FAMILY MEMBERS outside the jailer’s residence and jail, Wiscasset, circa 1900.

FAMILY MEMBERS outside the jailer’s residence and jail, Wiscasset, circa 1900.

Any area, whether it be newly settled or well established, is characterized not only by its geography but also by the people who live there. The women of Lincoln County have contributed so much to the daily experience of life since the early years of settlement, but most of them have received little notice in the records that document the county’s history.

Church records usually recorded little more than the names of women who participated in various church ministries; schools remembered much beloved women teachers through plaques or other tributes; and the names of a few Lincoln County ladies traveled the globe on the bowsprits of ships named in their honor. Benjamin Metcalf, ship-builder of Damariscotta, named the Adelaide Metcalf after his daughter in 1849. The Mary H. Diebold, a five-masted schooner launched in 1920, was named after a family member of Newcastle ship-builder Richard Diebold. While the names of these women, and other local ladies whose names christened vessels, may have been known in foreign ports, few people would know anything about the women themselves.

Wills and probates as well as letters and journals found in collections of the historical societies that dot Lincoln County reveal the thoughts, experiences, and activities of a number of local women. They are remembered by the words they took pleasure in putting to paper. One example, is Sallie (Sarah) Prescott Goodwin, who lived at the Pownalborough Court House in Dresden. Sallie wrote lovingly about the family gatherings, the people who came and went in her life, and the various activities associated with the changing of the seasons. These provide a rich personal view of life in 19th century Lincoln County.

Published materials on the workings of the 1811 Jail, which was in use until 1913, record the names of the jailers and note that their wives cooked for the prisoners. Rarely, however, is the reader given the name of the wife or any additional information about her or her activities. It must be assumed that she would have good management skills, supporting not only the efficient running of her household, but also assisting her husband in the administration of the jail. A rare documented example concerns Jailer Caleb Hodgdon’s wife, who was very attentive to the activities of the prisoners. Mahela Hodgdon, referenced by her husband as “my wife” in the jailer’s 1879 report foiled an escape attempt by forewarning him of the event.

Many of the bills submitted to the County by the various jailers for expenses listed services rendered by others, for example: “to making four shirts for Prisoners,” “to making Prisoners Clothes,” “to make one Tick and 2 Bolsters.” It is not known if these were made by the jailer’s wife or daughters or by a woman in the community. One exception was Samuel Sevey’s charge, submitted during his tenure in 1830, to the “County of Lincoln” in which he noted: “Paid Mary Sevey’s bill for mak’g comforters Shirts & blankets.” The 1800 United States Census for Pownalborough (as Wiscasset was called until 1802) listed “Widow Mary Sevey,” indicating that Mary was not Samuel’s wife. Mary is now remembered as a local woman who supported herself by her handwork. Another jailer’s account listed charges for the services of a nurse during times of severe illness among one or more of the prisoners, but the nurse’s name is not given.

National Women’s History Month provides an opportunity to reflect on the large and small contributions of women in Lincoln County since the 17th century as they raised future citizens, built businesses, contributed to charitable endeavors, and contributed to the daily life, health and growth of Lincoln County. It is a good time also to seek out some of the women of Lincoln County and how they are remembered.

Louise T. Miller is the Education Director for Lincoln County Historical Association. In the fall of 2014, LCHA began an Education Outreach Program to promote the history of its three historic sites and Lincoln County’s heritage. For more information about this program and the LCHA, visit and/or the Facebook page Lincoln County Historical Association Maine. The Lincoln County Historical Association is a nonprofit organization that provides stewardship for the 1754 Chapman-Hall House of Damariscotta, the 1761 Pownalborough Court House in Dresden, and the 1811 Old Jail and Museum in Wiscasset.

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