History of Gilead by Dea. George W. Chapman


History of Gilead by Dea. George W. Chapman


The Bethel Courier, Vol. 1, Nos. 12, 14, 17, & 33






Full Text

History of Gilead

by Dea. George W. Chapman

George Whitefield Chapman (1780-1875)
Photo from William B. Lapham's History of Bethel (1891)

George Whitefield Chapman's "History of Gilead" was originally published in 1859 in the Bethel Courier (1858-1861) newspaper; the first of four chapters appeared in the issue of March 4 and the last on July 29 of that year. Chapman was inspired to "give a description of Gilead" by the writings of Dr. Nathaniel Tuckerman True (1812-1887), whose "History of Bethel" was serialized in the Bethel Courier from 1859 to 1861. Several years after his "History of Gilead" appeared in newspaper form, Chapman authored a small volume of verse entitled Brief History of Gilead, and Prose and Poetic Writings. At least three editions of this book, which contains a four-page sketch about Gilead and many acrostics, were issued in 1867. In an "Announcement" in the front of the book, Chapman wrote, "After becoming blind, I occupied much of my time and thoughts in forming the various suggestions of my mind into verse. My friends, hearing me repeat some of these, would request me to write an acrostic upon their names. To these I have generally complied, until the number is quite large. In all of these productions, I have endeavored to express the character of the persons, or some desire concerning them, upon whose names I have written." The son of Rev. Eliphaz Chapman, one of Bethel's most prominent early settlers, George W. Chapman was blessed with a memory for events that some considered "marvelous." A successful farmer and a leader in the Congregational Church, he was held in high regard by the citizens of nineteenth century Gilead and Bethel. Readers interested in learning more about George Whitefield Chapman are directed to the sketch of his life compiled by William B. Lapham for his 1891 History of Bethel. Note: The transcription below, made from copies of the Bethel Courier in the collection of the Bethel Historical Society, contains some minor changes in punctuation, capitalization, and spelling to improve readability; new material appears in square brackets [ ]. —Randall H. Bennett

HISTORY OF GILEAD - Chapter I (Bethel Courier, March 4, 1859)

Mr. Editor: I have been pleased to see in your valuable paper articles written by Dr. True, giving a description of Bethel, its first settlement, its growth, beauty, prosperity, etc., in his usual happy style of writing. Believing that it would be acceptable to you, and most of your readers, for me to follow his example, and give a description of Gilead, the town adjoining, and where I have passed most of my days, I shall make the attempt.

Being one of the first settlers in Gilead, and an inhabitant there for many years; and chosen one of the Selectmen, and an Assessor for several years in succession; it being my duty with others to examine, survey, and appraise its entire premises, is my only apology for attempting a description of it.

First, Gilead has some very prominent features, viz: its landscape, or scenery, which is seen by travellers miles before they reach its precincts. Tumbledown Dick, that grand rocky structure, whose height claims affinity with the clouds; and its front base skirts even the river's brink; while its rear is firmly connected with the grand chain of mountains which border our north line from east to west, with the silvery hue of waters of the Androscoggin flowing down at our feet with a resistless force,—But I forbear any further comment on this phenomenon of nature, and leave it to the artist to portray its beauty and deliver it to the world.

I now hasten to give you a more graphic description of our town as a farming spot. We are situated on the great Androscoggin River, and bounded as follows: on the east by Bethel, on the west by Shelburne, N.H., on the north by Riley Plantation, [and] on the south by Mason and Batchelder's [Grant]. According to our grant, we measure six miles long and three broad. By this survey, Gilead contains eleven thousand five hundred and twenty acres. It is divided by the Androscoggin River in about equal parts from west to east, by which means we have our large, rich intervales. The original proprietors laid out this land in ranges of lots, one hundred rods wide each, on the river, with the customary allowance for the sag of chain. By this division we number eighteen ranges on the north side of the river, the dividing lines running north twelve degrees, west to the town line. On the south side we number nineteen ranges, the dividing line running from the river south, twelve degrees east to the town line. Each range, on an average, contains from 300 to 350 acres, more or less, as the river may favor or clip by its course. These ranges generally partake more or less of the river intervales, also of the plain land adjoining: excellent for tillage. The remainder of those ranges lie back on the high lands, which is first rate for grazing. It will be seen at once that each of those ranges furnish a foundation for an excellent farm. Each settler purchased a full range and they need no chemical process to analyze the growing properties of these soils. All they need is to be properly dressed and cultivated, with the smiles of Providence, to insure a bountiful crop. I have raised on the same spot, corn, rye, wheat, oats and potatoes with equal success. Fruit trees grow remarkably well, when they have proper attention. In fine, all kinds of fruits, grains and plants may be grown in Gilead that can be grown in Oxford County, for this reason: that there is a variety of soil between the river and the mountain base, admirably adapted to the growth of different fruits and plants.

