(originally published at "West in New England" 9May 2008)



In my last post about my 4x great grandfather, Jonathan
Barker, I mentioned that after seeing his Revolutionary War
Pension file there were some things that puzzled me. How
had he gone from being a a cofounder and landholder of
Newry, Maine with a wife and family to being penniless and
alone at the time of his pension petition?

I downloaded his file from Footnotes.com in September of
last year, but his was one of many that I found at that time.
At twelve images his was one of the smaller files, while his
brother Benjamin's was nearly 5 times larger. It took awhile
to finish finding as many of my ancestors' files as I could and
I only managed to transcribe one, Asa Barrows' file, before
the Christmas rush at work and other matters pushed the
transcriptions aside for a bit.


Then in January I mentioned the Barkers again in my blog
and shortly after I received an email from Howard Kaepplein
who is a fellow descendant of Jonathan Barker. His letter
cleared up the questions about Jonathan's situation at the
time of the petition. Howard has been kind enough to grant
me permission to quote here from his email:

"Bill,
I have read about your Barker genealogy with great
interest, since I am also a descendant of Jonathan Barker
3rd. In fact, I am writing an historical novel about his
father, Jonathan Barker Jr. The book was originally
planned to be about Jonathan 3rd until I took a writing
course and my teacher suggested that the primary
character should be a heroic figure, or at least one that the
reader could empathize with. Jonathan Barker doesn't
qualify, since, after his children were grown and married,
his wife, the former Nancy Swan, left him and went back
to Methuen. Jonathan had become an alcoholic and, in a
drunken stupor, burned his house down. He became an
embarrassment to his children and grandchildren. My
great grandmother, Marcia Barker Saunders, daughter
of Amos Barker and granddaughter of Jonathan
3rd, became a staunch member of the Women's
Temperance Movement, and often spoke about her
grandfather's drunkenness. She moved to Cambria County,
PA with her husband, Nathan Saunders, and cousin,
Abraham Andrews Barker (who became a congressman
during Lincoln's term). Marcia's husband was killed in a
train accident in the Galitzin Tunnel, after he had survived
two of the bloodiest Civil War battles. My grandmother,
Laura Saunders Hysong, continued living in Marcia's house
until her death, but her husband, who fathered six of her
children, was not allowed to live in the house because he
opposed Prohibition. Eventually, when it became law, he
was allowed to move in.

Jonathan Barker 3rd is buried in an unmarked grave at
the back of the old Newry cemetery, while his brothers and
co-founders of Newry, Benjamin and Jesse and their wives
have prominent stones on a hill near the front of the cemetery

There are two anecdotes about Jonathan Barker in "History
of Bethel, Maine" by William B. Lapham. One is about
Jonathan encountering some Indians (probably three) who
challenged him to wrestle with them. He took them on, one
by one, starting with the smallest, and layed each one on his
back. The other is about Jonathan's great strength in pulling
a sled loaded with all his belongings eight miles through the
snow in March, from Fryeburg to Newry. There are also
anecdotes about James Swan, father of Jonathan's wife,
Nancy. One is that James was impressed into the English
Navy in 1768 and placed on a ship heading out of Boston
Harbor. However, he and two crewmen overtook the
English officers and sailed the ship back into Boston
Harbor. James then fled to Methuen and took his family
to Fryeburg, ME where his brother, Caleb Swan had
been one of the first settlers with his brother-in-law,
Joseph Frye.

There is more information about the Barkers in "Sunday
River Sketches". Also, "A History of Newry" by Carrie
Wight and "Newry Profiles" by Paula Wight. All of this
material is available at the Bethel Historical Society, where
I am a life member..."


The men who filed for their Revolutionary War pensions
were men who were in need of help. Jonathan Barker
was one of those men. Some of us when starting our
genealogy research want to believe that our ancestors
were extraordinary people.

The truth is that they, like ourselves, were human
beings, trying to get through life the best way that they
could.

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