Twice on Sunday: Part 2

First Parish meeting house #1 cropped

First Parish Meetinghouse with fenced-in graveyard on the right. See Wheelers’ in Sources.


The settlers continued their long sit on the hard wooden benches, inside the First Parish Meeting House. Some of them sat stiffly upright, others, particularly the youngest, wiggled and squirmed. The sun beat down on the building, and thus indirectly on the church goers. Outside on the road to Maquoit, dogs lay in the shade of nearby trees or in shadows cast by slate tombstones in the graveyard.

Whilst Rev. Rutherford continued to read from the Book of Mark, Capt. Benjamin Larrabee let his mind wander through town and military affairs. When he finally returned his attention to the pulpit, Rutherford was reading:

…whosoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Ah, thought Larrabee, it’s about the taxes. Or the Indians. Or the general court’s desire to close the fort. Assured that Rutherford would cover no new ground as he expounded on the responsibilities of leadership, Larrabee arranged his carriage and expression to convey both understanding of the minister’s concerns and competent authority. Thus armed, he once more let his mind wander, this time to the future of his eldest daughter, Mary. She was but fourteen, but still, ‘twouldn’t be amiss to start on arrangements. Samuel Hinkley at New Meadows had several unmarried sons. Impeccable family, of course, being kin of a long past governor of Plymouth. Well, when Larrabee moved his family to New Meadows, he’d be better able to take each boy’s measure, make the right match.

DOGS Chauveau_-_Fables_de_La_Fontaine_-_02-07 (1).jpg

See in Sources.

Ah, Rutherford had reached the end of his tirade. To be fair, the man spoke not from anger but from concern for his fellow townsmen. Larrabee rose stiffly, more from long inactivity than from any reaction to the minister’s speech. He led his family down the aisle and out into the noon sun. Before the boys could run off into the woods, he cautioned them to stay out of the creek. He knew they’d still likely dangle their feet in the running water to cool off. He was pleased to observe a settler’s dog following the boys. Pompey, too, would watch over them, lest there be savages hiding nearby to do mischief upon the lads.

Seeing Mary, as always, had the girls in hand, Larrabee made for Woodside’s wagon. There he purchased a half mug of rum to sip whilst watching the women and girls set up luncheon.

John Malcolm emerged from the wood’s edge and, seeing Larrabee, headed straight for him. Larrabee breathed out slowly, stifling the groan that threatened to spill from his throat. As he suspected, Malcolm wondered when they might hear word on the town’s taxes. Twasn’t bad enough Rutherford pummeled the selectmen during his ceaseless talk; now his neighbors did the same.

Larrabee answered politely. “I should think by town meeting next.”

Malcolm asked, “Informed them on the cost of importing our material needs, did you?”

“Aye,” he answered, “as well as regards the Indian problem. ‘Twas all I could do to keep the fort intact and manned. They were ready to leave off that entirely.” He didn’t bother to tell Malcolm his personal desire was to never set foot in Boston or court again. The man wouldn’t care how much Larrabee detested the long journey, the crowded city, and the men who thought themselves superior to the settlers, even to Larrabee himself.

Mug and Barrel Morguefile 1-IMG_8738.jpg Accessed March 1, 2018.

He downed the last of his drink. “Excuse me, Malcolm, my luncheon awaits.”

He tarried no longer since Mary had set out his favorite cornbread, the one sweetened with maple syrup. ‘Twouldn’t last long with his brood. Rightly, she’d keep a portion just for him, but he liked to choose a second, and perhaps a third, for himself.

After the meal, Larrabee and Nathaniel strolled out behind the meetinghouse, past the stocks, and into the little graveyard. As was his habit, Nathaniel stopped at Andrew Dunning’s stone, the one carved by the son James. As usual, he read out the words and dates carved thereon:

Heare Lyeth the body of Mr. Andrew Duning,

who departed this life January the 18th Annodom 1736,

aged 72 years.


1660 Charles 2d

1666 London Burnt

1685 James 2d

1689 Wm & Mary

1702 Queen Ann

1714 George 1st

1727 George 2d

Nathaniel shook his head. In wonder? In disbelief? Larrabee wasn’t sure.

The lad said, “He lived through all that. So many kings and queens.” After a bit Nathaniel added, “He was alive even when London burnt, Father!”

Larrabee said, “Aye, life isn’t all skittles and ale, Nathaniel.”

“No, Sir, it isn’t. But that’s not what I’m about. It’s the words on the stones.” Father and son continued walking. When they reached the far edge of the graveyard the son said, “They show a man was here. That he had family. That he had a place in the settlement.”

“Aye, but I don’t need a stone to show I was here. You are the proof of that, my boy. Lest ye forget, how you comport yourself tells friend and foe alike what manner of man you are, but, to my mind of equal import, what manner of man your father is.”

“I won’t forget, sir.”

Larrabee saw Snow making for the meetinghouse door. “Come, lad, ‘tis time for the second part.”

He stood aside while his family entered their pew, then settled himself in for the afternoon service. Expecting ‘twould proceed much as the morning one had done, he let his mind wander to the next town meeting. Would the general court forgive the citizens their 1740 taxes?

