June 25, 2018
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Palin ancestor sought answer

By Roxanne Moore Saucier, BDN Columnist

ABBOT, Maine – The writer moved to Michigan before 1870. The recipient joined the Gold Rush and settled in California.

But the letter that vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin’s ancestor wrote more than 160 years ago while living in Abbot is on its way back to the town where it was written.

Cornelius N. Gower – Palin’s great-great-great-grandfather – didn’t name the person he was representing in the handwritten missive he sent to Brownville businessman Jefferson Lake Esq. But he did say that he was seeking the price of hay for delivery to camps in the Roach Pond area east of Moosehead Lake.

Written with a fountain pen, Gower’s letter of Dec. 3, 1845, was brief and to the point:

A gentleman who is operating on the Purley Township, which is, I think on Roach Pond, is desirous of purchaseing hay devr. at his camps and you have been recommended as a suitable person to furnish me, for him, information relative to the price that it may be furnished for from Brownville or from your vicinity. The price of hay at the foot of the Lake is, at present, very unstable in consequence of their haveing been large quantities of it cross the Lake by wotter, and the lots near by haveing been mostly bot up for that purpose consequently much of the hay if coirer from this way will have to be hauled 20 or 25 miles before it reaches the Lake and then perhaps as much more after that before it reaches the camps.

Now sir if you are in the way of furnishing please inform me for what you can dev it to the camps and if you are not inclined to furnish please say what it can probably be obtained for from your vicinity, a good article of hay is wanted and the cash paid on dev.

I am anxious to hear from you immediately or as soon as convenient after receiveing this.

Very Respectfully Yours,

Cornelius N. Gower

Whether Lake responded to Gower’s letter or agreed to provide hay to the camps in question isn’t known, but it’s easy to see why the Abbot farmer might have thought Lake was the go-to guy in Brownville.

Historian William R. Sawtell, author of the 1983 book “Of Brownville … and the Junction,” wrote of Lake: “When one speaks of mid-nineteenth century Brownville, one cannot forget Jefferson Lake. He had a store near the present-day French’s Market. Around 1847 he was the agent for the Katahdin Iron Works which came of age in 1845 and was to provide a market for the farmers of Brownville … Finally, he had a lumber business.”

Jefferson Lake had several business interests in the Brownville area and a growing family at the time he would have received Gower’s letter, but he didn’t stay in Maine.

He joined the Gold Rush to California in 1853, as Sawtell pointed out, and by the time of the 1860 census he and his family were living in Sutter, Calif., a prominent location during the Gold Rush.

Cornelius Gower, who served as a county commissioner for Piscataquis County in 1851, also took his family and moved on, first to Winslow by 1860, and then to Ann Arbor, Mich., by 1870, working as a lumberman.

Coincidentally, postal history dealer Elwyn Doubleday and wife Anne, who live in Alton, N.H., and purchased the “stampless cover” by Gower from an estate in Auburn, were on their way to a show in Ann Arbor recently when they were told by telephone of the letter’s connection to the vice presidential candidate.

“Totally surprised” was Anne Doubleday’s reaction to the news of the connection to Sarah Palin.

The information on the letter that had been posted on the eBay auction site, where the Doubledays have more than 700 Maine “covers” up for auction or sale through their store identity, CrazyCover2, was provided by Anne’s mother, Janet Hawkins of Schenectady, N.Y.

“She summarizes the stampless covers for us,” Anne said, adding that some 3,000 additional Maine items from the estate in Auburn have yet to be posted.

Kaye Roberts Sakahara, an active member of the Abbot Historical Society, was pleased to hear about the 1845 letter written by Cornelius Gower, Palin’s ancestor.

“That is exciting,” said Sakahara, who herself had ancestors from both Abbot and Brownville.

Cornelius Gower stayed in the Midwest, census records show, with the lumberman and his family living on North Street in Ann Arbor in 1880.

Gower received at least two land grants for work such as surveying the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, according to a 2001 posting by Glen H. Gower on the Gower site on Genforum, www.genforum.genealogy.com/gower.

His message indicated that he also is a descendant of Cornelius N. Gower and wife Abigail (Hawes).

Palin’s mother, Sally Sheeran Heath of Wasilla, Alaska, said in a Bangor Daily News interview last month that she was unaware that any of her forebears had come from Maine.

Palin, in a campaign stop at Bangor International Airport the day the BDN story ran on the front page, was presented a copy of the newspaper by at least one person who met her and obtained her autograph.

Roxanne Moore Saucier may be reached at familyti@bangordailynews.net.

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