I’ve Been Away




I’ve been away. Away from research, from writing, from public things.

Because my mind, my body, my heart were wholly engaged by my husband, Marty, during our last months together, during his death, and after.

Verney Corp from We the People of Brunswick:Topsham Maine

Postcard of the back of Fort Andross, circa 1943. From We the People of Brunswick:Topsham Maine Facebook page.

Since Marty wasn’t one for funerals, it might surprise some to learn that fifty years ago, he and his co-workers conducted a rooftop funeral at Auerbach Shoe in Fort Andross. He gave a moving eulogy as pall bearers carried the fur-lined coffin to the roof’s edge. He recited a misremembered blessing, omni patri spiritu sancti, as he made the sign of the cross over the casket. Finally, the attendants lifted the deceased up and over the balustrade, then let the box go, down, down, down, into the Androscoggin River.

No mouse before or since has had such a splendid funeral.

Marty’s own family favored graveside prayers with only the closest loved-ones in attendance. But when our daughter and I arranged just such a service, it didn’t seem enough. Knowing Marty served in the Army, my funeral-director cousin suggested a military honor guard.

Desmarais, Marty Army

New Army recruit Martin Desmarais, 1961. From the collection of Barbara A. Desmarais.

Marty enlisted in 1961, right out of high school. After a summer of workouts, he arrived at boot camp in peak physical condition. Barely eighteen, he sported a buzz cut on top and invisible blond whiskers on his face. Thus, much to his delight and his sergeant’s consternation, he easily passed all physical challenges and uniform inspections. Still somehow, the Maine boy found himself peeling potatoes on KP duty.

The day of Marty’s funeral was cold and windy. When the prayers were over, a bugler in dress uniform faced east and played taps. The somber notes floated away on the breeze, over the cemetery, the neighborhood and the woods, on out to sea.

It’s been a while since that funeral, now. I’m slowly finding my way back, back to research, to writing, to a new normal. When I can’t make myself write, I add to my wall-sized timeline where I record important moments in world, American, and local history. Sadly, the word I’ve written most often is “war.”

Each time I write the word I’m reminded that the women and men who served were people with families, worries, ambitions. In my blog, I try to convey how those wars and all the other events of the past four centuries influenced my town and its people, hoping someday we’ll learn a little bit from that past.

Planned Veterans Plaza

Planned Veterans Plaza at north end of Brunswick Mall (in front of Bull Moose). From http://veteransplaza.info/images.

In the meantime, I’m honoring those who came before us as a volunteer with the Veterans Plaza Project, compiling veteran profiles from earlier conflicts. The Plaza on the Brunswick mall will permanently honor veterans from around the country, who served in any branch of United States service, from the American Revolution to today, whether in wartime or peace. The new memorial will include 320 granite honor blocks engraved with veterans’ names, which can be adopted by the public.

If you’d like to participate, here’s how:

  • Remember your sister, father, or 6thgreat-grandfather by donating $250 for an Honor Block to be inscribed with their name, military branch, and time of service.
  • Donate an honor block ($250) for someone who served in one of the earlier wars by selecting a profile from our Adopt a Veteran pages.
  • Make an online donation in any amount at Donate Now or mail to:

American Legion Post #20
c/o Jim Oikle, Treasurer
1 Columbus Dr.
Brunswick, ME 04011-1551

I’ve been away a while. It’s good to be back.



Posted in Beyond the Grave | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Turning a Deaf Ear: Brunswick Before the First Battle of Louisburg

Signers 1735 incorporation petition (1)

Signers of 1735 Petition to Incorporate Brunswick, Maine


In 1735, after nearly two decades of living amongst one another, English and Ulster Scot settlers of Brunswick petitioned the legislature to incorporate their town. Document signers included Ulster Scot blacksmith Andrew Dunning and his sons David and James, as well as the British captain of Fort George, Benjamin Larrabee.

Though the legislature approved the request, Gov. Jonathan Belcher did not sign the document. Brunswick’s status as a settlement remained unchanged.

