Tag Archives: Hartwell Thomas Coleman

Adding Detail to Our Ancestors Lives with Newspapers: Case Study – Hartwell Thomas Coleman (1868-1938

The amount of details that can be learned from newspapers about our ancestors’ day-to-day lives is incredible. Even if we already know a lot about an individual, news items were very gossipy and informative back in the day and can give a much clearer sense of what life was like.

Hartwell Thomas Coleman is one of my maternal great grandfathers. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have ever known him personally, but Grandmother told me many things about him. I know his exact dates of birth, death and marriages – all three of them – know that he was a master mariner who lived and worked in Calais, Maine on the St. Croix River, but also spent several years working in Boston Harbor in the 1920s and am even fortunate enough to have inherited several photos, from Grandmother, of Hartwell both as a baby and in later years.

His work was mainly as a tugboat captain, piloting steamers up and down the St. Croix River. As he got closer to retirement, he opened a general store, which my mother and aunt loved, because he sold candy and would treat them when they came to Maine on vacation.

A photo of his store has even been handed down to me:

I am a big fan of trolling through old newspapers looking for family information. However, Maine hasn’t been quick to get on the digital newspaper bandwagon and the newspaper I would most like to read, The Calais Advertiser, is still nowhere to be found in historical newspaper collections.

However, Bangor, Maine isn’t all that far from Calais, about 95 miles) and I recently discovered it on one of the subscription websites. The Bangor Daily News in the early 1900s was truly a regional newspaper and had local news columns for Calais and other towns within a wide radius.

I wasn’t sure how much I would find, but Captain Hartwell Coleman was mentioned over 20 times between 1900 and the early 1930s.

Look at all the interesting tidbits I now know about his life:

Hartwell Thomas Coleman

15 April 1900 – earned his master mariner license
18 Nov 1911 – elected Calais harbor master
15 June 1912 – elected Senior Sagamore (1st Vice President) in Etchemin Tribe of the Order of Red Men
19 Aug 1912 – while master of the tug Wesley A. Gove, and while standing on deck of the schooner Ellen M. Golder, he was attacked with a belaying pin by a drunk mentally unstable sailor
13 April 1916 – elected Calais harbor master
15 Jan 1917 – elected trustee of Order of Red Men, 3 year term
28 Dec 1917 – served on committee that agreed to loan tug Henry Wellman for Canada’s use for two months
28 Mar 1919 -noted as having piloted the largest sailing vessel on the St. Croix
28 Mar 1924 – resigned his job in Boston as captain for Bay State Dredging Company & returned to Calais
2 Apr 1924 – Pump and gasoline tank privileges awarded by Calais
2 June 1924 – Grocery store and gas station opened at Bog Brook (Calais)
29 Oct 1932 – Piloted Norwegian steamer Mervion up & down St. Croix River. Carried 2500 tons of coal.
19 Feb 1933 – Subpoenaed as a witness in Bay State Dredging Company v. Grand Manan Steamboat Company.
1 Mar 1933 – Kickapoo ice breaker took on Captain Coleman to guide them through the St. Croix River to break up the ice and make is passable
2 Mar 1933 – Piloted Norwegian steamer Dagia up St. Croix River
27 Apr 1933 – Piloted Norwegian Boomstad down the St. Croix River
19 Sep 1933 – Piloted a Norwegian steamer carrying 1300 lbs of coal down the St. Croix waterway
23 May 1934 – Piloted Kickapoo ice breaker – took five days to open the waterway
15 Feb 1937 – Record for largest ice fishing catch at Nash Lake – 8 lb. salmon
13 May 1937 – Kenneth Scott, wife & 2 children called on Hartwell & his family. Kenneth arrived back home down hardscrabble Road before his family. Wife heard a gunshot and he had killed himself.
9 Feb 1938 – Captain Coleman has been in ill health, but feeling better
31 Mar 1938 – Death announcement of Captain Coleman

I have learned so much more about my great grandfather. I know exactly when he became a master mariner and I know the names and dates that he piloted various sailing vessels.

I’ve learned that he was an avid fisherman, not a surprise given where he lived, but that he also enjoyed ice fishing on nearby Nash Lake.

As for the general store that Mom remembered, I know exactly when it opened and even when he was okayed to sell gasoline.

Sadly, I did not know about Kenneth Scott. He married 17 year old Beryl Boone in 1929. Beryl was one of Hartwell’s step children by his third wife, which explains why the young family was “calling on” Hartwell.

I never knew Beryl, but did know her sister, Doris, and visited once with her and Grandmother’s half sister, Lydia. They told me many family stories, but they were focused on the Coleman family, not the Boones.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Doris was a distant cousin of Grandmother, Lydia and I through her father’s line. It also happens to be the line that adds Mayflower passenger George Soule as a branch on my family tree.

Now that I know how much news was picked up by the Bangor Daily News, I want to read the Calais Advertiser even more!




Hazel Ethel Coleman

Hazel Ethel Coleman, born 7 February 1901 in Calais, Maine was my maternal grandmother, daughter of Hartwell Thomas Coleman and  Anna Elisabeth Jensen. I have written a number of past posts about Anna Elisabeth’s Jensen/Johnson family and the lengths to which I went to trace her family in Denmark.

Hartwell and Anna also had one son, Hazen Raleigh Coleman, born 5 February 1895, also in Calais, so they were two days shy of being born exactly six years apart.

I have no photos of Hazen and I don’t think I have ever even seen one. He died when I was a toddler so we never even met.

