Thursday, September 19, 2013



It's been two weeks since I've set finger-tips to keyboard, but have been composing this piece in my head for much longer.  It's my process. 

      My fascination with the Sawyer family goes beyond the fact that they are the largest family group (13) interred in the Grand Trunk Cemetery and that they were instrumental in settling this area of Portland through their land purchases and sales, their patriotism and devotion to their family and neighbors.  

     If a cemetery is historical documentation of people's existence in a place and time, it is as much about  the legacy that forms (and informs)  our present and future.  When Samantha Allshouse began her research of the Grand Trunk Cemetery she was given the book:   Back Cove to Quaker Lane,  a book about the early history of the East Deering and North Deering neighborhoods, written by Theodore L. Sawyer.  A copy of this manuscript is on file at the Maine Historical Society library.

This is the family's favorite photo of Ted in 1969

     I would have loved to have met Ted Sawyer.  A wonderful and surprising outcome of this reclamation project is that we have had the good fortune of meeting Ted's sons, and their wives and grandson, Mike Sawyer, as well as Benjamin and Robert Sawyer and their wives, cousins of Ted.  I need to acknowledge Mike Sawyer because he has provided me with wonderful information about the Sawyers and is always willing to help me sift through the genealogical maze.  Ted would be proud that his Grandson is following in his footsteps and preserving the rich history of the Sawyer family.

     On more than one occasion, one of Ted's relatives has expressed to Samantha and Kayla how much their dedication and commitment to restoring dignity to this remnant of Portland history would have meant to Ted.  Like Leonard B. Chapman before him, Theodore Sawyer devoted time and effort to getting people to appreciate and care for the ancient cemetery.  I'd like to think he would be happy to see what has  transpired over the last three years.

     There is another marvelous source of information written by Eleanor Grace Sawyer called  "Sawyer Families of New England," 1636 - 1900 published by Penobscot Press, Camden, Maine 1995.  Mike Sawyer mentioned that Eleanor Sawyer  also wrote a third volume:  "Sawyer Families III:  James of Gloucester and William of Reading" in 2012.  
     According to Mike, Eleanor spent decades documenting all the male Sawyer lineage from these two immigrants from England.  Apparently, Ted Sawyer provided a great deal of source material to her about their Sawyer family branch.  The Sawyers buried in the Grand Trunk Cemetery are descendants of James Sawyer of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

A Necessary Side-step

     I am originally from Gloucester, Massachusetts, and was aware as a student that our library was called the Sawyer Free Library and that it had a wonderful glass floor in the upstairs Children's Library.  I spent many hours there as a young child, and more as an older student. 
      Each year, at graduation , the top ten graduating seniors received the Sawyer Medal.  I was not one of them, alas!   I did know from conversations with my parents, that they both attended the Sawyer School before going on to high-school.  However, thanks to Sam and Kayla's work, I am suddenly aware and fascinated by the connections I've been able to discover.  Readers who wish to know more about Gloucester and its history should access:, Massachusetts.

     Samuel Elwell Sawyer was born and died in Gloucester and was perhaps the city's greatest philanthropist contributing to many causes, but education was his primary cause.  The school, library and the medals are named for him.

     Samuel Elwell Sawyer is a descendant  of the first immigrant , James Sawyer, born c. 1632 in Lincolnshire, England, who came first to Ipswich, and then, in 1677, settled in Gloucester.  His occupation was listed as a weaver.  However, he was elected a selectman of Gloucester, in 1698.  His marriage to Sarah Bray produced eight off-spring.  Three of whom would later travel up the coast to Old Falmouth in the district of Maine:  John, Jacob and Isaac, Sr.  Isaac Sr. will became very important to our story about the Sawyer Family of East Deering.

     In 1977, my husband and I settled here in Portland.  Both of us were born in Gloucester. I feel somewhat like those early Sawyers who traveled up the coast and settled here.  Of course, we traveled by car, up Route 95 in just under two hours.  Their journey, more than two hundred years ago was much more perilous and uncertain, but nonetheless an adventure of a lifetime.

The Lay of the Land

     It's difficult to wrap my mind around what this area of  Old Falmouth (now Portland) was like.  Still more complicated is the fact that there was a period when what we know as North Deering, Deering Center and East Deering were separate entities, villages, and later, Deering was a city separate from Portland.  Actually, there was a time when Deering and East Deering were part of Westbrook.  I was amazed to realize that the town of Deering was much larger than Portland, and that it was not annexed to Portland until 1899.  This was done by the action of the State legislature, much to the consternation of many of the citizens of Deering.  I am including a piece taken in part from the Westbrook Chronicle, dated February 16, 1883.

     I am going to stop for now, but when I return, I plan to continue the story of the Sawyers and share what I've discovered about this family and their importance to the East Deering and Back Cove Communities.