Gilead, Maine: Exploring Its Past

Gilead village

Gilead village looking west, circa 1898, with present-day Route 2 at center

Visit the Gilead Historical Society's website

From the Bethel Historical Society's collections:

George W. Chapman's 1859 History of Gilead

Benjamin G. Willey's "Gilead" chapter, from his 1856 book,
Incidents in White Mountain History

"Gilead's Centennial To-Day"
Lewiston Evening Journal, July 14, 1904

"The History of Gilead" by Prof. Arthur J. Roberts
Lewiston Evening Journal, July 14, 1904

The Courier, newsletter of the Bethel Historical Society:

Emeline V. Heath's Gilead Memories

Daisy Peabody's Mountain Days

History of Gilead
by Dea. George W. Chapman

George W. ChapmanGeorge 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.)

Chapman Homestead

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.]

Back to Top

Chapter XVI from Benjamin G. Willey's
Incidents in White Mountain History (1856)

Benjamin WilleyBenjamin G. Willey (1795-1867)
Portrait from Bent's Bibliography of the White Mountains (1911)

Situation of Gilead
— Soil — Wild River — Early Settlers — Ministers — First Church — Slide — Bears — Encounter of One Bean — York's Warm Reception by a Bear — Oliver Peabody's Loose Ox — Famine Among Bears — Bear and Hog Story — Horrible Tragedy

