My Great Grandfather William Means Sold Overland Automobiles in 1911

Today, I decided to (gently, very gently) peruse old newspapers kept in the attic of my great grandparents’ home: two copies of the Machias Valley News Observer published in 1936 and 1937. I failed to locate an article that explained why these were kept for 80 years, at least this time. Then I moved to a copy of the Machias Republican, April 22, 1911. I’m still not sure why this newspaper was kept over 100 years.

But, I made a discovery.  Continue reading “My Great Grandfather William Means Sold Overland Automobiles in 1911”

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My Paternal Grandfather Frank Rier and the Rier Brothers from Germany

Grandfather Frank was born in Lubec, Maine, in May of 1890. He died before I was born on December 21, 1946 at the age of 55, his date of death recorded in a family bible. Mom told me he had a stroke and was disabled for some period of time before that. According to the census, Frank was a mechanic. We know that he had a garage in Lubec beside his home, that he fixed and detailed cars. The photo, circa 1919, shows my grandparents Frank and Elizabeth (Keegan) Rier. Grammy is holding their son Paul, standing beside Marion and my father, James “Gene” Rier.

The Rier family did not keep much for records, not beyond my father and his eight brothers and sisters. There were only stories. I need to spend some time this summer in the cemeteries of Lubec. There, I must search for the first Rier in Lubec, who according to legend, arrived not long after the Revolutionary War. According to that legend, there were two Rier brothers who crossed the Atlantic from County Hess Germany to fight for the British. They “jumped ship,” defected to the American cause. One brother went to Canada, the other to Lubec, Maine, USA.

Now there are a couple of problems with this story. Yes, the Rier brothers may have defected – or been captured and put into service for the American rebellion. But, if so, both brothers would have remained in the US.

In my lifetime, another scenario emerged. The Rier brothers fought for the British and after the war took ship from New York City to Shelburne, Nova Scotia with other loyalists and British soldiers who did not wish to return to Europe. African slaves who served the British also were sent there by ship and granted their freedom. All met harsh conditions, white and black, overcrowding, starvation and disease. Eventually, one brother set out for Lubec, or perhaps it was his descendants that did so. After the first ship of loyalists arrived in 1783, the conditions in Shelburne rapidly deteriorated with a population that swelled to 32,000. There were race riots in 1784 and the economy collapsed by the late 1780s. A lack of agricultural land, a collapse of the whale fishery and poor inland trade routes led four fifths of the population to leave. Thus, one Rier brother may have sought safety and better conditions to establish his home. It would not have be too difficult for a former soldier who fought for the British to find his way to Lubec, a hop, skip and jump from nearby Canada. After all, Benedict Arnold took shelter across the bay on Campobello Island.

Residents of the Maritimes and the coast of Downeast Maine did not live by borders of countries, Canadian or American. Smuggling of goods and people was a way of life. American goods could be smuggled into Canada, British goods in the opposite direction, at great profit, for it seems neither the British nor the US customs could control Maritime residents and bend them to their laws. These people were bound to the sea and the land to eke out a living any way they could without dependence on country borders or their laws.

According to my cousin Frank, the original Rier homestead on this side of the Atlantic was in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Had the first Rier in Lubec already left Canada? Was there one surviving family or two?

Well, for now, it is a mystery.

There could be practical reasons for maintaining the two family story. One day in the 1970s, my father got a call at his car dealership. The caller introduced himself as Robert Rier, a professor at Howard University in Washington DC. He had done extensive genealogical research, said he was a descendent of the Canadian branch of the Rier family, and was related to Dad.

This man paused and said, “I’m black.”

Dad replied, “Well, I’m white.” They had a long conversation and Dad stayed in touch with Robert and his family over the years. Dad was not surprised to find relatives of a different color. The family story was that the Riers held the genes of many races, Caucasian, African, Native American. Who knew? Robert had traced the Rier family back to Germany which matched our own stories, the name had been changed as many did in the Revolutionary War. His ancestor had married a black woman. Nearby Birchtown was the largest free settlement of  ethnic Africans in North America in the eighteenth century. Eventually, Robert’s family had immigrated from Canada to the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, Rier descendants now scattered over North America, the Netherlands and a tropical island. Cool.

