The History of Catholic Churches in Lubec and Trescott, Maine

From the book 200 Hundred Years of Lubec History, 1776 – 1976 by Ryerson and Johnsonpublished by the Lubec Historical Society. It can be found at the Lubec Memorial Library. It includes the history of all the churches in Lubec.

This summer, the Lubec Historical Society will be selling this book. It’s a great resource!

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Saint Mary’s Catholic Church was built at the corner of Rte 189 and Chapel Hill Road in 1852 when there were about 50 Catholic families in Trescott. My great great grandfather, James Keegan Sr., and his family attended church there. The church was razed in 1882. A new church, Saint Patrick’s, was built at the corner of Rte 189 and Crow Neck road, two miles away from the Keegan home. The people had begun to move into West Lubec and Lubec and it was necessary to centralize a church. In 1887, Reverend Cornelius O’Sullivan became pastor of Machias and traveled to Lubec for 35 years.

Saint Mary’s Church At Chapel Hill Cemetery in Trescott. Painted by Bertha Calkins Walton from memory.

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Related posts:

Visiting the Gravesites of My Great and Great Great Grandfathers. James Keegan Sr. and Jr. families.

Bringing Your Ancestors to Life: The History of Irish Immigration into Maine. 

 

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Bringing Your Ancestors to Life: The History of Irish Immigration into Maine

As I began researching and writing about my Keegan ancestors, I sought more information about Irish immigration into Washington County. They Change Their Sky: The Irish in Maine, edited by Michael C. Connolly, was recommended in a post comment. Recently, I found the book at Lubec Memorial Library among their fine collection of books on Maine history. It is a delightful book packed with well-researched information about the Irish immigration into Maine. The foreword was written by Senator George Mitchell. An entire chapter is devoted to Washington County entitled: “Ireland Along the Passamaquoddy: Rathlin Islanders in Washington County, Maine.” A portion of the chapter focuses on Trescott, West Lubec, Pembroke and Perry. My ancestors immigrated to Trescott in 1836.

I wondered how they decided to come there, how they lived out their lives. After I read the book, I wrote a summary about the families of my GG and great grandfathers, weaving the genealogy with details from the book, working my way through time up to my grandmother Elizabeth Keegan Rier. Next, I am starting on a bit of historical fiction that begins when Grammy Rier was a little girl, living on a farm in Trescott.

I hope to bring my ancestors to life!

MY GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER JAMES KEEGAN SR.

In 1836, James Keegan arrived in the New World from Dublin, Ireland, with his young bride, Elizabeth Moran. Their port of entry is unknown, but many Irish immigrants who settled in Washington County, Maine came into Canadian Maritime ports because fares for passage were half the price into America. James may have worked in Canada for a time as did many other Irish immigrants to save money to purchase land and build a homestead. The couple settled in Trescott among other early Irish pioneers who made permanent homes there before the Great Famine in Ireland began in 1845.

Trescott, West Lubec, Pembroke and Perry attracted Irish families where farming, fishing, shipbuilding, and cutting timber provided opportunities for newcomers, as did the Pembroke Irish Works, a thriving foundry. James followed other Irish farmers who settled primarily in Trescott and West Lubec. They found cheap land, plentiful fuel, and Cobscook Bay offered a means of transport. As early as 1829, three pioneers from Rathlin Island off the Northeast coast of Ireland, Neil Black, Dundan Bradley and Lauglin Black, acquired land along Cobscook Bay. They joined other Irish families there, many from Ulster, fishing the Cobscook coves and farming the land between Trescott and Lubec.

There was a strong sense of community and shared traditions in these small towns and villages in eastern Maine. Often whole families from young children to grandparents crossed the Atlantic together, built homes and worked the land. A pathfinder or pioneering family established a base, sent letters and money for passage to friends and kin in chain migration. In 1844, the year James appeared at the Supreme Judicial Court in Machias to petition for naturalization, he was one of 126 immigrants from Ireland and England. Most of those who specified a port of entry traveled via Saint John or Saint Andrews, New Brunswick or Halifax, Nova Scotia.

This growing community drew the attention of the Catholic Church, already having established a presence in eastern Maine. As early as the 1830s and 1840s, circuit riders from Eastport and missionary priests from Pleasant Point ministered to the Irish flock. In 1852, the Saint Mary’s Catholic Church was built beside a forest of pines in Trescott.

James built his home beside the Saunders Meadow Stream not far from the South Branch of the Cobscook River, west of the Bay. The Murray and Moran families built homes on that stream, close enough to Saint Mary’s Catholic Church to hear the bell ring on Sundays. The family story is that James’ home was built of wood and stone into the side of a hillock. Homes the Irish built were not of thatch and stone as in the home country. Instead they took on the character of their Yankee neighbors as timber was plentiful. The Irish kept their Catholic identity but quickly adapted to their new environment in terms of building styles, material culture, and farming. Irish farmers like James learned new methods and how to use new implements, including using oxen as draught animals, a technique unknown in Ireland. Farms grew a variety of crops from locally obtained seeds: barley, peas, pumpkins, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, garlic, onions, radishes, turnips, cabbages, lettuce, parsley and melons. Corn, beans and squash came from the Passamaquoddy. Cattle provided milk and butter. Apples from seedlings brought from Europe were harvested and cider made in the Fall. Wild blueberry and cranberry abounded. As in the home country, sheep were raised for wool to make clothing.