Gilead, formerly called Peabody's Patent, took its name from a great Balm of Gilead tree, still standing near the centre of the town.  It lies on both sides of the Androscoggin River, which runs through its entire length from east to west, the town being six miles long, and three wide.  On the borders of this river is some of the best land in the region, producing very bountiful crops.  One farm, some years since, under the cultivation of a very skillful, industrious farmer, when a premium was offered by the State of Maine for the best crop of wheat on a given portion of land, secured the premium.  Large crops of corn and potatoes have been raised on it.  Some of the former have equaled one hundred bushels to the acre.  The more usual crop is from forty to sixty bushels.  Potatoes have gone up as high as one thousand six hundred bushels to the acre; and one man, for a number of years in succession, raised one thousand five hundred bushels to the acre.
    The town is so situated as to escape almost entirely the early frosts of autumn.  Ranges of high mountains bound the valley in which it is situated, completely shutting it in on the east and west.  A continual current of air is thus formed, preserving the crops in the valley and on the hillsides, while the frost is busily at work in the adjoining towns.  Shaggy and rude in the extreme are the mountains which so completely wall in this fertile valley.  One has remarked that "the expense of transportation of fuel down the mountains, in a slippery time, is very trifling."
    Wild River, one of those impetuous mountain streams, empties into the Androscoggin in this town.  "It is a child of the mountains; at times fierce, impetuous and shadowy, as the storms that howl around the bald heads of its parents, and bearing down everything that comes in its path; then again, when subdued by long summer calms, murmuring gently in consonance with the breezy rustle of the trees, whose branches depend over it.  An hour's time may swell it into a headlong torrent; an hour may reduce it to a brook that a child might ford without fear."
    This town was settled about the time Shelburne was, whose brief history we have just given [in a previous chapter].  The settlers came generally from Massachusetts and the southern part of New Hampshire.  They were Thomas Peabody, Capt. Joseph Lary, Isaac Adams, Eliphalet Chapman, Capt. Eliphalet Burbank, George Burbank, Ephraim and Seth Wight, John Mason, Stephen Coffin, and Samuel Wheeler.  After this, soon came Phineas Kimball, Henry Philbrook, Peter Coffin, and Joseph Lary, Jr.  These 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, 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 Styles, 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 those, Rev. Daniel Goodhue and others have been supplies for different portions of time.  There is a Methodist church, also, which has been instrumental of great religious and moral benefit to the place.
    During the terrible storm of 1826, when my brother's [Samuel Willey] family was destroyed at the [Crawford] Notch, slides also took place on many of the mountains in this town.  From Picked Hill came rushing down thousands of tons of earth, and rocks, and trees, and water, destroying all that lay in their path.  No lives were lost, but the consternation of the inhabitants was great.  The darkness was so intense as almost to be felt.  The vivid lightnings and long streams of fire, covering the sides of the mountains, caused by the concussion of the rocks, only served to make the darkness more visible.  Amid the deluge of rain, the terrific crashings of the thunder, and, over all, the deafening roar of the descending slides, it was impossible to make one's self heard.  The valley rocked as though an earthquake was shaking the earth.  The frightful scene did not last long; but, during its continuance, more terror was crowded into it than during an ordinary lifetime.  The inhabitants under these mountains alone can appreciate the awful scene through which my brother and his family passed on that terrible night.
    This region has been very much infested with bears, especially during the summer months.  Many live now on the mountains, preventing entirely the raising of sheep.  Though much of the land, especially on the mountains, is well adapted to grazing, still it is never safe to trust sheep and young stock far from the settlements.  So late as the summer of 1852, a most desperate encounter took place between one of the farmers in this vicinity and a large black bear of the white-face breed—the most savage of that variety.
    A Mr. Bean was at work in his field, accompanied by a boy twelve years of age.  The bear approached him, and having his gun with him, charged for partridges, he fired, but with little effect.  The bear bore down upon him; he walked backwards, loading his gun at the same time, when his foot caught by a twig, which tripped him up, and the bear leaped upon him.  He immediately fired again, but with no visible effect.  The bear at once went to work,—seizing his left arm, biting through it, and lacerating it severely.  While thus amusing himself, he was tearing with his fore paws the clothes, and scratching the flesh on the young man's breast.  Having dropped his arm, he opened his huge mouth to make a pounce at his face.  Then it was that the young man made the dash that saved his life.  As the bear opened his jaws, Bean thrust his lacerated arm down the brute's throat, as far as desperation would enable him.  There he had him!  The bear could neither retreat nor advance, though the position of the besieged was anything but agreeable.  Bean now called upon the lad to come and take from his pocket a jack-knife and open it.  The boy marched up to the work boldly.  Having got the knife, Bean with his untrammeled hand cut the bear's throat from ear to ear, killing him stone dead, while he lay on his body!  It was judged the bear weighed nearly four hundred pounds.  One of his paws weighed two pounds eleven ounces.
    The earlier annals of this town are full of adventure, nearly equaling this in daring and bravery.  The older inhabitants can recall many a scene of thrilling interest which took place within sight of their very cabins.
