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Astronomer William Gowen Was Married To Three Witham Cousins
William Gowen, [Stephen4, William3, Nicholas2, William Alexander1] son of Stephen Gowen and Molly Powers Gowen, was born at Sanford, Massachusetts [later Maine] December 23, 1778. He was married October 3, 1808 at Sanford to Olive Witham who was born August 7, 1786 to Jonathan Witham and Lydia Witham. He became a farmer, a surveyor, an astronomer and a school teacher.
His life was described in Edwin Emery’s “The History of Sanford, Maine, 1661-1900:”
“In his boyhood he was so afflicted with asthma that he could do no hard manual labor, and therefore concluded to prepare himself to be a school master. He was edu-cated in the public schools of Sanford, at Fryeburg Academy and at his own fireside. He was always a close student, even after reaching mature age.
He began teaching in town not far from 1800 and continued for some thirty years, in winter. Occasionally be taught evening school for business men to learn pen-manship and bookkeeping. In summer he carried on his farm and garden, having a fine garden for the times, with all kinds of vegetables and ‘garden-sauce’ in their seasons. He had a good orchard of apple and plum trees.
He built his own house, finished three rooms before his first marriage and made nearly all of the furniture and household utensils used. His paint was red ochre, ob-tained from the Red brook. ‘Master’ Gowen was never in more than comfortable circumstances, as he never re-ceived more than ten dollars a month for teaching, and could not carry on heavy farming.
He was a member of the school committee four years, and was reelected in 1826, but was excused.
When his first and second wives died, he prepared their gravestones with his own hands, from flat stones, even to the cutting of the names. In person, be was of medium height, spare, light complexioned. with gray eyes, light hair and whiskers. He was a rigid moralist and a member of the Baptist Church. When the church was without a minister, he often conducted meetings on Sunday, reading a printed sermon.”
Olive Witham Gowen died May 20, 1811, at age 24, after less than three years of marriage, according to the June 11, 1811 edition of “The Sanford Tribune.” She was buried in Gowen Cemetery on River Road at Sanford which was established by William Gowen, grandfather of the schoolmaster. William Gowen was remarried to Mary Witham, younger sister of Olive Witham, May 3, 1813. Six years later, she died on June 11, 1819 and was buried beside her sister, according to the July 3, 1819 edition of “The Sanford Tribune.”
A year later, William Gowen and Sarah Haines Witham of Kit-tery, Maine, a cousin of his first two wives, filed an intent to marry, according to “Kittery, Maine Town Records.” They were married June 27, 1820, according to the municipal records.
“‘Master’ William Gowen began to teach in town about 1800,” according to “The History of Sanford, Maine, 1661-1900” “and continued his work in several district for some thirty years in winter, though mostly in the schoolhouses near the Baptist meetinghouse.
Often there were a hundred scholars, from the abecedarian to men and women grown. As there were but few arithmetics, he carried most of his students in his early schools through the fundamental rules by putting examples down on a piece of slate and giving the rules orally.
At the same time, he gave to the young men who so de-sired, lessons in wood and land surveying, teaching them to make, from the woodpile at the door, with axes and jackknives, the instruments with which they worked. He delighted in astronomy, and studied it with his older scholars, as far as his limited means would allow, drawing diagrams showing the position of the planets with chalk on his kitchen floor by firelight.
He frequently made ciphering books for his pupils, some of which, preserved for more than two generations, were unfaded and readable as print, though he made his ink of maple bark and copperas and his pens of goose quills.”
William Gowen died September 28, 1831, at age 52, of the asthma which had afflicted him all his life and was buried near his first two wives in Gowen Cemetery.
The widow Sarah Haines Witham Gowen was enumerated as the head of a household in the 1850 census of York County at Sanford:
“Gowen, Sarah H. 66, born in ME
Sarah A. 36, born in ME, step-daughter-in-law
John C. 13, born in ME, step-grandson
Witham, Joshua 63, born in ME, brother”
She reappeared in the 1860 census of York County as a 78-year-old widow. She died April 24, 1870, after almost 40 years of widowhood, and was buried in Gowen Cemetery near her husband and her cousins.
Children born to William Gowen and Olive Witham Gowen in-clude:
Calvin Powers Gowen born August 25, 1809
Isaiah Gowen born May 11, 1811
Children born to William Gowen and Mary Witham Gowen in-clude:
Mary Gowen born in 1814
Nahum W. Gowen born August 21, 1815
William Gowen, Jr. born December 18, 1818