The History of Gilead: Address of Prof. A. J. Roberts
The History of Gilead
Address of Prof. A. J. Roberts
Grand Trunk Railway station, Gilead, circa 1895
Gilead, Me. July 14 (Special) — The chief feature of the formal program today, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the town of Gilead, was the historical address by Prof. Arthur J. Roberts of Colby College. Prof. Roberts spoke as follows:
The material progress of the nineteenth century eclipsed that of any previous century. This progress was notable throughout the civilized world, but the most extraordinary manifestations of it were displayed in this country. It was due primarily to the fact that two hitherto unused natural forces, steam and electricity, were enlisted in the service of man. These forces made possible the development of the resources of the world and furnished the means of distributing the products of mine and mill, of field and forest, among mankind. Had it not been for the discovery of the manifold uses of steam and electricity, industrial operations of almost every sort would still be conducted on a small scale and with primitive appliances.
The agricultural development of the great middle West, for example, would have been absolutely impossible had it not been for steam transportation, which brought the corn field and wheat field within easy reach of markets 2,000 or 10,000 miles away. Any of the great industries that flourish today would in such conditions as obtained a century ago speedily cease to exist. Unaided either by steam or electricity, ingenuity and inventiveness could avail but little. Unless there are still other natural forces, as yet undiscovered, which may be subdued to man's will and made his servants, it is safe to predict that the nineteenth century will never be surpassed in point of relative material advance by any century to come. It is not at all unlikely that a thousand years from now men will look back on the century just closed as the era in which the human race made its most important beginnings of that final and complete conquest of the material world, which we believe the future is to bring.
The progress of the nineteenth century in social, political and religious lines is not so easy to determine. Perhaps it is too soon to attempt it. We stand too near events to appreciate their significance. We cannot see the woods for the trees. As we read of strikes and riots and lynchings, of the lawlessness of capital and of labor, of regiments of millionaires and armies of tramps, of bosses and boodlers in politics, of the breaking down of ancient faiths and the loss of ideals which the fathers cherished—as we read of all this it sometimes seems as if we were going backward and not forward. A bit of driftwood caught in a swirling eddy looks as if it were going up stream, but all the time the resistless current of the river is bearing it toward the sea. So what seems to us to be retrogression in the social, political and religious life of America may be but circling eddies on the surface of the mighty stream of progress moving steadily onward.
The nineteenth century, and especially the last third of it, was remarkable for the development of educational facilities. Colleges and other higher institutions of learning multiplied and displayed marvelous growth in numbers and wealth. Increasingly vast sums were spent for the support of common schools. A longer school year, better trained teachers, ampler equipment, enriched courses of study—all this, and more besides, the nineteenth century saw accomplished in the field of public education. But advance is not everywhere apparent. In this town, for example, there were, fifty or seventy-five years ago, five or six schoolhouses full of children; today two schoolhouses have each a handful. The present buildings and teachers are no doubt better than those of earlier times, but, after all, there is nothing so necessary to the success of the schools as plenty of children. All the modern improvements in education but poorly compensate the district school for the departed glory of its overflowing numbers.
In 1772 Oliver Peabody and John Peabody, Jr., of Andover, Mass., and John Bodwell and Samuel Bodwell of Methuen petitioned the legislature of the province of Massachusetts for permission to purchase at a fair price and upon reasonable conditions a tract of land on the Androscoggin River west of Sudbury Canada (Bethel). One of these petitioners, Capt. John Peabody, fought at Louisburg and Ticonderoga, and the others may have served in the provincial army; but it is evident that in their address to the legislature they did not refer to any services to the province which should entitle them to special consideration. They wished to buy the land, probably with no intention of settling upon it themselves, but for purposes of speculation or for the satisfaction of the land hunger so common among early New Englanders. The following transcript from the court records in the Massachusetts archives gives an abstract of the petition and the reply of the legislature:
June 30, 1772. A Petition of Oliver Peabody and John Peabody, jun. of Andover, John Bodwell and Samuel Bodwell of Methuen—Setting forth—That there is a Tract of Province Land on Androscoggin River adjoining to the Westerly part of a township granted to Capt. Fuller and others, of four miles one way and three miles the other which is so Situated as that no Township can be now had there so as to include it. And praying that the same may be granted to them for such Sum of Money and upon such Conditions as this Court shall order.
