'Poor Old Elijah'
“Poor old Elijah” is part of a song of long ago, but also my poor old Great-grandpa Elijah Dyer, who is buried at Mountain View Cemetery with his second wife Rebecca and their son George.
I believe, from what I was told, that Elijah was not a Bible-reading man, but Biblical names were used a lot in his day. There is another member of the family, 10 generations ago, whose wife had a father and grandfather named Elijah, but I am sure no one had researched the Dyer genealogy then.
Elijah’s grandchildren referred to him as being a grumpy man. Well, who wouldn’t be? He married a woman, they had 13 children and then she died.
He asked a widow from Northport to come be his housekeeper and look out for his “young uns” while he went fishing. She had four children and came because she had to feed them somehow. When he returned from his fishing trip, he asked her if she liked the job. When she said yes, they got married. Elijah and Rebecca had three more children and they took her elderly parents in to live. Some of the first children died of typhoid, etc. He had a right to be grumpy.
He owned Warren Island (near Islesboro), but lost it for his grocery bill.
Elijah’s son George fell overboard and drowned in Camden Harbor. Another son, Roscoe, went to sea when a teen and drowned. A daughter was killed in a sledding accident and the poor man tried to make his living by fishing on Vinalhaven and Islesboro.
All of those problems would make anyone “grumpy.”
Elijah’s father, Joshua Dyer, came to Vinalhaven from Provincetown, Cape Cod, around 1814 and settled on what is known as Dyer’s Island today. He said he, his wife and three children — Timothy, Jane, Joshua — and Mrs. Shaw, a relative, arrived safely from Cape Cod. He built a camp on White Island with materials he could find. He went fishing with his oldest boy and caught fish for them to eat. They had brought with them two bushels of meal, half a bushel of potatoes and a few dry fish. The winter was a severe one and clams were their staple.
He went on to tell what I think was a true story. He said,” Having some powder shot and an Old Queen Anne shot gun, I managed one day to bring down 48 birds in two shots. This seems extraordinary, but it is so. I was a good shot and the flock was very large. They were trying to alight in a hole that had not been frozen over, and the hole was already full of birds that appeared very reluctant to leave. This is all the explanation I can give. I salted the birds (dippers and whistlers), so managed to get through the winter. One day in the spring, I went fishing with my oldest boy in a small boat and got a few fish. We met a sloop of war at anchor and he invited me aboard, telling me at the same time that peace had been declared. [War of 1812]. This is the first news I had heard since the fall before. The people on shipboard were glad to exchange pork and hard bread for my fish. I went out again and got good fare and exchanged them for provisions amounting in all to $40. I returned home feeling happy with some good food for my family.”
Joshua Dyer is recorded as having been master of a 7-ton boat, named for his wife Jane in 1819. He owned it with William Larry in 1821. In 1824 Joshua and his son Timothy had a 14-ton boat, Usamina.
I am sure I have many relatives on Vinlhaven today and have had the pleasure to meet some of them. If you read this article and think you are a cousin write or phone me. The town clerk in Truro wrote me that there were so many Dyers there at one time, they were almost stepping on one another.
Dr. William Dyer settled on Cape Cod after arriving from England toward the late 17th century. As he had eight children and they each had many, it must have well populated Truro and surrounding towns.
The Dyers were a rugged group of fisherman. One of the most talked about stories was written up in the ”Vinalhaven Wind” many years ago and was about “Uncle" Tim Dyer’s experience about 1892. He was Joshua’s son, and had been brought up in a boat. It seems the 92-year-old fisherman was out in his small row boat alone and caught a 332-pound halibut. He somehow got a gaff in the monster and, hitched a rope to it. He then towed it into port in his little old rowboat. Uncle Tim was a 6-foot-tall man of few words. He was asked how he managed that feat, and his reply was simply, ”I turned him on his edge.” As pictures were taken of Uncle Tim and his halibut and put in the local paper, this is no fish story.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.