Saturday, February 25, 2017

Looking Back


     This latest post is by way of an introduction to work that is an on-going attempt to look more closely at the historical events that led to the establishment of the cemetery, about two hundred and seventy years ago.  Who set off the land for the purpose of burying the dead?  Who, among those early settlers, was interred here first?  When did it became the common burial ground for neighbors and families that resided in this area of what is now part of the city of Portland, Maine?

     In the period of the re-settlement from 1726, when Isaac Sawyer, Sr. yeoman, from Gloucester in Essex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony, purchased land here in the district of Maine, he became a resident of Falmouth, and the area in which he resided was called Back Cove.  This Sawyer, along with his wife and children were the first and second generations of Sawyers to settle in the Back Cove.  Others who came and purchased property and established their homesteads in proximity to the burial ground were: Joseph Noyes, Isaac Illsley, Jasper Blake and James Lunt.  I intend to discuss each of these proprietors in ensuing posts related to their relationship to one another and the development of the communities of Back Cove, later to be known as North Deering and East Deering.  For now, I  will include these drawings from Ted Sawyer's book.

Early Land Divisions and Owners

The Lunt Home

     Theodore L. Sawyer's work:  Back Cove to Quaker Lane,  and material I received from his family genealogist grandson, Michael Sawyer,  raised some interesting questions.  Did Capt. Joseph Noyes and Isaac Sawyer, establish the burial place since their land purchases were in close proximity to one another?  

     Ted Sawyer indicated the first three generations of Sawyers were buried in East Deering.  We have ascertained that Isaac Sawyer, Jr.died in 1748/9. He had nine children.

  The senior Isaac Sawyer's death is recorded by William Willis in his History of Portland. as February 14, 1772  The Rev. Samuel Deane's diary has this entry: "I went to the funeral of Father Sawyer". February 15, 1772.

     The footnote reads:
Isaac Sawyer, who died suddenly (92 years), received a grant of a house lot in August 1726, an admitted an inhabitant of Falmouth February 1728.

Taken from Theodore Sawyer's Back Cove to Quaker Lane
     We have recorded the burials of  Anthony Sawyer, his sons, daughters-in-law, grandson, and nephews; Anthony  represent the third generation.  In all probability there are other Sawyers interred long ago in unmarked graves.

     The earliest cemetery records refer to the burial-site we now call The Grand Trunk Cemetery, as Presumpscot, indicating its proximity to the River by the same name.  After the separation of the Neck,(Portland), today's East Deering and the rest of the colony retained the name of the original settlement, Falmouth.  In 1814,  the area from Martin's Point to Deering Oaks to Stroudwater became the Westbrook parish. In 1871 until 1899, after Westbrook was set off, the whole area was known as  Deering, first as an independent town and then a city. Finally, in 1899, the state of Maine annexed Deering to the city of  to Portland.

      In 2011, when this recovery project began, the only list of burials held by the city showed 42 names. With records  more recently recovered, we  have added four more names; Sarah Ann Sawyer Frank, Isaiah Frank, Benjamin Sawyer and William Blake.  There are other documents  indicating that Joanna Galvin was, in all probability, interred here,along with her husband, Timothy, and daughter, Harriot Galvin.

     With the dedication of the memorial stone for William Blake, veteran of the War of 1812, which we celebrated on October 2, 2016, came the sad realization that William was, in all likely-hood, the final veteran we could  honor in this manner.  Unfortunately, substantive records and information about veterans or other  individuals  who may be buried in this site are simply lost or do not exist. 

     Where then, do we go from here?  Because I am a persistent (some would say!..stubborn) optimist, I feel that there is more to look for and this endeavor is incomplete. There is more to tell to keep the remnant that is the East Deering/Grand Trunk Cemetery alive for future generations of citizens of Portland and the state of Maine. 

     Three years ago, an unfortunate collapse of a shelf in a vault at City Hall brought us survey records from the WPA (Works Progress Administration) of the work done to map the ancient cemeteries in Portland in 1936.  We received 11 charts showing the layout of the cemetery and the individual sections where burials were indicated with markers. The report compiled by Archie C. Blake indicated there were 197 marked graves and the general condition of the cemetery was very poor. 

     When we received these charts,  we were hopeful that the 347 grave forms could be found to give us valuable information:  names, dates of death, stone carver, etc.  These grave forms are still missing. ( Please note that many towns turned over their surveys to the state archives and can be accessed for others doing research and genealogical work.  This however, was not the case here in Portland.  The Cemeteries Office does have an extensive collection for Stroudwater and a few of the other inactive cemeteries in Portland.)

    Two years ago, after Mike Sawyer graciously attempted to create an over-lay of the charts on the map of the cemetery, we realized that the measurements might be off so I consulted with Joe Dumais and requested that the City engineering department might consider an updated survey of the cemetery.  Last spring, another entity requested a survey and I was able to get some additional deed and survey maps of properties around the cemetery, but not specifically of the cemetery.  My hope is that in the spring, with a friend's help, a new map can be generated to create a more accurate picture, and to create an over-lay of the 1936 charts as a means of pin pointing the location of the graves using the markers we have.