Brunswick society continued to ebb and flow much as it had before. In 1736 the first captain of Fort George, John Gyles, retiring in Massachusetts, published his memoir of captivity with the Wabinaki and French in Acadia. Andrew Dunning died, followed in 1737 by his wife Susan Bond. Both were buried in the brand-new graveyard behind the equally new First Parish Meeting House. In 1737 Capt. Larrabee and John Minot purchased a silver communion service for the meeting house. That year, too, Richard Jaques, the impetuous soldier who shot Father Sebastien Rale during Lovewell’s War, moved his family to Merriconeag Neck.


Signers petition fort (2)

Signers of Petition against dismantling Fort George: Robert Speer, William Woodside, James McFarland, David Giveen, James Duning, Jacob Clarke, Thomas Thorn, Hugh Minory, Samuell Hinckley.

Perhaps the most significant change happened that April when the legislature voted to dismantle Fort George. Eight prominent Brunswick citizens, on behalf of fifty-nine families in Brunswick and Topsham, protested with another petition. They argued that the next nearest fort was an arduous twenty miles away in Richmond, either on foot through dangerous untamed terrain or via an even longer water route up the Kennebec “…[s]o that there is more probability of our being…[relieved]…by Castle William [in Boston], than from…” Fort Richmond. The petitioners added that Capt. Larrabee’s judicious and cautious dealings to calm relations between the Natives and settlers would be for naught without continued military support.

The settlers were well afraid of the Native people, who continued to gather along the shores of Merrymeeting Bay as they had been doing long before Europeans crossed the Atlantic:

 “…and further we beg leave to observe to yr Excellie & Honrs that Brunswick, time without mind, has been the place of the annual Randevouze of all the tribes, which always has been licentious, vile, and Riotous, but now in a great measure broak by the prudent care and circumspection of the present Comander, in his civil & military Capacity, the former useless were it not Joyn’d and Suported by the latter: what can yr Petitioners expect, upon the dismantling the fort. but to be the Melancoly Spectators, or rather the helpless miserable Sufferers under the returns of their wild extravigances, to the great danger of our lives & libertyes…

“That their love cant be depended upon is obvious to us, conversant among them, who look upon us, as unjust usurpers & intruders upon their rights and priviledges, and spoilers of their idle way of living.”

In the end, the Massachusetts’s legislature ignored the plea for military aid. Instead of assigning more soldiers or strengthening the fortress walls, they sent more goods for Capt. Larrabee to distribute to the Native people in hopes of buying their “love” and loyalty.

Perhaps in response to this lack of support from Massachusetts, Brunswick citizens once again petitioned for incorporation, sending Capt. Larrabee to Boston to argue their case. This time when the legislature voted to grant the request, Gov. Belcher signed the bill. In February 1739 Brunswick became the eleventh corporate town in Maine. Brunswick’s extra measure of self-rule meant “…the Inhabitants thereof shall have and enjoy all such immunities, privilege and powers as Generally other Towns in this Province have and do by Law enjoy.”



Brunswick garrisons 1741 (1)

Estimated blockhouse and garrison locations annotated by Barbara A. Desmarais, taken from Wheelers’ at http://www.curtislibrary.com/wheeler/ww_planofthelots.html, July 25, 2018.

Privilege did not include military protection by Massachusetts, however. Feeling in constant danger from the Wabanaki and French, and perhaps anticipating the War of Jenkins’ Ear reaching the American colonies, some families constructed their own garrison houses. Others fortified their existing homes by lining the walls with four-inch studs to stop bullets, then cut four-inch openings so they could safely shoot back at their attackers. Eventually eight garrison houses were scattered across the town, in addition to the blockhouse at Maquoit that was under Capt. William Woodside’s command.

Construction was costly. The families had to purchase building supplies to fortify the homes, as well as weapons and ammunition. The hours spent felling trees, preparing boards, and erecting the buildings took time away from tending livestock and crops. Selectmen Samuel Hinckley, Robert Speer, and David Dunning, in a petition to Massachusetts to relieve the citizens of the 1740 tax levy, cited these same building costs as the source of great poverty amongst the settlers.


Larrabee_s Company 1742

Through it all, the colonial government remained confident that they could buy peace with the Native people, so they sent very few soldiers to Brunswick. By 1742, Capt. Benjamin Larrabee’s troops at the fort numbered only six, including his son Nathaniel and his “Negro servant” Pompey. For their part, the Wabanaki continued to interfere with the settlers’ salmon fishing locally, while the French harassed British cod fishermen off the coast of Acadia. Farmers continued to carry guns to work their fields and, at the tower of one Topsham blockhouse, women spent their days spinning wool or flax as they kept a lookout for Native warriors.

