Exploring & Sharing the Wabanaki History of Interior New England
A Maine Nonprofit Corporation - 501(c)3 Public Charity
Transcribed - June 1998 - by Ne-Do-Ba
John W. Johnson, the subject of this narrative, was born in Hollis, Me., October 7. 1829. His parents moved to Factory Island, Saco, Me., in 1833, into a wooden block, near Gooch Island Bridge. Mr. Johnson's family consisted of his wife, three sons, and two daughters. When John was about three and a half years old, an accident occurred to him which proved to be a very fortunate one. He was one day in company with some other small children, playing opposite the house in a gravel pit, where his father and some other men were getting out gravel to put on the road, when one of the workman that was employed there, in drawing back his pick to strike into the gravel, struck John in the forehead, knocking him down senseless upon the ground. Mr. Johnson, who was near, picked him up and carried him home, where after a short time he was restored to consciousness. The blow made quite a gash and fractured the bone, and the parents lamented over it much, but it was a lucky blow, for by this scar upon John's forehead, the parents identified him years afterwards when he was with the Indians, as it was the only mark upon the child when lost.
On the 16th day of May, 1833, a day that was long remembered by the parents, after his brothers and sisters had come from school in the forenoon, John, who was now not four years old, went out with his brothers and sisters and some neighbors' children to play. Opposite the block was the "Cutts House" and attached to this was an orchard which was near the river side. Into this orchard which was near the river the children went, and as it was in the pleasant month of May when the flowers were beginning to appear, and the butterflies attracted the attention of the little ones, the time passed pleasantly. But soon the bell rang for dinner, and the children started for home, John in company with one of his sisters walking behind. As they came slowly along, he stopped behind his companion to pluck some flowers, and while he stopped his sister kept on slowly towards the house, but finding that John did not overtake her, she went back, but not seeing him, supposed that he was with his other brothers, she therefore turned again and went home. As she came to the house, Mr. Johnson asked her where John was, and she replied that he was with Samuel, an older brother. But just then Samuel came up to the house, and John was not with him, and the father, feeling somewhat anxious as the orchard was near the river, hastened out into it to look for the child. He passed quickly over the plot of ground, but not seeing anything of him, hurried back to the house, thinking that he might have got home while he had been gone, but he did not find him there.
He again started off to inquire if any one had seen a small child; one woman on "Poor Island" or Water Street, said she saw him going along in the orchard toward the Factory Island Bridge. The father went into the orchard again, and searching along upon the ground he noticed his foot-prints in some soft clay, where he had passed along in the direction of the bridge referred to, but these prints were for only a short distance, where the ground had been thrown up by the frost in the spring. Thinking that he had crossed the bridge and gone into Saco, he passed over, and as he left the bridge, he noticed a small child up by the tavern, and feeling pretty confident that it was his, he hurried along and soon came up with him, but found that it was not. He turned, and with quickened steps recrossed the bridge and kept in the road around to Gooch Island, and went around to Capt. White's, and crossing the bridge, went toward his home. In almost a frantic condition he approached the house and meeting many of his neighbors on his way who had joined in the search over the island, he found that they had all been unsuccessful. The mother, who had been sick for some time past, as soon as she heard that her child was lost, left her sick room, and nerved with unusual strength, had joined the neighbors in the search, and when the father reached his home, the mother was in the orchard looking in vain for her boy. He hastened to meet her, and as he approached with some little hope, the mother asked if her boy had been found.
Pen fails to tell the sorrowful meeting of the parents there! What a change in their feelings had a few minutes made! But a short time before the mother looked from her window and beheld "little Johnny" as they called him, sporting with his companions, gathering flowers, chasing the butterfly, and playing with his brothers. She had looked with pride upon her laughing boy, but where was he now? No one knew, and strange to record it, in noonday that little child had wandered off, and no one had taken any notice of him.
The parents returned to their home, but the dinner-table stood in the floor, no one sat around it, for not one of the family felt like eating. The little tin plate for Johnny was in its accustomed place, his little chair was standing by the table, but the form that occupied it was gone.
The afternoon was spent in searching the two villages; the neighbors joined in, and by night the places were pretty thoroughly searched, but no trace nor tidings of the little one were found, and as the shadows of light began to gather over the earth and the stars began to glitter in the heavens, the father with a heavy heart made his way homeward. No one but him who has passed through a similar scene can tell the agony of the father; feeling almost confident and assuring his wife as he left the house to continue the search in the afternoon, that he had no doubt but what the child would be found, he was now returning to bear the sorrowful tidings to her that his search had been unsuccessful.
It was with lingering steps that he approached his home, now made desolate, for the thought that occupied his mind was --- how could he tell his wife? But nerving himself to the task, he approached the house, and entered.