In the House of Representatives. Resolved that the prayer of this Petition be granted, and that the Petitioners have liberty to lay out the Land prayed for at the westerly end of a Township granted to Josiah Richardson, Esq. and others on both sides of the Androscoggin River as far westward as the Land will admit so as not to interfere with any former Grant or with private property, and that they return a plan thereof taken by a Surveyor and Chainman on Oath to this Court within twelve months from the first day of July 1772 for confirmation. And that they also give Bond with sufficient sureties to the Province Treasurer or his successor to settle the same with fifteen Families, each of which within six years from the return of the plan to have built a good House of twenty feet by eighteen and seven feet stud and have cleared for pasturage or tillage five Acres each; that they also out of the premises grant one hundred Acres for the first Ordained Protestant Minister, one hundred Acres for the Ministry and one hundred Acres for the use of a School, within said Grant; and further that they give Bond with sufficient sureties to the Treasurer to pay to him or his successor for the use of the Province such a Sum of Money as the Land to plan shall contain shall amount to, at the rate of three hundred pounds for a Township of the Contents of six miles square within one year from the confirmation of the Grant.
In Council, Read and Concurred.
Consented to by the Governor.
In accordance with the directions of the legislature, the petitioners prepared such a plan and the following year presented it for final acceptance and confirmation. The survey showed that the tract contained a little over 6,000 acres, besides about 4,000 acres of river and mountain which the petitioners were not expected to pay for. At the rate fixed by the legislature, £300 for each six miles square, the purchase price of what came to be called Peabody's Patent was a little more than £80, or about $400. The results of the survey, the conditions of the sale, and the price to be paid are set forth in the following transcript from the court records:
June 19, 1773
In the House of Representatives—Resolved that the plan annexed of the contents of six thousand two hundred and twenty-six Acres exclusive of three thousand nine hundred and fifty six Acres and thirty one pole contained in Mountains and Rivers, laid out pursuant to a Grant made to Oliver Peabody and John Peabody Jun. of Andover, John Bodwell and Samuel Bodwell of Methuen June 27, 1772, lying at the westerly end of a Township granted to Josiah Richardson Esq. and others, bounded at the Southwesterly corner with a large high Rock on the eastwardly line of a Township called Shelburne, thence on said line North eight degrees east by the needle three hundred and twenty pole to Androscoggin River, then crossing said River and continuing the same course till eight hundred and seventy two pole be completed from the Rock aforesaid to a Spruce tree marked P B, thence East by the needle one thousand six hundred and fifty four pole to a hemlock tree marked P B, thence South twenty degrees East three hundred and seventy pole to the Northwest corner of a Township granted to Josiah Richardson aforesaid, thence on the same course crossing the westerly end of an Island in said River five hundred and ninety pole to a Beach tree marked P B, thence West by the needle over a large mountain two thousand and eighty pole to the Rock first mentioned, be accepted and hereby is confirmed to the aforesaid Oliver Peabody, John Peabody, Jun., John Bodwell & Samuel Bodwell their Heirs and Assigns forever; provided they give Bond with sufficient sureties to the Province Treasurer or his successor to settle the same with fifteen families, each of which within six years from the date hereof to have built a good House of twenty feet by eighteen and seven feet stud and have cleared for pasturate or tillage five Acres each; that they also out of the premises grant one hundred Acres for the first ordained Protestant Minister, one hundred Acres for the Ministry and one hundred Acres for the use of a School within said Grant and further that they give Bond with sufficient sureties to the Treasurer to pay him or his successor for the use of the province the sum of eighty pounds, one shilling and seven pence within one year from the date hereof; provided also that it doth not exceed the quantity of six thousand two hundred and twenty six Acres exclusive of three thousand nine hundred and fifty six Acres of Mountains and Rivers as aforesaid nor interfere with any former Grant.
