The Fort That John Built


The Harbour of Casco Bay and Islands Adjacent by Capt. Cyprian Southicke. 1720. Boston Public Library. Annoted by B. Desmarais.


The year was 1715. Some twenty years earlier, during King William’s War (1689-1697), Native American and French soldiers had forced the British to abandon some New England settlements. Now a Boston-based investment group strove to profit from the abandoned Pejepscot Plantation on Casco Bay in Maine.

Calling themselves the Pejepscot Proprietors, the eight men reached an agreement with the Massachusetts legislature to resettle the plantation. The legislature, in turn, agreed to provide £500 toward the construction of a new fort there, and to supply fifteen soldiers to man it.


The Harbour of Casco Bay and Islands Adjacent by Capt. Cyprian Southicke. 1720. Boston Public Library. Annotated by B. Desmarais.


That August, four New England sloops sailed up the Kennebec River and into the Androscoggin until they reached the first set of waterfalls. In those days the river accommodated vessels as large as sixty tons. They carried everything necessary to build a fort: men, a team of horses, building materials, tools, and food.

Capt. John Wentworth, one of the Pejepscot Proprietors, piloted a vessel from Piscatequa, New Hampshire, filled with almost 11,000 board feet of pine planks. Another sloop carried 500 bushels of shell lime and forty hogsheads of stone lime from Newbury, Mass. A third arrived from Boston with:

‘…Bricks, Shingles, Clapboards, Nails, Provisions, a horse Team, Six Wheelbarrows, Arms, Crows, Pickaxes, Mauls, Shovels, Blankets, Kettles, Pails, Dishes, Horse Cart, Ox Cart, and a pair of Trucks.’

The fourth sloop may have carried Capt. John Gyles and his fifteen soldiers. John Gyles was the same man who had survived a decade of enslavement as a prisoner during King William’s War.


Dead wood by Barbara A. Desmarais. August 31, 2016.


English settlers landing at Pejepscot a century before had heard eagles screaming from the tops of the ancient oaks that draped the shoreline. The new arrivals, though, saw embankments lined with blackened tree trunks, young saplings poking through the ruins. They disembarked onto a land ravaged by war, its plains barren, dotted here and there with small stands of pine.

Even the zigzag fort built some twenty-five years earlier was nothing but rubble. That’s because during the war, enemy troops commanded by Chief Obomsawin had dug an underground passage to Fort Andros, planning to place enough gunpowder beneath the wall to blow it up. Though the English had interrupted the excavation, the Natives eventually took possession of the compound and demolished it.


Steelyards by Augustin Privat-Deschenel, 1884. Florida Center for Technology.


Physical evidence of Obomsawin’s campaign remained for nearly two centuries. The tunnel’s depression was still visible after the Revolutionary War. Still later, when nineteenth century diggers removed the last of the stone from the site, they uncovered the skeleton of a man with a gun and a pair of steelyards (scales) beneath the remains of a chimney, presumably a soldier or settler killed during battle.

The site for the new fort was mainly ledge, perhaps to prevent tunneling underneath. Where there was no ledge, masons used flat stones mortared with lime to build the foundation three feet below ground. They may have recycled material from the crumbled Fort Andros.

It wasn’t long before the locals protested this latest English attempt to settle Pejepscot. Gyles was in no way dissuaded by the Native Americans before him. He wrote some years later:

Soon after our arrival there the Indians came in the night, and forbid our laying one stone upon another. I told them I came with orders from Governor Dudley to build a fort, and if they disliked it they might acquaint him with it; and that if they came forcibly upon us, they or I should fall on the spot. After such like hot words they left us, and we went on with our building…


Fort George, Brunswick by Daniel Stone. 1878.


And so, the work continued. Masons built three-foot thick, ten-foot high walls to form a fifty-by-fifty foot square. To this they added two bastions or projections for better defense, with space atop the wall to mount cannon. Within the fort, they erected a two-story house large enough to house the soldiers, plus future settlers, in the event of an attack.