Bible Morgue file000739484034.jpg Accessed March 1, 2018.

Rutherford spoke on in his Irish burr.

All of a sudden, Larrabee was startled at the sound of wood rapping against wood. He straightened himself, smoothed down his jacket, pulled the sleeves into place. The rapping, of course, had been George Coombs striking his cane against the side of a pew. Why the man took it upon himself to rouse a gentleman contemplating the doings of the town was beyond him. If Rutherford suffered from a lack of attention, he could call out “Wake up, my hearers” himself.

Larrabee faced steadily forward, ignoring the look Mary likely cast upon him. When Bennie chortled, Larrabee looked him a warning. The boy quieted immediately, tucking himself under Nathaniel’s arm.

‘Course, the knocks might not have been aimed at him since he knew right well he’d paid close attention to the pulpit. After all, each settler, man and wife alike, worked from dawn to dusk. Any man, English or Irish, might lull into a doze, sitting still in the afternoon stifle, listening to Rutherford’s drone. Perhaps ‘twas even that Coombs himself needed the activity to keep his own head from nodding.

It seemed hours later when Rutherford spoke his last and Snow lined out the final psalm. Now they could make their way home to the fort. Perhaps after Larrabee checked in with his men he’d find time to stand on the river banking, watch the sun drop behind the falls. The sound of that water, sometimes roaring, sometimes gurgling, was his lullaby those nights when sleep hid from him.


From the fort to the meetinghouse. Annotated Map of Brunswick and Topsham Villages in 1802. See Wheelers’ in Sources.


The village men scanned the edges of the clearing as they led their families home. Their dogs, in the way of the species, sometimes followed the people and sometimes disappeared into the woods, reappearing ahead of them as if to lead the way.

Larrabee’s procession travelled in extra safety, accompanied by his Indian scout Joseph and his African servant Pompey.

The girls nattered on about who knew what. He loved their sparkling voices, but rarely bothered to hear their words.

The family was about halfway to home when Nathaniel spoke. “I don’t understand, Sir.”

“What’s that, my boy?”

“Reverend Rutherford this morning.”

They all walked on. Mary wife and Mary daughter each carried a babe. Larrabee himself had just now scooped up Bennie, whose head already lolled against his father’s shoulder. Well, he thought ‘twas Bennie’s head, but it surely pressed upon him same as a sack filled with stones.

After his accustomed pause Nathaniel added, “He told us to pray ‘for the continued safety of the town against the Indians and the French.’”

As usual, the lad’s quote was succinct and accurate. He continued, “What I mean is, are we not French?”

Larrabee stifled his impulse to shush Nathaniel. He considered his words, then replied, “Aye, a century ago perhaps, our fathers were from France. But now, in this place, we’re of England.”

“But, we’re still French?” Nathaniel asked.

“Not that kind of French, Nathaniel, not Papists who leave off the Bible and instead follow the priests. Hence our escape from France. There’s naught worse than Catholics.” Larrabee thought for a moment, then added, “Not even Indians.”


See Wheelers’ in Sources.

The family continued to walk, though now in silence. In the near distance, the stone fort awaited their arrival, British flag rippling in the wind. Larrabee listened closely and fancied that, over the snap of the flag and the calls of his soldiers, he could hear the gentle burble of the falls.

He was home.


Next Blog: Beyond the Grave: Pompey’s Circumstance


  • Vital records, family histories, family trees, and databases.
  • BibleStudyTools Staff, compilers and editors. Bible Verses about Leadership., Salem Media Group, 2/4/2015. . Accessed Jan. 18, 2018.
  • Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. and Henry Warren Wheeler. (Wheelers’) History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. (Wheelers’) Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878., accessed Dec. 15, 2017.
  • Image of dog: detail from Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Chauveau – Fables de La Fontaine – 02-07.png,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, title=File:Chauveau_-_Fables_de_La_Fontaine_-_02-07.png&oldid=289263505 (accessed February 27, 2018).

Posted in Brunswick History | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments


TWO BOOKS by Brunswick authors inspired me to take a different for this particular blog.

The first book, The Eastern by Deborah Gould, is a fictionalized account of five real families who settled along the Eastern River in Pittston in the early 1800s. Gould combines historical facts with a lyrical sense of place to illustrate the give and take of their rural community.

The second, The Passion of Perfection by June Vail, is a biography of social activist Gertrude Hitz Burton. Vail uses archived diaries as well as letters between Gertrude and her well-known friends, including Robert Peary, Clara Barton, and Alexander Graham Bell, to inform the reader of women’s struggles in the late Victorian era. Gertrude also happened to marry a descendant of Brunswick’s Capt. Benjamin and Mary (Elithorpe) Larrabee.

The authors’ descriptions of everyday 19th century life were integral to the stories rather than history lessons, yet they provided valuable historical context. Intrigued by their examples, I wrote the following narrative of an imagined Sunday sometime around 1742. All of the characters are real and appear in documents of the time. Their respective roles at Sunday meeting are accurate; their personalities and the particular actions of that day are entirely fictional.


