Friday, September 25, 2020

A matter of historical record: Slavery in 18th century Windham

By Walter Lunt

Her name was Phyliss. She had no last name. She lived a significant portion of her life in Windham, District of Maine, Massachusetts. Her vocation was described as that of “servant” for the family of Windham’s second settled minister: Parson Peter Thatcher Smith. In reality, servant was the polite term for slave. Phyllis, or Phillis, was a slave. She arrived in Windham as part of the dowry of Elizabeth Hunt Wendell of Boston, who wedded the parson in 1764. She was a “wedding present” from Madam Wendell, as she was known, the mother of the bride.

A fire screen image of
the slave girl Phyliss
(circa 1740s). The life-sized
figure graced the colonial 
kitchen of the Parson Smith 
House for many years and
was possibly painted by 
Madam Wendell, mother-in-law
of Parson Peter Smith.
COURTESY PHOTO
Madam Wendell, the slave-holder, was an artist. She hailed from a prominent Boston family and was an ancestor of the writer Oliver Wendell Holmes. Her third marriage was to Rev. Thomas Smith, the father of Windham’s Parson Smith. Incredibly, she was first Parson Smith’s mother-the-law, and later his stepmother (Phyllis, Bygone Servant – Portland Evening Express, May 23, 1969).

Phyllis tended to the needs of Parson Smith, his wife Elizabeth and their 11 children. It is believed she was well treated, and may have occupied a small, partially finished room on the second floor of what it now known as the Parson Smith House on River Road.

Peter Lenz, historian and author of Slavery in Colonial Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, wrote in an article for the Portland Press Herald in 1997, “In all likelihood, she (Phyllis) was well and kindly treated, but had she left she undoubtedly would have had a runaway slave ad taken out against her for recapture.”

Lenz goes on to label a myth that “African American bondswomen, children and men had it good, in a happy, contented extended family situation.”

Although photography did not exist in the time of Phyllis, posterity is fortunate to have her likeness recorded on an American “dummy board,” so-called because the painted life-sized figure remains mute. Used in the Parson Smith House as a fire screen (in front of a roaring fireplace to disperse heat and sparks), the portrait features a light-skinned “maid” carrying a tray of steaming cups of chocolate. The oil painting on wood was displayed to the public in the 1950s when the Parson Smith House was operated as a local house museum by the “Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England). It is now in storage at H.N.E. in Boston and the subject of controversy among local historians who feel it should have stayed in Windham.

Elaine Dickinson, the current owner of the Parson Smith House, who resides there with her daughter Holly, says the Phyllis fire screen was loaned to H.N.E. by the Smith/Anderson family decades ago and rightfully belongs with the house.

“We still call it Phyllis’ room,” said Elaine, referring to the upstairs area where architectural evidence suggests where the young girl might have stayed and worked, probably weaving and sewing, “we talk about her constantly.”

Sadly, not much beyond her very existence is known about Phyllis. Oral tradition, according to former town historian Betty Barto, indicates that she was never freed, and probably never received a respectable burial.

Across River Road from the Parson Smith House, on the consecrated grounds of Smith-Anderson Cemetery, off to one side, are tiny, jagged rock markers, usually reserved for paupers…or perhaps, “servants.”  <

Next time, another well-known early settler of Windham who allowed his slave to “buy” freedom by keeping half his military wages.

 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Windham resident completes first leg of ‘Guardian Ride III’ bike fundraiser for Maine Army National Guard unit

By David Tanguay

Special to The Windham Eagle

For the third year in a row, American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 member and one of South Portland’s finest in blue and local Windham resident Brian McCarthy, will be biking more than 350 miles as a participants in the Guardian Ride III fundraiser in support of his former military police unit based in Waterville.

McCarthy said he has specific reasons for participating in the Guardian Ride III again this year.

Windham resident Brian McCarthy pauses at
Walmart at 8:45 a.m. Sept. 11 to remember those
who died in terrorist attacks on America on
Sept. 11, 2001 before embarking on a 50-mile 
cycling leg of The Guardian Ride III, a fundraiser
for a unit of the Maine Army National Guard.
PHOTO BY DAVID TANGUAY   

“For the third year in a row, I’m taking to the main streets and back roads of Maine on my mountain bike to raise funds for the Family Readiness Group of the Maine Army National Guard’s 488th Military Police Company, the unit I retired from in 2017,” McCarthy said. “Every penny of funds raised will go directly to the 488th Family Readiness Group.”

