 1820s coincided with the decade of Maine: the state gained independence from Massachusetts, “Main” Street became Maine Street, and Bowdoin College welcomed the newly founded Maine Medical School.

Rocky Hill residents experienced a severe setback in 1823 when Hannah was seventeen. A blaze started in the woods and burned four miles down the hill toward Brunswick village, spreading a mile wide as it raged. The wild fire destroyed twenty-two sets of buildings and killed numerous farm animals.* No help for rebuilding their lives would have come from the village so Hannah would have witnessed families and neighbors helping one another rebuild their homes and barns, while each struggled to replace the food and income from their lost crops and livestock.

New edited McManus Merryman Family Tree 2016

By the end of the decade, two families in the already close-knit community seemed to tighten into a knot, when four McManus women married four Merryman men. These included Hannah McManus and Enos Merryman, who married in July of 1829.

Mrs. Enos Merryman

Because Enos followed the sea, he was sometimes away for weeks or months at a time. During his absences, Hannah likely turned to her large extended family for company and comfort. So many of her children bore family names that it seems clear her kin were important to her:

Robert Lincoln (1830-1903) was probably named for her father or her older brother, Robert McManus. It’s not hard to imagine either of them bouncing the lad on their knee.

Harriet Knights (1831-1873) was born the same year Hannah’s brother, Capt. Robert McManus, married Harriet E. Knights of Portland. Perhaps the new Mrs. McManus stayed with the Merrymans while her husband conducted a particularly long voyage.

Walter Scott (1834-1881) may have been named for the author of many novels of the era such as Ivanhoe. Perhaps the family gathered around the fireside listening to the story read aloud by one of them, Hannah mending their clothing, Enos smoking a pipe purchased in a far away port.

George (1836-1858) is an echo of her brother Capt. George McManus. Did Uncle George fill the boy with tall tales of his sailing exploits, inspiring the boy to become a mariner? 

Enos (1840-1908), of course, was named for his father. Was the child a particular favorite of the father? Did the boy feel obligated to follow his father’s career path?

Fannie Quinby (1843-1920) may honor Elizabeth McManus’s husband Rev. Oliver H. Quinby, whom Elizabeth married in 1841 and who died in 1842. Was Elizabeth Hannah’s sister? No matter, Hannah’s heart must have broken for the new widow and mother of infant Oliver B.

John Henry (1845-1901) may well be a nod to Hannah’s brother-in-law John Merryman. John Henry followed the sea rather than his uncle’s farming ways, though he did emulate his uncle by making his way to California.

Portland Maine 1876 BPL

Hannah C. Merryman, Widow

Ships were still the main mode of long-distance travel when the first locomotive steamed through Brunswick in 1849. That year Hannah’s brother-in-law John Merryman headed west to dig for gold in California, and her husband Enos bought a Rocky Hill farm between River and Durham Roads. Their eldest child Robert was fifteen, just the right age for a first stint aboard ship. The youngest was only five, but no longer a baby needing constant attendance. The Merrymans seemed on the verge of easier times.

The 1850s, however, turned out to be a particularly difficult time for Hannah and her family. At the beginning of the decade, Enos, Hannah and their children lived in Portland, away from the comfort of their Rocky Hill family and friends. Also listed in their home in that year’s census were Elizabeth (McManus) Quinby Clough and Anna Clough, presumably Hannah’s sister and niece. Elizabeth had married Durham neighbor Josiah Clough after her first husband’s death. Was she in the city visiting Hannah that day or was she staying in their home?

The following year the Merrymans may still have been in Portland when Enos was ship-keeper aboard a ship docked at the port of New York and died of smallpox in January. It took days for Hannah to receive the news of her husband’s death because the telegraph hadn’t come to Brunswick yet. Did word come in a letter carried by stage or train, or in person by a mariner returning home to Brunswick?

A month later in Portland, the branches of the Merryman family tree tangled a bit more when Hannah’s eldest daughter Harriet Knights Merryman married Harriet’s own distant cousin, Thomas Merryman (1826-1892). Thomas was himself the son of two distant cousins, James and Mary (Merryman) Merryman. The joy of their marriage must have been tempered by the sadness that Enos was not there to witness his daughter’s marriage, nor delight in his first grandchild, a boy named Thomas.