When the call came to send soldiers to Louisbourg, local men were more than ready to enlist.

Next Blog: A Pig’s Ear: The First Battle of Louisbourg


  • Maine Historical Society. Peopling Maine. Maine Memory Network: Maine History Online © 2000-2010. https://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/879/page/1290/print. Accessed May 29, 2018.
  • Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. and Henry Warren Wheeler. (Wheelers’) History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. (Wheelers’) Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/index.html. Accessed May 25, 2018.
  • Images and Tables compiled or reproduced from Wheelers’.





Posted in Brunswick History | 6 Comments

In One Ear: Before the First Battle of Louisbourg

Atlas of World Osher 1709

A New & Correct Map of the Whole World 1709. http://www.oshermaps.org/map/4244.0016.

Wars that originated in Europe invariably stormed across the Atlantic to the New World. At the end of each conflict, colonists in the Americas found themselves subject to the terms of a new treaty. These agreements were hammered out by the same European politicians who started the war in the first place. These political arrangements rarely completely aligned with colonists’ needs.

Such was the case when Great Britain, Spain, and France signed the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, ending the War of Spanish Succession. Mainers gained a new sense of unity and safety when Britain successfully negotiated control of Nova Scotia to the north. Unfortunately for Mainers, the treaty also ceded Ile Royale (Cape Breton) to France, thus continuing to provide a nearby safe harbor for the French and the aligned Wabanaki Conference.

Two years later, Capt. John Giles oversaw the rapid construction of the compact Fort George just above Merrymeeting Bay at Brunswick. The fort cost £500 and took just four months to complete.

Nouvelle France Osher map 1719 ann

Carte de la Nouvelle France. 1719. Annotated by BD. http://www.oshermaps.org/map/613.0001.

The French, however, spent the next twenty-five years and the equivalent of £7000 building and remodeling their own fortress at Louisbourg. This major gateway to Canada was located on the ice-free eastern side of Ile Royale, making it an all-seasons launching point for French and First Nations raids against British settlements. It was also home port to French privateers. Their goal was to keep British fishing boats away from the North Atlantic cod fisheries that financially sustained British colonies. Equally important, the fortress protected the French colonists’ economic center–the trading post where French and First Nation trappers sold their valuable furs for European export.

Great Britain and Spain, in the meantime, reached an agreement or asiento allowing British merchant ships to sell 4800 slaves to the Spanish colonies each year, but also gave the Spanish the right to inspect British vessels to ensure they complied with the agreement.

Over the following decades, Brunswick and surrounding towns continued to develop as families arrived from other parts of New England, Ireland, and later, Germany. Southern colonies also grew, greatly aided by the sale of enslaved workers, from Africa and the West Indies, to British and Spanish colonials.

Always, Spanish ships were on guard against British captains who smuggled unauthorized goods. To that end, in 1731, Spanish privateer Juan de León Fandiño boarded the British brig Rebecca off the coast of Florida to check for contraband, as was his right according to the terms of the earlier asiento. The story goes that the inspection became confrontational, ending when Fandiñosliced off the ear of British slave trader, Capt. Robert Jenkins.


“1738 satirical cartoon depicts Prime Minister Robert Walpole swooning when confronted with the Spanish-sliced ear, which led to the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1739.” Wikimedia citation below.

Seven years later, in 1738, Jenkins and others appeared before Parliament to testify to “Spanish Depredations upon the British Subjects.” Jenkins was apparently as much a showman as a sailor for, we’re told, he proved his story by displaying a jar of cloudy brine containing his pickled ear.

The resulting “Battle of Jenkins’ Ear” would soon be subsumed by the War of the Austrian Succession. As with previous European conflicts, this would soon spill over to New England and Canada, as the First Battle of Louisbourg.

Next Blog: Turning a Deaf Ear: Before the First Battle of Louisbourg



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Pompey’s Circumstance

Negroland Map 1747

Negroland Map (Africa) by Emanuel Bowen, 1752.

