Ann at the Crossroads

Map of Colonial Topsham and Brunswick from Wheelers' History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell

Map of Colonial Topsham and Brunswick
from Wheelers’ History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell

By 1764, Brunswick in the District of Maine had grown to some 30 households. Located far from the Massachusetts Bay Colony of which it was a part, and the manpower and supplies it held, each person in this frontier town was dependent on their neighbors for companionship, defense against the Indians, medical care, and food.

Every Massachusetts community of sufficient size supported a meetinghouse (church) and other accouterments necessary to English colonial life. Brunswick’s First Parish Meetinghouse was on Maquoit Rd., now the southern end of Maine St. Behind the building was a small burying ground for the dead, with a whipping post and pair of stocks* to keep the living in line. Now only the First Parish Cemetery remains on upper Maine St.

Pillory (stand-up stocks) Courtesy

Pillory (stand-up stocks)

The stocks were used at least once, for the punishment of a woman who shared an “embrace” with a man named Rogers in exchange for the expensive luxuries of sugar, tea, and coffee. When she didn’t receive the promised goods, she took him to court. When she couldn’t prove her case, she was convicted of defaming Rogers. The verdict was:

That Jenny Eaton be stretched upon the public stocks and rotten eggs thrown at her by the passing spectators for abfaming (sic) the character of an innocent man.

So, this is what Brunswick was like in 1764 when Ann Conner gave birth to a son in a house at the junction of Maquoit and Middle Bay Rds. just south of the meetinghouse. She named the baby Robert. His father, Irish immigrant James McManus, petitioned to have his boy baptized. That was the beginning of the end for Ann.

She and James had been living together as man and wife but weren’t married. James, in fact, may still have been married to Mary Bond, who may or may not have been living at that time. James and Mary had at least 3 sons born in Brunswick beginning in 1760. How Ann came to live with James is unknown. She might have been an indentured family servant or a recent widow. Perhaps Mary had died during or shortly after childbirth and Ann was hired to care for James’s young sons. The couple may simply have been in love, prompting James to leave Mary and build a life with Ann.

The deacons of the First Parish Church agreed to baptize Robert McManus, but, because James was “living in open sin” with Ann, said he must first openly “confess to his relations” with her. No record indicates that Ann Conner was required to confess or otherwise humble herself. Perhaps if she had been given the chance to make amends she would have been free to begin anew.

Pines on the Old Harpswell Rd. Barbara A. Desmarais, June 2015

Pines on the Old Harpswell Rd.
Barbara A. Desmarais, June 2015

Instead, she likely suffered guilt and social ostracism. She might also have suffered from post-partum depression. In the end, unable to face another day, she hung herself from a pine tree.

Though England at that time was beginning to view suicide as the result of mental illness, Brunswick church officials still seemed to believe that “self murder” was inspired by the Devil. Ann was denied a Christian burial in the little cemetery behind the meetinghouse. Rather, the church-goers of Brunswick drove a stake through her body and buried her according to a pagan custom, at a crossroads, so that if her spirit arose, it would be confused and unable to haunt the living.

Ann Conner's Brunswick, adapted from 1871 map

Ann Conner’s Brunswick, adapted from 1871 map

Ann’s exact burial place is unknown. Various sources name Harpswell Rd. as one of the crossroads beneath which she was buried. The other road remains a mystery, but some researchers speculate she was buried under the pines that once graced a newer part of the Bowdoin College campus. Before 1950, Harpswell Rd. started near Harpswell’s border with Brunswick and ranged northwest until it merged with Maquoit Rd. (aka Maine St.) and Bath St. behind the modern site of the First Parish Church. By the 1950s the northerly end of Harpswell Rd. had been rerouted to the east, through an area called the Delta, to expand the college grounds. Eventually those pines were cut down and classrooms were built over the old Harpswell Rd.

Old Skolfield Farm Barbara A. Desmarais, July 2015

Old Skolfield Farm
Barbara A. Desmarais, July 2015

Local legend claims that Ann’s spirit haunts the old Skolfield farm at the southern end of Harpswell Rd. If so, might she be wandering from one end of the road to the other looking for the missing connection to Maquoit Rd.? Is she searching for the ancient burying ground behind the meetinghouse, the place where she might, at last, find peace?


Stocks: A stocks was a wooden structure of planks used to secure the hands and feet of a person as punishment for a crime. Usually seated, the criminal was secured outside in a public space, no matter the weather, open to pubic ridicule and abuse. The stocks was standard equipment in most Massachusetts towns of the colonial era.