From the fort to the meetinghouse. Annotated Map of Brunswick and Topsham Villages in 1802. See Wheelers’ in Sources. Jan. 23, 2018.

Twice on Sunday: Part 1

EARLY SUNDAY MORNING in the house at Fort George, Mary Larrabee cradled Stephen, her youngest, in one arm while using the other to dole out porridge for the rest. One of the toddlers almost toppled her when he grabbed onto her skirts to pull himself upright. Mary called to her eldest daughter to set the child on the bench and see to it that he ate. Now. She told another daughter to make sure everyone was dressed so they could leave for meeting directly after breakfast.

Capt. Benjamin Larrabee made the rounds of the fort, seeing that the soldiers on guard duty were in place and alert to the activities of the Natives. Larrabee readied his gun, then passed it off to his Negro servant Pompey who, of course, already wore the Captain’s engraved powder horn and doeskin pack of musket balls.

Exuberant Larrabee children poured out of the house into the bailey, ready to walk the three miles to the meetinghouse. Nathaniel, though, having reached thirteen years of age, strode through the courtyard with the dignity appropriate for the eldest son of the fort commander. Since it was summer, the boys were barefoot, as were the girls. The older sisters carried their shoes and hose to keep them clean until they were within sight of the church. Then they would repair to the edge of the woods to put them on.

Mary carried the baby in one arm and a basket of provisions in the other. The eldest girl, Mary Jr, likewise carried a basket and the youngest girl. The Captain hoisted three-year-old Bennie up onto his shoulders.

He wondered, not for the first time, if he should invest in a horse. One with a pillion saddle so Mary and one of the girls could ride, each holding a babe. No, that money was better spent just as he and John Minot had done, on the wine flagons and cups for the communion sacrament.

Larrabee scanned along both sides of the road into the woods. All seemed clear. He’d feel safer when they finished widening the main thoroughfare.

John Malcolm’s dog trotted out to greet them, but Malcolm himself was nowhere in sight. Larrabee gripped Bennie’s legs tighter when the toddler struggled to reach the cur. Bennie dropped a morsel of food to the ground, which Malcolm’s mutt scrambled to eat. Now the fool dog would follow them to meeting and probably into the building itself. Well, never mind, Malcolm would suffer the fine for letting his dog into church, not Larrabee.


First Parish meeting house #1 cropped

First Parish Meetinghouse with fenced-in graveyard on the right. See Wheelers’ in Sources.


As soon as all that, the meeting house on the road to Maquoit rose into view. He sent the boys into the woods to forestall at least some wiggling around during the next three hours. Mary shooed the girls to the edge of the tree line to don their leggings and slippers.

John Malcolm stood at Esquire Woodside’s wagon, quenching his thirst from the trader’s offerings. Relieved the dog wasn’t anywhere to be seen, Larrabee merely nodded good day to both men.

Mary gathered her girls around. He heard her remind them that they were not the daughters of mere farmers, important though farmers were in providing God’s bounty. Nor were they the daughters of mere soldiers, may God bless their efforts against the Savages. No, they were the daughters of the Captain of the Fort, thrice elected Selectman of the Town of Brunswick in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Their future marriage partners might this very moment be judging the girls’ worthiness and humility.

His wife’s speech well pleased him.

He knew the hour must be near because Mrs. Dunning, the one from the blockhouse just below the fort, was already herding her own girls inside. Larrabee mounted the threshold, followed by Nathaniel, then Pompey. He didn’t bother calling the boys; it was their job to see they entered right behind him.

Once inside, he trusted Pompey to take his seat with the other servants. As it happened, Pompey found a place next to Joseph, Larrabee’s Indian scout.

Mary and the girls made their way to their pew at the very front of the meeting house, on the left aisle. Larrabee stood aside to let the females, then the boys, file onto the bench, reserving the outermost seat for himself. The Dunnings had already slipped into their pew across the aisle. Once again that David Dunning’s Negro lad sat on the floor next to the family, bold as brass. That Irishman spoiled his boy. By all that is holy, he ought to sit with the other servants.


Finch, Rev Peter

Having no image of Rev. Rutherford, we’ve inserted an illustration of The Reverend Mr. Peter Finch AM in his own great white wig, courtesy of Received Dec. 23, 2017.


The minister, Robert Rutherford, stood at the pulpit, arranging the bills for special prayers. Larrabee acknowledged the man with a subtle nod of his head. The Irish preacher was imposing, his great white periwig freshly curled and powdered. Larrabee had to admit, for a Presbyterian, Rutherford did a fair job of giving the sense of the scripture. Still, ‘twould be fine to have one of their own up to the pulpit one of these days.

Deacon Isaac Snow must now be at the entrance, for Larrabee heard him call meeting time. Snow proceeded to his seat in front of the raised pulpit, Larrabee acknowledging him as he passed. The Englishman would soon be his neighbor, once the Larrabees relocated to New Meadows.

