1863: Henry Lancaster to “Brother Byron”

Grave of William H. Jenkins, member of posse killed hunting down deserters who shot local police office in 1863

This letter was written by Henry Lancaster (1825-1865), a farmer in Detroit (Palmyra P. O.), Somerset county, Maine. He was married to Sarah Jane Crosby (1828-1898) in 1851. The letter was addressed to “Brother Byron” but I could not find any family record indicated that Henry had a brother by that name though the records could be incomplete, he may have been a brother in law, or Byron may have been member of the clergy or simply a fellow parishioner.

Henry’s letter describes the fracas caused by two local boys who were described as “deserters” from the army when they went on a spree in Belfast, Waldo county, Maine, stealing horses and robbing stores. A modern-day synopsis of the event appears on the Belfast (Maine) Police Department website which captures the most comprehensive record and I will not repeat it here.

The two deserters were Isaac N. Grant (1837-1863) of Co. G, 5th US Cavalry who deserted on 25 January 1862. He was born in Somerset county, Maine, and had been hiding out from the Provost Marshal for almost a year and a half. The other was Charles E. Knowles (1844-1863) and he deserted on 30 August 1862. Knowles is buried in Rogers Cemetery in Troy.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]


Detroit [Somerset county, Maine]
June the 26, 1863

Brother Byron,

We have been having a great fight here for a few days past—perhaps you may have heard of it before this time but I will write you the particulars. The case was this. There was two deserters from the army came here & commenced horse stealing & store breaking. They sold their horses in Belfast. The officers came up last Sunday & then the battle commenced. The thieves was well armed, having three revolvers apiece. They fought desperately. The result of that day’s fight was one of the officers [Chief of Police, Charles O. McKenney of Belfast] was mortally wounded & the thieves escaped to the woods.

Monday there was a great turnout to hunt them. Men could be seen marching in every direction with guns in their hands. The names of the thieves was [Isaac N.] Grant of Palmyra & [Charles E.] Knowles of Troy. We did not find them that day.

Tuesday three men from Detroit village went down to the [Sebasticook] river to the point & landed on the other side of the river & came upon them. The thieves rushed upon & fired & killed one of our men dead on the spot. They returned the fire & wounded Grant in the head—put a ball into one ear & out the other. But he then fought desperately. They came to close quarters and fought with the butts of their guns. They killed Grant & beat Knowles so [much] that he died yesterday. The names of the three men was William Jenkins, Lyman Hurd & Joseph Myrick. Jenkins was killed. He was buried yesterday. 1 Sarah and I attended the funeral. Heard is some relation to Mr. Hanscom’s folks. He fought like a tiger. There has been a great excitement here. They think there is more engaged with them. We are all well.

Yours, — H. Lancaster 

1 William H. Jenkins (1823-1863) was killed on 23 June 1863. He is buried in the Detroit Village Cemetery beneath a headstone that reads, “Sacred to the Memory of Wm. H. Jenkins who died in defense of Law and his life, June 23, 1863, aged 40 years.”

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