It was a solemn group that met his gaze, and they were anxiously awaiting his coming, but the wife read in the husband's face that the search had been fruitless, and now, with her, all hope was gone. The tears had long since ceased to flow, for the fountain had been exhausted, and now the broken sigh and the heaving bosom told too well the grief of the mother. The husband silently seated himself with the group, whilst the wife who had for months previous to this sad occurrence, been confined to a sick room, was walking the floor, and wringing her hands, and in wild tones of anguish asking for her child. At times the lost one's cap as it hung on the nail and his frock beside it caught her notice; she would stop and gaze in silence at them, and then would continue her walking, and thus until nature was exhausted, and the mother overcome, she would sink into her chair and fall to sleep. But her sleep was not sweet, for shortly with a quick start she would arouse up and ask for her boy, and then looking around upon the group, the stern reality would burst upon her. "Oh!", said she, "if he could have only died within my sight; if I could have seen those eyes, once so bright, closed in death; if I could have looked upon his glowing cheeks, and have seen them grow pale 'neath the hand of disease; if a burning fever had brought him low, and I could have stood beside his beds and bathed his fevered brow; if I could have seen his form laid in the coffin, and followed him to the grave, and heard the clods of earth as they fell upon the coffin that enclosed him, it would have been a pleasure, yes, happiness compared to this." Thus the long night was passed, and it would be useless to attempt to tell the wretchedness of the parents at the loss of their child, for at times they imagined that he might be in a starving condition in the woods, when they had food enough at home; and by this and many other thoughts which would naturally arise, they were in trouble and sorrow. But the night passed away slowly, and morning came. The river had been searched the day before. Upon the west bank of the Saco River there was a flume or water-course, about fifteen feet wide, and built up at both sides with plank; this was to carry a saw-mill that was situated then just below the fall upon the island banks and it was the opinion of many that the body of the child had been carried down the water course, and over the dam, as this was in the spring of the year and the water was pretty high, down amongst the wood, stumps, and rubbish that had collected near the mill. Mr. Johnson saw the boatmen below the falls, and asked them to look upon the sides of the river as they passed up and down, but nothing was discovered by them. The ninth day after the loss, an it is a well known fact that bodies, after remaining in the water a few days, will rise upon the surface, owing to a decomposition that takes place and the generating of gas in the system, which makes the body lighter than water, and it therefore floats upon the surface, ---- Mr. Johnson, in company with another person, went below the falls in hopes that they might find the body. They passed down on one side of the river, and came up on the other, going as far down as the ferry, without discovering any appearance or signs of the body, and towards night they discontinued the search and returned home. Mr. Johnson's belief was now strengthened that the child had passed down the flume before referred to, and that the body was without much doubt near the saw-mill. There was a net-work of logs built in front of the mill upon which the boards were run out after they were sawed from the logs, and between these logs were passages large enough for a man to go through, and through these the father went many times to search, when the water became low in the summer months. This search he continued an often as once a week, piling over stumps and slabs, and digging over saw-dust until it had all been completely overhauled, without any signs of the body. All prospects of ever finding the body of the child were now entirely gone, and both father and mother gave up all expectations of ever seeing him again, and time that wears away the greatest grief, and softens the hardest misfortunes in life, conquered in some degree the bitter sorrow of the parents, and believing that He who gave can also take away, they yielded in some measure to this sorrowful dispensation of God's providence. But years afterwards the parents would often times think of their loss, and sometimes the idea would cross their minds that their child might have been stolen by the whites, but never except upon one occasion that we shall refer to soon, did they think that the child had been stolen by the Indians. The child was lost in May, and as the place that the family lived in now, was constantly bringing to their notice the loss of their little one, --- as the orchard and river were in full view from the house, they moved the following September into "Hayes' Block" on the Island, where they might forget in some degree their past misfortune. Mr. Johnson lived there about three years, and then moved to Bidderford, occupying a house on Water Street, and after a few years moved to the "Pierson House" near the bridge.
The mother was in a weak state when her child was lost, and the sad bereavement, combined with disease, wore upon her weak frame until at last she died some five years after the loss of her boy.
Whilst Mr. Johnson was living in the "Pierson House," he worked for the York Company, and being somewhat out of health, he was asked by a man named Marshall who worked there, to go with him and a young man named Adams to his house, and that he would mesmerize Adams who would tell him the nature of his disease. They all went to Marshall's house, and Marshall there mesmerized Adams, and then gave Mr. Johnson liberty to ask such questions in regard to his disease as he wished.
Johnson asked him many questions, and receiving answers in regard to his complaints that satisfied him, Marshall told him that if there were any other questions that he wished to ask Adams, he had the privilege of doing so. Mr. Johnson, who at all times remembered his loss, asked him how many children he had in 1833, and Adams answered that he had five children. He then asked the number of children he had now. Adams replied that he had four. Johnson asked if there was not another, and Adam replied that he could not see any more. He was then asked if he could not find another. Adams replied that he would try, and after a lapse of some fifteen minutes, he replied suddenly, "I have found him; he is with the Canada Indians, * and is alive and well". This assertion of Adams, improbable as it appeared, had some weight upon the parents although when the facts were looked over they had not much doubt but that the child was dead. We do not insert this incident as a proof of the truth of spiritualism, or to augment the numbers who believe in it, but only as a fact, one of those mysterious occurrences that sometimes take place that we can not either fathom or understand, but which defies the mind of man, and proves that of a greater to whom are known all the mysteries and hidden things of earth.
* This incident, strange as it may appear, is a fact that is substantiated by Mr. Johnson, the father of the lost child, and by, Mr. Marshall, who, at the present time, is a trader in the "stone store," Pepperell Square, Saco. Adams never heard, as far as Johnson knew, of his loss or anything in regard to his family.