A Slave to Money

Plan of the Brunswick lots in 1741 and of the Topsham lots in 1768, in Wheelers'

Plan of the Brunswick lots in 1741 and of the Topsham lots in 1768. Electronic reproduction from folded map in copy of Wheelers’ History in possession of Pejepscot Historical Society. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/ww_planofthelots.html. Accessed Sept. 19, 2017.

During Lovewell’s War, some families left the Brunswick area for safer communities. Many, though, chose to stay and take their chances. Those who remained found that, over all, the wins of life at Pejepscot seemed to outnumber the losses. During the 1730s, Merriconeag and Sebascodegan (Harpswell), Brunswick, and Topsham continued to grow. In Brunswick, the Ulster Scots continued to thrive in the south and west of the town, while the English gathered at New Meadows to the east, extending their range across the New Meadows River into Georgetown (West Bath) and down along the water at Merriconeag.

Like most of the area’s able-bodied men, the Ulster Scot Dunning family had served in the local militia during the war. Andrew Jr. and his brother Robert had been killed toward the end of the conflict, but Andrew Sr. and his sons James and David survived. All three would become men of wealth and status in the Brunswick community. Their brother William was among the settlers who chose to retreat to York.

Andrew Sr., the reader may recall, was a blacksmith. (See https://cemeteriesofbrunswickmaine.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/location-location-location-part-iii/) As Brunswick’s population increased, so did the settlers’ need for forged tools, hardware, and horse shoes. Remarkably, in a time and place where payment for services rendered was often barter rather than coin, Andrew and his wife, Susan, managed to put aside actual money.

James was the eldest of the five sons, fourteen years older than the baby of the family, David. Both men seemed to share the financial skills of their father. Both took on leadership roles in the community and both were well respected there. James, known as “Lieut. Dunning,” was a famed Indian fighter who, perhaps reflecting the sense of duty expected of the eldest son, built his own home next to his parents’ homestead.

Headstone fragments at First Parish Cemetery

Headstone fragments at First Parish Cemetery. Image by Barbara A. Desmarais, Sept. 1, 2017.

Perhaps he was at his father’s bedside when Andrew Sr. died in 1736 after eighteen years in Brunswick. Andrew Sr. was buried in the graveyard behind the First Parish Meetinghouse on Maquoit Road, beneath a memorable marker.

In the early 1700s many Maine families used rocks or simple wooden crosses to mark their loved ones’ graves. The rocks would have been easy to move and the crosses would remained intact for only a short time. For more permanent memorials, other families used large field stones, sometimes painstakingly shaped with hand tools, and perhaps crudely engraved with minimal information. After three centuries, most of these stones are broken, missing entirely, or illegible, the decedents’ names and death dates eroded by years of wind, rain, and ice.

The Dunning family, wanting more for Andrew’s burial place, could have sent to Boston for a tablet-shaped headstone of thick slate, complete with a death’s head or willow tree above an epitaph befitting a man of importance. James, however, chose to carve his father’s monument himself. Perhaps he used slate shipped from Boston that cost him a year’s income. Most likely, though, James used locally quarried slate or a hand-dressed flat rock. He may even have used a chisel and hammer forged at his father’s anvil, every tap of his hammer echoing his father’s.

The tombstone itself is lost or shattered, but a transcription of the epitaph carved into it was published in Wheelers’ in 1878. It said:

Heare Lyeth the body of Mr. Andrew Duning, who departed this life January the 18th Annodom 1736, aged 72 years.
1664 [assume birth date]
1660 Charles 2d 
1666 London Burnt
1685 James 2d
1689 Wm & Mary
1702 Queen Ann
1714 George 1st
1727 George 2d

James Dunning, though a faithful attendee of First Parish Sunday meetings, didn’t write a spiritual message of either hope or doom. Instead, he recorded the political tumult through which his father had lived, including the coronation dates of each of the six British monarchs during Andrew Sr.’s lifetime.

We’ll never know if James’s proximity to his widowed mother’s home was a blessing or a curse to him, though it must have made it easier for the new head of the family to oversee the family estate. His load might have been further lightened because Andrew Sr. had chosen to display his wealth and status by purchasing an enslaved servant. This meant Susan had daily help with the daylong chores required to keep an eighteenth-century household going. We do know that neither James’s geographic nearness to his mother’s home nor her live-in help were proof against disaster.


Image Morguefile0001845542427.jpg, by photojock, April 2008. https://morguefile.com/search/morgufile/3/blacksmith/php. Accessed Sept. 22, 2017.

Because Susan lived three hundred years ago when wooden homes were heated with burning wood and illuminated by homemade candles, fire was a constant danger. And so it was that, the year after Andrew Dunning died, fire destroyed the homestead of the man who had made his living from firing iron and beating it into shape.

Perhaps in our own era of cell phones, fire hydrants, and credit unions, Susan (Bond) Dunning’s disaster would have resulted in little more than the annoyance of dealing with insurance and rebuilding a home. For Susan, though, the results were dire.

Susan Bond Silhouette

Susan Bond Silhouette, shared by Artcrusher, May 20, 2017. img_1161.jpg, Ancestry.com. Accessed Aug. 26, 2017.

Family lore disagrees on the details, but puts forth one outcome. As fire consumed her home, Susan tried to save the money she and her late husband had put aside. When the wooden floor gave way beneath her, she plunged into the cellar, to her death.

Her enslaved servant, however, survived.

Susan was buried in the First Parish Cemetery. Her servant, no doubt, became the property of Lieut. James Dunning.

Next blog: David Dunning’s Net Worth



About Barbara Desmarais

Writer and amateur historian
This entry was posted in Brunswick History and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Slave to Money

  1. Julie A. Potter-Dunlop says:

    HI Barbara,

    Again, I am completely intrigued with these written historical accounts and how you present them. I feel transported to that time…as though I’m RIGHT THERE. What an experience to read your work.

    As an aside, I believe a DUNNING family member is buried in the Old Cove Burial Grounds (now Mann Cemetery) located on Flying Point Road in Freeport (formerly No. Yarmouth). You might want to confirm with John — if you’re interested. He might now how a DUNNING came to be in the No Yarmouth area. I know it’s almost a stone’s throw away from Brunswick-Topsham, but…

    Cousin Julie

  2. Julie A. Potter-Dunlop says:

    (Dad gum typos!)

  3. Interesting, Julie. I poke around online a bit and learned that the James of this story had a son named John (if I recall correctly) who lived in Freeport. Well, he lived in Brunswick on Bunganoc Rd, but his property became part of Freeport. I found the info in Thurlow Dunning’s genealogy of the family, complete with his handwritten notes, on DigitalMaine.com. It seems over the years a lot of Brunswick families who lived in the western section edged over into Freeport.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s