We don’t know whether the family of Robert Rier is our direct line of ancestors. As my brother David said, our own family must be traced back from Lubec to Germany. There is research to be done. I shall begin in Lubec cemeteries, documenting gravestones. In my memory, the first Rier there was Ingraham, a name of decided German origin. Dad used to point at his grave site as we drove by. Surely I can find it. Hopefully, I can still read the engravings on his stone. I’m guessing that the first Rier came to Lubec in the late 1780s to escape the conditions in Shelburne.

It is likely that Robert Rier’s ancestor and mine were brothers who came to America among 30,000 Hessian soldiers hired by the British in the Revolutionary War. One branch stayed in Canada, one came to Lubec. We know Paul Rier’s family lives in New Brunswick (who are white) and strangely own a car dealership as did my Dad, their names and facial features are similar to my family from Lubec, although there are no records to show that we are related.

Robert’s genealogical research is our first lead back to Germany – so valuable – and lends color and diversity to our family.

Photos. The family home of Frank and Elizabeth Rier in Lubec.

 

Photos of my grandparents, Frank and Elizabeth, and their family taken outside their Lubec home with Grammy’s sister Mary, and Dad’s younger sisters Patricia and Evelyn. Carolee is peeking out behind Evelyn in this photo.

 

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One last story that Mom told me about Frank. Toward the end of his life, he was disabled by a stroke. Grammy had a special chair to keep him comfortable during the day. Before Frank went to bed each night, he said, “Put out the clock and wind the cat.” It is possible that only people from Lubec (or carry genes from there) understand this type of humor, twisting sentences around for fun. It gives me a peek into grandfather Frank’s personality.

Related post:

Ingraham and Mary Rier.

Happy 76th Anniversary Mom and Dad

My mother and father, Louise Adele Johnson and James “Gene” Rier, married on February 15th, 1943 at the Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in Portland, Maine. Their special day was chosen because it was the day that my grandmother Harriet wed Ezekiel Johnson (and eloped) in 1908, and it was birthday of my great grandmother, Nellie Getchell Means, born February 15th, 1857.

Mom lived and worked in Portland at the time. Dad, now Lieutenant Rier, traveled there from Newburgh, NY where he was an engineer and pilot instructor at West Point, Stewart Field Air Force Base. There was a snow storm. Their families from Downeast Maine, Lubec and Machias, had a time making it to the wedding although Dad’s brother, Babe, and Mom’s mother Harriet, did. It was a long rough drive. Dad’s brother Paul, also stationed at West Point as PFC, was his best man. Mom’s maid of honor was her friend, Margaret Hadley.

After the wedding, Mom and Dad had a short honeymoon Downeast before they drove to Newburgh NY and settled into military housing for the servicemen and their wives.

Mom became a World War II bride in a marriage that lasted their lifetimes.

One of my favorite photos of that day is Mom with a wide smile. She looks so happy. There are photos of Mom with her mother Harriet, the wedding party, and the happy couple back at Stewart Field, West Point in Newburgh, NY.

 

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The news articles…

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Mom Keeps Men at Stewart Field Air Force Base on High Alert. 1944.

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The newspaper did not report that Dad took Mom up in the plane that day. But I know he did at least once. Dad said he knew she was a keeper when he turned the plane upside down and she laughed. Mom was always cool as a cucumber in the face of unexpected events.

Interestingly, Dad planned to take Mom up in the plane for a rollover for some time. I present the evidence. He wrote on the back of his picture.

“A snap of me. Do you think I’m getting fat? 177 lbs. I did go 152 lbs. I guess the instrument formation day and night and cross country do me good. The planes will do over 200 and sometime if I ever get the chance I’ll really show you how a stomach can roll.”

 

Mom never lost the trait of staying calm during an adventure. One day in the 1997, my brother David set out to fly Mom to Hanover, NH to visit me at Dartmouth Medical School. Shortly after takeoff, the engine failed. Mom didn’t bat an eyelash. After safely landing, David asked if it scared her. She told him, “Oh no. I wasn’t worried at all. Losing the engine is part of pilot training. You brought the plane back down smooth, just like Dad would.” Mom must have learned a lot about flight training at Stewart Field.

I know for sure if I had been in the plane that day the engine quit, I’d be doing some heavy breathing and stifling a scream.

My Great Great Paternal Grandfather, James Keegan.

