Frances, Is That You?

I’d like to think I’ve found Frances.

Our search for her began earlier this April when Brunswick’s Town Planner, Anna Breinich, came across a 7 ½-by-11-inch marble grave marker, hand-chiseled with the name “Frances.” Found in the Stowe House and stored in the Municipal Building since 1979, no one knew who Frances was or where the stone belonged.

Frances stone with rulersIn three previous blogs I listed results of deed, vital record, cemetery transcription and other historic resource research, which I whittled down to sixteen likely gravesites for her.

And this week you, dear Readers, sent in your thoughts regarding Frances. One reader wondered if she had been visiting family in Brunswick at the time of her death. Two others reminded me that this headstone might not have been for a person, but for a favorite horse or pet buried at home. Marble, being softer than granite, would have been a good choice for the 1800s when engraving was done with a handheld chisel and hammer. Does that mean the stone could have been fashioned at home by someone skilled with hand tools? If so, could the somewhat amateur status of the carver be why the stone turned out slightly asymmetrical and without a death date? Lending further credence to the favorite-horse theory is a local resident’s knowledge of one such burial on Park Row.

Nevertheless, this week I searched for a human Frances in Pine Grove, Varney, and Maquoit cemeteries. I looked for family plots containing first-name markers, paying particular attention to the possibility of updated stones, and for family plots that had no marker for their Frances.

Out of the sixteen sites, there was one that seemed made for Frances’s headstone. It was a plot belonging to the Harmon family in Pine Grove Cemetery. In this plot are headstones (one on far left, space, then three to right)  for

  • Abner H. Harmon (1830-1876), son of William and Elizabeth W. Harmon
  • Freddie H. (1852-1853), son of Abner H. and Frances L. (Owen) Harmon
  • Priscilla (1774-1851), wife of Johnson Harmon
  • George Lamb Harmon (1831-1834), son of William and Elizabeth W. Harmon.

Abner Harmon et al Pine GroveThe photo shows an empty space between Abner and son Freddie that is easily large enough for four more graves. The family lived in the right place, too. William Harmon is listed in an 1849 deed as an abutter of the Stowe House property where Frances’s marker was found. Before his death in 1876, Abner H. Harmon (baker) lived on Bank St. After his death, Frances and their two sons, John C. (harness maker) and William A. (hairdresser), lived on School St. You may recall that a Baptist meeting house on Franklin and a possible ancient burying ground on Stetson would have been very near Frances’s home.

But, Frances (1833-1915), daughter of Samuel and Catherine (Dickinson) Owen, isn’t buried in Pine Grove. By the 1900 census she and her son John (gardener) were living in Lancaster, Mass. She died in Clinton, Mass., and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery there.

The 1900 census also noted Frances had three living children but had given birth to ten. Since only four children are listed in various records, I think it’s very possible that Abner and Frances had a daughter named Frances who died young and is buried in the family plot. In addition, the asymmetry of her marker is a perfect match to the slightly skewed shape of Freddie’s, her would-have-been brother. Though Freddie’s is fancier, it certainly could have been made by the same person, perhaps for the same family.

Freddie Harmon Pine GroveTo confirm my hunch I contacted local historian, John Cross, who holds records for Pine Grove Cemetery, hoping his listings would show a Frances Harmon in that plot. Unfortunately, his records matched the four headstones currently on the site. Does this mean Frances is still lost? Maybe not. The Pine Grove inventory was compiled from tombstone inscriptions in the 1920s or ‘30s. If Frances’s marker had been removed prior to those dates, it wouldn’t be on the inventory.

So, what happens next? I will take the stone to the Pejepscot Historical Society the Collections Committee to consider for accession. If Frances is allowed to rest at the historical society, I’ll deposit my research there to give a head start to other sleuths and historians. Perhaps a junior high class or history buff will take on the task of compiling additional Franceses using deeds, church and vital records, historical resources, and cemetery data from books, online sources, and site visits.

Whether or not we ever truly learn Frances’s identity, we already know this: she is elusive, mysterious, intriguing. And someone cherished her enough to memorialize her in stone.

 Sources:

  • Massachusetts Death Index 1901-1980, Ancestry.com
  • U.S. City Directories, 1821-1929, Ancestry.com
  • United States Federal Census Records, Ancestry.com
  • Vital Records of Brunswick, Maine 1740-1860 and The Forsaith Book.  Compiled by Joseph Crook Anderson II, CG, FASG. Picton Press, Rockport, Maine, 2004
  • Brunswick Cemeteries, Brunswick, Maine, Maquoit Yard Cemetery, etc., Cheetham, Donald, and Mark Cheetham, Richmond, Maine, 2004
  • Pine Grove Cemetery, Bath Road, Brunswick, Maine, Vol. I & II., Ibid, 2005
  • Cumberland County Registry of Deeds, 25 Pearl St., Portland, Maine (also see https://me.uslandrecords.com/ME/Cumberland/D/Default.aspx)
  • The Cemeteries of Brunswick, Maine. Desmarais, Barbara A., http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mebrucem/index.html, 2014
  • Page Monuments, Brunswick, Maine
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About Barbara Desmarais

Writer and amateur historian
This entry was posted in Brunswick History and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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