Maine oddities

Legends of Maine

  • ASIN:           1300220090
  • ISBN-13: 978-1300220091

My latest book, Legends of Maine is now available at Amazon, or through my own site.

This volume shares several folklore tales from Maine’s bygone days. From the elusive sea serpents of Casco bay to the even more questionable existence of the Windigo, or is it a Bigfoot, roaming the backwoods of Maine, there is sure to be a story you will enjoy. Stories included are from Samuel Drake Adams, Charles Asbury Stephens, George Arthur Cleveland and other folklorists, poets and writers of fiction from the nineteeth century.

The first portion of the book looks at the legend and history behind the sea serpent sightings in the Gulf of Maine during the 1800s, followed by a short piece regarding phenomoena that was know as  Barisal Guns, and a brief exursion into the more famous witchcraft stories from Maine.

There are also many of Samuel Drake Adams and Charles M. Skinners Maine related folklore tales, as well as a story by George Arthur Cleveland called “The Remick Case,” which is a story that deals with the supposed disappearence of a man after being kidnapped by a band of frog people and brought to the bottom of one of Maine’s secluded back country lakes.

I also share some of William Cox’s imaginary beasts from Maine’s past, and round off the book with a look into the possibility of there being a Bigfoot population here in Maine, and include two stories from the mid 1800s that describe a creature that sounds very much like today’s Bigfoot descriptions. These stories are by C.A. Stephens and were written in the 1860’s.

Watch the video below for more, and if you like Maine stories and the mystery of the past, this book is for you!

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A Dark Day in Maine

Natural phenomena are always occurring around us, but we only pay attention when that phenomenon is great enough in size or magnitude that it disrupts our daily routine. Frequently, when we see a darkening of the day it is caused by either super intense cloud cover, or a solar eclipse. Rarely does it get dark enough to cause widespread confusion. It has happened though, and on May 19 of 1780, Maine saw one of its darkest days in our history.

Religious zealots of the day claimed the Apocalypse had arrived, most scientific minded people thought otherwise, and presumed that something had caused the sun to eclipse. But as the day wore on after having what was termed at the time as dusk occurring as early as nine AM, hints and clues were dropped to speak of an otherwise, and more dangerous tragedy at hand. The following excerpt from the book Ancient city of Gorgeana and modern town of York, by George Alexander Emery contains a brief description of that day, at least as it was to some townsfolk in York.

One of the most memorable dark days of the last century took place May 19, 1780. In this town, it commenced to darken at about nine o’clock in the morning, and was past twilight before half past ten o’clock. Throughout the New England States and some adjacent tracts of New York and Canada, such was the obscuration that in many places people could not see to read a line at mid-day without artificial light. For hours, it continued to impart to surrounding objects a tinge of yellow, and awakened in many a beast apprehensions of some impending calamity. All was wrapped in gloom; the birds became silent, domestic fowls retired to their perches, and cocks crowed as at break of day. The darkness of the following night was so intense that many who were benighted and but a little way from home, on well-known roads, could not, without extreme difficulty, retrace their way to their own dwellings. The author, in his boyhood, has often conversed with many of the oldest inhabitants,— among them were Messrs. John Carlisle, William Staccy, William Tetherly, — all of whom were Revolutionary pensioners, and they well remembered the occurrence, and exemplified the dense blackness of that night by saying “that an object held up near the face could no more be seen than a piece of the blackest velvet put in close contact with the eyes.” No astronomical or meteorological cause has ever been assigned for this singular phenomenon.

Of course, today we can provide the probable explanation to this odd stretch of darkness, but we need to remember that at the time of its happening, the constitution of this nation was still years away from being written, and we had just freshly ended our revolutionary war, for the most part. Scientists, in examining history through the annular rings of trees have found that the probable cause of Maine’s darkest day was probably from a massive forest fire that swept through what we now call the Algonquin National Park in Ontario, Canada.

Reports suggest that for at least a few days prior to the event a thick pall had filled the atmosphere, creating a yellowish haze in the air, indicative of a fire burning. A probable combination of that fire, and its growing intensity, with a cold from moving offshore from the northeast, bring dense fog and cloud cover attributed to the intensity of the darkness. Anecdotal reports suggest that soot was collected in some areas, with some reports claiming soot as deep as six inches in western New England. The sun had a reddish tint to it, and the moon, per some statements, seemed to be glowing red through the haze and smoke created by the fire.

There were no apparent injuries from the fallout of that fire, however, due to the ash and soot settling there were some ponds, and wells that were covered by a layer of that soot and ash. Of course, ash is good for the gardens, but it is not so good for the drinking water.

However, every action has a reaction, and like a stone leaving ever widening ripples across the pond as it skips across the surface, this event also created circumstances beyond the simple awe and wonder most people had over the event. One of these reactions was the unexpected advance of the Shaker religion. The fear of the darkness and its comparisons to Biblical prophecy brought many people to their meetings in New York and Massachusetts, and we eventually saw the establishment of the Shaker community in Poland. Other people flocked to religious services and meetings of other denominations and faiths as well.

It is interesting as we gaze over the past to see events take place, and then read about the domino like after effects of any event. If the fire in Ontario had not reached such epic proportions, there would not have been such an outpouring of religious fervor, and without that fervor, the Shakers we know of today would not be as we know them. Perhaps many of the communities they established would never have been established.

I read a lot of commentary and works from many authors from a myriad of sources, and many of those writers have a tendency to politicize and monetize our past, changing its meaning to suit their agenda, instead of simply sharing the details and facts of the past, and putting those stories in light of the results of those events.

Always look beyond the event to find the true story of our past. You might be surprised at what you find.

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The New Meadows Canal

One of the earlier methods of transportation in this country was our waterways, (viz. rivers and lakes) and as time progressed in the early days; canals were often built when there was no waterway. Here in Maine we had few canals that were actually built for the purpose of moving freight and people. The vast majority were simply for the direction of our water powers to better advantage of the mills that used them.

One of the best known canals would be the Cumberland and Oxford Canal, stretching from Portland’s Fore River estuary to Sebago Lake, and thence to Long Lake through the Songo River. A total of 27 locks for the canal and one on the Songo allowed travelers and freight to journey from Harrison, ME, all the way to Portland Harbor. Another well known canal is the Telow Canal, This canal was engineered strictly for the passage of logs from Telos Lake into Webster lake and then on down to the Penobscot River. We will get into these stories another day though. Today, I want to share a little about a relatively unknown canal in Maine called the Merry Meeting Canal.

