I found myself back in Augusta yesterday, this time for a meeting. To make up for Monday’s aborted field trip, I got off the ferry, hopped in my car, and got up to Augusta in time for a little wander-about.
In my online class about midwifery and the social web, we started by reading A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on her Diary 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Many of our further readings relate back to different aspects of Martha’s life and practice. Martha was a midwife in the Augusta area (then called Hallowell) and she served many families along the Kennebec River, attending births and nursing the sick. In fact, every time I drive to school, I’m passing right through Martha’s old stomping grounds (although she didn’t “stomp” so much as walk, ride a horse, or row her canoe). She delivered babies all over this area, and some of the descendants of those babies likely still live here. At any rate, some of her patients’ names live on as place names, with streets named Cony, Sewall, and Howard, among others.
One place I’ve driven by numerous times is Old Fort Western, right on the Kennebec River. They don’t open to the public until Memorial Day, but with the sun shining and the snow nearly gone, I figured I’d stop and poke around anyway. There’s a tall wooden palisade surrounding the structure, so I walked around the perimeter, peeking through where I could.
There’s something about old weathered wood…
…even the shadows are interesting to me.
That’s the barrack on the left, and one of the block houses on the right. Between them you can see a big brick building across the river. Here’s a closer look at the block house. Notice the slits for soldiers to aim their guns through.
At this point in my ramble I came to an open door in the palisade. I was tempted to poke my head in when suddenly a woman came out. As my good luck would have it, it was the Director of Old Fort Western, Linda Novak. She was letting a man in to do some work inside. She kindly let me go inside the palisade to take a few more pictures, and gave me some back-story while we walked around.
Fort Western was used mainly to help supply Fort Halifax further up the river. It functioned as a fort from 1754 to 1767, then it was divided into two homes for the extended Howard family. Later still, one side of the structure was converted to a store.
To tie this back to my class, Martha Ballard spent a good deal of time at the house in the fall of 1785, nursing several members of the Howard family when they fell ill with a “bilious fever.” Colonel Howard’s wife and one of their children died. A year later the “canker rash” (scarlet fever) broke out, taking two more children, as well as the elder Esquire Howard and his daughter, Ibbee. A sad fate, all too common in those days, despite the patient care of women like Martha Ballard.
These prints frozen in the mud reminded me of all the people who have walked these grounds over the last two hundred years: soldiers, mothers and fathers, scads of children, midwives and doctors, shopkeepers and traders, and later, archeologists, historians, and thousands of people like me who are eager for a glimpse of the past. I want to go back in the summer, when the house is open, to get the full tour and roam the rooms where Martha sat with her patients.