It is beautifully described in scriptural language "a land of hills and valleys, of brooks and fountains of waters," even "the upper and nether springs." This is emphatically true of Gilead minor. Professor Brown, in his Bible Dictionary, gives a description of ancient Gilead thus: "A noted ridge of mountains stretching almost all the way from Lebanon to the country of Moab, at some distance eastward from Jordan." The mountains of Gilead proper were noted for their spices, balm and myrrh; this is more than we can claim of Gilead minor; yet we have an excellent substitute. Our sugar maples, mountain cranberries, and large blue berries,

Our blueberry sauce, and cranberry tart,
And blessed maple honey too,
Refresh the taste, rejoice the heart,
And loss of appetite renew.

Our high cranberry jelly and maple honey, we found by experience, were very refreshing to our late sick sufferer. Those of my readers who are best acquainted with Gilead, will think I am only describing the north side of the river. But the description which has been given, with a slight variation, will equally apply to the south side. As to mountains, hills, valleys, brooks, springs and soils, they are much the same. As it respects privileges, as a whole, they are superior, as is every town lying upon the south side of the great Androscoggin, from its source to its terminus.

From this consideration, [it may be seen] that our main business is transacted on the south side of the river—more so since the Grand Trunk has stretched its line on the south side, through the town.

Hark! hark! the iron horse with power and speed
Comes neighing o'er this spacious line;
Freighted with articles we need,
To leave by way, exact on time.
This mighty steed with flaming breath,
Employed to force the cars along:
A great variety it hath—
To leave by way, when passing on.

So you see, sir, we have our market brought to us, instead of being obliged to go after it—a mighty contrast between the present and the past, when we had to wallow through the snow banks, and ascend those massy hills which lay between our homes and distant markets. Then our minor fruits, such as apples, potatoes, etc., were of but little value, except what was needed for domestic use; now they are staple articles, ready cash on delivery at our R. R. Stations, at a great advance above our former prices. You see by this, that Gilead is a place of business and privileges. And here I would close with a dash of the muse.

Hold on, dear reader, hear me through,
I'll soon relieve you of your pain,
The sugar maple first we'll view,
Surpassing China's sugar cane.

Great Androscoggin flowing down
With liquid silver at our feet,
Its banks with choicest fruits abound,
In great abundance all complete.

The cranberry meadow, too, we claim,
And to the beauteous cranberry tree,
The mountain cranberry not the same,
A rarer specimen you see.

Our massy hills and mountain rocks,
And waving forests ever green,
On the heights of which our blueberry spots,
Surpassing any e'er I've seen,

Our cattle to the mountain base,
Are drove to take their summer fare;
The prancing colt, for work, or race,
Is trotted off to pasture there.

And when to mountain Dick we steer,
To gather blueberries as you know,
We look on Bethel village near,
With all its beauty far below.

(Our distant readers are reminded that Dea. Chapman is now 78 years old and has been totally blind for several years.—Ed.)

George W. Chapman farm ("Chapman Homestead") at Gilead, Maine
From William B. Lapham's History of Bethel (1891)

HISTORY OF GILEAD - Chapter II (Bethel Courier, March 18, 1859)

First settlers, their names, and dates of their settlement—with some of their trials and afflicting providences,
which they were called to pass through, when but few in number.

