John and Eleanor: From Cradle to Grave on River Road

In 1828 and 1829, four granddaughters of James McManus (see Sins of the Father) married four great-grandsons of Walter and Elizabeth (Potter) Merryman, early settlers of nearby Harpswell.

All eight parties would reside on Rocky Hill, between Durham and River Roads. Brothers John and Enos Merryman married sisters Eleanor and Hannah McManus, in 1828 and 1829 respectively. Then in short order, brothers Thomas and Henry Merryman married cousins Almira and Catherine McManus.

John Eleanor Family TreeJohn (1807-1891) and Eleanor (McManus) Merryman (1808-1891)

John was the eldest son of Walter and Hannah (Merryman) Merryman who moved the family from Harpswell to Brunswick when John was a young boy. Eleanor was the daughter of Robert McManus (see Sins of the Father) and Eleanor Crosby and lived on River Road her entire life. She wed John in 1830, the same year he opened his own blacksmith shop on “Main St.” in Brunswick, following an apprenticeship with Major Stinchfield.* They had a large family — ten children. By 1850, another generation was added to the household  when Eleanor’s eighty-five-year-old father lived with them.

Rocky Hill Farm

Along a wooded path on Rocky Hill, Courtesy of Barbara A. Desmarais, 2015

Mainers have long forged  a way of life that embraced the state’s rural nature. In addition to blacksmithing, John was a farmer. Growing food, whether crops or livestock, was hard work and everyone in the family had a role. John cleared trees and rocks from the hilly land; trained his horse and oxen to pull a wagon or harrow; plowed, planted, and hoed crops; and repaired farm implements and animal harnesses. The younger children learned the family business as they milked cows, fed livestock, and picked beans. Older siblings helped work the oxen or chopped wood for heating and cooking and undoubtedly hunted for wild game in the surrounding woods. Eleanor, in addition to giving birth to ten children, sewing the family’s clothes and cooking their meals, churned up to ninety pounds of butter each week — an amazing four thousand pounds of butter in 1860.

That year the household numbered fourteen people and again spanned three generations, including two of John and Eleanor’s daughters, their husbands, and children. The farm, hunting, fishing, and blacksmithing fed the large family. Blacksmithing supplied currency and goods, but sometimes hard cash was needed — and may have been lacking. Deeds indicate John mortgaged the farm in 1844 and 1881, successfully paying back each loan. In between those decades, the farm appears to have done well.

The 1860 Federal Agricultural Census showed the farm produced:

  • 10 bushels of peas and beans
  • 100 bushels of Irish potatoes
  • 4000 pounds of butter
  • 25 tons of hay
  • 180 bushels of oats
  • 25 bushels of Indian corn

The corn, oats, and hay probably fed the $300-worth of livestock:

  • 8 milch cows
  • 1 horse
  • 2 working oxen
  • 2 other cattle
  • 2 swine

 J Merryman Agricultural Census 1860 c2Though the crop production and livestock numbers were in the mid-range for River Road farms, John’s 100-acre farm overlooking the Androscoggin River was valued more than most, at $4000 in 1860 and at $5000 ten years later. He also owned $100 in farming implements and machinery — worth more than those of most of his neighbors.

No matter how well the family worked together, a sudden change in the weather could negate their efforts overnight. In 1869, an October freshet overflowed the banks of the Androscoggin and washed away two hundred bushels of corn from the John Merryman farm.

As John and Eleanor’s children reached adulthood, several followed seemingly different paths from their parents, leaving both farming and Brunswick. In 1850 Nathaniel headed west to California to mine for gold, then continued on to Oregon. Lydia and her husband, mariner Charles Merryman [son of Henry and Catherine (McManus) Merryman], moved forty-two miles south to Saco, Maine. As the national economy faltered after the Civil War, four siblings settled in the state Mainers had tried so long to leave behind –- Massachusetts — all in the town of Haverhill. Frances married John Henry Woodside who ran a variety store. Richard was a contractor and builder. William and Robert were both stone masons by trade.

Life in the gold mines 2

Courtesy of Library of Congress

It was actually John who led the migration from Brunswick.  Not quite forty years old, this “enterprising, energetic and hard working man” left for California in 1849 to seek his fortune during the Gold Rush. He stayed out west west years, coming home for three visits during that time. Later, in the early 1800s, he spent two years in Haverhill.* Each time, though, he came back to his River Road farm — and Eleanor. Eleanor must have had charge of directing the farm work during John’s nearly decade-long absence.

John and Eleanor were married to each other, and only each other, for sixty-three years, but two of their children married twice. Lydia divorced her cousin Charles Merryman in 1873 and married Judge Rufus P. Tapley. Robert married two Haverhill women.

When John died in 1891 at age eighty-four the Brunswick Telegraph wrote:

Mr. Merryman was…a good citizen and neighbor…

Rev. C. L. Waite, of the Universalist church, officiated at the funeral services which took place at the residence of the family at Rocky Hill on Monday last.  A large concourse of relatives and friends manifested their respect and esteem of the deceased by their presence on the occasion.   

John and Eleanor Merryman

Photo Courtesy of Barbara A. Desmarais, 2015

The newly widowed Eleanor went to live with daughter Lydia and her family in Saco. Eleanor died just 1 month later, at age eight-three. It seems fitting that John and Eleanor (McManus) Merryman are memorialized in River Road’s Riverside Cemetery, ending their journey very near where it began.

Next Blog: Enos and Hannah: The Ship-Keeper and the House-Keeper


  • Read about another Gold Rush veteran in Jotham Varney, Father.
  • *Quoted from John Merryman’s obituary in the Brunswick Telegraph, March 5, 1891.


  • Various including City Directories, Family Trees, United States Federal and State Censuses, Vital Records (Birth, Death, and Marriage)
  • 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 Telegraph, March 5, 1891
  • Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, LC-DIG-ppmsca-32190
  • Walter Merryman of Harpswell, Maine, and his descendants. Sinnet, Charles N., 1847-1928, Rumford Printing Co., Concord, NH, 1905.
  • 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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