It’s not hard to imagine the scene 250 years ago—a treeless headland where the Meduncook River meets Penobscot Bay, families gathered for the somber ritual of burying a deceased relative, the stone being carefully set.
Today, that plot of land—known as Wadsworth Point—is shaded by a tangle of fir trees, and though there are gravestones standing, indicating a cemetery, others are broken or lying flat.
But this isn’t a forgotten bit of history, thanks to several women who live in the small enclave of houses on the point within the town of Friendship. They have, on their own initiative and with their own money and some donated funds, begun reclaiming and restoring the Wadsworth Point Cemetery.
The history at stake is substantial. Some of those buried there include a direct descendant of Gov. William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony and Paul Jameson, an earlier and prominent European settler of the Meduncook Plantation, now known as Friendship. And at least one of those interred was a veteran of the Revolutionary War.
In recent months, the fate of the cemetery had become a topic of conversation among the residents of the point, said Lanette Sigel, and she and Judith Goold, Sally Barrett, Sally Melrose, and the women’s husbands, among others, got involved in trying to restore it.
“I was just amazed at the dates and the historical significance,” said Sigel, who hails from Idaho, where European settlement history is not as old. “Finally, we decided, let’s do something about it.”
Goold said the work was urgent.
“It wasn’t staying the same. You could see it disappearing before our eyes.”
An older resident told the women that many more stones had been visible a few decades ago. Many of those that had fallen flat were covered with fir needles, and a recent big storm broke a tree trunk, further degrading the site. Erosion along a steep embankment, possibly the result of rising seas and storms, is also evident, with as much as 20 feet gone, said Sally Melrose.
“You got the sense that it was slipping away from you,” Goold said.
A brochure the group produced helps slow the slide into obscurity, listing the stones which can still be read and located, among them: Cornelius Bradford (1788-1857), Hannah Gay Bradford (1786-1857), Eleanor Jameson Gay (1806-1839), and Paul Jameson (1728-1803). In all, about 25 are believed buried there.
Jameson, Sigel said, hailed from Scotland, moved to Ireland, then to Southern Maine, and finally to Friendship. He participated in the Boston Tea Party.
Research the women have done reveals that in 1754, just 11 years after the plantation was settled through the Waldo Patent, 22 families resided in the community. One of those early settlers, Abiah Wadsworth, set aside the land as a burying ground, granting it to the town. He came to Friendship from Duxbury, Mass. in 1759 and ended up raising about 15 children.
The group doesn’t want to burden town government with expenses to improve the site—especially since there are as many as 15 cemeteries within Friendship—and so they stress that improvements are self-funded.
Recently, a local arborist was hired to cut some of the encroaching trees and cut up downed branches and trees. One gravestone actually was engulfed by a tree, but the stone has since been liberated from the trunk.
Possible grave sites have been marked with small orange flags, and in looking over the site with those markers, order begins to emerge. Most of the plots include footstones, and when they have been unearthed, the direction of the burial is revealed. Some of the headstones have been reset in concrete bases.
The Friends of Wadsworth Point Cemetery have connected with other groups around the state that work to research and preserve cemeteries, and the group maintains a Facebook page, an email address—WadsworthPointCemetery@gmail.com—and a mailing address—PO Box 122, Friendship, ME 04547.