Western Maine Saints [Part 2]: A Newry Family Who Joined the Latter-Day Saints in Seeking a Home in the West


Western Maine Saints [Part 2]: A Newry Family Who Joined the Latter-Day Saints in Seeking a Home in the West


Bethel Historical Society


Summer 2005-Spring 2006




Full Text

Western Maine Saints:

A Newry Family Who Joined the Latter-Day Saints in Seeking a Home in the West

by Mary E. Valentine

Martha Fifield Wilkins, author of Sunday River Sketches, at the Sessions-Chapman-Bennett House near North Newry in 1931

Patty Bartlett Sessions was the first in her family to be baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was born in Bethel 4 February 1796, the first child of Anna Hall Bartlett, second wife of Enoch Bartlett, who had come from Newton, Massachusetts, to Sudbury Canada (incorporated as "Bethel" in 1796) sometime after the War for American Independence. He settled on a farm in the Middle Intervale section of Bethel. A number of Newton residents had an interest in this area; W. B. Lapham, in his History of Bethel, records that the rights of nine proprietors had been bought in 1774 by Aaron Richardson and Jonathan Clark of Newton. Nathaniel Segar, a resident of Newton and brother of Enoch Bartlett’s first wife, Eliza Segar, had come to Sudbury Canada in 1774, remained through the summer, then returned to Newton. The American Revolution began in the spring of 1775, and Segar served first in the defense of Boston, then re-enlisted for a mission to Ticonderoga and Canada. By the spring of 1779, the battlefront had moved to the southern states, and Nathaniel Segar again traveled to Sudbury Canada, this time accompanied by Jonathan Bartlett, a half-brother of Enoch. They took kettles for boiling down maple sap to make sugar, and after the sap stopped running, spent their time clearing land and building shelters for the winter. Segar’s land was on the north side of the river in what is now Hanover, and Jonathan Bartlett later settled on the south side of the river, below Bean’s Corner. Four other brothers of Enoch also settled in Sudbury Canada. Perrigrine Sessions, writing about his grandfather, recalls being told that Enoch, with one or two of his half brothers, brought their wives and possessions on hand sleds from Fryeburg fifty miles to Sudbury Canada, the youngest child not yet born. Enoch’s first wife died about 1789. In 1790, Enoch was listed as a resident of Sudbury Canada, and in 1794 he married Anna Hall of Standish and brought her to his home there. On 7 April 1800 (according to his grandson Perrigrine), Enoch moved from Bethel to Sunday River Plantation (Bostwick), and he is listed there in the 1800 census.  His oldest daughter, Anna, born 4 November 1766 in Newton, married in 1790 Asa Foster, who was born around 1765. Asa was a son of Abner Foster, one of the early pioneers in the Sunday River Valley. Asa Foster owned land bordering Sunday River to the east, and in a deed dated 1812, he sold twenty nine acres bordering Sunday River to Enoch Bartlett, reserving twenty four acres to the north for himself and his wife Anna. It is possible that Asa Foster had built the older part of the Bartlett house either before or after his marriage in 1790, and Enoch Bartlett added the newer portion of the house to accommodate his growing family. After moving to Sunday River Plantation (which became part of the town of Newry in 1805) Enoch and Anna Hall Bartlett had six more children, in addition to Patty, Elisha, and Naomah who had been born in Bethel: Jonathan in 1800, Polly in 1802, Aphia in 1804, Lydia in 1806, Lorania in 1808 (d. 1811), and Enoch, Patty’s youngest brother, in 1811.

In 1812, at age 17, Patty Bartlett married David Sessions, whose family had come from Vermont and settled in Riley Plantation. They lived for a few years in a log cabin on the Sessions farm. David’s mother, Rachel Stevens Session, was obese and suffered from rheumatism. She was a midwife, and Patty began learning this profession by helping her mother-in-law. In December 1815 (after the birth of their first child, Perrigrine, on 15 June 1814) David and Patty bought a farm about nine miles to the northeast in an unorganized territory called Andover Gore (1820 census) or Andover West Surplus (1830 census). Their new farm bordered Bear River and was more fertile than David’s parents’ land in Riley Plantation.

