Drowning at Sumner’s Falls - Charles Barber

“An interesting bit of history came to light in connection with the death of a riverman many years ago at Sumner’s Falls in the Connecticut River, near this town.
“Mr. J.G. Underwood, who heard the story in a hotel in Groveton, a small town in northern New Hampshire, tells it as follows.
“As we sat talking, one of my acquaintances asked me where I was living now. When I told him Hartland, an old man who sat near us said “Isn’t there a Falls in the river there? I buried a man there.”

“When asked how it happened, he explained. “It was in 1874. (The stone clearly says 1895. C.Y.M.) I had charge of the rear of the drive. One of our men went into the water near Wilder.”
“This was a characteristic expression meaning that he fell into the water and was drowned.

“Several days later the body was found at the Falls in Hartland. They sent for me. His name was Barber, a nice boy, —Fred, I think they called him, but he was a fine boy. I tied the body to a tree and sent for the selectmen. But the authorities wouldn’t let the boy be buried in their cemetery, and the minister wouldn’t even come and say a few words over him. Some people in those days didn’t think much of river men. Course, we had some that were tough sometimes, but as a general thing we were a pretty good sort of folks.”
“The narrator went on: “The boy’s father came down. He was a hard man, a mean man. The boys had chipped in, two dollars apiece, to buy the boy a casket.  When the father asked how much pay was coming to him I passed the word around to the boys and we all took back our two dollars, so that the father wouldn’t get it himself. We bought the casket afterwards, but the father didn’t want any casket, and wouldn’t even pay for taking the body home. So we buried the boy where he was, on high ground near the river bank. We put stones over the casket first, before filling in with dirt. I have visited the grave a number of times since and kept it in repair.”
“When was the last time you visited it?” he was asked. “Let’s see. I’m seventy-six now. I was forty-eight then. How many does that make?” Twenty-eight, he was told.

“Yes, twenty-eight years ago. Is the grave still there?” He was assured that it was, and in
good condition.

“We put up a stone and marked it.” He said, “Is it still there?” He seemed gratified that the stone was still there after so many years. “The speaker is a fine looking old man. Strong and well preserved.
“As for the boy’s name, it was found to be Charlie, not Fred and old residents remember
the circumstances well. They also tell of several Hartland men who were expert river men in former times, among whom were Fred Freeman and Milton Short. It was a job which called for quick thinking, good judgment, strength and courage.”

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Extracted from the Spring 2012 Hartland Historical Society Newsletter.   Another published version of this story is here.

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