Saturday, September 10, 2016

"What Does it Matter?"

     In a few weeks; three to be exact, from tomorrow,Sunday, some of us will gather at the ancient East Deering/Grand Trunk Cemetery in Portland's East Deering neighborhood to dedicate a memorial marker in memory of a man who was born 242 years ago.  This man, William Blake, served in the militia during the War of 1812, a war that still confounds and confuses us today.  

     Why take the  time to commemorate one who never saw 'real' combat?  Most of his fellow patriots whose stones grace the Grand Trunk Cemetery Veterans Memorial,  never did either. Only those who served during the Revolutionary War and one who was a Civil War soldier were engaged in actual battle and danger. The stones that memorialize  the Veterans of the War of 1812,  honor men who were all volunteers,  called into service to defend the Port of Portland, without benefit of support from Massachusetts or the Federal Government.  The district of Maine, still part of Massachusetts,  was left to fend for itself.

     In the light of all that's happening in our nation and state today; a most contentious Presidential election, major political and cultural animosities, real concerns over the economy and safety here and abroad, at a time when tensions are high and civility in discourse is lacking, why bother to plan a ceremony, or take an hour from all these concerns to attend one?  

     I  can't answer these questions for you, dear reader; nor would I ever attempt too.   For myself, the ceremony planned for October 2nd is a means of weaving together threads in the tapestry that depicts the history of Portland, and particularly the Back Cove/East Deering Community.  It is a continuation of the project begun by two former Girl Scouts in 2010: "Unearthing the Roots of the Back Cove and East Deering Communities."

     William Blake was just an ordinary man, not one of Portland's greats. He made no outstanding contributions to history, the arts or commerce that I am aware of.  He was in all probability, a farmer and a citizen - soldier, a volunteer from Westbrook.  At that time, the area known today as East Deering was part of Westbrook, not the city of Portland.  

     The militia is the historical foundation for  what we know today as the Maine National Guard.  Since 911, the Maine National Guard has served in the hotbeds of conflicts in the Middle East,  and has supported the United States regular army.  They have, and continue to serve with honor and distinction at home and abroad.

     I found this historical piece on their webpage:

     On October 2nd, The VFW Deering Memorial Post will provide an Honor Guard, a patriotic song will be sung, a few words shared, the stone unveiled and a wreath lain, to honor an ordinary citizen - soldier and a patriot and pioneer from Portland.  My hope is that those of you who are willing and able, will join us at the Grand Trunk Cemetery.

     This year, we are inviting participants who wish, to bring along a bag of daffodil bulbs in memory of William Blake or any of the other Veterans interred at the Grand Trunk Cemetery. Each fall and spring, Portland Girl Scouts, Friends of the Grand Trunk Cemetery and neighbors give an hour or two of service to plant and cleanup the site.  This year's Daffodil Planting Party is on Sunday, October 16.  

     I have already received a donation from my dear friend, Sharon Lee Quincannon to purchase bulbs.  Each year since 2011, when we instituted the 'Adopt A Veteran' project to pay the fee for procuring the military records for our Veterans, Sharon has given a donation in memory of Lieut. Crispus Graves.  I am most grateful.

       Here are some of the notes for media outlets, should they decided that this little ceremony is worthy of coverage.  Jessica Grondin, from the City of Portland has been always helpful and encouraging over the last several years.

The wreath which will be placed on October 2nd in memory of  William Blake.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


William Blake To Be Honored

     I am happy to announce that a granite marker has been donated and Richardson's Monument company will engrave the stone in memory of William Blake.  Plans are underway to hold a Dedication Ceremony on Sunday, October 2, 2016 at 2 PM at the East Deering Grand Trunk Cemetery.

     Thank you to all of you who sent encouraging words to keep looking for a way to overcome the obstacles to finally honor William Blake for his service during the War of 1812.  I hope that those of you, particularly any Blake descendants, will be able to join in the celebration on October 2nd.

     As plans come together, I will keep readers informed and issue a formal invitation in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Dear Readers and Followers,
     Sadly, as they say, "The best laid plans of mice and men", often go unfulfilled.  Those of you who are friends, know that I hate to give up, especially when there is the slightest possibility of restoring dignity and honor to one of the identified Veterans interred at the East Deering/Grand Trunk.

