Ezekiel and Sarah Merrill Make a Home in Andover

Merrill - Poor House, Founded in 1791

Ezekiel Merrill was born on Dec. 9, 1747 and Sarah Emery was born on July 14, 1753, both at West Newbury, Mass. They were married in West Newbury on June 1, 1773.

Mr. Merrill enlisted in the Continental Army at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, and re-enlisted repeatedly throughout the war. He participated in the capture of Burgoyne at Saratoga.

About 1787 a company was formed, composed principally of those who had been comrades-in-arms, who were determined to emigrate to Maine, where land was cheap and plenty, offering with its fertile soil greater inducements than could be found in any part of the U.S.A.

A party of explorers went as far east as Belfast. On their return, they visited Sudbury, now Bethel, and were told of the beauties of the Ellis River Valley. They spied out the land and afterward purchased it in 1791.

In April of 1788, Deacon Merrill moved his family of seven children to Maine. The road ended at Fryeburg. He then made up a team of sixteen sleds, drawn by men, and reached Bethel 30 miles away. Here the family remained for 14 months while Mr. Merrill penetrated the forest and built his camp on the site of their future home.

In May, 1789, with a fleet of birch canoes paddled by Indians, the family was taken down the Androscoggin to the mouth of the Ellis River to encamp for the night. The next day they paddled up against the current to the forks where they were hospitably received by the friendly Indians whose canoes had been used for the journey. The next morning, Mrs. Merrill and the older children threaded their way two miles through the woods, but the little ones were landed from canoes a short distance from their new home.

For two years Mrs. Merrill was the only white woman in the place. They were beyond the reach of manufactured articles of all kinds. Transportation was almost impossible, and they were obligated to make, out of crude material, what they most needed. Even in 1831, when Henry Varnum Poor, Mrs. Merrill's grandson, left to enter Bowdoin College, every article he wore had been made from the raw materials in his native town, and largely on his father's farm.

The experiences of the Merrills were not unlike those of Robinson Crusoe. The roof of their log cabin was covered with bark. The chinks were filled with moss. The windows had no glass and were closed, when necessary, by slides made of splints. Pins of wood took the place of nails. No boards could be obtained. Their household utensils were largely made of birch bark and the bed and cord from the bark of the elm.

Their food was procured with great difficulty. They had no domestic animals. A cow was driven from Bethel the first summer, but, as they had no hay, it was driven back through the woods in late fall. The sables took up their abode in the camp and made themselves useful catching rats and mice. The family lived largely on fish and game in the summer and cross-bills in the winter. These are birds about the size of a robin, caught in nets made of twine, operated by Mrs. Merrill and the children by means of a cord carried into the cabin through an aperture in the wall.

Roots of wild hop, mint, and watercress were used for seasoning. Many wild herbs were used for "greens." Twigs and bark of the bass wood were boiled in milk for puddings. Indian women explained the uses of many of these things to Mrs. Merrill. When the first crop of corn matured, it was pounded in a mortar, hollowed in a stump, with a stone for a pestle.

Mrs. Merrill, besides being a woman of dauntless courage, had refined tastes and social and religious aspirations. She lived cheerfully and contentedly, aiding her husband in many ways. She found time to teach her children all the rudiments of knowledge. Her practical common-sense and sound judgment led her to bring up her children to assist their parents in the struggle they were making to establish a new home in the wilderness.

Metalluck, the "Lone Indian of the Magalloway," had great admiration for Mrs. Merrill and taught her many of the Indian arts. He was very proud of his pupil when he saw the garments she had manufactured out of the animal skins he had taught her to tan.

Mrs. Merrill had been in her wilderness home a little more than a year when there was born to her a daughter, July 13, 1790. The Indian women showed great kindness in their care of her at this time; but she trembled as they took the helpless babe in their arms; fearing it would not endure the treatment to which they subject their own. But the baby, Susan, grew to noble womanhood, and became the comfort of her mother's declining years.

There were now eight children in the Merrill family and the father and mother couldn't contemplate for a moment the idea of their children being deprived of any educational advantages within their reach. Roger, 15 years of age, and Sarah, the next oldest, were sent to Fryeburg to school. Deacon Merrill took the two children in a birch canoe down the Ellis River to Bethel. From this place, the father and son walked to Fryeburg, leading a horse which carried the daughter and a pack of furs, the proceeds of which were to pay for the board and tuition of the children.

Source: "Andover: The First 175 Years," prepared by the Andover Friday Club, 1979, page 9, Reprinted with permission of the current owner, The Andover Educational Fund

Henry Varnum Poor

In 1877, Henry Varnum Poor, grandson of Ezekiel and Sarah Poor, purchased the house that his grandparents had built many decades before.

"Mr. Henry V. Poor - Age 92 [Aug., 1904]
Historian of the Andover Centennial
Descendant of an Early Settler"

"Henry Varnum Poor was born in Andover, Maine, December 8, 1812, the son of Silvanus and Mary Merrill Poor. After spending his early days on his father's farm, [now called 'The Homestead' which was and still is located across the street from Woodlawn Cemetery], he entered Bowdoin College in 1831, graduating in 1835. [the first person born in Andover to graduate from college]

"After the usual course of study, he entered upon the practice of law in Bangor, Maine, continuing it until 1848, when he moved to New York, for the purpose of editing the "American Railroad Journal," a periodical reporting on railroad technical and financial matters that he had purchased.

"He continued its publication until the outbreak of the war of the Rebellion [Civil War.] In 1848 he published a history of the Railroads in the United States. In 1859 he published a work reviewing the Monetary Systems of the world, as well as that of the United States. In 1861, after the breaking out of the war of the Rebellion, he published a statement on the resources of the two sections of the country, North and South, showing that the substantial strength lay wholly with the North. The first edition of this work was taken by the National Government for general distribution.

"In 1867 Mr. Poor began the annual publication of a work entitled, 'Manual of the Railroads of the United States,' which the world over is authority upon the subject to which it relates.  It is a work which now [1904] contains 1400 pages in a single volume. Mr. Poor has also published several works upon the monetary situation in the United States, ceasing the use of his pen only after the gold standard was firmly established.

"In 1841 Mr. Poor married Mary W. [Pierce], daughter of Rev. John Pierce D. D. of Brookline, Mass., which town has been his home since 1865. For the past 14 years, his summer home has been in Andover, he having purchased several years ago an estate which was that of his grandfather, Ezekiel Merrill, the first settler who came to the town in 1789."

Source: "History of Andover, Maine," Supplement to the Rumford Falls Times, August 13, 1904. This was part of an address given by Mr. Henry V. Poor at the Andover, Maine centennial.

The first house in Andover, which was started by first settlers Ezekiel and Sarah Merrill, later owned by their grandson, Henry Varnum Poor, is still in the family and is currently owned by their descendant, Will Chandler.

[Editor's Note: Mr. Poor's financial legacy is still revered on Wall Street. His publishing firm has prospered over the years. And today, according to his great grandson, Will Chandler, he is the "Poor" in Standard and Poor's.]

For a complete report on the fascinating story of Henry Varnum Poor's life and accomplishment, see Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., "Henry Varnum Poor, Business Editor, Analyst, and Reformer," (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1956)

Copyright 1998 by Robert A. Spidell, All Rights Reserved

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