Constructed in the early 1800’s, this canal was cut for the purpose of trafficking logs from Merry Meeting bay. It was not a successful enterprise, although the mill at New Meadows found it useful for a time. Authorized by the Massachusetts legislature in 1790 before Maine gained its independence, the canal was constructed in the early 1798.

John Peterson, one of the proprietors lived on the Brunswick side of the New Meadows river, and built a dam across the river, and erected tide mills, one of them a sawmill which utilized the canal to obtains logs. Peterson also built ships there at New Meadows and was involved in a successful trade with the West Indies.

Unfortunately for the proprietors, there was an insufficient difference between the water levels of the two waterways, and while if it had been dug much deeper with the intent of navigation for vessels instead of for light traffic with an emphasis on the lumber trade, perhaps it would still be in existence today. Steamboat travel had yet to come into existence when the plans for the canal were laid, but if it had, I am certain the outcome would have been much difference. A great deal of time would have been saved if the steamboats could have travelled from Harpswell to Brunswick and up the Kennebec through this canal.

Dug eight feet wide and only a few feet deep, enough to float logs, the canal would only have allowed passage of very shallow draft boats of the one and a half miles of its length.

William C. Purrington wrote about the canal in “A Look Into West Bath’s Past” and had this to say:

It might be mentioned here that because of the difference in the incoming tides between the New Meadows River and the Kennebec River at Welch’sCreek, and because it was not excavated deep enough, this canal never proved to be a success. I am quoting from Professor George Leonard Vose’s article entitled ” The Old Canal at New Meadows”, which was originally read March 12, 1901, and republished by the Pejepscot Historical Society in a book entitled “our Town” in 1967: “We find that the New Meadows tide came in about two hours before the tide from the Kennebec making it hard work to get logs up to the summit. That after a while the Kennebec tide came up, and balanced that from the New Meadows, so that there was little or no movement of the water in either direction. That the New Meadows tide commenced to go down first, and soon lowered the water in the canal so that it was of no use. The length of the time during each tide that the canal could be used was only about three hours; and this time, depending upon the moons position, was not a fixed time, but varied from day to day through the month.” That canal was built for the purpose of floating logs through, but these had to be poled through with great difficulty. Because of the difference of the dates given in various history books we find it hard to date this exactly, but we can come to one conclusion, that it was between 1179 and 17798, for Capt. John Peterson had removed to Bath by the later date because the Brunswick people had taken so little interest in it.

The dates given are fairly accurate here, as the Massachusetts Legislature granted approval for the incorporation and construction of the canal in 1790. The proprietors were allowed four years to construct the canal of forfeit the right by the act as passed, so Peterson and company would have had the canal finished prior to 1795, and would have been using it until 1800 or so. The following is an excerpt from those records:

Re Canal from New Meadow River to Merry Meeting Bay. Commonwealth of Massachusetts

In the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety

An Act for incorporating certain persons into a corporation for the purpose of opening a Canal from the head of New Meadow river to Merry meeting bay —

Whereas great advantages may arise to the towns west of New Meadow river, and to the publick[sic] in general, by opening a Canal from the head of the same river to Merry Meeting Bay —

Be it therefore Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court Assembled, and by the authority of the same that Isaac Snow, Aaron Hinkley, and Samuel Thompson Esquires, Phillip Higgins, Nathaniel Larrabee, Benjamin Hammon, John Peterson, and Samuel Snow, so long as they shall continue to be proprietors in said Incorporation, together with all those who are and those who shall become proprietors thereof, shall be a Corporation and body Politic for the purpose of opening and keeping open a Canal from the head of New Meadow river to Merry meeting Bay, under the name of “The Proprietors of the New Meddow[sic] Canal”

And by that name may sue & prosecute, & be sued & prosecuted to final Judgment and Execution, and do & suffer all other matters and things which bodies politic, may or ought to do and suffer, and that the said Corporation shall & may have full power and authority to make have & use a Common Seal, and the same to break alter & renew at pleasure—

And be it further Enacted, by the Authority aforesaid, that if it shall so happen that any individual or body corporate shall be damaged in his or their lands or other property, by cutting & keeping open said Canal the damage so done shall be recompensed by the proprietors thereof in such sums or proportions as shall be ordered by the Court of General Sessions of the peace in the county of Cumberland A upon inquiry into the same by a Jury summoned for that purpose at the expence[sic] of the proprietors of the aforesaid Canal.

And be it further Enacted, by the authority aforesaid, that Isaac Snow Esqr be & hereby is empowered & directed to issue his warrant to one of the proprietors aforesaid requiring him to notify a meeting of the proprietors in manner as the Law directs — And the proprietors at said meeting shall choose a Clerk (who shall be duly sworn to a faithful discharge of his office) and also shall agree on a method for calling future meetings.

And be it further Enacted that if the said proprietors shall refuse or neglect for the space of four years after the passing of this Act to open and compleat[sic] said Canal then this act shall be void & of none Effect

And be it further Enacted that the said Canal shall be kept open — for the passage of Boats, Rafts & other water craft and for all persons who may wish to pass or transact business therein; and c no fee, toll, or other perquisite for the same shall be required

In Senate March 1, 1790

This Bill having had two several readings, passed to be Engrossed

Sent down for concurrence

Sam Phillips Presid

In the House of Representatives March 5, 1790.

This Bill having had three several Readings passed a concurrence to be Engrossed with amendments Sent up for concurrence

David Cobb Spk “”

The mills Peterson built at New Meadows were powered by the tide, not by the flowing of the river as there really is no current sufficient for that purpose. According to Parker Reed’s History of Bath, Peterson moved from New Meadows to Bath about 1798, where he built a home just above his shipyard on the Kennebec. About 1809, he left for Liverpool England with two ships loaded with cargo, sold them and then moved to Newport, RI, and settled to end his life at Portsmouth.

An interesting side note here is that in 1807, plans for a canal to be constructed from the Androscoggin over to Maqouit Bay were also discussed, but no work was ever started, even though a thorough survey had been completed. The photo in the above corner is an early 20th century postcard from my collection of the New Meadows Inn.