In Council, read and concurred.
Consented to by the Governor.
One very important condition of the sale the purchasers certainly did not fulfill, [was] that of settling the Patent within six years with fifteen families. In some way, however, they managed to hold the land, perhaps by securing an extension of time; though in either case we should expect to find some entry in the Massachusetts court records in regard to it. But there is no reference to Peabody's Patent between 1773, the year of the sale, and 1804, the year of the incorporation of the town. It is perhaps not unreasonable to suppose that in the political disturbances of the time the affairs of the province were rather loosely administered, and that these owners of a wilderness tract were allowed to remain in undisturbed possession, although they had failed to meet a very important condition of their purchase.
Gilead, from the 1880 Atlas of Oxford County, Maine
In Williamson's History of Maine there is an extract from a manuscript letter of Abraham Burbank, Esq., containing some interesting information about the earliest settlement of Peabody's Patent. He wrote that the Patent had in it two families in 1781, but that both the men were killed by Indians on August 4 of that year. The hostile raid of Canadian Indians, in the employ of the British, which resulted in the death of these two pioneer settlers and in the captivity of Segar and the Clarks of Sudbury Canada is described at length in Segar's autobiographical pamphlet published at Paris [Maine] in 1823, and reprinted in Lapham's History of Bethel. Segar says that on the 3d of August, 1781, there came six Indians armed with guns, tomahawks and scalping knives. Segar, Lieut. Johnathan Clark and Capt. Eleazar Twitchell, working together in a clearing, were taken prisoners by five of these Indians, carried to Clark's house—which was near by—and securely bound. While the Indians were plundering the house, the sixth Indian appeared with another prisoner, Capt. Benjamin Clark. Before the march for Canada was begun, Capt. Twitchell managed to break away from his captors and successfully eluded pursuit. The Indians loaded their three captives with the plunder and with them late in the afternoon started up the valley. When they had gone two or three miles darkness came on and they were obliged to camp for the night. What happened the next day in Peabody's Patent may best be recounted in Segar's own words:
Early in the morning we were ordered to travel up the river. We came to a place called Peabody's Patent, now Gilead. We went to a house owned by Mr. James Pettingill. He was at a little distance from his house, when we came to it. He was making towards the house, but, seeing the Indians at the house, he stopped. The Indians discovered him and called to him to come to them; and he did. They then searched the house, and they found some sugar and in a tub some cream. They put the sugar into the tub of cream, and they fell to eating like hogs, but they gave us none to eat. Mrs. Pettingill and a number of children were in the house, but they received no abuse from them. After a short stay here the Indians told Mr. Pettingill that he must go with them to Canada. He told them he had no shoes. They searched the house, but they found none. They then told him that he might tarry at home, but charged him not to leave the house. We went on, I should suppose, a mile or more, and we were ordered to stop. Two of the Indians went back, and soon returned, and Mr. Pettingill with them; we traveled some distance together. On a sudden, Mr. Pettingill was missing. I thought they had sent him back; but they killed him about half a mile from his house. Some days after, his wife discovered his dead body in the bushes where they had left it. Mr. Joseph Greely Swan, with several others from Bethel, went and buried him.
Segar goes on to say that after this melancholy event the party went on to Shelburne, N.H., and visited the house of Mr. Hope Austin, who had the good fortune not to be at home. They continued their march for several miles and came to the house of Capt. Rindge. A man by name of Poor, evidently employed by Capt. Rindge, was killed and scalped by the Indians as he was on his way to his work in the field. At this point the party left the Androscoggin River and started across country for Canada.
