Samuel Randall Jackson’s life seems right out of a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story. He was born in Canterbury, NH, in 1803, but grew up in a log cabin on a Vermont farm where his family barely eked out a living. He left home at age 13 and settled in Topsham, Maine, working as a “chore-boy.” When he was 16 he went to work for George F. Richardson in his grocery and variety store. He stayed there for 5 years. Jackson suffered adversity, as well as success. He attributed his successes to his own emulation of Richardson’s “example of honesty, justice, economy, perseverance and industry.”
Twice as a young man he had to start over after fires. The first fire, at Richardson’s store, destroyed everything Jackson owned and left him with frostbitten feet. The second was at his own store, which he rented from Richardson. After the $4000 loss, Jackson’s partner, Major Nahum Perkins, left the business, but Jackson persevered. He took on Major Frost as his new partner and began anew.
He married Jane Fulton Winchell of Topsham in 1830 and they relocated to Worcester, Mass, where he spent the next 7 years in the lumber business. In Worcester he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, which didn’t share his anti-slavery views. Jackson and other members seceded from that church and joined the ‘True Wesleyan church’ so named for John Wesley who wrote, “American Slavery, the vilest that ever saw the sun.” In 1850, his wife Jane, their daughters Susan and Sarah, and son Osceola, relocated to Topsham while Jackson spent 2 years in California, selling coal for his business, Jackson and Sterry Coal Co. The trip was not without danger. The Brunswick Telegraph reported in Jackson’s obituary:
…he was cast away on the coast of Oregon, in the schooner “Harriett”, the vessel being loaded with lumber from the Columbia river, and bound for San Francisco. The schooner was dismasted and driven by the gale, into an arm of the sea; unable to escape, as the trade winds were contrary, the people were obliged to remain on short allowance of provisions, and in momentary fear of being captured by the Indians and massacred by them. Mr. Jackson with several other passengers, accepted the guidance of an Indian of friendly aspect, and by journeying across the country, they reached the Columbia river, where they took a steamer for San Francisco. The word received by paper, “Seen dismasted and in distress, the sea making a clean breach over her decks by Brig Venezuela,” gave his friends reason to suppose that he was lost. An obituary of him appeared in the columns of the “Wesleyan” by Rev. W. H. Brewster.
After this near disaster he returned to his family in Maine. They settled in Brunswick, remaining there for the next 22 years. Jackson was active in business and politics, serving two terms in the State Legislature, and was president of Maine Bank and its successor 1st National Bank. He was a director of the Brunswick Gas Light Co. and a stockholder of the Androscoggin Pulp Co. Not surprisingly after his high seas adventure, he organized a marine insurance company, as well. In 1874, Jackson, now a wealthy man, chose to retire to Plainfield, New Jersey, with wife Jane and daughter Sarah. They returned to Brunswick in 1886.
When he died in 1892, the Brunswick Telegraph printed:
In many hearts is he here remembered and revered for his kindly acts of helpfulness and sympathy for the unfortunate and distressed. In this connection we may refer to his donation in 1891 of $1000 to the Public Library. An unexpected favor at one time was shown one of his family by a stranger. Upon expressing surprise, the stranger answered, “I am always glad to be able to do anything in my power for any one belonging to Mr. Jackson; he was my friend when I was in my sorest need, and with his help, so freely and kindly given, I was saved from disgrace.”
Jackson was buried in Riverside Cemetery.
It’s not Jackson’s bootstrap success and sterling character we remember today. It’s the four properties that Samuel R. Jackson, Gentleman, bought on the Androscoggin River at the corner of Pleasant St. and River Rd. in 1873.
That year the Brunswick Telegraph wrote:
New Cemetery. S. R. Jackson, Esq., has recently purchased the lot of land, comprising 12 acres, more or less, lying at the intersection, on the north side of Pleasant Street or Portland Road, and the road leading to Rocky Hill. This land he will lay out for a public cemetery, and work is to be immediately commenced in the way of general improvement and the assignment of lots. The land lies upon the river’s bank and is favorably located for the purpose designed;–with trees set out and walks and driveway tastefully arranged the place may become highly ornamental to that part of the village.
Despite his harrowing experiences at sea, Jackson’s headstone on the cemetery’s highest point faces the Androscoggin River rather than the cemetery that extends below.
Next Blog: Sins of the Father
Osceola Jackson was probably named for Mount Osceola in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
- Ancestry.com: United States Federal Censuses
- Brunswick Telegraph, April 7, 1892
- Cumberland County Registry of Deeds, 25 Pearl St., Portland, Maine and https://me.uslandrecords.com/ME/Cumberland/D/Default.aspx
- The Horatio Alger Society, http://www.horatioalgersociety.net/100_biography.html, © Francis Rodgers, 2011
- History of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America, Abel Stevens, Digital by Edition by Holiness Data Ministry http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyctr/books/0201-0300/stevens/
- The Wesleyan Church, https://www.wesleyan.org/beliefs
- History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler, Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878