Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mt. Hope Virtual Tour: The Merchant of Bangor

Here lies the Remains of
Joseph H. Marie Junin
of La Rochelle in France
who departed this Life
the 18th Feby AD 1791,
In the 32d Year of his Age,
& the second Year of the
E'ra fo the French Liberty
Carrying with him
to the Grave
the sorrows of all
who knew him
May his soul rest in peace.

Friday night did not go well for Joseph H.M. Junin. No one truly knows what passed between the French fur trader and his nephew, Louis Paronneau, that evening. What is known is that the merchant--and suspected British spy--was found dead in his bed inside his small log cabin situated on one acre of land at the foot of Exchange Street in Bangor.

Junin purchased the parcel of land from Bangor settler, Jacob Dennett, on July 7, 1790 and established the cabin which served as both his trading post and home. His business “was what was called a trucking business; that is, an exchange traffic, where little or no money was used” (1882:538).

Despite rumors that Junin served as a British spy who used his influence with the Native population of the region to create trouble for American Revolutionaries in 1777, he was accepted into the young settlement on the shore of the Penobscot River, and welcomed as one of only three or four merchant/traders in the region.

Image: 1790 United States Federal Census Record for David Howe,
assistant to the Marshall of the District of Maine. Number of free
white persons in the house hold, 2.

When Junin arrived in the fledgling community, he was accompanied by his 16-year-old nephew, Louis Paronneau. On the evening of Feb. 18, 1791, just seven days before Bangor’s incorporation as a city, Paronneau, “in great excitement rushed into the house of Jacob Dennett” and declared his fear that “the Indians would kill his uncle.” Shortly after the boy left the Dennett house, the report of gun fire was heard by witnesses in the area.

Junin’s cabin was visited following the gun fire, where witnesses found a scatter of muskrat skins on the floor and the 32-year-old trader dead his bed, shot twice through the head as he lay sleeping. According to accounts written by Joseph Porter (1887), Paronneau insisted that three Indians broken in and shot his uncle.

Historians’ accounts agree that five men, including Jacob Dennett, searched the woods and roads, through deep snow to search for rogue members of the Penobscot tribe and found no evidence of other parties.

Jonah Eddy, Justice of the Peace, summonsed a jury of 13 reputable men to the home of Jacob Dennett to view the body of the murder victim and hear testimony of witnesses to the evening’s events. The panel found probable cause that Paronneau committed the murder in order to gain possession of his uncle’s holdings.

As a result of the inquest, an arrest warrant was issued for Paronneau who was found three days later on February 22, traveling south along the Penobscot and apprehended.

Paronneau was held for trial at Pownalboro Jail. While in jail, Paronneau was not idle. On April 8, 1791, he wrote to the French Consul at Boston, Phillippe Andre Joseph de Létombe. The letter, now held in the Archives Nationales, Paris, is mentioned in passing in French Consuls in the United States by Nasatir and Monnell, and would have been unavailable to early Maine historians, who declared it a mystery as to how such a powerful political figure became involved in the case on the boy’s behalf.

According to Nasatir and Monnell, Létombe communicated to Chancellor Fleurieu:

"A young man named Paronneau, 15-16 years old, called by his uncle, M. Junin to Penobscot a year or two ago in the fur trade with the Indians. Boy arrived last year; he went to College de Soregu-Languedoc. Boy met schoolmates here. Informed last Fall that Junin was killed by him. Jury of Inquest said it was willful murder. Louis Paronneau imprisoned; says he is innocent" (1967:56).

Enclosed with this communication, Nasatir and Monnell note, is the letter of Paronneau to the Consul of France dated April 8, 1791. The letter is briefly summarized as follows:

“Asks his aid. Says he is innocent. Is in debt” (1967:56).

The Chancellor was sent to Pownalboro to “make and inventory” and serve as a guardian to Paronneau. Létombe also retained the region’s most prominent attorneys to defend the boy: John Gardiner and General William Lithgow, Jr.

The desperate youth did not halt his pleas for assistance with the French Consulate of Boston, however. On April 14, 1791, before his letter was even able to reach Boston, Paronneau authored a telling letter to President George Washington, published in The Papers of George Washington Presidential Series Vol 8, March-September 1791.

The letter, in Paronneau’s words, follows:

"Oh! Glorious Deliverer of your Country; I most Humbly beg you to excuse my temerity in Daring to expose before your Highness a Picture of woes to which your mild Heart will be very sensible.

I have left my Country, at that prayer of a beloved uncle; The most Horrid murder has Deprived me of this Dear father, and (Could your Excellency believe the sad tale) black injustice with all its most Criminal Jury accuses me of being his murderer: I am Dragged in a Narrow Gaol where innocence ought Never to go: Nor my tears, nor my prayers, nor my innocence Can move the flinted Heart of inhumans who perhaps (oh Horror) are guilty of the Crime of which they accuse me.

be your Greatness Judge of my griefs in thinking of the Sorrow of a father and of a Mother that tenderly Cherish their son who pay's em with the same Love. I weep bitterly: not for myself, I weep, since I am innocent: but for the whole family of which I have always been the Delight.

