Friday, May 19, 2017

The Search continues:

     In my last post, I posed the question" Why did they ( the neighbors and land owners) settle on this spot to bury their dead?"  No deed seems to exist establishing the burying ground.  There is no mention of the actual burying ground until 1814 when Thomas Blake sold property, originally belonging to his father John Blake inherited from his father, Jasper Blake. The burial ground is specifically noted as a surveyor's marker to establish property boundaries. 

     Obviously, a lot of family life was lived and history passed,  from the resettlement of the area from 1725, when Isaac Sawyer Sr., his children and grandchildren arrived,  and five to ten years later, Joseph Noyes, Isaac Ilsley, Jasper Blake and others.  Before delving into a discussion of these land owners, I want to try to understand some of the thinking and practices of the historic period.

     Each of these men and their families owned substantial farms; 100 or more acres of land,  running from our present Ray Street to the waters edge bordering on the old Back Cove Road (Ocean Avenue.)  It would be very interesting to plot out these farms and with the help of the Portland Public Works archivist, I really hope to be able to do this in the near future.

     I recently visited the Quarry Run Dog Park at the juncture of Presumpscot Street and Ocean Avenue built sometime in the 90's at the foot of the old city landfill. As I walked through, I had an 'ah ha' moment.  Standing at the base of what looks like a giant meadow with walking paths which will take you to Maine Avenue and beyond.  There are remnants of the old rock walls which probably were part of farms: Sawyer's or Noyes'? I still need to trace the records through the City Assessor's office to see how far back they go; but that for another day!

Stones from original farm walls

View from top of the hill.

     It is very hard to imagine what the terrain was like in the 1730's, but this area peeked my curiosity.  Later, I will share what I've learned about the land owners, their property purchases and their impact on the history of Back Cove/East Deering and ultimately, the city of Portland.

      I recently borrowed an interesting little book from the University at Orono which provides some insight into burial practices, in rural New England and its frontier settlements; in particular, old Falmouth. 

     Mortuary Monuments and Burial Grounds of the Historic Period is described as a manual in archaeological methods, theory and techniques, written by Harold Mytum, published in 2004, by Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York.  

     In the section:  North American Burial Grounds; Colonial North America, the author cites three main locations for formal burials:
  • individual farmsteads
  • community burial grounds
  • in and around parish churches

     Farmstead burials often happened in clusters, not far from buildings. "Burials derived from one family farm or, at most, a few farms." pg. 18.  This might well fit the criteria for the Presumpscot/Grand Trunk Cemetery where the early farms were in close proximity to one another.

     Mytum also describes Community Burial Grounds which could also describe the Grand Trunk Cemetery as we know it today.  During the 17th century in New England, burial grounds were often a distance away from the center of a community's meeting house. Funeral processions traveled from the home of the deceased to the burial ground where a ceremony, probably civil, not necessarily religious was conducted.  

     As populations moved into dispersed settlements, in the late 17th century, burial grounds became more centrally located.  Funerals included a religious component with prayers, and, for the more prominent deceased, a sermon delivered at the meeting house.

     The rural farmstead burial grounds continued and are evident throughout Maine.  Small rural cemeteries are frequent.  Some are associated with particular churches, others for whole communities.  Although there is no deed establishing the burial ground from a particular land owner, it is clear that the site was chosen and used very early on.

     Those who follow this blog know that I am concerned about the history that has been lost or misplaced regarding the Back Cove/ East Deering early settlers. The survey conducted by the WPA in 1936 is incomplete because of the missing grave forms.  

     Earlier, I posted a photograph of the map of the cemetery drawn by the surveyors indicating the measurements, gate, rail and wooden fences.  The final report indicated there were 197 marked graves.  However, what do these numbers indicate from each of the individual graphs.  Were there more burials? What were they looking at,  and what evidence allowed them to pin point the 197 marked graves?  So much of Portland history still needs to be archived before it becomes lost forever.

Please note the numbers for each section as they were plotted by the surveyors.
     Finally, I want to thank Martha Zimicki, conservator from the group Spirits Alive,  for stepping forward to restore Agnes Wilcox memorial stone to its base.
Spirits Alive has done a fantastic job preserving our Eastern Cemetery.  I am grateful for their expertise and commitment.

     Memorial Day is approaching and we will lay flags at the Grand Trunk Veterans Memorial and the graves of Simon Davis, Revolutionary War, and Francis Smith, the War of 1812 veterans on Wednesday. 

We Remember