There was a scurry of footsteps and rustle of skirts as stragglers found their places. A soft thump drew Larrabee’s attention. The dog had followed them in after all and set himself down in the middle of the aisle. He shot a look at Bennie. When Bennie grinned back, Larrabee pushed down his desire to smile back. The Good Lord help him, his Nathaniel would go far in this world and make him proud, but Bennie would always make him smile.

One of Malcolm’s brood grabbed the dog by the neck, then led the animal outside.

Rutherford looked down from the pulpit, one brow arched, then cleared his throat. When all was quiet, he read the first prayer request. It seemed the young man, Andrew McFarland, was ailing. Rutherford paused briefly. Perhaps, thought Larrabee, the minister was recalling his own grown son’s death this January past.

Rutherford read four more prayer bills: one for the sick; one for redemption; another for a son’s obedience; and the last the one, of course, for the continued safety of the town against the Indians and the French. Larrabee wondered if he’d be submitting prayer notes for a son’s obedience when Bennie was older.

Next, Rutherford led the congregation in reciting the Long Prayer. He followed that, as always, with the requests: that the ill might find renewed health, should it please the Lord; that sinners might find His salvation; that children submit to their fathers and wives to their husbands; that God might turn the heart of the Savages to the true Word and send the French to their just reward.

As soon as the minister announced the psalms Deacon Snow, his modest white wig slightly askew, stood, drew his shoulders back, and opened his psalter. He chanted the first line of psalm 107 to a melody Larrabee particularly disliked. Long psalm, dirge of a tune–the deacon must be in a mood today. Still, as the congregation responded, singing “the Lord is Good”, Larrabee’s spirits rose.

Snow lined out the next part; the congregation responded in song. Since Larrabee himself barely carried a tune, he appreciated Snow’s fine tenor and the sweet harmony someone else provided. Was that Dunning’s boy? When the psalm finally ended he had to admit, Snow was a more than passable clerk of psalms.

The deacon resumed his seat. All eyes turned to Rutherford, who took his time looking out over the lectern, his gaze finding each Selectman, first Larrabee, then Samuel Hinkley, and finally town treasurer Wymond Bradbury.

The minister began, “Today’s reading is from the book of Mark, verse ten, lines forty-two through forty-five.”

Larrabee pursed his lips. That explains the looks then. How has the select board transgressed against the citizens this time?

Next Blog: Twice on Sunday-Part 2

Note: Hear the Psalms of David sung a cappella


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Competent Inhabitants


1752 Brunswick Map p 40 WheelersCrpd

Map of Brunswick and Topsham Villages in 1802. Accessed Dec. 16, 2017.

Brunswick was the place to be in the 1730s. Ulster Scots named Giveen, Malcolm, Simpson, Stanwood, and Campbell joined early settlers Woodside, Dunning, and McFarland. The Gatchells arrived, claiming Welch ancestry. Old guard English families like Hinkley, Minot, and Jordan came up from southern Maine.

The old guard descendants included Deacon Samuel Hinkley, grand-nephew of early Plymouth Colony governor Thomas Hinkley; John Minot, son of Pejepscot Proprietor Stephen Minot; and John Jordan, grandson of Rev. Robert Jordan, the minister who used legal maneuvers to gain control of a vast swath of land in southern Maine.

Another old guard family, the Thompsons thought themselves to be early Irish colonists of the New Hampshire frontier. DNA testing, though, shows they descend from William Thompson, who was likely a Scottish prisoner of war transported to New England after the 1650 Battle of Dunbar.

The settlers were blacksmiths, traders and trappers, churchmen, doctors and lawyers, farmers and fishermen, mariners and soldiers. They were weavers, seamstresses, herbalists, and healers. These pioneers had all the skills needed to sustain a community. The trouble was they had divided themselves into perceived ethnic groups, with Presbyterian Ulster Scots to the south and English-oriented Congregationalists at New Meadows. It would take a person of patience, empathy, and good character to unify them.

Capt. Benjamin Larrabee was that man.

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 3.17.05 PM

Portrait of Capt. Benjamin Larrabee, Accessed Dec. 16, 2017.

Not only was Captain Larrabee charged with protecting the community from Native incursions, but the Pejepscot Proprietors also gave him power of attorney to be their agent and clerk. His first order of business was to work up a new lot plan. For this he engaged Phineas Jones who, with a handful of assistants, worked in the dead of winter to survey both sides of the Androscoggin River, Merriconeag Neck, and Sebascodegan Island. They chose winter because it was easier to travel over frozen ponds and brooks by foot than by canoe. It was also easier to avoid marauding Natives, though Larrabee’s soldiers accompanied the surveyors as further protection.

Relative peace allowed the settlers to tame their wilderness. They cut trees for lumber to use or sell and to clear the land for cultivation. They built a meetinghouse from which to conduct religious services and town meetings, and installed a graveyard for the departed and a stock for the delinquent on the same property. The families were now numerous and large enough to provide locals of marriageable age and enough men to tend to municipal duties.

In 1735 some thirty of these men, including Capt. Larrabee, William Woodside, James Dunning, John Giveen, and James McFarland petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to grant Brunswick legal township status. Though the legislature approved, the governor didn’t sign the act into law.