According to McCarthy, money raised through the Guardian Ride III will be used for back-to-school supplies, a summer cookout for unit families and single soldiers alike with water sports and camping, a catered unit Christmas party with a visit from Santa, emergency relief funds for families in need, and for keeping unit families in touch with their soldiers stationed overseas.

“In years past, this endeavor has seen me criss-cross our state in week-long treks,” he said. “In 2018, I biked from Houlton to South Portland and in 2019, I biked from Van Buren to South Portland.”

This year will be a bit different for McCarthy though. He had spinal surgery in July and lost over six weeks of training time, which will prevent him from completing the 350 miles in a single week.

“However, for 2020, the Guardian Ride will be completed in installments with seven 50-plus mile rides around southern and central Maine throughout the fall,” he said.

In 2018 they raised more than $2,000 and last year more than $4,200 was raised.

“Wouldn’t it be great in 2020 to raise enough to push us over the $10,000 mark in just three short years,” McCarthy said. “Please consider donating today to help Maine military families. Again, every penny of your donation goes right to the 488th MP FRG. Thank you.”

McCarthy, who retired as a Sergeant First Class from the Army, rode in the first 50-mile leg of the Guardian Ride III on Friday, Sept. 11, which was chosen as a special day to ride and reflect on the meaning of America.

McCarthy started his ride in the Walmart Parking lot in North Windham and spent a moment of silence at 8:45 a.m. to recall those who died on Sept. 11, 2001 in terrorist attacks on America.

He then rode through Standish, Sebago, Naples, Casco, Raymond and back to Windham to complete his fist 50 miles of the 350-mile Guardian Ride III.

For those interested in following McCarthy, his treks will be posted on Facebook at The Guardian Ride. Contributions can be made as well at a GoFundMe page https://www.gofundme.com/f/guardian-ride-2020. <

 


Friday, September 11, 2020

A matter of historical record: WIndham's underground railroad

 By Walter Lunt

(Part two of a two-part series)

All too frequently, stories about the underground railroad (the metaphoric name for the secretive system of channeling escaping slaves from the South) turn out to be mere speculation, or worse, pure fiction. Such historical falsehoods typically originate in towns or neighborhoods with numerous old houses that have hideaway closets, root cellars, tiny spaces between built-out walls or basement crevices.

One example is a two-story colonial house on River Road in Windham that was for decades rumored to have a dark refuge located behind a fireplace with entrance gained via a column of loose bricks. The story was told and retold so many times that it became established fact. Asked about the veracity of the long-held belief in 2019, the owner, pointing to the fireplace replied, “Hell no! See if you can find a way to get in behind there.”

Rumors and reports of underground tunnels crossing two different roads in Windham purportedly helped runaways avoid capture when their masters or the authorities visited the homes of suspected “railroad station masters.” No official documentation has been found to verify those narratives.

The Elijah Pope House was a Windham stop on
the underground railroad. COURTESY OF
WINDHAM HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Maine was the final stretch for runaways escaping to Canada. Many travelled by sea, others overland through the state. Those providing assistance to the fugitives faced heavy fines and/or jail time if caught. Windham has been documented as a stop on the underground railroad during the early to mid-19th century.

The writer recalls a visit to the 200-year old Popeville home of Sylvia and Gilbert Small in the late 1950s. The two-story brick house was built in the 1760s by Elijah Pope, a Quaker. Mrs. Small had requested assistance in moving a chest of drawers on the second-floor landing. When finished, she asked her young helper if he had ever seen “the secret room.” Sensing his uncertainty, she led him back to the landing, and squeezing two spindly fingers between cracks in the paneling, pulled open a small door that blended perfectly with the wall, revealing a tiny closet – dark and musky. “That’s where they hid the slaves,” she announced. At the tender age of 11, it was the writer’s introduction to anti-slavery and the underground railroad.

Later, Mrs. Small shared a withered newspaper article about the local Quaker involvement in hiding and assisting runaway slaves.

According to the article, written in 1928, eighty-four year old Quaker Phebe Pope, granddaughter of Elijah, was interviewed by a feature reporter from the Portland Evening Express. In the lengthy article, Aunt Phebe, as she was known, recalled the days and the ways of the Quaker life at Windham Center. Asked about the Pope family’s involvement with the underground railroad, Aunt Phebe was at first hesitant to answer. Astoundingly, even after nearly three quarters of a century, the aged Quaker seemed reluctant to reveal details of their anti-slavery activity. Ultimately, she admitted her grandfather’s house was a station on the underground railway – the same house occupied in the 1950s by the Small’s, and today by the Livengood family.

