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Has Anyone Seen Elizabeth Polis?

Created May-2003

Biography of Elizabeth Thompson Polis

Elizabeth Thompson was born 1815-1820 at Princeton, ME or perhaps across the border in New Brunswick. She identifies herself as mixed blood French & Indian. She was a basket maker who traveled around Western Maine, camping for a few days to a few months at a time here and there. She frequently followed the railroad tracks and camped nearby. She generally traveled with a male companion to help with heavy work. She often returned to places she had camped at in the past. She may also have worked as a domestic for short periods of time, particularly in the winter, and may have nursed sick or injured. Elizabeth had 2 Indian husbands, Newell Peal & John Polis, and a "Yankee" husband, Soloman Libby of Leeds.

Elizabeth married Newell Peal [Noel Pierre] at Bangor about 1838. By Newell she had 3 children of which only one, Franklin, survived childhood. Newell died at Detroit, Maine about 1850. Franklin lived with his mother until he enlisted in April of 1861. Franklin was discharged in September of that year due to TB and died at home with his mother in Leeds during the winter of 1861-2.

Mr. Libby was a widower in poor health and her marriage to him in March of 1860 may have occurred so that it would be "proper" for her to care for him in his home. Elizabeth and her son, Franklin, are found in the household of Solomon Libby in the 1860 Census (3 months after the marriage), but curiously they are identified as white and she is listed as a domestic in the household rather than his spouse. Elizabeth claimed the local doctor had married them and years later one of Solomon's children testified that Elizabeth was married to Solomon. Solomon died 17-Aug-1863 at his home in Leeds.

A month or two after Solomon died, Elizabeth married John Polis somewhere in the Colebrook area of New Hampshire where they were camped with a group of St. Francis Abenaki. They were married by an itinerant priest. Not long after, members of the group, including Elizabeth & John moved their camp down to Pownal, ME. Here John was "induced" to enlist for the town of Pownal. This was in December of 1863 and 6 weeks later, John Polis died of small pox. Elizabeth filed for a widow's pension and received it. This pension must have been a great source of security for a widowed Indian basket maker. It would be two decades later before the government learned John Polis had a prior wife, Joan Corson of Brunswick, whom he never divorced and therefore Elizabeth's marriage to John was unlawful.

In December of 1883, the Indian man Elizabeth had been traveling with for many years, Joseph Denny, was murdered at Richmond, ME. Elizabeth was raped at this time by one of the two men accused of killing Joe. The two men were convicted of manslaughter but the charge of rape was dismissed.

Elizabeth maintained that she was not married to Joe, but prosecutors apparently convinced her to testify that he was her husband so they could claim he was defending his wife at the time of his murdered. The trial took place in January of 1884. During the trial, Elizabeth's connection to John Polis was explored, since she was known to everyone as Liz Polis and was collecting a pension as his widow.

Around the time of the trial this little notice appeared in the local newspaper;

A Kindly Act.

Mrs. Geo. H. Nichols and Mrs. Capt. Delano, now at the Sagadahock House, hearing through Sheriff Millay, of Bowdoinham, one of our big hearted men by the way, that the old Mrs. Denny, the wife of the murdered man, was poorly clad, gave her some warm underclothes and outer garments, which pleased the old lady exceedingly.
Source: Bath Daily Times 9-Jan-1884

The murder and trial was a big sensation in the local newspapers, causing unwanted attention for Elizabeth. John Polis' legal wife, Joan Courson, brought it to public attention that she was the lawful wife of John Polis. This caused a special investigation to be conducted by the Pension Office, which eventually led to the loss of the pension for Elizabeth. She was still living in 1889, attempting to reinstate her pension as the mother of Franklin Peal. Unfortunately she never did get the pension reinstated and she disappears from the record at this time.

It was an extremely tragic series of events for Elizabeth, but the amount of documentation created by the pension investigators provides modern scholars with an incredibly rich glimpse of Elizabeth and of Wabanaki lifestyle in the mid to late 1800s. For that we are very grateful, but at the same time saddened Elizabeth had to pay such a high personal cost.