After the move to Bear River, Patty, in reading her Bible, began to feel that baptism was necessary. Most of her neighbors were Methodists, so she chose that church and was baptized 1 October 1816, becoming a member of the Methodist Church. In 1820, her husband David also became a Methodist. The first Methodist house of worship in the Bethel circuit was built in 1814 on the north bank of the Androscoggin River near Dustin’s Ferry, which connected Newry with East Bethel. This church was twice struck by lightning; in July 1819, lightning killed Rebecca York McGill of East Bethel during a service in the church.

Additional children were born to David and Patty as the years went by; in 1816, a son, Sylvanus, was born, and in 1818, a daughter, Sylvia. After the birth of Anna in 1820, a larger home was needed, and David built a fine new house into which the family moved in November of that year. In the spring of 1821, David’s parents moved in with them. By this time, Rachel Sessions was so crippled with rheumatism that she was unable to do anything for herself, so Patty now had her mother-in-law to care for as well as her husband and children. At this time, David’s father was receiving a pension for his former military service of $96 per year. This cash income must have been welcome in an era when most transactions were by barter. In May 1823, another son, David, was born. During September of that year, Anna, aged three and one half, died of cholera. Two days later, Rachel, Patty’s mother-in-law, became ill from the same ailment and died on 1 October. A year later, in the fall of 1824, Rachel’s husband went to visit a neighbor and died suddenly, probably from a stroke. In the next ten years, three more of the Sessions children died as epidemics of typhus and whooping cough struck the area. It is not known where David’s parents and the four children are buried. As an unorganized territory, Andover West Surplus had no town burial ground, so it seems likely a family burial plot was set aside on the farm. In March of 1837, a good portion of Andover West Surplus became part of Newry, and at a Newry town meeting in March 1854, the three town selectmen were authorized to choose land for a burying ground in the former Andover West Surplus. One of the selectmen at that time was Moses Kilgore, a brother of Perrigrine Sessions’ wife, Julia Ann, and another selectman had recently married as his second wife a sister of Julia Ann. It seems likely that these selectmen would have chosen the burial ground where there were already graves. The present cemetery on Route 26 in North Newry, called "Head O’Tide Cemetery," is probably on land that was part of the Sessions’ 400 acre farm in the 1820s and 1830s. In the 1960s, when the gravestone inscriptions were recorded by a Bethel Historical Society volunteer, there were no grave markers bearing the Sessions name, but the recorder noted there were some unmarked graves.

How did an area seventy miles from the ocean and now containing part of the Appalachian Trail happen to have a school and cemetery named “Head O’Tide?” N. S. Baker, Newry Superintendent of Schools in the 1890s, wrote a letter to The Bethel News that was published on 5 August 1896; in the letter, which spoke of Newry's past, Baker commented that “Squire Paine began at the Tides.” Daniel Paine’s house was a short distance north of the Sessions home. Possibly one of the Paine family, looking at the water from the spring snow melt as it poured down Wight’s Brook into Bear River, might have been reminded of a tidal bore. Wherever the name came from, it seems to have been in use as early as 1839; in his missionary diary of 1 October 1839, Perrigrine Sessions wrote “. . . thence to the head of the tide and I preached to Paine’s school house. . . .”

In August 1833, LDS missionaries Horace Cowan and Hazen Aldrich came south from Letter B through Grafton Notch and stopped at the Sessions home to preach the Mormon doctrine. According to Perrigrine Sessions, his mother believed as soon as she heard the preaching of Cowan and Aldrich, but David thought it was best to consider the matter for a time, so she waited until July 1834 to be baptized. In September of that year, at age twenty, Perrigrine Sessions married Julia Ann Kilgore, the youngest daughter of John and Anna York Kilgore. On 15 August 1835, Brigham Young and Lyman Johnson visited Newry. They held a conference at the home of David and Patty Sessions, and Brigham Young crossed the Androscoggin River to preach at the Middle Intervale Meetinghouse, which at the time was without a settled pastor. At the meeting in the Sessions home, Young spoke of “establishing Zion” somewhere in the west, a place where Saints could live together and practice their religious beliefs without fear of persecution. He encouraged the local Saints to sell their farms and travel to Missouri to join others in this endeavor. On August 21 of the same year, the Sessions were visited by another Mormon elder and missionary, William McLellin, who recorded in his journal that he had preached about two hours at a “bro Cessions.” By 16 September 1835, Perrigrine was convinced that he should be baptized, and he asked Edward Partridge to baptize him. On September 22, Perrigrine’s and Julia Ann’s first child was born and named Martha Ann.

