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John Martin: Expert Observer

John Martin's Journal

John Martin in Spanish cloak, Bangor, 1846
John Martin in Spanish cloak, Bangor, 1846

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society and Maine State Museum

In 1864, when he began writing what would become his 650-page "journal," John Martin noted that he had been thinking about the project for several years.

He saw it as a two-part record. The first would be a history of his family, sprinkled with his "own editorials" from time to time. He wanted his children to know how the "pioneers" of the Bangor area "procured their education and livelihood, enjoyed their amusements &c." His children might profit from the information and guard against making the mistakes others had made.

Martin lived during a momentous time in the Bangor area. When he, his mother, and his step-father moved from Ellsworth in 1825, Maine was five years into statehood and independence from Massachusetts.

Bangor 's location on the Penobscot River made it well-positioned geographically and economically to take advantage of lumber shortages in much of the east coast and beyond -- and of what must have seemed like endless timber resources in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.

In 1834, Bangor's population was booming, its port was bustling, and it became a city. Churches, schools, and businesses that served the lumbering and shipping interests as well as those that met the needs of local residents blossomed.

Still, the economic swings of 19th-century America affected "The Lumber Capital of the World." Instability of credit and of money itself as well as the 1830s craze of land speculation all affected Bangor and John Martin -- and all appear within the pages of his journal.

Martin planned to use the second half of the book to write about contemporary events.

He hoped the journal would be "preserved for many generations to come."

Martin noted that he had not intended to include illustrations, relying instead on the written description. He found quickly, however, that he needed the illustrations to convey his ideas.

Ezekiel Hopkins house and grounds, Hampden, 1840
Ezekiel Hopkins house and grounds, Hampden, 1840

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society and Maine State Museum

The journal is roughly chronological. It begins with genealogical information about his and his wife's families, then follows his childhood, education, friends and amusements, and various employments, and marriage. All but the final hundred or so pages are recollections of Martin's experiences and those of others.

Throughout his discussions of his own life and experiences, the communities in which he lived in Ellsworth, Hampden, and Bangor, and the general activities and people surrounding him, Martin provides small drawings that provide visual detail of his written descriptions and larger, sometimes full-page, drawings of homes, businesses, churches, schools, bridges, and other subjects. A number are watercolors.

The combination of his text and illustrations offer a picture of 19th century Bangor – then an emerging economic giant, made crucial to Maine's lumber and shipping economy by its location on the Penobscot River.

It is an unusual picture of an area because of the illustrations, the detail, and the combination of public and private – how business operated, how communities worked, how families lived. Martin's fascination with new inventions, with architecture, with dance, with education, with gardening, and with the ins and outs of operating businesses all contribution to the picture of a growing community and its people.

Steamer
Steamer "Bangor," 1847

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society and Maine State Museum

Some of Martin's topics might be expected: economic downturns, the Gold Rush, the outbreak of the Civil War, the first electric railroad, noted floods, and descriptions of churches and schools. Others are more surprising: who was inoculated against diseases and how, types of fruit trees and other plants that Martin grew and how he took care of them, and the organization of interiors of shops, homes, schools, and bars, replete with illustrations.

Even though Martin wrote much of the book in 1864, he frequently returned to various topics and wrote updates or pasted in newspaper clippings providing updates on topics or people. He appears to have returned to the journal throughout his life. In his subsequent works – three "scrapbooks" that are full of clippings, illustrations, and Martin's narrative about contemporary and past subjects – he often refers back to the journal, directing the reader to particular pages.

"John Martin's Journal" can be read as a narrative or as a reference book. For ease of access here, it is broken into nine sections, which can be accessed below. Navigation at the left of the page also leads to those sections and offers more detail about the content of each.

Part 1, to page 73  
Part 1, to page 73Genealogy, mother's experiences in Ellsworth, childhood in Brewer, Hampden
Part 2, pages 74-138  
Part 2, pages 74-138Reed Hardings neighborhood, Brewer; jobs with Dr. Increase Sanger, Ezekiel Hopkins
Part 3, pages 139-194  
Part 3, pages 139-194Work for O.H. Hinckley, clam voyage to Cape Jellerson, failed romance, move to Bangor
Part 4, pages 195-277  
Part 4, pages 195-277Millerites, 1846 freshet, business misfortunes, Quartet Club, steamboat excursion
Part 5, pages 278-361  
Part 5, pages 278-361Cholera epidemic, Alonzo Raynes, Bangorites and Gold Rush, marriage, churches, acquisition of house
Part 6, pages 362-451  
Part 6, pages 362-451Purchases for setting up housekeeping, work for Pendleton & Ross, various business uncertainties, renovations of house, gardens
Part 7, pages 452-534  
Part 7, pages 452-534Births of Annie, Junior, Elmer; landscaping and garden design, business failures and attempts to find work
Part 8, pages 534-603  
Part 8, pages 534-603I. W. Pattens, inoculations, his own store, Civil War effects, wife's illness
Part 9, pages 604-end  
Part 9, pages 604-endChildren and schools, making furniture, business slowdown, churches