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.
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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

Pine Grove Cemetery Civil War Tour

GAR Marker

Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Veteran’s marker in Pine Grove Cemetery. Photo by Barbara A. Desmarais. August 1, 2017.


It’s summer in Maine and that means it’s time for Pejepscot Historical Society’s Summer Walking Tours. I hope you’ll join me Sunday, Aug. 13th, at 10 am for African Americans, Abolitionists, and Southern Ship Masters, a Civil War tour of Brunswick’s Pine Grove Cemetery. First we’ll pay our respects to Phebe Jacobs, a woman of uncommon inner strength who was born enslaved, but died a free woman. Then we’ll meet abolitionists and the ship captains who hated them. And we’ll honor soldiers from households both ordinary and grand, who died on the battlefield or from disease, and those, like Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, who survived to return home.

Reservations are required by Friday, Aug. 11. For more information go to Pejepscot Historical Society’s Summer Walking Tours page.

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Winners and Losers: Part 1–The Captains at Fort George


Throughout the 1600s, war between France and Great Britain that had originated first in Europe or on the high seas spilled over into the American colonies. During these conflicts, allies from various Native tribes aided either the French or British, aligning themselves to best benefit their own needs. Lovewell’s War marked the first international war initiated by Native Americans. This time, the Wabanaki combined tribes had fought the British expressly in response to British encroachment on Wabanaki territory.

Main, Nova Scotia, Iraquois Nation

After Lovewell’s War, “Main” met Nova Scotia at Pemaquid. Note the “Country of the Northern Iroquois in the northwest corner of the map. (Other Maps, July 25, 2017.)

In the end, the French lost ground in Maine, while the British continued to push north and east. The Maine Wabanaki also lost ground, but some Canadian tribes received British recognition of their sovereignty over themselves—at least on paper.

Here in Maine, the Gyles, Woodside, Dunning, Harmon, and Jaques families, after having survived three years of fighting, surely must have considered themselves winners.

Or did they?

Capt. Gyles, in possession of his father’s farm in Topsham, and after a decade commanding Fort George, seemed set for permanent residence in the area. But any soldier, even the commander of a fort, is not in charge of his own life. And sometimes, following orders leads to unexpected consequences.

Near the end of the war, in April 1725, Capt. John Gyles was ordered to take some of his men on a ten-day march along the Androscoggin to search for Native encampments. When he returned from his mission, Gyles learned that Natives had killed two soldiers at the fort.

These may have been Robert and Andrew Dunning, who had been killed by Natives hidden on the Brunswick shore of the Androscoggin, near Mason’s Rock. The Natives shot the brothers as they paddled their canoe from Topsham to Brunswick, instantly killing Robert. Andrew was able to paddle back to the Topsham shore, where he lived only a few minutes more. The brothers were buried together just outside the fort, under one gravestone. We’ll never know for sure the year the brothers died because no date could be seen on the shattered headstone when it was unearthed a century later.

The soldiers who died in April 1725 may have sealed the fate of Capt. Gyles. That December he was replaced by Capt. Woodside of Maquoit and sent northeast to Fort St. George near Thomaston.

Woodside, Wm signature Wheelers'

The new commander, Ulster Scot William Woodside, was the son of Rev. James Woodside. You may recall the Reverand had been hired as Brunswick’s minister in 1718, then dismissed the following year. The Woodside family spent considerable time, effort, and money to build a garrison house at Maquoit. This blockhouse saved their own and their neighbors’ lives during the Native attack in 1722. Unfortunately, the Woodside family and their neighbors lost all their livestock and provisions, leaving them scrambling to resupply their food stores. Brunswick and Topsham residents, as well as those of other frontier towns, lived the next three years in their local garrisons. They left only to tend crops and hunt wild game or fowl, always fully armed and accompanied by their dogs to warn of Natives hiding in the brush.

Woodside Wm payment to Indians

Perhaps in retaliation for those years of deprivation, Capt. Woodside seemed to enjoy getting the best of the Natives. In 1726, when Massachusetts governor William Dummer and Judge Samuel Sewall were at Arrowsic to make a treaty with the Wabanaki, the Natives complained to the officials that Woodside cheated them at his trading post. First, they said, he weighed their furs by placing his fist on the scales instead of using a one-pound weight. Then, they said, Woodside sold them brass beads instead of gold ones, and also watered down their rum. The evidence against him was overwhelming. Woodside was found guilty of the charges and was ordered to admit to the charges, promise not to cheat the Natives again, and to pay them what he owed.

Woodside would find himself in court at least twice more in the ensuing years. In 1732 Samuel Boone accused Woodside of stealing several head of cattle at Chebeague Island and Merriconeag Neck. The court found in favor of Woodside and the cattle were turned over to him. Three decades later, John Orr of Mair Point (Mere Point) sued Woodside for cheating the “Indians ‘by selling them brass rings for gold rings.’” Woodside was acquitted once again.