Brigham Young and other members of the Twelve Apostles visited Newry again in August 1836, and once more preached in at Middle Intervale. He again urged the members of the Newry branch to sell their farms in Maine and travel to Missouri where the Saints were gathering. Over the years, the Sessions family had acquired a farm of 400 contiguous acres along the Bear River. They had a saw mill and a grist mill using water power from the Bear River, and their home was large enough to serve as a public house for the region. Leaving all this seemed like a hard thing to do, but in May 1837, David and Perrigrine Sessions sold their farm to Almon and Eli Grover, who the next day sold it to Timothy Hilliard Chapman, a son of Timothy Chapman and grandson of Rev. Eliphaz Chapman, an early settler of Bethel.

T. H. Chapman was a young man, only nineteen years old at the time. It is difficult to know whether he ever lived on the farm in North Newry; in the 1840 census, the only Chapman on Bear River was George Granville Chapman. By the summer of 1848, Eliphaz Bradford Chapman was living there. In her Sunday River Sketches, Martha Fifield Wilkins writes that her mother, Lucelia Elizabeth Chapman, was born on the farm 31 July 1848. In 1857, Lucelia’s father sold the farm to Jonathan Bennett in exchange for a farm on the Magalloway River. Lucelia’s mother did not want to move to Magalloway, and refused to sign the deed, but the exchange of farms happened anyway. According to Paula Wight, in her Newry Profiles, Jonathan Bennett built the front part of the present house in 1860. Whether the recently demolished kitchen ell went back to the time of the Sessions family, we don't know. The farm was passed from Jonathan Bennett to his son Frank, and then on to his son Roy. In 2000, the property was sold by the heirs of Roy Bennett to Keith Durgin.

In May 1837, the Sessions family packed their possessions for the trip west, and on 5 June, they left their home in Newry, accompanied by Patty’s sister, Lucy Bartlett Powers, her husband Jonathan Powers, and their two sons. The Sessions family at this time included David and Patty, their son Perrigrine and his wife and daughter, their daughter Sylvia and son David. The Sessions family started with five two-horse teams and one single, and the Powers family had two horses. They passed through Shelburne and Lancaster in New Hampshire, then south to Hanover, where they crossed the Connecticut River, then on to Rutland, Vermont, Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs, New York, and across New York State to Buffalo, where they boarded a steam boat to Fairport, Ohio, and thence to Kirtland, Ohio. Here they met Joseph Smith and heard him preach, and suffered through an epidemic of measles for seven weeks. Then they bid farewell to the Powers family who returned to Maine, and continued their journey to Far West, Missouri. The Ohio settlers were becoming unhappy with the increasing numbers of Saints in Kirtland, and Joseph Smith had chosen Far West, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, as the next gathering place for the Saints. The trip between Ohio and Missouri was made easier by the National Road, a project begun in 1811 that, when completed, led from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois, and was an important link to the West until railroads were developed. The Sessions family arrived at Far West in November 1837. Patty had been pregnant for the entire trip, and her last child, Amanda, was born after their arrival in Missouri on 14 November 1837.

In Missouri, the Sessions family bought land, including two block houses, and after settling in their new homes, acquired additional land and plowed about forty acres for spring planting of corn, potatoes and grain. After the arrival of Joseph Smith, work began on a new temple, and Perrigrine left to return to Maine to collect the additional money owed the family for sale of their property. He became ill on the trip and after arriving at his father-in-law’s house, spent six or seven weeks recuperating before completing his business and returning to Missouri.