The settlers carried on and their numbers increased. Larrabee sold one hundred acre lots “near Giveen” at Merriconeag for £16, at Brunswick Rd for £10, and at Topsham and New Meadows for £25.

Sometimes squatters set up shop, felling logs and cutting hay, thus robbing the legal landowners of potential income. Considering the density of Maine forests today, this may seem a petty squabble. It wasn’t, in large part because Capt. Larrabee had arranged for cash-strapped settlers to pay their taxes with that same lumber. So in 1737 the Pejepscot Proprietors authorized John Booker on Sebascodegan Island and Col. Johnson Harmon on Merriconeag Neck to keep squatters off that land and to seize any wood, timber, or hay they had cut. The hay would be used locally, the wood shipped to Boston for sale.


Tombstone of Dr. Samuel Gyles, son of Capt. John Gyles: First Parish Cemetery, Brunswick, Me.                                 Image by Barbara A. Desmarais, July 29, 2016.


Community members put the finishing touches on the new meetinghouse. Capt. Larrabee and John Minot donated “two flagons, three plates, and four cups” for communion services. The adjacent graveyard replaced the old one at the fort and soon found use:

  • Margret Stevinson died in 1732 at age 65.
  • Andrew Dunning Sr died in 1736 at age 72.
  • Susan Bond Dunning died in 1737 at age 69.
  • Dr. Samuel Gyles died in 1738 at age 32.
  • Robert Speer Jr died in 1739 at age 23.

It had now been over a decade since the last all out “Indian War” in the Pejepscot area. The community had grown sufficiently in human numbers and settled acres that incorporation seemed necessary. So Benjamin Larrabee sailed to Boston on behalf of the citizens of Brunswick, with another petition in hand. He spoke before the General Court, convincing them to pass the petition on to the House of Representatives, thence to the Senate. Finally, on January 26th, 1739, the governor, determining that “there is a Competent Number of Inhabitants already settled upon a Tract lying within the County of York hitherto called and known by the name of Brunswick,” duly declared Brunswick “the eleventh corporate town in Maine.”

Next Blog: Twice on Sunday


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The French Connection

Larrabee & Coombs (1)

Benjamin Larrabee land (red) and Coombs family (blue) at New Meadows in 1741.

The 1730s brought new families to the Pejepscot area. Two of these were the Larrabees and Coombs, who settled just northeast of Harpswell in that part of Brunswick called New Meadows.

Some Larrabees had left Massachusetts for southern Maine in the mid-1600s. In 1730, Benjamin and Mary Larrabee ventured up the coast to further his career; he was to be the third captain of Fort George, replacing William Woodside.

Anthony Coombs, was already at New Meadows by the late 1600s, but fled south to Massachusetts during King William’s War, around 1690. Now his grown children hoped to reclaim their ancestral land.

The settlers of New Meadows at this time tended to be English rather than Ulster Scot, and the Larrabee and Coombs surnames seemed to fit this profile since both names were thought to describe places in Great Britain. The important thing, after years of war between the French and British in Europe and the colonies, was that these two families were British.

Fast-forward one hundred and fifty years to the Wheeler brothers’ 1878 history of the region and to genealogies supplied by the Larrabees and Coombs. Surprisingly, both claimed French origins.

Pau France Nations Online.jpg

The Larrabees thought they were descended from French Huguenots, Protestants who were alternately tolerated and persecuted by the French Catholic Church. Ultimately, many Huguenot families were killed, while others fled to northern European countries including Great Britain, Scandinavia, and Prussia. Some genealogists have claimed the family is descended from Protestant minister Charles Larrabee of Pau, France, while others are sure that Larrabee is an Anglicized version of French names like Labory or Larive. As of yet, no documents support either claim. The supposed immigrant ancestor, William Larrabee, first appeared in Massachusetts records when he married Elizabeth Felt in 1655. So far there are no ship’s logs or town birth entries that point to his childhood home.

His origin is, as the saying goes, undocumented.

Coombs, Alester deed final.jpg

New Meadows land of Alester Coombs in deed from Native leaders to Thomas Stephens.

The local Coombs family tradition was that Anthony Coombs left France for the American colonies in his late teens. His Protestant-leaning mother, the story goes, had bought him ship’s passage to the New World when his Catholic father ordered him to enter the priesthood. We don’t know if Anthony objected to the Roman religion itself or merely to the celibacy requirement of priesthood. In either case, his descendants thought he had a thick accent that he explained away as Scottish, sometimes using the Scottish name Alester, rather than Anthony.

Today ample documentation and DNA evidence reveal his name was originally Antoine Comeau, who wasn’t destined for the priesthood or from France. His father, Pierre, was the one who had left France to become one of the first settlers of Port-Royal in Acadia. Antoine first appeared as Anthony Coombs in 1684, as the apprentice to blacksmith Lewis Allen. Allen himself was actually Louis Allain, also of Port-Royal.

The Coombs, Allen, and perhaps Larrabee families, were French citizens who crossed the disputed border between New France and New England, then adopted Anglicized names to create new lives for themselves. They married into English and Ulster Scots families and attended Protestant churches, effectively abandoning their cultural identity.


