Our Trip to the Duncan Family Reunion

Last week, we were in road trip mode, traveling to the northernmost part of Maine, then on to Québec City. Our first stop was the Cumming-Chapman-Duncan Clan Picnic in Presque Isle, Maine, which has now been held each summer for over 140 years.

Scott’s grandfather, Stuart Duncan, was brought to New Brunswick, Canada from Stonehaven, Scotland in 1873 at the age of three, the youngest of the nine children of William and Elisabeth Duncan. Several large families had boarded the same ship, the Castalia, after a Canadian recruiting agent had convinced them of the opportunity to be found in the New World, showing them pictures of the cleared agricultural land and pleasant cabins that awaited them there. Yet, when they arrived in Upper Kintore in late spring, they found only forest and rocky soil, causing some to immediately leave. Those who stayed spent their first summer living in tents. They persevered, soon building the sturdy church that stands today, but after twenty years several of the families in the “Scotch Colony” decided to cross the border into Northern Maine, where many of their ancestors and Scott’s extended family members live today.

It is difficult to know the exact reason that William and Elisabeth left Scotland. He was a “spinner” who made yarn, and perhaps this was a fading trade in the face of the industrial revolution. Scott and his daughter Meredith visited Stonehaven several years ago, and found the cozy stone house they had left behind, which today is a renovated middle-class home. Stonehaven is a fishing village with a majestic castle that sits on a rock by the edge of the sea, with crashing waves below.

Maine is a large state. About two hours into our trip, we stopped at the L.L. Bean store in Freeport, where Johnette bought a summer dress. Scott’s mother once recalled seeing a roomful of women tying fishing flies there, and the store still offers a vast selection of fishing gear, with the flies now incorporating high-tech materials intended to glow and pulse in the water. This “downeast” region is known for its rocky shores, lobster and lighthouses, but farther north is a vast area of forest that includes Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin, which we could see off to the side of I-95. With all the warning signs for moose in the road, Johnette hoped to see one, but it was probably safer that we did not. Finally, at Houlton, the landscape changed to rolling agricultural land, with potatoes and canola seed the main crops. Another hour north was our destination of Presque Isle.

In many ways, a visit to this isolated part of Maine is a step back in time, especially with the large population of Amish people who have settled in the area. Every time we drove along one of the two-lane roads, we saw them in their buggies, or perhaps tilling the soil with horse-drawn plows on their uniformly neat and prosperous looking farms. We even made up a silly song called “Buggie Wuggie,” to the tune of “Wooly Bully,” which we sang in harmony whenever we saw one. The rolling fields, with potato plants in full blue or white blossom, could make anyone forget how cold it gets here in the wintertime.

The Cumming-Chapman-Duncan picnic was a gentle gathering, with potluck dishes brought by the forty-five or so attendees. In the past, Scottish pipes and dancing were sometimes a part of the picnic, but this year’s event was quieter. Scott was glad to see his second cousins Bill Duncan and Kristin Chapman Headley. Bill presented the findings of his recent DNA analysis (he’s a Scotsman!), as well as the family tree that he keeps, in which he recorded the past year’s births and deaths. Kristin brought along a collection of photos of the Scotch Colony, including a picture of Scott’s grandfather (and her great uncle), which we had not seen before.

Stuart Duncan left Northern Maine when he was in his twenties. He learned the plumbing trade and married Scott’s grandmother, Frances Marston (who was from “downeast” Maine) in the Boston area. They settled in Everett, Massachusetts, where Scott’s mother was born. It seems like a very long time has passed since Stuart arrived in Canada, but Scott is of only the second generation of Duncans in the US. It was wonderful to renew his connection with this history, and for Johnette to be welcomed as part of the greater family.

Stay tuned for an account of the next part of our trip. Onward to Québec!

NewsScott Billington