     It's very clear to me that the workers in 1936 saw a very different site than existed in the 1980's when vandals perpetrated the most damage to a cemetery, already in poor condition.  Theodore Sawyer recounts this and brought this to the attention of city officials.
About 1900, I found a campfire area with gravestones used as seats.  A fire had been built against a beautiful old oak which finished that.  A little later there was a second campfire area up in the cemetery.  Motorcycles were being run over a pathway until a groove of over a foot in depth resulted.  Some boys told me of a gathering of motorcycles on weekends.  The ground was covered with glass from broken bottles and even the four inch thick stone of Anthony (Sawyer) was smashed.

     The city responded by cleaning up the area, but in the process, removed the broken stone; conservation was not a priority at this time.  I had always wondered about the large granite blocks over the banking and,  what was their purpose?  Ted accounted for these as barriers to prevent any further motor cycles from riding through the cemetery.  These were later removed, but they can still be seen.

     :Here is the first chart and some of the points it reveals:

  •   The entrance to cemetery from Sherwood Street 
  •   wooden post for a gate five feet from foot path
  • area from gate to the top marker on the right = 30 feet
  • from gate in the opposite direction= 69 feet
  • Sections B - H is 69 feet
  • Sections H,I, J, K = 260 feet
  • Sections B,C,F, G= 260 feet
  • Sections E, G,K=  132 feet
  • Long sections had Flat rail fences
  • Shorter sections had upright wooden board fences
  • Both long sides were surrounded by woods
  • Section C (has 4 stone markers with brass pins today) ornamental iron fence with gate
  • The scale used was 40 feet per inch.

   I am also including the most recent map I received.  The measurements were not given however.

    I will leave off here for now with the promise of returning to the task in the near future.

     As an aside, up the road,( Washington Avenue that is),is the Sawyer Knight Cemetery inhabited by others of the Isaac Sawyer family.  To the right of the entrance to St. Joseph's Manor is the house where Ted Sawyer grew up,  and as a boy, explored the area which he would write about as an adult.  I am so grateful for his work and for his memories.  They have been the foundation for much of what I have learned and seek to share.

Looking over the fence standing on a tall snow pile

The rear view of the Sawyer home

The Brook in Winter

The Sawyer Knight Cemetery Enclosure

     Thank you Ted Sawyer for your service to Portland and to your country.


Monday, December 12, 2016

T'is The Season For Giving and Receiving!


To each of you who have encouraged and supported the recovery of the Grand Trunk Cemetery, participated in the ceremonies, and in the Spring and Fall Planting parties, contributed your advise and research, or taken time to read this blog ; Thank You!
     I am happy to announce that Wreaths Across America, the organization whose mission, expressed so well in their motto:
has honored our Veterans interred at the East Deering Grand Trunk Cemetery, through the generosity of Portland Police Officer Kevin Haley with a wreath which was placed at the Grand Trunk Cemetery Veterans Memorial this past week.  Officer Haley was the investigating Officer for our last incident of vandalism at the cemetery and became interested in the recovery project and most especially,  the work to resurrect the records of our ancient Veterans and honor them with replacement monuments.  The wreaths are made right here in Maine and many will have been placed in cemeteries throughout the state. This week, a convoy of trucks and volunteers will journey to Arlington National Cemetery to place wreaths on the headstones of the fallen.  Thanks for your service and the honor given to our Grand Trunk Cemetery Veterans!

Unfortunately, the ground was frozen so the wreath could not be placed
within the enclosure at first.

Lynda Allshouse continues her daughter, Samantha's legacy.

A cold morning!
   The next day, Joel, with hammer and large screwdriver, allows us to place the stand and wreath more appropriately.

The Grand Trunk Cemetery Veterans Memorial Christmas 2016

     Thanks to Joseph Dumais, Coordinator of our Portland Cemeteries for publishing a second installment of this blog in bound copies.  One will be kept at the Evergreen Cemetery office, and one has been accepted and donated to the Maine Historical Society.  My hope is that these might be useful to others who want to research the stories of the early residents of Portland.  I am truly grateful.
My  copy along with a DVD
     After a brief respite, my plan is to return to further research to add to the story of the East Deering village.  The records from the 1936 WPA survey raised the question of whether there are other Veterans yet to be recognized who are buried at the Grand Trunk Cemetery.  Here are the names that surfaced:  Revolutionary War, Albert Ames, section A-12, John Burke, A-2, Charles Crowell, K-7 and  War of 1812, John Ames, A-11.  No other information was recorded.

      There were also these names listed with dates of death:  John Jones, B-12, Aet. 84, 1754, Arthur Babb, C-2, Aet. 17, 1758, and a John (Murray, Mery?) A-4, Aet. 1773.  The letter and number beside each name refers to the section where the individual was buried.