Some of the Indian People in Elizabeth's life

  • Newell Peal, 1st husband of Elizabeth, said to be of Minot
  • Franklin Peal (1842-1861), son of Elizabeth, of Minot & Leeds
  • John Polis (1832-1864), 2nd husband of Elizabeth, basketmaker from Old Town
  • Joseph Polis & family, in-laws of Elizabeth, basketmakers, traveling family from Old Town
  • Joseph Deny/Denis (c1818-1883), hired man of Elizabeth, traveling basketmaker from Old Town
  • Joseph Frances & family, basketmakers, traveling family from Old Town, related to Joseph Deny
  • John Newell & family, Indian entertainers, basket makers, & Indian doctors, John Polis traveled with them.
  • William Newell, of Minot in 1865, gave a deposition concerning Elizabeth
  • Johnson, a young man of about 20 who traveled with Elizabeth and camped in Pownal sometime between 1865 and 1875.

Some of the White Folks in Elizabeth's life

  • Dr. Epaphias R. Prescott, b.abt.1801, found in Monmouth census 1850-1870. He assisted Elizabeth and her son Franklin and perhaps married Elizabeth & Solomon. [We would love to locate any of his records from 1860s period]
  • Solomon Libby & family of Leeds (1791-1863), the "Yankee" husband of Elizabeth
  • Jeremiah Day, Jr. of Leeds (1823-1880), gave deposition concerning Elizabeth
  • Abner Burnham, Jr. (1815-1890) & his son Milton White Burnham (1844-1899), both of Leeds, gave depositions concerning Elizabeth
  • Greeley S. Cushman (1832-1884+) of Pownal, gave deposition concerning Elizabeth, he moved to Michigan
  • Jospeh E. Foxcraft Cushman of Pownal (b.1806 in New Gloucester), father of Greeley, trader at Pownal, gave deposition concerning Elizabeth, Elizabeth & John Polis had an account with him
  • Reuben and/or Rufus Griffin, a black man living at Brunswick in 1884, Elizabeth cared for his sick wive while she lived with him.
  • William Johnson (b.abt.1819), farmer of North Yarmouth, gave deposition concerning Elizabeth, she camped on his land twice between 1875 and 1884
  • Orrin B. Young (b.abt.1855), a railroad worker from No. Yarmouth, gave deposition concerning Elizabeth
  • Benjamin Franklin Marston (1806-1891) farmer of Monmouth, gave deposition concerning Elizabeth
  • Sewell J. Plummer (b.abt.1830) of Richmond, he owned the building in which Elizabeth & Joseph Denis lived at the time Joe was murdered
  • Jasper H. Thurston (b.abt.1814 in NH), at Otisfield in 1850 living with Nathan Beals, a tailor at Poland with the Beals family in 1860, m. Lydia Beals in 1866 at Minot, a farmer at Minot in 1870, a farmer at Livermore Falls in 1880, gave deposition concerning Elizabeth
  • Ai Waterhouse (b.abt.1816) farmer of Durham, listed as farmer & claim agent in 1870 census, he filed the original pension claim papers for Elizabeth in 1865, in 1884 he is referred to as "a disbarred Attorney of the Pension Office"
  • Mrs. Mary I. Frasier, Mrs Adaline Gilman, & Mrs Mary Mulligan, said to be living at 256 Fore St. in Portland in 1884. They were acquainted with Elizabeth and may have all been Indian basket makers. The special agent assigned to Elizabeth's case found an empty building.
Places Elizabeth Polis Visited
Copyright ©2003 Ne-Do-Ba
Auburn Leeds Portland
Augusta Lewiston Pownal
Bangor Lincolnville Princeton
Bath Lisbon Richmond
Brunswick Litchfield St.John NB
Colbrook NH Livermore Skowhegan
Cumberland Minot Topsham
Detroit Monmouth Welchville
Durham New Gloucester Whitefield
Eastport No Yarmouth Gray
Falmouth Old Orchard Poland
Gorham Old Town  

Researched by: Canyon Wolf for Ne-Do-Ba

Ne-Do-Ba Comment - - - If anyone spots any of these people in local records or knows of original documents (diaries, business accounts, journals, etc.) that cover the time period at any of these places please contact Ne-Do-Ba. It would be wonderful to add more pieces to the story of this brave woman.