After the foundations were completed, carpenters added two wooden half-bastions to the fortification. Then they finished the house, shingling the roof, building doors, window frames, and other fittings, and likely the furniture used by the occupants. (The house is in the center of the drawing, peeking above the surrounding walls.)



Finally, on November 25th, 1715, Capt. John Gyles ordered his soldiers to raise the flag of their homeland over Fort George. Named for Great Britain’s newly crowned king, a German who spoke no English, the fort that John built was ready to protect the next wave of British immigrants.

Next Blog: Men with No Names


  • 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.
  • Johnson, Ben, editor. Kings and Queens of England and Britain, Historic UK., accessed Oct. 11, 2016.
  • McKeen, John. Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. Brunswick, Curtis Memorial Library, 1985. Call No. 974-191.
  • Privat-Deschanel, A.(ugustin) Elementary Treatise on Natural Philosophy Part I. Mechanics, Hydrostatics, and Pneumatics. D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1884, 40. Florida Center for Instructional Technology., accessed Sept. 15, 2016.
  • Southicke, Cyprian. The Harbour of Casco Bay and Islands Adjacent. Richard Mount Thomas Page and Company, London, 1720. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library., accessed Oct. 10, 2016.
  • Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878., accessed July 30, 2016.

© Barbara A. Desmarais 2016



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They’re Baaack!

After King Philip’s War

In 1675 and ’76 during King Philip’s War (aka Metacom’s Rebellion) [1], local Native Americans across New England attempted to rout English colonists. The local Natives of Merrymeeting Bay, weary of ill treatment by the settlers, attacked the immigrants, burned their homes, and drove them from Pejepscot Plantation [2]. (see Foreigners at Pejepscot)

New & Old World Uconn 1763final

European Colonies & Dependencies 1763. By Poole, Reginald Lane. Annotated by this author.

When Englishman Thomas Gyles and his family left their Pejepscot farm, however, it wasn’t because of the war. It was so Gyles could sail to England to settle his late father’s estate.

Aboard ship, the family shared crowded space below decks with the crew and other passengers, as well as cargo that may have included Maine lumber, furs, and dried fish. After a journey that may have lasted as long as three months, tossed about by foul weather, and hungered by spare rations, the crew and passengers arrived in England thinner and worse for the wear.

Gyles spent the ensuing weeks or months navigating England’s vast estate laws. Once all his father’s property and investments were inventoried, assessed, and distributed, Thomas Gyles, Esq. had become a wealthy man.

He and his family set sail from London to Boston, on yet another 3000-mile months-long journey in rough conditions. He hoped to return to his home on the Pejepscot River, but arrived to find the plantation abandoned by his countrymen. Instead, he joined the long-standing Pemaquid settlement some twenty-three miles to the west. The devout Puritan bought multiple tracts of land, hired workers, and started farming once again.

In 1682, he was appointed chief justice of the settlement. To Gyles’ dismay, the Pemaquid colonists had been left on their own for decades and now paid little heed to laws or religious traditions such as keeping the Sabbath. He struggled to bring some order to the area, at times spending his own funds to better the community. Still, Gyles and his family were content and his farms thrived.

Fort Andros to Fort Pentagouet — And Back Again

While Thomas Gyles built up his holdings at Pemaquid, new investors bought the abandoned properties on Merrymeeting Bay. In 1688, the moneymen and their new settlers asked New England’s governor, Edmund Andros, to protect the fledgling community from attacks by the local Native Americans and their French allies. In response, that winter Andros and his soldiers arrived on the banks of the Pejepscot River to build a stone fort. (see Foreigners at Pejepscot)

Fort Andros to Pentagouet

Map of Maine., 1999. Annotated by this author.

Just weeks later, in April that same year, Andros and his soldiers sailed the frigate Rose   northeast to the Bagaduce River, in response to continued skirmishes between the English settlers and the allied French and Native locals.

The Native territory on the banks of the Bagaduce River and Penobscot Bay was rich in resources and water access, which is why the French, Dutch, and English periodically battled one another over its possession. At the end of King Philip‘s War, French military officer Baron Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de St. Castine had spearheaded the recapture of the peninsula from the Dutch, after they had destroyed Fort Pentagouet there.


