Updated: Sep 18, 2020
1820. Maine had just become a State. Officially, at least, our ancestors had been living here for a long, long time already.
I've been lost in research, trying to put some stories together, and breathe some life into some of these old grave markers around the area.
I love the old cemeteries, trying to match up names, families and history. I visited a big one this week, for the first time.
Laurel Hill, on Beach Street, in Saco.
It's one of those that I've driven by hundreds of times. Glancing in, always curious. I had never stopped to look around.
Now that I've discovered my people there, I will look at it differently, driving by. I'm connected.
Every connection makes the world a little smaller, a little more intimate. One big happy family.
Laurel Hill is beautiful, with trees blossoming out front, and a sea of daffodils stretching down to the river. Gorgeous, with giant trees throughout, hundreds of years old.
I enjoy exploring when I have the time, but I got lucky on my visit. I made a loop around the outside, to get an idea of the scope I’d be dealing with, looking for my particular ancestor. I hate to pull over on the grass, like others were doing, so I putted around the maze of curvy roads until I came to a real parking spot.
There was a little Tijuana-hot-rod type car with blacked out windows, idling, taking up too many spaces.
It was tight, but I pulled right in, beside it.
I was on a mission. A personal quest. Skeeter revved up his motor, just a little bit, and then drove away really slow, like I was irritating him somehow. His muffler sounded like a big, metal coffee can, with a couple of tennis balls, and some angry bumble bees, all bouncing around inside. I'm pretty sure that he wasn't here to visit his ancestors. I smiled. Smirked, probably, and gave a fake polite wave.
I couldn't see anyone through the dark tint.
As he pulled off, a distinctive gravestone came into view, the exact stone I was here to find. That never, ever happens. Usually I have to walk the whole cemetery, sometimes twice, before I find my quarry. Thanks, Skeet. I owe you.
This week I'm taking you back to another cemetery, that l drive by every day. Elwell Cemetery, up the road from Mom's house. I discovered some Harmon ancestors there a few years back, and I've been fascinated ever since. I've made dozens of trips back, and poured a ton of research into it, to find that I'm related to almost everyone buried there. These days when I drive by, I get a whole different feeling. I know those folks.
I'll take you back, to Theodore Elwell, the gentleman that I introduced, in the Powder House story. A good specimen, a hard working 1820 Buxton farmer.
He's easy for me to relate to, he turned 52, in 1820, and I turned 52, in 2020.
I do enjoy synchronicity, in any form, and I feel a strong connection to this little graveyard. This family group from so very long ago.
His cemetery only has about 40 souls accounted for although I suspect there are more lying here in unmarked, forgotten graves. It's a tragedy when an old gravestone breaks, or just vanishes, tipping over, then slowly sinking out of sight. Swallowed up by the shifting soils of time. Walking these old cemeteries I see so many humps, obvious graves that have no markings. It makes me sad, but in reality, there are unmarked graves all around us. Everywhere.
People lived here for thousands of years, before those first Pilgrims showed up, and claimed this 'New World' of ours. Ancient graves, reclaimed by the environment, composted by Mother Earth. Green. Almost like we were never here to begin with, leaving hardly a trace. Just a stone.
A granite footprint in time.
Gravestones, our personal monuments, are so important. Leaving our mark, after we've left this World. A lasting tribute to represent a human being, the symbol of a lifetime. A place for descendants to visit, mourn, and show respect.
That granite slab isn't our only trophy, in my humble opinion. Leaving children behind to carry our names, and our genes forward makes a much better legacy. Living on through the blood, and the memories, of our kids and grandkids.
In the case of Theodore and me, living on through the 5th great nephew of your wife, 177 years after you're gone.
All gravestones are somber and serious. You'll never hear much joy or laughter in a cemetery. I'm interested, fascinated, even, so I might crack a smile when I make a big discovery. When I find one that's been eluding me. I enjoy a pretty graveyard, even if I don't know anybody. I'm drawn to Veterans graves of any era.
Maybe it's just the beautiful flag that flits and flaps, with every little breeze.
Right there beside the stone, flying proudly. I hope that tradition never fades away.
I read the name, to see if it's familiar. I have to read any details, his war, his regiment, his division. I'm all nerdy for facts, and connections. I drift. I lose focus. The stories buried at my feet are endless, and to me, as fantastic as any novel.
For the most part they are lost, forever, but there are a few tucked away, in old research books.
I like to think that just stopping to read a stone might please the lost soul. If that's how it works, of course. A small moment of respect might be very welcome, who knows when some of those old stones were visited last? Years? Decades, even? The Veteran Souls must look forward to the Flag Guy coming around just before each Memorial Day. All of the others? Some might be lonely, waiting patiently
for the Lawnmower Guy to start his rounds in the Spring. Who knows?
