This post takes a closer look at the lives of Stephen Watson and his wife Hannah (neé Whitcomb) with updated information gathered from my 2011 trip to Randolph, NH, Norway, ME and Waterford, ME. This new information includes resources obtained at the Waterford Town Hall, the Norway Historical Society, the Boxborough Historical Society and from visits to the cemeterys in Randolph, NH, Portland, ME and Boxborough, MA.
Until now, I have been content with finding out who my ancestors were. To this end, I created a pedigree tree going back to the 1600’s on the paternal side of the Watson line and have posted on this blog some stories of what it was like for my grandparents and great grandparents, who lived in Coos County, NH at the turn of the 20th Century. I learned from this process that the majority of my Watson ancestors, third generation and later, were mostly farmers (no surprise here since, in the 1790s, 90% of the population were farmers) with a large percentage of them starting out in Massachusetts and ending up settling in Maine and, in smaller numbers, New Hampshire. The next natural progression in this learning process for me was finding out more than just who they were and where they lived. I wanted to learn some of the factors that motivated them to settle primarily in Maine and New Hampshire. So, at the conclusion of this post, I will offer some possible reasons for this migration.
I have chosen to focus here on Stephen Watson, as he was the one to relocate his family from Waterford, ME to Randolph, NH in the mid-1820s.This led to his son, my great, great grandfather Abel, and my great grandfather Laban Watson opening The Ravine House in 1877. (see my July 26, 2010 post Talk in Randolph, NH - Excerpts for more background on Stephen’s family)
Stephen Phinney Watson was born on Dec. 19, 1776 in Gorham, ME to Coleman Watson and Patience Thomes (neé Whitney), who resided in Gorham at that time. Stephen’s parents may have moved to Waterford, ME as early as 1779 where birth records exist for the last five of their eight children. I have a copy of Stephen’s birth certificate from Gorham, ME and a listing of his birth date along with the birth dates of all of Stephen and Hannah’s children from the Vital Records book located at the Waterford Town Hall.
Also available in that same book was Stephen and Hannah’s intention to marry, published on September 28, 1802 and witnessed by Eber Rice, the Town Clerk of Waterford, ME.
Also there was the following marriage record which I copy here verbatim:
“This certifies that Mr. Stephen P. Watson and Mrs. Hannah Nurse both of Waterford, ME were married October 12th 1802 by me the subscriber Lincoln Ripley - True copy attest Eber Rice Town Clerk. Transcribed from an old Manuscript - April 18th 1826 by Charles Whitman Town Clerk.”
Stephen and Hannah had five children all born in Waterford, ME:
1. Lois Fairbanks, b.9/23/1803 and d.1845 m. Justus Low.
Both are buried in the Durand Rd Cemetery Randolph, NH.
2. Mary Whitcomb, b.8/08/1809 d. unknown
3. John Whitcomb, b.2/09/1812 and d.7/07/1882. m.Eliza Peabody.
Both are buried in the Durand Rd Cemetery, Randolph, NH.
4. William Whitcomb, b.5/22/1815 and d. 12/31/1884. m.Elmira B. Lary.
Both are buried in the Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, ME.
5. Abel Nurse Watson b. 5/24/1818 and d. 2/18/1895. m. 1st Susan Holmes, 2nd Cordelia Wight.
All three are buried in the Durand Rd Cemetery Randolph, NH.
Stephen’s wife, Hannah Whitcomb, was born in Boxborough, MA on March 13, 1775 to Abel and Jemima (neé Keep) Whitcomb. See photo below. Her father Abel Whitcomb descends from the Josiah line, which dates back to 1638 in Dorchester, MA. Hannah’s first husband was John Nurse from Boxborough, MA. They were married in Boxborough on May 10, 1797 and had two children, Abel Whitcomb, born in Boxborough, MA on August 4, 1798, and a daughter Asenath, born on January 30th 1801 in Waterford, ME.
Jemima Whitcomb, North Road Cemetery, Boxborough, MA
John, Hannah and Abel made the 150 mile journey to Waterford, most likely during 1799-1800. If they used Oxen which travel at one or two mph, the trip would have taken them about 3 weeks of 10 to 12 hour days. Alternatively, they could have traveled by buggy with John’s father, Deacon John Nurse, who settled earlier in Waterford about 1790. Deacon Nurse came from Bolton, MA and is listed as living in Waterford Town in 1790, according to Maine’s first census. John Nurse was the first deacon of the Congregational Church in Waterford, ME.
John and Hannah lived on the East side of Rice Hill in Waterford where they planned to farm the land, but early in 1801, tragedy struck when their two and a half year old son, Abel, died on March 12th. Then, later that same year, her husband John died of consumption on September 4th.
Stephen and Hannah lived in the East part of town (Rice Rd, shown above, is in the East part of town), but I was unable to make it to the County Courthouse to obtain any land records to be more specific (those details will require another trip to the area). They lived in Waterford and apparently in the neighboring town of Norway for a time where, in 1813, Stephen’s name appears in a list of new immigrants to the town. He enlisted as a private in Capt. Amos Town’s Company in September of 1814 (War of 1812), when two companies were called from Norway (along with other Oxford County towns) to fend off a possible British attack on Portland Harbor. Then, in 1820, Stephen appears again in Waterford, Maine in the 1820 Maine Census before leaving for Randolph, NH circa 1826. Stephen was listed in the Randolph, NH Census in 1830, but later that same year, he reportedly drowned in the Moose River and died on October 19, 1830 at the age of 53 and 10 months. Hannah, his wife, went on living in Randolph until her death on May 14, 1853. She lived to be 78 years and 2 months.
Stephen P. Watson and his wife Hannah - Durand Road Cemetery, Randolph, NH
As for the migration of settlers from Massachusetts to Maine, there were different factors at play, one significant factor being the land which was too rocky for productive farming. For example, in Boxborough, MA the rocks made the soil difficult to till and consequently the land had to be used primarily for the farming of fruit trees. Another factor at the time was the scarcity of land. Considering the practice of settlers passing on the land to their children, it was only a matter of time before the land available to their descendants started to disappear. For example, Deacon John Nurse had eleven children as was the typical family size of the period. So, with land at a premium, his children, like others at the time, looked for cheaper land up north, where land was both plentiful and cheap.
There were also historic events in the region that caused an influx of people to the newly created towns. Many of Maine’s early towns were settled because the survivors or the descendants of those in the expedition to capture Quebec in 1690 asked for pay. Eight townships in western Maine were set aside for this purpose and were known as the Canada Grants. Among these were Bethel, Jay, Livermore, and Waterford. Proprietors, who were usually not among the settlers, sold their lands for fifty cents an acre. Again, the promise of cheaper land was a big draw to settling in Maine as good farmland could cost as much as 50 dollars per acre in Massachusetts in the late 1700s.
To get a sense of how the towns were apportioned in Maine in 1894 (albeit, decades later) take a look at David Rumsey’s map of Oxford County, Maine by clicking here.
In my next post, I will correct some misinformation that I posted in an earlier post about Cordelia Wight’s family (I have since removed this misinformation from this blog) that I learned about from a distant cousin who sent me an audio recording that his mother made of Chandler and Watson history. Stay tuned for more details on that story.
Waterford Maine 1875-1976 published by Waterford Historical Society printed by New Hampshire Printers Somersworth, New Hampshire