Monday, September 9, 2013

Unraveling The Mystery of Mr. Joseph Merrill

A Bit of Background:

The process which has led to the ceremony we will celebrate on October 14, 2013, has been long(three years) and complicated.  When Samantha Allshouse and Kayla Theriault took on this Girl Scout Gold award project,"Unearthing the Roots of the East Deering and Back Cove Communities", the reclamation of the Grand Trunk Cemetery, they and we, had no idea it would lead to the discovery of the eight Veterans interred there.  They are: Lieut. Crispus Graves, Revolutionary War, Samuel Blake, Andrew Graves, John Sawyer, Joseph Sawyer, William Sawyer, and Joseph Merrill, War of 1812, and James Mosley, Civil War.  All but Joseph Merrill received recognition at the Dedication held on August 4, 2012.

Many years of neglect, disinterest, and vandalism made it nearly impossible to imagine that this cemetery was the final resting place of the first settlers of East Deering Village. All but eight memorial stones, some only partial remained.  Determining who is buried where, continues to be a mystery.  Joseph Merrill is listed among the 42 names of record, however, there was little information to allow is to petition the National Archives for his military records.  Finally, after several attempts, and with persistence and the invaluable 
expertise of the genealogical detective skills of Herb Adams, Portland Historian, and Cheryl Willis Patten, President of the Maine Old Cemetery Association, I finally received Joseph Merrill's military records in September.

The Drama Continues

A phone call from the VA saddens  and frustrates me!  It seems that a rule change from Congress passed in 2009, but not enacted until 2010, will prevent anyone other than a 'Next-of-kin' or one appointed by the family of the decedent from petitioning for a government issued replacement marker for the Veteran.   What to do?  How do I go about finding living relatives for a man who lived nearly two hundred years ago about whom we know so little? 

 Again, Cheryl Willis Patten comes to the rescue and with her persistence and skill, we finally connect with a living descendant.  Merrill R. Macgowan, gentleman from South Carolina, is the grandson of Henry Merrill , who is descended from Samuel Merrill and whose lineage can be traced back to James Merrill, the father of our Joseph Merrill.  After exchanging phone conversations, passing on family lineage information, Mr. Macgowan sends his  letter allowing me to petition for the memorial on behalf of his family. 

Several months later, after more requirements for further supporting documents, the City of Portland Cemeteries Division received the lovely white stone, but the date of death inscribed is incorrect!  

An Aside

Seven men named Joseph Merrill served in the Massachusetts Militia during the War of 1812.  One of these gentlemen, happens to be the nephew of our Joseph, born c. 1791, died in 1825, the son of Joseph Merrill's sister, Abigail Merrill and her husband, Benniah Merrill. This Joseph served under Capt. Alpheus Fields.  Joseph Merrill (the younger) was also married to a woman named Lucy Noyes whose lineage we've been able to trace.  I have also received his military records and a letter to petition for his stone, however, we have no idea where he or Lucy are buried.  The search goes on!

Back to Joseph(the elder)

Another phone call to the VA and verification from the cemetery office was required to have the stone re-issued with the correct information inscribed.  We are still waiting patiently and hope to receive the marker shortly and before our Dedication ceremony.

Who is Joseph Merrill?

Joseph Merrill was the eldest son of Abigail Brackett and Major James Merrill, born c. 1754 and died, April 8, 1823 in East Deering Village.  There is some evidence that he married a Lucy Noyes, born c. 1756 and they married c. 1788.  There are no other entries for Lucy Noyes Merrill.

Census reveals only Joseph Merrill's name and that he resided with two females; possibly his wife and a sister? or Mother-in-law?

After spending a dusty afternoon in the attic of the Falmouth Town Hall, I found a tax record from 1821.  Is this our Joseph?  Was he a farmer?  Unfortunately, there is such a little bit of information recorded and no indication of the location of the property.  I'm including it for your interest.

Tax Record From 1821

Military Service

Joseph Merrill was not a young man when he was mustered into service during the War of 1812.  If, indeed he was born in 1754, he would have been 60 years old.  There are some indications he may have been born later.  We may never know.  However, we do know he was a rifleman, serving in the Portland Rifle Corp founded on June 2, 1812 by order of President James Madison for the 'defence of the town of Portland.'  Joseph held the rank of Private in the 3 Regiment (Nicholas) Massachusetts Militia.

As you remember, the War of 1812 was an unpopular war.  Most of New England was in opposition.  In some cases, there was talk about succeeding from the union.  While there was privateering  by both Americans and the British, it was not until 1814 that the British began invading the northern regions of Maine, hoping to gain a foothold to the maritimes to Quebec.  The Maine district was pretty much left to its own to defend its coastline.

A handwritten document I was able to find at the Maine Historical Society library shows the establishment of the rifle company of which Joseph Merrill was a member.  Apparently, the Portland Rifle Company continued service until the late 1800's when it was incorporated into what we now recognize as the Maine National Guard.

The Uniform

Curious, I wondered if Joseph Merrill wore a uniform.  Here's what I was able to find out from this link:http://the

The District of Maine belonged to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts during this period, so their forces were uniformed per Massachusetts regulations.Volunteers were uniformed. .......         The Portland Rifle Company wore green coatees with three rows of buttons and gold lace, white turnbacks, white pantaloons, half boots, and helmets with a brass comb, white feather crest, and red plumes topped white.This particular uniform may not have been too practical, but it would have been colorful. 

The Middle Image  Uniform of Soldier

Final Reflection

We may never have a complete answer to the question, Who was Joseph Merrill?  Never be able to recapture his past.  None-the less, this does not deter our interest in learning about our historical roots, nor from attempting to celebrate his place in the history of Portland and the state of Maine.  The Grand Trunk Cemetery is, as you no doubt realize by now, just a mere skeleton of what it once was.  Vandals did more than destroy stones, they robbed us and future generations of ever really knowing those people who settled in the East Deering Village.  We do what we can to recapture some memory of who they may have been and to celebrate their lives and their contribution, no matter how great or small.

This Is A Cemetery

(a verse)
by John Slaughter

A cemetery is a history of people-a
perpetual record of yesterday and a
sanctuary of peace and quiet today. A
cemetery exists because every life is worth
loving and remembering-always.