Notes from the Archives: Mournful Broadsides

By Nancy Noble, Archivist/Cataloger

We’re in the dark season of early winter, when the leaves on the trees are mostly gone, a cold wind is whipping through the city, and the sky is dark when we get out of work. It’s a perfect time to catalog some mournful poetry, in the form of broadsides. These six pieces were printed between the late 1700s and 1865.

Many of these relate the tales of actual people who died in various ways, including drowning (I’m not sure what’s up with that trend).

Four drowning poems include:

Broadside 158, detail

1.  A mournful song: on the death of the wife and child of Mr. Nathaniel Knights, of Windham, who fell off the bridge at the falls above Horse Beef Mills, on Presumpscott River, February 22, 1807 (by Thomas Shaw, printed by J. McKown in 1807)

It starts: “All ye kind husbands, pray draw near”

And the next verse begins: “And loving wives, do you draw round”

The poem goes on to describe the accident which caused Nathaniel Knight’s wife and child to fall off the bridge and drown in the waters below. The saving grace is that:

Broadside 158

“We trust she’s now in glory bright,

Where saints do dwell in realms of light;

And in that great assembly stands,

To praise her God with holy hands.”

38 verses later Shaw concludes: “And thus I end my mournful song.”

MHS also owns another mournful song by Thomas Shaw:

A mournful song occasioned by the shipwreck of the schooner Armistice, Captain Douglass, on Cohasset rocks, August 31, 1815: bound from Portland for Baltimore, on which occasion five persons perished.

Thomas Shaw (1753-1838), of Standish, wrote many poems, and sold his broadsides in person, as far north as Augusta. His first poem was entitled “Melancholy shipwreck,” and was about the loss of the schooner Charles, on Richmond’s Island in 1807. He made over 4500 copies of the broadside, which he then distributed. (For more information on Thomas Shaw, see a chapter in “A down-east Yankee from the district of Maine” by Windsor Daggett).

Broadside 159, detail

2. Lines composed by William Ramsdell, on the death of three brothers, aged five, seven and ten years, who were carried by the current, in a boat, over Hooksett Falls, N.H., October 21, 1845 (published in Boston by Howe’s Sheet Anchor Press in 1845)

Broadside 159

“Three little boys, too fond of play,

Their mother’s voice did disobey,

And to the river did repair,

And found a boat lying there.”

This 22 verse poem also hopes that these little children made it to heaven, (despite disobeying their mother).

3. In memory of Solomon Snow : a young man of respectability and talents: who drowned in crossing the Kennebec River, from Swan Island to Bowdoinham, August 11, 1811.

Solomon Snow, a resident of Raynham, Massachusetts, was crossing the river in a small canoe “deep laden down with bricks and leaky too” when it filled with water. He tried swimming to shore, but by the time the neighbors rescued him, it was too late.

Broadside 162

“But oh! alas! alas! his vital breath

Was gone; and he lie in the arms of death.

He’s pass’d the gulph, the gloomy veil of night,

And his unfetter’d soul had took its flight

Through trackless regions of unmeasure’d air,

The joys of heaven, with Angels for to share.

Those lovely features once so bright and gay,

Are now become to gnawing worms a prey…”

Dismal stuff indeed.

Broadside 161, detail

4. The death of William Harmon. Composed by Abner Warren Harmon, and published in Portland around 1843, these verses are about the death of the author’s brother, a resident of Portland, by drowning.

Broadside 161

“Young people all, pray lend an ear,

A melancholy tale to hear,

Concerning a young man of fame,

And William Harmon was his name.

In Portland City he did reside

And in Hog Island Roads he died,

His age it was but twenty-three,

When called a watery grave to see.”

It appears that poor William sailed off to an island (possibly Diamond Island, formerly known as Hog Island), and when the main boom “instantly jibed o’er” it struck William Harmon overboard, and he drowned on July 6, 1843 at the age of 23. He is buried in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery. Once again there are religious overtones to this poem of 24 verses.

The author of this poem, Abner Warren Harmon (1812-1901), was by trade a carriage blacksmith in Scarborough.

Broadside 160, details

Polly Goold didn’t drown, as far as I can tell, but somehow her final words were recorded in the 16 verses of “The last words of Polly Goold”:

Broadside 160

“Farewell, my Father, fond and dear…

Farewell, my Mother, fond and near…

Farewell, my Brethren, young and old,

Farewell, my little Sisters too …

Farewell my young Companions all…

Farewell my neighbors kind and free…

Adieu to all things here below,

My treasure is above the sky,

My Saviour calls and I must go

And take possession bye and bye;

Dear JESUS come, delay no more,

I long to reach thy peaceful shore.”

On a different but related theme, we have the satirical piece:

Broadside 157, detail

Abraham Lincoln murdered April 14 … : Hymn on the death of an infant, four years of age, who departed this life … in April, 1865 … (published in Portland, ca. 1865)

Broadside 157

“Abraham Lincoln murdered April 14.