He was born October 6th, 1812 in County Meath, Ireland and immigrated from Dublin to Trescott, Maine in 1836 at the age of 24. He was naturalized as a US citizen in 1843. He died February 8th, 1879. According to his obituary published in the Machias Union, James Keegan was a well-loved resident of  Trescott for 43 years. My uncle Raymond told me when James arrived in Trescott, he built his home into the side of a hillock to keep warm, an Irish tradition.

My grandmother, Elizabeth Keegan Rier, was born at this homestead. James Keegan was her grandfather. Grammy told me her mother died when she was about four years old. I never knew her mother’s name. I don’t know the names of all of Grammy’s sisters and brothers. She talked about only two sisters, Mary and Theresa who both lived in Massachusetts. I have research to do on my father’s side of the family, the Keegans and the Riers.

Grammy said she lost her mother when she was small and didn’t think she would know how to be a mother. My Dad, James Eugene Rier, was born in Trescott. My grandparents Frank and Elizabeth Rier later moved to Lubec. Grammy overcame any fears of motherhood and had 11 children, 9 survived childhood.

The US naturalization card of James Keegan.

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It is obvious that I have my share of Irish roots. My maternal ancestors, the Means family, originated in Scotland (the Menzies clan), immigrated to northern Ireland in the 1650s during the period of the “Wars of the Three Kingdoms.” They had been driven out from Argyll by persecution for their beliefs and stubborn refusal to yield to the English.  In 1718, they departed to America to make a new life. They  landed in Boston, then on to Falmouth (Portland, Maine), at the time a part of the colony of Massachusetts. My maternal ancestors are Scottish, Irish, and a bit of English along the way.

The Irish made up the largest mass migration of refugees the state of Maine has ever seen, escaping famine and oppression. James Keegan left Ireland in 1836. According to this resource, the conditions in Ireland at the time were in decline.

“By the 1840s, famine was no stranger to Ireland, as the post-feudal peasants had suffered hunger for decades as a result of oppressive land and food policies, overpopulation and over-reliance on the potato. It’s been estimated that a third of Ireland’s population depended on potatoes for nourishment, while wheat, barley, poultry, pork and beef were often sold to pay rent to the absentee landlords in England. As the population of Ireland doubled from 4 to 8 million between 1780 and 1845, the increased demand for land required families to subdivide plots into smaller and smaller parcels to accommodate new generations. The potato became the only crop that could produce a significant yield in such limited acreage. While the potato has been credited with helping Ireland’s population boom, it also led to the demise of about one million people who starved after the potato blight hit in 1845.“

Keegan decided to settle in the small seaside community of Trescott, Maine, with an economy based on farming, fishing, lumber, shipbuilding, and raising sheep. Harbors were at Bailey’s Mistake, Haycock Harbor, Moose Cove and the Bay at the South Branch of the Cobscook River (now called Whiting Bay). A man from Dublin, Ireland could feel at home there close to the sea. His obituary indicates that James was a respected member of the community and thus, he and his family did not face the prejudice he might have elsewhere in the state.

The documents in this post were given to my father in 1993 by Lyman Holmes of Machias, Maine. Many thanks to Lyman!

Related post: Searching for Grammy Rier’s Parents and Siblings

 

School Children in Lubec or Trescott Maine?

This photo was in Grammy Rier’s box of photos. I assume it is one of school children in Trescott or Lubec, perhaps early 1900s from the clothing. Can anyone identify the school, the time period, or any of the children?

The girl sitting in the front row in a dark colored dress, 4th from the left, looks a bit like my niece when she was young.

Photo below circa 1927. Grammy Rier (Elizabeth Keegan Rier) is in the middle with her eldest children, Marion on the left, and Dad (James “Gene” Rier) on the right.  Aunt Marion would be about 14 years old here. Could the young school girl be Marion four years or so earlier? It’s a mystery as yet…

Update: I now know that my grandparents Frank and Elizabeth Rier married in 1911 in Leominster, MA and lived there until about 1925.  If the photo date is around 1902, then it’s possible the little girl who looks familiar is my grandmother (born 1892), or a sister.