     Unfortunately, I have hit a brick wall where William Blake is concerned.  I received a letter from the Veterans Administration Memorial Project on Monday asking for more specific documentation as to where William was buried, otherwise, no stone can be issued.  The problem is that to date none exists.  The only copy of a record of death does not match what I have researched regarding William and his wives.  The dates given simply do not correspond to what I've learned.  Whether the dates copied from an ancient tombstone were incorrect, or they apply to the 'other' William Blake; I have no idea.

     I do know that William Blake,  declared non com pos mentis in 1844,  was appointed a guardian, his property sold or mortgaged, and he was probably admitted to the hospital attached to the Portland Alms House.  We know that the census of 1850, lists him at the Alms House, and the the final disposition by the Court of his property was in 1853; in all probability he had died.  He was not buried at the Alms House; he is not among the persons listed.  Since both of William's wives are interred at the GTC; he was,  in all probability,  buried at the family plot upon his death.

     After searching through the very well documented Alms House Records at Maine Historical Society hoping to find an answer, I learned that the hospital or asylum records were not included.; in all probability, kept separately.   Thanks to Nick Noyes and Jamie Rice for their patience and help in looking for other resources for this quest!  

    Even the Rev. Caleb Bradley's diary led no where.  Although Dr. Bradley performed over 100 funerals at the Alms House over a six year period, the names and dates of those whose services he conducted from 1853 - 1861 are missing.

     So, although we have obtained William's record of service as a Veteran of the War of 1812, and the letter of Thomas Frank was accepted, at this time there is no adequate proof of his burial place; therefore; no memorial marker will be issued.

     I have said many times since beginning this blog, how acutely aware I am of how much history has been lost because of the neglect and vandalism to the East Deering/Grand Trunk Cemetery over the last century.  Even though so much has been accomplished since 2010, and a lot of good was done, and continues to be done;  today I'm sad that we can't achieve the goal of honoring William Blake in this well deserved manner.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Letter to Mr. William Blake

Dear Mr. Blake,

     Undoubtedly, you might be amazed that someone living in the city of Portland, in the year 2016 would be addressing a letter to you, a gentleman born 242 years ago.  I hope you would be pleased to know that there are still a number of men and women who can trace their lineage to that gentleman, Jasper Blake and his wife Deborah Dalton Blake; and to  their son John and his wife Francis Blake.  It was this John and Frances  who gave birth to your own grandfather, Jasper Blake. It was this Jasper who settled in the Back Cove area about 1737, and purchased property that was ultimately divided and farmed  by many members of the Blake family, including yourself,  your brothers, sisters,  and their children.

     I mention this because it was necessary, this year, to find and locate any living relatives of yours in order to restore to you, an honor, I have no doubt, you deserve, for your patriotism during the War of 1812;  a contentious and difficult period in the history of Portland, in the state of Maine, and in our very young Nation.  

     Would you be surprised to know that your military records of service and that of your fellow patriots are  preserved at the National Archives in Washington, DC?  Here is a copy of them attesting to your service.

     I imagine you might be pleased to learn that I received a letter from Col. Thomas W. Frank, a physician stationed in Germany, in the Armed Forces,  who came forward,  and offered to write a letter to be  sent to the National Archives in Washington, DC so that a memorial marker could be obtained and placed in the cemetery where you were laid to rest so long ago.   Dr. Frank is a distant relative by marriage.  His 4th great Aunt was Sarah Frank who married your older brother, James who, I understand,  also served in this same conflict. 

     Over the last several years, eight such memorial markers have been restored and dedicated to the memory of men from the Back Cove and East Deering Village, patriots of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, including your nephew Samuel Blake.  We hope to dedicate the 9th in your honor during the fall of this year.

     Some may wonder about the brevity of your service, which in no way diminishes its importance, or reflects the events which led to the decision to engage in yet another conflict with the powerful British monarchy, less than forty years after the Revolutionary War.  Only citizens living at this time, could fully understand what the threat of an invasion by the British meant for the city of Portland and the countryside.  I'm sure that people who lived through the Revolution were constantly in fear of another devastating invasion which could destroy the city again, as had happened in 1775. 

     I wonder if the older men and women who had survived the great war for independence, and who, remembered the burning of the homes and port, shared their anxiety?  It must have been disconcerting to witness the divisiveness between the political parties of the day with many supporting the war, while others secretly spoke of seceding from the union. 

      I believe that after the Revolution, the district of Maine, particularly the coastal towns, experienced a resurgence in their economy, and that many new people came to settle in the region. Portland and the New England states enjoyed growth in shipping and trade with the West Indies because of their neutral status   Many people enjoyed peace and prosperity.  