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The Purrinton Tragedy: Augusta, 1806

I came across a good story while doing some research on the Augusta area, just the type of stuff you ghost hunters out there love to hear about. According to the story, A James Purrington moved from Bowdoinham to a farm on the Belgrade road and subsequently massacred his family with an ax and the committed suicide with a razor. Just another in a long line of oddities coming out of that little burg on the Kennebec River. Have you ever noticed that Bowdoinham’s phone numbers start with 666? 😮 Spooks a lurking behind every door, and a skeleton in every closet, as they say.

Stories like this one, and the Mary Knight murder I posted on a while back are just a few of the interesting events that have occurred across Maine throughout her history. These two excerpts are from a couple of different texts that touch upon this event. You can click on the links to read the story in the original publications from the 1800’s.

I found it particularly interesting that Purrintons body was buried near the road, with a mention that gossip claims that Bowdoin College had secretly exhumed the body and taken it to the college for scientific research. Did the college indeed take the body? Maybe, maybe not, but this story would make a good research project for those interested in these sorts of events in Maine history. A century and six years have passed since that tragic day, and we ask, could the spirits of those poor children and Betsy Purrinton still roam that farmhouse on the Belgrade road?

The Purrinton Tragedy

The year 1806 was made melancholy in the annals of the town by an awful tragedy committed by a maniac. James Purrinton (aged forty-six) came to Augusta with his wife (aged forty-five) and family from Bowdoinham in 1805, and occupied the farm on the Belgrade road that was owned by the late George Cony (who built the Cony House). Purrinton had eight children: Polly, aged 19 years; James, aged 17; Martha, 15; Benjamin, 12; Anna, 10; Nathaniel, 8; Nathan, 6; Louisa, 18 months.

On the morning of July 9th, between two and three o’clock, the maniacal monster stealthily assailed with an axe every member of his family, and killed instantly all except two— James (who recovered from his wounds), and Martha, who died July 30th. The maniac then cut his own throat and fell dead in his blood. The news of the deed spread horror everywhere. Elias Craig, as coroner, summoned a jury of inquest, consisting of John Eveleth (foreman), Theophilus Hamlen, James Child, Kendall Nichols, Shubael Pitts, Caleb Heath, Jonathan Perkins, Oliver Pollard, Samuel Bond, Ezekiel Page, Ephraim Ballard, jun. This jury found that Purrinton “of his malice aforethought” did kill and murder his wife and children, “and as a felon did voluntarily kill and murder himself.”

The selectmen caused the bodies to be carried to the meeting house, but that of the suicide was denied admission beyond the porch, where it was detained with the axe and razor spectacularly displayed on the coffin. The funeral was held the day after the tragedy, attended by many hundreds of people from the surrounding country. A platform was set up in Market Square for the minister. Daniel Stone offered prayer and Joshua Taylor (Methodist) preached to the multitude. The procession was headed by the coroner and his jury, behind whom were the seven victims’ bodies, “supported by bearers and attended by pall-bearers,” and they were followed by the surviving son (James} and relatives and people. Purrinton’s body was hauled on a cart behind.

The procession marched across the bridge to Fort Western, and having passed by it returned over the river and went via Bridge and State streets to the Winthrop road, and from thence to the burying ground (Mt. Vernon Cemetery), where, in the northeast corner, and near to the powder house (built in 1805) the bodies of the mother and her six children were buried side by side in graves that are unmarked. Purrinton’s body, with axe and razor,was buried between the road-side and the cemetery, but tradition hints that it was secretly exhumed in the darkness of the following night for the benefit of science at Bowdoin College.

Purrinton Tragedy of 1806 is Recalled

The State Librarian on a recent trip to Boston secured at an auction book store a very rare and valuable pamphlet, one recalling a long forgotten tragedy in Augusta. It is printed in the style of that day, with the coarse white paper, now browned with age, the queer faced type, with the old-fash1oned small s, and has 22 pages. Beyond the mark of age it is remarkably well preserved. The first and outside page is a gruesome affair. It is surrounded with a heavy black border and covered with heavy mourning rules. Near the top are cuts of seven coffins in a row and of varying sizes, probably representing the ages and sizes of the victims of the tragedy. At the bottom of the page is a single coffin, on which is cut a razor and an ax, the weapons with which the deed was committed. The title page inscription reads as follows:

HORRID MASSACREl l
Sketches of

The Life
of Capt. JAMES PURRINTON

Who on the Night of the Eighth of July 1806

Murdered His Wife, Six Children and Himself.

With a Particular Account of that Shocking Catastrophe to Which are Subjoined REMARKS on the fatal

tendency of erroneous principles and motives for receiving and obeying the pure and salutary precepts of the gospel

Copy Right Secured

Augusta (Kennebec)

Printed and Sold by Peter Edds

The article tells of the terrible murder by Capt. James Purrinton of his wife, seven children and himself one child escaping death, though wounded.

Captain Purrinton was born in 1750 in Bowdoinham and married Betsey Clifford of Bath. Twelve children were born to them, of which four died in infancy. The family in August, 1805 moved to Augusta and located on a farm about a mile and a half above the village. There they lived peacefully for some time, until the following year Mrs. Purrinton noticed that her husband was acting peculiarly and at one time found him sharpening a knife. When taxed with intending to make way with himself he denied it, but on the morning of July 9, 1806, Dean Wyman, a near neighbor, was aroused by James, the eldest Purrinton boy, who, wounded, had just escaped from his home and told of the terrible deed his father had just committed.

Wyman secured help and they proceeded to the Purrinton home, where Capt. Purrinton, his wife and six children were found dead and the second daughter, Martha, apparently dying.

The deed had been committed with an ax and the captain had cut his throat with a razor. The bodies of the victims were terribly mutilated, and almost all had put up a terrific struggle against their maniacal father. The list follows:

Dead—Mrs. Purrinton, aged 45; Polly, 19; Benjamin, 12; Anna, 10; Nathaniel, 8; Nathan. 6; Louisa, 18 months. Martha, aged 15, died the following July 30 from her wounds. James, aged 17, was but slightly wounded and recovered.

A letter was found written by Capt. Purrinton giving in a rambling way his religious views and expressing the hope of future happiness for all his family.