Phebe recounted the story of the last “passenger” through the Pope house, probably destined for Canada. It was a 15 or 16 year- old boy, frightened half to death. It seems he knew his master was closing in on him, having reached Portland. The Pope’s offered him food and rest, but the lad insisted on sleeping with his ear to the floor, lest he hear the oncoming horses’ hoofs of the slave catchers coming to get him. Young Phebe wanted the restless runaway to go hide under the (Pleasant River) bridge. But he remained in the house until Dr. Joseph Addison Parsons arrived to whisk him away in a closed carriage under cover of darkness.

Aunt Phebe said she never knew who brought the boy to the Pope house or what happened to him after leaving. Her closing thought with the reporter was, “Just think of those wicked laws we used to have,” clenching her fist as she spoke.

And so, that day in 1957 or 58 began helping out a neighbor move a chest of drawers, and ended with a prideful sense of my community’s heritage; in addition, the beginning of a life-long interest and fascination with the history of the town in which I was growing up. <

Next time, the not-so-innocent side of the Black experience in Windham. Interviews with researchers and authors.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Windham resident assumes leadership role for Maine Mormons

 A Windham resident will serve in a leadership role as a counselor to the new president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Augusta.

Glenn Davis of Windham will serve
in a leadership role as one of the top
counselors to the new president of
the Church of Jesus Christ of 
Latter-day Saints in Augusta.
SUBMITTED PHOTO
Glenn Davis of Windham has assumed duties as one of two top counselors for President Richard J. Taylor of Bowdoinham. Steve Bryant of Saco will serve as another of Taylor’s counselors.  

Davis lives in Windham with his wife Janet and is employed by the Maine State Ballet in Falmouth as the School Director, a position he has held since 1997. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History, Education and French from the University of Maine and is a certified K-12 teacher.

 

In his free time, Davis spends his time cycling, cooking, and with his wife, ballerina Janet Davis, and their daughter Emma. He is currently studying for his MBA.

Prior to this new role, Davis recently served as Bishop in the Windham Ward. Before that, he served as the Young Men's president and the elder's quorum president.

 

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in this capacity. I am a true Mainer at heart, having been born and raised here. And I love the people of Maine,” Davis said. “I am especially thankful for the interdenominational ties created with the Windham Area Clergy Association and strive to be a builder of bridges among all of us. I have great faith in God and humanity, which gives me optimism and hope, even in these stressful times.  I strive to be a light and invite all of us to love and treat our neighbors as ourselves with dignity and respect.”

In Maine, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is divided into area territories called stakes. Each of these stakes is headed by a president (Taylor), and two counselors (Davis and Bryant). They are assisted in their responsibilities by a 12-member stake high council, a stake women's organization (Relief Society) presidency, a stake Young Women's presidency, a stake Young Men's presidency, and a stake Sunday School presidency. 

Local assignments within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as stake presidencies are lay appointments, meaning that they are unpaid, volunteer positions. The new members of the stake presidency are often expected to serve for approximately nine years while still managing their employment and family obligations.

For questions about church services or to learn more, please visit ComeUntoChrist.org. <

First Fuller Center project successfully completed, helps Windham couple age safely at home

By Lorraine Glowczak

According to AARP, 90 percent of older adults in the U.S. want to remain living in their homes for as long as possible. However, many homes need expensive repairs and/or may not be designed to accommodate the necessities of aging homeowners. That’s the reason why the Sebago Lakes Region Fuller Center for Housing was established a little over a year ago. The board members are happy to have successfully completed their first project which occurred on Friday, Aug. 28 at the home of Gerry and Pat Vigue of Windham.

Sebago Lakes Region Fuller Center
for Housing board member Bill Turner
trims a tree limb that once hung close to
the road during a project on Aug. 28 at the
home of Gerry and Pat Vigue of Windham.
Volunteers performed a number of tasks
at the residence to help them stay in
their home safely. PHOTO BY
LORRAINE GLOWCZAK

“We are so lucky to be the first ones to have the much needed repairs done to our house and we are very happy about the landscape work the Sebago Fuller Center was willing to do as well,” said Pat Vigue.. “Since all our projects could be done outdoors, it made it safe for everyone [due to COVID]. We are so lucky and grateful.”

