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
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.”