Their names were Oliver Peabody, Enoch Messer, and Mr. [James] Pettengill, who was murdered by the brutal Indians, when they passed through the town with [Benjamin] Clark and [Nathaniel] Segar, captives, on their way to Canada. No individual was present to report the sad fate of poor Pettengill. His body remained in its blood, where he fell, till it was in an advanced state of putrefaction. After being discovered by the few inhabitants, they dug a grave near his remains, [and] placed him in it, for the time being. Years afterward, his remains were taken up, put in a coffin, and removed to a place located for a cemetery.

I have no means to give the exact dates of the first settlers, but there are circumstances that warrant me to believe that it was sometime between the years 1770-1780. One circumstance that convinces me that it was about this time is that in 1781 Indians passed through the town and killed Pettengill. Another is that Samuel Messer, said to be the first child born in Gilead, gave me his age, and said he was born in 1781.

Those first settlers were probably induced to go into the wilderness by a promise from the Proprietors of having their lands free, by doing a settlers duty—and that was, to clear a certain portion of land, build a house and barn, [and] move on as inhabitants, that others might be encouraged to come in, purchase lands and settle the town. In all probability, these first settlers performed their first labor some years before they moved their families on. The labors of these first settlers soon passed into other hands. Capt. Joseph Lary, Lieutenant Jonathan Lary, and Joseph Lary, Jr., all moved into Gilead in the year 1788-1789 and were the successors of those first settlers. David Blake and Enoch Messer, living in the same neighborhood—one on the west, the other on the east side of Wild River—were the only inhabitants living in Gilead at that time. Several years elapsed before any others moved into the town. The year 1792-1793, Thomas Peabody commenced a settlement where his sons, Thomas and Parmenio Peabody, now live. He made quite an opening, built a small framed house and barn, and before he was married, hired a Mr. Caesar and wife to labor for him. Unfortunately for them, the wife of Caesar died in her confinement. This disconcerted all their plans. As a kind Providence would have it, Mr. John Bennett, with his wife, moved into the place and took care for Mr. Peabody till he was married, which was about the year 1795. Near the same time, Mr. John Mason moved into the town, with a wife and three children, where Mr. Moses Mason, his son, now lives.

At this time, the greatest part of the large intervales were taken up on the south side of the river, and settlers began to look with wishful eyes on those large intervales on the north side. In the year 1796 there were no less than seven settlers that purchased a full range of lots each, viz. Eliphaz Chapman, John Swan, Ephraim Wight, John Bennett, William Lucas, Samuel Wheeler, and James Rogers. In 1798 there were three more, that might be called squatters, who commenced felling trees, without legal right, and left. Their names—Timothy Bennett, James Wiles and Andrew Gould. All this time everything appeared to be in a prosperous state. Soon after, a sad reverse took place, and their happiness was greatly disturbed by the death of three of the wives of the first settlers: two by consumption, Mrs. Blake and Mrs. Swan, and one in her confinement, Mrs. Lucas. This quite disheartened Swan and Lucas, and soon they closed up their concerns and left. Mr. Blake thought best to take another wife, and continue where he was. By the suggestion and advice of Capt. Hall of Brunswick, then a mill-man and lumber merchant, Blake built a mill on Wild River, and a dam across the same, influenced, perhaps, more by Hall's judgment than his own. Before he was ready to operate his mill, there came a Wild River freshet, and swept away a part of his dam. Blake, unwilling to give it up, invited his neighbors to render him assistance, to repair his dam, which they did. I was one that went, and continued till the last stick was in its place. After thorough gravelling, we hoped for the best. But lo! —the first winter freshet swept all away so that it was never repaired again. Blake survived this heavy loss and purchased a lot and mill privilege, now occupied by James Walker, Esq., in Bethel, and built the first mills that were ever erected there. Thus Blake proved himself to be a persevering and enterprising man.

