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Maine Genealogy Archives

Fatalities in Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell

Source: George Augustus Wheeler, M. D., and Henry Warren Wheeler, History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine, including the ancient territory known as Pejepscot (Boston, Mass.: A. Mudge & Sons, printers, 1878).

[p. 316]
Besides the ordinary cases of disease affecting the mortality of this vicinity, many cases of accident resulting in premature death have occurred from time to time. Foremost among these are the accidents from falling into the water. From the list of cases we have collected, only a few of the earliest or most remarkable ones are inserted here. The earliest case of the kind of which we have received any account, occurred in March, 1765. [A] Mrs. Babbidge and son, who lived on the farm now owned by the heirs of the late John Pennell, and a young man by the name of Barnes, a son of Henry and brother of the late William Barnes, who lived on the farm now owned by James Alexander, in Harpswell, while crossing Merriconeag River to a grist-mill on the old Ewing place, had their float caught in the running ice and overset, and were all three drowned. Mrs. Barnes and William were watching them from the shore when the accident happened. Their bodies were recovered the following June. The only other similar deaths occurring prior to 1800 were of Daniel Winchell, before 1777, at some place unknown; Adam Hunter, at sea, in 1778; Samuel Potter, date and place both unknown, but some time in the last century; Robert Potter, at sea, before 1794; James and Robert Winchell, at the same time, at Cathance, date unknown; John Winchell, at Bath, between 1790 and 1800; Benjamin Randall and Thomas Wilson, both at sea and prior to 1800.

Some time previous to 1820, Major Burt Townsend and a Mr. Gross were on a raft of logs above the upper dam on the Androscoggin, at Brunswick. The raft broke loose and went over the dam. Just as they reached the falls, Major Townsend, with great presence of mind, leaped ahead into the river below and thus escaped both the undertow and the falling logs, and was thus able to swim ashore, while Mr. Gross, who either did not jump at all, or else not sufficiently far, was drowned.


[p. 317]
From the list referred to, we are able to give the following summary: The number of cases of drowning in Brunswick and Topsham (exclusive of those drowned at sea, of which the list is, as a matter of course, very incomplete) is forty-five. Of these forty-five cases, there were drowned on the Cathance River, in Topsham, five; on the Androscoggin River (including Merrymeeting Bay), twenty-seven; on the New Meadows River, in Brunswick, one; at Maquoit, three; at other places mentioned, five; and where the place was unknown, four. Of the twenty-seven people drowned in the Androscoggin, eight were drowned in the Androscoggin, eight were drowned on the Topsham side, ten on the Brunswick side, five in Merrymeeting Bay, and four in the stream, away from the shore. Of the ten persons drowned on the Brunswick side, seven were drowned near the Factory or lower mills and two near the upper bridge. Of the eight on the Topsham side, four were drowned at the bathing-place above the upper bridge and two near the mills.

Next in the list of fatal accidents come those by fire. The first of these to which reference has been found was in 1737, when the house of the widow of Andrew Dunning was burned, and she was burned in it. No reference to any other death by fire in the last century has been found. In September, 1829, Hannah J. Brown, of Topsham, aged 8 years, was badly burned by a brand which fell from the andirons on her cotton gown and set it on fire. She lingered for twenty-six days before she succumbed to her injuries. On January 15, 1857, Mrs. James Maxwell, of Topsham, was fatally burned, in consequence of the overflowing of a lighted lamp containing camphene. She lived but a short time. On January 25, 1859, a daughter of John Merritt, of Brunswick, was fatally burned in consequence of her clothes being caught in the blaze of the fire. On March 11th of this same year, Mr. Isaac Center was fatally burned by the explosion in his hand of a lighted lamp, containing burning fluid.

In this connection may be mentioned with propriety the cases (though not fatal) of accidents in consequence of lightning. The first occurrence of this kind was in 1828, when a house in Mill Street was struck by lightning, and a man injured. The next case occurred September 5, 1845, when one person was stunned and another prostrated by the lightning, which struck Common's Hall. At the time the "Henry Jordan" house, on Cleaveland Street was struck by lightning, June 23, 1874, two persons standing on the doorsill were struck, but not seriously injured. Other cases have probably occurred of which no account has been preserved.

Numerous accidents have occurred from time to time at the mills


[p. 318]
and factories, though fortunately but few have resulted fatally. The earliest occurrence of this kind was in the last century, though the precise date is unknown. Hugh Wilson, of Topsham, who was married in 1785, had his leg broken among the mill logs on the eastern branch of the Cathance River. An amputation was performed by a physician from Casco (Portland), but he did not long survive the operation. The next occurrence of which we have seen any account, also in Topsham, was in August, 1825. At this time a little child, aged four years, fell through a saw-mill and fractured his skull. On October 7, of the same year, another child, aged ten years, while asleep in a saw-mill in Brunswick, where his father was working at the time, got up and fell on to the rocks, a distance of twenty-five feet, and was instantly killed. Record has been found of only two accidents in the mills since this date, but there were doubtless many others which were unrecorded, save in the memory of afflicted friends.

At least eight accidents are known to have happened upon the railroad in this vicinity, and it is possible there have been more. Only one of these cases happened in Topsham.

The following are a few of the cases of death that have occurred from other causes than those already specified:—

November 30, 1833, William B. Merriman, of Brunswick, mate of the brig "Veto," was murdered by the pilot, a Spaniard, while at Barbaras, in the lagoon of Maracaibo. In November, 1858, Richard L. McManus fell into the hold from the deck of the ship "Screamer," in the port of London, and died on December 7, in consequence of lockjaw induced by the injury he sustained.

On August 27, 1861, a young lad fell on to the rocks from the high bluff in front of the residence of Miss Narcissa Stone, in Brunswick, and was instantly killed. On the 27th of September, 1866, a young child was accidentally shot in Topsham.

The deaths caused by the personal violence of another have been mentioned in a different connection. The cases of suicide occurring in Brunswick and Topsham have been (including that of Ann Conner already referred to [see page 282]) only eight, so far as can be ascertained. These cases occurred in the years 1752 to 1770, 1820, 1823, 1833, 1852, 1855, 1858, and 1869. Two of these were destroyed by cutting their own throats, one by hanging, one by shooting, and two by drowning.

The manner of death of the other two is not known. There have undoubtedly been other cases of this kind, but these are all in which the facts have been found recorded.