Name: William Neal Raven
Born: 12 August 1826 in Dover, England
Died: 23 August 1902 in Washburn, Maine
Buried: Woodland Cemetery, Woodland, Maine


Our own "International Man of Mystery," William Neal Raven was born in England, crossed the Atlantic to Canada, and then migrated south to Maine. The details of his life before his arrival in Canada — including the method of his arrival — are unknown beyond family legend. Was he a pirate? Was he even born a Raven?

Minnie Raven of Thorndike remembers her father, William Henry Raven, telling her stories about his grandfather:

Wm Neal came over on a "privateer" boat from England, was just a kid and stowed away, (might have been used as a cabin boy on the ship after he was found/discovered) was running away from home because his mother "Annie" had died and his father had remarried and he and the new wife did not like each other, she was always threatening to send him to "the tallow factory" as he was a chubby kid. The tallow factory was probably where candles were made, there were a lot of them in England at that time so they must have lived in an area with one nearby. The father and stepmother had other children after him, no names, but when he was older he went back to England and found that his siblings had moved to the New York area and that they had named some of their kids the same as he had named his.

I have heard that he said he was walking across a field when he arrived in Canada and saw a flock of Ravens squawking around and decided that was a good name. He worked his way around the area and eventually ended up in the Zeeland area I guess, met Hannah "Jane" Hanson, married, had kids, moved on the Aroostook Road into Maine, probably working in the woods? Was in the Woodland/Wade/Washburn area, had a potato farm.

After Hannah "Jane" died he remarried, a Catherine Ells. He was living with his granddaughter Minnie Raven Pooler at the farm in Woodland when he passed. Probably buried in the "Raven" plot in the Woodland cemetery, Hannah "Jane" is buried there also, I saw her stone but not sure if it is still there or not, it was up at the back end of the cemetery, not in the "Raven" plot. believe both he and his son William Henry I are in that cemetery. Know that my grandmother Evelyn Farley Raven and her granddaughter June have stones there also. I remember walking from Jane's stone toward the front of the cemetery and saw Omar Giggey's stone there, he was a cousin and lived around here also.
As Wm Neal got older he had a long red beard and people around used to call him The Pirate, probably cause he told good stories, lol, some raven's are known for telling tall tales.

He died singing a hymn according to Annie Pooler Nickerson who remembers her mother telling about it, I have the song somewhere but can't think where right now, might be specific to one religion or another or just a general thing.

Name could have been Raven, Neal, Oakes, Darris, he was never sure which if any was correct family name.

In March 1974, John Herbert Merry Sr., dictated the family history to his niece, Marie Mae (Gordon) Russell, while visiting at her home in Searsport. Marie wrote it all down and years later, her daughter, Carole, typed up Marie's notes, from which the following is excerpted:

William Darrah (correct spelling unknown) was born in London in 1825. One or both of his parents were of Scott descent. In 1836 he was punished by a school teacher with a lashing. He ran from the school to a ship on the wharf, ran up the gang plank and into the ship & hid among the freight. He stayed there for two days. When he came out he discovered the ship was going to a foreign country. The captain took a liking to him & gave him a job as cabin boy and called him “Billy boy”. When they were at sea a pirate ship attacked them. The Captain was cornered by a large pirate during the fight & William came up behind the pirate & thrust a knife into the pirate’s back and saved the captain’s life. The merchant ship drove off the pirates and the captain promoted Billy boy to first mate. William stayed with the ship until he was around sixteen. He returned home, but had acquired a taste for the sea and was not content to live in London. He tried to join the navy, but he was too young and not tall enough. The required age was eighteen. He tried again in a year and placed paste board in his shoes to make him tall enough. He remained in the navy for some time.

He had a special friend & he and this friend tired of the navy. While the ship was anchored two miles from St. Johns City, Canada he & his friend jumped overboard and swam ashore. They parted company and went in different directions to make it more difficult to trace them. It was dark & as William was stumbling along, he came to a fence & climbed over it. There was a herd of cows in the pasture and he stumbled over one. It had a loud bell around its neck. He had never heard a cowbell before and was very frightened.

He slept in a bunch of bushes that night and the next day walked the highway toward St. Johns City. As he was walking he saw a man watering a skinny horse. He spoke to the man & learned that his name was Grimes. While he was walking on he thought about the man and the horse and made up a song: “The ravens & the crows do sing, while Grimes is watering at the spring. And while the water is running in, the bones are cutting through the skin.”

He then got the idea to call himself Raven.

