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Standish Sketches of Early Times

"The Death of Mr. and Mrs. Tarbox"


     Few Events of the early times in Standish so excited
the interest and stirred the sympathies of the descendants
of the settlers as the tragic death of Samuel Tarbox and
his wife, who both perished in the great snow storm of
March, 1819. The storm was one of the most severe recorded
in our history and by a somewhat singular circumstance this
EXPRESS nearly marks the eighty-fifth anniversary of the
beginning of the storm which commenced about 4 o'clock on
the afternoon of Saturday, March 12, 1819, and continued
for three days, during which time about four feet of snow
fell, which was piled into enormous drifts by the furious
winds that blew during the last two days.
     Samuel Tarbox with his wife and four small children,
(the youngest but three months old), lived on Standish
cape, which is the extreme point of Raymond cape, but which
falls within the line of Standish where it crossed Sebago
Lake.
     Tarbox left his home near the extreme point of the
cape about noon of Monday to procure provisions for his
family, having about five miles to travel on foot, as he
was a poor man and kept no horse, and at the time the
family was entirely without food. Procuring his supplies he
started to return with his load tied up in a bag and slung
across his back, but before reaching home the storm
increased in fury and the winds completely blocked his path,
and he was obliged to leave his load, which was afterward
found hung to the limb of a tree.
     The unfortunate man staggered along through the cold
and blinding snow and the freezing cold until he reached
within a few rods of his house when his strength gave out,
and he sank exhausted in the snow. It is not certain whether
his wife heard his calls for help or went in search of her
husband, but when his body was found his wife's cloak and
hood were spread over it, and it would appear from the
meager accounts of the tragedy that has come down to us,
that after parting with her own garments to protect her
freezing husband, she left him, whether alive or dead we
know not, to seek the help of the neighbors.
     The wretched woman had not gone far before she also
sank exhausted and perished, but how far she had gone or
how near she came to reaching success it is impossible to
determine at this late day.
     It appears that the children who were left alone in
the house sounded a horn at frequent intervals to summon
assistance, but it was not until the second day after that
some woodsman hearing the horn started to the house and on
their way stumbled over the lifeless body of the faithful
wife frozen stiff and buried in the snow, without an outer
garment to protect her.
     Some further search revealed the body of Tarbox, which
was discovered by seeing a part of the wife's cloak or shawl
protruding above the snow.
     Here the story of the sad affair ends other than that
the unfortunate couple were "decently buried by men" and
we are led to infer that the orphaned children were cared
for by the grandparents.
     The poet Shaw immortalized this sad affair in a ballad
of forty verses, which was full of tender feeling and
sympathy. The verses would not meet all the highest
requirements of modern poetic art. The ballad is called a
"Mournful Song on a man and wife who both froze to death in
one night on Standish cape" and then follows crude drawings
of two somber looking coffins and the following selections
from the verses will give an idea of the muse of the
Standish bard of the early days in the history of the town:

     "Attend my soul and hear the sound
     That's solemnly a-passing round
     That strikes each heart and listening ear.
     To hear the solemn sound draw near.

     "Husbands and wives may now attend.
     And let your hearts to heaven ascend,
     While I unto you do make known
     A solemn stroke as e'er was born.

     "Let children, too, draw round and hear,
     With trembling hearts and holy fear.
     With all our neighbors all as one,
     And listen till my story's done.

     "Good Lord, confoud every one
     Who ever to these lines make fun.
     That they may hide their heads with shame,
     Or brought to praise Thy holy name.

     "And now the story I shall tell,
     Who am informed of it full well;
     And O, my soul, what can this mean,
     A real or a fancied dream?

     "O, yes. It is the truth I tell.
     On Standish Cape these two did dwell.
     Together lived as man and wife
     Until ended their day of life.

     "This man abroad for food did go
     In a snow storm, in a deep snow.
     At his return his strength gave way,
     Which brought him to his dying day.

     "Under his load he seemed to fall,
     And then aloud for help did call.
     His wife his dying sound did hear,
     Then for his help did soon repair.

     "She left her children then with speed
     To help her husband then in need.
     Through cold and wind in a deep snow,
     God knows what she did undergo.

     "She took her clothes from off her frame
     And on her husband placed the same.
     For help she cried aloud, and strong
     Was her last fierce and mournful song.

     "O, there she tended on her man
     When he could neither go nor stand.
     And when laid out upon the snow
     God knows what she did undergo.

     "Dead or alive we cannot tell
     God only knows the scene full well.
     And her great cries that God would save
     Her husband from a gapeing grave.

     "Her husband to God she did convey,
     And then for help she steered her way,
     With solemn groans ascending high.
     While her poor children heard her cry."

     And so on through the forty verses which this acount
has generally followed but which the demands upon the
columns of a modern newspaper in war times and a budding
political campaign will not admit of publishing in full.
     Funerals in the country towns in those days were always
well attended and it is hardly necessary to add that when
the last act of the drama of life of this luckless couple
occurred everybody for miles around was there who could get
there and like the funeral of the neighbor who was bitten
by a wild cat a few years before it was  "a very solemn
occasion" and the old time preachers failed not to draw the
customary and salutary lesson of the "uncertainty of human
life."
                    W. H. McLaughlin

NOTE-The ballad from which the above lines are selected was
but one from among a number written by the poet Shaw upon
the most prominent catastrophies of his time, but this
ballad is believed to be the only one extant and was loaned
the EXPRESS through the courtesy of Mr. John Davis of Sebago
Lake, Standish.

Source: Portland Evening Express, Saturday, March 12, 1904, p. 10.

The article includes an artists sketch of these sad events.


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