Mourning Marshall Spring Hagar

In the 1850s, Marshall Spring Hagar was everywhere in Richmond, Maine. He was a lawyer and judge, as well as a state senator. He was part of the team leading the creation of the Portland & Kennebec Railroad. And he was well-known in the shipyard as a builder and owning parts of more than a dozen ships. 

Marshall and his brother James had moved to Richmond from Waltham, Massachusetts outside of Boston. Richmond was a young town in a new state when they arrived. Marshall was growing with the town and must have been seen to have a bright future ahead of him. 

Sadly, Marshall died at the age of 51. And it was nothing more than a foolish accident. 

Republican Journal, page 2 | Belfast, ME
Friday, Feb 14, 1862

The story was quickly spread throughout the papers of Maine and neighboring states. 

Portland Daily Advertiser, page 2 | Portland, ME
Tuesday, Feb 11, 1862

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, page 2 | Bangor, Maine
Monday, Feb 17, 1862

At his funeral, the Reverend H. A. Lounsbury delivered the sermon which included,

What makes the death of our brother so sad and touching is the fact that he died so suddenly and unexpectedly. He had to premonitions of the coming of the King of Terrors. The message was not sent to him. "Set thine house in order for thou shall die and not live." No disease had laid hold of him and warned him of the hour that was approaching. The Son of Man came to him as a thief in the night, in an hour in which he thought not.

Richmond on the Kennebec

Even before I started to study my family history I knew that Richmond, Maine was an important town to my ancestors. I remember a family trip up to the Maine coast when I was about ten years old. My Mom told stories about similar trips when she was a girl and trips that her parents had taken years earlier.

When my family history research took me back to the Maine coast, it felt a little bit like coming home. I soon learned that a branch of my family had played a significant role in the early growth of Richmond during the mid to late nineteenth century. Maine had become a state in 1820 and Richmond was incorporated just three years later.

Richmond, Maine - click to explore on Google Earth

Not long after that my great-great-great grandfather, Marshall Spring Hagar, and then his brother, James Monroe Hagar, moved from Massachusetts to Richmond. They each started a family and took on prominent roles within the new town. Marshall and James began their careers as lawyers, but were increasingly active in the burgeoning shipbuilding industry, the expansion of the railroad and banking system, as well as other investments.

I would like to complement my family history research with a study of this small Maine town. I hope to learn how my family fit into the town; how they influenced and were influenced by their friends, associates, and neighbors. I want to explore the social history of the town and how the demographics may have changed over time. Hopefully I will also unearth anecdotes about the town that, while not directly focused on my family, will provide insights into the arc of their lives.

Syms Gardner signed his enumeration of Richmond on October 10th, 1850.

I plan to start with an analysis of the 1850 census to set a foundation for my understanding of the town's population. From there I will layer in subsequent censuses to see how the town changes over time. As I learn more I will determine what other record sets will help to further define this portrait of Richmond, Maine.

Did You Hear the One About...?

Do you have any ancestors that liked to tell a joke or two?

I've spent years researching my family tree. It has gradually grown to more than 1,700 people. People that I can describe with dates of birth, marriage, and death, graduations, and voyages across an ocean. But what can I say about the people themselves? In many cases, very little.

In an excellent blog post, Judith Batchelor describes possible ways to get an idea of what our ancestors actually looked like - even if there is no possibility of a photograph. I'm lucky enough to have a good collection of photos for some branches of my tree. And I can use some of the blog post's strategies for describing other ancestors. But what else can I do to get a better picture of my ancestors?

In addition to wondering what my ancestors looked like, I often try to piece together from the records what kind of person each family member might have been. A detailed will might tell me if a great-great-grandparent was particularly fond of one side of the family or another. Or a local newspaper may have recorded gossip that provides a little insight into the character of third Aunt So-and-So.

But that still sketches a fairly light outline of who the person was. Would I have gotten along well with this or that ancestor? Was she a passionate scholar or just an animal lover? Did he have a wild streak or a strong preference for quiet time at home? Who liked to tell jokes and who was a good listener?

I was hoping to find something a bit nutty in my family tree.

It has been very rare in my research to understand the personality of someone more than a couple generations back in my family tree. But recently I found two documents that offer a glimpse into the sense of humor of two of my direct ancestors.

But Who Was That Masked Man?

