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A South Dedham Saga....the Dark Day, Rene Dean & the Francestown Migration

Rene Dean (1786-1796)

 In a March 1935 Norwood Messenger article, local historian Win Everett recounted the migration of young residents from South Dedham to Francestown, New Hampshire, beginning in 1763. He references the writings of Dedham history scholar, Erastus Worthington, who painted a dismal picture of Tiot in the mid-18th century: “The Deacons were in command of town politics and policies. Young men were held down and snubbed. The pioneering days were over. It was a settled community of narrow, self-righteous, hard-fisted farmers, doing a cash business on farms the soil of which was never any too-good and now was getting poorer through the lack of any scientific knowledge and the farmer’s traditional prejudice against any advance over his grandfather’s methods.”

 


Norwood to Francestown in 2024


According to these historians, members of nearly all the families in South Dedham removed to Francestown. Certainly, there are many familiar surnames – including Everett, Morse, Fisher, Kingsbury, Guild, Fuller – among the migrants. One of these New Hampshire transplants was Benjamin Dean, Jr. and Irene (Rene) Dean was his daughter.


First Meeting House of Francestown NH

 

Benjamin Dean, Jr. was born on December 8, 1750 in Dedham. He was the son of Benjamin Dean (1717-1810) and Mary Withington Dean (1729-1803) who had been married in 1747. They had four children: Benjamin Jr., William, Mary, and John.

 

On May 2, 1776, Benjamin Dean Jr. married Elizabeth Gould, the daughter of Samuel and Mary Pettee Gould. According to Win Everett’s account, a descendent of the Deans confirmed that Benjamin Dean Jr., and perhaps his family, was enroute to Francestown, New Hampshire during the “Dark Day, May 19, 1780.”

 



The infamous “Dark Day” of May 19, 1780 was characterized by an unusual darkening of the daytime sky. It was observed throughout the New England states and parts of eastern Canada. It came on between 10 and 11 in the morning and continued until the middle of the night. Birds and wildlife acted as if night had fallen, candles were lit in homes, and many were frightened by the event. Even Rev. Manasseh Cutler, the son-in-law of Rev. Thomas Balch and a former teacher in Tiot village, wrote of the unsettling happening in his journal. Some witnesses recalled a strong sooty smell and reportedly cinders fell on parts of New Hampshire. It is believed that the cause of the darkness was a combination of heavy fog, cloud cover, and smoke from extensive forest fires in Ontario, Canada, not unlike the fires that obscured the sky in New England and New York in 2023.

 

Benjamin Jr. and Elizabeth Gould Dean had five daughters, only one of whom was born in South Dedham.: Rebecca, Elizabeth, Lucy, Olive, and Irene (nicknamed Rene). The youngest, Rene Dean, was born in May of 1786 in Francestown, New Hampshire.

 

Rene Dean died on July 2, 1796 at 9 years of age. She died in South Dedham. The church records states: "Irene Dean, daughter of Mr. Benjamin D of Franceston [sic], died at her uncle William Deans, 9.”  She was interred in South Dedham alongside other members of the Dean family including her grandfather and uncle.

 

Her gravestone was toppled by erosion on the hill of Old Parish Cemetery. It was recovered by Old Parish Preservation Volunteers and reset a safe distance from the edge of the hillside. Her footstone was also uncovered and reset on April 29, 2023.



 

One final note: according to gravestone expert James Blachowicz, Rene Dean’s gravestone was carved by Cyrus Pratt (1783-1846), a member of a family of stonecutters, who primarily worked out of Abington, Massachusetts. Blachowicz notes that Pratt, like many cutters of that time, carved gravestones years after the individual’s death and backdated them. Since Pratt was only 13 when Rene Dean died in 1796, it is almost certain that he did not carve the gravestone contemporaneously to her death.

 

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