One was from Gray. Two were immigrants – one from an archipelago off the coast of Africa, the other from an island nation in the Caribbean.

All three were Blacks who made huge contributions to Maine’s history, yet are barely remembered today. But once you know them, you’ll realize their work is still relevant.

Reuben Ruby was born in Gray in 1798. By 1820, he was working as a waiter in Portland. In September 1826, Ruby and five other Black men wrote a letter that appeared in the Eastern Argus newspaper condemning Portland churches for treating their non-white members as second-class citizens. The six then petitioned the state of Maine to incorporate the Abyssinian Religious Society so it could “erect a house of public worship.”

Ruby even donated the land on what is now Newbury Street to build the Abyssinian Meeting House, which is currently being restored and will be transformed into a museum.

He was the first person in the state of Maine to have a taxi, then known as a hack, in which he ferried people around the city in his horse-drawn carriage. One of his riders was William Lloyd Garrison, who was given a tour of Portland by Ruby before the Boston abolitionist joined the city’s Black leaders at Ruby’s home for dinner.

Ruby was only 29 when he became an agent for Freedom’s Journal, the first African American-owned newspaper in the country. And in October 1834, he was the only Black among those representing the city of Portland at the forming of the Maine Antislavery Society in Augusta.

He didn’t confine his abolitionist activities to the state.

Ruby was one of two Blacks sent to represent Maine at the Fifth Annual Convention for the Improvement of the Free People of Color, held in Philadelphia in 1835. The convention elected Ruby as its president.

The Maine native was elected a vice president of the American Moral Reform Society, a national group led by James Forten, a Black abolitionist from Philadelphia. In 1840, Ruby was elected president of the Manhattan Anti-Slavery Society in New York City.

In the 1820s, Gray native Reuben Ruby and five other Black men petitioned the state of Maine to incorporate the Abyssinian Religious Society so they could build this house of worship. The Abyssinian Meeting House, on Newbury Street, is being restored and will be turned into a museum. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer, File

His belief in activism was passed down to his children.

One son, William Wilberforce Ruby, was a fireman in Portland who is credited with sounding the first alarm for the Great Fire of July 4, 1866. He also saved the Abyssinian Meeting House from the fire by reportedly covering the roof with wet blankets, and he was elected to the Portland city commission, a forerunner of the City Council.

Another son, George Thompson Ruby, was the first Black graduate of Portland High School. He was elected to the Texas state Senate during Reconstruction and was a delegate to the 1868 Republican National Convention in Chicago and the party’s convention in Philadelphia four years later. George later was a newspaper editor-owner in New Orleans and testified before a United States Senate subcommittee for four days concerning former slaves who left Louisiana and Mississippi and emigrated to Kansas and Oklahoma, a period that is called the Exoduster Movement.

Reuben’s youngest son, Horatio, was on a Navy expedition to South America that eventually led to the building of the Panama Canal. He later joined a Maine group that searched for gold in Colombia.

Today, the spot where Reuben Ruby’s hack stand was located on the corner of Temple and Federal is recognized with a stone monument as part of Portland’s Freedom Trail.

AN ENTREPRENEUR WHO DELIVERED

Narcizo A. Matheas was a giant in Bangor during the Queen City’s boom period in the second half of the 1800s. Yet there are details about the entrepreneur that were mistaken even then.

A marvelous story about Matheas in the Bangor Daily News on March 30, 1907, spells his first name “Narcissus.” The federal census in both 1860 and 1870 spells it “Narcizo.”

And while the news article says he arrived in Bangor in 1834 from his native Cape Verde at the age of 16, Matheas, in his naturalization papers, said he was 10 years old when he first reached the Queen City.

There is no mistaking his accomplishments, however.

“At one time he had seven job wagons engaged in trucking and the transfer of baggage about the city, and enjoyed a practical monopoly of that business for years,” the newspaper reported. “He also owned and drove the first coach – a nine-seater – ever owned by a private individual in Bangor, was the first man to deliver ice to customers here and also the first to deliver express packages.”

Matheas – eventually with several of his sons joining him – would have his wagons waiting at the steamboat landings to take passengers to their destination as well as handling any baggage that needed to be transported.