My great-great-great-grandfather was Marshall Spring Hagar. He was born in 1810 outside of Boston, but spent the second half of his life in Richmond, Maine. He is basically forgotten today, but in his prime he was a prominent business man on the Maine coast. He was a Harvard-educated lawyer who went on to finance the burgeoning shipbuilding industry of Richmond and was a trustee of the Kennebec and Portland Railroad. It has been difficult for me to imagine Marshall as anything other than a distinguished, educated businessman.

Looking back at long-dead ancestors, it is tempting to see them as adults in their prime or as matriarchs and patriarchs of their family. Each of them was also a crying baby, a laughing child, or an angst-filled adolescent at some point.

In his book, Iron Millionaire: Life of Charlemagne Tower, Hal Bridges records an encounter at Harvard University between Marshall and Charlemagne Tower. Charlemagne was a serious student who quickly became annoyed when anyone disrupted his studies. Harvard, like many universities today, harbored a culture that included the hazing of new students. Some of the older students annoyed Charlemagne by indecently chopping his name down to "Charle." Other freshmen were terrorized by fires secretly set in their chimneys.

Charlemagne Tower, presumably looking a bit older than when he was at Harvard.

Marshall was a couple years ahead of Charlemagne and stood out as one of the younger man's tormentors. Marshall's approach to hazing involved disguising himself in a mask and red cap and springing into an unsuspecting classmate's room. Charlemagne was so distressed by Marshall's prank, that he recorded it in his diary:

I felt cross. Told him to take off his mask. He would not. Then said I, "Have you anything particular with me, Hagar?" He said nothing. Asked him to take a seat. He would not; but left the room. Pretty soon he came back with his mask and cap in his hand. Laid them upon my table and staid about twenty minutes, until I said, "Any one who will not get his lessons has not much honour." "What," said he. "You don't mean to apply anything to me do you?" "No," said I, "I aim it at no particular one. Have you ever missed any lessons?" "Yes," said he, "I do sometimes," and he staid no longer.

This is an uncorroborated anecdote, but I still feel that I can glean some insights to Marshall's character. Even if Charlemagne was not completely unbiased, and was understandably annoyed by the practical joke, Marshall was certainly up to no good. This provides a helpful counterpoint to the stack of records that refer to Marshall as a mature and accomplished man of the world. Marshall could be an annoying rascal. Maybe he carried some piece of this playful sense of humor with him throughout his life.

Fishing for a Laugh

I also came across a newspaper article that provides a similar glimpse of the humor of Marshall's father, Uriah Hagar. Previously I had thought of Uriah much as I thought of his son: professional, sensible, maybe even cold. Uriah was a medical doctor in Waltham, Massachusetts, born more than two hundred years before me. It was difficult not to think of him as distant and aloof until I found the January 20th edition of the Waltham Sentinel on

The Waltham Sentinel is available on

Dr Uriah Hagar had been dead for almost twenty years when this edition was published so the faultiness of memory may be at play here. But the editors of the Sentinel must have been in a nostalgic mood because they devoted more than two columns of the first page to the leadership role of a doctor in a New England village, and more specifically to memories of Uriah.

The article includes a wonderful description of Uriah's physical appearance and character, "...his portly person, the blue coat and metallic buttons; the striped vest; the fresh, dark-complexioned, amiable face; the large expressive black eyes; the dark hair and whiskers; the quiet manner, and sly humor; the constant nods of good-humored, gentlemanly courtesy and recognition—common in those days but out of fashion now—which he cast right and left to acquaintance and stranger as he rode along the highways and byways."

Uriah's professional reputation and abilities are also described in great detail. "The town was not only much indebted to his judgment and skill as a physician and surgeon, but to his careful management of public matters intrusted to his charge."

"And he was not known to be guilty of any mysterious irregularities in practice, sometimes charged upon medical men." So that's a plus, too.

The article goes on to describe an anecdote that is intended to demonstrate Uriah's "self-possession and dry humor":

On one occasion, when in the boat with his friends, and engaged for pickerel with indifferent success, the doctor slipped and went overboard, deeply under water. He came up after a moment or two, however, quickly clambered into the boat, and without remark coolly resumed his rod and line, and, as luck would have it, immediately pulled in a pickerel of extraordinary size and weight. "There, gentlemen," coolly said the doctor, "it is plain that if you would catch a good pickerel you must first dive and see where he is!"

