A SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF DAVID RAY
 AND THE EARLY HISTORY
OF THE
TOWN OF OTISFIELD,
COUNTY OF CUMBERLAND, STATE OF MAINE
By Charles F. Holden

Sprague's Journal of Maine History Vol. 9, No. 1, January, February, March, 1921 pages 14-19

David Ray, the subject of this sketch, was born in Wrentham, Mass., September 7th, 1742, the
son of Samuel and Elizabeth, and the oldest of nine children. His mother's maiden name was
Tuel.

On November 15th, 1770, David married Eunice Whiting, the daughter of a prominent Wrentham
family. At the breaking out of the war of the Revolution he belonged to a company of Minutemen
and was ordered into action on the day of the battle of Lexington. He served in the Ticonderoga
campaign under Gen. Gates, and in what was known as the "Secret Expedition to Rhode Island."
In all a service of about five years, during which he received ail officer's commission.

The Continental money he received for his service had depreciated till forty dollars would bring
but one dollar in specie, and a pair of boots cost five to six hundred. (Barnes' School History.)
Mr. Ray at the time of leaving the army was 38 years of age and had a wife and two young
daughters- Eunice and Polyp.

A company of men in Boston and vicinity owned at that time a town- ship of land in the Province
of Maine, and held out inducements for families to go there and settle. Mr. Ray made a journey of
exploration and concluded to move his family to the new district, which he did in the spring of
1780, locating at first on the west side of Crooked River near what is now Edes Falls, in the town
of Naples, then a part of Otisfield; he made a clearing and built a house in which he lived for
about three years, and where his third daughter-- Betsey Whiting -- was born.

Before leaving Wrentham Mr. Ray had agreed with the proprietors of the town to build a grist-mill
for grinding corn and rye, if a suitable site was found; he discovered such a site at the outlet of
Saturday Pond, and in the year 1781 had a mill in operation; this proved a great public benefit
not only to the few people who had settled in Otisfield, but others who for many years came from
Norway, Paris and Hebron (now Oxford) ; the mill being situated several miles from where he
lived, Mr. Ray set aside two days each week, when he staid and ground for whoever came.

At the end of two years he built a log house near the mill and moved his family into it May 6th,
1783-moving by ox-cart or sled over what was but a bare semblance of a road. A few years later
Mr. Ray built on the same stream, a saw-mill, also by contract with the town proprietors, entered
into at Groton, Mass., Sept. 6th, 1786. For building these two mills Mr. Ray received deeds to
about three hundred acres of land in the immediate vicinity of Saturday Pond.

David Ray was not the very first of the Otisfield pioneers, a few families having preceded him by
short periods. These were George Pierce, Esquire, Benjamin Patch, Daniel Cobb, Joseph Spurr,
Jona- than Moors, and Samuel Reed; these were all located at various intervals south of where
Mr. Ray established himself and his mills, beyond which to the north was still an unbroken forest.

By the year 1787 various other families had come to the new township, and Mr. Ray started a
movement to organize some sort of local town government, and a petition was drawn up and
signed as follows:
 

 To George Pierce, Esq., one of the justices of the Peace for the County of Cumberland, Commonwealth of Massachusetts:
We the subscribers, being five of the inhabitants of the Plantation of Otisfield, do hereby apply to your Honor for a warrant to call a meeting of the inhabitants of said plantation at the dwelling-house of Dea. Stephen Phinney, in Otisfield, on Tuesday, ye 15th day of May next, at ten o'clock, A. M., to act on the following questions, to wit:  1st,  to choose a Moderator. 2nd, to choose a Plantation Clerk. 3d , to choose Selectmen. 4th, to choose Assessors, and to do such other business as may be thought necessary. (Signed)
DAVID RAY, BENJAMIN PATCH, JOSEPH HANCOCK, JOHNATHAN MOORS, SAMUEL
GAMMON.                                                 Dated April 23' 1787.


This was the first public meeting for town purposes held in Otisfield. At that meeting David Ray
was chosen Moderator; Joseph Wight, Jr., clerk; David Ray, Benjamin Patch and Noah Reed,
Assessors; and Johnathan Moors, Collector.

