By 1764, Brunswick in the District of Maine had grown to some 30 households. Located far from the Massachusetts Bay Colony of which it was a part, and the manpower and supplies it held, each person in this frontier town was dependent on their neighbors for companionship, defense against the Indians, medical care, and food.
Every Massachusetts community of sufficient size supported a meetinghouse (church) and other accouterments necessary to English colonial life. Brunswick’s First Parish Meetinghouse was on Maquoit Rd., now the southern end of Maine St. Behind the building was a small burying ground for the dead, with a whipping post and pair of stocks* to keep the living in line. Now only the First Parish Cemetery remains on upper Maine St.
The stocks were used at least once, for the punishment of a woman who shared an “embrace” with a man named Rogers in exchange for the expensive luxuries of sugar, tea, and coffee. When she didn’t receive the promised goods, she took him to court. When she couldn’t prove her case, she was convicted of defaming Rogers. The verdict was:
That Jenny Eaton be stretched upon the public stocks and rotten eggs thrown at her by the passing spectators for abfaming (sic) the character of an innocent man.
So, this is what Brunswick was like in 1764 when Ann Conner gave birth to a son in a house at the junction of Maquoit and Middle Bay Rds. just south of the meetinghouse. She named the baby Robert. His father, Irish immigrant James McManus, petitioned to have his boy baptized. That was the beginning of the end for Ann.
She and James had been living together as man and wife but weren’t married. James, in fact, may still have been married to Mary Bond, who may or may not have been living at that time. James and Mary had at least 3 sons born in Brunswick beginning in 1760. How Ann came to live with James is unknown. She might have been an indentured family servant or a recent widow. Perhaps Mary had died during or shortly after childbirth and Ann was hired to care for James’s young sons. The couple may simply have been in love, prompting James to leave Mary and build a life with Ann.
The deacons of the First Parish Church agreed to baptize Robert McManus, but, because James was “living in open sin” with Ann, said he must first openly “confess to his relations” with her. No record indicates that Ann Conner was required to confess or otherwise humble herself. Perhaps if she had been given the chance to make amends she would have been free to begin anew.
Instead, she likely suffered guilt and social ostracism. She might also have suffered from post-partum depression. In the end, unable to face another day, she hung herself from a pine tree.
Though England at that time was beginning to view suicide as the result of mental illness, Brunswick church officials still seemed to believe that “self murder” was inspired by the Devil. Ann was denied a Christian burial in the little cemetery behind the meetinghouse. Rather, the church-goers of Brunswick drove a stake through her body and buried her according to a pagan custom, at a crossroads, so that if her spirit arose, it would be confused and unable to haunt the living.
Ann’s exact burial place is unknown. Various sources name Harpswell Rd. as one of the crossroads beneath which she was buried. The other road remains a mystery, but some researchers speculate she was buried under the pines that once graced a newer part of the Bowdoin College campus. Before 1950, Harpswell Rd. started near Harpswell’s border with Brunswick and ranged northwest until it merged with Maquoit Rd. (aka Maine St.) and Bath St. behind the modern site of the First Parish Church. By the 1950s the northerly end of Harpswell Rd. had been rerouted to the east, through an area called the Delta, to expand the college grounds. Eventually those pines were cut down and classrooms were built over the old Harpswell Rd.
Local legend claims that Ann’s spirit haunts the old Skolfield farm at the southern end of Harpswell Rd. If so, might she be wandering from one end of the road to the other looking for the missing connection to Maquoit Rd.? Is she searching for the ancient burying ground behind the meetinghouse, the place where she might, at last, find peace?
Stocks: A stocks was a wooden structure of planks used to secure the hands and feet of a person as punishment for a crime. Usually seated, the criminal was secured outside in a public space, no matter the weather, open to pubic ridicule and abuse. The stocks was standard equipment in most Massachusetts towns of the colonial era.
Robert McManus: See Sins of the Father
- 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 https://me.uslandrecords.com/ME/Cumberland/D/Default.aspx
- 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
- Pillory image from Pixabay.com
- History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler, Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878