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:
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:
“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).
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)
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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”:
“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:
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)
“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.”
This 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.