Dana Peck brushes lichen away from a relatively contemporary headstone at Evans Cemetery in Biddeford Pool while fellow volunteer Dick Parsons looks on. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

BIDDEFORD POOL — The slate headstone rests alone in the grass, its markings faded and edges rounded by time.

“Here lyes the body of Sarah Brown aged 65 years,” it reads. “July 16th, 1726.”

Its presence here, at the edge of a small cemetery near the ocean in Biddeford Pool, is perhaps not unusual. But why is it set so far away from all the other headstones that mark the resting places of Fletchers and Goldthwaits and Evanses? Why is it a century older than most of them? Could it be surrounded by more burial spots that long ago lost their markers?

These are the questions Dana Peck and other volunteers from the Biddeford Historical Society ponder as they kneel in front of the headstones, using brushes to carefully scrub away the orange lichen that obscures names and dates. As the names are revealed, the volunteers try to connect them to the stories of the families that long ago fished and farmed along this coast.

For the past few years, Peck has led this effort to reclaim the history of the small family burial plots that dot the land alongside Pool Road. With nine family cemeteries done, he has turned his attention to the two small community cemeteries in Biddeford Pool, the coastal village that is the site of Maine’s first recorded European permanent settlement.

In the months to come, Peck hopes to use ground-penetrating radar to search for graves near Sarah Brown’s headstone. He also will document the history of the people buried here.


“Somebody has to take care of these people,” he said. “We’re finding the movers and the shakers who started the community.”

Volunteers in Biddeford cleared brush last month to reveal the headstone for Sally Amber, who died in 1887 at age 68. The epitaph is illegible. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


For decades, Biddeford has been known for the large brick mill buildings on the Saco River that once churned out textiles shipped around the world. But the city’s origins are in Biddeford Pool, known first to its early settlers as Winter Harbor.

The first named European to settle in Biddeford was physician Richard Vines, who arrived in 1616 and spent the winter there with 32 other men as part of the colonization efforts. He launched a permanent settlement in 1630 with a land grant from the Plymouth Company.

Within three years, the area was incorporated as the town of Saco, then became known as Biddeford in 1718. (In 1762, the land northeast of the river was designated as Pepperellborough. It was renamed Saco in 1805.)

The decades that followed were marked by conflict with Native Americans. The Sokokis Tribe lived along the Saco River and periodically came to the area from Fryeburg to fish at the coast. During King Philip’s War in 1675, members of the tribe attacked the town and the white settlers withdrew to Winter Harbor as their homes and mills were burned.


Conflict had ceased by the mid-1700s and the remaining settlers in Biddeford focused on farming and fishing. The center of the community was the meetinghouse built in 1758 on Pool Road.

Peck, a past president of the historical society, grew up near the meetinghouse, which helped spark his interest in local history. He’s long suspected that others would share his interest in the oldest cemeteries.

Volunteers for the Cemetery Committee at the Biddeford Historical Society used a metal brace to repair the broken headstone for Alice Evans, center, who died in 1832 at the age of 63. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Many of the nine family cemeteries from the 1800s that Peck identified had been overgrown and in disrepair for decades. Descendants had moved on and no one was left to tend to the private burial plots.

Without fanfare, Peck set out to fix up the cemeteries one by one. Following state law, he tracked down either living descendants or property owners to secure permission to work in the plots. He consulted experts to learn how to use a non-toxic fungicide to clean the stones and epoxy to piece together broken ones. A local fabrication company donated aluminum braces to help hold broken headstones upright.

As he uncovers people’s names, he researches their lives and contributions to the city.

“Most importantly for us, it’s about learning about who these people were,” Peck said. “It’s been an incredible journey. We’ve learned so much about the early history of the city.”


In the family plot of Capt. John Perkins, Peck found a headstone marked with the names of three Perkins sons who died young. One face of the stone lists Ebenezer, who died at sea in 1841 at age 20, and Thomas, who was 26 when he died in California in 1850. The back of the stone memorializes Joseph, who died in California in 1852. Peck believes the brothers went to California together during the Gold Rush.

