The gravestone of Mary E. Sylvester
Lincolnville — In the woods, leaning against an oak tree just off the Old Whitney Road in Lincolnville, is a gravestone. It is difficult to read but if you get just the right angle in just the right light you can make out the inscription:
Wm H and Susan
November 15, 1847
AE 5 months
We don’t know where she was buried; her stone was found by hunters many years ago lying on the ground with no sign of a base. Even dowsing has not brought results. It was placed against the tree for preservation.
What we do know is that this piece of land is not far away from a cellar hole generally recognized as the Gideon Young 2nd Farm but which earlier was the William Sylvester Farm. The spot where the gravestone rests was once meadow, bounded by a small stream that was dammed to create a pond, perhaps for ice, below the meadow. It would have been a pretty spot, perhaps one where William and Susan liked to walk in the evening.
We know very little about Mary’s mother, Susan. She was first married to Jesse Higgins, whose land abutted William’s, on July 1, 1843. At that time she was living in St. George but that was not her hometown. She may have been from Vinalhaven as Brown is a family name there. Many Vinalhaven families had ties with St. George through the fishing industry, Susan was 35 when she married Jesse, rather old for that period, so she may have been boarding with a family in St. George, serving as a housekeeper. In 1816, Jesse had married Polly Foster who died in 1839. In the 1840 census Jesse is shown to be between 40-50 years old with six children living in the home so perhaps he was looking for a housekeeper. He was having a financially difficult time and mortgaged even the property on which he lived.
Susan and Jesse had a short married life for on Nov. 8, 1846, marriage intentions between William H. Sylvester and Mrs. Jesse Higgins were announced, and Dec. 6, 1846, they wed. We assume this means that Jesse had died but there is no record and he is not found in Lincolnville’s burial grounds, although Polly is.
Nov. 15, 1847, little Mary E. died. The next information we have on her parents is from the 1850 census when Susan was 42 and William was 35 and they had a one year-old daughter named Susan J. They were running a poor house on their farm and had six boarders, including two Sylvester relatives described as paupers.
In the 1860 Lincolnville census they are no longer listed. A study of real estate deeds shows William had sold most of his properties in Lincolnville. We find him in Jackson, Amador County, California, a gold-mining town where he went with his friend, Philip Hall. In that census as well as in 1870, he is listed as Head of Household, running a boarding house for miners. There is no mention of either Susan or Susan J.
In the late 1870s, William returned to Lincolnville, giving, in 1878, Power of Attorney for all his affairs to Mark Sylvester. During the 1880s William bought several pieces of property, mortgaged them and suffered foreclosure. His deeds state he was unmarried. Among the properties he bought was the Isaac Bryant Farm where he lived and whose cellar hole is found off North Cobbtown Road. In 1896, he sold it to Beulah Sylvester for $1 and a deeded life lease. This was William’s planning for the end of life for he died in 1899, at the age of 88 and is buried in Youngtown Cemetery.
We are left to wonder what happened to Mary’s mother and sister. Did they go to California with William and die along the way? Are they buried beside the trail? Did William decide to leave for California because they had died and he was left adrift? Where was Jesse Higgins buried? Could there be more gravestones hidden under the leaves? Did William love this place? So much yet to discover…
Corelyn Senn is a resident of Lincolnville. She is authoring a monthly column about the cemeteries in Lincolnville.