James and Cordelia 1876–1948

The work of a curious fellow
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James Everett Wagg was 16 years old in 1876 when his father gave up trying to make a farmer of him. Many boys in those days found the farming life too hard and restrictive and quit the farm for life in the cities. That was not young James Wagg’s problem. He was a natural woodsman who would have been more at home in Maine as it was two hundred years before. From his youngest days he would sneak off the farm to roam the forests that were left around Danville. He learned to snare small game, track the larger animals and became an expert shot.

James Sr. had no end of trouble getting his son to take on his share of the farm chores. Their disputes became bitterer as young James grew older. The final split came when in the summer of 1876 the young man declared his independence and said he was going to cut wood for a living. His father, under the influence of Louisiana, stopped short of the “never darken my door again” speech and by the time the boy actually left in July, they had made sort of a peace. So young James Wagg crossed the Androscoggin River at Auburn and headed east toward the Kennebec valley where he planed to become a logger.

What with one thing and another, including working for meals along the way, it took James quite a while to get to a logging camp. In fact he spent his seventeenth birthday walking alone along a muddy wood road toward the logging operation centered on the west shore of Indian Pond near the headwaters of the Kennebec River just below Moosehead Lake. He arrived at dusk at a log structure where the only soul in sight was a man stirring a pot of beans over a fire in a pit dug in the floor of the shelter.

“Haloo”, said James. “I was told you were hiring loggers.”

“Well we might be”, said the man. “Are you a logger?”

“I’m going to be.”

“You’re too young, too skinny and too English. We want experienced Frenchy or Indian loggers. Turn around and walk back to where you came from.”

James hesitated. “Look here”, he said. “I walked most of the way from Danville. At least let me have a plate of beans.”

“All right then. Come and set. I’m McGuire Levesque, camp cook, call me Cookee. Neville French is the boss. He is out marking trees. Most of the men are swamping. I guess you might do as a swamper.”

“Much obliged. Name’s James Wagg. What is a swamper?”

“Good God boy you are ignorant ain’t you. Here’s how this logging thing works. Come September we set up camp, mark the trees to take, clear the old wood roads of blow-downs and brush, cut a few new roads if we need to. Swampers are the guys that work on the roads to get them in shape for the winter’s hauling. Most of ‘em get sent home when the cutting starts.

“In November when the ground is froze we start cutting and trimming trees. Mr. French likes to use a couple ox teams to snake the logs out of the woods to the roads. Then we load the logs onto sleds and use horses to pull them down to the pond. Of course the pond is froze too so we just slide the logs out onto the ice. This goes on all winter.

“Come ice-out in the spring we raft up the logs and kedge the rafts down to the south end of the pond where the Kennebec commences. Then start ‘em down the Kennebec to Skowhegan where the mill is. By the time the drive is over we have a couple months to take a bath and head back to the woods to start again.”

So James became a swamper, then an ox team drover, then a log wrangler on the spring drive and then a sorter at the Skowhegan mill. At Skowhegan he learned to drink and spend money. In August, a bit more than a year after he left he returned to Danville with another twenty pounds on his frame and about two dollars in his pocket to show for the year’s work. He was a happy man. In about three weeks he was on his way back to the woods.

logging-camp (42K)
Logging Camp

James repeated this pattern until his return to Danville in 1882. That August on one of his trips to the bars of Auburn he met a blacksmith named L.G. Lord. Lord was looking for help and among his other skills James had been the logging camp blacksmith, repairing pikes and peaveys and other gear that was damaged by use at the camp. On the spur of the moment James made a career change and signed on with L.G. Lord as assistant smith.

At this point in James’s story we need to backtrack a bit. On March 12 1817 on Bailey Island, Maine a girl named Alice Perry was born to David Perry and Jane Alexander Perry. On February 19, 1825 in Lisbon, Maine a boy named William Totman Higgins was born to Zaccheus Beal Higgins and Mary Linscott Totman Higgins.

We can only speculate that the Beal, Linscott and Totman names arose from a connection with the families of those names from Harpswell where Bailey Island is located. In any event, William Higgins and Alice Perry found one another and were married August 19, 1849.

William was an odd fellow, not a member of that fine organization, but a really odd fellow. He wed a woman well into her spinsterhood for those days at age 32, when he was 24. He was vocally religious and became known as Deacon Bill Higgins. He and Alice had a son John born in 1854 and a daughter Cordelia born on 6/28/1860. Bill had a sister Cornelia and possibly had a cold when stating the chosen name for his daughter.

Alice died 8/7/1865 when Cordelia was 5. By 1867 William was married to a woman know only as Isabella, no last name, no family. They had two children a son William born in 1868 and a daughter Alice born in 1873, named it would seem after William’s first wife. William was evidently in charge of naming the offspring.

John and Cordelia were not listed as members of William’s household in the census of 1880. It appears from the record that William may have abandoned his children from the first marriage, or perhaps they abandoned him. That same census of 1880 lists Cordelia Higgins, age 19 as a servant in the family of L.G.Lord, blacksmith of Auburn.

Now we are back to the summer of 1882 when Cordelia is still a servant in the Lord household. L.G. Lord was a prosperous businessman as well as blacksmith in Auburn. His wife and ten year old son had come to depend on Cordelia over the years she had been with them. According to the census, she was a servant but in fact her status was that of trusted friend. Mrs. Lord kept a genteel household and treated her like an elder daughter. Cordelia could have taken her place in the upper echelons of Auburn society. No one knows why she settled on a drifter like James Wagg.

They were married in Auburn on June 27, 1883. James worked for L.G. Lord for a few years, then at odd jobs around Auburn. In 1893 he moved his family to Lisbon Falls and went to work in a shoe factory. In 1906 the family suffered two sorrows. Their daughter Lena who was born blind and frail died. Then their oldest son, at the age of twenty-one died from a wood cutting injury.

In 1908 James traded the Lisbon Falls property for an established farm in Bowdoin. The property had a brick house, large barn and sheep shed and an apple orchard on 176 acres.

20130718115747 (2350K)
James Wagg Bowdoin Homestead

So James eventually returned to his farming roots. In all the children were:
John Everett Wagg 1885 - 1906
James Wagg 1889
Alice Linwood Wagg 7/20/1891
Ella Wagg 1893
William Wagg 1896
Lena J Wagg 1904-1906

James E. Wagg and grandchildren
James E. Wagg and Grandchildren

JDJ_JEW_SLJ 19470600 (425K)
James E. Wagg and Great Grandchildren

After Cordelia died in 1932 James E. passed the farm to his son James. Then he lived with Alice and her husband Benjamin F. Jones until Ben F’s death in 1940. After that Alice and James lived with Alice’s son Benjamin E Jones and his wife the former Freda Small until James’s death in 1948.

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