Robert McManus: See Sins of the Father


  • History of the First Parish Church in Brunswick, Maine. Ashby, Thompson Eldridge D.D., Brunswick, ME J. H. French and Son, 1969
  • Brunswick Telegraph. April, 1858
  • Cumberland County Registry of Deeds. 25 Pearl St., Portland, Maine and
  • Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. McKeen, John, Curtis Memorial Library, Brunswick, ME, 1985
  • McManus Family Records. Courtesy of Etta McManus Powers, Brunswick, ME, 2002
  • Pillory image from
  • 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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Sins of the Father

Corner Maquoit and Middle Bay Roads Adapted from 1910 map

Corner Maquoit and Middle Bay Roads
Adapted from 1910 map

Robert McManus was born in Brunswick on July 14th, 1764, barely a decade before the Revolutionary War, in a home at the junction of the old Middle Bay and Maquoit Rds. The home was only a few rods south of the old First Parish Meeting House. He was the 4th of 5 sons of James McManus, who emigrated from Ireland with his wife Mary.

In the Wheeler brothers’ history of Brunswick, the McManus family profile lists all 5 sons of James McManus in this order: Daniel, James, John, Richard, and Robert. The Wheelers included only Robert’s date and location of birth, perhaps because of the scandal attached to his birth.

In November 1754 James Sr. wanted his son baptized, but, because James was “living in open sin,” First Parish Church officials required him to “confess to his relations” with the boy’s mother, Ann Conner. The McManus family, who were the most likely source of the Wheelers’ information, probably included Robert’s birthdate in their family history, ensuring that he would forever be known as the illegitimate child of James McManus and Ann Conner.

Robert’s mother died by the time he turned 6. Probably not long after that, he boarded with and worked for Deacon Dunning. He was subsequently indentured for 5 years to Revolutionary War veteran Brigadier General Samuel Thompson.

As an adult Robert married twice and farmed first on the Durham Rd., then half-way up Rocky Hill on River Rd., and finally at his last farm at the foot of Rocky Hill. We might be tempted to conclude that he lived in a different part of town from the rest of his family, but we’d be wrong. In fact, in 1796 he bought the Rocky Hill farm next to his brother Daniel. Their brother John also lived nearby. Robert’s adult children, nieces, and nephews married into neighboring families, so Robert was surrounded by extended family.

By 1850 Robert had turned his farm over to his daughter Ellen and her husband John Merryman. The 1850 census recorded Robert living there with Merrymans and their 8 children, ages 2 to 18. The Brunswick Telegraph reported that McManus voted for Gen. George Washington for his second term and never missed an election until 1856 when a storm kept the 92-year-old away from the polls. He was healthy and strong, suffering only from “rheumatism.” His memory never wavered and he enjoyed sharing stories of Brunswick’s early history, particularly the “trials and deprivations” of the colonial settlers during the Indian Wars. He died at age “93 years, 9 months and 15 days” on April 29, 1858, after a few months of failing health.

Robert McManus’s obituary in the Brunswick Telegraph ended with this paragraph:

Mr. McManus was a man highly respected by his friends and neighbors, and, as one of his sons remarks to us, made it the sum of his advice to his children to wrong no man—to deal justly with all, to walk humbly and love mercy, and the old man closed his eyes on life with perfect resignation, in the humble hope of having discharged his duty, and of a reward hereafter; he left eight children, four by his first and four by his second wife.

Maquoit Cemetery Corner of Maquoit & Middle Bay Rds Adapted from 1871 map

Maquoit Cemetery
Corner of Maquoit & Middle Bay Rds
Adapted from 1871 map

No tombstone remains to mark Robert McManus’s grave. It’s possible he was interred on the family burying ground halfway up Rocky Hill on River Rd. Deeds, though, reveal that his nephew Patrick owned a farm at the corner of Maquoit and the old Middle Bay Rds. Was this James Sr.’s homestead? Patrick McManus’s farm abutted the old Maquoit Baptist Church and cemetery lot on two sides, as if the lot had been carved from the farm. In fact, Patrick and a number of other family members are buried in a large plot in the northeast corner by his old farm.

McManus Lot, Maquoit Cemetery Courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais, July 2015

McManus Lot, Maquoit Cemetery
Courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais, July 2015

If Robert McManus’s remains are in the Maquoit graveyard, then this son of James McManus and Ann Conner may well have returned to the place where he was born.