    A man by the name of York, living in the woods, one day came rather suddenly upon a full-grown bear.  They both stopped and looked each other steadily in the face.  Neither seemed disposed to retreat.  The bear bade defiance in her look, and York did the same.  An encounter seemed unavoidable, partly because he dare not retreat now if he might, and partly because he had the pluck not to do it if he could.  So they both addressed themselves to the battle.  The bear raised herself on her hind feet, standing upright, and spread her fore legs to receive her antagonist.  York responded by opening his arms, and a close grip succeeded.  Then followed a struggle for dear life, the issue of which no one could have decided but for one circumstance.  York had the advantage in it from having an open, long-bladed jack-knife in his right hand when he commenced.  This, of course, he used in the best way he could, not stopping to ask whether it was fair or not.  Making a little extra exertion on the first good opportunity, he drew the blade across the bear's throat, and she relaxed her hold and soon bled to death.  The victory was his.
    One dark night Mr. Oliver Peabody, living in a log hut, was disturbed by his cattle in the hovel near by.  Supposing that one of them had broken from his fastening, and was goring the rest, he rose from his bed, and, with nothing on but his night-dress, ran towards the hovel to search out the cause of the trouble.  As he came to the entrance, which was merely a hole in its side, he espied some black creature standing just inside, and, thinking it one of his cattle, stepped forward a little, and struck it on the rump with a stick he had in his hand, crying, "Hurrup! hurrup there!"  The creature, deeming this rather a rough salutation, turned round, and, with the full force of his huge paw, gave him a heavy slap on the side.  By this time he began to imagine that he was in no very delicate, refined company, and must look out for himself.  The salutation he received from the creature was a little more unceremonious and rude than the one he first gave him.  He was fully aware, now, that sometimes a person must take blows as well as give them, and hard ones, too.  Certain it was, he had no disposition to repeat his stroke, or his cry of "Hurrup! hurrup!" and, perceiving that the bear was about to repeat the blow, he sounded a retreat, and made haste back to his hut.  Whether the bear kept his ground, and proceeded to annoy the cattle further, we were not informed.
    In the autumn of 1804, it required all the vigilance and courage of the inhabitants to preserve their cattle and hogs from the ferocious creatures.  The nuts and berries, their usual food, had failed them, and, driven on by hunger, the infuriated beasts would rush almost into the very houses of the settlers.  Young hogs were caught and carried off in sight of their owners, and within gunshot of their pens.  A huge, growling monster seized a good-sized hog in his paws, and ran off with it, standing on his hind legs, satisfying his hunger as he went.
    One dark night, Mr. Oliver Peabody, the same we have spoken of before, was disturbed by the loud squealing of his hogs.  As unsuspecting as before, he rushed out in his nightdress to the yard where they were kept, back of his barn.  Scarcely yet fully awake, he placed his hands upon the top rail, and stood peering into the darkness, shouting lustily to whatever might be disturbing his hogs.  So intent was he on driving away the intruder, that he was conscious of nothing until he felt the warm breath of a large bear breathing directly in his face.  The huge monster had left the hogs on his first approach, and, rearing herself on her hind legs, placed her paws on the same rail, near his hands, and stood ready for the new-year salutation of the Russians—a hug and a kiss.  Realizing fully his danger, he darted away for his house, the bear following close at his heels.  He had barely time to reach his door, and throw himself against it as a fastening, when Madam Bruin came rushing against it.  The frail thing trembled and squeaked on its wooden hinges, but his wife placed the wooden bar across it, and thus it withstood the shock.  Opening the door slightly, on the first opportunity, he let out his dog.  The dog, used to the business, seized the bear fiercely by the throat, as she sat on her haunches eyeing the door.  Not so easily driven off, however, she threw the mastiff with tremendous force against the house, and leaping a fence near at hand, sat coolly down.  The noble dog, as soon as he could recover from the stunning blow, again attacked her.  With still more force she threw him this time against the cabin, displacing some of its smaller timbers, near where some of the children were asleep in a truckle-bed.  Bounding away, she ran some eighty rods, to the house of one Stephen Messer, seized a large hog, and leaping a fence three feet high with it in her arms, ran thirty rods, and sat down to her feast.  Before Messrs. Peabody and Messer could reach her, she had finished her repast and walked slowly off into the woods.
    About the middle of June, 1850, one of the most tragical scenes transpired in this town that ever took place in any region.  Happily the principal actors in it were not natives of the town or region, but foreigners.  A contractor on the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad, which was then being constructed through the Androscoggin valley, after burying his wife in Bethel, went to board with a Mr. George W. Freeman, a blacksmith.  This man was in the employ of the contractor, helping him build a very expensive bridge over Wild River.  Mr. Freeman's family consisted of a wife and three children.  He had been somewhat remarkable as a kind and faithful husband and indulgent parent, and nothing had ever occurred to mar the peace of the family until the advent of the contractor into it.  Mrs. Freeman, young and beautiful, was very attractive in looks and address, but in all respects, heretofore, had shown herself an exemplary woman and devoted wife.  Freeman, unable to harbor the thought of anything wrong in his wife, for a long time passed by many things which caused him much uneasiness.  The particular attentions of the contractor to his wife he tried long and hard to construe as only the civilities due from a gentleman to a lady.  As each day the attentions became more marked, and the evident partiality of the two for each other's society became more manifest, the loathed suspicion worked itself gradually into the terrible conviction that his companion was yielding to the wiles of the seducer.  So bold had they become in their course, that scarcely a day passed but they rode out together, sometimes extending their rides to late hours in the night.  At last they went to Bethel, a distance of nine miles, to attend a ball, and did not return until near morning.  This fully roused Mr. Freeman from his heretofore almost stupid forbearance.  He undressed and put his children to bed, and then calmly awaited the return of the guilty pair.  Not in anger, but intensely in earnest, he expostulated with them, warning them of the consequences of their guilty course.  Passionately he besought his wife to remember their hitherto happy life, and spare himself and her babes the disgrace and loss of such a companion and a mother.  It was all, however, to no purpose.