For Father Abraham we lament,

For all his days on earth are spent;

I hope the traitor we shall find,

That to the President proved unkind.”

“Hymn on the death of an infant, four years of age,” refers to the Confederate States of America. Unlike the other poem/broadsides, there are no religious overtones, and the poem ends with “Praise Sherman, Sheridan and Grant!”

The “infant,” referred to earlier, “will be kept in state (what state nobody knows) until the 4th of July, 1865, when it will be conveyed by an intelligent contra-band who will have with him a portrait of the vehicle in which Jeff Davis, R.V. and G.D., left Richmond to Boston, when the requiem will be chanted on the Common. The chief mourners, owing to indisposition, will not be present. Paul Barer, Jeems Buckkannin, of Peneliveighney: Cheef Moreners, Jefferrson Davis, a few gitt tiv: C. Villaindamhim, of Owehigho’ve, formerly in KannaD … Bull Run Russell will be present, if ‘e’s living, and ‘ave with ‘im a copy of the London Times. Hoerryshow Seemor, of Nu Yore, will delivere the funeral sermon: Luis Nay po e lee on will be affected deep lee.

The grave has already been dug by Robert E. Lee. Johnston is engaged to varnish his coffin and procure a respectable hearse at the Last Ditch.”

ImageThis last broadside fits in well with our current Civil War exhibit, This Rebellion: Maine and the Civil War.

To learn more about these broadsides you can search the Minerva catalog (use the Dewey & other call # option) for Broadside 157 through Broadside 162.


Happy National Poetry Month!

Longfellow's "The Psalm of Life" on a box of tea, 1995. MMN #10591
Longfellow’s “The Psalm of Life” on a box of tea, 1995.

Poetry’s prominence in the 19th century meant that Longfellow’s fame was on the order of today’s biggest music and movie stars. His influence is still felt throughout popular culture, as depicted on this box of tea from 1995.

In Longfellow’s day poetry was more widely read, used more often as a teaching tool, and accessible to a broader swath of the public. Over time, and perhaps unfairly, poetry became more narrowly defined as an elite pursuit, the realm of academics, intellectuals, and artistes.

In 1996, the American Academy of Poets christened April “National Poetry Month” to celebrate poetry’s intrinsic value and vitality for all. Programs like the national recitation contest Poetry Out Loud have helped reinstate the practice of learning and sharing poems with audiences. Poetry slams made poetry cool again. Recent U.S. Poet Laureates like Billy Collins, whose plain-spoken language and contemporary themes have resonated with a wide range of readers (and sold a ton of books), have reminded people that poetry is truly for everyone.

To celebrate, why not brew up a pot of tea, pop open your favorite book of poetry, and start reading? (Out loud is optional.)

Happy Birthday Henry and a Night for Poetry in Maine

By Steve Bromage, MHS Executive Director

Last week I had the chance to attend the reading by inaugural poet Richard Blanco at the Merrill Auditorium. Wow—it was an incredible evening.

Photo: Derek Davis, Staff Photographer, Portland Press Herald
Photo: Derek Davis, Staff Photographer, Portland Press Herald
Photo: Derek Davis, Staff Photographer, Portland Press Herald
Photo: Derek Davis, Staff Photographer, Portland Press Herald

It’s been quite something the past several weeks to hear from colleagues, friends, and other folks hustling to find a ticket to a poetry reading. (Or, more often, lamenting the fact that they had struck out.) Tickets were free but limited to the 1,800 person capacity of the Merrill. A big thanks goes out to Creative Portland and the Quimby Family Foundation for their generosity in conceiving and supporting this special event.

Prior to the reading there was a reception for the poet at City Hall during which Mayor Brennan gave Mr. Blanco a key to the city. Thanks to the generosity of State Historian Earle Shettleworth, Jr., I had the opportunity to present Mr. Blanco with a print of Longfellow in his Cambridge study—a gift to him from Earle’s personal collection. (Read more about the reception and reading in this Portland Press Herald article.)

How appropriate to welcome Richard Blanco to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Portland.

Longfellow—whose birthday was the day after the reading at Merrill—was deeply committed to the public role that poetry can play. Maine honors this tradition by appointing a Poet Laureate—the wonderful Wes McNair currently serves in that role, and he introduced last week’s reading. The tradition of asking a poet to commemorate the inauguration of the President by writing and reading a new poem for the occasion is actually relatively new. (Robert Frost, who recited “The Gift Outright” at JFK’s inauguration, was the first.)

Richard Blanco’s reading of his poem, One Today, at the inauguration in January has captivated many across the country. As Longfellow did in so much of his poetry, Mr. Blanco reminded us, as Americans, of our roots, and what we have in common. That seems to be something that many of us are hungry for these days.

It strikes me that one of the things that Richard Blanco has done is to spark new audiences to the pleasures of poetry. We are very lucky in in Maine: we’ve got incredible poets all around us. Go read one!