Next Blog: Ann at the Crossroads

Notes: The Brunswick Telegraph named Robert Dunning as a deacon of First Parish Church. This information was repeated in the Wheeler brothers’ later history of Brunswick. The History of the First Parish Church lists only Deacon Andrew Dunning. McKeen’s lectures name Deacon Andrew Dunning and Lieut. Robert Dunning as participants in a discussion of Brunswick’s future role in the Revolutionary War.


  • United States Federal Censuses
  • History of the First Parish Church in Brunswick, Maine. Ashby, Thompson Eldridge D.D., Brunswick, ME J. H. French and Son,1969
  • Brunswick Telegraph. April, 1858
  • Cumberland County Registry of Deeds. 25 Pearl St., Portland, Maine and
  • The Cemeteries of Brunswick, Maine. Barbara A. Desmarais,
  • Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. McKeen, John, Curtis Memorial Library, Brunswick, ME, 1985
  • McManus Family Records. Courtesy of Etta McManus Powers, Brunswick, ME, 2002
  • 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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Down by the Riverside

Samuel Randall Jackson’s life seems right out of a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story. He was born in Canterbury, NH, in 1803, but grew up in a log cabin on a Vermont farm where his family barely eked out a living. He left home at age 13 and settled in Topsham, Maine, working as a “chore-boy.” When he was 16 he went to work for George F. Richardson in his grocery and variety store. He stayed there for 5 years. Jackson suffered adversity, as well as success. He attributed his successes to his own emulation of Richardson’s “example of honesty, justice, economy, perseverance and industry.”

Twice as a young man he had to start over after fires. The first fire, at Richardson’s store, destroyed everything Jackson owned and left him with frostbitten feet. The second was at his own store, which he rented from Richardson. After the $4000 loss, Jackson’s partner, Major Nahum Perkins, left the business, but Jackson persevered. He took on Major Frost as his new partner and began anew.

He married Jane Fulton Winchell of Topsham in 1830 and they relocated to Worcester, Mass, where he spent the next 7 years in the lumber business. In Worcester he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, which didn’t share his anti-slavery views. Jackson and other members seceded from that church and joined the ‘True Wesleyan church’ so named for John Wesley who wrote, “American Slavery, the vilest that ever saw the sun.” In 1850, his wife Jane, their daughters Susan and Sarah, and son Osceola, relocated to Topsham while Jackson spent 2 years in California, selling coal for his business, Jackson and Sterry Coal Co. The trip was not without danger. The Brunswick Telegraph reported in Jackson’s obituary:

Oregon Coast by

Oregon Coast by

…he was cast away on the coast of Oregon, in the schooner “Harriett”, the vessel being loaded with lumber from the Columbia river, and bound for San Francisco. The schooner was dismasted and driven by the gale, into an arm of the sea; unable to escape, as the trade winds were contrary, the people were obliged to remain on short allowance of provisions, and in momentary fear of being captured by the Indians and massacred by them. Mr. Jackson with several other passengers, accepted the guidance of an Indian of friendly aspect, and by journeying across the country, they reached the Columbia river, where they took a steamer for San Francisco. The word received by paper, “Seen dismasted and in distress, the sea making a clean breach over her decks by Brig Venezuela,” gave his friends reason to suppose that he was lost. An obituary of him appeared in the columns of the “Wesleyan” by Rev. W. H. Brewster.

After this near disaster he returned to his family in Maine. They settled in Brunswick, remaining there for the next 22 years. Jackson was active in business and politics, serving two terms in the State Legislature, and was president of Maine Bank and its successor 1st National Bank. He was a director of the Brunswick Gas Light Co. and a stockholder of the Androscoggin Pulp Co. Not surprisingly after his high seas adventure, he organized a marine insurance company, as well. In 1874, Jackson, now a wealthy man, chose to retire to Plainfield, New Jersey, with wife Jane and daughter Sarah. They returned to Brunswick in 1886.

Photo courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais, June 2015

Photo courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais, June 2015

When he died in 1892, the Brunswick Telegraph printed:

In many hearts is he here remembered and revered for his kindly acts of helpfulness and sympathy for the unfortunate and distressed. In this connection we may refer to his donation in 1891 of $1000 to the Public Library. An unexpected favor at one time was shown one of his family by a stranger. Upon expressing surprise, the stranger answered, “I am always glad to be able to do anything in my power for any one belonging to Mr. Jackson; he was my friend when I was in my sorest need, and with his help, so freely and kindly given, I was saved from disgrace.”