Coroner Elias Craig empaneled a jury, consisting of Theopilus Hamlin, James Child, Kendal Nichols, Shuball Pitts, Caleb Heath, Frederic Wingate, Jonathan Perkins, Oliver Pollard, Samuel Bond, Ezekiel Page and Ephraim Ballard, Jr. Wingate was foreman. The verdict was that Purrinton “Of his malice aforethought” did kill and murder his wife and children, “and as a felon did voluntarily kill and murder himself,” though the general opinion was that he was seized with an attack of hereditary insanity and was a maniac when he committed the deed.

The work then goes on to give the writer’s personal views on religion and the lessons taught by the tragedy, in a more or less interesting manner, filling greater part of the 22 pages.

Much additional information concerning the tragedy is contained in North’s History of Augusta, Among other things it states that the selectmen on the day of the tragedy placed the remains of the victims in the meeting house, leaving the remains of the father in the porch, with the ax and razor on the coffin. The next day “a vast concourse of people” gathered for the funeral, so great the throng “that the street and adjoining houses were filled and many were on the house tops.” Rev. Joshua Taylor, a Methodist minister, preached the funeral sermon. The remains of the mother and six children were taken across the bridge and returned, then going by way of Bridge and State streets to the Burnt Hill burying ground, in the northeast corner of which the remains were interred.

The remans of the father were taken without ceremony, with the ax and razor, and buried together in the highway, near the southwest corner of the burying ground, at the corner of Winthrop and High streets. The procession then returned to the meeting house and the multitude was dismissed, after prayer by Rev. Eliphaet Gillet.

North’s History also states that Purrinton frequently changed his religious belief, but had finally settled down to the belief of universal salvation. His manners were reserved and he was “obstinately tenacious of his opinion.” He was known to be elated or depressed according to circumstances and was, before the tragedy very despondent over the severe drought, fearing that his crops would be cut off and his family suffer from want.

North’s History further locates the home of the Purrintons by stating it was “a farm on the Belgrade road now owned and occupied by George Cony.”

Categories: events, history, Maine oddities, stories, Uncategorized, weird Maine news | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Maine’s Part in the Fenian War of 1866

Civil War history is all the rage this year as we celebrate the sesquicentennial of that great conflict. It’s funny how we call it the Civil War, when in fact it was anything but a civil war. In reality, it is more properly called the War for Southern Independence, or secession. We seem to forget as we gloss over history and change the story to fit our agenda that the southern states decided to secede from the union and form their own nation for many of the same reasons that we declared independence from England and formed the United States. We became a nation of rebels, just as the southerners became rebels upon the firing of Fort Sumter in April of 1861.

However, I digress. One of the outcomes of the War Between the States was the lingering ill feelings between England and the United States over the English support of the Confederacy, albeit unofficial from the Crown’s public stand. There were many factions in this nation that would have enjoyed a new war between England and the US, and one of these groups was an Irish and Irish-American society called the Fenian Brotherhood, hailing mostly from New York. They had already attempted to invade British America on several occasions, and in this following article, we read how they used the State of Maine as a staging point for a failed attempt to maybe rile the two nations into warfare against each other one more time. It comes from The Canadian magazine, written by J. Vroom.

THE FENIANS ON THE ST. CROIX

It is now more than thirty years since the Fenian’s added their borrowed name to the story of the river St. Croix; yet the older men among the dwellers on the New Brunswick shore, looking back over that time, must find it hard to realize that their memory covers the longest period of unbroken peace in the history of the province.

Four times since its Loyalist founders settled on its rocky coast have the people of New Brunswick been aroused by threats of armed invasion.

In the war of 1793, French privateers, or lawless New Englanders sailing under French letters of marque, appeared in the Bay of Fundy. Men and money were quickly raised to defend the seaport towns; and one vessel, La Solide, was captured by New Brunswick militiamen and carried into St. Andrews as a prize. Again, in the war of 1812, the bay was infested by New England privateers; and the people stood ready to defend their homes, until the British occupation of Eastport deprived the enemy of a port of refuge, and the boundary line, for the time being, was carried west to the Penobscot. Once more, in 1837, the Aroostook war brought a call to arms; and once more it found a ready response, as volunteers from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia hurried forward to repel invasion. And when, in 1866, the rumors of Fenian activity in the United States proved to have some foundation in fact, the people of New Brunswick answered to the call, and their province was the first to meet the threatened danger.

In the autumn of 1865, the movements of the Fenian’s in New York first aroused suspicions that they were planning a raid on some part of British America. Early in December of that year, Sir Arthur Hamilton-Gordon, at that time Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick, visited the border towns to urge upon the inhabitants the wisdom of taking some precautions.

The question of the Confederation of the provinces of British North America was then before the people. Many were disposed to laugh at the “Fenian scare,” as it was called; believing it to be a political move, planned and subsidized by the promoters of the Quebec Scheme for the purpose of influencing the electorate. Many who were willing to believe that the Fenian leaders would really attempt an invasion of British territory were still unwilling to see in the common danger an argument for union, and felt sure that Upper Canada was the province most exposed to their attack. So it happened that when the spring of 1866 brought the report of a Fenian plan of campaign to include the occupation of St. Andrews or Campobello, looking to the conquest of New Brunswick as a convenient base of operations against England, there was very much incredulity mingled with surprise and alarm.

The military authorities, however, had not been idle. Volunteers were already enrolled in all the border parishes; and the news from New York, Buffalo, and other centres of Fenian activity was awaited with eager interest.

The sudden appearance at Eastport of B. Doran Killian, with a few followers, at last convinced the people of the need of action. This was on the 6th of April, 1866. Four days later, another detachment of Fenians arrived by the steamer from Portland; and H.M.S. Pylades, from Halifax, anchored at Welshpool, Campobello, on the opposite side of the narrow strait which here forms the international boundary line. Business was immediately suspended at St. Andrews, where two companies of volunteers were on duty under Col. Anderson; and the volunteers at St. Stephen, St. George and Woodstock were called out for active service. The Fenian scare was now found to be a serious matter.

The Pylades was followed by the Rosario, which anchored off St. Andrews, nearly opposite the Maine town of Robbinston.

