Notes from the Archives: Tales of the Titanic

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

I recently came across a t.l.s (typed letter signed, to use manuscript-speak) tucked into the back pocket of a volume of the Somerset Railway records. While researching the author of the letter, I plunged down a rabbit hole of a tale that led me to a Titanic story involving a Maine family.

Titanic - Coll. S-7859The letterhead said “Mrs. Percival W. White, 275 Maine Street, Brunswick, Maine.” The letter was signed by Edith F. White, and written to “Edward,” dated January 14, 1930. Edith asks Edward for help figuring out her accounts, probably for her taxes. In the letter she mentions “the four children.”

Who was this Edith Frazar Wheeler White? She was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1863. She married Percival Wayland White and had two children, Percival Jr. and Richard Frazar. Percival Sr. was a prominent and successful cotton manufacturer in Winchendon Springs, Massachusetts. Around 1908 the family moved to Brunswick, Maine, to a home called “The Pines,” while their son Richard attended Bowdoin College. To celebrate Richard’s graduation, Percival took him on a trip to England. Percival’s hobby was sailing on maiden voyages. Unfortunately he chose to sail home with Richard on the Titanic, never to be seen again.

But who were the four children that Edith mentions in her letter? This puzzled me. I discovered that Edith and Percival’s other son, Percival Jr., and his wife Mary Este Cliff had four children, the oldest of which was Matilda, who was living with Edith at the time of the sinking of the Titanic. When Mary died in 1926 Edith adopted all four of the children, even though Percival Jr. lived until 1972. Matilda went on to become a pioneering sociologist who was the first female full professor at Bowdoin College.

For more see this excellent story by Michele Albion, which originally appeared in Bowdoin, the Bowdoin College magazine, with photographs.

See the Minerva record describing the letter.

Notes from the Archives: Carriers’ Addresses Broadsides

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

A recent find was a discovery of “Carriers’ addresses.” According to the Brown University Library:

Carriers’ addresses were published by newspapers, usually on January 1, and distributed in the United States for more than two centuries. The custom originated in England and was introduced here during colonial times. The newsboys delivered these greetings in verse each New Year’s Day and the customers understood that a tip was expected. The poems, often anonymous, describe the events of the past year, locally, regionally, and nationally, and end with a request for a gratuity for the faithful carrier. Often the poem referred to the carrier’s diligence and hardships during winter weather. Illustrated with wood-engravings and decorative borders, carriers’ addresses are distinctive examples of popular publishing in nineteenth century America.

We have at least four of these carriers’ addresses in our broadside collection. They were written for the patrons of the Portland Advertiser, Salem Gazette, Christian Mirror, and Eastern Argus. Of particular interest is the address related to the Civil War. One is an ode written byBroadside 202 Carriers' address Horace, at the command of Augustus Caesar. With the exception of this ode, all the carriers’ addresses personalize the verse with humor and good will (and a little bit of begging for a tip):

“A Happy New Year is the Carrier’s call
To our kindly patrons and readers all

And now that you have read my lay,
What does the Carrier want, you’ll say.
For all the past year your Mirror I’ve brought,
And tossed it each week on the steps as I ought:
I’ve come in the cold and come in the heat,
I’ve come in the rain and the snow and the sleet—
When the keen March winds and the April rains
Shook and rattled your window-panes,
And waked wide up with the pattering sound
The crocus and snow-drop asleep in the ground.
I’ve come in the summer when scarcely a breeze
Stirred the leaves on the dusty trees,
Through all the heat of the scorching sun
My work I’ve always faithfully done,
And when October’s bracing air
Comes to paint the leaves and the trees to bare,
And instead of the rose, the gentian blows
With its beautiful blue and fringes rare—
And when still alter old Jack Frost comes
And pinches my ears, and my fingers numbs,
Still I go through the cold and the snow,
Bravely along I trudge,
And your Mirror I leave in time I believe,
As all of you rightly can judge,
What does the Carrier want, do you know?
He wants a quarter, a half, or so;
So feel in your pocket and pull out your purse,
The want of the loss will make you feel worse—
And to close this somewhat lengthy verse,
A happy New Year with merry good cheer
Is the Carrier’s New Year’s call
(Carrier’s address, January 1, 1866. Written for the Christian Mirror)

For more information see the Minerva records for Broadside 200-203.