Jackson was buried in Riverside Cemetery.

It’s not Jackson’s bootstrap success and sterling character we remember today. It’s the four properties that Samuel R. Jackson, Gentleman, bought on the Androscoggin River at the corner of Pleasant St. and River Rd. in 1873.

Riverside Cemetery Plan

Riverside Cemetery Plan

That year the Brunswick Telegraph wrote:

New Cemetery. S. R. Jackson, Esq., has recently purchased the lot of land, comprising 12 acres, more or less, lying at the intersection, on the north side of Pleasant Street or Portland Road, and the road leading to Rocky Hill. This land he will lay out for a public cemetery, and work is to be immediately commenced in the way of general improvement and the assignment of lots. The land lies upon the river’s bank and is favorably located for the purpose designed;–with trees set out and walks and driveway tastefully arranged the place may become highly ornamental to that part of the village.

View from Jackson stone Courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais, June 2015

View from Jackson stone
Courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais, June 2015

Despite his harrowing experiences at sea, Jackson’s headstone on the cemetery’s highest point faces the Androscoggin River rather than the cemetery that extends below.

Next Blog: Sins of the Father


Osceola Jackson was probably named for Mount Osceola in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.


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My Mother’s Mother’s Mother

Flora Silva Purinton, courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais

Flora Silva Purinton, courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais

I have no memory of my mother’s mother, Flora (Silva) Purinton. When I was two she was committed to Augusta Mental Hospital due to dementia; I never saw her again. Everything I know about her, I learned from her personal photo album or by pestering my mother, aunts, and uncles for Grammie’s story. I shared some of Flora’s story in A Flora Bouquet.

Flora and Alice Purinton, courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais

Flora and Alice Purinton,
courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais

As an adult I continued to question my mother and her siblings about Grammie and Great-aunt Alice’s past, hoping they’d add a new tidbit to the narrative. Sometimes they did. My Great-aunt Alice lived with Flora’s eldest daughter, also Alice, for many years so I wrote my aunt to see what she could add to the narrative.

Excerpt from Letter 1 from Aunt Alice, November 19, 1986

Aunt Alice and your Gram were orphaned here – both were born in California of Portuguese parents. [Here Alice wrote “John and Mary Silva” and crossed them out.] Antonio Sylvar Pestruit and Maria Nicarda Pestruit. Just looked this up. Have Aunt A’s letters to priest in California. Don’t look at them very often. That is why I made a mistake (above). Mama was a year or two older than Aunt Alice. Apparently their mother and father separated when the girls were very small – perhaps even before Aunt A. was born. My mother used to tell me about them going to visit their father (who evidently was a fisherman) down near the water – where he lived with somebody they called the stepmother. He seemed to have kept the boys with him. Ma used to speak of a Tony, a George (I think) and a William. She spoke of a baby (brother – I guess) laid out in a casket…, on the table – so there was sorrow there as in all families.

The girl’s mother brought them east by train. Seems she sold their house. Ma spoke of their mother sewing gold pieces in a sort of belt around her waist. She evidently thought she was dying (and probably was – by the way Ma used to tell of the way she acted – and how very pale she was.) The girls were placed in a home on Huntington Ave. Boston – then called by the (awful) name of Home for Destitute Catholic Children. Have an idea that is where most of the gold pieces went – to help care for the girls…. No record was found of a baptismal certificate for Ma. Have an idea that there was a change of residence between Ma and Aunt Alice’s birth. (Just a guess.)

Aunt Alice’s letter fleshed out my grandmother’s early life for me, but also introduced me to my great-grandmother, Mary (Miranda) Silva. Mary has been elusive; I have only two documents that I can definitely attribute to her, but they’re important ones.

1900 United States Federal Census, Branciforte Township, California from

1900 United States Federal Census, Branciforte Township, California

The first is the 1900 census, which shows Mary, a Catholic, divorced from her husband, Antone. Both were head of different households in Branciforte Township, California. Just as my aunt had written, Antone lived with his new wife and 3 of Mary’s children and Mary lived with daughters Flora and Alice. She did own her home, which she probably sold to fund her trip east to start a new life.