Larrabee family graves at Marsh Cemetery, Adams Rd, Brunswick.                                              Image by Barbara A. Desmarais, Dec. 7, 2017.

Throughout the 1700s and beyond, the Larrabees and Coombs of New Meadows intermarried with one another, as well as with neighboring Thompson, Purinton, Hinckley, and Snow families. These pioneer blacksmiths, farmers, lawyers, and shoemakers became selectmen, town clerks, and church deacons. Together these early citizens of Maine in the British colony of Massachusetts built houses, barns, and even a gristmill to grind their harvested grain into flour.

A century and a half later, New England paper and cotton mills would look to Antoine Comeau’s birthplace for willing workers. English-speaking Protestants from Nova Scotia easily fitted into Maine communities. The French-Canadian Catholics who emigrated here from Quebec, however, were foreign in both their language and religion. They were sometimes tolerated, but rarely welcomed by Protestant English-speaking Mainers.


New Meadows River at Marsh Cemetery, Brunswick.                                                                         Image by Barbara A. Desmarais, Dec. 7, 2017.

Is it any wonder, then, that Frenchman Antoine Comeau became British subject Anthony Coombs or that the Larrabees appeared out of thin air, their French connection safely hidden?


Notes for Antoine Comeau:

  • Port-Royal, Acadia is now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
  • Antoine Comeau family’s Y-DNA haplogroup is  R-CTS11567, which evolved in in medieval times Northern Europe (which includes Northern France).

Marsh Cemetery Transcriptions:



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David Dunning’s Net Worth

When Ulster Scots came to Maine in the early 1700s, the harsh conditions here in many ways echoed those they had left in Northern Ireland. Some resources in the American colonies were more abundant, some less, but one was completely familiar to them. That was the Atlantic Salmon who coursed from the sea, to Merrymeeting Bay and up the Androscoggin River to spawn, just as they had done on the Atlantic shore along England and Scotland.


Salmon Fishing  by Wenzel Collar (1607-1677).

Just as they had in their homeland, the Ulster Scots set nets in the shallow mouth of the river to catch the teaming silver fish. Perhaps the nets were knitted during the winter months in anticipation of the late spring salmon run. Corks sewn along the edges of the nets would sink below the water’s surface under the weight of the fish, alerting the fisherman of his bounty.


Caught by Erskine Nicol (1825-1904).

Other’s preferred a more casual, perhaps recreational method, which was to catch the fish with a dip net as they jumped the falls during their return to the river where they themselves had been spawned.

One fine spring day when the trees along the shore unfurled fresh green leaves and black cormorants sunned themselves on a floating log, a fisherman sitting on Middle Rock saw his net corks sink, suddenly and completely. Slowly he maneuvered his net to shore, a net that must have teamed with huge, mature salmon. Surely such a quantity would be enough to cure in the smokehouse for his family’s winter larder, perhaps with some left over to trade for nails or maybe new shoes.



Imagine the man’s shock when his “live and kicking” bounty revealed itself to be Capt. David Dunning, who had toppled into the rushing water while reaching his dip net into the falls.

Perhaps after bringing his laughter under control, the fisherman re-set his net, confident that his would be the best fish story for years to come.

Next Blog: The French Connection


  •, vital records, family histories, family trees, and databases.
  • Englert, Stuart. Smokehouses: Preserving Food and Tradition. Article in American Profile, Nov. 3, 2013. (c) 2017. Accessed Sept. 28, 2017.
  • Hollar, Wenceslaus (1607-1677). Salmon Fishing. Drawing, date unknown. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons. University of Toronto: UofT Libraries: Fisher Library: Digital Collections: The Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection, 512px-Wenceslas Hollar-Salmon Fishing _%28State_1%29.jpg. Accessed Sept. 26, 2017.
  • What is Set Netting? Iliamna Fishing Company, (c) 2017. Accessed Sept. 28, 2017.
  • Nichol, Erskine Caught. Engraving from painting. London Illustrated News, 1865. Downloaded from, Accessed Sept. 29, 2017.
  • Exhibition: Fishing for a Living, The Salmon Coast. Smithsonian National Museum of American History Kenneth E. Behring Center. Accessed Sept. 26, 2017.
  • Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. (Wheelers’) Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878., accessed July 30, 2016.
  • Gillnetting, article. Updated July, 2017. Accessed Sept. 26, 2017.
  • Spawning Atlantic Salmon, photograph by unknown. Marine Animals of Oregon. spawning-atlantic-salmon-738342-ga1.jpg. Accessed Sept. 28, 2017.
Posted in Brunswick History | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Slave to Money

Plan of the Brunswick lots in 1741 and of the Topsham lots in 1768, in Wheelers'

Plan of the Brunswick lots in 1741 and of the Topsham lots in 1768. Electronic reproduction from folded map in copy of Wheelers’ History in possession of Pejepscot Historical Society. Accessed Sept. 19, 2017.

