Between a Rock and a Hard Place

In 1891 workers uncovered the earliest organized cemetery in Brunswick. The Brunswick Telegraph reported:

In moving the old boarding house that has stood so long on Mill Hill and digging for the foundation for the new Cabot mill, on Tuesday the workmen uncovered a few human bones, surrounded by what was evidently a rough coffin as pieces of mostly decomposed wood were found around them. Not all the bones of the human skeleton were found but what were there, were in an excellent state of preservation. There was nothing remarkable about them either in size or disposition. It is supposed that they were the bones of a soldier of Fort George who was buried just without the walls of the fort. The bones were deposited with the Pejepscot Historical Society.

Femur from Ancient Burying Ground, Courtesy of Pejepscot Historical Society

Femur from Ancient Burying Ground, Courtesy of Pejepscot Historical Society

The bones unearthed were an ulna from the lower arm and femur or thigh bone. But whose bones have been tucked away on a shelf at the historical society for almost 125 years? In 1930 the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a commemorative plaque on a boulder outside an entrance to Fort Andross, listing the names of three men interred in our Ancient Burying Ground. They were Robert Dunning (c1704-1724), his brother Andrew, Jr. (c1700-1724), and Capt. Benjamin Larrabee (1697-1748).

Fort George Plaque

Andrew Dunning Sr. (1664-1736), his wife Sarah (Bond) (c 1665-bef.1736), and their five young adult sons immigrated to Brunswick, settling at Maquoit between 1717 and 1722.

In the summer of 1722, Native Americans burned down the wooden houses in Brunswick’s village center. Many settlers fled the town after these attacks or moved behind the stone walls of Fort George, but not the Dunning family. They remained and thrived.

But they couldn’t conduct daily life within the confines of their wooden garrison or the stone fort. They had to catch or grow food and secure supplies. The Androscoggin River was central to the lives of the settlers and Natives alike, as a source of fish to eat and as an avenue of transportation. The brothers Robert and Andrew Jr. were crossing the river at a place then called Mason’s rock when Native Americans attacked and killed them. The brothers were buried in the graveyard just outside the fort.

Androscoggin River NOAA 13293 e

Just a few years later, in 1727, Capt. Benjamin Larrabee and Mary Elithorpe (1705-aft.1749) married in Boston. The Pejepscot Proprietors had hired Larrabee to be their agent and to command Fort George.

Fort George from The History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell

Fort George from The History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell

And the fort is where the Larrabees, my 6th great grandparents, began married life, living in a “narrow house” within the fort walls where Mary gave birth to most of their nine children. After a decade there, the family settled in the New Meadows area where Larrabee continued his leadership role as one of Brunswick’s original selectmen. He was buried in the graveyard attached to the fort he had commanded.

Both the fort and its graveyard were used up until the late 1730s. The fort was eventually dismantled and the site covered with new buildings. By the time construction began on the new Cabot Mill, all traces of the fort and the Ancient Burying Ground had disappeared. Though the Dunning brothers and Capt. Larrabee were the most well-known of those buried there, we don’t know for certain that the bones unearthed in 1891 were from one of them. Other men and women must have been buried there, too. Since Capt. Larrabee, Andrew Dunning Sr., and others held slaves, it’s also possible the bones belong to one of the so-called “servants” and not a European colonist.

Modern science might help us learn more about the bones. Many of us in the Brunswick area are descended from these early colonists so our DNA might be useful in identifying the bones. The most practical route could be Y-DNA studies of men directly descended from the earliest male settlers whose surnames are listed under “Notes” below. Perhaps someday a historian will conduct such a study and we’ll have another name to add to the boulder outside Fort Andross.

Next blog in two weeks: Father and Son Reunion


  • Ancient Burying Ground is a legal term meaning a private cemetery established before 1880. In Brunswick the term is usually associated with the graveyard outside of Fort George.
  • Early Brunswick Settlers 1717-1728: Beverly, Clough, Cochran, Cowell, Dunning, Eaton, Fleming, Fuller, Gardner, Gyles, Giveen, Haines, Hamilton, Hansard, Larrabee, Low, Malcolm, Mason, McFarland, McKenny, Miles, Mitchell, Norton, Savage, Smith, Stanwood, Stevenson, Stinson, Thompson, Thornton, Tregoweth, Trescott, Watts, White, Woodside.
  • Mason’s Rock is not listed on current maps of the Androscoggin River, nor on the older maps I have located so far.


  •, various records
  • Brunswick Telegraph, April 30, 1891, page 3
  • They Changed Their Sky: The Irish in Maine. Michael C. Connolly, Editor, University of Maine Press; 1st Edition, 2004
  • 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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