Vigue and her husband Gerry were participants in the Window Dressers event last winter. For the past two years, the Window Dresser initiative helped individuals stay warm during the winter by building window inserts that keep the warm air from escaping the home. It also saves on energy costs

Eligible families were provided with up to 10 free custom window inserts. Last winter’s Sebago Lake Region event was a combination effort between the AmeriCorp initiative based out of Saint Joseph College of Maine with help from the Raymond Village Library, Raymond Village Community Church and Age Friendly Raymond.

“It was through the window inserts we received this past winter that we heard of the Sebago Lakes Region Fuller Center for Housing,” Pat Vigue said. “Knowing there was some repair needed on our home that my husband can no longer do, I reached out to them.”

Fifteen volunteers from all walks of life came together last Friday to work on replacing window seals, caulking, scraping, painting, and some landscape work. Claire Crocker, Jim Staebler and Jim Gass were among the 15 individuals, and they each shared the reason they helped the Fuller Center’s first project.

“I am the Co-Chair of the Mission Committee at the Windham Hill United Church of Christ,” Crocker said. “We look for ways to actively make a difference in our community, both with funds and active manpower. This project was a perfect fit for us and our mission. We strive to help those who would like to remain safely in their homes and need a little help in doing that.”

Windham Hill UCC is one of the founding members of the Sebago Lake Fuller Center.

Staebler is a member of another founding organization, Unity Center for Spiritual Growth. He recently retired from his position with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and is looking for ways to spend his free time productively.

“It is a human desire to be helpful,” Staebler said. “Volunteering is my personal prayer in action. But also, as I was preparing for life in retirement, I was told by a friend that my last name, means ‘cabinet maker’ in German.” So, I’m starting to work with wood in a variety of ways and I’m discovering that I love it and want to gain more knowledge as a woodworker. Volunteering for the Fuller Center gives me the chance to learn this skill.”

Volunteer member, Gass from Raymond is a friend of another Sebago Fuller Center founding partner, Sheila Bourque, also of Raymond.

“I saw a post on Facebook from Sheila about this project and decided I wanted to help,” Gass said. “To be honest, I volunteer a lot because I simply want to get out of the bloody house. My wife and I refuse to get stuck at home and one way to do that is to volunteer.”

Much like Gass, many people want to escape the confines associated with COVID and the Sebago Fuller Center took all safety protocols regarding the current pandemic. This included wearing masks, standing six feet apart or more and taking temperatures prior to entry into the Vigue project.

“Our first project was amazing,” said Diane Dutton Bruni, President of the Sebago Fuller Center. “We accomplished more than we expected in one day and everyone was respectful of COVID-19 guidelines. We worked seamlessly together and when one part of the project was completed volunteers moved on to help with other parts of the project. I am amazed at how complete strangers can come together and work to accomplish something without needing to know who we are, our histories, political affiliations, or anything. We were truly faith in action.”

Dutton Bruni said that the Sebago Fuller Center is a new non-profit and while COVID-19 slowed them down, it did not stop them.

“We want to help seniors in our community feel safe in their homes. Our Board is a working Board of talented and committed individuals wanting to share their knowledge but also learn from each other as we undertake future projects. Please consider being part of our efforts and let us know what you are willing to do.”

To learn more about project eligibility, to become an active volunteer or to make a charitable donation, peruse the Sebago Lakes Region Fuller Center for Housing’s website at www.sebagofullerhousing.org/, email them at sebagofullerhousinginfo@gmail.com, or call 207-387-0855. Also, be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

To ensure as many older adults as possible can securely remain in their homes, the Sebago Fuller Center is hosting a virtual bike ride fundraiser. Register on their website, www.sebagofullerhousing.org/. Thank you to the local sponsors for this fundraising effort: Goodlife Market, Mulberry Farms, Gorham Savings Bank, Unity Center for Spiritual Growth, North Windham Union Church, Turner Building Science and Design, LLC, PNF and Sebago Technics.

“And thank you to all the volunteers who helped us succeed with our first project,” Dutton Bruni said. <

Friday, August 28, 2020

A matter of historical record: Windham’s underground railroad

 By Walter Lunt

(Part one of a two-part series)

The speaker was forceful and eloquent, described as “unequaled except by Frederick Douglas.” His name was Henry Bibb, a runaway slave who stood before a friendly and sympathetic audience in Windham in 1849. His talk was about the evils of human bondage and the abolishment of slavery.