Notes from the Archives: A Poet and a Sculptor


Elizabeth Akers Allen and Benjamin Paul Akers traveled to Rome together, and later married.  Elizabeth, a poet, was born in Strong, Maine. Paul, a sculptor, was born in Westbrook, Maine. Their marriage in 1860 was shortened when he died of tuberculosis at the age of 36. Four recent acquisitions document their world and their fleeting time together.

Two are editions of the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. One is inscribed by Elizabeth: “This book belonged to Paul Akers – I think Hawthorne gave it to him; he gave it to me in 1859 and made the cipher on the title page. Elizabeth Akers.” Hawthorne and Paul Akers traveled together in Italy. The other book is inscribed by her daughter Grace Barton Allen Cook, Elizabeth’s daughter with her third husband Elijah Marshall Allen: “This book was the property of Paul Akers, and afterward of my mother.”

Another book is Doctor Antonio: a tale of Italy by Giovanni Ruffini. Elizabeth inscribes this one: “This book was Paul’s, before I knew him. He considered it the best book of Italian life. He gave it to me in 1859 and made the cipher on the green page – some one stole the frontispiece on this leaf.”

Finally, there is Undine: a romance by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque. This is inscribed by Elizabeth: “Given me by Paul. Elizabeth Akers, 1860.” There is also an inscription in another hand, probably Paul’s: “Paul Akers. Florence, 1855.”

These four books (S.C. 1378, S.C. 1378a, S.C. 1379, and S.C. 1380) offer a glimpse into the world of two creative souls, and their life and times.

Good Things Spring Forth from April’s e-Connection

"Nest, Nook & Cranny," by Susan Blackaby; 20% off this month at MHS

After what seems like one of the longest winters on record here in Maine, the robins have finally landed! And so has this month’s e-Connection, just as chock full as those fat little birds now hopping around on your lawn.

To celebrate, we have a 20% off coupon in the newsletter good toward ANY poetry book from the MHS museum store (or shop online). Why? Because despite T. S. Eliot’s claim that April is “the cruelest month,” it also happens to be National Poetry Month.

Something Fishy: One of the last cans of sardines to be packed at the last U.S. sardine cannery is a recent addition to the MHS collection.

April may well stand as the cruelest month for the U.S. sardine industry. The Prospect Harbor Cannery closed its doors on April 18, 2010, ending a 135-year history of canning on the coast of Maine. This can of sardines, from the last batch, is now in our permanent  collection. (An unscientific internet search suggests that 2-3 years might be the shelf-life of an unopened can. Will it start to become, er, aromatic at that point? Hmmm…)

Nothing fishy–except maybe some smoked salmon appetizers–will be served up on May 7 at the Woodlands in Falmouth. That’s the date of our annual gala, the Mad Hatter Affair. For full details on the shindig, see our post Get Your Hat On.

The Mad Hatter is a lot of work behind the scenes and we all pitch in, but much of it is done by MHS “events guru” (translation: Marketing & PR Manager) Elizabeth Nash.

Marketing & PR Manager Elizabeth Nash

Fittingly, she’s profiled in this month’s e-Connection under our Spotlight section. The words “panache,” and “pizazz” are included, as might be expected in a write-up about an events guru. (MHS Factoid: Did you know that there are three Bates College alums working at MHS? Elizabeth is one of them. We’ll let you ferret out the other two.)

If that’s not enough to whet your April e-Connection appetite:

To name a locker in the MHS Library, call Development Director Deborah Tillman Stone at 774-1822 ext 231.
  • there’s a link to a Maine Memory exhibit on Hannah Pierce, another woman with her own sense of self, albeit in the 19th century;
  • an opportunity to name one of the MHS library lockers;
  • a busted myth about the Dutch once ruling Maine;
  • a feature on Downeast Magazine’s recent use of several Maine Memory images;
  • upcoming April programs;
  • and an announcement about a delightful new MHS blog (hmmm… sounds strangely familiar…).

If you don’t want to miss all this goodness in the future, sign up for the monthly e-Connection (and our in-between weeklies, “This Week at MHS”) here–sent right to your email IN-box. You’ll be glad you did!

The Real Impact of “Paul Revere’s Ride”

Illustration and poem, Paul Revere's Ride, ca. 1880

In the most recent issue of The American Scholar, Harvard University professor of American history Jill Lepore offers a keen analysis of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s most famous–and one of his most widely debated–poems, “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

“How Longfellow Woke the Dead” examines how the poem was read in Longfellow’s day as a “bold statement of his opposition to slavery” and why it deserves to be taken more seriously than it has been by scholars over the years. Timely, given that the poem was published on the eve of the Civil War (while ostensibly being about the Revolution), and that we are about to begin marking that war’s Sesquicentennial.

Lepore simultaneously redeems Maine’s most famous poet from the various critics, particularly in the 20th century, that made a sport out of “shooting down Longfellow’s [so-called] greeting-card verse.” After all, there’s nothing wrong, she explains, with being a poet who “loved writing poems that everyone would read, poems that everyone could read, poems in which people, unsophisticated people, even little people, might find pleasure and solace.”

Amen to that!