The previous blogs, “Twice on Sunday 1 & 2,” described a fictional day in the life of the commander of Fort George, Capt. Benjamin Larrabee. Everyone Larrabee interacted with in the story was real, including his “Negro servant” Pompey.

What little we know of Pompey is gleaned from only four documents. The first two list the members of Capt. Larrabee’s military company, in 1730 and then in 1738 through 1745. In both, Pompey’s position is the Captain’s “negro servant.”

What can the phrase “Captain’s ‘negro servant’” tell us about Pompey?

Does “negro” mean Pompey was of African descent? Perhaps. Early Spanish Conquistadors used “negro” to describe any indigenous person in the Americas, so we might choose to imagine Pompey as a Wabanaki warrior. However, Joseph, another man in Larrabee’s company, was listed as “Indian Scout.” It seems reasonable to assume that “negro” in the same record means a person of African descent.

“Servant” is harder to define. Was Pompey a free man of color, a soldier simply assigned to aid the Captain? Was he an indentured servant, perhaps a boy or teenager working out his contract? Or was he enslaved, the “property” of Capt. Benjamin Larrabee?

West Indies map 1700s

A Compleat Map of the West Indies by Samuel Dunn and Robert Sayer, 1774.

If Pompey were a free black man,chances are he was descended from Africans enslaved in the West Indies in the early 1600s. As early as 1638, some of these African men and women were traded to New England colonists in exchange for members of the Pequoit tribe of Connecticut whom the New England colonists had captured in battle.

Though some of the enslaved of that time were treated as indentured servants with the opportunity to gain their freedom, by 1641 British colonials in Massachusetts passed laws clearly defining a “servant of color,” be they “Negro” or “Indian,” as a slave. Still, even a century later, Pompey could have been descended from a freedman or freedwoman.

The Pompey Factor

Excerpt from “The ‘Pompey’ Factor” by Allen L. Lee.

His very name, though, hints at enslavement. Most colonials in Maine bore Hebrew biblical names ranging from the common Joseph and Mary to the unusual Hezekiah or Mehitable. The original Pompey was the ancient Roman general, Pompey the Great. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Capt. Larrabee naming his “servant” after the long-ago military officer.

Pompey wasn’t the only person of color in Brunswick in the mid-1700s. Andrew and Sarah Dunning, along with their son James, held enslaved servants. So, too, did John Minot, son of a Pejepscot Proprietor. Minot, in fact, made a gift of infant “Negroes” to his son-in-law, the Rev. Wiswell.

In a small community like Brunswick, there would have been considerable interaction between persons of all stations in life. All would have attended Sunday services at the First Parish Church or shopped at William Woodside’s trading post. Pompey likely lived with the Larrabees in the large house within the confines of the fort walls, then moved with the family to New Meadows, across the river from Georgetown.*

We don’t know Pompey’s age, but we do know he was in Brunswick from 1730 to 1749. Since he was paid the same rate as the other soldiers, we might assume he was at least fifteen years old in 1730. By 1748, the time of our third document, he would have been thirty-three or older. What had he done with his military wages? Did he have to buy his own uniforms, weapons, and food? Or was he saving up to buy his freedom?

Georgetown Marriages: Pompy, a negrow belonging to Benjamin Larrabee, Esq., of Brunswick and Silvey a negro belonging to Mr. Mikel Malcolm of G., int. Mar. 12, 1747-48.

The record of Pompey and Silvey’s intentions to marry reveals that both were of African descent and both were enslaved. Georgetown marriage records of the time are notoriously lacking; no marriage is listed for the couple or for dozens of other intendees.

On May 9thof that year Capt. Larrabee died. Though the Captain was the recorder of deeds for the Pejepscot Proprietors and the father of Brunswick Town Clerk, Nathaniel Larrabee, his own record-keeping seems non-existent. He left no will or testament that would clarify Pompey’s status at the time of Larrabee’s death. The general court would determine the disposition of Larrabee’s land and goods.

Pampy marriage1

Our final document is much like the previous one: a marriage intention. This one was recorded on June 16th, 1749, in Brunswick, between Pompey “Larrabee” and “Priscilla Malculm of Georgetown.” Did the first marriage never take place? Or did Silvey die, leaving Pompey to find a new wife? Perhaps Priscilla and Silvey were one and the same. The Malcolm/Malculm surname fits, as does the bride’s town of residence.