    Shortly after the ball at Bethel, Mrs. Freeman threw off all restraint, and asked her husband for a divorce.  Her affection, she said, for him was gone, and it was better for them to separate.  She could never again love him as she had, and to live with him in her present state of mind was unendurable.  She not only asked him for divorcement, but told him that, with or without it, she should certainly leave him.  That she was in earnest was clearly manifest.  She commenced her preparations for a journey, proceeding even so far as to pack some of her things.
    The contractor's office was in Freeman's house, and his clerk was almost constantly employed in it.  By chance Freeman overheard one day a conversation between his wife and the clerk.  She had come for advice, and imagining no opposition from the clerk, disclosed to him her plans.  Contrary to her expectations, the noble young man reprimanded her severely for her conduct, and warmly advised her for her good.  Freeman heard all, and it confirmed his worst suspicions.
    Previous to these active preparations of Mrs. Freeman for her departure, the contractor had left for New York.  Before leaving, it seems, it had been arranged between them that Mrs. Freeman should soon follow to meet at some place yet to be agreed upon.  Freeman learned these facts but too soon.  Not long after the contractor had left, a beautiful trunk, marked for Mrs. Freeman, was one day left at the door, when Mrs. Freeman chanced to be out.  With a shop-key Freeman opened the trunk in his shop, and there full evidence of the intentions of the pair was manifest.  Beautiful dresses and jewelry for herself and children were the contents, and under all a letter disclosing the plans.  She was to meet the contractor at Syracuse, N.Y.  There were minute directions as to the routes to travel, and particular caution to fasten the door of her bedchamber, at night, in the different hotels.  The day for her departure was named.  He concealed from his wife the trunk and letter, and she never probably knew of its arrival.
    The day for Mrs. Freeman's departure was already fixed, and the night preceding her leaving in the morning had arrived.  Calmly Freeman sat among his family during the evening, and on their retiring had embraced and kissed them according to his usual custom.  Long he lingered near his wife, but, at length, bidding her the last good-night, retired to his room.  They had not slept together for some time, a servant girl occupying the bed with his wife and young child.  Stillness had settled down upon the house, when suddenly a piercing shriek broke upon the night, startling every sleeper from his slumbers.  "I am murdered!  I am murdered!" was all that could be distinguished in the confusion which ensued.  Each hurried whence the voice proceeded, and there, in Mrs. Freeman's room, weltering in blood, lay the unhappy wife, shrieking in paroxysms of terror.  She rose up in bed, as they entered, the mutilated, bleeding arm hanging at her side.  Medical assistance was soon at hand, the wounded limb amputated and carefully dressed, but to no effect; from loss of blood the murdered woman died but a few hours after.  A few buckshot were taken from the head.  The shattered condition of the arm, and the broken window, made it evident in what manner the poor woman had been murdered.  Sleeping on her side, the murderer had aimed directly at her heart, but, missing, had discharged the whole contents of the gun into her arm.  He had accomplished, however, his purpose as well as though he had not missed his aim.
    The murdered wife was conscious who had murdered her.  Her husband was the only one of the large family who gathered not around her bedside at her fearful summons.  "It was my husband," were her words.  And the full weight of her great guilt bursting upon her too late, she could but groan and ejaculate, "O, my own dear husband!  And will he not come!  O, George, my husband, shall I not see him, to be forgiven!"  She died, not suspecting that her husband was dead, but that he avoided seeing her from grief.  Fully forgiving him, she died with his name upon her lips.
    But to turn from the sad spectacle of the wife to the still sadder sight of her husband.  Instant search was made for him as the murderer of his wife, and after long hours of hunting, about a mile from his house, he was found dead, lying in a pool of his own blood.  His throat was cut from ear to ear, his hand still grasping the fatal razor.  By him lay his gun and a piece of rope.  The gun, it seems, he had tried, but it had not done its work, merely bruising badly one cheek.
    A jury of inquest was holden on his body, and a verdict rendered according to facts.  On examination of his affairs, letters were found, written by his own hand, giving directions in regard to his children, and the disposition he wished to be made of his property when he was dead.  It is supposed, from some things in his case, especially one important incident, that until a late period in his life, he did not intend to kill his wife, but the contractor.
    He asked the clerk of the contractor, one day, [on] which side of the bed they held in common he, the contractor, slept? giving an occasion by this for an inference that he had some design upon him.  But the contractor leaving before the design could be executed, and determined, as he had declared, that the contractor should never enjoy his wife, he made up his mind to kill her, and did actually perform the dreadful deed we have rehearsed.  How strongly this whole affair impresses upon us the importance of watching against the first emotions of any great sin, and praying earnestly the prayer taught us by the Saviour, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," we certainly need not say.  There being no minister in Gilead at this time, Rev. Mr. Leland, of Bethel, attended the funeral on the occasion.  He preached to a very large concourse of people on the text, "When lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."