Baron Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de St. Castine. By Will H. Low, 1880.

The Baron held close familial ties with the local Abenakis, who had adopted him into their fold. He married Pidianske, the daughter of Penobscot Chief Madackawondo. They lived on the shore of the Bagaduce River where they operated a trading post.

When Andros and his soldiers landed, they headed straight for de Castine’s house and trading post. They could have gone there to reconcile with the French and Abenaki leader, but the English and French had been at war in the colonies for most of the 1600s. Instead, the governor led the soldiers in robbing the Baron’s house.

This was the start King William’s War.

The battle spread throughout Maine. The following spring at Pejepscot, the Natives burned every building down to the ground and took possession of the newly built Fort Andros. Over the next decade, the Natives attacked every English settlement in Maine, save Kittery, York, Wells, and the Isle of Shoal–all near the New Hampshire border. One thousand English settlers were killed.

Nine Years a Slave in New France

On August 2nd in 1689, thirty to forty Maliseet Natives Americans [3] from the St. John Valley to the north of Maine attacked the Gyles homestead. After they shot Thomas several times, he knew he would not recover from his rapid blood loss. The Native warriors allowed Thomas to pray with his sons, ten-year-old John and fourteen-year-old James, then the Natives took Thomas out of his family’s sight and silently killed him.

John, James, their mother Margerite, and their two younger sisters, Mary and Margaret, were taken captive. John’s eldest and youngest brothers, Thomas Jr and Tad, both escaped. The Maliseets torched the village and fort at Pemaquid, then took their prisoners to nearby New Harbor.

Mrs. Gyles and her daughters were eventually released and reunited with her escaped sons, Thomas Jr and Tad. James died after three years in captivity when he, too, attempted to escape. Ten-year-old John, however, would live in slavery for nine years.

For the first six years, John Gyles was slave to the Maliseets in New France. He shared their somewhat nomadic existence, travelling according to the seasons, planting corn, hunting and fishing. John and his masters often subsisted on wild grapes and roots. Occasionally they feasted on moose. John Gyles longed for English clothes instead of the fur-bare moose-skin coat he wore during his enslavement by the Natives, and English food instead of the roots and berries usually available to him.

Pejepscot to Jemseg

Map of Maine., 1999. Annotated by this author.

When John was sixteen, he was sold to a Catholic Frenchman, Seigneur Louis d’Amours de Chaufours. John’s Protestant mother had instilled in him an abiding fear of Catholics, having told him it would be better to die than be tortured by the Papists. John Gyles thought now he was in the hands of the devil and would surely be killed.

To his great surprise, the nobleman and his wife Marguerite treated their handsome, light-haired slave as a son. Madame sewed him clothes and taught him French. John, in turn, taught her English. He had his own quarters, hunted and trapped alone, and was free to wander as he chose on Chaufours’ estate, Jemseg [4].

When the Siegneur of Jemseg sailed to France for several months on business, he left his family and estate in the care of his slave John. It was a wise move. Just days after Chaufours left, the English attacked the area. John had the other slaves hide the family’s valuables in the woods in case the buildings were set afire. He also nailed a letter to the front door of the main house, saying in English that the household had treated their English captives with kindness, had released some, and would release the captive John when he so desired. John and Marguerite both signed the notice.

Gyles, John signature ed

From Nine Years a Captive by John Gyles.

In the end, the letter saved Jemseg, for the English spared the entire estate.

When de Chaufours returned from France, he offered John the choice between two freedoms. One was to leave immediately for Boston to reunite with his Gyles family; the other was to remain at Jemseg as de Chafours’ son and heir. It was an easy choice for John Gyles. On June 13, 1698, he boarded an English sloop, arriving in Boston just five days later. There John reunited with his brothers, Thomas and Tad, and his sisters, Mary and Margaret. Sadly, their mother had died some years before.

Return to Pejepscot

Native burial edit

Native American burial or memorial ceremony, New France. 1619. Library of Congress.