Now what conclusions are to be drawn from the letter of Abraham Burbank and Segar's account of the Indian raid? It seems clear that of the two men killed by the Indians only one lived in Peabody's Patent. If there had been any other settler in the Patent at this time it is reasonable to suppose that the Indians would have made him a visit, for the habitation of any such settler must have been in the narrow valley of the Androscoggin, right in the path of the returning raiders. Segar evidently describes all the visits the band made on their way up the river, and there was but one in Peabody's Patent. The fact that Pettingill was buried by men from Sudbury Canada [Bethel] would seem to prove that after the death of Pettingill there was no man left in the Patent. It is clear, then, that in 1781 there was but one family in Peabody's Patent and that this Mr. Pettengill was the first settler in what is now the town of Gilead. Where he came from, of whom he bought his land, whether any descendants of his are now living, we do not know. But there can be no doubt that the first white man to fell the forest and make a home in this township was this pioneer who met his tragic fate one summer day a hundred and twenty-three years ago.
The next document relating to Peabody's Patent bears the date of 1791. It is a plan of the Patent drawn from a survey made in that year. The land is divided into thirty-six ranges of about equal area. Three of these are undivided and nine are owned by a Mr. Garish, to whom the Bodwells had evidently sold their share of the tract. The remaining twenty-four ranges are assigned to five Peabodys: to Stephen, six; to Capt. Richard, one; to Richard, six; to Capt. John, seven; to John, four. It is evident that these are all non-resident land owners, and it may well be doubted if at this time—1791—there was a single settler in the Patent. The name of Garish does not appear among those of the incorporators or in the early records of the town of Gilead, and the first Peabodys to settle here were Thomas—son of one of the original patentees—who came from Bridgton [Maine] in 1798, and Jonathan, who settled here at about the same time and who with his two sons, Oliver and Amos, was among the incorporators.
Deacon George W. Chapman in his interesting and valuable autobiographical sketch published in 1867 describes the early pioneer days in this region. "In February, 1791," he writes, "when I was eleven years old, my father journeyed to Bethel from Methuen, Mass., with two two-horse teams, with all his family and effects, passing through the towns of York, Gorham, Bridgton, Waterford and Albany. From the latter place there was no traveled road, and but one horse-team had ever passed over the ground before; and that one, the same winter, but a short time previous. This route could not have been traversed in the summer, as we followed the low lands, ponds and streams, they being frozen and covered with snow. We found a few families settled along the south banks of the Androscoggin, in Bethel, all of whom came here on foot, and brought their effects on horseback, on handsleds, or on their own backs. There were three families only on the north side of the river, at this time, from Bethel to the New Hampshire line. . . . My father went to Bethel the year before, and cleared up a few acres of land, put in some crops, and built a log house twenty feet square, all in one room, which constituted the domicile for his whole family for some time, when a partition was put up to make a sleeping room. This building we occupied for four or five years, when he built a small frame house with two rooms. When I was twenty-one years of age I purchased a farm about four miles further up the river, in the town of Gilead, which I cleared and cultivated for three years, making my home at my father's. . . . We were pioneers in that country, and suffered many hardships, which people of today, in any part of the State of Maine, know nothing about by experience. There were no roads, making traveling very tedious and often dangerous, in crossing streams and rivers. We often had to go fifteen and twenty miles to mill, with ox teams. Portland, seventy miles distant, was the nearest market to sell our produce, and buy our supplies, such as salt, tea, molasses, cotton goods, furniture, lime, etc., requiring four days' travel, and expenses on the road, which made the avails of a loaded team very small before we arrived home. The country was infested with bears, and many an exciting story might be told concerning them. Previous to our going there, serious conflicts had taken place with the Indians, and some were straggling about the region for many years. Sometimes the people were greatly alarmed by the report of a gun, or other cause, but no injury was actually done by them after we went there."