When Perrigrine joined his family in Missouri on 28 November 1838, he found a desperate situation. Some of the Saints had been murdered by Missouri mobs. Instead of protecting the new immigrants, the state government issued an extermination order authorizing the other settlers and state militia to kill any Mormons they found still in the area. Again, the family packed what they could carry with them, abandoned the land and homes they had purchased, and fled north along the Mississippi River in mid-winter. The river was full of ice and difficult to cross, but they finally made it to the other side in Quincy, Illinois, where the townspeople were at first sympathetic and helpful. Joseph Smith had been arrested and imprisoned in Missouri, along with some of the other Mormon leaders, but after five months he and his companions escaped and joined the Saints in Illinois.

Again Joseph Smith looked for a new gathering place for the Saints, and chose a site north of Quincy, within a bend of the river. The land was swampy, infested with malaria-bearing mosquitos, but the Saints bought land there, drained the wet land, and laid out a city which Joseph called Nauvoo. As more and more new converts came from Europe, Canada and the eastern United States, Nauvoo grew to rival Chicago as the largest city in Illinois. During the years they lived in Nauvoo, Patty’s youngest daughter, Amanda, died; her husband David was given permission to take a plural wife, Rosilla Cowan, and Perrigrine was sent on another mission to Maine. Perrigrine traveled “without purse or script,” staying with Saints wherever he could, but often without adequate food, and, thus, the trip took a long time. When he reached Newry, he found the branch there no longer thriving since most of its devoted members had left. Perrigrine visited friends and relatives in Newry, but spent much of his time in the Rumford-Mexico-Dixfield area, where his missionary efforts seemed to be more appreciated. When Perrigrine arrived back in Nauvoo about a year later, he found he had a second child, a son, but his wife was weak from tuberculosis, and Julie Ann died in January 1845. The next June, Perrigrine married two sisters, Lucina and Mary Call. Although Nauvoo had received a charter from the state, the neighbors were again becoming alarmed by its rapidly increasing population. Joseph Smith and his brother were again arrested and imprisoned, but this time a mob attacked the prison and killed them. Brigham Young was selected as the new leader of the Latter-day Saints, and as mob violence increased, he realized the Saints would have to move again, this time to a place not yet occupied and far enough away for the Saints to feel safe from persecution. After studying maps and sending out an exploratory party, he decided on the valley of the Great Salt Lake as the Saints' final destination. On 10 February 1846, Patty assisted with a birth in the morning and another in the afternoon. At this time, she began a diary which she continued writing almost every day during the journey to Utah. After arrival there in September 1847, she chronicled the record of the Saints as they settled the land in the valley of the Great Salt Lake.

The crossing of Iowa, beginning in February 1846, occupied the next three and a half months. When they arrived in Council Bluffs, on the bank of the Missouri River, a representative of the U.S. Army came to ask the Saints to recruit 500 able bodied young men to march to California during the war with Mexico and take possession of that territory for the United States. The general feeling was that the Saints did not owe anything to a federal government that had refused to protect them when they were driven from their homes in Missouri and Illinois, but Brigham Young took the longer view and saw this as an opportunity to prove the Mormon’s patriotism and perhaps secure more protection from the government in the future. The loss of 500 young men would mean the Saints would have to spend the next year on the banks of the Missouri before going on to Utah, but the government assured them they would not be attacked while their men were gone. So a settlement was established on the west bank called Winter Quarters, and others settled near Council Bluffs on the east bank. After the discovery of gold in California, some of the Saints chose to remain here to help future travelers on their way.

On 5 June 1847, ten years to the day since leaving their home in Newry, the Sessions left the settlement on the Missouri River and followed Brigham Young’s company toward Utah. David and Patty Sessions arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in September.

After the Sessions family arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in September 1847, Patty Bartlett Sessions wrote in her diary that it was a beautiful place and she was thankful that she and her husband, as well as her son, Perrigrine, his two wives and two children, had arrived safely after their long journey, and with no serious accidents to themselves or their wagons.