The following January, the English and the Abenakis met at Mair Point at the southern tip of Pejepscot near a place traditionally thought to be a Native American burial ground. There they exchanged prisoners and formally confirmed a peace treaty made earlier at Pemaquid. King William’s War was over.

For the next several years John Gyles used his extensive knowledge of Native languages and customs as an interpreter for civilian and English military employers, traveling throughout New England and New France. One assignment brought him back to the place his father Thomas had settled forty-six years earlier.

In August 1715, Capt. John Gyles received grand promises of land and money from the Pejepscot Proprietors, and military orders from Governor Dudley to build a new stone fort at Pejepscot.

Next Blog: The Fort that John Built


  1. King Philip’s War and Metacom’s Rebellion (1675-1676) are alternate names for the Native American’s effort to oust English settlers from southern New England. Metacom was the Pokunoket chief who led the uprising. He was called King Philip by the English.
  2. Plantation here means new settlement or colony., accessed Sept. 3, 2016.
  3. For simplicity’s sake the author has used Native American to describe the indigenous people of both the United States and Canada, though the current Canadian term is First Nations.
  4. Jemseg, New Brunswick, Canada.


  • Map of Maine. 1999 – 2013. Accessed August 27, 2016.
  • 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.
  • Staff. King Philip’s War. A+E Networks. Accessed Sept. 8, 2016.
  • Library of Congress. Native American burial or memorial ceremony with man standing by shelter with bundle of bones, friends and relatives of the dead, and lodge in background, New France (Canada). 1619. Illus. in Call No. F1030.1.C448 [Rare Book RR]. Accessed August 20, 2016.
  • Low, Will H. Imagined likeness of Baron St. Castin. December 31, 1880. Wilson Museum Archives. Accessed August 27,2016.
  • McKeen, John. Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. Brunswick, Curtis Memorial Library, 1985. Call No. 974-191.
  • Poole, Reginald Lane. Historical atlas of modern Europe from the decline of the Roman empire author: 1763 map European Colonies & Dependencies. Clarendon Press; London; New York: H. Frouwde, 1896-1902. Babbidge Map Library Double Oversize-NonCirculating-Level 4. Call Number: G1796.S1 H5 1896. Accessed Sept. 3, 2016.
  • Vinton, John Adams. Thomas Gyles and his neighbors, 1669-1689. Boston, D. Clapp & son, printers. 1867. Internet Archive. Accessed Sept. 3, 2016.
  • Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878. Accessed July 30, 2016.

© Barbara A. Desmarais 2016



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Foreigners at Pejepscot



Androscoggin from Topsham side

Pejepscot River from Topsham looking toward Brunswick. Barbara A. Desmarais, July 24, 2016.


Four hundred years ago, the locals called the Androscoggin, from Merrymeeting Bay to the falls at Lewiston, the Pejepscot River. The tidal river between Topsham and Brunswick was named after a long-ago native people.

Even by the 1600s, foreigners had been exploring and fishing along those shores for many years. One sailor, whose team rowed a whaling boat up the Pejepscot, described the “scenery [as] wild and romantick.”* Huge oaks leaned over the water, creating sheltering coves. A bald eagle screamed a warning as the craft glided on the incoming tide, later diving silently to the river’s surface, then rising with a fish in its talons. Silver sturgeon longer than a man is tall leaped up and out of the water, as they had been doing since prehistoric times. Salmon teamed just beneath the surface. Ponds, large and small, formed behind beaver damns along the shore. Dusk brought a red wolf to a meadow’s edge, a white-tailed deer in its sights.



Red wolf stalking deer. B. Crawford, USFWS, 2004.


Between 1628 and 1675, Englishman Thomas Purchase and his family profited greatly from the area’s natural abundance. He traded with the locals for furs and beaver pelts, as well as lumber. His crew fished for salmon and sturgeon. These were processed for storage, perhaps on Fish House Hill, near the site of today’s Daniel Stone Inn on Brunswick’s Water Street. The men burned the plentiful wood to dry their catch – once packing thirty-seven barrels of salmon and ninety kegs of sturgeon in three weeks. They would have dried more, but they ran out of salt to cure the fish.


