Editor’s note: This article is the first of a two-part installment about Samuel Guess, an escaped slave who moved to Bangor sometime near the end of the Civil War.
While solving a mystery about a surname scrawled on a fireplace mantel, Renee Perron met some Bangor residents who lent diversity to the city’s predominantly white population in the mid- to late 19th-century.
“My family has been here [in Bangor] for hundreds of years,” said Perron, a Bangor High School graduate. In 2003 she and her husband purchased a house at 192 Fourteenth St., near the school by the same name.
The Perrons started remodeling the wood-framed house. While renovating a son’s second-floor bedroom in which existed “an old fireplace,” they removed the mantel, Renee recalled.
“We turned it around, and in big cursive writing was ‘Warner,’” she said. Figuring only a previous owner would have left such writing in such an obscure location, Perron checked her deed.
She discovered that Samuel and Rosa Maria Guess had deeded the land to her daughter, Annie Warner. Then Perron learned that her neighbors living at 200 Fourteenth St. “knew the Warners.”
In fact, those neighbors lived in the house built by Annie’s father, Samuel Guess, considered “for many years one of the best known characters of the city,” the Daily Whig and Courier reported on Friday, Nov. 18, 1910, a day after Guess died at the Togus Hospital. A veteran who arrived in Bangor after the Civil War, Guess had experienced hell on earth before finding “the gates of Heaven had opened” to him thanks to warriors from the Pine Tree State.
Born into slavery in Kentucky’s Jefferson County about 1824 — Sam claimed 1835 — Guess later calculated that he had been “sold ten times in all for a total of $10,000 in cash.” He ultimately wound up on a Louisiana plantation, where he drove a large salt wagon.
When Union troops started occupying parts of Louisiana, Guess’s master decided to flee to Mexico with all his earthly goods and slaves, which he considered property. During the cross-country trip, Guess and a comrade stole two horses one night and rode them until sunrise. Abandoning the horses for fear that local whites would know the two men were escaping slaves, Guess and his companion traveled through Louisiana forests on foot.
Confederate guerrillas shot dead the other man, and Guess hid in a cornfield and ditch before continuing his flight to freedom. He finally encountered pickets from the 22nd Maine Infantry Regiment; privates Albra G. Hammons and George W. Herrick fed him and treated him well.
Then Guess joined the war effort, but his records are a bit murky. An 1890 veteran’s schedule record obtained by Perron lists Guess as a private in the 14th Maine Infantry, but with no company affiliation. Always short on recruits, the regiment might have “carried” him as an extra rifleman.
A Togus Hospital record indicates that Guess joined the 41st United States Colored Troops, a black regiment raised in Pennsylvania, in Bangor on April 3, 1865. He was discharged at Portland in June 1865.
Guess likely moved to Bangor after marrying Rosa Maria Silver in August 1864. She hailed from the Cape Verde Islands.
The 1870 federal census described the 5 foot, 6-inch Sam Guess as a 41-year-old day laborer; living with him and Rosa were their three oldest children, 5-year-old Josephine, 3-year-old Samuel Jr., and 1-year-old Anna. Daughters Mary and Flora would follow.
Anna Guess would become the connection to Renee Perron’s home.
Samuel Guess pops in and out of Bangor’s recorded history. “Once in Bangor and forced to make a living by his own efforts, Mr. Guess took up white-washing,” the Bangor Commercial reported in Sam’s Nov. 18, 1910 obituary. “With his white-wash wagon, which he hauled by hand, ‘Sam’ was a familiar figure on Bangor streets, and many of the biggest white-washing jobs in the city have been done by the ex-slave.”
The 1880 federal census described him as a “white washer.” In its lengthy Nov. 18, 1910 tribute to Guess, the Whig and Courier remembered him “doing whitewashing and odd jobs and for years he was regularly elected field-driver.”
