A Civil War soldier from Maine whose cremains were stored haphazardly at the Oregon State Hospital for nearly 100 years has finally come home. Private Jewett Williams was part of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He saw a number of battles of combat and was present at Appomattox when his commanding officer, Joshua Chamberlain, accepted the formal surrender of the Confederate army.
(Photo of Jewett Williams from the Oregon State Hospital records)
In 1922, Jewett Williams passed away at the age of 78. His remains had been stored at the Oregon State Hospital ever since. His family never claimed his body and he had no known relatives. Thanks to the Patriot Guard Riders, Jewett Williams’ final journey began August 1 and ended on Sunday after crossing 19 states to get to Maine.
During the trip, the body was escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders. “Each of the New England states have held tributes, they have been tremendous,” Maine historian Tom Desjardin said. “Firefighters on overpasses in New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Maine, there has really been an outpouring of interest.” The group then walked the remains across the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth to the John Paul Jones park in Kittery. Dozens gathered there for a ceremony.
After the war, Williams returned to Maine, married and then got divorced about five years later. He remarried and left the state, according to Maine historian Tom Desjardin, moving with his wife to Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Washington state and then Oregon. They had six children, although one died as a child, and the couple divorced in 1899 “at her insistence,” Desjardin said.
Williams was among veterans who spoke at school Memorial Day programs from 1914 to 1919, according to the Statesman Journal.
Census records from 1920 list Williams as a widower who was still working as a laborer at age 75, according to the Oregon newspaper. He was sick and suffering from dementia when he was admitted to the state hospital in 1922. He died three months later at age 78.
For many years, nobody was able to locate any relatives of Jewett Williams. Now, thanks to the publicity generated by the actions of the Patriot Guard Riders, a pair of Williams’ distant cousins from Aroostook County, Maine, have stepped forward to claim Williams’ ashes. He will be laid to rest beside his parents in the family plot in Hodgdon, according to VA officials.
You can read more in the Bangor Daily News at http://goo.gl/oawURm.
The Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) is an organization whose members attend the funerals of members of the U.S. military, firefighters, and police at the invitation of a decedent’s family. The group forms an honor guard at military burials, helps protect mourners from harassment and fills out the ranks at burials of indigent and homeless veterans. In addition to attending funerals, the group also greets troops returning from overseas at homecoming celebrations and performs volunteer work for veteran’s organizations such as Veterans Homes.
Some media reports have referred to the PGR as a motorcycle club. Patriot Guard Riders’ representatives state that they are “not a motorcycle club”, but an “Internet-based organization” and “communication system” by which members are informed of funeral events.
Christabell Rose, who is part of the Falmouth-based Maine Living History Association, rode on one of the Patriot Guard Riders’ motorcycles while wearing a wide-skirted 1860s-style dress and a motorcycle helmet. Rose traveled with Williams’ cremains from Appomattox, Virginia, organizing ceremonies at state line crossings all the way up to Maine. “He was celebrated on his way home,” she said. “The love and support outside the state of Maine was just phenomenal.”
That’s a big change for the former Union soldier, who died at the Oregon hospital in 1922, with no one to claim his remains.
More information about the Patriot Guard Riders may be found on the organization’s web site at https://www.patriotguard.org.