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French Cemetery

French's Cemetery cat
Photo by MaryLee Mills

Photo by Lisa Curreri
Photo by Lisa Curreri
Photo by Lisa Curreri
Photo by Lisa Curreri

The French Cemetery is located down a driveway off Rt 1, 0.2 miles south of Lincolnville Beach. A small sign points to it. It is primarily on land that Hezekiah French received from General Knox in 1798. The French’s owned many acres extending along the shore where they owned a landing and wharf and all the industries that went along with shipping as well as land extending far up the current Beach Road (RT 173).

The word of mouth on the origin of the cemetery was that Hezekiah French had given a piece of a land as a burying ground for all to use. However, we find that on January 30, 1802, Hezekiah and Eunice sold 13 acres and sixteen rods of land to the Widow Mary Turner for $400.00. It ran from the road to the shore and included a house (perhaps a part of the land originally claimed by her husband, Samuel.) On April 25, 1822, Widow Turner sold, for $45.00, 1 1/2 acres, to be used for a burying ground, to Hezekiah French, William Kidder and Samuel A. Whitney to be held in trust for those whose names were written on the back of the deed (unfortunately these names are now lost). This land matches the current burying ground and left Widow Turner with the 11 acres, 96 rods which she subsequently sold to David McKoy and Eldin Hartshorn in 1831.

The earliest dated gravestone is that of Olive Rogers who died in 1815 at the age of 5 years.  There are also fieldstones which may mark earlier graves. If Olive was buried there in 1815, it would mean that the cemetery predates its official designation, and the fieldstones may mark a very old burying ground. Olive was the daughter of Adam and Olive Gay Rogers. She was also the niece of Eunice Rogers French, wife of Hezekiah French. Eunice, Adam, and Elisha were three of the children of Adam Rogers Sr, an early settler of the Beach area. Adam Jr owned 80 acres that abutted Hezekiah’s so burying his daughter in that area, especially if it was already recognized as a burying ground, would not be unexpected.

It is the French family that has been dedicated to the care and upkeep of the cemetery over the years. Like most old cemeteries it has had to undergo the transition from the time that families turned out to care for their family plots to families moving away and stones falling into disrepair and cemeteries becoming overgrown. It is hard to find the time and money to keep up.

In the 1950’s and 60’s Alton French was the steward of the cemetery and did as much as he could with help from family members until he died in 1970. Bill and Shirley Brawn who had been helping, along with a young Jeff who remembers burning the boundaries of the cemetery to keep the vegetation down, continued. However, by September, 1986, the task was overwhelming and there was a discussion with the Town for Maplewood Cemetery to take over the care and upkeep along with financial help from the Town. This was finalized in April, 1987, with a vote by the Selectmen. A joint committee was established headed up by A. Dawson (Moose) Wootton. and including Ken Goulding, Bill Brawn and  Raymond Oxton from French, Nellie Hart, Colin Coombs and Isabel Ames from Maplewood. The connection continued with various degrees of involvement until 2002. Many people remember Moose’s chicken barbecues to benefit the cemetery. Presently the cemetery is under the stewardship of the French Cemetery Committee.

This is a pretty cemetery sloping toward the water and encircled by an old stone wall. Many of Lincolnville’s historic families are buried here: the Frenchs and Rogers as well as the Pendletons whose land abutted the French property on the opposite side. Here also are the Frohocks, Drinkwaters, Decrows and Duncans. Zadok and Deborah French’s daughter, Eleanora is buried beside her parents. She was 12 years old when she fell from Mount Megunticook apparently chasing her hat which had blown off in the wind during a Maying party. A large white cross marks the site on the mountain now called Maiden’s Cliff. It is also the final resting place of many who died at sea, including  Almina Coombs, wife of Captain Isaac Coombs, and of the men who captured a British supply ship in the War of 1812.

Interesting features are two ”receiving vaults;” stone chambers covered with dirt which look like little hills with a metal door in one end. They were used to store the bodies of people who died in the winter until the ground was suitable for burial.  And, do take time to sit on the stone bench beside the peaceful stone cat and look out toward the water. It is a lovely spot.

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