In 1800 there were settled in Peabody's Patent twelve or fifteen families. According to the census of that year, the population was sixty-eight. In 1804, the number of families had increased to twenty, and the need of highways and bridges and schools began to be imperative. The incorporation of the plantation into a town was necessary to enable its inhabitants to raise money for these various community uses. The following petition was presented to the legislature of Massachusetts in 1804:
To the honorable Senate and House of representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in General Court assembled. We your petitioners inhabitants of Peabody's Patent respectfully represent. That the Proprietors of sd Patent were not obliged by the conditions of their Grant to build a House for public Worship nor settle a Minister nor make or maintain any Public Road through Sd Patent, and we at present are destitute of all those Priviledges as also of the means of raising Money for the support of Schools for the education of our Children which we view of the highest importance not only to ourselves but the Community at large. The number of our inhabitants does not exceed twenty Families which extending from one extremity of this Plantation to the other renders it indispensably necessary that a road be made and maintained on each side of the Androscoggin River not only for our own convenience but for the Accomodation of People who are settled above us on sd River and have no possibility of getting to Sea Port but by passing through this Plantation. Another Consideration which calls for our attention to the Roads is to incourage the Travel from Newhampshire. The Legislature of that State have caused a road to be made at a great expence from uper Coos on Connecticut River which leading towards Portland passes through Newhampshire and arrives at the District of Mane at the Westerly Line of this Plantation At which place they find their Travel totally impeded and their designs frustrated which occasions very loud and just complaints which under our present disorganized situation we are incapable of alleviating. Sd road in passing through this Plantation will necessarily pass a very rapid Stream called wild River which at certain seasons of the year rushes from the Mountains with such impetuosity as to render it impassible in any manner whatever. A Bridge must of course be erectid over sd River at an expense that will for several Years require the united efforts of the Inhabitants and Nonresident Proprietors to accomplish. Under our numerous embarassments we are induced to address the Honourable Legislature and lay before them our greavances with a pleasing hope that they in their Wisdom will think fit to grant that this Plantation may be incorporated into a Town by the name of Gilead agreeably to the Plan herewith annexed with all the rights and priviledges which other Incorporate[d] Towns in this Commonwealth enjoy and with the Indulgance of being exempted from State and County Taxes for the term of eight years flatering ourselves that by that Period that with the smiles of Providence and our own exertions we shall be enabled in a good measure to discharge our heavy burdens and that our Population will increase to a degree that will enable us to contribute our share towards the support of Government. And your petitioners as in Duty bound shall ever pray.
Joseph Lary Jr.
Stephen Coffin jun
The petition was granted, and June 23, 1804, Peabody's Patent became the town of Gilead. The first town meeting was held October 24, 1804. Thomas Peabody, Eliphalet Burbank and Isaac Adams were chosen selectmen. The valuation of the town was assessed at $6065. There were twenty-five resident tax payers. The tax collector of Gilead for 1904 must, I am sure, be tempted to wish he had been a century earlier, for at that first town meeting it was voted "to let out the collectorship to the lowest bidder at vendue, which was put up and struck off to Ephraim Wight for nine cents on a dollar." At the March meeting in 1805 the town voted $36 for the support of schools, and for several years that was the amount of the annual appropriation for this purpose.
In 1812, the beginning of war with England gave rise to rumors of a hostile incursion of Canadian Indians, like that of 1781, and a town meeting was called "to see if the town will take some measures to defend itself against her Savage Enemy in case of invasion." It was voted to choose Ephraim Wight as an agent "to go forth and purchase 20 pounds of powder, 80 pounds of lead and 100 flints for the purpose of defending the town against her Savage Foe."