Fenians continued to arrive from the westward, and were quartered at hotels and private houses in Eastport, Lubec, Robbinston and Calais, or encamped in small parties along- the Maine side of St. Croix. They were a rough-looking lot of men, but quiet and well disciplined; and as they seemed to have no commissariat, but depended upon the ordinary local sources of supply, it may be safely estimated that their number did not exceed 500 in all.

The officers, Gen. Killian, Major Sinnott, Capt. Gaynor, and others, paraded their titles and proclaimed their plans and motives, announcing to the world that they had come to prevent the British Government from dragooning the colonists into Confederation; but they were evidently disappointed at the lack of sympathy and support from the people on both sides of the line.

Strengthened by Killian’s reference to the matter of Confederation at a public meeting in Calais, there was still a lingering doubt with some as to whether the threatened invasion was more than a sham; when, one night in April, a party of armed men, supposed to be Fenians, made a descent upon Indian Island, a little island in Passamaquoddy Bay, lying nearly opposite Eastport.

Campobello and St. Andrews were protected by the warships; volunteers were on guard at Deer Island, and at every important point along the shores of the river and bay; but Indian Island was unguarded.

About two o’clock on Sunday morning, the 15th of April, a few men stepped ashore from a boat, went to the house of the collector of customs, demanded and received the custom-house flag, and rowed away with it. It was a bloodless foray, ridiculously trifling in itself; but it was the cause of intense excitement in the neighboring towns. Capt. Hood, of the Pylades, reported to headquarters at St. Andrews. At St. Stephen the volunteers were at church on Sunday morning, when a dispatch reached the commanding officer and was read aloud. The Fenian’s had landed on Indian Island, and carried off the British flag. The effect was magic. The men were no longer playing soldier. As they returned to barracks, others gathered at street corners, eager to be enrolled; and before an hour had passed there were all the volunteers required to form another company if needed.

More ships were sent from Halifax, including the flagship Duncan, which brought Admiral Sir James Hope and Major-General Sir Hastings Doyle, with 570 men of the 17th Foot, a company of Royal Engineers, and a battery of artillery. A Fredericton volunteer company, called the Victoria Rifles, was also sent to the front, and Governor Gordon followed them by special train to St. Andrews.

But Indian Island was still unguarded; and, a week after the affair of the flag, the bonded warehouse and three storehouses were burned by incendiaries. Then earthworks were thrown up by men detailed from the Rosario: and the Niger, the Pylades, the Fawn, and the Cordelia in turn furnished a guard until the arrival from St. Andrews of twenty men of the Gordon Rifles, under Ensign Chandler. These St. Andrews men, by the way, carried off the honours of the campaign for the only real encounter with the enemy; as, a few nights later, their sentries fired upon and drove off two boats from Eastport that were trying to effect a landing.

Gen. Meade now arrived with a force of United States regulars, making his headquarters at Eastport and stationing a guard at Calais. The Fenian’s at Eastport had been waiting all this time for arms and ammunition that had been shipped from Portland by sailing vessels, because the passenger steamers had refused to bring them; but when at last the guns arrived, they were promptly seized by the United States authorities. Killian, boldly demanding to have the guns restored, was threatened with arrest; and so, deprived of his arms, and disappointed in the attitude of the Provincialist’s, and in his hope of easily involving the United States in a war with Great Britain, he found himself obliged to give up his scheme of invasion. Finally, he sent his followers back to Portland.

In May three companies of the 17th were sent to St. Stephen, to prevent a possible raid from Calais. Their services were not needed, as the last Fenian’s had left Calais before their arrival. Gen. Meade and his men, a few days later, were ordered to the Niagara frontier, where the Fenians were gathering in force; and the British troops and vessels along the border were gradually withdrawn. The 17th and the artillery were relieved by St. John volunteers of the 66th, and returned to

Halifax by the troop ship Simoon; the St. John men were in turn relieved by two companies of the 15th Regiment; and by the middle of June they also were recalled and the local volunteers disbanded.

The presence of the Fenians on the St. Croix was a matter of much more consequence than was apparent at the time. It drew the people of New Brunswick closer to the mother country, and to their fellow-subjects in the upper provinces; it elicited a display of loyalty worthy of the descendants of United Empire Loyalists; and it undoubtedly influenced the pending election. The election went strongly in favour of Confederation. Killian’s ambitious and absurd attempt to wreck the British Empire, so far as it had any permanent effect, only tended to strengthen that Empire at its weakest point, by its bearing upon the political movements of the day which led up to the formation of the Dominion of Canada.

Categories: articles, Education, events, history, Maine, Maine oddities, New Brunswick, stories, Uncategorized, weird Maine news | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Maine’s Malta War

This story relates the uprising of the settlers from an area we know today as Windsor, Maine. Only one person was killed, and seven men were tried for the murder of that one man. Follow along as we explore a moment in Maine’s past….

The Malta War

An uprising in Maine

The town of Malta was incorporated on March 3rd of 1809. Between then and now, it has been referred to as New Waterford and Gerry. Today we know it as Windsor. This community is situated at the headwaters of the Sheepscot River. On the 8th of September of that year, 1809, one Mr. Paul Chadwick was Murdered. The lands of that town were claimed to be owned by the holders of the Plymouth Patent. Mr. Chadwick was hired by the proprietors of the patent to survey the lands.

The settlers of the area were understandably upset, as the truthful ownership of the area was being called into question. They had presumed to be the lawful owners, when in fact, that may not have been the case. Joined as one, the people living on the lands being surveyed made a resolution to defend their property at all costs. Ten or more men gathered themselves together, and went to speak to Mr. Chadwick.

Some were disguised as Indians, and were fully armed, as they were resentful upon the encroachment of their homes. They advised Chadwick to cease his survey operations and quit the territory, or suffer the consequences. To his error, Chadwick did not believe the men, and was subsequently shot. His wounds, though mortal, allowed him to live until the following day, when he died.

Almost immediately, seven men were arrested for the crime. These were; David Lynn, Nathaniel Lynn, Ansel Meigs, Jabez Meigs, Adam Pitts, Elijah Barton and Prince Cain. They were brought to Augusta and confined in the jail there, and charged with the crime of murder.

While awaiting trial rumors began circulating around Augusta that a large party of armed men intended to storm the jail to rescue the seven men. Prone to believing the wild stories, the residents felt they were in imminent peril. The fear of the possibility of the town being burned down by these people turned into “supposed fact”. To calm the public, the judges of the court, known then as “Justices of the Common Pleas” and the Sherriff requested that Maj-General Sewall of the 8th division send troops to quell the uprising.

