Tuesday, September 13, 2016


               The move from Scarborough to Newry for the Carter family was nothing to be taken lightly.  Scarborough in 1810 had a population of over 2000 and had been inhabited for several generations.  John and Hannah lived close to the farms of the Carters and the Libbys.  They had family to help them and support them as they established their family. 

                Moving to Newry was like moving from day to night.  Newry was out in the backwoods.  It’s first settlement had been destroyed in 1782 after one year by the Indians.  “Then John J. Holmes of New Jersey purchased the land in 1794 with his sister's surname on the deed: Bostwick. On June 15, 1805, Bostwick Plantation was renamed by settlers that had come from Newry in what is now Northern Ireland.

The trade route (now Route 26) from Portland to Errol, New Hampshire, completed in 1802, passed through Newry. Farms were established on the intervales, which had excellent soil. Hay was the principal crop. Slopes of the mountains provided pasturage for grazing animals. A sawmill and gristmill were built on the Bear River “ (Wikipedia – Newry, Maine) and by 1810 Newry had a population of 202 souls.

Life in Newry was close to being at a subsistence level.  Farms had to be as self-sufficient as possible as this northern forest land required great effort to clear it and the growing season was short.  Most of the arable land was used to grow foodstuffs for the family or to produce forage for their animals.  Hunting, trapping and fishing was important for food and for the skins that could be traded for needed food.  The forest, which was everywhere and plentiful, was a source for logs and cut timber.  Still the bottom line was everyone needed food so food was king.   John Carter had an extra skill that would help them in this time of resettlement.  He had learned the blacksmithing trade since his marriage to Hannah.  He probably learned this from Hannah’s father Zebulon Libby who was a farmer-blacksmith back in Scarborough.  John most likely plied his trade on the side accepting barter in commodities which his family would need.

With very little known about these year we will attempt to reconstruct their life from the tax records of early Newry.  Much can be gleaned from these records as they listed the animals raised, dwellings built and land possessed and used.  A careful study of these documents found in the early town records of Newry give us more than a glimpse of John and Hannah’s life. (Office of Town Clerk, Newry, Maine, Town Records, 1805 - 1846, Family History Library Film #11589, pages unnumbered.)

Typical New England Home
1811 – We know John and Hannah were in Newry in 1811 as they paid taxes there for the first time.  This first year in Newry had to be full of challenges for the whole family.  The early settlers of Newry must have been allowed to claim land in addition to the actual purchases that they made as John was credited with 260 acres of land (30 acres were listed as waste land) yet he had no acres of land in tillage, mowing or pasture.  How they raised food to eat or for their 3 three-year-old cattle cannot be explained. The rolls also showed 1 swine which was raised to provide more protein for their diet.  They also had no dwellings on their land so one must guess that they lived in the bed of their wagon – assuming they had a wagon when they arrived in Newry.  Possibly John’s ability to work as a blacksmith provided them with cash or bartered goods.  Their three cattle disappear from the tax roll by the next year so they were probably a food source.  It was into these circumstances that the young couple welcomed their fourth child, William, into the family on 1 May 1811.  This meant that Hannah had 4 children under the age of 5.  Challenges had to be many and comforts few for the Carters.

1812 – The tax rolls still show John as having no dwelling but we would have to assume that this meant there was no finished dwelling but surely by this time that had at least part of the family home built to augment their initial living arrangements.  The family this year was taxed for an acre of tillage.  Tillage would be land being used to raise crops.  Knowing how a single acre of land would have hundreds of trees and each one would have to be removed before the land could be plowed and planted even this single acre of cleared land was an achievement.  This one acre would provide much of the family’s food supply.  Their livestock supply changed as they had two oxen (surely to plow the land) and two cows, that if lactating, would supply the family with dairy products. They also had two swine.   Dominicus turned six that year and probably began to help out around the farm.

1813 – The year began with the birth their fifth child, Philip Libby Carter, on January 13.  Also, for the first time in Newry, the family was recorded as having a dwelling on their property.  This had to be a momentous event for the Carters.  This year they tilled the one acre from the previous year.  They were also taxed for two cows and two swine.  The tax roll shows no oxen in their care.  The small farmers of the village of Newry probably shared these work animals as it wouldn’t take long to plow one acre of land.

1814 – For the first time the family had, besides its acre of tillage for growing foodstuffs, half acre of mowing land.  We would have to assume this was land used to raise grains or other crops to feed the livestock.  Coincidentally this year they had two oxen, two cows, one 3-year-old cattle and two swine.  They were beginning to settle in and exhibit the outward signs of building a comfortable life for themselves.

1815 – Again in January on the 13th the family was blessed with their sixth child and fourth son, John Harrison.  Their joy was short-lived as two days short of three months later he passed away.  The sorrow of his passing had to be great.  Hannah’s great sorrow had to be tempered by the knowledge that her first five children were growing up to be strong and healthy.  This year they continued to have their acre of tillage land but their pasture land had grown to one full acre.  Their livestock consisted of two oxen, cows and swine.