Our newly published A Bibliography of Maine Imprints, 1785-1820 by Glenn B. Skillin also has information on carriers’ addresses printed in Maine.


Notes from the Archives: Rev. Henry Otis Thayer’s Volume on the Discovery of America

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

Henry Otis Thayer copy

Henry Otis Thayer

Plucked from the backlog is a bound volume of six pamphlets, along with manuscript and scrapbook pages, regarding the early discovery of America by the Vikings. This volume was probably created by Rev. Henry Otis Thayer (1832-1927). Thayer, a clergyman by training (he attended the Bangor Theological Seminary), was a passionate historian, and served for a time as secretary and librarian for the Maine Historical Society. His writings on Maine history are prolific.

This volume, entitled Americana Antiqua. Scripta Historica et Selecta, contains these pamphlets:

  • John Cabot’s landfall in 1497 and the site of Norumbega : a letter to Chief-Justice Daly, president of the American Geographical Society / by Eben Norton Horsford. Cambridge [Mass.] : J. Wilson and Son, 1886.
  • “The Northmen” manuscript, and scrapbook pages of newspaper clippings from the Evening Transcript, July 5, 1888, entitled “The Norsemen on the North Shore.”
  • Dwellings of the saga-time in Iceland, Greenland, and Vineland / by Cornelia Horsford. Washington, D.C. : Judd & Detweiler, printers, 1898.
  • The present status of pre-Columbian discovery of America by Norsemen / by Hon. James Phinney Baxter. Washington, D.C. : Gov. Print. Office, 1894.
  • Vinland and its ruins : some of the evidence that Northmen were in Massachusetts in pre-Columbian days / by Cornelia Horsford. New York : Appleton, 1899.
  • Ruins of the saga time: being an account of travels and explorations in Iceland in the summer of 1895 / by Thorsteinn Erlingsson, on behalf of Miss Cornelia Horsford. London : D. Nutt, 1899.
  • In commemoration of the millenary anniversary of the death of King Alfred the Great, November 12, 1901. [Portland, Me.] : Maine Historical Society, 1901.
Henry Otis Thayer's The Northmen copy

“The Northmen” manuscript

The pamphlets by Cornelia Horsford particularly intrigued me, as she obviously knew Henry Otis Thayer. Dwellings of the saga-time in Iceland, Greenland, and Vineland was inscribed to Thayer from Cornelia Horsford. In her Vinland and its ruins her calling card is glued onto the title page. The inscription reads, “With the compliments of,” and below that is printed, “Miss Cornelia Horsford, 27 Craigie Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.” Coincidentally at this time Cornelia lived in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s neighborhood in Cambridge, although several years after Longfellow’s death in 1882. Ruins of the saga time, which is associated with Cornelia, also has her calling card glued onto an inside page.


Eben Norton Horsford

So, who was Cornelia Horsford, and how did she come to be an authority on this subject? Cornelia’s father, Eben Norton Horsford, was the author of the first book in this volume, John Cabot’s landfall in 1497. Horsford was an American scientist who is best known for his reformulation of baking powder, his interest in Viking settlements in America, and the monuments he built to Leif Erikson. He taught at Harvard and was a generous supporter of higher education for women, which is probably why his daughter Cornelia assisted him in his research about visits to North America by the Vikings. After his death in 1893 Cornelia carried on his interest. At the time of the presentation of her books to Rev. Thayer, he was living in Portland and involved in the Maine Historical Society. It would be interesting to know if Thayer met Cornelia Horsford in Portland or in Cambridge or elsewhere. Some of Cornelia Horsford’s family papers can be found at the New York University’s Fales Library, so perhaps the answer lies there.


James Phinney Baxter

Two of the pamphlets are of interest for their connection to Maine. James Phinney Baxter authored The present status of pre-Columbian discovery of America by Norsemen. Baxter (1831-1921) was a Portland businessman, historian, civic leader, and benefactor. In 1901, Maine Historical Society published In commemoration of the millenary anniversary of the death of King Alfred the Great, November 12, 1901 which rounds out our collection. The opening address is by Baxter, then President of the Maine Historical Society. It is fascinating to see what the interests of the Society were, over a century ago.

To learn more, search S.C. 1421.

