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John Martin: Expert Observer

"Representing every particular:" John Martin's Reflections, Illustrations, and Commentary

(Page 2 of 2) Print Version 

In May 1826, Anna Martin married Solomon Raynes and began a new chapter in her life and that of her son John Martin, then two years old.

John Martin backbend, Bangor, 1844
John Martin backbend, Bangor, 1844

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society and Maine State Museum

The growing Raynes family and John Martin moved several times to locations in Brewer and Hampden, and finally to Bangor. Martin, like most youths of his era, attended school for sessions that lasted about 12 weeks. Sometimes, students attended more than one session a year, some taught by private instructors, and some in academies or more formal settings.

When Martin was 12, he was apprenticed to Dr. Increase Sanger to learn the apothecary business. He was to attend school three months of the year. While John expressed interest in getting more education, demands of his various jobs made that largely impractical.

While Martin learned something of the apothecary trade, he ended up spending his time in another Sanger interest, the Hampden House, an inn and bar, for which young Martin had many responsibilities.

After several other jobs, including butchering and selling meat with his stepfather, Martin learned bookkeeping and accounting from Rufus Prince, a soap maker and merchant, for whom he worked from 1844 to about 1854. He also worked for a ship chandlery for about seven years, by which time, in his own words, he was "no doubt ... the best bookkeeper in Bangor" and beyond.

In 1850, John Martin married Clara Cary (1836-1902). They had six children, Ada (1851-1923), Annie (1855-1889), John Junior (1858-1929), Elmer (1860-1870), Frank, who died shortly after birth in 1862; and Mabel or Mabelle (1866-1899).

Clara Cary, Rinaldo Wiggin, John Martin, Bangor, 1844
Clara Cary, Rinaldo Wiggin, John Martin, Bangor, 1844

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society and Maine State Museum

Only two of the couple's six children survived them. Details about their lives and exceptionally detailed descriptions of Annie and Mabelle's deaths and funerals, along with illustrations of their coffins, are part of the first scrapbook.

That brief summary of Martin's experiences does little to reflect the depth and value of his writings and illustrations. He was not exaggerating when he described his works as "detailed" and "particular." He drew illustrations of, and explained and postulated about, architecture, folk art, the greater Bangor area, gardening and farming, transportation, education, politics, dance and music, religion, the Civil War era, Irish in Bangor, family life, medicine and illness, and, the inner workings of various types of businesses.

Martin offers details about store stocks, financing, how money was made and lost, capital, and the experiences of someone without capital of his own, who still managed to provide a good life for his family -- at least for a time. His fortunes fell, especially after the Civil War, and he and his wife took out mortgages or borrowed money a number of times, apparently to make ends meet.

While he offered insights into many businesses, several stand out. The first is his own store, which he opened sometime just before or during the Civil War. In the Journal, Martin included illustrations of his shelves and what they contained, how he tried to keep people from taking products without paying, and how he financed the stock for the store. He also wrote about the three robberies of his store and in Scrapbook no. 2, repeated information about the robberies and, in an almost offhand comment, explained how the robberies led to the demise of the store.

The other especially stunning business description is about the Katahdin Iron Charcoal Co.in the scrapbook he labeled "No. 1," covering 1888-1889, which was in fact the final piece chronologically of his writings in this collection.

He worked for about five years as the accountant at Katahdin Charcoal Iron Co. near Brownville. He created stunning illustrations of the Iron Company and the Silver Lake Hotel, and wrote descriptions of the business, employees, and conditions of iron production. He wrote most of the scrapbook at the time he worked there or shortly thereafter.

Rufus Prince's factory and store, Bangor, 1864
Rufus Prince's factory and store, Bangor, 1864

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society and Maine State Museum

Martin's luck was not the best, he frequently noted. He wrote that the "evil one" or the "d – – – l" followed him, disrupting his business career. He made arrangements with employers, or with a financial backer in his own shop-keeping venture, only to be treated unfairly, or to suffer from a failure of the employer.

His discussions, especially in the second scrapbook, of Bangor during and after the Civil War, provide a view not often found of that era. Martin, who was lame, did not serve in the war, but followed the rush of enlistments and departure of regiments.

His descriptions and newspaper clippings about the celebrations in Bangor of the war's end capture the excitement of the Union victory, the actions of Union supporters to make Confederate supporters fly the Stars and Stripes, as well as the return of the troops.

But he also lamented the increased crime in the city that accompanied the war and its aftermath. His own store was robbed three times, adding to his vitriol about houses of ill repute, "Irish Yankees," and rowdy, ill-behaved soldiers.

He closed his own store, probably in 1866, and worked various places -- Wood Bishop & Co. foundry, National Insurance Co., and probably other businesses in the area. He and his wife took out a number of small loans or mortgages on their home in the 1870s and 1880s, an indication of his financial instability.

He had to leave home at least twice for work: once to go to Grand Lake Stream or Houlton and work at F. Shaw Brothers Tannery. His dates of working there are unknown, but at some point he created a stunning annotated painting of the operations and the people, as it appeared on July 4, 1882. The painting is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

As upset as he was with the "negative" changes in society and especially their effects on his economic prospects, Martin was equally excited about other changes: the first hot-air balloon in Bangor, the first electric street railroad, a horseless carriage, and others. He speculated in the second scrapbook about things he might live to see.

Throughout the volumes, his curiosity about the world, his desire to perfect everything he attempted, and his concern with "society" shine through. His interest in fashion was, in part, an effort to have the most up-to-date, and hence "proper," clothing. He frequently discussed "society" and the "aristocracy," a group he did not always admire, but among whom he sought acceptance – and respect.

He unabashedly pointed out his many superior achievements and suggested through his comments that while he was not wealthy, and while he had met with numerous setbacks and disappointments, he clearly belonged among the "better" members of his community. However, he is largely ignored by historical sources about the Bangor area. His own writings may serve to correct that omission.

In the first scrapbook, perhaps reflecting on his life and experiences, Martin offered a suiting summary to this introduction by describing himself:

General business man, Expert Accountant, Landscape Gardener, Rustic designer, Origin of Martins perfect Waltz & March. I have been sent for to analize some of the most difficult accounts in the state & have done so sucessfully. I have been urged to go into mens gardens tare them all to pieces & set them anew. I can show in my garden to day the handsomest & best rustic chair in Bangor & I waltzed & march as writen red 2 pages back & I can to day put up as many goods as matts Sfastedt 40 years younger than I am)

John Martin
Expert Accountant
1889