In 1838, James and Elizabeth’s first child, William, was born. A daughter, Mary, arrived two years later followed by six more children in the coming years: Anne, John, Eliza, James Jr., Catherine and Thomas. James Sr. farmed all his life and was active within the community, serving as the Superintendent of the School Committee for 32 years. He died in 1879 at the age of 67; his obituary lauded his devotion to his family, his Church and his dedication to education.

MY GREAT GRANDFATHER JAMES KEEGAN JR.

James Keegan Jr. was the 7th child of James and Elizabeth Keegan, born in 1847. He worked on his father’s farm growing up and well into adulthood, as did his younger brother Thomas. One year after James Sr. died, the Keegan homestead was occupied by his widow Elizabeth, age 74, James Jr., age 32, Thomas, age 29, and his wife Katherine (Kate), age 28. James Jr. likely delayed marriage after his father’s death to assist in caring for his mother and working the farm. He married Margaret “Maggie” Murray in 1886, who lived close by, the daughter of Irish immigrants via Saint John, New Brunswick. James and Maggie had seven children between 1887 and 1895: Winnifred, Tresa (Teresa), James, Mary, Elizabeth (Lizzie), Katherine (Kathe), and Margaret (Maggie). Sadly, James’ wife Maggie succumbed to a bout of pneumonia and died in 1896 at the age of 38 leaving James to care for their children, including their infant daughter. Three years later, James Jr.’s mother, Elizabeth, died at the age of 80. By 1898, Thomas and his wife moved to Lubec with their youngest children Fred, age 14, and John, age 12. where they raised their five children. He partnered with James McCurdy to open the Union Sardine Company while James Jr. stayed at the Trescott homestead with his children.

Life must have been tough for a man raising seven children alone, albeit with the help of his family and neighbors. My grandmother was his 5th child, Elizabeth. I was told that Grammy had to quit school after third grade to work in the sardine camps in Lubec. By 1910, she and her eldest sister Winnifred worked as servants in households in Lubec. The next year, at age 19, my grandmother married Frank Rier, a mechanic from Lubec, in Leominster, MA where her sister Mary lived.

Related posts:

Searching for Grammy Rier’s Parents and Siblings.

My Great Great Paternal Grandfather, James Keegan.

Visiting the Gravesites of My Great and Great Great Grandfathers. James Keegan Sr. and Jr. families.

 

Visiting the Gravesites of My Great and Great Great Grandfathers

James Keegan Sr (1812 – 1879) and his son James H Keegan Jr. (1847 – 1927) were laid to rest in Chapel Hill cemetery in Trescott, ME. James Sr. immigrated to Trescott from Ireland in 1836. I had seen their gravestones on the findagrave.com website but I wanted to go there myself. I had hit a roadblock in tracing James Sr in Ireland. My cousin Teresa had visited Ireland and requested information about him from the Meath Heritage & Genealogy Centre in Trim, Ireland, County Meath. The Centre found one listing for a James Keegan born March 27th, 1812 to Pat Keegan and Elizabeth Keating. But the birth date for this James did not match the birth date on his gravestone (October 6, 1812). I noted that County Meath was misspelled on his gravestone as Meade, perhaps the date of birth was not accurate either. The Centre’s search covered 1812 +/- 5 years and found two other James Keegans:

(1) 8th November 1814 – James born to John Keegan and Elizabeth Camble (Oldcastle).

(2) 25th July 1816 – James born to Thadeus Keegan and Mary Newman (Kildalkey).

With no other information to go on, such as James’ parents names etc in Ireland, the Centre wrote that there was no way to know which James Keegan was our ancestor. It occurred to me that I did not know the name of James’ wife and emigrating from Ireland in 1836 at the age of 24, he may have been married in Ireland. If I visited his gravesite, perhaps I could find his wife and her name there too.

I strolled around Chapel Hill Cemetery looking for his gravestone. It is a small and beautiful cemetery nestled against the woods, now bright with the reds, yellows, golds and greens of Fall.

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Among a carpet of red cranberries and green moss were stones that marked the graves of many Irish/Scottish immigrants and their descendants: Sullivan, Murray, Kelley, McCarty, McQuaige, McCurdy.

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I found James Keegan Sr.’s gravestone in the front corner close to the corner of Rte. 189 and Chapel Hill (Timber Cover) Road. I was so pleased to find it, followed by disappointment that there was no other stone close by, nor his wife noted on his gravestone.

