Sins of the Father

Corner Maquoit and Middle Bay Roads Adapted from 1910 map

Corner Maquoit and Middle Bay Roads
Adapted from 1910 map

Robert McManus was born in Brunswick on July 14th, 1764, barely a decade before the Revolutionary War, in a home at the junction of the old Middle Bay and Maquoit Rds. The home was only a few rods south of the old First Parish Meeting House. He was the 4th of 5 sons of James McManus, who emigrated from Ireland with his wife Mary.

In the Wheeler brothers’ history of Brunswick, the McManus family profile lists all 5 sons of James McManus in this order: Daniel, James, John, Richard, and Robert. The Wheelers included only Robert’s date and location of birth, perhaps because of the scandal attached to his birth.

In November 1754 James Sr. wanted his son baptized, but, because James was “living in open sin,” First Parish Church officials required him to “confess to his relations” with the boy’s mother, Ann Conner. The McManus family, who were the most likely source of the Wheelers’ information, probably included Robert’s birthdate in their family history, ensuring that he would forever be known as the illegitimate child of James McManus and Ann Conner.

Robert’s mother died by the time he turned 6. Probably not long after that, he boarded with and worked for Deacon Dunning. He was subsequently indentured for 5 years to Revolutionary War veteran Brigadier General Samuel Thompson.

As an adult Robert married twice and farmed first on the Durham Rd., then half-way up Rocky Hill on River Rd., and finally at his last farm at the foot of Rocky Hill. We might be tempted to conclude that he lived in a different part of town from the rest of his family, but we’d be wrong. In fact, in 1796 he bought the Rocky Hill farm next to his brother Daniel. Their brother John also lived nearby. Robert’s adult children, nieces, and nephews married into neighboring families, so Robert was surrounded by extended family.

By 1850 Robert had turned his farm over to his daughter Ellen and her husband John Merryman. The 1850 census recorded Robert living there with Merrymans and their 8 children, ages 2 to 18. The Brunswick Telegraph reported that McManus voted for Gen. George Washington for his second term and never missed an election until 1856 when a storm kept the 92-year-old away from the polls. He was healthy and strong, suffering only from “rheumatism.” His memory never wavered and he enjoyed sharing stories of Brunswick’s early history, particularly the “trials and deprivations” of the colonial settlers during the Indian Wars. He died at age “93 years, 9 months and 15 days” on April 29, 1858, after a few months of failing health.

Robert McManus’s obituary in the Brunswick Telegraph ended with this paragraph:

Mr. McManus was a man highly respected by his friends and neighbors, and, as one of his sons remarks to us, made it the sum of his advice to his children to wrong no man—to deal justly with all, to walk humbly and love mercy, and the old man closed his eyes on life with perfect resignation, in the humble hope of having discharged his duty, and of a reward hereafter; he left eight children, four by his first and four by his second wife.

Maquoit Cemetery Corner of Maquoit & Middle Bay Rds Adapted from 1871 map

Maquoit Cemetery
Corner of Maquoit & Middle Bay Rds
Adapted from 1871 map

No tombstone remains to mark Robert McManus’s grave. It’s possible he was interred on the family burying ground halfway up Rocky Hill on River Rd. Deeds, though, reveal that his nephew Patrick owned a farm at the corner of Maquoit and the old Middle Bay Rds. Was this James Sr.’s homestead? Patrick McManus’s farm abutted the old Maquoit Baptist Church and cemetery lot on two sides, as if the lot had been carved from the farm. In fact, Patrick and a number of other family members are buried in a large plot in the northeast corner by his old farm.

McManus Lot, Maquoit Cemetery Courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais, July 2015

McManus Lot, Maquoit Cemetery
Courtesy Barbara A. Desmarais, July 2015

If Robert McManus’s remains are in the Maquoit graveyard, then this son of James McManus and Ann Conner may well have returned to the place where he was born.

Next Blog: Ann at the Crossroads

Notes: The Brunswick Telegraph named Robert Dunning as a deacon of First Parish Church. This information was repeated in the Wheeler brothers’ later history of Brunswick. The History of the First Parish Church lists three Dunnings as deacons: David, James, and Andrew. McKeen names Deacon Andrew Dunning and Lieut. Robert Dunning as participants in a discussion of Brunswick’s future role in the Revolutionary War.


  • United States Federal Censuses
  • History of the First Parish Church in Brunswick, Maine. Ashby, Thompson Eldridge D.D., Brunswick, ME J. H. French and Son,1969
  • Brunswick Telegraph. April, 1858
  • Cumberland County Registry of Deeds. 25 Pearl St., Portland, Maine and
  • The Cemeteries of Brunswick, Maine. Barbara A. Desmarais,
  • Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. McKeen, John, Curtis Memorial Library, Brunswick, ME, 1985
  • McManus Family Records. Courtesy of Etta McManus Powers, Brunswick, ME, 2002
  • 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
This entry was posted in Brunswick History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Sins of the Father

  1. Another great story! What a novel that would make. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Thank you, Marilyn. The next one is about Robert’s mother, Ann Conner.

  3. Deb Gould says:

    Marilyn’s got a point, my friend — such great material for historical fiction! I might have to poke you a little on this…

  4. Deb, I’m trying to get some of these stories into my trilogy.

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