Still, men like Capt. Woodside helped Brunswick to grow. They held town office, continued to protect against Native attack, farmed wheat and turnips for food, hemp and flax for weaving cloth, and harvested and exported logs and lumber to pay for their land. The town expanded away from the safety of Fort George, to Maquoit and New Meadows. The settlers continued their work on the First Parish Meeting House, which had been interrupted by war, officially completing it in 1735. With the house of worship came a new cemetery and the ancient burying ground at the fort was abandoned.

Over the years, Woodside bought some 350 acres of land in the Wharton Point area; he continued to trade with the Native Americans. Perhaps ironically, about the time he was sued by John Orr, Woodside was commissioned as a Cumberland County justice of the peace.

Wm Woodside Esq tombstone

William Woodside, Esquire, lived to see the beginning of the Revolutionary War. He is buried in the old First Parish Cemetery on upper Maine St.

Meanwhile, Capt. John Gyles continued in service to his country, retiring from Fort St. George in Thomaston in 1728, but continuing to serve the Crown as interpreter of Native languages. In 1736 he wrote about his boyhood experiences as a captive of the Maliseet tribe and the French. His only son, Samuel, completed medical studies in Massachusetts and opened a practice in Salisbury. He married his cousin, Elizabeth True. Their children were both born in Salisbury: John, who died at age two, and a daughter, Hannah. By the late 1730s, when his father had returned to Massachusetts, Dr. Gyles appears to have settled in Brunswick, perhaps taking up his father’s two in Brunswick. If he practiced in town, he would have been the town’s first physician.

Unfortunately, he died Feb. 11, 1738/9, at the young age of 32. His death ended Capt. John Gyles’ direct male line.

DSC03243 (1)

Dr. Gyles is also buried in the First Parish Cemetery. After 280 years, part of his hand-carved tombstone still survives in the graveyard on upper Maine St.

Next Blog: Winners and Losers: Part 2—The Rest of the Story


  •, vital records, family histories, family trees, and databases.
  • Owen, Emanuel. Image A New and Accurate Map of New Jersey, Pensilvania, New York and New England…, London, 1747. Osher Maps Permanent URL: Accessed July 25, 2017.
  • Desmarais, Barbara A., Images of Samuel Gyles and William Woodside, Esq. tombstones. First Parish Cemetery, Upper Maine St., Brunswick, Maine, July 20, 2017.
  • Gyles, John. Introduction by Hannay, James. Nine years a captive, or, John Gyles’ experience among the Malicite Indians, from 1689 to 1698. Saint John, N.B.? : s.n. 1875. Internet Archive. Accessed Sept. 3, 2016.
  • Massachusetts General Court. Acts and resolves passed by the General Court, Vol. Resolves 1726-1733. Boston: Secretary of the Commonwealth. Internet Archive. Accessed July 25, 2017.
  • McKeen, John. Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. Brunswick, Curtis Memorial Library, 1985. Call No. 974-191.
  • 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.
  • Woodside, William signature image. Wheelers’.

(c) Copyright 2017 Barbara A. Desmarais


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Beyond the Grave: Alternative Facts?

Wheeler and McKeen covers

Winners, they say, write history. As the heroes of their own narratives, winners are wont to pick and choose information that supports their worldview and flatters their egos. As their stories are told and retold over generations, the narratives change and expand. Heroes are added. Locations are adjusted. How does the historian know what’s true?

Historians compare conflicting information from various sources within the context of the era in which they were written, while considering the veracity and intent of those sources. Much like the winners, historians sometimes pick and choose information to support a point of view or to smooth the narrative flow. In the fall and winter of 1845-46, Brunswick historian John McKeen gave four lectures on Brunswick’s past (McKeen). Then George and Henry Wheeler used some of this information, combined with stories from local families and their own research, in their own 1878 history of the region (Wheelers’). These two works were my introduction to Brunswick history, but I’ve come to learn that sometimes they conflict with one another or with other sources.

Well, dear Reader, this is your chance to decide what’s true. I’ve included three “facts” from my Love Well, Love War series, along with my sources. Which “fact” will you choose to believe?



Gov. William Dummer courtesy Wikipedia. Public domain. Accessed June 17, 2017.


The 1722-1725 war between British colonials and the combined Wabanaki-Franco forces is often known as the Three Years War. The Wheeler brothers referred to it as Lovewell’s War after New Hampshire militia leader Capt. John Lovewell. Wikipedia lists other names, as well:

  • Dummer’s War after Lt. Gov. of Massachusetts William Dummer, leader of New England military forces;
  • Father Rales’ War after the Jesuit missionary at Norridgewock;
  • Greylock’s War for the Waranoak chief who led the Native forces in western New England;
  • Anglo-Abenaki War after the British and the Abenaki tribe (one of the Eastern Wabanaki tribes)
  • Wabanaki-New England War of 1722-1725 after the Eastern combined tribes and British colonists.