View toward the northern Presidential Range from "Artists' Curve," Gilead
From S. B. Beckett's Guide Book of the Atlantic and St. Lawrence . . . (1853)

HISTORY OF GILEAD - Chapter III (Bethel Courier, April 8, 1859)

At this time, Gilead lands were much thought of by those who wished to be engaged in the farming and lumbering business; and settlers flocked in from different parts of the country with great rapidity, so that by 1803 almost the entire township was taken up—Aaron Peabody's tract excepted, which was kept out of the market by his father, Dea. John Peabody, of Bridgton, who designed it for his youngest son, Aaron, when he became of age, to improve as a farm for himself if he chose that occupation. Most of these men were permanent settlers; they were men of decision, perseverance and enterprise, wonderfully calculated to meet the hardships of a new settlement. They were much interested in each others prosperity, and kind and obliging to each other. Till about this time there was no road on the north side of the river from Bethel almost to the Shelburne line. Settlers had to make their own roads, which they soon did, and had a comfortable pass in winter from Shelburne to Bethel. They were much engaged in clearing the forest, cultivating their lands, "turning the wilderness into fruitful fields," and everything seemed to move on prosperously; still continuing to enlarge their fields, increase their flocks and herds; and the increase of their offspring appeared to keep pace with their other prosperity.

Now it is my duty to record a sad reverse of circumstances. Death has been permitted again to invade our ranks, and cut down the family of Isaac Adams, Esq., four in number, at a stroke, by being drowned, while he was absent. The circumstances were as follows: It will be remembered that Mr. Adams purchased his farm of Mr. Lucas, who immediately after the death of his wife moved to Canada. Mr. Adams' note now being due, and having two brothers and a sister living in that region, he was induced to go to redeem his notes and visit his brothers and sister—leaving his family and all things, as he supposed, perfectly safe at home in the care of Mr. Joseph Blodget. The circumstances of visiting prolonged his stay till late in April. On the 25th of April, Mr. Blodget, Mrs. Adams with her infant, her sister who was there on a visit, and a young girl named Sarah Bradley, twelve years of age, living with them, made a visit to Mr. Blodget's, the father of the young man, who lived on the opposite side of the river. They crossed over at what is called Lucas' landing; they ran the boat up the river about 40 or 50 rods to a temporary landing, which brought them much nearer to the house where they were to stop. After their visit, they all returned to the boat, the old gentleman accompanying them. This landing was a few rods above a rock, on which several logs had stopped, a short distance from the shore. After they were seated in the boat, the old gentleman set them afloat. His son appeared to hesitate whether it was best to go above the rock, or to fall in between the rock and the shore. By this momentary delay, they were forced by the current against the rock and all were plunged into the river together. Miss Lydia Twitchell, the sister of Mrs. Adams, only escaped by a miracle of mercy. By her exertions, and an unseen hand, she was enabled to gain the current (for she never sunk, as the others did), which was turned by the rock, and wafted her towards the shore, so that by the help of Mr. Blodget, who was left behind, she was rescued from her peril—while the others sunk and were lost.

This solemn and affecting providence soon sounded through the town, and the inhabitants, the next morning, gathered around the fatal spot, and those that had boats, brought them. There was constant and diligent search made for the bodies of the lost ones, but none were found, except the young man. The day had expired, and it was thought needless to make any further search on that ground. It was agreed upon, by all that lived below, to keep a careful lookout for the lost ones, especially about the time they might be expected to rise to the surface. In this way, their bodies were all found. The writer was present, and assisted in removing them from the water and conveying them to their graves.

Mr. Adams, on his return, came by the way of Jaffrey, N.H., his native place, and there visited his parents, brothers and sisters. He had heard nothing of this melancholy catastrophe till on his way home, at Fryeburg. As the news came unaccompanied with proof, he hoped it might not be true. But as he drew nearer to Bethel, he found it to be a fact. This was a melancholy reverse in his circumstances; he felt that he was bereaved of all his earthly comforts, as he told me. I lodged with him, at my father's, the night on which he returned, and it was a sleepless one with us both.

His wife, his bone and flesh;
And darling son, the same
Received arrest by death,
Was by the monster slain.

His subjects, man and maid;
They too, with them went down;
The king of terrors there displayed
His sceptre and his crown.

But Lydia dodged the dart,
Kind providence between;
Thus like a kinsman, true at heart,
Reclaimed her from the stream.

This was a grievous affliction, but Mr. Adams was enabled to sustain the heavy shock. He had spent much money to provide a situation on which to remain. He therefore thought it best to marry again soon, which he did, to Miss Olive Wright, a cousin to his former wife. He was fortunate in this connection. His wife possessed a sympathizing, amiable disposition, and was a happy companion, an affectionate, tender mother and a kind neighbor. Mr. Adams was a kind, provident husband, and indulgent father, and an obliging neighbor. They had nine children—five sons and four daughters—and he lived to see them all settled pleasantly. He was much interested in business [and] made great improvements on his farm. I lived by him, as a neighbor through his life, and was with him the day of his death.

