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The Powder House

Our beautiful State celebrates her bicentennial birthday, this year.

200 years.

That's a really long time, from a human being's point of view. Life in Maine was unimaginably different, back then.

This new, strange phenomenon, the great pandemic, of 2020, has turned our lives upside down. We are crippled, as we face new challenges, new protocols, and most of all, new uncertainty. We all have so many questions, as our Nation tries to adjust, and the answers are vague, at best. Some of us are out of work, short on food, or short on critical supplies. Stuck at home, no school, no Church, no social life, we're all out of sorts, bounced out of our normal routine. Our elders are most at risk, and many are now isolated. It's difficult, emotional, even scary.

Our ancestors, back in 1820, wouldn't have been so devastated.

Daily life was a lot more challenging, with no electricity, no machinery, no Hannafords, Home Depots, no beloved Wal-Marts. Most people were farmers, out of sheer necessity. Whatever profession was pursued, you still had to grow food, and take care of your animals. You had to.

Farming, without a tractor, or a truck, or a roto-tiller. Carpentry, with no power tools. Nails were made by hand, or imported, from England. Dilapidated buildings would be burned down, just to recover the nails. It's hard to imagine.

People were self sufficient, and tough.

Our devastating pandemic would have barely fazed them.

I've been trying to get this writing project started for quite a while, searching my family tree, and wandering through local cemeteries. I'm trying to find the facts, and the stories, that might bring these souls to life a little bit, rather than just be forgotten names on granite markers.

It's not easy, research always leads to more questions, and more research.

I get overwhelmed or sidetracked, and feel like I'm just spinning my wheels, not going anywhere. I'm just going to jump in, and start introducing people.

When I first signed up for the ancestry website, a few years back, I had discovered a 6th great grandfather, Lieutenant John Harmon, buried about a mile up the road from my Mom's house.

John had fought in the Revolution, so long ago, and it was a treat, to find his grave, I even took my Mom to see it, she hadn't known of any relatives, buried in that particular little cemetery.

Something always brought me back there, and I started to do the research. I dug around, in the leaves, to find stones that I had missed, I was fascinated. I noticed, right away, a lot of children's graves, the ones that make me stop, and grieve for, a bit. No one should ever have to bury a child. Time would bring it all together, and sort it out. Out of the 42 souls, buried in the tiny Elwell Cemetery, including my two Harmon ancestors, I'm related to at least 41 of them. The last I haven't figured out yet, but I'm betting on being kin, as well.

Small world, when you really look at it.

Most all of these folks will turn up in my stories, down the road, but today, we're going to meet Mr. Theodore Elwell.

Theodore Elwell was born right here in Buxton, before it was actually Buxton.

1768, four years before the Town was incorporated. When Ted was born, it was still officially known as Narragansett plot #1, Massachusetts, named for the Native Tribe that we took it away from. They put up a good fight, it took many years for us to finally settle the area.

I mentioned Theodore, in an earlier post, because he has a unique gravestone. His ancestors are all listed, on the back of his stone, from the original Elwell immigrant settler, six generations before him, in 1635. 15 years after the Pilgrims landed, among the earliest English Colonists.

Theodore makes a good bookmark, in my history map, because he married my 5th great aunt, Anna Harmon, putting him six generations behind me. The halfway point, in our country's history. As it works out, he lived here, in Buxton, when Maine became a State, back in 1820.

Theodore's Dad, Benjamin Elwell, was born in Saco, and settled in Narragansett #1, where his children were born.

Theodore's mother, Abigail, passed away in 1773, leaving Benjamin with five young children. Harsh.

When the Revolution started, and men were called to war, to fight the ruling British, Benjamin signed up, for the duration. Many of his neighbors would do the same, the area has always been well represented, in armed conflicts.

On the 13th of February, 1775, Benjamin enlisted with the 7th regiment, Massachusetts State Militia. I would assume that family members stepped up, and took in the children. Theodore's older brother, John, just 12, or 13, when his father left, must not have been happy, with his new living arrangements.

Just a month later, young John signed up, with his father's unit, as the drummer boy.

Little brother Theodore, not quite seven years old, had already experienced some pretty terrible stuff. Mother was dead, Father and big brother would be gone for at least the next five years. Most stories say that both re-enlisted, and fought for the entire duration of the War.

Theodore must have been left in good hands, and I'm sure his young life would have been a blur of endless chores. Extra mouths to feed, for the welcoming family, his hands would be kept busy. Wood had to be gathered, for endless fires, inefficiently sending most of the heat right up the chimney. Gardening, cutting hay, tending to the animals, fetching water, all perfect jobs for a young lad.

The kids would all turn out fine, and Benjamin would eventually return to Buxton, and live out a good life.

He has a cool, unique grave stone, even closer to Mom's house, up on top of the big hill, in front of Brad Roberts' old place. I've driven by it, a zillion times, but never knew his story, until this week.

Theodore would turn out to be a well rounded young man, as men had to be, back then. He would be listed as a farmer, in the records, but he was apparently quite talented.

When the War of 1812 broke out, the decision was made, that Buxton should have a Powder House, in the center of Town, accessible to all. There were carpenters, in town, and masons, as well, but our farmer, Theodore Elwell, put in the lowest bid, at $59, and got the job.

It was finished, by the Spring of 1814, and it still stands, today. It's had some makeovers, the brick floor, and roof, have been replaced with wood, but the basic structure, the outer walls, are original, and over 200 years old. I visited, a few days ago, and it looks great. It's all carved up, with initials, and there are signs of partying, candles, empty beer cans, some trash, even the leftovers, from a deer carcass, that someone neatly dumped there. That's the difference, between the ages, I guess, somewhere, we've lost the respect. The patriotism has taken a beating, too, I'm afraid.

Personally, I looked past the trash, and let my mind wander, back in time. I pictured shelves, loaded with bags of black powder, and kettles, full of musket balls.

There would have been hardly a tree in sight, there were farm fields, as far as you could see. Now, the powder house is hidden, back in the woods, a bit.

I think of the pride, that he must have felt, upon completion of the project, a job well done. Built to last.

I say old Theodore was a pretty good representation of the original Mainers, multi-talented, jack-of-all-trades, master of none. The kind of people that get things done, and keep our world going, even when the chips are down.

Yankee ingenuity, common sense, Buxton engineering, old farmer fortitude, I think they're all important, and they're all in the genetics, that we're born with. It's in there, whether we develop it, or not, and we have ancestors, like Theodore Elwell, to thank for it.

Thanks for reading, if you've made it this far, I do appreciate it. Stay tuned, for more boring local history, there's a lot more stories, right in this little cemetery.

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