Letter from Superintendent of Westborough State Hospital, 1930

Letter from Superintendent of Westborough State Hospital, 1930

By December 1902, Mary and her daughters had travelled by train all the way across the United States to Massachusetts. That’s when the second document, a letter from the superintendent of Westborough State Hospital, an insane asylum, indicates Mary was committed there. The 1903 immigration act allowed federal authorities to deport non-citizens residing in publicly funded institutions including hospitals, asylums, poor farms, or prisons. Mary fit the criteria and in April 1903 she was discharged for deportation back to Portugal. She and her young daughters said their goodbyes on a Boston dock and the girls were returned to the orphanage. Mary may have been aboard a ship that arrived in Liverpool, England, on April 16th, 1903. I hope Mary made it home to her family.

Unidentified woman from photo album of Flora (Silva) Purinton, courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais

Unidentified woman from photo album of Flora (Silva) Purinton,
courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais

When I look through Grammie’s photo album I always stop at a portrait of an unidentified dark-eyed woman. Each time I see it I wonder, is this Mary? Is this my mother’s mother’s mother? I may never know.

Next Blog: Down by the Riverside


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A Flora Bouquet

Two women named Flora Purinton are buried in the same row in New Meadows Cemetery. They each lived at Pine View Farm, though at different times, and were each related to Charles I. Purinton (1892-1976), though in different ways.

Flora Ellen (1850-1927) was born at Pine View Farm at New Meadows in Brunswick, the second of 4 children of Daniel T. and Paulina S. (Marriner) Purinton. Her siblings were brothers, Josiah and Daniel G. (called Gorham), and the baby of the family, sister Ada. Her father was a farmer, brick mason, and town tax collector. The family was staunchly Baptist.

Pine View Farm

Pine View Farm

Flora Ellen lived all her life at just two New Meadows farms. For fifty years she stayed at her childhood home, Pine View, which in adulthood she shared with her parents and her brother Gorham, his wife Mary, and their two children, Grace and Charles. Then in 1900 she moved to her sister Ada Holbrook’s home. No family events that year provide even a hint for her reason in moving to a new home. That year’s census listed her as a boarder in Sumner Holbrook’s household, rather than by her familial relationship as his sister-in-law.

Flora Ellen and the other women on the farms had plenty to do. There were beans to string, chickens to pluck, milk to separate for cream or butter. Though she never married or had children of her own, she no doubt shared in the care of her nieces and nephews, first Grace and Charles, then Sumner and Ada’s 7 children, who in 1900 ranged from 2 to 13 years old.

Flora Ellen's Quilt Square

Flora Ellen’s Quilt Square

There was always sewing to do, too, especially mending. New Meadows women often met to turn un-mendable clothing into quilts. Flora Ellen contributed her own signature square to a wedding quilt for her niece Grace.


Flora Ellen died in 1927 at her sister Ada’s home where she had lived for 27 years. Her siblings gave her pride of place in the family burial plot, next to their parents,  “Sister” engraved across her tombstone’s top.

Another Flora Purinton is buried near Flora Ellen. This one was born Flora May Silva (1892-1960). She told her children her father was a Portuguese fisherman. She wasn’t sure if her father deserted the family or if he was killed while out fishing. When she was 10, her mother took her and her sister, Alice, from their home in California to Massachusetts. She recalled the three of them standing on a dock when her mother disappeared. Flora and Alice never saw their mother again.

Flora Silva

Flora Silva

They were taken to an orphanage where Flora was taken by several families, but was always taken back to the orphanage once she had finished cleaning their homes. Eventually she was taken into the home of the Leonard family of Brunswick, though never adopted by them. Alice was adopted by the Kelleys in South Portland. The sisters remained close their entire lives

Flora had black hair and big brown eyes. She was soft-spoken and tenderhearted — and a Catholic. Charles Purinton, a Baptist like the rest of his family, never the less fell in love with her. They married in 1917 and lived at Pine View Farm with Charles’s mother, Mary, and his sister, Grace. Mary was a strict, unsmiling woman with strong opinions, particularly about Catholics. Not surprisingly, Flora was unhappy at Pine View. They left the farm as soon as Charles finished building their own home on McLellan St.

One can’t help but wonder if Mary’s personality was the reason Flora Ellen moved away from the farm at the age of 50 back in 1900.