I also just today realized that I have no photos of Hazel as a child, but I do have many of her as a young adult and then in her later years. This is probably the earliest photo I have of my grandmother. It looks like she was high school aged, so would be around 1916 or so.

Hazel Ethel Coleman

The Coleman family had a comfortable life in Calais as Hartwell was a master mariner in an area known for lumber shipped by boat and for boat building. They didn’t live in Calais proper, but in Red Beach, down the road a piece as they say in Maine. Today, Red Beach is an actual part of the city of Calais.

I never thought to ask Hazel to tell me stories about her childhood, but I do remember two that she happened to share. Calais borders St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada with the international bridge connecting the two towns. Hazel said when she was young, the girls would walk across the bridge to shop in St. Stephen. On the way back, the U.S. customs agent would greet them and ask if they had purchased anything that day. The answer was always “no” as they just had a fun day window shopping. When they got home, they would unpin whatever small treasure they bought that day from under their skirts! Back then, it was a bit of harmless fun and no one had much money to spend anyway. In today’s world, that scenario would be viewed through very different eyes.

The second story she shared was of heartbreak and a memory seared into her brain. It was the story of the death of her mother when Hazel was just 15 years old. She said her mother had had some kind of stomach pains, possibly something like appendicitis, but she wasn’t sure. The doctor, who actually passed away not all that many years ago at almost 100 years old and who shall remain nameless.  called on the family at home, in the custom of the day. He told Hartwell that Anna needed surgery and proceeded to operate on her in the kitchen. Anna died during the operation. Hazel said she would never ever forget mopping up buckets of blood off the kitchen floor and said the doctor was a total quack. Anna died on 4 Mar 1916.

Life wasn’t the same for the family after that. Hazel stepped up and took over many of the household duties that her mother had done.  She never talked about her schooling. In the 1940 census, she reported having finished two years of high school. She and Vernon didn’t marry until Hazel was 19 so an early marriage wasn’t the reason for not finishing high school. I suspect that after her mother died and she had to take over the household chores, it might have been too much to go to school full time, too.

Two years later on 12 September 1918, Hartwell married Lydia Wilson, a young woman who also lived in Calais.

Lydia's Parents
Hartwell and Lydia on their wedding day

Lydia soon became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, also named Lydia, on 17 November 1919. Sadly, five days later, mother Lydia died from childbirth complications. Baby Lydia was raised by her maternal grandparents. Although I corresponded with Lydia through the years, I only met her once, in 1981, when I dragged my husband all over New England chasing cemeteries and distant relatives.

Lydia married Thomas DiCenzo and they lived in Calais. Thomas died in a small plane crash in the 1970’s. Lydia passed away on 1 April 2008, only three months before my mother. Thomas and Lydia had no children.

Although they were half sisters, Lydia reminded me a lot of Hazel in both her looks and mannerisms. I guess they both had the Coleman genes!

Lydia Coleman DiCenzo in 1978

However, Hazel married my grandfather, Vernon Tarbox Adams, on 19 July 1920 at his parents’ home in Calais.

Vernon and Hazel moved frequently, due to the fact that my grandfather worked for Western Union and he was transferred everywhere from Maine to New Jersey. They had three children, my Aunt Barbara, my mother, Doris Priscilla and my Aunt Carole, who was quite a bit younger than her sisters.

Hazel & Barbara     Vernon & Doris
Barbara, Hazel, Vernon and Doris Adams, c1933

Carole Adams, c1937

I have wonderful memories of Hazel, who was always called “Grandmother.” She was a no-nonsense kind of person and very musically and artistically inclined, which I now believe she inherited from her great grandfather, Johannes Jensen, the fiddler-drummer career soldier from Copenhagen. She also loved gardening and her backyard was beautifully landscaped with a healthy smattering of home grown foods, such as tomatoes and beans. In their later years, my grandparents took a liking to cruising in the winter to escape Massachusetts winters. I remember we went to see them off on the North German Lloyd ship, Bremen, which sailed out of New York City, maybe around 1960. What I remember most is someone from the ship coming around offering caviar to visiting guests before the ship sailed!

I often visited them at their house at 17 Paul Revere Road, Needham Heights, where they lived until my grandfather retired:

House on Paul Revere Road  Linda and Scott
Winter at 17 Paul Revere Road and Linda with her cousin, Scott at Easter 1958

In the 1940’s, my grandparents rented, and later bought,  a summer cabin on Little Sebago Lake:

Lake from the Boat
Cottage at Little Sebago Lake, Maine

My family spent two weeks each August until I was 16 at the cottage. It was there I learned to swim, picked blueberries and first got up on water skis. There was no running hot water, drinking water had to be collected from well water, heat came from the fireplace  and the toilet was outside, but I spent many happy years vacationing there.

When I went off to college at the University of Rhode Island, I took the train or drove up to Massachusetts to visit. My grandmother only lived about an hour and a half away. Whenever I came for the weekend, she had Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese and a vanilla ice cream soda waiting. Those were two foods I loved and only had when I visited Grandmother.

For Thanksgiving 1988, my husband and I took our 11 month old son, Michael, from California back to Massachusetts to meet his great grandmother.

Four generations:

Doris, Linda, Hazel and Michael, Nov. 1988

Michael met his great grandmother one more time, in summer 1993, when he was 5 years old. It turned out that that was the last time I saw Grandmother, too.

Hazel passed away in her sleep on 21 April 1995, two months past her 94th birthday. She was buried at Calais Cemetery next to Grandfather Vernon.