It is needless to say that the remark, and coolness of behavior on his part, caused a shout of laughter in that company, and the doctor's feat of diving to select a good pickerel was more than once referred to, and is still a common remark among the lovers of the sport in this vicinity.

I Learned It By Watching You, Dad

These insights into Marshall and Uriah's wit and humor deeply changes how I look at them and imagine their lives. It is much easier for me to find a connection with someone who played a practical joke than to someone who is only recorded as a set of dates and life events. Just one story like that can fill out an impression of my ancestor much more than a stack of birth and baptism records.

Before heading off to Harvard, Marshall grew up with the sly humor of his father, Uriah. Now I can picture a little bit more of that relationship. I can imagine Uriah playfully joking with Marshall and his brothers and sisters when they were small children. I can see Marshall developing his own sense of humor to match or compete with his father's wit.

You can find stories like these for your ancestors too. Sites like Ancestry, FamilySearch, and FindMyPast each have their own collections of newpaper articles. Chronicling America is a great free resource for newspaper articles as well. You should also try searching sites like Google Books, Google Scholar, and Hathi Trust. Keep looking - you never know where your ancestors will pop up!

The Brecks of Littleton, Massachusetts

Be it remembered that I, Joseph Breck, of Littleton in the County of Middlesex and State of Massachusetts, mariner, being in a weak state of health, but of a sound disposing mind and memory reflecting on the uncertainty of this life, and being desirous to prevent, as much as possible, any perplexity or trouble in the settlement of my worldly affairs after my decease do now think proper to make this my last will and only testament in manner and form following.1
Joseph Breck signed this on April 10th, 1822 and died on June 27th of the same year.2 He was only fifty years old. Though he still listed himself as a mariner on his will, he had been retired for eight years living quietly on a farm outside of Boston.3

His beloved companion and lawful wife, Mrs Lucy Breck, was listed as the executrix of his estate. They had been married for 13 years and had six children. When Joseph died, Lucy was about seven months pregnant with their seventh child.4

Lucy was fourteen years younger than her husband and only 36 when he died. The will stated that she was to inherit the entire estate. At least for the length of her widowhood - if she remarried then one third of the estate would go with her and two thirds would remain to be divided evenly among the seven children.5

Lucy never remarried. And her widowhood lasted for more than fifty years. Her focus must have been her children. She and her six children mourned their loss at the end of June, and then less than two months later celebrated the birth of Lucy’s last child, Henry Everett Breck.6

For the next sixteen years, Lucy must have been able to take solace in her brood, even as the older ones began to move about the country and world. But in 1838, her eldest daughter, Lucy Ann Breck Tilden died in St. Louis, Missouri.7 Less than a year later, her son George died in London, England.8 In 1843, young Henry died9 and less than five months later so did his sister Amelia.10 Lucy’s son, Robert, passed away in 1858.11

Of her seven children, Lucy outlived all but two of them. Her son, Joseph, and her daughter, Sarah, were each involved in administering Lucy’s estate.12
[Respectfully represents] Joseph Breck of the city and state of New York that his mother Lucy Breck died intestate at Littleton, in this the jurisdiction of said county on the eighth day of June A.D. 1873, possessed of personal estate to an amount over $2,000.00, and leaving as heirs himself the said Joseph Breck, and one other, namely Sarah Hagar of Richmond in the state of [Maine], sister of your petitioner...13

This is the fifth post in a set of family history profiles that I am calling #20in2020. I'll post the next one in a couple weeks.


1 Probate records 1648--1924 (Middlesex County, Massachusetts); Author: Massachusetts. Probate Court (Middlesex County); Probate Place: Middlesex, Massachusetts; Massachusetts, Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015: download 24 March 2020

2 Probate records 1648--1924 (Middlesex County, Massachusetts); Author: Massachusetts. Probate Court (Middlesex County); Probate Place: Middlesex, Massachusetts; Massachusetts, Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015: download 24 March 2020

3 Genealogy of the Breck Family Descended from Edward of Dorchester and his Brothers in America by Samuel Breck, U.S.A. Historical Society of Pennsylvania; FamilySearch International : download 24 March 2020

4 Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 24 March 2020), memorial page for Henry E Breck (1822–1843), Find A Grave Memorial no. 16532388, citing Old Burying Ground, Littleton, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States of America.

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Mourning Marshall Spring Hagar

In the 1850s, Marshall Spring Hagar was everywhere in Richmond, Maine. He was a lawyer and judge, as well as a state senator. He was part of...