Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Family History: a lesson in perserverance

F.O. Havener of Bangor, Maine, circa 1860
one of my forebearers
Over the weekend, I had the chance to read through one of the journal's of my great, great, great-grandfather, F. O. Havener. Like so many folks, he started the journal on his birthday. This one started on his 30th birthday, on the eve of the Civil War.
He was a merchant, a trader, who owned a small merchantile shop in Bangor, Maine. In it he talks about the ships that come in and the ships that sink in storms. Ships holding his cousins and uncles and friends. He has a brother who travels extensively to London and Hong Kong. He talks of his success in trading horses, and the unfortunate buying of a cow for $5 that dies that very night. Of a suspected murder and a boy who dies of hydrophobia (rabies). He speaks of politics, both local and national, church doings, and his brother-in-law George Russ of Rockland who, once civil war breaks out, was in the 4th Regiment. 

More than anything though, he records the days in terms of weather and trade.
"Lowery (blustery) and trade dull".
He seemed constantly, mildly depressed, yet he refuses to despair or give up.
He tells a brief bit about his adventures at the age of 19, when, in 1849, he set off from Maine to California to join the Gold Rush and make his fortune. He struggled there for four years and came back empty handed and in very poor health. It seems he never fully regained his strength, for he mentions several long periods of illness. At 30, he has a wife and two children and "a few sticks of furniture".

Yet, at least on paper, he doesn't seem to find his lot a dismal one. And, despite the daily litany of "trade dull" or "trade very dull", he periodically makes a rather large investment and within that same day sells nearly all of what he purchased for a tidy profit. He took risks, such a sending cargo down South (before the war breaks out), only to find his tons of potatoes rotting on him before reaching New Orleans or another shipment to England, only to lose it all with the ship went down and the captain (an uncle) having failed to procure insurance on the cargo. He lends food to his neighbors, knowing they will not pay him back, and simply marks it as "bad debt" without naming the names of those to whom he lent. 

The journal spans a course of three years, with nearly daily entries for a period of months, followed by lengthy gaps (illness?). At the end of the first year, he was tremendously happy to have made the purchase of a home off Main Street on Waldo Avenue for $800 w/terms. This home he referred to as "the Veazie house". For it had belonged to a former ship captain, Wm Veazie. He several times mentioned his pleasure in having a home. My great-great grandfather, his namesake, is born during the time of this journal. The one who later built Roxmont

And it ends, on Tuesday, May 31, 1864 "Pleasant all day  wind N west war news unimportant   Gold 192  Cotton 1.08 a lb  am better than I was yesterday  trade rather dull"

I really like this ancestor for his courage. For him writing a bit of his life that I could read and discover more about him and the world he lived in; however monotonous those days seemed to be in their running together.
Grateful for his not giving up or falling into melancholy, despite all the hardships he endured.
Happy for the joy he found in his family and the home he provided for them.
He died at age 37. It sounds so young.
And here again, I see that "family legend" is not fact: he was not a shipbuilder, nor a larger-than-life robust man. I realize, too, that my very life, and that of my kinfolk, depended on someone long ago not giving up. 
Someone who kept trying. Who was steadfast. Who, though the successes did not equal the failures or "dull days", he didn't give up on life. Thankfully, the successes sprinkled here and there were, simply, enough.
Fail, learn, and try again. And again.
Don't give up.