Once again, there’s no record of marriage between Pompey and Priscilla. In fact, some deliberately crossed out their intentions.

Larrabee Oulton marriage

Still, there was a marriage that year that may have been life-changing for Pompey. On Sept. 29ththe Captain’s widow, Mary Larrabee, wed John Oulton. Anything Mary owned immediately became Oulton’s to do with as he pleased.

Perhaps including Pompey.


  • *Georgetown included today’s West Bath, Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg, Woolwich, and Georgetown.
  • Pompey has also been spelled Pompy, Pampy, and Pampey.
  • Silvey has also been transcribed as Silkey.


  • Bowen, Emanuel. Negroland Map image: A new and accurate map of Negroland and the Adjacent Countries; also Upper Guinea, showing the principal European Settlements, & distinguishing wch. belong to England, Denmark, Holland &c the sea coaſt & some of the rivers being drawn from Surveys & the best modern maps and charts. London, 1752. Stanford University Libratries< Stanford Digital Repository, Dr. Oscar I. Norwich collection of maps of Africa and its islands, 1486 – ca. 1865. https://purl.stanford.edu/mn533bd1896. Accessed April 19, 2018.
  • Dunn, Samuel and Robert Sayer. Image: A compleat map of the West Indies containing the coasts of Florida, Louisiana, New Spain, and Terra Firma: With all the islands. London, Printed for Robt. Sayer, 1774. Library of Congress item 74696181. https://www.loc.gov/item/74696181/ Accessed April 19, 2018.
  • Lee, Allan L., AfriGeneas Western Frontier Forum: The “Pompey” Factor. 1/3/2006. http://www.afrigeneas.com/forum-west/index.cgi/md/read/id/187/sbj/the-pompey-factor/, accessed April 20, 2018.
  • Martin, Jeffrey E., Maine Genealogy Archives: Brunswick Marriage Intentions, 1740-1769. Compiled Source: Putnam’s Monthly Historical Magazine, Vols. 5 and 6 (new series vols. 3 and 4) (Salem, Mass.: The Salem Publishing and Printing Company, 1895, 1896). http://archives.mainegenealogy.net/2007/01/brunswick-marriage-intentions-1740-1769.html, accessed April 19, 2018.
  • ibid: Maine Genealogy Archives: Georgetown Marriage Intentions, 1743-1762. Communicated by Rev. H. O. Thayer. http://archives.mainegenealogy.net/2007/03/georgetown-marriage-intentions-1743.html
  • Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. and Henry Warren Wheeler. (Wheelers’) History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. (Wheelers’) Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/index.html, accessed Dec. 15, 2017.
Posted in Brunswick History | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Twice on Sunday: Part 2

First Parish meeting house #1 cropped

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


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

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

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

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

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

See Wikimedia.org in Sources.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mug and Barrel Morguefile 1-IMG_8738.jpg

Morguefile.com. Accessed March 1, 2018.

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

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

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

Heare Lyeth the body of Mr. Andrew Duning,

who departed this life January the 18th Annodom 1736,

aged 72 years.


1660 Charles 2d

1666 London Burnt

1685 James 2d

1689 Wm & Mary

1702 Queen Ann

1714 George 1st

1727 George 2d

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

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

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

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

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

“I won’t forget, sir.”

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

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

Bible Morgue file000739484034.jpg

Morguefile.com. Accessed March 1, 2018.

Rutherford spoke on in his Irish burr.

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

“What’s that, my boy?”

“Reverend Rutherford this morning.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


See Wheelers’ in Sources.

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

He was home.


Next Blog: Beyond the Grave: Pompey’s Circumstance


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

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

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

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

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


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

Twice on Sunday: Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


First Parish meeting house #1 cropped

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


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

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

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

His wife’s speech well pleased him.

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

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

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


Finch, Rev Peter

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Blog: Twice on Sunday-Part 2

Note: Hear the Psalms of David sung a cappella


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Competent Inhabitants


1752 Brunswick Map p 40 WheelersCrpd

Map of Brunswick and Topsham Villages in 1802. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/ww_pt2_intro.html. Accessed Dec. 16, 2017.

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

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

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

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

Capt. Benjamin Larrabee was that man.

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 3.17.05 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Next Blog: Twice on Sunday


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