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  represents 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 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 sadly, 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  the Stroudwater  Burial Ground,  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 1980, 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.