Times Change

As promised, this week I’m posting a 1901 article from the Brunswick Telegraph. I have corrected spelling or punctuation as needed for easier reading. Next Saturday I’ll post the results of my deed research for 63 Federal Street, otherwise known as the Stowe House, as well as an interesting note from long-time Stetson Street resident and historian, Priscilla Davis.

And Customs With Them

In the early part of the past century funeral services were very different from what they are at the present time. The first funeral the writer attended in 1817 was that of a young lady who was our summer district schoolteacher. She died of a fever at the home of her parents. When we entered the house of mourning the coffin containing the corpse was on a table at the side of the room, sever tumblers, a sugar bowl, teaspoons and a pitcher of water. As the neighbors entered the room the men would resort to the table to pour out a quantity of the liquor, sweeten it and drink it while standing near the corpse. In a few cases their wives would do the same.

There were no hearses as at the present day. The corpse was taken to the place of burial on a bier carried by four bearers and the mourning relatives followed on foot in a procession of two and two. The biers were made of spruce poles, for the occasion, in the form of a ladder about eight feet in length. There were tow sets of bearers. When the pall bearers became fatigued carrying the corpse the other four bearers would take their places to relieve them. The biers would be left standing over the grave and frequently half a dozen or more might be standing in the cemetery.

The only article owned by the town used at funerals was the pall. When not in use it was left in the care of the clergyman’s wife. It was a black cloth, eight feet in length and four feet wide and was used to cover the coffin while on its way to the graveyard.

The first hearse used in our village was purchased by the town about 1824. An article had been in the town warrant for several years previous. “To see if the town would raise money to purchase a hearse,” but was rejected on account of the expense. The first time the new hearse was used was at the funeral of Dr. Isaac Lincoln. Its cost was about $900 I think. The cemetery previous to 1826 was on Maquoit road, nearly two miles from the village.

Many people who did not own lots in the cemetery were buried on the brow of the hill, where Stetson St. is now located. The writer remembers of seeing a funeral procession from Mill street on their way to this place of burial. The sexton was conveying a small coffin under his arm with his shovel on his shoulder and the relatives of the child followed on foot.
As late as 1825 it was the custom of funerals to have a dinner provided of which the relatives partook after their return from the burial.

Not many years since one of our aged and respected physicians in addressing a temperance meeting told his audience that when he was young people thought a child could not be born or a person buried without rum. He said that rum was perfectly useless in any disease, and he wished it all destroyed and its manufacture prohibited. A few moths following I was called by a neighbor to assist hi in taking up his father, who was sick with a fever, to have the bed cloths changed. While doing so he fainted and his son thought he was dying and sent for the aged physician. When he arrived at the sick room his patient had revived and he was told the cause of his being sent for. He told us never to attempt to get a person as sick as his patient was up without first giving him a spoonful of brandy.



  • Spelling was corrected and commas added for easier reading.
  • The cemetery on Maquoit Road was the First Parish Cemetery. In Brunswick’s early history, only the downtown portion of the street was known as Main(e) Street, the rest being called Maquoit Road.


  • Brunswick Telegraph, March 27, 1901, page 1
  • History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler, Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878

About Barbara Desmarais

Writer and amateur historian
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