That position, for which “his election came about every March like clockwork” according to the Nov. 18, 1910 Bangor Commercial, involved Guess rounding up stray animals, usually livestock, and returning them to the owners — or at least impounding the critters until their owners showed up to claim them.
In time Sam Guess built the house at 200 Fourteenth St. He occasionally spoke in public about his slave experiences. On Saturday, Dec. 28, 1878, “a large audience comprising some of our most prominent citizens, assembled at City Hall on the occasion of the first appearance of Sam’l Guess Esq, and family,” the Whig and Courier reported two days later.
“Accompanied by Dr. Jordan,” Guess appeared about 8 p.m. to “an enthusiastic welcome from the audience.” First he had four of his children — likely the oldest — sing two songs; the audience applauded, and someone threw “a huge bouquet” that almost “knocked over” one child.
Then Guess talked about his life as a slave. “The story was told in a quiet manner,” the Whig and Courier reported.
Guess and his family made a few other similar appearances over the years, but death soon separated his happy clan. Flora Dell died in 1883 at age 9 and Samuel Jr. in 1886 at age 19. Rosa Maria died in 1891; before dying at Togus Hospital on Thursday, Nov. 17, 1910, Sam Sr. would marry three more times; his wives were always younger than him.
Old age sent him to Togus, where medical personnel treated black and white veterans alike. “His daughter, Mrs. Charles [Josephine] Smallwood, was in attendance at his bedside during his last hours,” the Ban-gor Commercial reported.
Togus shipped Guess’s body to Bangor for a funeral that began at 2 p.m., Nov. 20 in Smallwood’s home on Manners Avenue. “His casket was draped with a silk flag given by B.H. Beale Post, G.A.R., and this flag was offered by Mrs. Josephine Smallwood,” the Lewiston Evening Journal reported on Sept. 19, 1927.
Of Sam’s three surviving daughters, Josephine lived until 1949 and Mary until 1968. Annie Caroline Guess married Morris Ambrose on Oct. 2, 1886. Their son, George E. Ambrose, was born in 1887.
Morris and Annie divorced on Feb. 5, 1892; later that year she married James H. Warner, who had moved to Bangor from Connecticut. The Warners built the house at 192 Fourteenth St. in 1892, probably about time that their son, Lewis, was born.
Perron is not sure who wrote “Warner” on the second-floor fireplace mantel. Lewis likely did not; he died of tuberculosis in 1902, and Annie died in 1911.
James Warner soon married Elizabeth Jackson, and they had three children.
After discovering Annie Warner’s connection to the house, Perron researched the Guesses and Warners on the Mount Hope Cemetery Web site (www.mthopebgr.com). She found their plots; referring to the Warners, Perron said that “they have a beautiful plot” on Riverside Avenue, about “50 feet on the right” past the Soldiers’ Monument.
Samuel and Rosa Maria Guess lie buried along with Josephine Smallwood and Morris Ambrose near the intersection of the cemetery’s Eastern Avenue with Bangor’s Mt. Hope Avenue. Perron visited the graves “probably the same day after I looked them up,” she said.
She discovered that Rosa Maria’s stone “had fallen complete over. I asked Matt (Guernsey of Guernsey Monuments), and he came over, and we set it upright and cleaned it up.”
Perron now maintains the Guess and Warner plots. “I weed them and on Memorial Day I put flowers on the graves,” she said. She also maintains her family’s plots in three Bangor cemeteries, including Mt. Hope.
While learning about Annie Guess Ambrose Warner, Perron discovered that George Ambrose had a son, Edward T. Ambrose; he had a son, Edward “Edwin” T. Ambrose Jr., who now lives in Massachusetts. Per-ron contacted him about his Bangor ancestors.
“He is tickled pink to learn there is a history of his slave ancestor,” Perron said.
“I just love this story,” she said, referring to learning about her home’s lineage. “I now have such a connection with my house. I hope that whoever buys my house will appreciate the history.”
Next week: Former slave Samuel Guess never forgot his first whipping.