Feel free to choose the name you think best; I chose to use Lovewell’s War for two reasons. First of all, I liked the potential word play of “Love” and “War.” Secondly, Lovewell’s enthusiastic adoption of scalping his dead enemies for bounty seemed to reflect my British ancestors’ sense of entitlement to Native lands, superiority over the “savages,” and disregard for human life other than their own.


Eatons 1790 an

1790 Census, Brunswick and Harpswell, Maine.



Wheelers’ states that Samuel Eaton Jr carried a letter requesting reinforcements from Capt. Gyles at Fort George to Col. John Harmon at Georgetown (Arrowsic Island). William Cutter in Genealogical and Personal Memoirs…Vol. 4. claimed the father, Samuel Sr, was the currier. Both sources agreed that Moses was the letter carrier’s brother.

Two lists of soldiers and early settlers in Wheelers’ offer more information. They show a Sgt. Samuel Eaton in Capt. Gyles’ company in 1723-24 who was promoted to lieutenant in 1724. Then a 1727 list of soldiers in Capt. Woodside’s company records the service of both Lt. Samuel Eaton and Sentinel Samuel Eaton. Finally, the early settlers of Brunswick include Lt. Samuel Eaton, apparently already here in 1717.

If the lieutenant and sentinel were father and son, it would seem that Sr made the arduous journey over land and sea. That is, if the Moses who was killed by Native warriors was Sr’s brother and not his son.

Have you decided between Sr or Jr? Either way, we might take comfort in knowing that the Eaton family all over the United States continues even today to name their boys Samuel and Moses.

Unfortunately for us, Wheelers’ reference to Col. John Harmon as the letter’s recipient is also problematic. That’s because brothers John (1680-1754) and Johnson (c1676-1751) Harmon were both military officers during Lovewell’s War, John as lieutenant and Johnson as captain. This means neither Harmon was a colonel at Arrowsic. Could it be that Col. Thomas Westbrook was the actual leader Capt. Gyles was contacting?

As an aside, researching brothers John and Johnson Harmon can be confusing because of their similar names. Johnson, the elder of the two, was given his mother Deborah’s maiden name. John was named after his father.



Mason’s Rock in center of photo. Image by Barbara A. Desmarais, May 9, 2017.



Did Samuel Mason die at the hands of the Wabanki, at Mason’s Rock near the Brunswick shore of the Androscoggin River? Or was he rescued from drowning there? The source for both alternatives is Wheelers’.

Samuel Mason is listed in Wheelers’ Appendix 1 as having settled on lot 10 in Brunswick about 1717. The list states that he lived there less than three years, so he forfeited his lot. I researched his genealogy and found two Samuel Masons born in Massachusetts in the right timeframe. Family trees on show Samuel, son of Lt. John and Elizabeth (Hammond) Mason, was born in Newton in 1688 and died in 1689, so he can’t be our man. also listed the birth of Samuel, son of John and Sarah Mason, in Boston in 1689. I’ve found no further documentation for him, though there were Samuel Masons of the right age in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. I also looked through York County deeds for a pre-1753 Mason deed, to no avail. It’s possible Samuel moved, but it’s just as likely he died at Mason’s Rock. You choose!

If you’d like to see Samuel Mason’s rock, it’s clearly visible from the unimproved boat launch on Water St. in Brunswick. Just don’t mistake it for a nearby rock of similar size that’s closer to shore and only visible at low tide.

So, dear Reader, did you choose to remember Lovewell’s War or Greylock’s?  Did you untangle the Eaton men? Did you save Samuel Mason at a rock in the Androscoggin River? What story about winners and losers did you choose to tell?

Next Blog: Winners and Losers


  •, vital records, family histories, family trees, and databases.
  • Desmarais, Barbara A., Image of McKeen and Wheelers’ taken at Curtis Memorial Library, Brunswick, Maine, June 15, 2017.
  • Harmon, A. C. (Artemas Canfield), The Harmon genealogy, comprising all branches in New England. Gibson Bros., Inc., Washington, DC. 1920. New York Public Library, Call no. b5246557. Accessed May, 2017.
  • McKeen, John. Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. Brunswick, Curtis Memorial Library, 1985. Call No. 974-191.
  • Millard, James P., Abenaki Indian Chief Grey Lock. Accessed June 13, 2017.
  • Sylvester, Herbert Milton. Indian Wars of New England, Volume 3.Heritage Books, Inc., October 6, 2010. ISBN-10: 0788410792, ISBN-13: 978-0788410796. Accessed May 18, 2017.
  • Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878., accessed April 17, 2017.
  • Wikipedia. Dummer’s War. Updated December 17, 2016. Accessed May 18, 2017.


(c) Copyright 2017, Barbara A. Desmarais



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