Though assessors were elected, no money tax was assessed for several years. They made
assessment for highway taxes to be worked out on the roads, which at that time meant felling
trees, cutting away stumps and moving the larger stones to make a chance for ox-carts.

From the time of this first meeting Mr. Ray served the town in some official capacity for
twenty-five consecutive years. In 1794 he was chosen its first treasurer; in 1810 he was elected
to represent his district in the General Court of Massachusetts. In 1812 - Sept. 2-a convention
was called to meet in the town of Gray, "to consider the distressed condition of our country," and
Mr. Ray elected as delegate, and the following were chosen as a committee to draft resolutions:
Dr. Silas Blake, Grinfill Blake, Esq., Captain Daniel Holden, Benjamin Wight and David Ray. Just
what resolutions were reported by this committee or what action was taken by the convention at
Gray I am not informed.

As Mr. Ray was now about seventy years of age this was probably about the last of his public
service; I will therefore take-up again the more personal side of his life. After moving into his log
house near the mill his fourth daughter- Abigail Mann- was born, and in 1795 he built a frame
addition to the log house for a schoolroom, and employed Major William Swann at his own
expense, to teach. The school was intended for the benefit of his daughters, and though the
eldest was then married, she was a regular attendant, as were several others from families living
within reasonable distance. An interesting fact incident to this primitive school, was the making
from birch bark by the Ray daughters, (to copy books for the schoolroom, from which they
learned to write- paper being very scarce and expensive.

The first valuation of the town was made in April, 1795, and Mr. Ray's name was highest on the
list, so that in those days of small values he was considered as in good circumstances. He was a
public-spirited man in the sphere in which he moved. He gave an acre of land for the site of the
first meeting-house built in town, and a large lot adjoining for a public burial-ground.
 

In January, 1795, he entered into a contract at Groton with the proprietors of the town, to build
the first meeting-house; this was situated on the summit of "Otisfield Hill," afterward known as
"Meeting-House Hill," and in later years as "Bell Hill".  Mr. Ray was so much interested in this
undertaking that he furnished needed material and money, and when the house was completed
he took six of the pews.

During this same year he built for himself a new two-story frame house near the log house in
which he was living; this new dwelling was a fortress for strength. The timbers were mostly eight
inches square, and it was boarded with two-inch oak plank firmly pinned to plates and sills with
oaken pins. The heaviest winds never shook it. The chimney was a marvel in itself-fifteen feet
square in the lower story, with three open fireplaces and two brick ovens; the largest fireplace
would take wood six feet long, and each of the ovens was large enough for a village bakery. In
this house the "First Congregational Church" was organized and the Rev. Thomas Roby installed
as pastor.

Mr. Ray was a man of benevolent and kindly character. If people whom he knew to be poor came
to his mill with grain to be ground, he took no pay; if a man was down, he did not pass him by on
the other side, but gave him a helping hand; he instructed his daughters to be kind and
courteous to strangers, telling them they might be entertaining angels unawares.

I have previously omitted to state that Mr. Ray was, for that day, a skillful physician-the first in
Otisfield-having studied in earlier life with Dr. Mann of Wrentham, and possessing quite an
extensive medical library; his services were of great value and were much sought for many miles
about. He died December 1st, 1822, aged 80 years and 84 days.

Mrs. Eunice Ray was a woman of genial and sunny disposition, who made those around her
cheerful and happy. Of settled religious convictions, she brought up her family in the fear and
admonition of the Lord. She was an excellent horsewoman and rode much in the saddle, as did
all her daughters; there were no wagon roads for twenty years in their section, and all travel was
on horseback.  Mrs. Ray made frequent trips to Portland, and twice went as far as Wrentham in
the saddle. She was a skillful weaver, and wrought many curious fabrics for the use of her family,
and for bedding and table use; her well-trained fingers could spin the finest quality of linen
thread. This remarkable woman never grew old in her own mind-  at the age of ninety-five she
would walk a third of a mile to a neighbor's and back. She died July 4th, 1843, lacking but a few
days of 97 years. She was buried by the side of her husband, on Meeting-House Hill, in the
cemetery donated by him for public use.