Size: H60 x W39.5 cm

Fish Hill between Water, Stone, and Woodlawn Streets, 1871.


Two hundred years later, in 1856, workers grading Woodlawn Street below the Stone property unearthed two European skeletons. These may have been two of Purchase’s fishermen, making Fish Hill one of the first European burying grounds in Brunswick.

Over the next forty years, English settlements grew on both sides of the Pejepscot as locals sold and resold land rights. In 1669, Thomas Gyles and his brother James sailed from the port of Boston to buy land at Pleasant Point on the Topsham shore. It wouldn’t be long, though, before Gyles, Purchase, and others abandoned their water-view homes.


Pleasant Point 11-0386a

Pleasant Point on Merrymeeting Bay, 1970. National Archives.


On June 24, 1675, King Philip’s War commenced at the Plymouth Colony. By September that year, the battle reached Pejepscot. Though the Natives had initially bartered pelts, fish, and timber with the settlers, years of being cheated by Purchase and otherwise misused by the English had eroded friendly relations between the two groups.

A party of twenty Native Americans, finding Purchase and his son away from their home, robbed the dwelling, taking weapons, powder for the guns, and liquor; and ripping up the feather beds. They also “killed a calf and several sheep.”* The war party, however, did not harm Mrs. Purchase or the others at the home.

Just a few days later, twenty-five settlers sailed down river to New Meadows to help Purchase harvest corn. There they found several Native Americans plundering houses, as well as three lookouts in the woods. The lookouts fled toward the river, but the English shot and killed one man, and wounded a second who escaped by canoe. When the settlers completed their harvest, the Natives attacked, wounding several Englishmen. The Natives loaded their canoes with freshly harvested corn and went back home.

The following year, after the Natives burned down Purchase’s home, he and most of the other English settlers left Pejepscot.

After the war ended in 1676, the land abandoned by the settlers was bought by investors like Mr. Richard Wharton, who received a deed for the use of much of the land and waterways of Pejepscot in July of 1684. Wharton met with six local leaders at the Fort at Pejepscot, on an island on the Topsham shore.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 1.57.14 PM

Image from Wheelers’ “History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell,” 1878.*


The six local grantors, Warumbee, Darumkine, Wihikermet, Wedon Domhegon, Nehonongasset, and Numbenewet, were Native American “Sagamores.” It was their ancestors who had granted land to Purchase, the Gyles brothers, and other English foreigners years earlier.

Peace between the Natives and the foreigners lasted a decade. In mid-winter, at the beginning of King William’s War in 1688, New England’s Governor Andros and one thousand soldiers sailed to Pejepscot. Andros found ‘the weather…exceedingly cold, the snow deep, and the travelling exceedingly tedious.’* He ordered his men to build a large stone fort on a high point overlooking the Brunswick side of Pejepscot falls.

Despite the safety promised by the shelter of Fort Andros, the settlers once again left for safer locales. Only the garrisoned soldiers remained.

Periodically, the locals united with French foreigners to battle the English foreigners. There would be other skirmishes and another war before the Pejepscot Proprietors were able to entice families to come back to Pejepscot.

Next Blog: They’re Baaack! 


  • Desmarais, Barbara A. Pejepscot River from Topsham looking toward Brunswick. July 24, 2016. Digital Image. Androscoggin from Topsham side.jpg.
  • Red wolf watching deer at Cades Cove – Great Smoky Mountain. 2004. Color image,  B. Crawford, USFWS,, accessed July 30, 2016.
  • National Archives. Environmental Protection Agency: RG:412. Pleasant Point on Merrymeeting Bay in the Brunswick Area Near the Confluence of the Androscoggin sand Kennebec Rivers. 12.2/1970. DOCUMERICA: The Environmental Protection Agency’s Program to Photographically Document Subjects of Environmental Concern. National Archives Identifier: 550750. Local Identifier: 412-DA-8265. Pleasant Point 11-0386a.gif., accessed July 26, 2016.
  • Osher Map Library. Brunswick Village Town of Brunswick from Cumberland County Atlas. Brunswick, Maine. Anonymous/No Author, 1871. Accession No: OML-1871-10., accessed July 30, 2016. .
  • *Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878., accessed July 30, 2016.



