Main Contents & Search
The Jewetts of Portland Street
and the Four Sarah Orne Jewetts
Wendy Pirsig 2/9/2004
Research assistance by Herbie Geiler
In the mid-1800s, two cousins named Sarah Orne Jewett, 29 years apart in age, lived as neighbors in South Berwick village. Their families' farmhouses and barns stood a few hundred yards from each other on the road that was then the main thoroughfare between Boston and Portland.
The two young women's precise relationship was first cousin once removed, as they were descended from two of the Jewett brothers who had settled in South Berwick in the early 1800s, Captain Theodore F. Jewett (1787-1860) and his brother Thomas Jewett (1789-1864). Business partners in the world shipping trade, the men headed two of the community's most prominent families. Their front doors faced what now is known as Portland Street or Route 4, in those days unbroken by any cross streets at all. Most of the south side of Portland Street was open farmland, but at the corner where it intersects Main Street, the brothers operated a West Indies store. Their Salmon Falls River shipyard lay just over a mile to the south.
Captain Theodore F. Jewett's first wife had been Sarah Orne (c.1791-1819); she thus became the first Sarah Orne Jewett. His granddaughter by his son, Dr. Theodore H. Jewett, was named Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909), and she became one of Maine's most famous authors.
Captain Theodore's brother Thomas named his daughter, born just after his sister-in-law's death, Sarah Orne Jewett (1820-1864). Known as Sally, she married her cousin, Elisha H. Jewett, and they named their short-lived daughter Sarah Orne Jewett (1864-5). Thus, counting the grandmother, the two cousins, and the infant of one of the cousins, there were four Sarah Orne Jewetts in all.
Repetition of names, even women's names, was a common practice among nineteenth century New England families, particularly after a death. If one wonders, why did Dr. Theodore H. Jewett in 1849 give his second child the name of his adult cousin, who was married and living a few doors down the street, the answer seems to be that in 1849 Dr. Jewett was simply honoring his parents, the first Sarah Orne Jewett and Capt. Theodore F. Jewett.
The older cousin had received her name when she was born just after the first Sarah Orne Jewett died in 1819. Now, in 1849, Capt. Theodore F. Jewett was 67 and a new grandchild was being born. It could have been a melancholy period for the aging captain. His 22-year-old son, Dr. Theodore H. Jewett's stepbrother Samuel, had been lost at sea in a Jewett ship three years before (Samuel's mother, Olive Walker, died when he was three, in 1826). Disease had killed another son in his twenties, Henry. But the growing family of older son Dr. Jewett, about to build a new Portland Street house next door to his father, had become the core of the clan in the heart of the town. The name of the captain's third wife, Mary Rice, had been given to the first daughter of Dr. Jewett; the second child would honor the captain's first wife by becoming another Sarah Orne.
The Jewett homesteads of South Berwick Village
In the author's grandfather's generation there had been three brothers, Capt. Theodore F. Jewett, Thomas Jewett, and Benjamin Jewett. Born in Rochester, New Hampshire, in the late 1700s, they and their father, Dearborn Jewett, all gravitated to South Berwick and its shipping trade, going strong in the 1820s and 1830s.
Where did Capt. Theodore F. Jewett and his wife Olive and family live when they first came to South Berwick, near the time of Samuel's birth in 1823? Apparently this is when they moved into the house now known as the Jewett House, built in 1774 at the west end of Portland Street. The house's first owner, John Haggens, died in 1822, and it legally passed into the Jewett family in 1839, according to York County deeds researched by Terry Heller.
Thomas Jewett's will shows his home in 1864 was at the east end of Portland Street, north side. This location would be that of the present-day 151 Portland Street (now known as Grant House) at Jewett Avenue. Biographer Paula Blanchard, in Sarah Orne Jewett, reports that Thomas was "the wealthiest man in Berwick by 1860." His wife, Elizabeth (Betsey) Lord, was born in Rollinsford (formerly Somersworth), NH, in 1791, according to Vital Records of Berwick, North Berwick and South Berwick, and may have been the daughter of Capt. Nathan Lord (1758-1807), a partner of Jonathan Hamilton. Thomas and Betsey Jewett had seven children.
Graves of Sally and baby Sarah Jewett
We know little about Sally Jewett. She and her cousin Elisha lived in a house that is probably no longer standing near 176 Portland Street, past the Civil War monument. In 1864 he was 48 and she was 44. He is mentioned in connection with the lumber and shipbuilding trade, and during 1864-65, he represented South Berwick in the Maine Senate.
Meanwhile, down the street, Sarah Orne Jewett the author-to-be, a sensitive teenager, was herself in delicate health. It is difficult for us to estimate the impact of this situation on her, her physician father and the rest of the family during the winter of 1864-1865 -- first the fall of the last patriarch, then a motherless infant to care for, two other children at home, two elderly widowed grandmothers -- Elisha's mother and now Sally's. Even in an age when death was common, even for a family that was relatively well off, the winter must have been a struggle. And then, the following April, the baby Sarah Orne Jewett died at the age of 10 months. She is buried in the Portland Street cemetery.
After the deaths of Elisha H. Jewett's wife and daughter, vital records show, the widower remarried in 1866. Local cemetery records indicate Betsey Jewett, Thomas's wife, died in 1867. In the town map of 1872, Elisha seems to have then inherited the Thomas Jewett homestead on the north side of Portland Street.