Certainly, not I. I can only hope.
There's one grave marker that will stop me every time.
A child's headstone. It doesn't matter if I knew them or not.
It was an innocent child. Someone's baby.
I will stand there and read the stone a few times. Maybe try to picture the scenario. I always think of the burial, after the awful funeral, when they actually put the tiny coffin in the ground. A wooden box that a man had to build with his hands.
A tough job. The very saddest part, the harsh reality of putting the cold dirt over a loved one. The final act.
The crying mother. One of the most horrid sights to witness, in all of Creation.
Was she quietly sobbing, and trembling, trying in vain, to contain herself?
More likely, she broke down. Wailing, in a fit of powerful, raw emotion.
Primal feelings that will make you cry yourself, witnessing such a state of grief.
I can usually muster up a lump in my throat, if I stand there long enough. Imagining the scene, with these strangers. These ghosts from the past.
Even if they're not my people, my family, I don't think it's all cut and dried.
They were the people that came before us. They lived this same life that we live, in a manner of speaking. A different time, a different World, but somehow, the same.
They were all our neighbors. Our people, just because we're human. They were us. We are them.
We're all fighting the same fight.
Back to Elwell Cemetery. When I first visited, I noticed a lot of kid's graves.
Too many, it seemed. The ratio of kids, to parents, was off kilter. The worst part, the saddest part, was seeing graves of kids whose parents are nowhere to be found. Last names that don't match anybody here. How could this happen?
I had to know. I started researching.
Life was difficult, in 1820 Maine.
There were a lot more ways to die, it would seem, back in the day. Diseases, most now obsolete, claimed many lives. Complications during childbirth, infections, accidents, the list goes on and on. I saw a child's death record listing Teething as the cause of death. That's hard to imagine today, but it was very real, back then. I've seen it on two other death records, since. Complications from Teething. Dead.
No hospital. No pharmacy. No penicillin. Home remedies. A doctor within a day's ride, if you were lucky.
It's so sad to lose a child, to be robbed of the lifetime that we all expect, and take for granted. A child brings so much light and promise, facing the world with wild enthusiasm, and reckless abandon.
To be lost unjustly, so soon. Some only days old, or even stillborn. Robbed. Gypped. The poor, sweet babe's existence snatched away, in the very dawn of life.
It will make a person question their own religion. No belief can really sell that story, where babies die at the will of a Creator.
Not with a straight face, anyway.
Everything happens for a reason?
No. Not children dying. Unacceptable.
It's wrong on a cellular level.
In Nature, meanwhile, it's harsh reality.
When we see a baby duck gobbled up by a snapping turtle, a bass, a fox, or a hawk, our human emotion will flare up in grief.
Nature has no time for feelings, or sympathy. Mother duck might squawk, in protest, but she'll keep swimming, barely looking back.
Nature does it's part by making sure that there are plenty of baby ducks.
A sloppy analogy, but it almost seems that our ancestors took the baby duck approach, having bunches of offspring.
Fighting the long odds, and ensuring a lasting legacy.
Most farm families would have many children back in the day. It was tough, adding mouths to feed, but kids would help with the eternal labor of farm life.
Men secretly hope for sons, whether they admit it or not, I think. A son, to carry on the family name. A mini-me.
Extra important to early settlers, this was the name that they had brought from the Old World, to establish in the New.
Their fathers and uncles had fought in the Revolution, starting the fire that still burns today. The American Spirit.
Sons, to help fight, and protect the family in an uneasy new Nation. Sons, to build their own clans, and carry on the family hustle. To take over, when the time came. Take over the farm, the family, and the World, after we're gone.
Hopefully, to take care of his aging parents when that time arrived.
These are simple chauvinistic observations, of course, but they're real. We men actually come pre-wired with these thoughts. We can't help it. Instinct.
In logical reality, the baby girls, the daughters, are the true Essentials.
Women create life. That's a Win, by itself.
Thankfully, they do need our help, or men would have faced extinction long ago.
Back in 1820 men took all of the credit for building this great Nation. Women were quietly in their man's shadow, keeping house, and raising children.
Many children. A houseful.
In 1820, the daily chores around the homestead would be a daunting challenge, to say the least. Water was lugged from the well. Or the creek. Wood was brought in, daily, for eternal fires. Cooking. Heating the house. The washing machine was a bucket. The dishwasher? Same bucket. You get the idea.
The woman of the house was no slouch, or slacker. Life would just not allow it.
She had to be strong, of mind and body.
She had to protect her home and family while the men toiled in the fields, or at the sawmill, eking out a living.
In times of danger or peril, she would be on her own, with no Police to call, no Ambulance. She would handle everything.
She would feed the family. She would clothe them. She had to be a Teacher. She had to be a Nurse. Seamstress, Midwife, Veterinarian, Constable, Farmhand, a remarkable skill set.