Flora Purinton and baby Alice Purinton at Pine View Farm

Flora Purinton and baby Alice Purinton at Pine View Farm

Flora worked hard caring for home and family, cooking on a wood stove, doing her laundry in an old-fashioned wringer washer and a concrete set-tub Charles built in their kitchen. On fair days she lugged her heavy clothes basket outside in nice weather to hang the laundry on a clothes reel in the back yard. When it rained or snowed, she lugged the wet laundry up two flights of stairs to the attic, pinning the clothes to lines strung from one end of the room to the other. She delighted in the every-day, declaring the clothes reel a wonderful invention and her good fortune at having an attic in which to dry the laundry.

Flora didn’t sew quilts with her un-mendables. She sold them for a few cents to the Rag Man who went door-to-door collecting them. As soon as he left, she sent one of her 8 children to the corner store for penny candy for them all.

Every Sunday, Baptist Charles took his wife and 8 children in his pickup truck to St. Charles Borromeo Church, the Catholic church on the corner of Maine and Noble Sts.

Charles and Flora Purinton

Charles and Flora Purinton

And every Thursday night Flora and Charles went to the Past Time Theater on Maine Street. Charles, a carpenter, was always so tired that he fell asleep as soon as he settled into the theater seat. Flora watched every movie by herself, but her children thought she probably simply enjoyed having an evening out away from them.

In the mid-1950s, she showed signs of dementia. Her family cared for her at home as long as they could safely do so. Finally, in those days before local dementia and Alzheimer care facilities, Charles’s only option was to commit Flora to the Augusta Mental Hospital. He visited her faithfully until her death in 1960.

Photo by Barbara A. Desmarais, May 2015

Photo by Barbara A. Desmarais, May 2015

Flora (Silva) Purinton was buried in New Meadows Cemetery where 16 years later Charles was laid to rest beside her.

Two Floras, separate, but connected. My Flora bouquet.

Next Blog: My Mother’s Mother’s Mother


  • Various including City Directories, Family Trees, United States Federal and State Censuses, Vital Records (Birth, Death, and Marriage) 
  • Stella Marguerite Purinton (Trials and Tribulations of) or (Growing Up In a Large Family), Stella M. Bernier, Brunswick, Maine, 2003
  • Brunswick Record, June 30, 1927
  • Brunswick Telegraph, February 15, 1889
  • Family Photos from Alice Purinton’s Personal Photo Album
Posted in Purinton Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

One Thing Leads to Another

Mary E Belcher 1900

In my research, one story often leads to another. I used the 1900 US Federal census to help me determine that Octave LeBel’s property was the burial place for baby Joseph Henri Deschenes. Several entries below the LeBel family was Mary Belcher’s household. The census-taker, 19-year-old Bowdoin student Clement F. Robinson, didn’t mince words. He listed Mary as a whorehouse keeper, her 3 boarders as whores, and James Adams as the head man. Here is Mary’s story.

Whore house keeper 1900 In 1881, 29-year-old Mary E. Belcher bought, a piece of land on the Brunswick side of the New Meadows River from Sarah Dunning of Bath. Mary’s purchase was made in her own name, even though the practice of that time was for land to belong to the husband. Her husband was blacksmith Charles F. Belcher. They had 2 daughters, 8-year-old Ellen and 2-year-old Emma.

Greenleaf to Belcher

Six years later, Mary and Charles had a son, Charles J. That same year Mary purchased more property, this time from Bath resident Charles Greenleaf. Then in 1890 Mary bought 5 acres from her husband. The property, like the others, was between King’s Turnpike (Bath Rd.), the railroad track, and the New Meadows River. Town directories gave no clue as to what Mary was doing with all that land. If the 1890 census hadn’t been destroyed, perhaps her occupation would have been listed. And perhaps a woman named Etta Day would be part of the Belcher household.

In the spring of 1891, two undercover detectives arrested both Etta Day and Mary Belcher. Since prohibition had already begun in Maine, the men could have apprehended the Etta and Mary immediately upon being served alcohol. However, the American Sentinel reported that the dedicated detectives made their arrests only after both had received the “full hospitality of the house.” Etta paid a fine and was sent back to the Belcher home. Mary was sentenced to 10 months at hard labor. As she was led through the crowd to board the train to prison, Mary most “emphatically expressed” her opinion of the detectives and the judge. Her incarceration left husband Charles to care for their 4-year-old son. Unable to make ends meet, her husband received town aid. The family’s finances bounced back after Mary returned and she bought another nearby piece of land in 1897.

Mary's Place Between Kings Turnpike, the Railroad, and the New Meadows River. Photo by Barbara A. Desmarais, May 2015.