1816 – This was a year of terrible physical and economic turmoil in New England and most of the Northern Hemisphere.  With this as a background the records of Newry give no indication that there were problems.  The Carters were taxed for an acre and a half of tillage and mowing.  Thus they should have increased their production by a third.  They had a horse, three cows, two cattle and two swine.  Additionally, they welcomed yet another child into the home – John Jr (later called John Harrison) on October 6.  Nothing noted above alludes to the challenges that year – The Year Without a Summer – brought the family.  Since nothing written by the family has been found we will have to turn to historical accounts to educate us on this event.

Many of our generation have never heard of this event.  “The Year Without a Summer was an agricultural disaster. Historian John D. Post has called this ‘the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world’.  The unusual climatic aberrations of 1816 had the greatest effect on most of New England, Atlantic Canada, and parts of western Europe… (the event is) now generally thought to have occurred because of the April 5–15, 1815, Mount Tambora volcanic eruption on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia (then part of the Dutch East Indies, but under French rule during Napoleon's occupation of the Netherlands), described by Thomas Stamford Raffles.  The eruption had a volcanic explosivity index (VEI) ranking of 7, a colossal event that ejected at least 100 km3 (24 cu mi) of material. It was the world's largest eruption since the Hatepe eruption in 180 AD.” (Wikipedia – Year Without a Summer)

The following is a description Maine during the year of 1816: 
                The summer of 1816 was the coldest ever experienced by any person then living, according to the old Portland Eastern Argus newspaper. It was also known as the Year Without a Summer. In fact, the wording “…eighteen hundred and froze to death” is a genuine colloquial expression commonly found in historical literature about the summer of 1816. In that year, frost was reported in every month.

                A diary kept by an unknown person near Fryeburg, Maine, (some 50 miles south of Newry) described the 1816 weather as follows:

“January was so mild that most persons allowed their fires to go out and did not burn wood except for cooking. There were a few cool days, but they were few.

“February was not cold. The first of March was windy, but the month went out like a very innocent sheep.

“April came in warm, but as the days grew longer the air became colder and by the first of May there was a temperature like that of winter, with plenty of snow and ice. In May the young buds were frozen dead, ice formed half an inch thick on ponds and rivers. By the last of May in this climate the trees are usually in leaf and birds and flowers are plentiful. When the last of May arrived in 1816, everything had been killed by the cold.

“June was the coldest month roses ever experienced in this latitude. Frost and ice were common and every green thing was killed. All fruit was destroyed. Snow fell 10 inches in Vermont and there was a 7-inch snowfall in Maine.”

The Eastern Argus newspaper in Portland printed that on June 5th and 6th, 9”-12” of snow fell over Down East. Newly shorn sheep froze to death, crops failed. Birds died. People were not far from starvation. Throughout New England it snowed during five days in June. Wild temperature swings throughout the area were common. In some places, the high temperature on June 6th was 27 degrees lower than it had been on June 5th.

In June “…there were only a few moderately warm days. Everybody looked, longed and waited for warm weather. All summer long the wind blew steadily from the north in blasts laden with snow and ice. Farmers who worked out their taxes on the county roads wore overcoats and mittens. On June 17th, there was a heavy fall of snow. The morning of the 17th dawned with the thermometer below the freezing point. A farmer, searching for a lost flock of sheep, was out all day in the storm and failed to return at night. He was found three days later lying in a hollow on a side hill with both feet frozen.

“July came in with ice and snow. On the 4th of July, ice as thick as window glass, formed throughout New England, New York, and some parts of Pennsylvania.

“August proved to be the worst month of all. There was great privation and thousands of persons in this country would have perished but for the abundance of fish and wild game.”

 Newspapers of the day all suggested that people continue to replant fodder crops on nice days. They gave many solutions for feeding the farm animals, many of which were dying for lack of food, but seemed to have no suggestions for feeding the people.

Many packed up and moved west to Ohio to escape the cold.
Not only were domesticated animals starving, but wild animals were, too. Packs of wolves, made so hungry by the unseasonable summer, were attacking farmer’s sheep and chickens. It was so bad in 1816 that four Maine townships voted bounties on wolves up to $40.00.

In 1816 there were no railroads. There were freight-carrying wagons but limited roads. Bulk cargo could be transported economically only by water. This meant that inland towns & farms were very much on their own as nothing could be imported.

Isolated as they were, accustomed to the privation caused by subsistence farming, 90% of the population of New England was essentially self-sufficient. Without public utilities or access to markets, most people were probably quite capable of surviving for a season on shortened rations. They knew how to improvise. Each family was an economic unit, though neighbors depended on one another for many things and trading goods & services was common.  (http://www.milbridgehistoricalsociety.org/previous/no_summer.html)

                We are handicapped since no one in the family left any written record of the exact effect of this Year Without a Summer had on John and Hannah but we do know that none of the family died.  In one article on the year of 1816 it was noted that one crop did survive the rigors of the climate that year and that crop was oats.  Interestingly oats were one of the main crops grown in Newry.  Possibly the half acre of mowed land that John had was sewed in oats.  If so this could account for their survival.  In any case once the year ended the family would have been extremely grateful to God for their preservation.  Little would they know that this event would only foreshadow the difficulties the family would experience in the next decades mostly at the hands of their fellow men.

1 comment:

  1. Great Post. It is great the way you work the history into their story.