Back to Top

[from the Lewiston Evening Journal; Thursday, July 14, 1904]

Gilead's Centennial To-Day
This Oxford County Town Fittingly Celebrates Her 100th Birthday
Her Sons and Daughters Return
The Parade Led by Indian Rangers - The Dinner - The Formal Program - Field Sports
Full Story of the Day

Gilead, Me. July 14 (Special) — Gilead is one hundred years old today and the event has been celebrated in great style for so small a town.  Her sons and daughters have been with us, and all have vied with each other in doing honor to the fine old town that they love so well.
    This matter has been agitated for a long time and it has been the settled purpose of our people to celebrate the event in as fine style as possible.  They have all hands taken hold with a will, and the result has been a great success.  The expense has been partly borne by the town, while private contributions have served to swell the fund to a point where a creditable display could be assured.
    Gilead has produced noted men and women and there are historic spots in town.  The old Peabody house, built in the year 1800, still stands in an excellent state of preservation and is now owned by Mrs. Wm. R. Peabody and used by her as a summer home.  It has always been a family possession, and none of their assets are held in greater veneration than this stately old time mansion.  A daughter, Ada Louise Peabody, is now the wife of Prof. A. J. Roberts of Colby University, and this is likewise their summer home.
    Away back in the early days of the last century, this house was used as a tavern, and the old sign which once swung in front is still retained as one of the souvenirs of the place.  The house was built by Thomas Peabody and a son of the same name was the landlord here in 1827.  We herewith present a half tone picture of the old mansion and it will be seen to be an ideal spot to pass the summer months.