      I also hope to look more closely at the Sawyer family to find records of the children of John and Abigail Sawyer, several of whom died within weeks of each other at an early age and in all probability, are interred along with their parents here. 

  And finally;  there is the question of when the cemetery became the responsibility of the City of Portland.  Was there ever a deed of transfer?

     For now, I wish you all the happiest of holidays with your families and friends.

Sunday, October 9, 2016



   Sunday, October 2, 2016, proved to be a much better day than the earlier forecasts had predicted.  Though it was relatively cool and cloudy, Mother Nature was good to the twenty-five or so 'Friends' that gathered to honor William Blake, a man born in 1774, two hundred and forty two years ago, who served in the most contentious and misunderstood War of 1812, where all through the State of Maine, many Veterans have been forgotten.

     For me, it was an opportunity to continue the work of Samantha Allshouse and Kayla Theriault to "Unearth the Roots of the Back Cove and East Deering Communities" by bringing to light the story of this early citizen and patriot, and to bestow on him this simple recognition and honor for services rendered to his community and nation.

     There were some poignant moments for me that answered the question I posed in a previous post: "What Does It Matter?"  When our friend, Herb Adams who has been a constant help and support to this reclamation project from the beginning said," Today, William Blake, you are no longer forgotten."  I was moved to tears. 

Herb Adams and Samantha Allshouse Unveil the Memorial Stone

     Samantha Allshouse, now a second year science and advanced placement biology teacher at Lisbon High School,  spoke about how much has changed since she and Kayla took on this project, and,  how terrified they were with the task at hand,  when they committed to the work of bring back to life the all but forgotten and destitute cemetery.  Sam also expressed her hope that other young people would continue to value and care for this small,  but significant historic site.

     A wonderful surprise for me,  was when Larry Glatz, who had been away, appeared out of the blue, and was ready and willing to share his knowledge and understanding of the significance of the War of 1812 and its impact on Portland during this critical period. To say I am grateful, is an understatement.  

     I was particularly moved,  when at the end of his speech,  Larry reflected on the fact that only a small fraction of those who served in the War of 1812 ever received recognition in the form of military benefits.  He stated:
So I am hoping today, we can give them a small amount of memory and recognition they deserve. Don't forget these fellows!

     I asked Larry Glatz, retired teacher and historian of the War of 1812,  for permission to publish his speech.  I'm sure that readers will gain a new perspective of the events of the war and its significance to Portland's history. It is also a well researched  testimony to the importance of the service given by William Blake, his fellow patriots interred here at the Grand Trunk Cemetery, and, to all those who protected the Port of Portland and the coast, who traveled from neighboring towns and villages throughout the district of Maine.

     Here then, are photographs taken during the ceremony by Kristina Heng, one of my former Girl Scouts, and a member of our Troop which supported the reclamation project. She is just one of the many people who contributed to the success of the day, including all those who participated and contributed to the collection of daffodil bulbs to be planted on Sunday, October 16th in memory of William Blake and our other Veterans. 

      Special thanks to  Portland Park Rangers Jill Mulkern and Kyle O'Neil, and to Portland Police Officers Poisson and Haley who represented the City of Portland, Mrs. Elaine Thurlow-Falconer, our song leader, The VFW Deering Memorial Post 6859, Honor Guard, Commander Joel Demers, Chaplain Christopher Chesley, CSM Joel W. Chapman (retired), Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Herbert Adams, Mr. Larry Glatz, and Ms. Samantha Allshouse, our speakers, Ms. Lingling Oum, hostess, at the refreshment table, Mr. Robert McMann, Mr. Chris Peterson and their crews from the City of Portland Cemeteries Division, Mrs. Elaine Spring and Mr. Joseph Dumais for their continued help and encouragement for the reclamation of the Grand Trunk Cemetery, and finally, to the "Friends of the Grand Trunk Cemetery' for their avid interest and care for this cemetery and those interred here.

     Final Thoughts

     A funny thing happened on the way to the mailbox; a mysterious poster was left by our door, by a yet, unknown neighbor or friend.  It was from the Massachusetts Historical Society of the 1769 Chestnut Hill Meeting House showing the ancient graveyard, stones in remarkably good condition.  More important to me is the caption.

"Don't Let Bygones Be Bygones"
     I thought it was very appropriate to the occasion we had just celebrated, and quite obviously, so did the secret giver of the gift
     The opportunity to tell the story of these early pioneers and patriots is an honor, and admittedly, it is sometimes frustrating, but none-the-less, it is worth every  effort.  Picking up the threads of William Blake's life was sometimes difficult. However, on this day, October 2nd, 2016, we were able to restore a well deserved honor to him, a Veteran of the War of 1812, and, in my mind,( and perhaps in yours, dear reader,)  also honor every Veteran who has served to defend and protect our Nation.