“The subscriber has purchased a convenient express wagon for the purpose of carrying Baggage to and from the Boats and Cars, moving Pianos ande Sewing Machines and transporting Furniture for families, all of which willo be done with care and at short notice,” read an advertisement in the Bangor Daily Evening Times of May 3, 1866.

Yet, it wasn’t just his entrepreneurship that was well known in Bangor. From 1852 to 1856, Matheas was a member of the Bangor fire department, and he also made available his stable of horses for hauling firefighting equipment.

According to the news article, Matheas accumulated a considerable amount of property, yet wanted to return to Cape Verde, a group of 10 islands off the coast of Senegal that, at the time, were considered to be a part of Portugal.

He purchased the Portuguese brig Jovan Arthur after it had wrecked in the Penobscot when the crew attempted to take it downriver under sail instead of being towed. After losing a great deal of money in a futile effort to fix the brig, Matheas and his wife and two of their five children, including their only daughter, Lucretia, eventually returned to Cape Verde in 1870.

In 1892, Matheas came back to Bangor, where he visited with his son Fred for a year before once again returning to his his island home, where he died in 1907.

All of his children were born in Bangor and three of his sons stayed in the United States. Joseph Cushing, an upholsterer and antique furniture dealer in Camden, New Jersey, died in 1931. Francis Antonio – known as Frank – lived in Philadelphia, where he owned a grocery store until his death in 1919.

Frank’s son, Frederick Walter “Dick” Matheas, is believed to have been the first Black graduate of the University of Maine in Orono, getting his degree in engineering.

The third son of Narcizo was born Michael Frederick Matheas but was known as Fred. He remained in Bangor, continuing in his father’s footsteps with a trucking and furniture-moving business. And, also like his father, Fred was a member of the Bangor fire department.

Today, Narcizo Matheas’ creative ideas are replicated worldwide by UPS, FedEx and other companies who offer deliveries right to your door.

AN EMPHASIS ON EDUCATION

Mary Maude Daly’s first steps in America were in Philadelphia where she disembarked from the steamship Admiral Schley following a five-day voyage from her native Jamaica. She was heading to Portland to marry her fiancé, David Dickson. They did just that two months later, on Christmas Day 1912, in a ceremony at St. Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral.

President-elect Barack Obama with Susan Rice and her family in 2008 after nominating her to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Rice’s mother, left, Lois Dickson Rice, was the force behind the creation of the Pell Grant and a Portland native whose immigrant parents, a maid and a porter, sent all five of their children to college. Also pictured are Obama; Rice’s son and daughter, Jake and Maris Rice-Cameron; Rice; Rice’s husband, Ian Cameron; and Rice’s father, Emmett J. Rice. Contributed photo

Back home in Jamaica, Mary had been a dressmaker. Her new husband had been a clerk before coming to the United States. In Portland, he took a job as a porter in a music store, while she found work as a maid and seamstress while raising their five children.

Education was the key, the parents stressed, telling their children to strive for excellence and “never let race be an obstacle or an excuse.”

All five of the Dickson children would graduate from Portland High School. The four boys went to Bowdoin, the daughter to Radcliffe.

The oldest, Leon Ashby Dickson, was a medical doctor in Detroit and New York City. Audley Daly Dickson became an optometrist.

David Watson Daly Dickson, who graduated first in his class, summa cum laude, from Bowdoin, received his master’s and doctoral degrees at Harvard. He became the first African American to head a New Jersey state college or university when he was named president of what is now Montclair State University. In the years he led the school, 11 buildings were constructed and enrollment tripled. The School of Humanities and Social Services building is named after him.

Frederick Sanderman Dickson was a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology. He was only 35 when he died in the Detroit area of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1957.

The youngest of the five, Lois Ann Dickson Rice, was valedictorian at Portland High School in 1950 and class president of Radcliffe College in 1954. She became national vice president of the College Board and is considered the “Mother of the Pell Grant,” a federal financial aid program that benefits millions of students each year.

In 1950, Mary Daly Dickson was named Maine’s Mother of the Year, becoming the first Black woman to gain that honor.

Today, that legacy of achievement continues. Lois Dickson Rice’s daughter is Susan Rice, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and then national security adviser in the Barack Obama administration and has been tapped to run the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Joe Biden.

And to prove Mary Daly Dickson’s words still prevail, Dr. Susan Rice received her doctorate degree at Oxford University.

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