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Research Towns Throughout New England

Rivers developed from melting glaciers and forests grew as the environment stabilized, from around 3,, years ago. People adapted and flourished in the changing ecosystem, becoming expert stone and toolmakers that enabled successful hunting and fishing. As populations grew, so did technology.

Starting around years ago, the Wabanaki began hosting visitors—mostly European fisherman and explorers, and later, permanent settlements. In , Penobscot historian Joseph Nicolar printed ancient Wabanaki prophecies about foreigners coming to Wabanaki lands, saying it was not a surprise to see white people, and that the elders, "decided, that when the strange people came, to receive them as friends, and if possible make brothers of them. Archaeological and oral histories both signify that the Wabanaki have consistently lived in the territory now known as Maine longer than any other people.

If you are not of Wabanaki heritage, you are an immigrant to Maine! Learn more about slavery in Maine.

Not everyone chose to make Maine their home. From the earliest European settlement in the region, slaves were forcibly brought to Maine to work and live. The majority of these slaves were of African descent, although some Native people in Maine were captured for slavery.

Abraham J Peck

Slaves have been recorded in Maine as early as the mids at Pemaquid. A young black woman named Susannah may have been one of earliest slaves in Maine, when she was brought by her owner, Alexander Woodrup in the s. She was about twenty years old and most likely was born in Africa. Slaves may have come to Maine even earlier, with fishermen, traders, and explorers who visited Maine in the years before permanent settlements. By the early s, African slaves appeared more often, particularly in early southern Maine settlements.

While slaves in Maine never numbered as many as in other regions, they did exist and contributed to the creation of our state. Other Africans came of their own accord, as free people who worked on ships that frequented the Maine ports, or emigrated from neighboring Canada in search of better opportunities. Over the past years, new generations of immigrants have arrived in Maine with different cultures, religions, and sometimes new languages.

What they have in common is the hope of making a better life, and possibly, striking it rich. Mainers are renowned for a hard-driving work ethic. European immigrants added their skills and traditions to Maine society. French and Irish immigrants who arrived in the post-Civil War years of industrial expansion contributed to the growth of urban industries in places like Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, and Biddeford. At the turn of the 20th century, Armenians, Albanians, Chinese, and Italians followed. In , with the majority of immigrants hailing from Canada, the United Kingdom, Asia, and Africa, there is a similar entrepreneurial spirit where immigrants make up 3.

Learn more about Americanization programs in Maine. From to , the Portland Public Schools offered daytime "Americanization" classes for adult and school-aged immigrants, led by veteran teacher Clara L. Americanization was a national movement that gained traction during World War I, when some Americans questioned the loyalty of immigrants to their adopted land.

In response to the charge that immigrants could never become American, leaders like Clara Soule used education as a way to restructure the lives of immigrants inside and outside of the classroom. Children were natural attendees of Americanization classes, but Soule expanded the classes to include adults.

Town Guides

She targeted immigrant women after the passage of the Cable Act in , which separated a woman's naturalization status from that of her husband. Soule believed that if a woman did not work outside the home, she was less likely to learn the English language and American customs. Historical pageantry was incorporated into the Americanization curriculum as a way to teach immigrants about the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship.

Students acted out "iconic" patriotic scenes like the First Thanksgiving or the creation of the American Flag, which demonstrated their grasp of both national history and democratic ideals. While Americanization classes indoctrinated students into Maine's culture, this type of education required immigrants to surrender their language, ethnic culture and identities.

The program ceased in , although the Evening School still offered English and citizenship classes. House Island quarantine station, Portland, The U. As individuals and families arrived from other countries, many were sent through the Immigration Inspection or Quarantine Station at House Island in Casco Bay, where in alone 26, people first landed in the United States. The island was busiest after the Emergency Quota Act, passed to restrict immigration to the United States. The act cut immigration nationally by about two-thirds in one year, giving preference to professionals, and to people from northern European countries.

Vita-Brevis

Grand Trunk Station, Portland, Roberta Randall Sheaff was born on House Island; her family lived there until Besides the expected immigrant drift to suburbia, by the mid s the blight of urban renewal had hit the adjacent India Street and Bayside areas hard. On Franklin Street itself, many families in this ethnically diverse area were forced to leave as their multi-family houses were demolished.

