Saturday, July 11, 2009

We Behold As In a Magic Mirror: Part Two

This is the second in a series of posts about two brothers who died in the Civil War. Benjamin Franklin Heald and James Hersey Heald were younger brothers of my great-great grandfather Lysander. In 1784, the family's patriarch, Benjamin, had emigrated from Carlisle, Massachusetts to Butterfield Plantation, a 47,ooo acre tract of land, presently comprising the towns of Sumner and Hartford, Oxford County, Maine.

In 1786, Benjamin married Rebekah Spaulding, whose parents had earlier emigrated from Dunstable, Milddlesex County, to Bucksfield. A long succession of children followed, eleven in twenty-four years, nine of whom survived to adulthood. Each of Benjamin’s six sons, upon marriage, was given substantial acreage of cleared land with outbuildings or, in a least one case, a mill site. All three daughters eventually married, and settled on their husbands’ property.

As a young man, the fifth child, Hiram, my great-great-great grandfather, came to inherit his father’s land and buildings. His parents lived with him until their deaths in 1841 and 1858, respectively. Our story begins with Hiram's marriage to Sophronia Hersey in 1824. Part One in the series may be found here.

Hiram and Sophronia had eleven children – Marcella, Lysander, Hiram (Hersey), Albert, Abel, Stephen, Emogene, James, Althea, Benjamin (Franklin), and Oscar. By mid-century, Lysander and Hiram had moved to Massachusetts (Maine having become a state in 1820) – Lysander to South Weymouth, Norfolk County, where he became a “leather cutler” supplying heels to the burgeoning shoe industry there; and Hiram, to Sandwich, Barnstable County, where he eventually became a partner, with his brother Abel, of a tack manufacturing business.

Even with the departure of two sons seeking to further their careers in business, the Sumner Hill household consisted of twelve members, comprised of three generations. Rebekah, being supported by her son Hiram after her husband’s death, was still living at home. Household crowding was no doubt commonplace at that time; by today’s standards it would be considered oppressive, even squalid.

In 1855, no doubt feeling the need for more space, Hiram built a home alongside his former dwelling. An early photograph shows an ample farmhouse facing northeast with a central chimney, consisting of two floors and a kitchen ell. A large barn can be seen on the south side of the house. The cemetery where the family's patriarch, Benjamin, had been buried, was situated just beyond the barn, higher up the hill. The original farmhouse, essentially intact, although having been sold out of the family by the middle of the last century, still stands today.

The Heald homestead is cradled among the foothills of the western mountains, the graceful forms of the White Mountains visible on a clear day. Second-growth forests have overgrown the pastures and fields cleared by the early settlers and now partially obscure the panoramic vistas that a perch atop Sumner Hill once afforded: of Streaked, Speckled, and Black Mountains; of Deacon Pinnacle; of Spruce, Hedgehog, and Cushman Hills, to name but a few. And among these hills and mountains the many ponds – Pleasant, Labrador, and North – and the east and west branches of “Twenty Miles” River (the Nezinscot) flowing either side of the range of hills on which many of the first families made their homes.

In 1840, the federal census reported over twelve hundred residents of Sumner. Population declined for the next one hundred and twenty years, steadily rebounding after 1960 to over eight hundred in 2000. By the mid-nineteenth century, the road over Sumner Hill was the main north/south thoroughfare, an area significantly more populous than today. Within walking distance of the Heald farm was a Congregational Church (1802), a schoolhouse, and a townhouse for local social gatherings.

Across the road and slightly downhill lived Hiram’s brother Jefferson, his wife Jane Hersey, and their six children. The cousins, when not otherwise occupied with farm chores, must have enjoyed one another’s company – berry picking, fishing, hunting with the old fowling piece, winter sledding, and swimming in the nearby ponds. Jefferson’s son Llewellyn was a mere nine months younger than Franklin; childhood chums would become comrades-in-arms on some of the bloodiest battlefields of the Civil War, as both boys enlisted in the 20th Maine Regiment in the summer of 1862.

Image: Heald Homestead; Sumner, Maine; date unknown


Geoff said...

I'm hooked. Keep it coming.

David Heald said...

They'll be another installment in a day or two...