Mary’s Place Between Kings Turnpike, the Railroad, and the New Meadows River. Photo by Barbara A. Desmarais, May 2015.

In May of 1900 the Brunswick Telegraph reported: The disorderly house known as the Red Ribbon, situated near Cooks Corner is no more. There are others. Let the good work go on.

Was the Red Ribbon Mary’s house? If so, it wasn’t closed for good yet. In September 1902 the Brunswick Telegraph’s front page reported:

The Yellow House Closed And The Owner will Leave

The notorious road house run by Mrs. Mary Belcher is at last closed. As a result of Mr. Bisbee’s work, Mary Belcher paid a fine and costs aggregoling $600 with the agreement that she should no longer reside in Cumberland County. The responsibility now rests on Sagadahoc…

Another article directly beneath the first continued:       Mary Belcher, the proprietoress and conductress of a road house on the road between Brunswick and Bath, known to fame as “The Farm,” paid an eloquent tribute to the efficiency of Deputy Sheriff Bisbee in the Superior Court this morning after she had been sentenced…The judge then told her…if she were ever brought before him again that he would sentence her to one year in prison. He then called Deputy Bisbee and asked him to keep a close watch on the house in the future. The deputy stated that he would when Mary interrupted with, “He’s kept his eye on me pretty well as it is”… wood-alcohol Mary moved to Bath with her son Charles J. She ran a boarding house and he became a bookkeeper. Sadly, in 1905, young Charles died of wood alcohol poisoning, possibly from bootleg or homemade liquor. When Mary died in 1926, she left and estate valued at $16,266. It included a cottage and land in Westport, a house and lot at 140 Water St. in Bath, diamond and opal jewelry, savings accounts, bonds, life insurance, and Central Maine Power. Co. stock. Her heirs included daughters Emma and Ellen, Emma’s daughters Ida Mae and Camilla, and Ellen’s children Edward, George and Chester. Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 9.30.35 PM In the Catholic tradition, she also bequeathed $500 to the pastor of Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church of Bath for masses to be sung for the repose of her soul. She is buried in the city where she was probably born, and where her descendants still reside, Lewiston, Maine – in Androscoggin County. Next Blog: A Flora Bouquet Sources:

Prohibition and Wood Alcohol:

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Meadowbrook Baby

Meadowbrook Phase II Plan from

Meadowbrook Phase II Plan from

In the 1950s the Meadowbrook Corporation bought large swaths of land between upper Maine St. and Harpswell Rd. Properties included farms owned by families named Coffin, Allen, Raymond, and LeBel, as well as the former farm of Randall Doyle Jr. whose father was buried in Skolfield-Doyle Cemetery at nearby Middle Bay (See Anna’s Boys). The corporation subdivided the land into single-family house lots, naming the development  Meadowbrook Village. In the backyard of one Meadowbrook home is the tombstone of Joseph Henri Deschenes (also spelled Dechene, Deschene, Deschine, and Deshain).

Photo by Barbara A. Desmarais, 2014

Photo by Barbara A. Desmarais, 2014

Joseph Henri’s story begins with his birth on July 5, 1895. The second child of Joseph and Leopoldine (Dumont) Deschenes, his story ended on Sept 15th, a little more than two months later, when he died of “weak”[ness], and was buried in the rural farming tradition on an embankment overlooking a gully. If Joseph Henri had been a member of a family such as the Skolfields of our previous two blogs, we would find books written about the family that would help fill in the blanks of a too brief life.

153 Park Row, Barbara A. Desmarais, April 2015

153 Park Row, Barbara A. Desmarais, April 2015

We might even find the grand homes they left behind such as this Skolfield home on Park Row, a monument to one of Brunswick’s important founding families.

Image from

Image from

But Joseph Henri’s parents were French Canadian immigrants, married in St. Alexandre, Kamourska, Quebec, Canada, in 1893. His father, Joseph Sr., was the eldest son of farmer Celestin and Adela (Berube) Deschenes. He was employed as a voyageur/vagus out of Hull on the Ottowa/Quebec border, which may mean he was engaged in transporting products such as fur across land or via river. Leopoldine, was the eldest daughter of farmer Pascal and Victoire (Belanger) Dumont, of St. Eleuthere, Quebec, along the Maine border. One of hundreds of French Canadians who moved to Maine between 1860 and 1900 to escape a depressed agricultural economy, Leopoldine was already a resident of Brunswick, Maine, when she travelled back to Quebec for her wedding. She may have boarded a Maine Central train north at the train depot on Maine St. then, upon arriving in Quebec, headed to her parents’ farm by horse and wagon.

