The news from Vinalhaven

By Susan Raven | Mar 21, 2013
Courtesy of: Vinalhaven Historical Society John Banks and Lucy Whitmore who lived on Vinalhaven in the mid-1800s.

I am sure there are more than a few folks out there who have read this column in the past, from Vinalhaven especially, who have wondered what my qualifications are for writing the news from Vinalhaven. Likely they’re not questioning the ability to write, as that takes a degree of education, or talent, or willingness, depending on whom you talk to, and anyone can write anything they want in these days of self-publishing, and blogs. But maybe they’d question the right to report from an island of families with deep roots, from a state with a staunch commitment of keeping to itself and not sharing news with outsiders. With that in mind I thought it might be worth justifying my doing the news from Vinalhaven and it might make a fun change of pace from the regular weekly format.

Though I did commit what is sometimes seen as a sin by some, namely leaving the state of Maine for a few years (10 years actually to complete an undergraduate and graduate degree, travel, work, meet lots of wonderful folks and expand my views of the world), I loved Maine and chose to return. I was born and grew up in Maine, a bit inland from here, but spent lots of time in Rockland and South Thomaston, Warren, and Rockport as my mom’s family is from that area. I wouldn’t be surprised if our family names from the area of Dow and Knight ring a bell. We even came out quarry swimming here on Vinalhaven as a family and I remember admiring Vivian Knowlton’s lilies as we went past his place when I was a kid. My great-grandmother was born a Knowlton too, my mom reminds me.

Speaking of family names, my mom (born in Rockland, maiden name Dow whose mom was from the Knight clan) is a genealogy nut. She was delighted to inform us as we embarked on our Vinalhaven adventure in 2005 that our family was from here to begin with. Our original William Banks, born 1724 who died in 1826 at 102, jumped ship when he was 16 years old in 1740, on Vinalhaven. He was tired of being abused on a British Man-O-WAR, according to family letters. He married Elizabeth Crockett, having a son and three daughters. Their son William married Margaret Conary, part of today’s Conway families. They had seven sons and three daughters. One, John Banks, married Lucy Whitmore. John moved to Rockport for work when his son was young and that son, Capt. Samandal Banks worked shipping lime out of Rockport when he was grown. Capt. Banks was my mom’s great-grandfather and branches of the family are still all over the area.

As soon as we purchased our roughly 1850s house here; upon our arrival folks shared its past and tales of the neighborhood. We’ve enjoyed collecting those stories, hope to collect many more, and have found old photos from bygone eras with our house in them. Being invested in the community by owning a home, working with the community’s children through the school and various organizations, having history on this island town and others up and down the Maine coast brings with it a deep level of interest in a place, it’s people, and it’s past, present and future.

I wish I had more time to research the history of our family here on the island, what made them come, made them stay, what they did here, who they knew here, and what made some branches leave and others stay. We wonder too, who here now is linked to those ones that stayed? My mother, Rebecca Burnham, has done extensive research on many families in Maine, and some on this branch and she’s working on some of these questions. Though I haven’t memorized as many of the details as I should, some are documented and others are in the works.

So if you’re a Dyer, Small, Haskell, Caldwell, Conway, Crockett, Ames, Hopkins, Green, or related to them, so am I, so maybe I’m qualified to write the news from Vinalhaven after all. And if you have tips or ideas for the news to share, do pass them along. After all, we might be cousins, and it’s good to help your family.

As always, you can contact me at susan_raven@mindspring.com or leave a message at 863-4134. Thank you to the Historical Society for the old photographs.

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