However, General Sewall did not believe that this situation required as drastic a response that was requested. He replied by sending a couple of patrols to stand watch and patrol the streets. October 1st was a night that would change this view. After midnight approximately seventy men approached the town. All were armed and some were in disguise to hide their identity.

They came to within one hundred fifty rods on the East side of the bridge into Augusta. The leaders of the mob sent a spy closer to the bridge to reconnoiter the situation and report back, so a plan could be made. Unfortunately, the spy got too close to the guards and was taken prisoner. He was dragged off some distance, and nearly three dozen men took chase and attacked the soldiers.

They managed to subdue the soldiers because of their numbers, and rescued their fellow miscreant. A few soldiers fired their muskets as a warning and the reports were heard in the city. Immediately, the bell in the courthouse tower was rung. The streets of Augusta were filled with citizens, some in terror of the rumored attack on the city.

General Sewall immediately called up three hundred soldiers to curtail the commotion and return peace to Augusta. The following day, when it was shown that there would be no more violence, he recalled two hundred, leaving the other hundred soldiers in town for guard and patrol duty. The seven prisoners were indicted on charges of murder, and held until their trial in November of that year.

The trial commenced on the 16th of November and lasted eight days. In addition to remarks and testimony of the defendants and their legal representation, testimony from a total of forty four witnesses was heard. The jury deliberated the case over a course of two days, and acquitted the seven men by unanimous verdict.

The prosecutor in this case was Daniel Davis, representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Attorneys for the defendants were Prentiss Mellen, Samuel S. Wilde, Thomas Rice and Phillip Leach. Comments made by Judge Parker on the case indicated that the State was not in agreement with the verdict. However, as the law was held by the court the verdict was allowed to stand.

It is interesting to compare the situation of two hundred years ago to today. While a mob of people protected the land they felt was lawfully theirs the same would not be allowed today. In this day the written law has become so convoluted with caveats and loopholes that only a team of lawyers could have tackled the problem.

I would wonder why the Plymouth Company still had valid title to the area. One would think that all patents by the English Crown would have become null and void at the end of the Revolutionary War. They were not, however, as a court had given title back to the original patent owners after the war.

Another interesting note on this incident is that an act was made to institute a statute prohibiting any person from disguising themselves as an Indian, with the intent of prohibiting a law enforcement officer or surveyor from completing their duties.

Maine History news

A look at the past of America’s pastime

NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine — One hundred and fifty years ago, when batters were called “strikers” and home plate was actually an iron plate, you couldn’t blame the umpire for striking out. There were no called strikes in the early days of a game called “base ball.” “The only time a …

Family of World War II tank driver arranges surprise visit

AUGUSTA, Maine — Family members of World War II tank driver Harry Grimm, who turned 90 on Monday, have undertaken a secret mission. They are taking him on a ride Friday to a place that should put a smile on his face and may cause a tear to fall from…

Transylvania by the sea: Washington County rich in ghost stories

LUBEC, Maine — She walks the trails at West Quoddy Lighthouse State Park, stopping only to gaze out to sea. The wind billows her long…

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The Murder of Mary Knight

The Murder of Mary Knight

Every year at about this same time a flurry of stories arise from the Poland, Maine area regarding a supposed specter wandering the highway and back roads of this sleepy little community of just a few thousand living souls. Hard telling how many dead souls are wandering around, but some folks say there are quite a few. A poor woman by the name of Mary Knight is just one of these denizens of the otherworld.

The story generally states that a woman in what appears to be a wedding dress is seen wandering down the road, staring vacantly into the distance. Usually this occurs along route 26 in the wee hours of the morning. She has been seen on other roads in the area, and sometimes near a local cemetery, of which there are several scattered around, as there usually are in these older communities.

Who was Mary Knight, and how did she die? Going by some of the more or less current newspaper articles, I’d say there is a tremendous amount of conjecture, but little research being done to tell the story as it really happened. That’s OK though, I’m working on a piece that will set the story straight.

Here are a few points in fact that pertain to the real story, though.

Mary Knight was murdered by her Husband, George, (who was twenty years younger than Mary, by the way) on October 6th of 1856. In reading over the available works on this case, several facts come to light which can be used to summarize the story.

Mary Knight had been ill for some time before her murder, as a local doctor (a Dr. Stedman of mechanic Falls) had testified to her being seen by him as early as the first part of June. It can be surmised at this point that Mr. Knight had been administering poison to his wife, but there is no evidence to prove this point. Her complaints had included weakness, headaches and stomach pains with vomiting. Several poisons could produce these symptoms, but again, there was no evidence that Mrs. Knight was being poisoned.

A Dr. Carr, who had been treating Mrs. Knight for about six weeks had visited the Knight home on October 6th and commented on how Mrs. Knight had been improving, and that she should be well again in short time. He had commented on this to George Knight, who had loaded his wagon with shingles and had planned to take them that night to a buyer in Dry Mills.

Later that night, pandemonium would break loose in the Knight household as Mary Knight was murdered in cold blood while in bed with George’s mother, Lydia, age 83. Apparently, earlier in the evening Mary had some reason for not wanting to sleep in her own bed and had crawled into Lydia Knights bed. Perhaps she had a premonition that some evil was to befall her on that night. The window to the outside was opened and the sash was hanging at an angle. Later, after neighbors had been sent for by a boy that was staying at the Knight farm, 10-year-old Sidney Verrill. It was initially thought by those first observing the crime scene that Mary Knight had killed herself, but it was quickly decided that she had been murdered.

George Knight was away, delivering the wagonload of shingles to a Mr. Hancock. He was gone after, and brought home after conducting his business.

There was a coroner’s inquest, where it was determined that Mary Knight was in fact murdered. A few days later George Knight was arrested for the murder of his wife, and subsequently found guilty, and sentenced to a term of life in the state prison. The story in its entirety is full of juicy tidbits, but I’ll let you wait until the full story comes out for now. Suffice it to say that old George was prone to chatting up the ladies of the village and was looking for a replacement even while Mary Knight was suffering from her ailments of that summer.