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Beside this gravestone was that of his son James Jr. There were no other Keegan gravestones or markers. Engraved on the front of this stone was his date of birth , no date of death, his wife Margaret (1857 – 1897). Their daughter Winnifred, born in 1887 and died in 1918 (the year of the great flu pandemic) at the age of 31, was buried with her parents.

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Then I looked at the back of James Jr.’s stone. Names were engraved there, difficult to see under the lichen and moss, but I knelt and read:

James                  1812                  1879

Elizabeth            1809                  1889

William               1838                  1880

Anne                    1841                  1897

The birth date on the back of the stone of James Sr. looks like 1814 but closer inspection reveals 1812. Elizabeth is likely James Jr.’s mother, William and Anne, his brother and sister. James Jr. had a brother named Thomas who lived in Lubec with his family in 1910. He must be buried elsewhere. I don’t know the names of the rest of the family.

The photo of the back of the stone is not very clear but I will try another day in different sunlight.

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Back home on the computer, I began to search for Maine vital records about James Keegan Sr. and his wife Elizabeth. I hadn’t found much about him before, except a photo of his gravestone and the record of his US naturalization in 1843.

An entire page of records popped up on the computer screen.

The 1840 census didn’t hold much information, just the name of heads of households, the number of individuals in the house and their age range. His name is spelled James Kegan, male between 20 and 30 years of age. One female between 20 and 30. One male child and one female child under the age of five. If I am reading this census correctly, the household consists of James Sr. (about 28 years old), his wife Elizabeth about the same age, a son and a daughter under the age of five.

The 1850 census yielded more information. Since arriving in Trescott in 1836, James Sr. and Elizabeth had seven children.

James Kegan, age 41, a farmer, value of real estate 300″ (?), place of birth, Ireland.

Elizabeth Kegan, age 40, place of birth, Ireland.

William, age 12, born in Maine and attended school in the last year.

Mary, age 10, born in Maine and attended school in the last year.

Ann, age 9, born in Maine and attended school in the last year.

John, age 8 and attended school in the last year.

Eliza, age 6.

James, age 3 (my great grandfather).

Catherine, age 1.

1860 Census. The spelling of Kegan is now Keegan. Mary, about 20 years of age that year, is no longer in the household and their last son Thomas was age 9.

James Keegan, age 48, born in Ireland.

Elizabeth Keegan, age 48, Ireland.

William Keegan, age 22, born in Maine.

Anne Keegan, age 18, Maine.

Elizabeth Keegan, age 18, Maine. (Eliza in 1840 census).

John Keegan, age 16, Maine.

James Keegan, age 13, Maine.

Catherine Keegan, age 11, Maine.

Thomas Keegan, age 9, Maine.

It is apparent that ages do not exactly coincide between each census.

One year after James Sr. died in 1879, there were four that lived in the Keegan household according to the 1880 Trescott census.

Elizabeth, age 74, mother, widowed, keeping house, born in Ireland. father and mother born in Ireland.

James, age 32, son, single, farmer, born in Maine, father and mother born in Ireland (my great grandfather).

Thomas, age 29, son, married, farmer, born in Maine, father and mother born in Ireland.

Catherine, age 28, daughter-in-law, married, housekeeper, born in Maine, father and mother born in Ireland.

The search yielded two more documents. The records of death for Annie and Eliza Keegan, daughters of James (Sr) and Elizabeth Keegan.

Annie died in Machias on September 15, 1897 at 55 years of age. Place of birth: Trescott. Widowed. Occupation: Housework. Cause of death: Chronic spinal meningitis. Her mother’s maiden name is written as: Elizabeth Morran.

Eliza (Keegan) May died in Lubec in 1920 at 76 years of age. She was a resident of Lubec for 17 years, previous residence Trescott. Date of birth: March 22, 1844 in Trescott. Occupation: Housewife. Maiden name of her mother: Elizabeth Morris. Eliza is the deceased was the wife of James May. Cause of death: Valvular Endocarditis. Duration: Indefinite. Contributing cause: Lobar Pneumonia. Duration: One week.

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What discoveries! I found the names of the children of my great great grandfather James Keegan Sr. At last, I know my great great grandmother’s name: Elizabeth. Her surname is either Morris or Morran (Moran?). They were surely married in Ireland as they came to Trescott in 1836 and their first child William was born the same year in Maine.

That should be enough information to search Irish records and go back further in time.

What is particularly precious is that I can begin to see them, envision their lives that began in Ireland and came so far to live off the land and settle in Trescott and Lubec.

My ancestors peek through the mist of time.

Related posts:

My Great Great Paternal Grandfather, James Keegan.

Searching for Grammy Rier’s Parents and Siblings.

References:

United States Census, Trescott, ME, 1840.

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“United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M6VC-TSD : 12 April 2016), James Kegan in household of James Kegan, Trescott, Washington, Maine, United States; citing family 56, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

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“United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MDHL-7P5 : 26 July 2017), James Keegan in entry for James Keegan, 1860.

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United States Census, Trescott, ME, 1880.

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