Washington and Rosanna Garcelon are buried in the Old Meeting House Cemetery on Harpswell Neck. (DAVID C. GARCELON PHOTO)
The many interesting figures who were prominent in Harpswell’s history tell us a great deal about life in our town in the 19th century. Many of the surnames of that era still grace our town today: Alexander, Barnes, Curtis, Dunning, Jordan, Merritt, Orr, Stover, Sylvester, among others.
One fascinating figure was Washington Garcelon (1809-1849). He was the first postmaster of the town of Harpswell, appointed on July 7, 1842. He died in 1849 and was succeeded by Ebenezer Pinkham on July 14 of that year. He was also a ship owner, ship owner’s agent, merchant, selectman, town clerk, justice of the peace, and representative to the Maine State Legislature for Harpswell.
Washington Garcelon was born in Lewiston on Feb. 17, 1809. He was the son of Mark (1771-1830) and Hannah (Ames) Garcelon (1771-1819). He was the grandson of James (1739-1813) and Deliverance (Annis) Garcelon (1735-1828), who were among the first white settlers in Lewiston. He was the youngest of seven siblings and had one stepsister. At the time of his birth, Thomas Jefferson was the president of the United States and Levi Lincoln Sr. was the governor of Massachusetts and the District of Maine.
Washington Garcelon’s father, grandfather, siblings and uncles were ship’s captains, shipbuilders, merchants, doctors and farmers. His grandfather James came to the American Colonies in 1750 as a cabin boy under Capt. Daniel Giddings out of Salem, Massachusetts. James moved to Falmouth in 1774, then to Freeport in 1775, where he built the first shipyard and store at what is now called Porters Landing. James then moved to Lewiston in 1776. Washington Garcelon’s uncle William Garcelon (1763-1851) and a cousin, John Lane, continued to operate the shipyard and store in Freeport until it was taken over by the brothers Samuel, Seward and William Porter, who built the famous privateers America and Dash in 1813 and 1814.
The first record found of Washington Garcelon in Harpswell is dated Dec. 4, 1830, when, at the age of 21, he purchased a parcel of land on Harpswell Neck Road from William Randall.
The parcel was bisected by Harpswell Neck Road and was part of Randall’s homestead farm. Washington paid $50 for the parcel. It included a right of way to the shore just north of Stover’s Cove. It was approximately 600 feet south of the original West Harpswell Baptist Church, built around the same time. A short time later, Washington built a home, barn and stable on the property. He built a “fish house” at the end of the right of way, on the shore of Harpswell Harbor.
His house, barn and stable, most recently the home of Charles and Beverly Bibber, were recently demolished.
Shortly afterward, on July 15, 1831, Washington advertised in the Portland Weekly Advertiser that he had opened a new variety store a few rods above his “old stand.” He sold goods from the West Indies, France, England and America: a great example of Harpswell commerce facilitated by its ships and ship’s captains.
Washington and Rosan J. Curtis were married in Harpswell on Oct. 14, 1838. She was the daughter of Peleg (1788-1836) and Jannett (Jordan) Curtis, and the sister of Peleg Curtis Jr. (1818-1879). They had two daughters: Rosanna Jeanette, born in 1839; and Catherine Elizabeth, born in 1841.
Many Harpswell deeds found in the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds are witnessed by “Washington Garcelon, Esq., Justice of the Peace.” In that era, the word esquire was not only an indication that he had some legal authority, but also an indication of respect from others. By 1837 he was representing the town of Harpswell in the Maine State Legislature. He continued in the role for several years.
On July 7, 1842, he was appointed as the first postmaster of Harpswell.
Shortly afterward, on Aug. 9, 1842, he began advertising that his “trading stand” was for sale. He described it as “one of the most healthy and pleasant situations in the State.”
When Washington served as postmaster, federal records for the nine-month period from Oct. 1, 1842, until June 30, 1843, show the net proceeds of the post office were $23.24. Washington was compensated $12.42 for that nine-month period.
The mail was delivered from the Brunswick Post Office one day a week, on Tuesday. The post office operated out of Washington’s house until Oct. 14, 1847, when a post office building opened in West Harpswell. Washington continued to serve as postmaster until his death in 1849.
Prior to that time, many letters and packages were carried by ship’s captains to other ports for pickup by the addressees or given to other ships they passed at sea.
In 1844-1845, Washington served as Harpswell town clerk. In 1845, he, along with Isaiah Snow and Paul Randall, was elected to be a selectman.
Between June 4, 1844, and July 5, 1846, Washington wrote 17 letters to his brother-in-law, Capt. Peleg Curtis (1814-1875). The original letters are in the Bowdoin College Special Archives and Collections.
On Dec. 28, 1845, Washington wrote a letter to Curtis regarding a vessel he was building for Peleg that would be approximately 95 feet long, with a 24-foot beam and 10-foot depth. He said they were planning to have the vessel off by mid-September of 1846. John Jordan was the master builder of the brig.
In this same letter, Washington said that seven-eighths of the ownership had been committed as follows: one-sixteenth share each, Isaac Alexander, Henry Barnes, James Demming, Robert Pennell, Steven Pennell, Isaac Stover, George Woodard; seven-sixteenths, Peleg Curtis, John Jordan and Washington Garcelon. At that time, he was hoping that Paul Randall would purchase the remaining one-eighth share.
The vessel was being built at Norton Stover’s shipyard at the end of Washington Garcelon’s right of way to Stover’s Cove. The ship Washington was completed in September 1846. Records are not clear on whether the ship was named for Washington Garcelon.
At the time he wrote these letters, Washington was also the ship owner’s agent for the Harpswell-built square-rigged brig General Marion.
In 1848, the 168-ton brig Alesia was built on Jordan Shore in Harpswell by master carpenter Sylvester Stover (1777-1859) for Washington Garcelon. It was 90 feet, 8 inches long with a beam of 23 feet, 9 inches, and a depth of 8 feet, 9 inches.
Washington died on June 11, 1849, and Rosan died two years later on July 25, 1851. Their causes of death are unknown, though Rosan had long bouts of ill health. They are buried in the Old Meeting House Cemetery across the road from Elijah Kellogg Church.
On Dec. 18, 1851, Washington’s brother Daniel Garcelon (1795-1863) wrote to Washington’s mother-in-law, Jannett (Jordan) Curtis, about posting notices for the auction of his nieces’ inherited property in Harpswell. Washington’s daughters inherited $1,245 of real estate, $2,135.41 of personal property and $1,512.51 in cash, a valuable estate for the time. The inheritance included a one-eighth share of the brig Washington and a one-tenth share of their grandfather Peleg Curtis’ property.
Rosanna was 12 years old and Catherine was 10 years old at the time. They were adopted by their uncle and aunt, Dr. Seward and Catherine (Merritt) Garcelon, of Clinton.
David C. Garcelon, of Harpswell, is the first cousin, five times removed, of Washington Garcelon.