Her aim would be to instill all of these traits, abilities, and qualities into her children. Boys and girls alike. She wanted all of them to be survivors, to carry on, and to have every chance for a long happy life.
They would need all of the help that she could offer.
Theodore Elwell and his wife, Anna Harmon, would have a big brood.
Married in 1796, children would follow every year and a half or so, from then on. It was a pretty common pattern at the time.
They would have 4 girls in a row before the first son came along. It was a happy day for Theodore, I'm sure. The first boy was named Nathaniel Hill Elwell.
Right on schedule, in 1805, another son, putting Dad's mind even more at ease.
There was trouble this time, this little boy wouldn't live long enough to get a name. The Elwells had lost their 6th child, at just 6 weeks old.
Jane was born in 1808, but she too was destined for early departure.
She died, just shy of her second birthday.
Jane would have the first gravestone, here. Set by Theodore, and shared with her infant older brother.
Two children lost had to be so hard on the parents, and the siblings.
Any child is a horrible loss, I can't imagine which would hurt the worst.
Losing the baby, who had fought for every short moment of daylight.
Never getting a chance to see his little personality develop. To know him.
A tiny stranger, so dear to his mother.
Or, losing Jane. The toddler that the whole family had known and loved, for almost two years.
Not a fair comparison, I guess. Morbid. Nothing’s fair, or just, about any child’s passing. Grieving is personal.
Theodore and Anna pressed on.
Theodore Junior, soon followed by young John.
Life carried on. Nature smiled on them. In 1816, a girl, with a noble sounding name.
Mehitable Bradstreet Elwell.
Life was good again. The Elwells had 8 healthy kids, 3 of them sons.
Fate wasn't quite finished with them.
1818 brought some sort of pestilence, I believe. Mother may have been sick, she skipped a few years, before having more children.
Whatever curse, scourge, or plague they faced that year, it would scar Theodore once again, taking two of his sons.
Little John, 4 years old, and the oldest boy, Nathaniel Hill, almost 14.
Nearly a man. It had to be a crushing blow to this close knit farm family.
Life rolled on, as it always does. In darkness, or in light.
Theodore, in his 50s by now, and Anna, at 43, would have one final child.
A son, in 1820, our focus year.
His name? Nathaniel Hill Elwell, the 2nd.
Not Nathaniel Junior, but the second Nathaniel, named after the lost teen.
Tricky, when tracing the family tree.
Strange, I know, but it was very common at the time. A tribute to the memory of the first child.
Theodore's two remaining sons would make him proud, carry on his name, and fulfill all of his hopes, I'm certain.
Theodore's children work out to be my first cousins, five times removed.
Unfortunately, we're not out of the cemetery just yet. We're still in the first row.
Nathaniel Hill Elwell the 2nd married Martha Harmon. The Harmon name will show up again and again, in my stories, as they do in my family tree.
Apparently there was something special about those Harmon girls.
They would have a big family, as well.
They would also add their share of gravestones to our little cemetery.
They already had 3 sons and 2 daughters when the twins were born.
Lucy and Martha, named after her mother. There's another tradition that's faded away over time.
The twins had a tough time. Little Lucy died about 6 weeks before her first birthday. Awful. Martha would live a long life, but would never marry, and always lived with a brother, or a nephew.
Lucy and Martha are my second cousins, four times removed.
Nathaniel's daughter Ida Emma Elwell married a soldier, Marshall Cousins.
He fought in the Civil War with the 29th Maine. They had two children, and both ended up here, in Elwell Cemetery.
A son, born in the winter of 1876, wouldn't live to see his first spring.
He would never get a name.
The next summer, a daughter, Maud. Born in July, she lived to see the hard winter, but not the following spring. Devastating.
Marshall and Ida wouldn't have any more children, and they're buried just across the River at Hillcrest. It seems odd, to me, that the parents wouldn't be laid to rest in the little family cemetery, with their babies. They don't seem to be tied to anyone at Hillcrest, although there are some other Elwells there.
Old mysteries that don't really matter.
Maybe I'm too curious.
Those two Cousins babies, buried with their grandparents, Nathaniel & Martha, work out to be my third cousins, three times removed. I need the computer to figure out those numbers for me.
Next, Nathaniel's youngest son. John Brown Elwell. He married Mary Treadwell, a Naples girl, and they had six boys, I believe.
The oldest boy was 12, and the youngest almost 2, when they all lost their Mom.
Mary died at 31 of consumption, which usually translates to Tuberculosis.
I don't think John Brown Elwell ever remarried. I'm sure his family would have stepped up and helped him out.
I sure can't imagine raising my own three boys, alone, let alone six.
J.B. came through, because he had to. He didn’t have any choice.