After their arrival, David and Perrigrine took responsibility for finding grazing for the Saints’ cattle and guarding the herd. When they were relieved of this duty, they cut logs for their new house, and hauled them to the site. They moved into their new home on 18 November, none too soon, since a windstorm on 1 November destroyed the tent where they had lived since arriving. Patty was continuing her work as a midwife and healer, and enjoying meeting with the other women in the colony.

In the summer of 1849, Patty learned that her daughter Sylvia’s husband had died in January at age 39. Sylvia had married Windsor P. Lyon during the family’s residence in Missouri. When the Saints settled in Nauvoo, Windsor had opened a pharmacy there. When the Saints were driven out of Illinois in the winter of 1846, Patty had hoped Sylvia and Windsor would join in the journey across the plains to Utah Territory, but Windsor had chosen to join his brother in Iowa City, where they became business partners in a pharmacy there. Patty’s younger son David had also chosen to stay with his sister in Iowa City. Patty and her daughter tried to keep in touch, but delivery of mail depended on finding someone traveling between Iowa City and Utah. Sylvia had suffered much sorrow as one child after another had died before reaching age four. When Windsor died, Sylvia’s only surviving child was Josephine, probably fathered by Joseph Smith. When Patty learned of Windsor Lyon’s death, she hoped Sylvia and Josephine would leave Iowa City and join her in Utah. In the middle of October 1849, Perrigrine started for Iowa City to bring his sister, Sylvia, and brother, David, home to Utah. But when Perrigrine arrived in Iowa City on 1 January 1850, he learned that Sylvia was about to marry again, this time a banker and businessman, Ezekiel Clark, so she would not be going to Utah. However, Perrigrine's younger brother David agreed to join Perrigrine on the return to Salt Lake. They left Iowa in April 1850, well equipped for the journey, thanks to Sylvia’s new husband. They were accompanied on the return trip by a group of travelers on the way to California, attracted by the discovery of gold there. Perrigrine, an experienced traveler by that time, led the group safely to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, where they thanked him for his guidance thus far, and went on their way.

Meanwhile, in December 1849, Patty’s husband, David, told her that he had again received permission to take a plural wife, this time a nineteen year old woman, Harriet Teeples Wixom. At the end of July 1850, David had a stroke and came to Patty to be cared for. He died on 11 August and the next December Patty was called to assist in the birth of David and Harriet’s son. Patty tried to help Harriet, but relations between the two wives were strained and the baby died in 1851.

After her first husband’s death in the summer of 1850, Patty Bartlett Sessions’ diary entries indicate that she still continued the work ethic learned growing up in the Sunday River valley in Maine. Besides ministering to the sick and attending births as a midwife, Patty wrote of planting, weeding and harvesting her garden, tending her orchard, harvesting and drying the fruit in the fall, sewing and mending for herself and others, and knitting, spinning and weaving rag rugs. Sometimes she provided room and board for transients; they sometimes helped with fencing and cutting firewood, but one boarder left no money, only two kinds of bed bugs! In December 1851, Patty married again, and wrote in her diary that she was thankful to have a man to cut firewood for her. John Parry had come to the valley of the Great Salt Lake with a group of eighty-five Welsh converts in the 1849 emigration with the George A. Smith Company. John’s Welsh wife, Mary Williams, had died crossing the plains, but some of his children had come with him. The Welsh converts, with their Welsh choral singing tradition, were a great asset to the choir that sang for the Saint’s conference in Salt Lake City, where the new Tabernacle was dedicated on 11 April 1852. Brigham Young asked John Parry to direct the choir, and he continued in this work for some years. In 1865, George Careless, a talented musician who had studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, arrived in the Salt Lake settlement and was appointed “Chief Musician of the Church.” After John Parry’s death in 1868, Careless became the next director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

