The 1730s brought new families to the Pejepscot area. Two of these were the Larrabees and Coombs, who settled just northeast of Harpswell in that part of Brunswick called New Meadows.
Some Larrabees had left Massachusetts for southern Maine in the mid-1600s. In 1730, Benjamin and Mary Larrabee ventured up the coast to further his career; he was to be the third captain of Fort George, replacing William Woodside.
Anthony Coombs, was already at New Meadows by the late 1600s, but fled south to Massachusetts during King William’s War, around 1690. Now his grown children hoped to reclaim their ancestral land.
The settlers of New Meadows at this time tended to be English rather than Ulster Scot, and the Larrabee and Coombs surnames seemed to fit this profile since both names were thought to describe places in Great Britain. The important thing, after years of war between the French and British in Europe and the colonies, was that these two families were British.
Fast-forward one hundred and fifty years to the Wheeler brothers’ 1878 history of the region and to genealogies supplied by the Larrabees and Coombs. Surprisingly, both claimed French origins.
The Larrabees thought they were descended from French Huguenots, Protestants who were alternately tolerated and persecuted by the French Catholic Church. Ultimately, many Huguenot families were killed, while others fled to northern European countries including Great Britain, Scandinavia, and Prussia. Some genealogists have claimed the family is descended from Protestant minister Charles Larrabee of Pau, France, while others are sure that Larrabee is an Anglicized version of French names like Labory or Larive. As of yet, no documents support either claim. The supposed immigrant ancestor, William Larrabee, first appeared in Massachusetts records when he married Elizabeth Felt in 1655. So far there are no ship’s logs or town birth entries that point to his childhood home.
His origin is, as the saying goes, undocumented.
The local Coombs family tradition was that Anthony Coombs left France for the American colonies in his late teens. His Protestant-leaning mother, the story goes, had bought him ship’s passage to the New World when his Catholic father ordered him to enter the priesthood. We don’t know if Anthony objected to the Roman religion itself or merely to the celibacy requirement of priesthood. In either case, his descendants thought he had a thick accent that he explained away as Scottish, sometimes using the Scottish name Alester, rather than Anthony.
Today ample documentation and DNA evidence reveal his name was originally Antoine Comeau, who wasn’t destined for the priesthood or from France. His father, Pierre, was the one who had left France to become one of the first settlers of Port-Royal in Acadia. Antoine first appeared as Anthony Coombs in 1684, as the apprentice to blacksmith Lewis Allen. Allen himself was actually Louis Allain, also of Port-Royal.
The Coombs, Allen, and perhaps Larrabee families, were French citizens who crossed the disputed border between New France and New England, then adopted Anglicized names to create new lives for themselves. They married into English and Ulster Scots families and attended Protestant churches, effectively abandoning their cultural identity.
Throughout the 1700s and beyond, the Larrabees and Coombs of New Meadows intermarried with one another, as well as with neighboring Thompson, Purinton, Hinckley, and Snow families. These pioneer blacksmiths, farmers, lawyers, and shoemakers became selectmen, town clerks, and church deacons. Together these early citizens of Maine in the British colony of Massachusetts built houses, barns, and even a gristmill to grind their harvested grain into flour.
A century and a half later, New England paper and cotton mills would look to Antoine Comeau’s birthplace for willing workers. English-speaking Protestants from Nova Scotia easily fitted into Maine communities. The French-Canadian Catholics who emigrated here from Quebec, however, were foreign in both their language and religion. They were sometimes tolerated, but rarely welcomed by Protestant English-speaking Mainers.
Is it any wonder, then, that Frenchman Antoine Comeau became British subject Anthony Coombs or that the Larrabees appeared out of thin air, their French connection safely hidden?
Notes for Antoine Comeau:
- Port-Royal, Acadia is now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
- Antoine Comeau family’s Y-DNA haplogroup is R-CTS11567, which evolved in in medieval times Northern Europe (which includes Northern France).
Marsh Cemetery Transcriptions:
- Cheetham, Donald and Mark Cheetham. Brunswick Cemeteries, Brunswick, Maine, Cumberland County: Maquoit Yard Cemetery, Marsh Cemetery, McMannus Family Cemetery, St. Paul’s Memorial Garden, Simpson Cemetery, Town Farm Cemetery. 2004. http://www.curtislibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Maquoit-YardMarshMcMannus-FamilySt.-Pauls-GardenSimpsonTown-Farm-searchable.pdf
- Desmarais, Barbara A. The Cemeteries of Brunswick, Maine: Marsh Cemetery. 2001. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mebrucem/cem21.html
- Ancestry.com: surname origin, vital records, family histories, family trees, and databases.
- Chmielewski, Laura M. The spice of popery: converging Christianities on an early American frontier. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, c2012. Maine State Library. Call number 277.41 C544s 2012.
- Coombs, William Carey. The Story of Anthony Coombs and his Descendants. Amelia, Ohio, 1913. Archive.org https://archive.org/stream/storyofanthonyco1913coom#page/n5/mode/2up. Accessed Dec. 2, 2017.
- Comeau, Sebastien. DNA project for descendants of Pierre Comeau, Acadia. https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/comeau/about Accessed Dec. 1, 2017.
- Ibid: The Comeau Website. Circa 2000. http://comeaunet.org/en/ Accessed Dec. 1, 2017.
- Maine: Early Wills and Deeds, 1640-1760. CD-ROM. Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2006. (Online database. AmericanAncestors.org. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2009.) http://www.americanancestors.org/DB84/i/7511/236/7765368 (Membership may be required.) Accessed Nov. 26, 2017.
- Image: Political Map of France. Nations Online Project: Nationsonline.org. http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/map/france-political-map.htm © 1998-2017. Accessed Dec. 7, 2017.
- Scottish Penpals.com: French Family Genealogy. © 2002-2017. http://www.scottishpenpals.com/french-family-names-l.php Accessed Dec. 1, 2017.
- Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. and Henry Warren Wheeler. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. (Wheelers’) Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/index.html, accessed July 30, 2016.
- Ibid: Image: Plan of the Brunswick lots in 1741 and of the Topsham lots in 1768. Original from Pejepscot Historical Society. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/ww_planofthelots.html. Accessed Dec. 7, 2017.
- York County (Me.). Register of Deeds. York deeds Book IX, by Maine Historical Society; Maine Genealogical Society (1884- ); Brown Thurston Company, Portland, 1894. https://archive.org/stream/yorkdeeds09main#page/590/mode/2up/. Accessed Oct. 31, 2017.