In the summer of 1811 a special town meeting was called to see what action the town would take in regard to building a bridge across Wild River. It was voted at that meeting to build the bridge and pay for it in neat stock and bread corn. The next year, 1812, it was thought unwise to build it "under the existing state of National Affairs." In 1813 the bridge was built. At every town meeting for a good many years after, the bridge came up for discussion. Every spring the river showed its resentment at the efforts made to tame its wildness, and the bridge had to be rebuilt or repaired every summer. At a town meeting held in 1826 for the purpose of arranging for a purchase of necessary materials for the rebuilding of the bridge, the sum of twenty dollars and twenty-five cents was appropriated for thirty-two gallons of New England rum, and the next year it was found that fifteen gallons more would be necessary to complete the bridge. For forty years the Wild River was a constant source of trouble and expense, but it gave the townspeople rather frequent opportunities to consume strong drink at public cost. The growth of temperance sentiment in the town is shown by the fact that in 1858 when the first prohibitory law was submitted to the people, every vote in Gilead was recorded in its favor.
The question of separation from Massachusetts was submitted to the voters of the District of Maine in 1815, in 1816, and in 1819. Gilead voted each time for separation, though there were a half dozen voters who steadily opposed it. Eliphaz Chapman was the town's delegate to the constitutional convention held at Portland in 1819.
The town had no settled minister until 1828. It is recorded in the town clerk's records that "A legal town meeting was held November third, 1828, for the purpose of trying a vote to see if the town would settle Rev'd Henry White over them as their minister for five years and they united in voting for his settlement without any opposition and chose James Burbank, Eliphalet Adams and Timothy Wight a committee of arrangements at the installment." The amount of the minister's salary is not given, but in the warrant calling the town meeting it is stated that Mr. White is to be supported "by having one hundred dollars paid each year by the Missionary Society and the remainder by our funds and as before mentioned in our late subscription paper." The settlement was not renewed by the town and the term of Mr. White's ministry ended in 1833. He was the only minister to be settled by the town in the corporate capacity.
In Willey's Incidents in White Mountain History, published in , is an interesting sketch of the early religious life of Gilead. The material for the sketch was evidently furnished by Rev. Daniel Goodhue, who served as a supply at different times when there was no settled minister in town. After naming some of the incorporators of the town, the author writes:
They were all exemplary, good men, giving a character of energy to the place. They regarded religious institutions, and helped sustain them by their property and example. They were a church-going people, always attending the worship of God on the Sabbath. From the earliest time of its settlement it has enjoyed more or less steadily the preaching of the Gospel. Before any Christian church was planted in it, it had a succession of missionaries, sent from different sources, who were instrumental of great religious benefit to the people. Among these were the Rev. Jotham Sewall, or, as he is often called, Father Sewall, and the Rev. Samuel Hidden of Tamworth. In 1818, as a result of the great revival in which one or both [of] the heads of almost every family in town were hopefull converted, a Congregational church was formed consisting of Melvin Farwell and wife, Abraham Burbank and wife, Widow Susannah Burbank, Betsey Philbrook, John Mason, Jr., H. Ingalls, Rhoda Stiles, Mary Peabody, and Ephraim and Seth Wight. This church sometimes through its own efforts and sometimes in connection with Shelburne, has had preaching most of the time since its formation. Its regularly settled pastors have been Rev. Henry White and Rev. Henry Richardson. Besides these, Rev. Daniel Goodhue and others have been supplies for different portions of the time. There is a Methodist church, also, which has been instrumental of great religious and moral benefit to the place.
There is much that might be written of the later history of the town. From 1861 to 1865 Gilead showed that the self-sacrificing spirit of the pioneers was still alive, and sent almost a third of her men of voting age to the defense of the Union. In 1872 the suspension bridge across the Androscoggin River was built and the two halves of the town were cemented together. The industrial development of the town, the great changes in the conditions of rural life so notably exemplified here, the growing recognition of the attractions of Gilead as a place of summer residence, all deserve the attention of the historian of these later years. Gilead is today prosperous beyond most farming communities. It has an honorable past. It faces a bright future. May we emulate the virtues of those "exemplary good men" whose work we are celebrating today, that their legacy of moral and religious energy and strength may be handed on unimpaired to coming generations.