Peabody Tavern

Peabody Tavern, Gilead, Maine, 1895; courtesy of Joanne Peabody Stewart

    At the first meeting called to form a permanent organization to have the matter of arrangements for this celebration in charge, Mr. R. D. Hastings of Auburn was chosen president.  While Mr. Hastings is not exactly a native of Gilead, he is a son by adoption, having married Miss Ella Josephine Coffin, the accomplished daughter of Mr. and Mrs. S. A. Coffin of this place.  Mr. Hastings is also a heavy property owner and tax payer of the town and hence his selection as president of the day has been in excellent taste and judgment.  The other committees chosen were as follows: F. B. Coffin, secretary.
    Executive Committee—H. P. Wheeler, chairman; S. A. Coffin, E. R. Bennett, Rev. L. M. Bosworth, Albert Bennett, A. D. Wight, E. T. Peabody, A. A. Newell and Josiah Heath.
    Committee on Food—Mrs. John Newell, Mrs. E. R. Bennett, Mrs. John Richardson, Mrs. G. H. Coffin, Mrs. F. B. Coffin, Mrs. H. P. Wheeler, Miss Cornelia Bennett, Mrs. A. D. Wight, Mrs. E. T. Peabody, and Mrs. T. G. Lary.
    Music and Parade—Milan Bennett, Bert Harriman, Herbert Wheeler, R. I. Peabody, L. H. Watson.
    Committee on Speakers—H. P. Wheeler, Albert Bennett.
    Committee on Sports—A. A. Newell, A. D. Wight, Josiah Heath.
    Reception Committee—Rev. L. M. Bosworth, J. W. Bennett, Mrs. L. M. Bosworth, Mrs. T. G. Lary.
    Early Thursday morning the guests began to arrive.  The morning trains from both directions brought large delegations, while hundreds of people came in by team from the surrounding towns.
    The reception committee was kept busy in looking after these visitors and seeing that they were made to feel they were among friends.
    The exercises of the forenoon commenced with the formation of the parade immediately after the arrival of the Portland train at eleven o'clock.  President R. D. Hastings was master of ceremonies and acted as marshal of the day.  He was in uniform and finely mounted and did the honors with military precision.
    On account of the sparsely settled community no attempt was made to form a big parade, but nevertheless it was a most creditable affair.  First came the Gilead Cornet Band, led by Milan Bennett, and the music that they made was most inspiring.  These musicians were followed by all the school children of the town in line of march.  There were some seventy or seventy-five in line, and dressed as they were in white they made a pretty appearance.
    The invited guests stood next in line and these were very numerous.  Old residents of the town were there in numbers, and they marched as proudly as did their sons and grandchildren.
    The Indian rangers and cowboys led by Possum Jack made one of the features of the day.  They were all mounted and, armed as they were to the teeth, presented a most formidable appearance.  As no one cared to stir them up, no shots were fired by them and no one was killed.  This was very fortunate as from their wild looks it was evident that they were spoiling for a fight and at the least provocation would doubtless have opened fire on the crowd.
    The line of march was taken up directly to Hastings' Grove.  Here a platform had been erected, tables spread and seats arranged.  After a short social intercourse, Chairman Hastings rapped to order and a blessing pronounced by Rev. Mr. Bosworth, the local pastor.  It was a fine dinner that the committee had prepared and it was a big crowd to eat it.  Baked beans, cold meats and condiments were all there, and the dinner hour was one of the most enjoyable of the day.  Reminiscences and old time stories were indulged in, and many anecdotes were brought out from the hidden nooks of memory where perchance they had lain for years.  It was a full hour before the banquet closed, and then another hour of social chat and games followed.  The band gave fine music and all went merry as a marriage bell.
    Promptly at two o'clock, President Hastings rapped to order and said: "Ladies and Gentlemen—As our sires of old were wont to ask of the Creator Divine guidance in all their undertakings, so we as worthy sons of worthy sires see fit to open the exercises on this Memorial Day by asking the Rev. Mr. Bosworth to lead us in prayer."
    President Hastings then said: "Ladies and Gentlemen—Had the executive committee of these centennial day exercises asked of me the price of pulp wood, spruce dimension, or pine logs, some who best know me would say they had applied for such information at a proper source; that a correct and ready reply would be forthcoming; but when they ask me to preside at their centennial gathering I can see but one excuse for that selection, which is best illustrated by an incident which happened in this town some years ago.  Deacon Burbank was crossing the Androscoggin River in a ferry boat when the rope broke and the boat, the deacon and the ferryman all went down stream; the deacon fell to his knees and began to pray, when the ferryman sang out, 'Deacon, I know the Lord is good, but we have got to do something in this case to save ourselves.'  So, in this celebration, we all have got to take hold and do our part to make a success of it, and my failings in this position would be more pronounced and conspicuous than in any other within their gift.