1857 map Hannah Merryman home

Enos died intestate, so the Cumberland County Probate Court ordered the couple’s Rocky Hill real estate auctioned off to repay debts and mortgages nearing $900. The sale was held at the homestead in May of 1853. Hannah turned to family for help, borrowing money from Robert and Richard McManus, presumably her brothers of the same names. Her offer of $531 for the 34-acre farm on Durham Road plus another 10 acres nearby was the winning bid.

Hannah kept her home.

Next Blog: The Rest of Hannah’s Story

Sources:

  • Ancestry.com: Various including City Directories, Family Trees, United States Federal and State Censuses, Vital Records (Birth, Death, and Marriage).
  • Vital Records of Brunswick, Maine 1740-1860 and The Forsaith Book. Compiled by Joseph Crook Anderson II, CG, FASG. Picton Press, Rockport, Maine, 2004.
  • Cemeteries of Brunswick, Maine, Varney Cemetery, M, <http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mebrucem/trans35.13.html>, compiled by Barbara A. Desmarais, ongoing.
  • Brunswick Cemeteries, Brunswick, Maine, Varney Cemetery, Cheetham, Donald, and Mark Cheetham, Richmond, Maine, 2007. Also see: <http://www.curtislibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Varney-Cemetery-searchable1.pdf&gt;
  • Our Town, Reminiscenses and Historical Studies of Brunswick, Maine. From the Collections of the Pejepscot Historical Society, Brunswick, Maine, 1967. Edited by Louise Helmreich, Ph.D.
  •  A Genealogical Surname Index to the History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine by George Augustus Wheeler and Henry Warren Wheeler 1878. Compiled by Shirley Simington Schilly, Pejepscot Historical Society, Brunswick, ME, 1985.
  • Walter Merryman of Harpswell, Maine: And His Descendants, Sinnett, Charles Nelson, Rumford Printing Company, Harpswell, 1905.
  • Bird’s eye view of the city of Portland, Maine, 1876, Warner, Jos., Stoner, J.J., Portland, Me. 1876 The Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, <http://maps.bpl.org/id/10424&gt;
  • History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler, Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878.

 

 

 

 

 

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Going Viral

Cover of Wheeler Brothers' History of Brunswick

A midnight browse through the pages of History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine* yielded more information about Brunswick’s earliest reactions to smallpox, the highly contagious, disfiguring, and often fatal Variola virus, and led to speculation as to the cause of the 1851 epidemics in Brunswick, Maine, and New York.

The Wheeler brothers reported that in October of 1792, during Brunswick’s first smallpox epidemic, citizens ‘voted not to allow any person in this town to inoculate for to take the small-pox, but to take all possible care to prevent the spreading of the disorder.’* For two months, 18 inspectors examined, smoked (in special smokehouses), and cleaned “all goods brought into town.”* Further, the inspectors were directed to “stop, examine, and cleanse any person whom they might suspect of being infected.”* The voters also approved quarantining infected persons in a 28-by-14-foot hospital to be built on the Town Commons. No doctor was allowed to treat smallpox patients without approval from the selectmen.

Thirty-four years later, Brunswick reacted differently to an impending smallpox epidemic. This time voters opted to fund inoculation for every unvaccinated person in town.

In 1851, the same year Enos Merryman died of smallpox aboard ship at the port of New York (see The Shipkeeper and the Housekeeper), there were a few cases of smallpox in the Brunswick area. Once again, the men voted ‘to cause the inhabitants of the town to be vaccinated without delay.’

Was it merely coincidence that New York and Brunswick had smallpox cases in the same year or did disease contracted in one location spread to the other? Let the speculation begin!

We don’t know if Enos was at the beginning or end of his voyage when he was docked in New York, nor if other Brunswick mariners were part of the crew. If he had just arrived in New York, and was already infected with smallpox, Enos could have been the starting point for the city’s epidemic. The disease could have spread out from him to the crew, then to the crew’s favorite venues, and outward to the rest of the city.

It seems more likely, though, that he was at the end of a voyage, perhaps having returned from an area where smallpox was endemic. Given that several of his Merryman and McManus kin were also sailors, one or more could well have been a crew member of the same ship and, having been infected with the virus, brought it to Brunswick when they returned home from their voyage.

Whether or not the New York and Brunswick smallpox episodes were related, 19th-century Maine mariners were physically connected to the world in ways that would have made them shudder at the term “going viral.”

Next Blog: Hannah Keeps Her House

Sources:

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