During Lovewell’s War, some families left the Brunswick area for safer communities. Many, though, chose to stay and take their chances. Those who remained found that, over all, the wins of life at Pejepscot seemed to outnumber the losses. During the 1730s, Merriconeag and Sebascodegan (Harpswell), Brunswick, and Topsham continued to grow. In Brunswick, the Ulster Scots continued to thrive in the south and west of the town, while the English gathered at New Meadows to the east, extending their range across the New Meadows River into Georgetown (West Bath) and down along the water at Merriconeag.

Like most of the area’s able-bodied men, the Ulster Scot Dunning family had served in the local militia during the war. Andrew Jr. and his brother Robert had been killed toward the end of the conflict, but Andrew Sr. and his sons James and David survived. All three would become men of wealth and status in the Brunswick community. Their brother William was among the settlers who chose to retreat to York.

Andrew Sr., the reader may recall, was a blacksmith. (See As Brunswick’s population increased, so did the settlers’ need for forged tools, hardware, and horse shoes. Remarkably, in a time and place where payment for services rendered was often barter rather than coin, Andrew and his wife, Susan, managed to put aside actual money.

James was the eldest of the five sons, fourteen years older than the baby of the family, David. Both men seemed to share the financial skills of their father. Both took on leadership roles in the community and both were well respected there. James, known as “Lieut. Dunning,” was a famed Indian fighter who, perhaps reflecting the sense of duty expected of the eldest son, built his own home next to his parents’ homestead.

Headstone fragments at First Parish Cemetery

Headstone fragments at First Parish Cemetery. Image by Barbara A. Desmarais, Sept. 1, 2017.

Perhaps he was at his father’s bedside when Andrew Sr. died in 1736 after eighteen years in Brunswick. Andrew Sr. was buried in the graveyard behind the First Parish Meetinghouse on Maquoit Road, beneath a memorable marker.

In the early 1700s many Maine families used rocks or simple wooden crosses to mark their loved ones’ graves. The rocks would have been easy to move and the crosses would remained intact for only a short time. For more permanent memorials, other families used large field stones, sometimes painstakingly shaped with hand tools, and perhaps crudely engraved with minimal information. After three centuries, most of these stones are broken, missing entirely, or illegible, the decedents’ names and death dates eroded by years of wind, rain, and ice.

The Dunning family, wanting more for Andrew’s burial place, could have sent to Boston for a tablet-shaped headstone of thick slate, complete with a death’s head or willow tree above an epitaph befitting a man of importance. James, however, chose to carve his father’s monument himself. Perhaps he used slate shipped from Boston that cost him a year’s income. Most likely, though, James used locally quarried slate or a hand-dressed flat rock. He may even have used a chisel and hammer forged at his father’s anvil, every tap of his hammer echoing his father’s.

The tombstone itself is lost or shattered, but a transcription of the epitaph carved into it was published in Wheelers’ in 1878. It said:

Heare Lyeth the body of Mr. Andrew Duning, who departed this life January the 18th Annodom 1736, aged 72 years.
1664 [assume birth date]
1660 Charles 2d 
1666 London Burnt
1685 James 2d
1689 Wm & Mary
1702 Queen Ann
1714 George 1st
1727 George 2d

James Dunning, though a faithful attendee of First Parish Sunday meetings, didn’t write a spiritual message of either hope or doom. Instead, he recorded the political tumult through which his father had lived, including the coronation dates of each of the six British monarchs during Andrew Sr.’s lifetime.

We’ll never know if James’s proximity to his widowed mother’s home was a blessing or a curse to him, though it must have made it easier for the new head of the family to oversee the family estate. His load might have been further lightened because Andrew Sr. had chosen to display his wealth and status by purchasing an enslaved servant. This meant Susan had daily help with the daylong chores required to keep an eighteenth-century household going. We do know that neither James’s geographic nearness to his mother’s home nor her live-in help were proof against disaster.


Image Morguefile0001845542427.jpg, by photojock, April 2008. Accessed Sept. 22, 2017.

Because Susan lived three hundred years ago when wooden homes were heated with burning wood and illuminated by homemade candles, fire was a constant danger. And so it was that, the year after Andrew Dunning died, fire destroyed the homestead of the man who had made his living from firing iron and beating it into shape.

Perhaps in our own era of cell phones, fire hydrants, and credit unions, Susan (Bond) Dunning’s disaster would have resulted in little more than the annoyance of dealing with insurance and rebuilding a home. For Susan, though, the results were dire.

Susan Bond Silhouette

Susan Bond Silhouette, shared by Artcrusher, May 20, 2017. img_1161.jpg, Accessed Aug. 26, 2017.

Family lore disagrees on the details, but puts forth one outcome. As fire consumed her home, Susan tried to save the money she and her late husband had put aside. When the wooden floor gave way beneath her, she plunged into the cellar, to her death.

Her enslaved servant, however, survived.

Susan was buried in the First Parish Cemetery. Her servant, no doubt, became the property of Lieut. James Dunning.

Next blog: David Dunning’s Net Worth


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Winners and Losers: Part 2-The Rest of the Story

Harmon, Johnson sword

Image from “The Harmon genealogy, comprising all branches in New England.”

