The census of 1850 shows that in Hallowell, Maine there was a family named Forbes consisting of Joseph Forbes a farmer age 47, his wife Ruth 47, daughters Mary and Martha 15, daughter Achzah 14, daughter Mercy 12 and daughter Amanda age 9.
Joseph had died in 1854 in a wood cutting accident. By the fall of 1856 the elder daughters were all married and establishing their own households. Ruth remarried to a sawmill owner in Hallowell and Amanda, who had graduated from grammar school the previous year was the bookkeeper in her stepfather’s sawmill operation.
By 1861 Amanda, at the age of twenty, was managing the sawmill and a crew of four men. Her stepfather had suffered a stroke and become an invalid. Ruth was a full time nurse to her second husband.
It was Amanda who visited the wood lots and estimated the yield, made the offers to the owners and arranged for wood cutters and transportation to the mill. She also travelled to lumber yards and builders to sell the product.
In 1861 Captain William Dustin wanted to clear more of the Oak Hill property to put it under cultivation so he sent Will to the Hallowell mill to see if they would send someone out to make an offer on the timber.
He found the mill in operation and when the sawyer finished the cut he was working on he waved to Will to step into the office where they could talk away from the noise of the idling saw.
“Hello”, said the man. “What can I do for you?”
“Hello. my name is Will Dustin. Got a place over in Litchfield up on Oak Hill. We’d like to get a lot cleared. Could you come up sometime to give us an estimate on the timber?”
“Where you located on the hill?” he asked.
“Southwest corner of Buker Road and Oak Hill Road”, said Will.
“I’ll tell the boss about your lot. Probably be over in a couple of days.”
So Will went home with the news for his father.
Three days later a stranger showed up at the farm dressed like a wood cutter in tall boots and overalls. Will was at the well pumping water into a system of wooden troughs that had gates arranged so that the water ran into the barn.
Will waited while the stranger walked up to the well pump. He opened his mouth to greet him and left it open as the realization dawned that it was a woman approaching. The overalls did a lot to hide her figure, but not enough. Her face revealed that she was a young woman as well.
“You mister Dustin?”, she asked.
Will closed his mouth and shook his head in the negative than gathered his wits and said, “Name’s Will Dustin. Mister Dustin is my father but I am the Dustin that went to the Hallowell mill. Is that you?”.
The woman laughed. “I am not the Hallowell mill, as should be perfectly obvious. I am Amanda Forbes. I manage the mill for my stepfather. I understand you have a wood lot you would like cut and cleared.”
“Ah…Yes. Come up to the house and meet my father”.
“That’s quite a trough system you have here”, Amanda said. Where did you get the boards for that?”
“We got those from my Grandfather, Tom Dustin of Bath. He built the house and barn as well as our watering troughs.”
“I know Tom Dustin. We used to sell him a lot of lumber. I hear he has retired now”
“Yes. He is still active in his business affairs but not building for the last couple of years.”
Amanda followed Will to the house where she met Captain Dustin. After exchanging a few pleasantries he sent Will and Amanda out to survey the lot that was marked by stakes.
True to its name, Oak Hill still had many large oak trees and the Dustin lot was no exception. Mixed with the oak were maple and a few white ash. All good hardwood used in all sorts of carpentry.
The lot was about 300 by 200 feet. As they walked through the underbrush inspecting the trees, Will saw only trunks, limbs, branches and leaves. Amanda saw timbers, boards and ship’s knees, sternposts and stems. It took a full hour for her to be satisfied that she could estimate the value of the wood.
“I can give you two prices”, she said. “One if you want the land left nearly ready to plough, with all brush removed and stumps pulled. You might have to clear some rocks yourself. The other price if you just want us to cut the timber and carry it to the mill. Let’s go back to your father and discuss it.”
That is what they did. Captain Dustin asked a few questions including the price if he and Will cut the trees and delivered the logs to the mill.
“Well”, Amanda said. “The way the trees are cut will effect their value”. If you want to cut them I would have to mark the trees for the cuts. We would normally move the trees to the mill. You have a few elevation changes to deal with. That requires some specialized equipment and at least a four ox hitch. Getting the logs safely down Buker Road hill and along the Hallowell road with its ups and downs will not be easy.”
They finally settled on a deal where Amanda would mark the trees for cutting. Will and his father would cut and limb up the trees and skid the logs out of the woods one at a time with their ox team. Amanda’s crew would load the logs at the edge of Oak Hill Road and take them to the mill. Will and the Captain would cut out and pull the stumps with the help of the Frosts who lived adjacent to the Dustin place.