Thomas Jewett house before 1864, now Grant House, is on the left.
The Elisha and Sally Jewett house is behind the monument on the right.
To the right of the monument is Agamenticus Road, which runs past Portland St. Cemetery
At the time he was elected, Sally was expecting a baby. She and Elisha had two other children, John and 7-year-old Susan. The Portland Street cemetery also holds two unnamed infants of theirs who died in the 1840s, when Sally was in her late 20s. Elisha's elderly mother was likely living with the family.
Across the street, Thomas Jewett, Sally's father, turned 75 on May 8, 1864. We don't know anything about his health, but he revised his will about a week later. He was the last of the original Jewett brothers, Capt. Jewett down at the Corner having died four years before. Then, on June 5, Thomas died, and his daughter Sally, perhaps upset, went into labor, for she gave birth the next day to a baby girl, the littlest Sarah Orne Jewett. Soon, subject perhaps to the hazards of childbirth so common then, Sally fell ill. One can imagine a summer of misery. Sally died on August 31.
The author's memories
Once part of the early nineteenth century stagecoach turnpike between Boston and Portland, Portland Street had a number of other important residences dating to the late 1700s. According to the South Berwick map of 1795, the east end of the street, near the former Thomas and Elisha Jewett homesteads at the intersection of Portland Street and Agamenticus Road, was the site of a late eighteenth century Baptist meeting house. The author Sarah Orne Jewett says the church was converted to a "town house" after the construction of the First Baptist Church on Main Street about 1826. The Civil War monument was later built on the site.
In "The Old Town of Berwick," she wrote of this Baptist church, "where Parson Boyd preached for many years. This was later used, for many more years, as a town house, being conveniently situated for that purpose, and it was a great pity that it should have been unnecessarily destroyed. The moderator used to occupy the high pulpit with its sounding board, while the citizens and voters made a more or less discreet congregation.
"I remember that the unpainted woodwork had taken a beautiful brown tint with age, and that it used to be a vast pleasure in my childhood to steal into the silent place, and to sit alone, or with small, whispering friends, in one of the high, square pews."
The author Jewett would have had many memories of the Portland Street of the 1850s and 1860s, when she likely played with some of her young cousins, offspring of the Thomas Jewett and Elisha Jewett families. Miss Olive Raynes' school, where Jewett attended in the early grades, was across Portland Street from Jewett's house, as was her grandfather's and uncle's West Indies store.
Most of the south side of Portland Street was open farmland during her childhood and teens, rising up the slope of Butler's Hill to the south and east of her house. In her 1881 story, "A Winter Drive," she reflected on an old oak tree up there, and the pressures from a growing population that had just built a big brick shoe factory and created a new street, Jewett Avenue, by the old Thomas Jewett farm.
"I think it [the old oak] is likely to live until the new houses of the town creep over to it, past Butler's Hill, and the march of improvement reaches it and dooms it to be cut down because somebody thinks it would not look well in his yard, or because a street would have to deviate two or three feet from a straight line. However, there is no need to grow angry yet, and the tree is not likely to die a natural death for at least a hundred years to come, unless the lightning strikes it, -- that fierce enemy of the great elms and pines that stand in high places."
Concerning her three namesake relatives, all cut down young by illnesses of an earlier era, she is silent.
Sarah Orne Jewett scratched her initials on her bedroom window.
Photo by Julia Einstein of Historic New England, August 2017
Sources and Notes:
South Berwick, Maine, Record Book (cemetery guide) by John Eldridge Frost, 1967:
Buried in Portland Street Cemetery (Agamenticus Road) are these family members of Thomas Jewett 1789-1864, author Sarah Orne Jewett's great uncle:
-- Daughter of Thomas: Sarah Orne Jewett, w. Elisha H. Jewett, May 19, 1820 - Aug. 31, 1864
-- Grandchild of Thomas: Sarah O. Jewett, d. Elisha H. and Sarah O. Jewett, d. Apr. 21, 1865, aged 10 mos. 15 das.
Buried in Portland Street cemetery with Elisha and Sally Jewett are Elisha's mother, Susan Jameson (1788-1883), and Susan J. Jewett, Oct. 7-1857-Oct. 29, 1954.
Vital Records of Berwick, South Berwick and North Berwick, edited by John Eldridge Frost and Joseph Crook Anderson II:
Thomas Jewett born 5/8/1790 -
Betsey Lord born in Somersworth March 31, 1791 (relationship to Nathan Lord?)
Mary Elizabeth 10/20/1817
Sally Orne, born 5/19/1820
Thomas Dearborn, born 10/20/1823
Olive Maria, born July 22, 1828, d. Aug. 29, 1832
John Lord, born April 29, 1826, d. Sept. 13, 1832
Charles Cogswell, born Jan. 3, 1831
Horace, born March 31, 1834
Mr. Elisha H. Jewett married Miss Sarah Orne Jewett, both of South Berwick - I 16 November 1844; C 30 November
Marriage by Rev. Silvanus Hayward, Berwick First Church:
Hon. Elisha H. Jewett & Miss Charlotte T. Cross of Portsmouth, NH - 12 September 1866, at the house of her sister, Mrs. H. C. Knight, in Portsmouth.
Main Contents & Search