“Meadow” Brook near Joseph Henri’s grave,
Barbara A. Desmarais, April 2015

Joseph Henri’s birth and death entries recorded by the Town of Brunswick tell us the couple settled in Brunswick where his father was a laborer. Perhaps he was a farm laborer on what I believe was the Octave LeBel farm. Why else would the child of Catholics, who usually buried their dead in St John’s Cemetery, be buried on a farm his family didn’t own? Joseph Henri’s death record stated he was the second child of the couple, though I was unable to find either a birth or death record for a previous sibling. It may be that the child was born elsewhere. Infant mortality was high in the late 1800s; it may be that the first child died soon after birth and neither event was recorded. Joseph Henri’s 1895 death is the last conclusive mention of his father, Joseph Sr. Traditionally, French Canadian Catholics selected Joseph for a males’ first name and Marie for each girl, in honor of the biblical Mary and Joseph. Most children used a middle name in everyday life. In this particular case, Joseph was used as the given name of several Brunswick men named Deschenes listed in vital records, U.S. Federal census listings, town directories, and on tombstones in St. John’s Cemetery. None were Joseph Henri’s father. Perhaps Joseph Sr. died shortly after his son. Voyageurs, in fact, had a high mortality rate from hernias they developed during heavy lifting of furs and other items, and from the rigors of paddling canoes from port to port to deliver their product. As a laborer, Joseph Sr. would have continued to tax his body. Additionally, in late 1800 Brunswick, diseases such as dyptheria and cholera killed many, adults and children alike. Or, perhaps Joseph Sr. abandoned his wife and returned to Canada. We may never know why he seemingly dropped from view. For a while Leopoldine (Dumont) Deschenes, too, disappeared from the public record — unless she was the Leopoldine Dumont who gave birth to Joseph Dominique Dumont in Brunswick on April 4th, 1899. Joseph Dominique’s father was listed as unknown. Since the baby’s surname was the same as his mother’s maiden name, it may be that Joseph Deschenes Sr. was not the father. It’s also possible that Leopoldine was a Dumont family name and there were multiple Leopoldines in the family.

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Leopoldine (Dumont) Deschenes reappeared in 1903 when she married Joseph Gagnon. It was the second marriage for each of them. Joseph’s first wife was Emelie Brillant, daughter of Zepherin and Amelie (Dumont) Brillant. Perhaps Leopoldine and Emelie were cousins, a common enough path to marriage partners.

20 Oak St., Barbara A. Desmarais, April 2015

20 Oak St., Barbara A. Desmarais, April 2015

In 1910 Leopoldine and Joseph Dumont lived at 20 Oak St., in one of several single and multi-family homes built just south of Mill St. to as residences for cotton-mill workers.  Leopoldine was one such worker; Joseph was employed by the railroad. The census taker noted that Leopoldine was the mother of 4 children, all of whom had died by 1910. So far, we can identify only 2 children: Joseph Henri Deschenes, and possibly Joseph Dominique Dumont. Leopoldine’s brief obituary appeared in the Brunswick Record in 1916:     Mrs. Leopoldine Dumont Gagnon, wife of Joseph Gagnon, died at St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston, Aug. 29th. The funeral was held from St. John’s Church of this town Thursday, Aug. 31st. Rev. Fr. A. Label S.M. officiated.

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By 1920, Joseph Gagnon had relocated two doors down to an apartment at 16 Oak St. (in 2015 a vacant lot). There he roomed with the Doyon family of 6, and still worked for the railroad. Finding no future mention of Joseph Gagnon, I was unable to determine his date of death but think it likely to have been before the 1930 census in which he is absent. The French Canadian families in this story didn’t leave much of themselves behind, which is not that unusual for those who owned no property, didn’t cause trouble, and who may have been unimportant to those who recorded Brunswick history. If not for Joseph Henri Deschenes’s tombstone erected on a former farm off Maine St., we might know nothing of the lives of his father Joseph Deschenes, Sr., possible half-brother Joseph Dominique Dumont, their two siblings, their step-father Joseph Gagnon, and his mother who united them all — Leopoldine (Dumont) Deschenes Gagnon.

Next Blog: One Thing Leads to Another  


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