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A Sacred Place

When John Orr Skolfield and Bethiah Sprague Merryman wed, it was a marriage of two of Brunswick and Harpswell’s most prominent seafaring families. Born just after the American Revolution and married about the time of the War of 1812, the couple understood that life could be unkind.

Their four daughters, Caroline, Susan, and twins Bethiah 2nd and Mary were used to John’s long absences from home as he traveled the Atlantic coast working aboard ship. One such trip ended in June of 1828: he returned home to Mere Point after a year and a half as master of the Skolfield-built schooner “Maria.” Perhaps the captain brought home trinkets for the girls and cotton fabric for their mother Bethiah.

Maquoit Bay.jpg

Overlooking Maquoit Bay at Mere Point, Photo by Barbara A. Desmarais, 2016.

Living on the shore of Maquoit Bay, it’s not hard to imagine John’s delight watching the sisters push one another on a swing hung from a sturdy tree overlooking the ocean, or jumping into the water at high tide on a hot summer’s day. After all, they had salt water in their veins!

That autumn would bring colder weather, the wind whipping off the sea. Perhaps it also brought illness, for in October, 15-year-old Susan died.

When a loved one dies, all those left behind can do is honor the beloved with burial in a special place. The family chose such a place overlooking the bay. Someone, perhaps Susan’s uncle Jacob Skolfield, builder of beautiful wooden schooners and sloops, shaped a massive piece of exotic wood, which was engraved and placed on a sacred spot high above the water on the western Mere Point shore.

Susan L Skolfield at Mere Point

Susan L. Skolfield wooden grave marker, Photo by Barbara A. Desmarais, 2016.


That tombstone, hewn in wood nearly 200 years ago, still exists today, a loving family’s lasting remembrance of Susan L. Skolfield:


Susan L.

daughter of John Orr

and Bethiah Skolfield

born 1813 died 1828

aged 15 yrs 4  mos.


  • John Skolfield Obituary,, Scott Albright, May 26, 2012. Accessed July 5, 2016.
  • Walter Merryman of Harpswell, Maine: And His Descendants, Sinnett, Charles Nelson, Rumford Printing Company, Harpswell, 1905.
  • Bethiah Sprague Merryman Skolfield,, probably Stuart Strout Woodside Skolfield, Dec. 9, 2009. Accessed April 14, 2016.
  • History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler, Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878

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

Till Death Do We Part

Bernier St John's map

Map courtesy All Saints Parish, 2011. Annotated by Barbara A. Desmarais, 2016.

Why would a Catholic couple buried in the same cemetery be in different plots far from one another? Was one plot filled to capacity? Was one partner widowed, remarried, then buried with the second spouse? Not in the case of Edward (1892-1971) and Alfreda (Martin) Bernier (1903-1981).

After promising lifelong love and obedience to her husband at their 1921 June wedding, the bride moved a mere two blocks from her mother’s home to the Berniers’ apartment building on Mason Street.

Though there was a decade difference in their ages, the couple had much in common. Both were first generation Americans, born and raised in Brunswick by French Canadian parents. Like most of their mutual friends and neighbors, neither studied beyond fourth or fifth grade at St. Jean le Baptiste’s parochial school. Having lived in the same neighborhood, they shared friends and acquaintances.

Pepere_Clarinet 2

Edward Bernier playing clarinet at 13 Mason St., Brunswick, date unknown. Courtesy Suzanne (Bernier) Theberge.

On the surface, life remained much the same as before the wedding. Teenaged Alfreda continued to work at Cabot mill. Edward was a carpenter at the time, but he soon switched to painting houses with his younger brother, Adelard. Both Alfreda and Edward’s family and friends were still nearby for company and moral support. Each continued their familiar “leisure-time” activities: she sewed and crocheted; he played clarinet in the St. John’s Band.