     Unfortunately, this was short lived as England and France engaged in war.  And after attempts by the government to secure neutrality, and in the hope of averting war, President Jefferson imposed the Embargo of 1807.  I have learned that this was the year of your first wife Lucy's death, having only been married for two years.  It must have been a particularly painful time for you.

     What were your thoughts when witnessing the effects of the Embargo on your neighbors and friends?  The diary of the Rev. Samuel Deane, well preserved to this day, contains an account., as does the Memoir of the Rev. Dr. Payson:

The elements of prosperity, being entirely commercial, had been struck down and prostrated; the largest mercantile houses had failed; their vessels were decaying in the docks; the grass was growing upon the wharves, and universal bankruptcy seemed the doom of the place.

The prospect of war has produced here such a scene of wretchedness as I never before witnessed.  A large number of the most wealthy merchants have already failed, and numbers more are daily following, so that we are threatened with universal bankruptcy.  Two failures alone have thrown at least three hundred persons, besides sailors, out of employ;  you may hence conceive, in some measure, the distress which the whole number must occasion.  The poor house is already full, and hundreds yet to be provided for, who have depended on their own labor for their daily bread, and who have neither the means of supporting themselves here, nor of removing into the country.  Many who have been brought up in affluence, are now depending on the cold courtesy of creditors for a protection from the inclemency of the season***   If these times continue, nine tenths of the people here will be scattered to the four winds.
Letter to his father: Memoirs 1. 142

     Today, many accounts of the War of 1812; its causes and conclusions have been studied by scholars and historians.  For those living in the midst of the conflict, however, it must have been difficult and confusing.   You were probably aware of the smuggling that took place in other parts of the district, as well as in Portland,  and of the efforts to out-smart government sanctions with stealth and swift sailing vessels. Many in the district turned a blind-eye to the practice.  "People needed to survive!".

     I read that even General William King who commanded the Militia, and was himself the owner of a Privateer, disguised the vessel with shipments under the colors of Sweden. 

      William King would become Maine's 1st Governor when separation from Massachusetts was finally ratified in 1820.

     You were, no doubt, aware that when Napoleon finally abdicated, the British turned its attention to North America to preserve their hold on their Canadian colonies, and that they did invade parts of Maine and take possession of Eastport in 1814.  

     While New England  Federalists opposed entering into a war with Britain,  most of Maine remained loyal to the Republican government. However, many saw the emergence of a full scale engagement as dangerous and Mr. Madison's War; not theirs. Newspapers, some with Federalist leanings and others, Republican proponents, demonstrated that the Nation was divided on the issue. The South and the West pushed for War.  

      Here in the district of Maine, it was evident that Massachusetts Governor Strong was vehemently opposed to the War, and with the governors of the other New England States,  refused to send Troops for aid even when requested by the President of the United States.

  The infamous Hartford Convention became equated with treason,  by some when  war was formally declared in 1812, probably because of the rumors of secession.  Although, I understand that after the War, the Democratic -Republicans adopted some of the Federalist policies, particularly with regard to the United States Navy and defense of the nation.  It would not be until 1814,  that the Governor, upon the pleading by many in Boston and throughout the region, would realize the vulnerability of the whole coast and call out Troops. 

Regional solidarity collapsed in the summer and fall of 1814, as British forces surged down the coast, occupying Machias, Blue Hill, Castine and Belfast, looting Bangor, and setting fore to a Biddeford shipyard.  Residents of Wiscasset expected the village "would be laid in ashes" at any moment, while thousands of militiamen rallied to defend Portland from the expected assault.
"The whole District of Maine is threatened by a raving foe,"  Washington, DC's leading newspaper lamented in October, "and scarcely a soldier of the US troops is there to assist in repelling invasion, although thousands have been enlisted in that part of the country."
Staff Writer, Portland Press Herald, June 24, 2012

     William Willis, an historian of Portland and commentator of the Diaries of the Reverends Thomas Smith and Samuel Deane wrote this:
The time when the Diary of Dr. Deane closes was the darkest day in the war with Great Britain.  The enemy was hovering on the coast with a formidable fleet, which ever and anon looked into our harbor with its blood shot eyes.  The people had transported many of their valuable movables into the country; the town was filled with soldiers; was partially fortified, and the people were under constant apprehension of an attack; or a forced contribution.