Mary Knight was indeed murdered by her husband, and he paid the price for his crime. The Knight homestead has changed ownership many times, and the home has long since vanished, with just the remains of the foundation left for those looking to find this link to the past. Perhaps Mary wanders the backroads of Poland looking for the home she once called her own? I cannot say that Mary knight is indeed a restless spirit, but there are things that go bump in the night. Stay tuned for the whole story!

Categories: articles, Books, history, Maine oddities, stories, Uncategorized, weird Maine news | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joshua Chamberlin’s Civil War Letters Online

Here are a few more headlines from around the state of Maine’s newspapers. If you have any headlines you’d like to share, please forward them to me at editor@remembermemedia.com, and please enclose a link to the article as well as the contents first couple of lines. Thanks for your help!

Not your Run of the Mill lumberman: George Gustin going strong at 78

WALES — From a padded seat in a tiny wooden and Plexiglas enclosure, George W. Gustin pressed buttons and pushed and pulled two fat gray joysticks, controlling the position and passage of a thick oak log. After mechanical dogs rolled and adjusted the log, vertical and horizontal saws trimmed it neatly into uniform 12-foot-long planks….

Dover-Foxcroft club caters to train buffs

There’s a new train on the tracks in Piscataquis County, and locomotive engineers are needed. more

America’s First Mile dedicated in Fort Kent

As of Sunday afternoon, C.R. Joy had the boasting rights and distinction of being the first visitor to Fort Kent photographed in front of the new granite sign marking the start of U.S. Route 1. In addition to marking the start of the 2,000-mile highway ending in Key West, Fla., the large white, gray and black granite stone debuted the town’s new slogan, “America’s First Mile.” more

Maine archive puts Civil War-era letters online

AUGUSTA, Maine — In 1862, Joshua Chamberlain, a 34-year-old language professor at Bowdoin College, wrote to Maine’s governor saying he wanted to serve in the war between the North and the South, … more

Reuse of mill celebrated

BIDDEFORD — More than 150 years ago, in 1845, Laconia Mill 1 was built. It was one of the first buildings to house Biddeford’s burgeoning textile industry. Eventually, the city’s mill district grew to an estimated 1.5 million square feet, and thousands of people were employed by the mills….

Developer seeks OK to demolish historic house

FREEPORT — Discussion of a proposal by a New York City-based company that owns several retail buildings in downtown Freeport — to demolish one of the last remaining historic Mallett houses on Depot Street to reconfigure a parking lot — was among the agenda items the Municipal Facilities Committee was scheduled to consider at a meeting this morning at the town hall….

Pictures from ‘The Forgotten War’

BRUNSWICK — For almost 60 years, Robert Galloupe has saved the 35mm negatives and yellowing snapshots he took while serving in the Army during the Korean War….

Christmas will be upon us soon, and what better gift is there for Christmas than a Maine history book. Salt and Pines, volume 1 is available at the low price of $20.00 plus shipping, but you need to order it quickly to have it by Christmas time! Simply click onto the Title link and you’ll be taken to a secured ordering site….

Salt & PinesSalt & Pines

Available as print: $20.00 or available as a download: $10.00

Salt & Pines: tales from bygone Maine is an anthology of stories and poetry about living in Maine’s bygone days. From the Islands of Casco Bay to the backwoods of Maine you’ll find tales to bring memories of your own to mind. Join us as we share Maine’s bygone days with;Allen Sockabasin, Ann Allen Brahms, D.L. Soucy, Dave Sargent, Doris Doggett, Jeanne Mason, Linda Aaskov, Luthera Dawson, Patricia Smith Ranzoni, Philip Candelmo, Philip Turner, Rene Cloukey, Roberta Gomez Ricker, Roy Fairfield, Ruth Richardson Maloney, Terrell Crouch, Thomas Carper, Tim Sample, Tom Fallon, Trudy Chambers Price, Salt & Pines, a taste of the ocean, the sound of the wind in the Maine forests….a combination you cannot find in any other state.

 

From the historical societies and museums…

Maine Historical Society;

Stories from Maine Memory Network

Online Exhibit:
Gifts from Gluskabe: Maine Indian Artforms

Gluskabe, a hero of the Wabanaki people, created the Indians and taught them to make what they needed while using the land and resources wisely. This online exhibit, featuring items from the collections of the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine, demonstrates how the artistry used to create objects was deeply connected to the natural world.  View the online exhibit.

Thursday, November 18, 7:00 PM 

Book Event: The Killing of Crazy Horse
Speaker: Thomas Powers, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist 

Join us for a special evening that will be recorded for C-SPAN 2’s Book TV.

MHS is fortunate to host acclaimed journalist Thomas Powers who will discuss his new book. Crazy Horse was perhaps the greatest Indian warrior of the 19th century, and his victory over General Custer at the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 shocked the country. The details surrounding Crazy Horse’s death in federal custody the next year were the subject of great dispute and have remained controversial for more than a century. With the Great Sioux War as background, and drawing on many new documents, Powers will recount the final months and days of Crazy Horse’s life. Watch for Powers on WCSH’s 207 on Wednesday, 11/17. More…

New Exhibit Opens in Lecture Hall Gallery

Wednesday, November 17
The Art of December: Original Holiday Cards by Maine Artists from the Mildred Burrage Collection
 
This selection of holiday cards demonstrates the wide range of artists who called Maine home–such as Dahlov Ipcar, Stell and William Shevis, and Waldo Peirce— and exemplifies the personal connections of Mildred Burrage, whose love for the holidays is seen throughout her collection.

Join us December 3rd for the First Friday Art Walk and exhibit opening reception.

 

 

Penobscot Marine Museum;

 

Thanks for a Great 2010

Maine’s sardine industry was the subject
of our successful history conference.
 

75th Anniversary Exhibits Preview 

 
 

An exciting schedule of events is taking shape to celebrate Penobscot Marine Museum’s 75th anniversary in 2011. Among the highlights will be two major exhibits:

The Art of the Boat will honor George Wasson, author of Sailing Days on the Penobscot and one of the founding spirits of Penobscot Marine Museum.
  •  “75/75!” – 75 Favorites from PMM’s First 75 Years.
    The curator’s pick of the best, most historic, and most fascinating items in our collection. Located throughout the museum and on the web.
  • The Art of the Boat. A juried art show that explores the boat as art and the boatbuilder as artist. Artist submissions are invited. More information.