Mermere Mepere Aunt P c1924

Edward, Alfreda, and Priscilla Bernier, C 1924. Courtesy Suzanne (Bernier) Theberge.

What did change was their income needs. Nine months after the wedding their first child, Marie Gertrude Priscilla, was born. Suddenly they were a family of three with another mouth to feed, another body to clothe.

Mermere Pepere 9 kids c1934

Front row: Andrew, Robert, Alfreda, Edward, Priscilla, Remy. Back row: Evariste, Henry, Constance, Edward, Anthony. Courtesy Suzanne (Bernier) Theberge.

Then every year or so for the next eighteen years, Alfreda was forced to “loaf” from her mill job for two or three days give birth. The couple’s eleventh and final child, Rhea, was born in 1939.

Alfreda, like her mother Anastasie, loved her babies. (See Anastasie, épouse de feu Eustache Martin. ) And like her father Eustache she was clever and industrious. (See Le Cultiveur.) She sewed and crocheted clothes for the family and textiles for their home, and worked equally hard at the mill. A proud woman, she was sometimes stung by criticism. (See Bright and Shiny.) Fiercely independent, she balked at being ordered by the “bosses” at the mill, but was forced to swallow her pride to keep her job.

And she needed her job. With eleven children to feed and a husband who was often out of work, Alfreda’s income was critical to the family’s financial health. By 1940 Edward, unable to find painting work, hired out as a manual laborer on a road project, working only thirty hours a week. Clearly, Alfreda was the family breadwinner.

Mermere 1 c1942

Alfreda (Martin) Bernier, possibly on Coffin St., C 1941. Courtesy Suzanne (Bernier) Theberge.

It may have been about this time that Alfreda found herself desperate to provide for her family. Girded in her customary corset, freshly pressed dress, and Sunday hat, she walked to the local Red Cross office on Pleasant Street to ask for aid. The director told her that there would be no help for Alfreda if she kept having children.

She returned home hurt and angry.

But not defeated.

Though she resented her treatment by the local Red Cross representative, Alfreda knew she couldn’t afford another child, either financially or physically. Financially, her husband drained more income than he contributed – when he wasn’t working, he drank and that cost money. Physically, Alfreda had operated spinning and weaving machinery for two decades, which took a toll on her knees. Her pregnancies had also stressed her body. As a Catholic woman without access to dependable birth control or the right to refuse her husband’s overtures, there was only one way she could protect herself and her family. And that was contrary to Catholic doctrine.

15 Coffin St 11.27.41 5A

Brunswick Record, Nov. 27, 1941.

So, in December 1941, Alfreda bought a brand new cape at 15 Coffin Street just past Bowdoin College.

A year later, Alfreda successfully sued her husband for divorce and full custody of their eleven minor children on the grounds of cruel and abusive treatment. The divorce decree doesn’t cite witness testimony as to the actual cruelty and abuse, but family conversations hinted that Edward’s drinking was a cause.

Pepere 5 kids c1943

Front row: Constance, Rhea, Henry. Back row: Remy, Evariste, Edward. C 1943 at 15 Coffin Street. Courtesy of Suzanne (Bernier) Theberge.

After the divorce both Alfreda and Edward remained in Brunswick and neither remarried. The ex-spouses kept tabs on each other through their children and grandchildren, always wishing the other well.

Edward's grave

Courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais, 2016.

When Edward died in 1971 he was buried in St. John the Baptist Cemetery alongside his father and mother, Zepherin and Aglée (Guimond) Bernier.

Alfreda's grave

Courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais, 2016.

Ten years later, though the Bernier plot wasn’t full, and Alfreda had no second husband to be near, her family her buried in the same cemetery, well out of sight of Edward’s grave. Though the Catholic Church didn’t recognize her divorce, Alfreda’s family did.