The Legend of Old Father Sawyer

BTS Sawyer Ripley's

By Patrick Ford, Project Archivist, Bangor Theological Seminary Collection

The legend of Rev. John “Old Father” Sawyer was still alive and well in 1958 when this Ripley’s Believe It or Not! panel was featured in newspapers nationwide. Though perhaps best remembered for being a centenarian Sunday school teacher, Sawyer was a seminal proponent of Congregationalism in Maine and a founding trustee of the Maine Charity School, later renamed the Bangor Theological Seminary.

Born in Hebron, Connecticut, in 1755, and raised in New Hampshire, Sawyer fought as a Revolutionary soldier in the Battle of Saratoga. He later attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1785, and soon after started preaching in Orford, New Hampshire. He married, moved to Maine, and was ordained in the Presbyterian faith in 1798, ministering to a congregation in Boothbay. From there he led missions to settlements east of the Kennebec River, preaching in Ballstown (now Jefferson and Whitefield), Robbinston, Pleasant Point, Moose Island, and many others. Without the aid of railroads or steamboats, Sawyer is said to have rowed a boat along rivers and the coastline to reach his preaching venues, which were typically school houses, barns, and the “best rooms” (parlors) of cottages.

In the early 1800s, Sawyer became an Orthodox Congregationalist. In 1814, he, along with Kiah Bayley, Mighill Blood, Jonathan Fisher, and 9 others, founded the Maine Charity School in the Congregationalist tradition. Given Sawyer’s input it is little surprise to learn that the school’s mission was to train men to minister to rural communities of Maine and Northern New England.

BTS Sawyer Pamphlet

He lived his last four decades in Garland, Maine, though many nights were spent away from home, traveling by boat and foot, preaching in the “true Puritan style” well into his 90s. He became so treasured in Maine that a widely distributed pamphlet entitled The Pilgrim of a Hundred Years was published on the occasion of his 100th birthday. Upon his death in 1858 at age 103, Harper’s Weekly published an extensive obituary that attributes Sawyer’s longevity to the fact that, “New England is noted more than the other states for long-lived men.” In a remembrance written for the Portland Transcript on the 25th anniversary of his death, the author, who knew Sawyer, wrote, “He had not time to decay—he had too much work to do to rest upon his oars—there were too many who needed him—such a man could not die if he wished.”

Rev John Sawyer B1

The Rev. John Sawyer indeed lives on at the Maine Historical Society; the Sewall Collection has a daguerreotype and letters related to his work with Indians, and the Bangor Theological Seminary Collection has an extensive file containing articles and correspondence related to Sawyer. The Sewall Collection is currently open to researchers; the Bangor Theological Seminary Collection will be open to researchers in 2016.

Imbued With Hues: Visions of a Colorful Past

ImbuedWithHues_website promo image

Portland artist Patty Allison uses modern technology—Photoshop, Google Street View, as well as the collective wisdom of Reddit users—to make the distant past feel less remote. Since 2013, Allison has been meticulously colorizing photos of Maine life from more than a century ago. In Maine Historical Society’s newest exhibition, Imbued With Hues, Allison’s work gets its first official exhibition.

Working with MHS, Allison has been able to colorize photos from MHS’s extensive collection. She had previously been using publicly available photos from the Library of Congress.

“The awesome thing about collaborating with MHS is that I’ve been able to colorize photos that I’ve never seen before,” Allison said. “And Maine has so much history—it is so exciting to be able to do these.”

By adding a semi-transparent layer of color to each pixel in Photoshop, Allison is able to give a rosy glow to the formerly grey cheeks of Portland’s turn-of-the-century denizens.

Patty Allison Imbued With Hues Opening

Patty Allison at the Imbued With Hues exhibition opening.

“When I finish a photo it’s like going back in time, and I want that photo to look perfect because I’m colorizing someone or something,” Allison said. “I would want the person in the photo to look at it and say, ‘yes, that’s how it looked!’”

Combining extensive research on the colors and textures of a particular place at a particular time—whether a Portland street corner or a Peaks Island ferry landing—with her own artistic interpretation, Allison brings an arresting realism to these old photos.

The Internet, which has made her work possible, has also allowed her work to connect with others—sometimes even the subjects themselves.

“I colorized a photo of a homecoming parade in Florida in 1960,” Allison said. “Somehow, one of the people in the photo found their way to my Facebook page and saw the photo! She was so excited, and said I got all the colors right.”

Allison’s work is on display at MHS through January 30. Prints are also available for purchase!