 

After of strong year of increased visitor traffic, Penobscot Marine Museum has battened down its exhibits for the season. Exhibits will re-open Friday, May 27, 2011 (Memorial Day weekend).

During our last open weekend, attendees of our 2010 history conference were treated to an evening and a full day of live and recorded media presentations, documentation and discussion about how Maine’s once-thriving sardine industry simply disappeared – a topic whose ramifications provide food for thought concerning employment and competitiveness on national and global levels. Speaking of food, the conference’s luncheon, the Great Sardine Cook-off, was a pescivore’s delight.

Of course we’re not going into hibernation just because the exhibits are closed. A number of presentations are scheduled through the rest of the fall, winter and spring, and we’re busy planning activities and exhibits for 2011. In addition to the items listed below, stay up to date by checking the website.

Historic Photo Exhibits and Talks

From the Atlantic Fisherman Collection

PMM’s photographic archives department has scheduled several exhibits and talks. All events are free. (Contact the venue to confirm dates and times.)

  • Historic Photos of Machias and Environs. Slide talk by photo archivist Kevin Johnson. At 28 Center St., Machias. November 18, 6:00p.m. Sponsored by Machias Historical Society.
  • Selections from the Atlantic Fisherman Collection. Exhibit at Maine Grind, 192 Main Street, Ellsworth. Now through April 30, 2011.
  • Waldo County Through Eastern’s Eye. Exhibit from the Eastern Illustrating & Publishing collection. At the Hutchinson Center, 80 Belmont Ave., Belfast. January 2 through April 30, 2011.
  • Main Streets of Waldo County (presentation). Slide talk by Earle Shettleworth, Jr., Maine State Historian and Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. At Belfast Free Library, 106 High St., Belfast. November 30, 7:00 p.m.
  • Main Streets of Waldo County (exhibit). At Belfast Free Library, 106 High St., Belfast. Now through December 30.
  • Historic Photos of Winterport and Environs. Slide talk by photo archivist Kevin Johnson. At Victoria Grant Civic Center, 40 Abbott Park, Winterport. December 13, 7:00 p.m. Sponsored by Winterport Historical Society. For more information: 207-223-4035.
Morrill, Maine (Eastern Illustrating & Publishing collection)

 

See you next time on Touring Maines History!

Categories: antiques, Art Exhibit, articles, Books, breaking news, civil war, collectibles, events, headlines, historic buildings, historic preservation, historical societies, history, Maine, Maine Historical Society, Maine oddities, Maine things to do, museum news, Penobscot Marine Museum, preservation, restoration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Wild Men of Gorham Maine

For those of you who’ve been following me for a while, you have more than likely noticed that I tend to dig up some really odd Maine history snippets from many of the older histories and other literature that has been published from Maine’s past. One of my favorites has been the story of the Bigfoot killing from Deer Isle, which would possibly have occurred no later than sometime around the end of the seventeenth century, and probably much earlier. I now find a strange tale from A History of the Town of Gorham, written by Josiah Pierce and published in 1862.

The story appears to have taken place circa 1788 and involved maybe two dozen men, ranging around the Gorham region towards the southern Maine coast. They spoke English, although the tale doesn’t say how well, and ate raw vegetables and birds. From whence did these men come from? Could they have been shipwrecked pirates? Maybe displaced Frenchmen, as the story suggests? Who knows today where they may have come from, nor where they would have gone to.

Perhaps they may have been English sailors marooned in New England while on a spy mission, what with the incident having taken place so close on the tails of the war of independence. Many stories that cannot be explained have taken place in Maine through the years, and this is merely another one of those tales. No explanation exists, but perhaps a reader may be able to add to this story in some way. Here’s the excerpt from the book:

 

WILD MEN OF GORHAM

About 1788, there was a general belief in Gorham, that certain strange men were wandering about this town, Scarborough and Westbrook. They were called ” Wild men.” Between the months of July and October, it is asserted, there were seen in the fields and in the woods, human beings ragged, and having long shaggy hair and beards, picking berries, green corn and peas. Upon discovering any other person, they would run away. Sometimes they were seen going out of barns early in the morning. Cows were frequently found to have been milked during the night in yards.

A Miss Webb, rising very early one morning, said she saw one of the wild men going out of her father’s yard, and one of the cows had been milked. Mr. Barnabas Bangs was looking for his oxen in a pasture where there were many trees and bushes, and he came suddenly upon one of these men sitting upon a log, eating a dead robin. Mr. Bangs asked him why he did not go to some house and cook his bird ? The fellow rose, and brandishing a large jack knife, replied, ” I will let you know the reason.” Mr. Bangs, being unarmed, speedily left the place.

Two boys, Ebenezer Hall and Israel Hall, were one day picking blackberries, and saw two of these wild persons coming towards them; the boys being frightened concealed themselves in the bushes. The boys said one of them was a woman, and that they were white people. It was said that a man in the vicinity of Bragdon’s Mills, near the line of Scarborough, being one day out in the woods with his gun, came upon one of these men, who was eating a young pigeon. The Scarborough man pointed his gun at him, and told him he would shoot him if he did not tell him who he was, and from whence he came.

The strange man said he was one of twenty-five sailors, the crew of a large vessel that was cast away on the coast. No such shipwreck was known by our citizens to have happened. Two brothers, Abraham and Eli “Webb, were one night driving a team with a load of boards from Saccarappa to Stroudwater, and they said they had a fair view of five of the Wild men in a field by the side of the road; they were picking green peas. It is said that the last time these wild men were seen was in Scarborough, near Gorham and Buxton lines, when a Mr. Libby is said to have counted fourteen of them, in a grove of young pine trees.

Not much importance is to be attached, I suppose, to the foregoing relation, yet there is no doubt that the people of Gorham and the adjacent towns, fully believed that such men were seen; that they were foreigners, mysterious persons. Some supposed them pirates, others, that they were a company of the Acadians, or neutral French, who had been expatriated from Nova Scotia. But who they were, where from, or what became of them, seems never to have been ascertained.

This account was given me in writing, some years ago, by an aged and intelligent gentleman of Gorham, who was a boy often years of age when these strangers were said to have been seen. My informant fully believed in the truth of the story.

Josiah Pierce

A History of the Town of Gorham

Pub 1862

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