  • Advertisement for 15 Coffin StreetBrunswick Record, November 27, 1941, Photos from the Brunswick newspapers from 1902 to 1960, rephotographed by Richard Snow,, accessed May 24, 2016.
  • Various including City Directories, Family Trees, United States Federal and State Censuses, Vital Records (Birth, Death, and Marriages).
  • Bernier family photos courtesy Susanne (Bernier) Theberge.
  • Alfreda (Martin) Bernier. Undated conversations/oral interviews with Barbara A. (Bernier) Desmarais.
  • Alfreda (Martin) Bernier divorce decree, Office of Data, Research, and Vital Statistics, 220 Capitol St., Augusta, Maine.
  • Cumberland County Registry of Deeds, 25 Pearl St., Portland, Maine and <;
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Bright and Shiny

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

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

Mason St 1936 annot

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

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

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


Henry and Evariste 6.17.37 9A

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


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


Edouard &amp; Alfreda (Martin) Bernier &amp; 10 children cr

Bernier family portrait, courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais.


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

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


Sailor suits9 cont

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

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

Alfreda’s hard work continued to pay off.

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

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

Alfreda Martin Bernier 1937

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


Next Blog: Until Death Do Us Part


  • Henry and Evariste Bernier, photograph, Brunswick Record, June 17, 1937. (Collection of Barbara A. Desmarais.)
  • Bernier Family Portrait, photocopy of original photograph. (Collection of Barbara A. Desmarais.)
  • Brunswick Directory, 1936-’37, Crowley & Lunt, Portland, Maine,, accessed May 13, 2016.
  • Stair Step Siblings, photograph, Brunswick Record, September 2, 1937, Photos from the Brunswick newspapers from 1902 to 1960, rephotographed by Richard Snow,, accessed May 24, 2016.
Posted in Bernier & Martin Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Anastasie, épouse de feu Eustache Martin

Anastasie St Johns School

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

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

Tondreau Bakery 1922.23d

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

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

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

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

American Flag 1917 39709r

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

(The American)

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

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

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


Artillery 1.25

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eva Martin grave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KKK Cross Burning 1925

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

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

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

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

Garrison Cove 7.5.23 17B-2

Garrison Cove, Brunswick Record scan courtesy Richard Snow.

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

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

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

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

Sainte Anne

Prayer Card from

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

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

Helie Bakery 1929 d

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eustache and Anastasie  3 photos

Funeral Card, courtesy Agnes (Martin) Maynard

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

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

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

Nous sommes arrivés.

Next Blog: Bright and Shiny


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


  • Various including City Directories, Family Trees, United States Federal and State Censuses, Vital Records (Birth, Death, and Marriages).
  • Mrs. Eustache Martin obituary, Brunswick Record, January 3, 1934,. p4
  • Tondreau’s Bakery image, Brunswick Directory Including Topsham 1922, Crowley & Lunt, Portland, Maine,, accessed May 12, 2016.
  • Helie’s Bakery image, Brunswick Directory, 1928-’29, Crowley & Lunt, Portland, Maine,, accessed May 13, 2016.
  • Sainte Anne prayer card image, Carmelite Heritage, Victoria Forrester,, accessed May 12, 2016.
  • Many People, One Nation poster, Ray Greenleaf, Library of Congress, accessed May 14, 2016
  • Cross burning, Ku Klux Klan, 1925, Harris & Ewing photographer, Library of Congress, accessed May 13, 2016.
  • Photo of Anastasie (Paradis) Martin before 1934. Courtesy of Agnes (Martin) Maynard, May 2016.
  • Anastasie Paradis Martin funeral card, ibid.
  • *Not a Catholic Nation: The Ku Klux Klan Confronts New England in the 1920s, Mark Paul Richard, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst & Boston, 2015, P 23.
  • First Maine Heavy Artillery, Camp Greene, Charlotte, N. C., Brunswick Record, January 25, 1918, Photos from the Brunswick newspapers from 1902 to 1960, rephotographed by Richard Snow,, accessed May 13, 2016.
  • The Cove, With Orr’s Island in the Distance, Brunswick Record, July 5, 1923, ibid.
  • **French North America: Clan in the North: Klan Activity in Brunswick, Maine, David Vermette, August 1, 2012, accessed April 22, 2016.
  • ***The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: History by EraThe Roaring Twenties, Joshua Zeitz,, accessed April 23, 2016.
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