When the British won new territory at the end of Lovewell’s War, they lauded and rewarded three key players who rid the British of two enemies, Wabanaki leader Obomsawin and Frenchman Father Sebastien Rale. Two of the heroes were Captains Johnson Harmon and Jeremiah Moulton, leaders of the 1724 charge at Norridgewock.. The third was Lt. Richard Jaques, who had killed the infamous Rale.

Each British soldier at Norridgewock received a part of the bounty for their victims’ scalps. Capt. Harmon’s commanding officer, Col. Thomas Westbrook, gave Harmon a further monetary reward of £100 ($19,000 in 2017 dollars), and presented him with a beautiful sword.

Though Jaques was publically cheered for his role, his own family was angered by his impetuous execution of Rale. Unfortunately for Jaques, his in-laws were also his superior officers. Capt. Johnson Harmon was his father-in-law. Even worse, Capt. Jeremiah Moulton was Harmon’s father-in-law, and therefore Jaques’ grandfather-in-law. Richard Jaques’ disobedience of Moulton’s direct order to take Rale alive resulted in the priest becoming a martyr in the eyes of French Catholics and Wabanaki alike.

Brunswick & Harpswell NOAA an

Annotated NOAA chart 13290.

The Col. Westbrook who commanded the entire Norridgewock campaign, not so coincidently, was one of the Pejepscot Proprietors. Now that the war was over, the Proprietors were anxious to settle more of their land grant and recoup their investment. In particular, they were ready to develop the area south of Brunswick known as Merriconeag Neck and Sebascodegan Island. In 1727, Westbrook convinced Harmon not only to lease almost the entire two-thousand-acre Neck from the Proprietors, but also to use his prize money to buy 83 acres of it.

Jaques, in the meantime, left the military–at the encouragement of Capt. Harmon.

Family tradition claims that Richard Jaques and his wife, Mary, moved to Merriconeag Neck in 1727, along with his brother- and sister-in-law, John and Miriam (Harmon) Stover. The paper trail, however, tells another tale.

When Richard Jaques wed Mary Harmon, her father gave his “loving Son Richard Jaques” a half-acre of land on the York River. In 1727, Jaques was still there, making his living as a fisherman. Or, at least, trying to.

Jaques, Richard arrest warrant

Warrant from “York County Deeds.”

Commercial fishing was and is an expensive undertaking requiring a vessel, specialized equipment, and a place to process the catch. The labor intensive job was best done with a crew, so Jaques worked with a partner, John Carlisle. The two either bought supplies on credit, or borrowed money to finance their equipment or to get through a seasonal lull. By 1729, they were heavily in debt to merchant Samuel Waldo of Boston, owing nearly £800 ($150,000). When Waldo sued both men, the Inferior Court of Common Pleas order the sheriff to seize their “goods chattels or land” for payment, or “to take the Bodys of ye sd Richard Jaquese [sic] & John Carlesel [sic]…unto our Gaol* in Salem or York…”

By the turn of the decade, both men seem to have paid their debts. A 1730 York deed details Jaques’ purchase of a half-acre of land on Harmon’s Point from shipwrights Daniel Paul Jr and his brother Josiah. Jaques, it would seem, was expanding his reach in York.

Jaquish Island & Stover's Point NOAA

Annotated NOAA chart 13290.

Just seven years later, though, Richard and Mary Jaques finally left York for Merriconeag Neck*—after his father-in-law had left the Neck to return to York.

Other York families soon followed the Jaques and Stovers. The relative peace of the 1730s allowed Merriconeag, Sebascodegan, Brunswick, and Topsham to continue growing. Soon, Brunswick would gain enough settlers to petition Massachusetts for incorporation as a full-fledged town.

After a century of trying to settle Pejepscot, the British seemed to have won the land they so desperately sought.


  • Gaol (pronounced “jail”)
  • Today Merriconeag Neck and Sebascodegan Island are more commonly known as Harpswell Neck and Great Island.

Next Blog: A Slave to Money


  •, vital records, family histories, family trees, and databases.
  • Harmon, A. C. (Artemas Canfield), The Harmon genealogy, comprising all branches in New England. Printed by Gibson bros., inc. Washington, D.C., 1920. Accessed Aug. 25, 2017.
  • Jaques, Roger A. Jaques Family Genealogy, edited by Roger Jaques and Patricia Jacques for the Jaques Family Association. c1995, Decorah, Iowa. Anundsen Pub. Co. Library of Congress 9580955. Notes from this book posted by Crazyjake118 on accessed July 21, 2018.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce. NOAA chart 13290. Accessed Aug. 26, 2017.
  • Thomas, Miriam Stover. Flotsam & Jetsam. 1973. Maine State Library, call no. 974.1 T459F.
  • Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. (Wheelers’) Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878., accessed July 30, 2016.
  • York County (Me.). Register of Deeds. York deeds Book XVII, by Maine Historical Society; Maine Genealogical Society (1884- ); Publisher Portland Brown Thurston Company. 1894. Accessed Aug. 18, 2017.
Posted in Brunswick History | 2 Comments