    "Gilead since her incorporation has had born to her many worthy sons and daughters, many of whom have joined the silent majority, some of whom are still in active life, and your committee had hoped up to the eleventh hour that many more were to be with us today, conspicuous among whom is His Honor, Judge Henry Peabody of Portland, one of the judges of the supreme court of the State of Maine, who at the last moment was obliged to decline your committee's invitation to address you today.
    "Another instance is that of Prof. John Wight of New York, who has sailed or is to sail in a short time for foreign parts, and is unable to be with us.
    "But nothing daunted, your committee turned to the fair daughters referred to above and found that Gilead, through them, had also as famed a son-in-law as sons; that one of them could and would be present today, prepared to address you historically about Gilead from the days of Peabody's Patent to the present time, and it gives me great pleasure to present to you Prof. Arthur J. Roberts of Colby University, who will now deliver the address of the day."
    Prof. Roberts was received with a volley of applause that continued for several minutes.  This gentleman is no stranger here.  His wife is of the famous Peabody stock of the town, and here in the old Peabody house their summer months are passed.  It was a pleasure for him to talk on such a theme, and to do this no better selection could have been made.  He is a fine public speaker, and on this occasion, his address was largely of a historical nature.  In fact, so completely did he cover this field that his speech deserves to be put into permanent form as a history of the town.  Prof. Roberts' address will be found elsewhere in this issue.
    Then came selections by the Libby Sisters' quartet, of Gorham, N.H.  These gifted young ladies were natives of Gilead, and it was especially fortunate that they could be present on this occasion.  Prof. Scott White also gave a most pleasing vocal solo which was greatly appreciated.
    The reading of the act of incorporation was by H. P. Wheeler.  This ancient document, with its quaint style of phraseology, was given in a very fine manner by Mr. Wheeler, and it made one of the long-to-be-remembered features of the day.
    There was more playing by the band, and then followed short remarks by old residents and visitors.  These were mostly of a reminiscent and congratulatory nature, but were none the less welcome and appreciated.
    The field sports during the day have been numerous and interesting.  There have been ball games, bag, wheelbarrow and three-leg races, all of which have been closely watched and the victors applauded.  In fact, the entire day has been taken up in a constant round of excitement, and time has never for a single moment been without something to instruct or amuse.  Scores of people have visited the fine residence and grounds of Mr. J. W. Bennett, and these have been received and entertained in the mst hospitable manner.  Mr. Bennett's place is a famous one.  He has 3,000 acres of land, the greater part of which is heavily wooded.  His lawn and gardens are very fine, while his house is a museum of art and antiquity.  Here are some rare old linens woven by his mother on a hand loom in the long ago, and it is unnecessary to say that they are kept as sacred mementoes.  Old china and pewter ware is here in plenty, and many other objects of interest can be seen in Mr. Bennett's establishment.  All these were kindly shown and each visitor was made to feel at home.
    Residents and guests alike greatly enjoyed the day.  The scenery around this village is especially fine, as this is located in the foothills of the White Mountains, whose spurs are all around.  Bear Mountain and old Cambo are but a short distance away, while the location of the little village by the mouth of Wild River is indeed most charming.  It has been a day of general rejoicing and one that will long be remembered alike by residents and guests.

Back to Top

[from the Lewiston Evening Journal; Thursday, July 14, 1904]

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 forthThat 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.
Thomas Peabody
Joseph Lary
Joseph Lary Jr.
Jonathan Peabody
Oliver Peabody
Stephen Messer
James Messer
Amos Peabody
Stephen Coffin jun
Isaac Adams
Joseph Blodget
Samuel Wheeler
Samuel Goodnough
James Davison
Michael Connor
David Bradley
John Bennet
Johnathan Blodget
Eliphalet Burbank
John Mason

    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 [1856], 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.

Close this window.