In September 1852, Perrigrine Sessions was sent on a mission to England. He arrived in Liverpool in January 1853. The missionary work of the Saints in England had been very successful; between 1849 and 1852, about 14,000 inhabitants had been added to the Utah territory population, many of them poor people who hoped for more opportunity in America than they had in England. Those who had no money were helped by the Perpetual Emigration Fund. When it became too expensive to provide wagon trains, many of the poorer families walked from Iowa City, where handcarts were built for them, and food was provided for the trip. Perrigrine’s health was poor during most of the time he spent in England, and he returned to the U.S. by steamboat instead of sailing vessel, leaving England on 2 March 1854, and arriving in Portland, Maine, on 17 March. He spent the night in Portland with a former Bethel resident, Orange Frost, then took the train to Bethel, where he stayed with one of his mother’s relatives. On Sunday morning, he went to a Methodist meeting at Middle Intervale, then visited Bartlett, Kilgore, and Sessions relatives in the area. Early in April, Perrigrine took the train to Portland, a boat to Boston, then train, boat, and stagecoach to Iowa City. This time his sister Sylvia was willing to go to Utah with Perrigrine. Sylvia’s husband, Ezekiel Clark, apparently respected her desire to be with her mother in Utah, and provided the equipment and supplies they needed for the trip. Sylvia’s daughter, Josephine, ten years old, and the three children she had with Ezekiel Clark, Perry, age 3, Phoebe, age 2, and Martha, less than a year old, went with her. Ezekiel asked her to send the boy, Perry, back in a few years for his education. This she did, but Perry returned to Utah in his adulthood and died there.

In March 1854, while Perrigrine was in Maine, John Perry told his wife Patty that he had Brigham Young’s permission to take a young, plural wife; although John had four sons and three daughters before leaving Wales, his marriage at age sixty-five to a thirty-two-year-old woman enabled him between 1855 and 1862 to father five more children, four boys and a girl. John Perry died in 1868; like David, he came home to be cared for in his last illness.

On 10 May 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific sections were joined with the driving of a golden spike at Promontory, Utah. The next year, Perrigrine accompanied his mother on a trip to Maine which she had left thirty three years ago. Her only living sibling by this time was her youngest brother, Enoch. She had hoped to entice him and his wife to join the Saints in Utah, but although he visited Patty, he and his wife chose to stay in Maine. However, in 1878, Patty sent $125 to pay for Enoch’s sons, Warinton and Herbert, to come to Utah, hoping their parents would follow. The boys arrived in October, joined the Latter-day Saints, and found work.

In December 1883, Patty dedicated the Patty Sessions Academy, a school she had commissioned and funded in Bountiful to provide educational opportunities for her grandchildren and others. After John Parry’s death, Patty sold her property in Salt Lake and had built a home for herself in Bountiful, near her children. Since Perrigrine Sessions had eight or nine wives, and fifty-four children, Patty had many grandchildren.

In March 1886, Perrigrine Sessions set out on his last trip to Maine, this time to obtain genealogical information. He arrived in Bethel on 29 March and found two feet of snow. He spent the night at Hiram Twitchell’s on lower Main Street and had dinner at noon with Charles Harris (father of Broad Street residents Hattie and John). On 1 April, he continued on to Newry, where he stayed with Elisha Bartlett in the home where his mother had lived as a child. In Newry, the snow was four feet deep in the woods. He visited some of the local industries—a furniture factory in Walker’s Mills, and Bartlett’s spool factory. On 23 May, he took the stage to Upton, and visited Levi Stone Heywood, who had expressed an interest in the Latter-day Saints. In June, Perrigrine returned to Levi Heywood’s. Levi had arranged for Perrigrine to talk with a Presbyterian minister about plural marriage. After hearing the debate, Levi and his wife were baptized in Abbott’s Mill Pond in Upton. In December 1889, Levi Stone Heywood and his wife arrived in Utah and were welcomed by Perrigrine’s wife Esther.

Patty’s last entry in her diary was in May 1888. She died in December 1892, and Perrigrine died 3 June 1893.

Editor’s note: The published version of Patty Bartlett Sessions’ diary and other historical resources relating to this article may be found in the Society’s Research Library.