A large force was also collected here from the country, in 1814, for the same purpose, Portland then appeared like a camp; breast works were thrown up at the different avenues into town, on which heavy guns were mounted  The old men formed a company of minute men under the command of the veteran Gen. John K. Smith, who served in the army of the Revolution, and who died in 1842 aged, 88.  Other exempts from ordinary military duty also formed companies and held themselves ready for service.  Fortunately, the enemy did nothing more than collect provisions from the neighboring islands and coast, and left the city, then in great agitation, unharmed. 

      The war, and the lack of support from Massachusetts Governor Strong destroyed the  relationship with the Bay State and fueled the separation movement even more than before.  When the War finally ended in February 1815, there was great animosity toward Governor Strong for his failure to defend Maine.  

"Mainers ridiculed him," according to Mr. Woodard, and referred to him in a derisive manner as "Hero of Castine", and some proposed giving him a sword made of soft pine to symbolize "our estimation of the prompt and efficient protection he afforded the District when invaded by the enemy."
     Although I know only a bit of your life story, never-the-less, I am happy to be able to
recognize your service to the people of Portland and the State of Maine during this crucial
 period in history.  I hope you would be pleased to know that there are people living today that value your readiness and willingness to defend the port of Portland as an important and honorable contribution.

Thank you, Mr. Blake, and your fellow patriots who served in the War of 1812.


Before ending this post, I thought I would share something I found in newspapers about the funeral of the two young Commanders who died at the sea battle between the USS Enterprise and HMS Boxer.  It truly speaks to the character of Portlanders.  It is followed by a letter to the citizens of Portland and the great respect and honor they demonstrated toward both men.

Friday, July 8, 2016



In 2004, on a visit to Washington, DC with my best friend who had never had the occasion to visit our Nation's capitol, we witnessed the amazing work underway to conserve the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key's poem which  became our national anthem.  The flag which flew over Baltimore's Fort McHenry was raised on September 14, 1814 to celebrate an important victory over the British during the War of 1812.  It took a decade of painstaking and meticulous work when the flag was moved to a specially constructed conservation lab museum.  Visitors like us, in 2004, observed the process through a fifty foot long glass wall.  A movable bridge (gantry) created a working surface for the conservation team, above the flag.  The lab was equipped with its own heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems to ensure steady temperature and humidity and to keep the air free of any damaging contaminants.  It was an amazing endeavor to witness!

In 2011, I returned to Washington, this time with our wonderful, long-time, Girl Scout Troop on their 'graduation' trip planned for over two years.

     By this time, the 'Star Spangled Banner' was moved to its permanent location and could be viewed in all its renewed glory.  Little did I know at this time,  that two of the young women, Samantha Allshouse and Kayla Theriault,  would become the force driving to restore honor to the men from the small village of East Deering (now Portland)who served in the War of 1812 and the Revolution.  Sam and Kayla's  wonderful project continues to be the  inspiration for my own continued effort to learn more about the history of Portland and to attempt to unearth the stories of these early pioneers and patriots.

     I realized that my knowledge of the War of 1812, let alone my understanding,  could barely fill a thimble.  Frankly, I remember very little from my history classes in high school, other than the reference to the date, that the national anthem came from Key's, and maybe a reference to Andrew Jackson or the burning of the White House.  I could go off on a tangent and tell you about how I, if given the opportunity, would design a more experiential approach to teaching American history, but that is for another day and venue.

I have heard the War of 1812 described as 'fool-hardy, forgotten, unnecessary, misunderstood, accomplished little, too costly in money, property and lives, contentious, created regional and political divisiveness, replete with mixed loyalties, encouraged smuggling, Mr. Madison's War, the 2nd War for Independence, and the war that almost lost the Union'. Hubris of a very young Nation?

 While there were genuine issues for the government, and particularly the coastal ports and towns from the Carolina's to Maine.  When the Treaty of Ghent ended the conflict on December 24, 1814, but was not finally ratified until 1815, the final document never formally addressed the two major issues that propelled American into the war with the British monarchy:  the impressment of American seamen and the interference with trade. Although for the most part, the situation returned to its 'status quo ante bellum' state.  Once war with France ended, Britain no longer needed to impress Americans to fill their muster for their Royal Navy,  and they wanted to preserve their ability to trade for American goods.  In the other theaters of the War, no territory was gained, American troops removed the threat of the 1st Nations alliance with Britain, Canada was spared and remained a British colony, and  America retained its ownership of the Great Lakes.  I realize that this may seem an over simplification in a conflict which was anything but. The War of 1812 was complicated and messy, as I believe all wars are.

