By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger
I spent the past six months (off and on) cataloging broadsides. These treasures are now individually cataloged in our library catalog, Minerva (minerva.maine.edu).
At least fifteen of these broadsides are poems written by A. W. Harmon (1812 – 1901) of Scarborough. His subjects range from the great themes of the Civil War to his everyday life, including being laid up for three years due to injury.
The Civil War poems include “Columbia Mourns for Major Gen. Hiram G. Berry.” Hiram Gregory Berry, born in Rockland, was an American politician and general in the Army of the Potomac during the War. He was killed in Chancellorsville in 1863. Another Civil War casualty was Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth, whom Harmon writes about in “Death of Colonel Ellsworth.” Ellsworth was best known as the first conspicuous casualty of the Civil War, when he was killed in the process of removing a Confederate flag from the roof of a Virginia hotel. “Naval Expedition” is about the Battle of Port Royal, one of the earliest amphibious operations of the War.
Other subjects that inspired Harmon include the Great Fire of Portland in 1866 (“Great Conflagration in Portland, July 4, 1866”), Ireland and the Fenian Brotherhood (“Freedom for Ireland”), a shipwreck (“Loss of the Steamship Atlantic: from five to six hundred lives sacrificed”), an Indian massacre (“Sixty Families Massacred by the Blackfoot Indians”), and Bangor (“Things about Bangor”).
Harmon’s more personal writing includes poems about his religious conversion (“The Conversion of A. W. Harmon”), his eye surgery (“Verses composed by A. W. Harmon, concerning his sickness, caused by an operation in his eyes”), his brother’s drowning (“The death of William Harmon”), and my favorite: “Pity the sorrowful, composed by A. W. Harmon, concerning his sickness, caused by lifting, which injured his spine, affecting his head and eyesight badly, confining him to his bed and a dark room for three years.”
Good people all, I pray draw near
Attend awhile and you shall hear
What pain and anguish seized my head,
And threw me down on a sick bed.
Affecting thus my eyesight bad.
And causing me to feel quite sad;
Shut up in a dark room, and I
Could not behold the earth and sky.
While others could their friends behold,
And travel round from pole to pole;
Enjoy themselves from day to day,
In a dark room I had to lay.
I cannot see as others see,
One thing appears like two to me;
Had I ten thousand, with delight
I’d give it all for health and sight.
Engaged at Blacksmith’s work was I,
With eager hopes and spirits high;
Hopes, master of my trade to be,
But, ah, how soon my hopes did flee!
And I grew sick and had to leave,
Could work no more, which did me grieve;
My spine was injured, and my sight
Grew dimmer thro’ from morn to night.
Dreary and lonesome, every day
Distress and anguish on me lay;
One glimmering hope was left me still,
In life some place I yet should fill.
Was to my bed three years confined,
With inflammation on my spine.
Ah! Who my feelings can relate.
Or thus imagine my sad fate?
Six months in a dark room I lay,
My strength was wasting fast away;
Knew nothing what was going on,
My intellectual powers were gone.
Distress and anguish filled my breast,
I could obtain but little rest;
Affected badly was my sight,
Yet hope from me took not her flight.
Better to give than to withhold,
We in the Bible are so told.
God loves the give, the free man,
Who helps the needy when he can.
It makes one wonder how he and his family were able to survive while he was not able to work for this long period of time.
So who is this prolific blacksmith poet? Abner Warren Harmon, born in Bucksport, was a carriage blacksmith in Scarborough. He and his wife Lydia had 5 children: William, Cassie, Maria, Eldorah, and Velzorah (the latter two certainly sound like the names of a poet’s daughters). Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know any more about him, or how a blacksmith came to be a poet, including publishing his own poetry, often set to music, as broadsides. I am thankful that the broadsides survived, so we can enjoy them to this day.
See the Minerva records for these broadsides by A. W. Harmon.