Bridge over the Wild River, near Gilead village
From S. B. Beckett's Guide Book of the Atlantic and St. Lawrence . . . (1853)

HISTORY OF GILEAD - Chapter IV (Bethel Courier, July 29, 1859)

Capt. Eliphalet Burbank, of Bradford, Mass., was taken suddenly with "down east" fever; he therefore repaired thither immediately to seek him a situation for a farm. He soon arrived at Bethel, Me., on the valley of the Great Androscoggin. After introducing the subject and making inquiries where there were intervale farms for sale, a large farm of Lieut. Lary's, in Gilead, was recommended to him. He and his company, Capt. Bagley and Samuel Barker (afterward Dea. Barker of Bethel), went immediately to Lieut. [Jonathan] Lary's to see his farm. After making known his business, he was cheerfully received and politely shown the entire premises, with which Burbank was fully satisfied, it being just what he wanted—a grand, intervale farm, about the best in town. Lary being quite as well pleased with his customer, they soon made a bargain, and all returned to Bethel to have the writings made out. Accordingly, they sent word to my father [Rev. Eliphaz Chapman] to be at home, for they should call upon him in the afternoon. For that purpose, I therefore met them at the river, according to appointment. They being strangers, I addressed them, "Servant, gentlemen, you wish to cross the river, I presume?" "Yes," was the response. "Please to get on board, gentlemen, and I will ferry you over." "I don't know," was the reply; "your boat looks rather small for such a load—five of us in all. Why not take this large boat? We have an experienced ferryman with us, right from the Merrimac, and we will do our own ferrying." "Yes, gentlemen, you can have the boat, but I always avoid it when I can. If you will get on board my boat I will warrant you safe across." They still preferred the large boat, and they all got on board of it. I turned and left them at the rate of nine knots. In a moment more, I heard an outcry. I immediately faced about, and lo! they were all in the river, every one in swimming plight! I hastened to their assistance, and gave them the second invitation. Lary and Burbank accepted, but Bagley and Barker persisted in doing their own ferrying; so we all arrived safe to land on the opposite shore, and I congratulated them on their wonderful escape from being drowned.

We soon after arrived at the place of destination. My father being all prepared, soon executed the above mentioned papers, and Burbank and his company returned to their lodgings by the way of Mason's ferry [and] crossed in his new barge, the first that ever plied between those shores, now Twitchell's ferry. Mr. Barker, at the same time, purchased a farm of Daniel Clark, now occupied by his youngest son, Francis Barker, near to said ferry. [Afterwards,] they all immediately returned to their respective homes in Massachusetts to report their wonderful speculation. Burbank, with his son Jedediah, came back shortly to Gilead to gather in his harvest, and to make an addition to his house, then left for home again. We heard nothing more from him, till February following, when he came rushing in upon us, like an armentose, with a family of children, six sons and two daughters. He had a team of six oxen and three horses; his other cattle [were] three cows and a bull, all of the Bradford breed. He brought with him not only his household furniture, but also his farming utensils, to be ready for farming operations as soon as the season would permit. Capt. E. Burbank was a smart, enterprising man, and well understood the farming profession. [He] always led off in his own business and had his work done in season. He made yearly improvements on his large farm. Of course, his income increased yearly. He was a man that strictly observed the Sabbath, always ready to aid moral and religious enterprises. His doors were ever open to Minister and Missionaries. In fine, Capt. Burbank was a worthy citizen, a kind and obliging neighbor, a good husband, and a tender and affectionate father. He came into Gilead in 1802 and died in 1816, much lamented by all his friends and acquaintances. He was seasonably apprised of his approaching dissolution, to make a suitable distribution of his property among his children, leaving to his wife a competency for her full support during life. Mrs. Burbank made a public profession of religion by uniting with the Church in Gilead in 1818, and her profession of faith in Christ was exemplified by her daily walk and conversation, till her death. [Finis.]