The Fourth of July, 1824 - For the residents of the small town of Shelburne, New Hampshire, in Coos County, the celebration of our nation's birth had to be put on hold that Sunday morning. 15-year old Abigail Y. Leavitt, who was residing with Mr. Robert Ingalls, had gone missing the night before, failing to return from gathering evergreens. A party of 60-70 townspeople, comprised of those who were able to trek the heavily forested mountains above the Ameriscoggin (ie. Androscoggin) River, began their search. Concord's New Hampshire Patriot was one of many newspapers to write about the actions that day, as described in these clippings:
Did her mother remarry after 1820, when the pension payments ended, and then moved out to Illinois? Did any of her children accompany her on this trek? There are a couple of them not yet accounted for. [Note: pension file not yet available on Fold3's War of 1812 online collection]
Who WAS her mother, other than "Lois"? The marriage intents of Joseph Leavitt in 1804 [Bethel Town Recs, no pg #] failed to name his bride to be. A clue, perhaps, is found in the name of this daughter, "Abigail Y." Leavitt. "Y" surnames were not common, and early Bethel had the York family residing there. Standing out among them is one Abigail York, who was the wife of Jonathan Bean, and they did have a daughter named Lois Bean, born 1786 [Hist. of Bethel, pg 479]. A lead to work on!
Abigail was born on 16 Jan 1810 [Bethel Town Records, pg 78]. She married John E. Swan by 1832 and had two children before she died in 1835. She is buried in the Middle Intervale Cemetery, Bethel. She is found in the Desc. of Thomas Leavitt v.4, pg 50, though there are errors in that connection. The History of Bethel, ME, pg 581, also shows problems with the family genealogy, as copied from the Town Records (pg 64 and 78).
With many annual Fourth of July celebrations, the following day's newspapers are usually filled with stories about the exciting fireworks displays, along with the mishaps that always seem to follow them. The summer of 1859 was no different, and included a Leavitt family member from New Hampshire:
The above news report was printed in the Mirror and Farmer on 9 July 1859, recounting a fireworks accident that occurred in Pittsfield, NH at 9:30 PM that past Monday evening, during a Fourth of July celebration. BENJAMIN F. LEAVITT of Chichester [Desc. of Thomas Leavitt v.4, pg 104-5] was one of several persons who were injured when a pile of fireworks were accidentally set-off and struck the gathered crowd.
While the Manchester newspaper stated that a rocket had struck the right side of his nose, breaking it, and then gouging out his left eye, other accounts claimed "the whole of one side of his face stricken off, carrying with it the eye and nose" [Boston Post, 7/7; and copied by other New England papers]. The papers added: "although alive this morning, cannot survive but a few hours at most".
The Boston Daily Traveller, on the 7th of July, had given a more detailed account about Benjamin F. Leavitt Esq. himself. The New York Herald copied their version, and printed it on the 9th [below, clipped from the Chronicling America website]. Though off on his age by a few years, they added interesting details about his life, including time spent in California, earning enough to pay off family debts back home, and serving in the N.H. Legislature in 1857 and '58.
The Dover Enquirer, dated Thurs., July 14th, while continuing with the horrific description of Mr. Leavitt's face, followed with the postscript:
"We are informed by Mr. Freeze, the driver of the Pittsfield stage, that only three of the above persons (Leavitt, Garland, and Willey) were injured, and that all are in a fair way to recover. - The injury which they received was not so great as reported".
Benjamin Franklin Leavitt survived more than a "few hours". In fact, he lived until 16 May 1882, dying from bronchitis at age 73 [buried in Leavitt Cem, Chichester]. Mr. Calvin Drew (initially called "Daniel" in early reports) Garland, the other man "fatally wounded", would live until 1896. The young boy John Willey was perhaps the son of Hazen Willey, and had just turned 7 years old that July 4th day. He died in 1914.
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