The Smart Boys Come to “Old Bangor”

The Smart Boys Come to “Old Bangor”
Checking the Facts in Family Legends

Sandra Dugans Burke

 Many families have stories and legends that have been passed down through generations.  One of the family reunions I have attended since childhood always included reading a poem detailing the family history.  I decided to check the facts and found some surprising results! 

“When our people crossed the ocean
Around seventeen seventy-one,
They landed in old Bangor
When the town was first begun.”

So starts a poem written for Smart Reunion 1939 by Anson F. “Uncle Anse” Smart. It makes a lovely beginning and rhymes well, but a bit of poetic license seems to have taken over some of the facts! It is true that the “Smart Boys” arrived in “old Bangor” (actually called Conduskeag then) in 1771 and there were only two families in residence there:[1] they did NOT, however, sail across the ocean, but only up the coast from Brunswick, Maine, where the family had lived for two generations. Of course, the Smarts had at some point sailed across the ocean, the most likely ancestor being a Thomas Smart and his wife Margaret. They and their sons, John and Robert, sailed from Hingham, Norfolkshire, England, in 1635. They settled in Exeter, Massachusetts.[2]  The first Smart ancestors for whom we have primary evidence are brothers John, Robert, and Thomas Smart who appear in Brunswick in the mid 1730’s.[3] The continual recurrence of the names John, Robert, Thomas, and Margaret in our family have indicated to most researchers that the 1635 Thomas and Margaret were probably our original immigrant ancestors.

In 1809, Thomas Howard of Bangor wrote in a deposition:

“. . . moved in to this country in the year 1771 in April with Capt Thomas Smart and was landed on Conduskeag point, and built a house for Capt. Smart. . . . There came at the same time John Smart, Hugh Smart, Jacob Dennet [and 3 others; Jacob Dennet was married to Elizabeth Smart]. . . . We all assisted in building a house for Capt. Smart.  In May following, Capt. Smart moved his family down. . . .”[4]

Thomas, John, Hugh, Elizabeth, and Margaret (married to James Budge) were the children of Robert and Katharine Smart of Brunswick.[5] These 5 siblings were among the very first settlers of what would become Bangor, Maine.

A journal written at the time describes:

. . . three brothers who went to sea and owned a coaster together. Thomas was the captain, John and Hugh sometimes went on trips. They talked large and were disposed to be ‘bullies’. Hugh was never married and died at sea, the others at home.[6]

Thomas and John Smart took lots on the north side of the ‘conduskeag’ stream. Thomas built a large cabin on the rise of land where the Kenduskeag meets the Penobscot (about where All Souls Congregational Church now sits).[7] Robert Treat in his journal of the time, states “Thomas’ house was about 30 rods from the river and the woods were so thick that we could not see the river from the house.” [Hard to imagine now!] John Smart had a lot next to Mr. Harlow’s, a bit further up the Kenduskeag Stream. On the 1801 maps it looks to run from the stream to above where the Bangor Public Library sits today. John Smart helped build and was part owner, with William Hammond of one of the first mills on the Kenduskeag.[8]

Penobscot River along bottom, Kenduskeag Stream joining at Y junction.

Lot # 67 belonged to John Smart.  #66 to Mr. Harlow and #70 to Wm Hammond.[9]

The same source mentions: “September 18, 1774, Rev Daniel Little of Kennebunk was at Captain Smart’s at Condeskeag. It being Sunday, he preached and baptized six children.”[10] This was the first-known record of a church service in Bangor. John Smart and brother-in-law James Budge would later donate land to build the first meeting house.[11]

Capt. Thomas Smart died in March 1776 and was buried on his lot. John Smart and his family moved in to “help” the widow. A tax list for heads of families in 1776 lists John Smart (1 pound, 7 shillings, 9 pence) and widow Elizabeth Smart, along with Jacob Dennett and James Budge. The Smarts and their in-laws owned a good bit of the town![12]

Alas, the Smarts’ living arrangements were not working out! John, his wife Olive and family, widow Elizabeth and family, and John’s mother, Katharine, were all living in the house Thomas had built. Widow Elizabeth and children soon left to go back to Brunswick, with assurances that money and supplies would be sent from the estate. A great deal of controversy arose over the next twenty years, resulting in lawsuits and depositions that detail the disagreements over the handling of the estate. For a full account, you can check out Ruth Gray’s article, “The Homestead of Thomas Smart of Bangor: Gleaning Genealogical Information from Depositions.”[13]

“Great Grandad raised six sprightly girls
Who helped the world move on
He also had three likely boys,
Named Thomas, Hugh and John.
John married Mary Lyford
And raised a family
But his two brothers, Hugh and Tom
I am told were lost at sea.”

John I (Great Grandad) and Olive Smart had at least 11 children: Hugh Percy (approx. 1774–1807), Elizabeth, Mary (Polly), Katherine (1773–1826), Sarah (1779–1854), Olive (1783–1838), John II (1785–1853), Margaret (1790–?), Rebecca (1792–?), Francis (1793–?), and David (1798–1823). Family myth apparently has confused the generations: it was Great Grandad’s brother Hugh who was lost at sea. John II (who married Mary Lyford) had 7 sisters and 3 brothers, Hugh Percy and David died young, but not at sea. Francis owned land in Howland in 1830 but does not appear again in records.[14]

John Smart I died intestate in July 1805, and the probate and inventory of his estate can be found in Penobscot County Probate Records. His wife, Olive, was appointed administratrix; she was illiterate, her mark appears on all documents. At the time of his death, John owned ninety-one acres of land and buildings on the shores of the Kenduskeag, assessed at $1365, and personal assets of $304.16. He had a long list of debts, however, and Olive needed funds to support minor children, so the court ordered the land to be sold. The street through the land once owned by John is now called Harlow St. for his neighbor who owned the next lot.

 Checking the facts in this family poem greatly enriched our family story. Yes, there was a bit of poetic license taken, but what was learned was so much more than what had been passed down.

The first Smart Reunion held in 1891 to celebrate the visit of two of John II’s “Sprightly” daughters who had gone with their husbands to California for the Gold Rush. (Photo from Ancestors and Descendants of John and Mary Lyford Smart, used with permission of the authors).

[1] J. E. Godfrey The Annals of Bangor in The History of Penobscot County (1882), p. 517.
[2] R. C. Anderson, The Great Migration, Immigrants to New England, 1634–1635 (2009), 6:318–19
[3] J. C. Anderson, Vital Records of Brunswick, Maine, 1740–1860 (2004).
[4] Annals of Bangor, p. 517.
[5] Vital Records of Brunswick, Maine, p. 24.
[6] Annals of Bangor, p. 517.
[7] Annals of Bangor, p. 517.
[8] Annals of Bangor, p. 539.
[9] Map from The History of Penobscot County (1882), p. 514.
[10] Annals of Bangor, p. 518.
[11] Annals of Bangor, p. 531.
[12] Annals of Bangor, p. 522–23.
[13] The Maine Genealogist (1996) 18:57–62.
[14] Frances D. Dekin, Helen H. Deag & Sandra D. Burke, Ancestors and Descendants of John and Mary Lyford Smart (2016).