The Surry area just northeast of Blue Hill, Maine, is a place that has occupied a corner of my mind since I first learned my grandmother was born there. It was always a magical place on the Downeast coast with an old farmhouse that provided a clear view of Mount Desert Island. My picture of heaven.
A grey-shingled farm on Newbury Neck in Surry is the home where my grandmother, Mattie Belle Eldridge, was born in 1883, one of five children of Henry Herbert (H.H.) Eldridge. His grandfather had moved to that town in the 1840s. (Read their story here.)
As I dug into the history of the 18th-century coastal township that became Surry, I learned the Eldridges arrived some 80 years after the first colonial settlers to the area identified as Township No. 6. This does not include attempts by French settlers, priests and military men to establish outposts along the coast or, of course, the Wabanaki Native Americans who had lived there for thousands of years.
Downeast Maine had been a backwater of Massachusetts until the 1760s when migration accelerated northward. The commonwealth of Massachusetts encouraged new settlements that would help the British establish control of the area at a time when the French were claiming portions of the coast. General Pownall came to the Penobscot River in 1759 with 400 men to build a fort near present-day Stockton Springs. Enterprising settlers, driven by lack of land or to exploit the area’s natural resources, soon followed. Matthew Patten, my 7th-great-uncle, is reported to have been the first to settle in Township No. 6, followed by Andrew Flood, my 6th-great-grandfather.
By the mid-19th century Surry was a bustling town, with mills and a shipyard that produced some 50 ships. Many young men went to sea in this era and many never returned.
Seeing the same hills, rivers and byways that my ancestors populated helped me piece together a picture of their 18th-century world. I started with my 2nd great-grandmother, Margaret Ann Ray, whose gravestone stands largely untarnished in Morgan Bay Cemetery on Newbury Neck in Surry, a tangible, touchable link to those who came before her.
The Young Family
Tracing back through Margaret Ann Ray’s parentage, I found a broad array of people who settled in the Surry area by the the 1790 census. Chief among them is Margaret Ann Ray’s great-grandfather, Samuel Young. (Read the full story of Samuel Young’s family here.)
Samuel and Elizabeth Young’s son, Joseph Cohoes, married Margaret Edmunds and their daughter, Armelia Young, married a sea captained name Henry Jarvis Ray.
The Ray Family
In 1852, Armelia and Henry Jarvis Ray’s daughter married Christopher Atwood Eldridge, whose father had moved the family to Surry a decade earlier. By 1862, both Christopher and Margaret were dead and their two young sons, my great-grandfather and great grand-uncle, went to live with their grandfather, Knowles Godfrey Eldridge.
The Ray family, it turns out, arrived in Maine as part of a wave of immigrants that moved from Scotland to Northern Ireland before bringing their Presbyterian beliefs to Boston in the early 1700s. These beliefs clashed with the dominating Puritan church and many of them moved north, including the Rays and the Pattens. (Read the full story of Margaret Ann Ray’s Scots-Irish parentage here.)
The Wormwood Branch
A final, but noteworthy, branch of the Surry family is made up of the parentage of Robert Ray’s wife, Adah Wormwood. Adah was born in 1785 in Surry, the daughter of Joseph Wormwood. Joseph migrated to Township No. 6 from Wells, Maine, an area where his ancestors had landed nearly 150 years earlier, in the 1630s.
Adah Wormwood’s birth, it turns out, was a result of some simple twists of fate. Her grandfather was alive after surviving a winter shipwreck while her great-grandfather had his own brush with death. The Wormwood’s family dramatic story starting in Kittery, Maine in 1639 can be read here.
Today in Surry the descendants of the Youngs and the Rays are scattered along quiet country lanes. I don’t know any of them but my research has attached all of these people to a huge, spreading family tree.
Names of My Ancestors
Puritans & Servants