Only two or three buildings on this street were spared out of approximately one hundred. All around Anshe Sfard, which had been abandoned sometime in the late s or early s, apartments and small businesses vanished leaving the boarded-up synagogue in decrepit solitude amid parked cars and whizzing traffic. Today, a parking lot and a long stretch of asphalt have taken the place of this once lively neighborhood that for a hundred years had seen homes, churches, synagogue, Chinese laundries, stables, civic organizations, schools, barber shops, coffee houses and family businesses on streets lined with elms.

Documenting Maine Jewry - Documenting Maine Jewry Photo Collection

In the case of Portland, this was at least partly true. There were a few other owners of the Anshe Sfard building after its board of directors sold the property around Portland was abuzz, especially the Jewish community, when it was revealed that Anshe Sfard was destined to become an ashram. According to Gerry Cope, there was great relief when the dreaded transformation from synagogue to ashram did not occur and the building passed to other owners.

Although there were a number of stained glass windows, it has not been possible to ascertain the design and colors, assess the workmanship or identify the artisan. The interior of the synagogue was typical of the Ashkenazic style of the time, set up in the same way that Adat Israel , later known as Etz Chaim, on Congress Street, and Shaarey Tphiloh on Newbury Street, were arranged; ark in the front of sanctuary, facing southeast toward Lincoln Park, and the bimah in the middle.

The second floor was a three-sided loft seating approximately one hundred women; there were seats below for the men and boys. There probably was no mikvah ; if anyone needed the use of a ritual bath, the one at the rear of Shaarey Tphiloh a few blocks away was available, and later there was one at Etz Chaim up the street. Modes, who lived a few doors away, used for the Talmud studies that the neighborhood boys attended. Although difficult to make out, one appears to be a rendering of an aqueduct, perhaps meant to evoke the one at Caesarea on the coast of Israel between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The other may be olive trees. In his book, Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth Century Polish Community , architectural historian Thomas Hubka describes in great detail the history of Polish wooden synagogues and their fantastical paintings that often covered the interior of the synagogues from floor to the tip of the domed ceilings. The many color plates and black and white photographs comprise a wide range of illustrations taken from many sources.

Common motifs are animals, including those never seen by Eastern Europeans, calligraphic painted prayers, and the signs of the zodiac. The Gwozdziec Synagogue, which is the focus of his study, has around the uppermost tier of its domed ceiling, all twelve of the symbols.

Series: Images of America

Hubka posits several theories about the possible historic associations and antecedents of the Gwozdziec wall paintings. What meaning the Anshe Sfard paintings might have had for the artists and the Portland congregation, or what role they may have played in Jewish tradition at the time, is not clear. We can nevertheless imagine that they are connected, however tangentially, to the artistic and religious traditions of the Polish communities that Hubka describes and from which Anshe Sfard congregation members likely emigrated.

Carl Lerman, a former Anshe Sfard member, recalled that there were paintings of the zodiac symbols on the walls of the sanctuary. Coupled with the images of the paintings in the Schechter photographs, we may conjecture that they did exist, especially with the knowledge that they were commonly used in both the Polish synagogues of the 18 th century and on mosaic synagogue floors in Israel built in late antiquity, in the 4 th to 6 th centuries.

Their function was not strictly decorative, but served as a representation of the calendar and a framework for annual synagogue holidays and rituals. The eagle is one of the creatures used to represent among other things, air, one of the four elements that are significant in Kabbalistic sources such as the Zohar. The eagle is also an important Biblical creature.

Such carvings were commonly made by Ashkenazic artisans and used both religiously and commercially in items such as aronei kodesh and cigar boxes. To the artisan who carved the Anshe Sfard eagle and to this congregation, the eagle could have been merely a type of decoration to which they were accustomed. Was the artisan local or was the carving commissioned to a New York craftsman? Were these men who devotedly pursued the study of Kabbalah? Were they knowledgeable of its enormous complexity and mysteries, or were they simply aware, as so many are today, of its most superficial symbology.

This investigation has revealed some important areas for future inquiry; there is much to discover about this synagogue and its congregants. First, it has been difficult to find information about the religious practices of this congregation.


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A few of the members probably were genuinely Chassidic, but no siddurim or other liturgical sources have been located. Respondents, who were very young when they last attended a service, are not able to describe the liturgy. It is agreed that there certainly were differences in the traditions from other Orthodox groups, but they were probably very small ones.

Further, we want to know more about its founders and members over its fifty year lifespan. What Eastern European towns did they call home? Was it the pogroms? A wish to be with family who had previously emigrated?