The Johnson Family of Belfast

Coll. 2781 Johnson family - Edward Johnson Jr. son of Edward Sr. in group photograph 1891 1st from left in back row Box 17 Folder 5

Edward Johnson, Jr., son of Edward, Sr. (first from left in back row) in a group photograph, 1891

By Tessa Surette, MHS volunteer

If Louise Johnson Pratt were alive today she would be relieved to know that her family’s papers and artifacts are finally ready to be shared with the public. The Johnson Family of Belfast collection (Coll. 2781) spans over one hundred years and provides an interesting and entertaining portrait of a wealthy family during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The collection includes correspondence, photographs, diaries, invoices, financial documents, and small artifacts.

Coll. 2781 Johnson family - Louise Johnson with horse Box 17, Folder 6

Louise Johnson Pratt (1876-1963), who compiled her family’s collection

Edward Johnson Sr. (1840-1906) was a wealthy and respected member of Belfast society. He and his wife Georgiana summered in Belfast (their house was known as “The Homestead”) with their four children, Alfred, Ralph, Edward Jr., and Louise. Although they were part-time residents, Edward Sr. and his family were well respected and popular within the community. Some correspondence relates to Edward’s financial life, including his time as executor of his brother’s estate, and as President of Belfast Savings Bank. There are also letters between himself and his children as well as with his brothers and sisters.

Louise Johnson Pratt is the most prominently featured of Edward Sr.’s four children. She was the last survivor of the four siblings and probably acted as the compiler of this collection. In photographs Louise often looks surprisingly modern and her correspondence (which was written almost exclusively before she was married) provides insight into the thoughts and opinions of a young woman at the turn of the 20th century.

Coll. 2781 Johnson family - Alfred Johnson son of Edward Senior 1926 Box 17 Folder 3

Alfred Johnson, son of Edward Senior, in 1926

In a family collection this large there are many entertaining documents and artifacts. Some that stand out are:

  • a letter from one of Louise’s friends in which the friend gives a scathing review of The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane, but goes on to praise various books that no one now has ever heard of
  • Louise’s teenage diary in which she drew a doodle that corresponded with each day’s happenings
  • the surprisingly entertaining bank-related correspondence between Edward Sr. and W.H. Quimby, which contained far more gossip than one might expect
  • the birth certificate for one of his children on which Edward Sr. described his occupation as “Gentleman”

For more information see Coll. 2781 in the Minerva online library catalog.

MHS Receives $300,000 Grant to Install Solar Panels on Offsite Collections Management Facility

Solar PanelsMaine Historical Society (MHS) has been awarded a $300,000 grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for the installation of a solar energy system to provide sustainable preservation in a facility housing the rich collections of the Maine Historical Society and the Portland Public Library (PPL). Solar panels on the roof of the building will generate enough electricity to cover the needs of climate-control – an energy-intensive necessity for the long-term preservation of art, artifacts, manuscripts and other materials – as well generate sufficient electricity to subsidize electricity usage at MHS and PPL’s Congress Street campuses.

The grant, specifically designed to help museums and libraries operate more sustainably, is part of $36.6 million given out by NEH to support 212 humanities projects administered by institutions and independent scholars across 42 states; MHS is one of just three Maine organizations awarded funding.

“NEH gives out very few of these grants,” said Steve Bromage, Executive Director of MHS. “We are honored that they recognize the significance of Maine Historical Society’s efforts to incorporate environmental sustainability into how it cares for the collections that document the history of our state.”

In 2014, MHS formed a partnership with PPL to jointly purchase a 35,500 square foot former warehouse at 1000 Riverside Street in Portland and develop it into a state-of-the-art collections management facility. In addition to providing much-needed storage for MHS’s growing collections, the facility allows for the freeing of nearly 18,000 square feet of space at the MHS campus on Congress Street, and increases the organization’s ability to engage and serve the people of Portland and communities throughout Maine with expanded programs, services and outreach.

“I’m thrilled that this federal investment will help one of Maine’s oldest institutions enlist the latest green technology to preserve important pieces of Maine’s history,” said Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which oversees NEH funding. “I applaud Maine Historical Society and the Portland Public Library for joining forces to make this possible. In receiving funding through a very competitive program like this, their collaboration is a great example of what multiple organizations can achieve by working together.”

Visit NEH online for more information about the grant awards.