A few years subsequent to the coming of David Ray and family, there came to Otisfield the family
of John Holden, from Groton- probably about 1785- and later that of Captain Daniel Holden, both
of whom had served in the Army of the Revolution.  In this connection it is a matter of pride with
me to state that from Massachusetts alone no less than 147 Holdens took part in that fateful war
which was destined to become so important an epoch in the world's history. These were
descendants of Richard and Justinian Holden, who came from Suffolk, England, in the brig
Francis, in the year 1634, and landed at Watertown.

In John Holden's family were four sons-  John, George, Jesse and Henry. Two of these sons
married daughters of David Ray- John choosing Polly, the second, and Henry taking Abigail
Mann, the youngest; this latter couple making their home with their father and mother Ray, and
caring for them in their old age, receiving in return the larger portion of David Ray's estate.

Henry Holden and his wife raised a family of eight sons and three daughters, all of whom lived to
adult age, and several to unusual advanced age. This large family was born and reared in the
large frame dwelling house previously referred to as built by Mr. Ray in 1795. With the
assistance of his growing sons he cultivated many acres of the farm land, and operated the
grist-mill and saw-mills.  Tthe writer, a grandson of Henry Holden, well remembers the
remarkable old homestead which was almost as much home to the grandchildren as their own.

I recall the big open attic with its various objects of interest- a great hand-made cradle in which
every Holden of that family, and the children of many visitors, had been rocked; old-fashioned
beds on which one could lie through storm or shower and listen to such soothing music as can
be heard only from the rain upon the roof; among other things were three swords, each of a
different style of blade and hilt--  these had belonged to David Ray and used by him during his
service in the army.

In a room below was the weaving and spinning equipment of my great-grandmother Eunice Ray-
the old loom with its heavy bard-wood frame, the spinning wheel and reel, and a smaller wheel
for flax. All these were also used by my grandmother in the earlier portion of her married life. In
the large square living-room on the lower floor was the immense fireplace with its long swinging
crane and an assortment of iron cooking utensils of varied shapes and sizes, and on either side
a great oven built into the massive chimney; these ovens were filled every Saturday with
quantities of the wholesome foods which nourished the stalwart sons and healthy daughters of
our New England ancestors. Before my own day an addition had been connected with the big
house, and this contained a large pantry, a feature of which was the "meal chest"; this was a
long covered chest with four divisions, each holding several bushels, in which was kept flour and
meal of wheat, corn, rye, and barley, ground in the grist-mill nearby, from grains raised on the
farm.

At a later period- probably about 1820- the town having become more closely populated, another
meeting-house was built under the hill, and known as the "Freewill Baptist" house; this site was
also taken from the Ray estate, and here for many years the "Free-Willers" met and listened to
the vigorous expounding of that doctrine by various preachers from round about. This
meeting-house was situated a few minutes' walk from Henry Holden's home, and every Sunday
the Holdens literally kept "open house", and I might add, "open barn”, for here came the minister
often on Saturday, to remain perhaps till Monday-sure of a welcome and good fare for himself
and horse-  and here came various friends and relatives who lived several miles away to "bait"
their horses, and during the hour and a half between sermons, to partake of the generous
hospitality of the Holden house; the big round family table was always filled, often a second time,
while others found their way into the pantry and freely helped themselves to pie and cheese
which was abundantly set out upon the broad shelf. Mr. Holden himself was a reserved sort of
man, and little given to conversation, yet this open hospitality was one of his chief pleasures, and
I mention it as illustrative of the sterling type of citizens who were among the earlier settlers of
the old State of Maine.

Nearly fifty years later still, the old Free-Will house was remodeled and became the "Union
Meeting-House," to which came those of any and every denomination and creed, and where
some of the descendants of the earlier generations still meet for worship.

Across the level road, directly opposite this little church, in the peaceful quiet of the beautiful
country cemetery, is the last resting place of Henry Holden and all of his children; several grand-
children-great-grandchildren of David and Eunice Ray-are yet living, but their number is small,
and they too must soon "cross the road”.

(c) 1998 Courtesy of the   Androscoggin Historical Society

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