Such was life, back in the day. He pulled on his britches every morning, and got it done.
Fate wasn't quite finished with him, either.
Nine years after Mary died, John Brown would get the Typhoid, and die.
Just like that. The Fever was brutal, and it would take his son as well.
The second youngest, Ralph Stanley Elwell, just 12.
They're all right here in this family plot.
There are a few more. Theodore's daughter, Sarah, married a Harmon.
Their grandson is here, little Everett Harmon, who died on his first day.
He's another orphaned one. His parents and siblings are buried up in Baldwin.
At least his grandparents are here.
Theodore's daughter Nancy is here.
She married Samuel Emery from up Penobscot way.
They had six kids, before Nancy died of Tuberculosis, at 32.
Samuel married a new Nancy, and the family moved to Bangor.
Nancy Elwell Emery is buried here, alone.
She went from happy houseful, to being the only Emery in the cemetery. In a snap.
In the time it takes to die of TB. Not her fault, or anyone else's, just facts of life.
And death. Not fair.
That's the kind of thing that'll make me sad for a minute. Her parents are here, so I guess it's not so bad.
Sorry, this is dry stuff, and long winded, I know.
I've worked on this for quite a while.
I saved the saddest one for last.
More apparent orphans, the Allen kids.
Back to 1820. John Larrabee Allen was six years old. A farm boy, from Cornish. Young John was different, I'm sure. From his first days of schooling, he showed great promise. He would go on after high school to the fairly-new Bowdoin College. He would continue, all the way, and become an M.D. A Physician, with a practice in Saco.
Remember Theodore's daughter, with the regal sounding name?
Mehitable Bradstreet Elwell married Dr. John Larrabee Allen, and they started a family. Things went well for the young clan, John would open a second practice in Springvale, and reside in one of the finest, uppity houses on Main Street in Saco. They had it made. Within ten years they had 5 healthy children. All girls.
I'm not sure what the odds are, of 5 girls in a row, but it's quite a stretch.
Dr. John, like any man, must have wanted a son. He had worked so hard to make his name prominent, and respectable, that I'm sure he would have liked to see it carried on. Fate would be unkind.
Little Amelia died first, in 1849.
She was just 9 years old.
I'm not sure what took her.
Two years later, the triplets came.
It was tough, from the beginning, as triplets can be.
John was the Doctor, so they were in the very best hands.
It wouldn't be enough to save them.
Two would die, a month out, on the same day. The third would live for two more weeks. They never got names, through it all, it must have been a struggle every step of the way.
There's no record as to the sexes.
I can only imagine that at least one was a boy, and that it must have been so very difficult for the good Doctor to deal with.
He never got his son.
The Civil War came later, and Dr. John would serve through the entirety, as a surgeon. Imagine the brutality of that, for a moment.
He would continue his practice after the war, and he's buried with Mehitable, in Saco.
He's the one I was visiting, way back at the beginning of this tale.
Little Amelia, and the triplets, are all here in Elwell Cemetery, with the grands.
I think that's all of them. The Innocents, the babies. The lost, lonely ones.
They're all tied to the Elwells, in one way or another. They're all tied to me.
It's a big heap of sad stories at once.
Let's end this on a little lighter note.
It wasn't all gloom and doom, some families used the baby duck approach with great success.
Let's meet one of those Harmons that I keep coming back to. Cousin Japhet.
Japhet "Joe" Harmon settled in Machias, where he was a successful shipbuilder.
In 1820 he and wife Sarah Getchell were celebrating their 9th child.
They would have a few more after that, and eventually, they would proudly claim 90 grandchildren. Ninety.
Talk about a legacy.
Let's do some fun math, with 90 grandkids.
Birthday parties. Twice a week. Forever.
Go easy on the cake or you'll get fat.
Holidays? You'll need an accountant.
Easter treats. Maybe an outfit. 2 grand.
Christmas? Yikes. You can be frugal, maybe get away with 3 or 4 grand.
Ball games, concerts, plays, you'd need an economical car, for sure.
Poor Grammy is never going to get a kid's name right, on the first try. Never. They'll all be Sweetheart, or Honey, unless they wear name tags.
That big summer party that we all want to throw, when we're allowed to.
You know the one. The whole family at the lake, we'll do a big clambake, a couple lobsters for everyone. All the fixings. Corn on the cob, watermelon, desserts, I can't wait. Outside, even.
With 90 grandkids, you'd have to rent the whole campground. Throw in a few steaks, some frosty beverages, you're likely to drop seven or eight grand.
It didn't work like that, back then, I'm sure.
It was still a struggle, it had to be. It took a lot of hard core, hard working parents to raise that kind of brood. In any era.
That DNA that they fought so hard to preserve?
We have it. We're made out of it.
Pass it on.
Thanks for reading.