He found a job and married Jane Brewer. Jane Brewer’s mother’s maiden name was Hanson, of German descent. [Jason's note: I think that John crossed these two names and that it should read "He found a job and married Jane Hanson. Jane Hanson’s mother’s maiden name was Brewer, of German descent."]

William Raven (as he was now called) built a log house in a settlement that was called the Big Rock Settlement close to the St. John River in Queens, Canada. They joined the Christian Baptist church. In 1860 or 1865 they moved to Presque Isle Maine & built a log house on the Aroostook River on what they called the flat, about a half mile from Presque Isle and Washburn villages. William became a devout Christian and a deacon in the church. He knew about a hundred hymns and old Scottish songs.

I remember him in the early 1890’s. He drove a black horse that went like the lightening and had a covered carriage. He wore a full beard. He died in 1905 and is buried in Washburn cemetery with his wife Jane. [Jason's note: John wasn't born until 1895, so he must have meant either the late 1890's or early 1900's. William Neal died in 1902.]

There are some similarities in these stories and some differences. Both should be taken with a grain of salt!
William Neal's birth certificate is a mystery. If his surname wasn't actually Raven, then our only chance of ever solving that mystery would probably be via genetic matching.
His earliest record which I'm aware of is the 1851 Canada Census (click the image below to see it full size in a new tab). He and his wife Hannah Jane Hanson (she was called "Jane" on all the records) were living in Douglas, New Brunswick, Canada. Curiously, it says that his "Date of entering the Colony" was "Birth": Was this a mistake? A lie? The truth? William and Jane are the second dwelling on the page. Both William and Jane are listed as age 24, which puts their birth years around 1826. This would stay fairly consistent through future records. Just above them on the census record is Cornelius Hanson, Jane's father.
1851 Canada Census - Douglas, NB
1851 Canada Census — Douglas, New Brunswick, Canada
Canada's national census is completed the first year of each decade (1891, 1901, 1911, etc...) but the country was not formally recognized until 1867, so the 1851 census was actually cobbled together from four smaller censuses: Canada West, Canada East, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. This census was actually taken in 1850, but we don't know the exact date. We do know that by a certain date in 1850, William Neal and Jane were married, but did not yet have children. FamilySearch says that they were married July 10, 1850, but there's no source listed.
The family grew rapidly over the next decade, as can be seen in the 1861 Canada Census where William Neal and Jane are still living in Douglas, New Brunswick. The census was again done in smaller parts — five at this point, with the addition of Prince Edward Island. By this point, the first five Raven children have been born: Mary Ann, Eliza, Selena, Amanda, and John. The Ravens occupy lines 1160–1166 in the image below.
1861 Canada Census - Douglas, NB
1861 Canada Census — Douglas, New Brunswick, Canada
By 1870, the family had crossed the border and settled in Mapleton, Maine, and the last three of their eight children had been born (Charlotte was the last born in New Brunswick). William Henry and Huldah were born in Washburn, Maine. Mary Ann had moved out, married William Henry Goodhue, and started her own family, but the other seven Raven children were still at home. William Neal's birthplace is listed as "England" this time. The family is on lines 21–29 in the image below, but the name looks more like "Rowen" than "Raven."
1870 US Census - Mapleton, ME
1870 US Census — Mapleton, Maine
William Neal's farm in Mapleton was listed on the 1870 Census Agricultural Schedule. He had 20 acres of farmland and 140 acres of woodland. There were three cows (one milker). That year they harvested 20 bushels of oats, 75 bushels of buckwheat, 150 bushels of "Irish" (as opposed to sweet) potatoes, 100 lbs of butter, and six tons of hay, which seems like a lot of production on just 20 acres. Here's the schedule:
1870 US Census Agricultural Schedule - Mapleton, Maine
1870 US Census Agricultural Schedule — Mapleton, Maine
Their second oldest child, Eliza (Raven) Willard, died in 1875 at the age of 21. Her widower, Charles Albion Willard, then married her sister, Amanda J. Raven. By 1880, William Neal and Jane had moved to Woodland, Maine. Most of their children had moved out and only John, Charlotte, and William Henry remained. 1880 was the first census to ask where each person's parents were born, and William Neal's father and mother are both marked as having been born in England. They're on lines 28–32 in the image below:
1880 US Census - Wade Plantation, ME
1880 US Census — Woodland, Maine
I believe the exact location of the Woodland family farm was in the southwestern quadrant of this map on lots 125 and the part of 137 that is west of Salmon Brook Stream. This map is from 1877 and shows an "S." (I'm not sure what that means) on lot 125 and "Philbrick" on 137. Based on later newspaper articles, I believe the Philbrick (sometimes spelled Philbrook) family also owned the lot adjacent to 137 on the southerly Washburn side of the border.
1877 Map of Woodland, Maine
1877 Map of Woodland, Maine
Sometime before 1892, the farm was divided between William Neal's sons, John and William. John owned the northern 30 acres on lot 125 and John received the seven acres to the south on lot 137.
Unfortunately, there is no 1890 United States Federal Census, as it was lost to a fire in 1921. A lot happened to William Neal in this 20-year gap, though. It is believed that his daughter Charlotte Raven died (I have a note that she possibly died in 1881, but I am not sure where that came from). His firstborn, Mary Ann Goodhue, died in Auburn, Maine in 1899. His daughter Amanda Willard also seems to have died around 1888. His daughter Huldah Greenleaf died in 1894 in Washburn. As more and more newspapers are digitized and added to, I'm hopeful that someday we'll be able to find more info about what happened to them.
Hannah Jane Hanson, the wife of William Neal and the mother of his eight children, died in 1894. He would remarry in 1896, to 64-year-old Catherine (McIntosh) Ells. She would die just two years later in 1898, in Calais, Maine. The exact date of the marriage is unclear, with the only record I've seen being this Marriage Bond from New Brunswick. 
Raven/Ells Marriage Bond 1896
Marriage Bond — William N. Raven and Catherine Ells
A marriage bond is essentially a pledge or intention to get married. If a couple was married by the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church, it wasn't necessary. Otherwise, the crown would not issue a marriage license unless the bridegroom provided a character witness and money. The groom would get the money back at some point, but if there was some sort of fraud discovered, they would forfeit the money. William Neal had to put up 500 pounds and his witness was Albert Morris of Milltown, New Brunswick, which is also where Catherine was residing at the time.
By 1900, William Neal had lost two wives and five of his eight children. Only Selena Irene, John Edward, and William Henry survived to see the 20th century, and William Henry wouldn't make it to 1905. 
The 1900 census would be William Neal's last. At the age of 73, he was a widower and boarding in Wade Plantation. This time, the census says that his father was born in Scotland. This census also asks about Citizenship, and it says that William Neal immigrated to the United States in 1839, which would make him roughly 13. This lines up with the "ran away from home and stowed away on a ship" story, but we know he didn't come to the United States that early. He is on line 63 in the image below.
1900 US Census - Wade Plantation, ME
1900 US Census — Wade Plantation, Maine