“I suggest that you do the cutting this fall”, said Amanda. “Best wait until the ground is frozen to skid the logs out to the road. I will be back in a few weeks to get the trees marked for cutting.”
Pulling Out Logs
When Amanda left Captain Dustin said, “That is one clever girl.”
“Yes”, said Will. “And she thinks I am an idiot”.
“Well maybe”, his father said. “But by the time you two finish marking the trees you may be able to repair that.”
For two years Will pursued Amanda but she was reluctant to marry and leave her stepfather’s business without her leadership. In early January1863 her stepfather died and Ruth decided to sell the business to secure her future. In early February Will and Amanda were married and settled in the new house Will and his father had built near the recently cleared lot. They were an energetic and happy couple. In November 1866 their son Miles Dustin was born.
On the 17th of January in 1870 Will and Amanda were awoken before dawn by the roar of flames and heavy smoke.
“Get Miles”, Amanda screamed.
Will dashed from their second floor bedroom to the room across the hall where Miles was sleeping and scooped him up. Miles’ bedroom window opened onto the back yard. Will wrapped the boy in all the blankets from his bed and stuffed the bundle out the window letting if fall the fifteen feet or so into the snow on the ground.
Will then headed back toward his and Amanda’s room. Amanda was not there. He went to look for her toward the back of the house where the smoke was less and there was an unused room but before he could get there came a crash, the stairway to the first floor collapsed and a wall of flame and smoke rolled along the upstairs hallway toward Will. He barely made it back into Miles’ room and launched himself out the still open window. landing just beyond where Miles was still trying to disentangle himself from the blankets.
Amanda’s remains were never found. Possibly she tried to go down the stairs and failed to make the front door before the collapse. The house burned totally to the ground erasing any sign of her. Will and his son moved in with Captain Dustin and Mary at the big house on the farm.
In 1878 Captain Dustin died, leaving the farm to Will with the provision that Mary would reside there as long as she lived. During that year Will and Mary became aware of a sorry situation in the town involving a 12 year-old girl named Melinda Holman.
Melinda showed up at their door begging for a bit of food. She was dressed in rags and had obviously been living in the woods on her own for a while. Mary eventually got the story out of her. She had run away from her family where she was a virtual slave. Her father claimed she was not his child but was used by her mother to force him into marriage. She was made the Cinderella of the family.
She tolerated her situation until her parents took in a boarder, a 29 year-old gold prospector, who forced himself on Melinda. She told her parents of the abuse she suffered but they professed not to believe her. After a few weeks she ran away from home to live off the land.
Will knew of the family, which had three other children, and could not believe things were as bad as Melinda reported so he did some checking and found that they indeed had taken in a boarder. The clincher was the story told by Melinda’s younger sister that confirmed Melinda’s Cinderella status.
Will and Mary determined to protect the girl, hiding her at the farm. Mary cleaned her up and kept her warm and fed until the end of March, 1879 when Holman found out where she had disappeared to and had Will arrested for kidnap. At his trial the whole story came out and the judge agreed that Will's action did not amount to kidnap but was illegal. The Judge ruled that the girl's natural family should retain custody. Will paid a fine for his role in the affair and Melinda, against her wishes, was returned to the family.
Will let the boarder know that if he bothered Melinda again Will would shoot a large hole in him. Will then approached the girl’s father with a proposition to buy the girl. They settled on a price of $125 and a calf. When Will explained the deal to Mary, she was outraged.
“You can’t trade in human beings.” Mary said. “I won’t have it.”
After a few minutes silence Will said, “Well how about if I marry her?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. She’s just a child!” was Mary’s reaction.
Mary however was not willing to let the existing situation continue so after much discussion all parties agreed that Will would buy from her father, for $125 and a calf, his permission to marry Melinda. Mary’s condition for agreeing to the deal was that they wait 6 months until Melinda’s was fourteen. If then everyone involved was still in agreement, Will and Melinda would wed. On her 14th birthday, May 4, 1880 they were married and Melinda returned to the Dustin farm. So Miles ended up with a stepmother only about six months older than he was.
Will and Mary had it in mind to that the girl would be treated like a daughter but Melinda would have no part in a sham marriage. She knew that a married woman had had certain rights and obligations and from the first she took that role. In a few years a genuine love grew between Will and Melinda. Mary just shook her head at the ways of the Lord.
Mary died in 1890. In 1891 Miles married Annie Spear and set up housekeeping down in the valley about a mile from the old homestead. Will, whose health had been bad off and on since about 1884, died in 1912. Melinda who had been an outsider all her life found herself at age 46 the owner of a large farm. In 1924 she sold the property; married a business man named Harry Beal from Portland and disappeared from the family’s view.