No doubt poor leadership in Washington and in the field drove up the cost of this war.  The battle casualties were comparatively light:  2,260 killed and 4,505 wounded.  The number of non-battle deaths---mostly from disease---about 17,000.  The army executed an additional 295 men, mainly for repeated desertion, and the navy executed a few men as well.  Some men who had served on privateers, also died in the war, primarily from disease in British prisons.  There were a few civilian casualties as well---mostly of Indian raids in the West.  In all, the number of American deaths attributable to the war was probably about 20,000.
The War of 1812:  A Short History
by Donald R. Hickey

     About two months ago, I received William Blake's military records and began the process of gathering the necessary data and, hopefully, locate a living relative to conclude the process of petitioning the Veterans Administration for a replacement memorial to honor his service in the War of 1812.  Fortunately and gratefully, Col. Thomas W. Frank, MD sent me an e mail acknowledging his relationship to William via William's brother James Blake and his wife, Sarah Frank Blake. Although Tom is stationed in Germany at present, he graciously wrote a letter giving me permission to act on his behalf to petition for the stone.  I'm hopeful that we might receive word within the month and plan a dedication for the fall.  William Blake will be the eighth Veteran to be so honored since beginning the project to reclaim the East Deering/Grand Trunk Cemetery.

     At this same time, I realized I wanted to know more about this conflict and understand why it impacted the lives of these men and their families.  In 2013, Portland held a beautifully celebrated anniversary of the Battle between the HMS Boxer and the USS Enterprise where the two young commanders had been killed.  A delegation and descendants of Commander Samuel Blyth came from England and the American Captain William Burrows was also well represented by Navy personnel.  This was a very poignant experience for all who attended; it certainly impressed me and made me want to fill up the thimble with more than a semblance of understanding.

     Over the course of the last two months, I've accumulated several articles and essays about the War of 1812 and three books.  I mention these as good reads for those who might be interested and want to pursue their own investigation.  Actually, here a photos of the books.  There are many others to be sure.

     David Hanna's book is very readable, well documented and compelling. Of particular interest to me in the light of the more recent Portland celebration was his detail given to the funeral of the two Captains.  He speaks about the extraordinary respect shown to the two young Captains of the Boxer and Enterprise by the citizens of Portland when their bodies were solemnly carried to the Eastern Cemetery and laid side-by-side.  Hanna gives us a glimpse into the lives of each young man and the choices they each made which ultimately brought them together in battle and in death.

The joint funeral of William Burrows and Samuel Blyth on September 9, 1813, stands as a testament to the resonance that the battle had for the people of Portland.  There was something about the deaths of these two young commanders that touched people deeply.  Longfellow's poem of many decades later illustrated how even a six year-old boy was somehow able to grasp the gravity and melancholy of the event:

I remember the sea-fight far away
How it thundered o'er the tide!

And the dead sea-captains as they lay
In the graves o'erlooking the tranquil bay
Where they in battle died.

And the sound of that mournful song
Goes through me with a thrill:

'A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." 

     The War of 1812 had adverse effects on the South where a number of Black slaves ran away and joined the British forces,  promised protection and resettlement.  Promises were broken and slavery in the South became even more entrenched and cruel until the next great conflict; the Civil War. A good outcome after the War of 1812 for both the United States and Britain was the resolution not to engage in Slave Trade ever again.

     Native American Tribes did not fare any better.  Promises made by Britain to establish an Indian protected barrier to prevent Americans from further expansion in the West failed miserably.  More promises broken!  The War of 1812 gave impetus to the policy of 'Manifest Destiny.'

     New England which after the Revolutionary War had enjoyed neutrality in shipping and free trade, became a pawn between the British and the French during the war between the two European powers.  This led to first the Embargo of 1807 and then the Non-Intercourse Act of 1810 leading to a stagnation of shipping and trade, and certainly contributed to smuggling that took place all during the war.

American vessels were harassed or taken, American seamen impressed into service on English ships- of- war.  On March 25, 1813, this article as published in the Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine) Volume X, Issue 497, page 3.

   Before going further, I want to share some of the political cartoons of the day which reflect the mixed feelings,  and in many instances, the ant-war sentiment regarding the conflict, that some believe, could have cost the American Ship of State to capsize and potentially, undue, what was accomplished barely 40 years before, in the War for Independence.  The great American experiment would have failed.

     Lastly, I'd like to conclude this rather long prelude with the historical narrative published from the Full text of the Massachusetts Records of the Volunteer Militia called out by the Governor of Massachusetts to suppress a threatened invasion during the War of 1812.

There is more to be said in another post to follow!