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My Dad James Eugene Rier

The Early Years: 1914 – 1942

Dad was born September 9th, 1914 in Lubec, Maine, the second child and first son of Frank and Elizabeth Keegan Rier. He had an elder sister Marion. As the years went by, Dad had four brothers: Francis (“Babe”), Julian (“Barney”), Paul, Raymond and three more sisters: Evelyn, Patrica and Carolee. In all, Grammy had 10 children. A younger brother, Louis, was born premature and did not survive long. Dad remembered burying the baby in a shoebox in a cemetery in Leominster, MA where they lived when he was young.

Grammy Rier told me that she never intended to have children and was surprised when she was pregnant with Marion soon after her marriage to Frank. “The doctor told me to nurse the baby so I wouldn’t get pregnant right away. It didn’t work. Your father was born little more than a year later.” Grammy had her babies at home in her bed. Sometimes the doctor arrived. Sometimes Frank delivered the baby.

Grammy was a staunch Irish Catholic. I have no idea why she thought she wouldn’t have any children. I could not imagine life without all my uncles, aunts and nearly 40 cousins, most lived in Lubec.

When Dad was little, there was no pretense to dress boys and girls differently, or to cut boy’s hair short. As a toddler, Dad wore dresses and had long, flowing, black hair. “Mother said my hair was too thick and beautiful to cut,” Dad explained.

Dad (R) with his sister Marion (L). Isn’t that a necklace on Dad?

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L to R. Frank and Elizabeth Rier in front of the Rier garage in Lubec. Grammy is holding the newest baby boy (Paul) beside Marion and Dad who sported pants and a hair cut by now. Frank looks so much like my Uncle Raymond, the youngest son in the family, it is stunning.

Dad’s education was intermittently interrupted. When he was about eight years old, he became very ill with scarlet fever and spent a year at home recovering. Later, he was often kept home to help his father in his garage and care for his many younger brothers and sisters. As the eldest child, Dad had a lot of responsibility from early in his life. His father was an auto mechanic and talented artist painting and detailing cars. “He could run a line down the side of a car free handed. It was always perfect. I’ve never seen anyone paint like that ever again in my life,” Dad told me.

High School Years

 

 

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Dad graduated from Lubec High School when he was 19 years old. He had missed a lot of school growing up so he was older than most students. That didn’t stop him from attaining a perfect score in math (100%) he told me. Dad liked to build (and fix) anything. When he was 20 years old, he and his best friend Bud McCaslin built a futuristic car in his father’s garage. From Dad’s stories, he and Bud enjoyed playing pranks now and again. They hooked up a train whistle to a car, hung out by the railroad tracks, blew the loud whistle just as a car crossed the tracks, scaring the bejeepers out of the driver of said car.

Dad’s first serious girlfriend was Rose. Mom used to tease Dad about Rose. Evidently, Rose ditched Dad and he was bereft  until he met my mother, Louise Johnson, one day in downtown Machias. He said he knew then and there she would be his wife. But, that goal took some time. Mom’s mother Harriet at first objected to Dad. He was from Lubec and a family of little means, and not likely to succeed in life. Harriet went to visit the Rier family for the purpose of investigation and fell in love with the Riers herself. In the years ahead, Harriet would visit my grandmother to sit for a day, taste the bread hot from the oven, and enjoy the hubbub of all the children.

In 1940, Dad accompanied Mom and Harriet to the World’s Fair in NYC. Dad was their escort. Most of one family scrapbook is dedicated to the sights they saw and the memories they made there.

 

 

Dad took a photo of the two of them in front of a warped mirror…

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One of the highlights was the precision formation flying exhibitions. Dad was entranced. Then and there he decided to become a pilot. That dream would be fulfilled. In 1942, he joined the US Army Air Corp, went to boot camp in Texas, was assigned to Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY, and trained as a flight instructor. Mom was still living and working in Portland. They decided to marry.

 

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Related posts:

Dad’s Graduation Class: Lubec High School Yearbook 1934.

Dad’s Graduation from US Army Air Corp Advanced Flying School. 1942. 

Dad Received West Point Assignment as Flight Instructor. 1942.

Dad Greets Rosalind Russell at West Point. Circa 1943.

The Beginning of A Business in Machias Maine. Rier Buick. 1949.

One of Dad’s Projects in the late 50s and Early 60s.

My Dad, James “Gene” Rier and Phil Watts. Just Kidding Around. 1963.

After 23 Years in Business, Dad’s Car Dealership Burned to the Ground. 1971. 

My Dad, James “Gene” Rier: Maine’s Dean of Gas Engines. 1985.