Windham's Walker House, circa 1850, was once a
stop on the Underground Railroad.
PHOTO BY WALTER LUNT

Although slavery had been outlawed in Maine and Massachusetts decades earlier, resistance still persisted in many parts of the North due to cotton interests, the soon to be enacted Fugitive Slave Act and outright bigotry.

In the book Maine’s Visible Black History (Tilbury House, 2006), co-author H.H. Price describes how runaway slaves from the South were aided by blacks, whites and Native Americans either by sailing vessels, horse-drawn carriages or even railway. In fact, as rail transportation was emerging in the 1830s, the terms agent, station master and conductor were commonly used and understood; soon after, they were taken up in connection with helping fleeing slaves, or passengers. The new vocabulary may have influenced the term Underground Railroad (URR).

Runaway slaves traveling overland and bound for Canada fanned out from Portland on URR routes to Windham, Gorham, Westbrook, Cumberland and Yarmouth. Others sailed on coasting ships to the Maritime provinces in Canada.

Dark passage along land routes was dangerous, both to the runaway and to the “conductor.” Fines reaching into the thousands of dollars and even jail time awaited those caught aiding and abetting fugitive slaves.

As a result, station masters at stops along the way had to be clever and resourceful in the fabrication of hiding spots. Some were downright creative, even cunning.

One such secretive hideaway was located in Windham’s old Walker farm (the former Mugford house) on River Road in the Newhall neighborhood. Carla LaRoche, who grew up in the house, says her brother found the “secret room” by accident while exploring the basement. The south wall, ostensibly the inside of the foundation, was actually a build-out. Behind it was a small dark room…with no door. The actual entry-way was hidden by the bottom of a staircase that lead to the first-floor kitchen. When not in use, the base was suspended two inches above the basement floor and could be raised higher to allow entrance to the secret room. The “squeeze in” entrance, barely big enough for a person to crawl through, was blocked when the staircase was fully extended. The weight of a person stepping on to the stairway from the kitchen would drop the base, making a distinct noise which, according to LaRoche, was the signal for any occupants of the room to hunker down and stay quiet. During an inspection of the basement by a constable or slave master, the entrance was not visible, as long as the occupant remained standing on the staircase.

“You could only go in that hole when the stairs were in the up position,” said LaRoche, “someone would stand on the stairs while (the authorities) searched the basement.”

LaRoche’s mother, Carol Rogers, the current owner of the sprawling building (now a private assisted living facility), said the great-great grandson of Charles Walker, who built the house in 1850, visited in 1970s and confirmed that family tradition indicated the house had indeed been a stop on the underground railway.

Next time, Windham Quakers and others also assisted in the secret journeys and concealment of runaway slaves.  <

 


‘Operation Summer Snacks’ wraps up by donating 5,200 snacks to children in need

Parishioners from Our Lady of Perpetual Help assisted
in the collection of 5,197 individual snacks for
children in need this summer which were donated
to the Windham Food Pantry. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Operation Summer Snacks,” an initiative of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Windham, annually collects food for children in need who receive bags of food from the “Backpackers” program during the school year but, in many cases, do not have the snacks during the summer.

After collecting over 2,500 snack items last year, organizers of “Operation Summer Snacks” didn’t know what to expect this year with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting communities across the state and country.
“In this time of uncertainty, we didn’t know whether this program would work this year,” said Jill Russell-Morey, a parish catechetical leader who helped create the initiative in 2016.
But uncertainly led to unrestrained generosity as the program was able to donate a staggering number of 5,197 individual snacks to the Windham Food Pantry.
https://www.schoolspring.com“Thanks so much to all of our parishioners at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, friends and family members in the community, countless other supporters, and prayer warriors!” said Russell-Morey. “I can't express my gratitude and put it into words. This summer, we more than doubled our record year last summer. May all who helped be richly blessed for their support and efforts.”
“Operation Summer Snacks” works with the pantry to deliver the donations to those in need. Through the program, each child receives various individual-sized snacks like raisins, crackers, fruit cups, granola bars, and other items.
A big change this year was that the pantry requested that the donations not be bagged by the volunteers, which enabled the operation to be conducted by Russell-Morey, her family, and friends out of her house.
“They wanted all original packages which allows for less handling of the packages and easier storage,” she said.
In addition, the generosity of the community shone through with checks, cash, and Venmo donations. One parishioner even had a large box of snacks sent directly to Russell-Morey’s house from Sam’s Club.
“Our young friends in this community have reaped the benefits of this generosity and we are so thankful for the people responding to this call for what they have to provide people with what they need,” Russell-Morey said. <