In the late summer of 1902, William Neal's health took a turn for the worse, as reported:

Note from The Aroostook Republican, 21 August 1902
Note from The Aroostook Republican, 21 August 1902

A week later, the same paper ran his obituary:

Obituary of William N. Raven from The Aroostook Republican, 28 August 1902
Obituary of William N. Raven from The Aroostook Republican, 28 August 1902
William's Maine Death Record is pretty disappointing, but like obituaries... death records need to be taken with a grain of salt because a lot of it (anything but the death itself) is not primary information from the best source. The following record says that his death place was Wade Plantation, but his obituary said he died at Joseph Pooler's home, which was in Washburn at the time. I'm going with the obituary for specificity and because because this death record has other errors/oddities, like not even listing the actual death date; just "1902". Worst of all, it says that he was born at Wade Plantation, which almost certainly is not correct. We know from his obituary that he died on 23 August 1902, so if we can believe the death record when it says that he died 11 days after his 76th birthday... that would put his birthday at 12 Jul 1826, which does not agree with the 1825 birth year in his obituary. Halfway down the record, we get two new pieces of information: his parents' names were John and Annie. This record says that BOTH his parents were born in Scotland, which does corroborate earlier records. His cause of death was listed as "chronic cystitis" — long-term inflammation of the bladder, usually due to a urinary tract infection. The newspaper said he had been suffering from bronchitis. 
William Neal Raven death record (front)
Maine Death Record (front) — Wm. N. Raven
The only item of interest on the back of the death record is that the undertaker was Joseph E. Pooler, who would marry William Neal's granddaughter, Minnie Blanche Raven, four years later. According to his obituary, he was at Joseph's home in Washburn when he passed away.
Willam Neal Raven death record (back)
Maine Death Record (back) — Wm. N. Raven
According to his obituary, William Neal was buried in Woodland Cemetery, with his first wife, Hannah Jane (Hanson) Raven. Unfortunately, there is no stone there. I spoke to the cemetery sexton in September 2023 and learned that the cemetery records were lost in a fire in the 1930s. 
Even though William Neal Raven didn't have his first child until around 1850, he now has around 3,000 descendants!
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