When Peck and the volunteers started working in Oaks Cemetery along Pool Road, Karen Casey could not have been more excited. She has lived next door for 20 years and always found the spot surrounded by red oaks peaceful and beautiful. But she knew nothing about the people buried there.

As the headstones were cleaned one by one, she began to learn more. A neighbor gave her a handwritten deed for the house across the street, which offered some clues about Joseph and Abigail Stevens, who lived there in the 1700s and are buried in the cemetery. Joseph’s father, Moses, owned a large piece of land nearby. She is still searching for details about their lives.

Casey said others in the cemetery have family ties to the western part of England. She’s noticed a pattern of the families leaving England in the 1600s for coastal Massachusetts, then moving up the coast to Biddeford and eventually west of the city. She is continuing her research online on about half a dozen people buried there.

Casey, who has lived in Maine for 40 years but still describes herself as “from away,” said learning this history has deepened her connection to Biddeford.

“It gave me a sense of timeless community,” she said.


Dick Parsons, a volunteer for the Cemetery Committee at the Biddeford Historical Society, takes a cellphone photo of a headstone in Evans Cemetery in Biddeford Pool. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


Just after Labor Day, Peck and 10 volunteers started working in Evans Cemetery in Biddeford Pool, which takes its name from the large tidal pool off Saco Bay. Evans is one of the two small community cemeteries in the village. The other is in better condition because of its more prominent position near a golf course, Peck said.

Evans Cemetery sits next to the Marie Joseph Spiritual Center, a stately oceanfront building that dates back to the late 1800s. The Evans family built it as the Ocean View Hotel. It became a girls academy in 1948 and has been used for retreats since the late `70s.

When the volunteers first arrived, nearly every stone was so covered with lichen that the names were unreadable. Some stones were broken, their pieces scattered across the grass and along the cemetery’s overgrown edges. As the slate and marble stones were cleaned, familiar names emerged: Alice Evans, who died in 1837; George Evans died at age 46 in 1877, two years after his wife, Mary, passed away at age 31. They are buried among Goldthwaits, McBrides and Riches. In the back corner of the plot, eight small square stones are marked only with initials: F.L., M.S., M.B., E., W.H., E., E.D., M.

“Were they servants? Or were they slaves?” Peck wonders.

The oldest stones in the cemetery are connected to Maj. Pendleton Fletcher Sr., who was born in Biddeford around 1660 and by 1693 was the lieutenant of the company of soldiers stationed in a stone fort built at Saco Falls. On Aug. 7, 1697, Fletcher and his two sons were captured by Native Americans and taken to Quebec, where Fletcher and one son died in captivity around 1699. The other, Pendleton Fletcher Jr., escaped.


Sarah, the widow of Fletcher Sr., went on to marry Andrew Brown and died in 1726. Her grandson, Fletcher Pendleton III, lived to be 100 and is buried several yards away from her headstone, the one that sits alone at the front of the cemetery. Peck does not know what happened to Pendleton Jr. and where he was buried after he died.

Such mysteries, connections and stories are fascinating to David Thomson, who has helped clean the graves. He lives in Biddeford Pool, in the home his parents bought in 1969, and has always wondered about all the people who lived there starting when it was built around 1790. He wonders, too, about the people in this cemetery and how they fit into the community, which has changed over the years as old families have moved away and summer residents have moved in.

Peck and the volunteers met at the cemetery last week to talk about what to do next. The headstones are clean now, but some still need repair. They have to decide whether to stand up the stones that are missing their bases and now rest flat in the grass.

They hope to raise $2,000 to hire a company to use ground-penetrating radar to try to locate graves that are missing markers. Peck thinks that work would help them honor the lives of those laid to rest there.

“There’s a story here for everyone,” he said. “It’s only right we show some reverence and maintain the cemetery.”

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