Friday, November 5, 2021

A matter of historical record: Windham’s Goold family – 'born of good ole Yankee pluck'

By Walter Lunt

Countless individuals and families of honor, high character - even fame have called Windham home. Many have been discussed in this column. Few, however, have carried distinguished careers from one generation to another quite like the Goold family.

The Goold House on Windham Center Road was home to
several generations of the Goold family, including William
Goold, a tailor and the first proprietor of Windham's Old
Grocery. The Goold House was placed on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1990.
The first Goold to arrive in Windham is probably best described by historian Samuel Thomas Dole in his book Windham in the Past (Merrill & Webber, 1916): “In the year 1768, a young Quaker named Benjamin Goold, then twenty-one years of age started from Elliot, Me. to Falmouth to make his way in the world. He had no means to begin with except his Yankee pluck.” (pluck: courageous readiness to continue against all odds; dogged resolution – Merriam-Webster).

Young Benjamin found employment in Falmouth (Portland) and worked there before coming to Windham in 1774 where he worked on Daniel Hall’s farm near Windham Center, eventually building a log cabin and later a single-story wood frame house. He was described as industrious and frugal while acquiring considerable land.

Benjamin married Phebe Noble of Gray, who was later remembered by her grandson as a “smart Quaker lady who rode to (Friends) meeting on her pacing mare named Knitting Work.” Benjamin became tax collector and assessor for Windham. He died in 1807 at age 60.

Benjamin’s son, Nathan Goold, born in 1778, purchased 60 acres of land across the road from his birthplace at Windham Center in 1802 on land that is the current site of the Goold house we know today. He was married soon after to Miriam Swett; their first son died within two years of his birth, and later Miriam died only days following the birth of their second son. Nathan remarried and the couple had three more children.

Nathan became a prominent citizen of Windham. He was chairman of the Windham Board of Selectmen for eight years; represented the town in the Court (assembly) of Massachusetts; was a justice of the peace for many years and was captain of the Town Militia during the War of 1812. In September 1814, he marched his company to Portland to defend his town from an expected attack. It is thought that during this time Nathan built the iconic tower onto the ell of his Windham Center home where he mounted a bell to warn citizens of imminent danger (The Windham Eagle – Oct. 22, 2021).

Nathan is also remembered for an act of uncommon generosity. Shortly after purchasing the farm land he turned over a small parcel to a widow, Dorothy Barton. He provided her with a house that he had moved onto the property where she and her daughter lived out their lives. He charged them nothing for all the years they lived there. It is believed the reason for Nathan’s kindness was that Barton’s husband had served with Nathan’s grandfather in the Revolutionary War.

Nathan Goold died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1823 at the young age of 45. His son, William, was just 14 at the time. Just before his death, his father had advised him to learn a trade, and at the urging of his mother, Betsy (Gowen), he went to Portland and began a seven-year apprenticeship under Seth Clark, a tailor (despite his desire to be a printer, or writer). During this time William walked back to his boyhood home at Windham Center numerous times to visit his family. By 1830 he had become a partner with Clark, and in 1834 married “the bosses’ daughter,” Nabby Clark. By 1837, they had established a prosperous tailoring business at the four corners of Gray Road (route 202) and Windham Center Road in a building later known as the Old Grocery (which today has been moved to the Village Green behind the Windham Historical Society Museum). The intervening years had seen the home of his childhood, today known as Goold House, enlarged at least twice.

William represented Windham in the state legislature in 1866, and was a state senator in 1874 and 1875.

But it wasn’t until 1886 that William realized a life-long dream and the achievement for which he is best known. At age 77, he published Portland in the Past, the culmination of a long interest in local history. He was also an original member of the Maine Historical Society, to which he submitted numerous writings.

The Honorable William Goold died in the Windham Center home in which he was born in May, 1890, aged 81 years. William and Nabby Goold had eight children.

Their second child was named Abba Louisa, and was probably the Goold family member who tops the list in terms of notoriety.

Born in 1838, she was, like her father, a person of learning and literature, publishing books and poems, delivering lectures around the country on such far-ranging topics as Shakespeare’s plays and what she termed “constrictive” women’s fashion and, later in life, lighting bonfires at the Windham Center house in honor of Queen Isabella of Spain. According to Windham residents who knew her in the early 1900s, she was quite unique. Some would call her “odd.”

Suffice it to say, over many generations, the Goold family of Windham made significant contributions to the town, the state and even the nation.

And they did it all…with pluck. <

Next time, more on Abba Louisa Goold.

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