In the name of your shining glory, in the name of Humanity, Design to interest yourself in the behalf of an unjustly accused youth; in the name of your greatness bear to the French Nation may your remedy the Dangerous sickness of one of her Limbs. with the most profound respect I implore all the succor, all the pity, all the tears that Justly Deserves of your Highness, the most unfortunate, the most thankful of the part you will take to his misfortunes, & most Humble Servt,

Louis Paronneau"

Though there is no evidence that Washington responded to the plea in any particular manner, it is interesting to note that Paronneau makes no mention of his uncle’s identity in his letter. Junin, whose actions during the Revolution and close relationship with the Penobscot Indians were tracked closely and reported by John Allan, superintendent of the Eastern Indians, Machias, would have been well-known to George Washington. Also of interest in Paronneau’s letter is his narcissistic tone and the suggestion that his accusers―rather than rogue Penobscot Indians―may be responsible for the murder and are framing him. In fact, the boy, while claiming innocence, makes no mention of the defense he emphasized to Dennett, Eddy, and the men of Bangor.

In July 1791, Consul Létombe traveled to Pownalboro to attend the trial. Under the representation of Gardner and Lithgow, Paroneau was acquitted of the charges and the balance of his uncle’s estate—minus costs for the search, inquest, several casks of rum for use by the Jury and gaoler, and 39 shillings for a gravestone—was turned over to John James Paronneau. In a communication to Chancellor Thevenard, Létombe flatly states, “I am sending him to his parents at La Rochelle.”

On August 3, 1791 Paronneau again wrote to President Washington, informing him of his release.

"My Lord, Pardon my Freedom if I dare flatter my Self that your generous Heart (if Nevertheless great objects interest themselves to small ones) hath heard with pleasure & joy the News of my Deliverance. yes: Justice hath taken place, & them who Seeked the News my Death have been Disappointed. you Highness hath, without Doubt, received the Letter I took the liberty of writing at the time of My Detention, Knowing your greatness was the father of Humanity, I have take the Leave of expounding my misfortunes: Misfortunes which I had not merited. the Love I bear to my parents too Strongly engages me to return to them; to make any Delay: therefore, I go: to Consolate a Desperate family, Mourning Brothers, & Sorrowful friends. if ever fortune favours me as much as to bring me to this Country again; please your excellency to give me the Leave of presenting my Self before"

Again, Paronneau’s personality shows in his letter as he makes no mention of the French Consul intervening on his behalf or that is it, indeed, the Consul who is sending him home to France. Though this was the Consul’s intent, there is evidence the boy eventually ended up in French colonial Region Grande Anse in Santo Domingo where his name is recorded in the Jérémie Papers, 1714-1896, currently held in the University of Florida in Gainesville archives. According to the Jérémie Papers, on April 20, 1796 a request was issued by M. Lefranc, trustee, to inventory the property of the late M. Louis Paronneau.

While events played out in the life of Louis Paronneau, his uncle, Joseph Junin was afforded burial by Bangor citizens in the cemetery at the corner of Oak and Washington Streets, a 39-shilling slate marker noting his grave. The French trader was later relocated to Old City Cemetery, adjacent to Mt. Hope Cemetery in 1835, along with other graves from the Oak Street cemetery, to clear the property for use by the railroad.

Note that the Tympanum of the slate stone is broken off. Though the overall style of this stone, as well as several of the older slate stones surrounding it, is in an earlier colonial design, with very narrow shoulders and no boarder design surrounding the tablet inscription, due to the date of the stone around 1791, the tympanum design could likely have been an very early Federalist urn motif which rose to popularity following the American Revolution, particularly after the death of George Washington in 1799.


Filby, P. William, ed. (2010). Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Farmington Hills, MI, USA: Gale Research.

History of Penobscot County, Maine with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches. (1882) Cleveland: Williams, Chase & Co.

Jérémie Papers, 1714-1896. MS Group 17 (8-20). University of Florida in Gainesville Archives.

Nasatir, Abraham P. & Gary Elwyn Monell. (1967). French Consuls in the United States: A calendar of their correspondence in the Archives Nationalles. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Porter, Joseph W., ed. (1887). The Bangor Historical Magazine, Vol. II. July 1886—June 1887

Porter, Joseph W. (1877). Memoir of Col. Jonathan Eddy, of Eddington, ME: with some account of the Eddy Family, and of the Early Settlers on Penobscot River. Augusta, ME: Sprague, Owen, & Nash.

Twohig, Dorothy,ed. (1999). The Papers of George Washington. Presidential Series: Vol 8. March-September 1791. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

United States Federal Census (1790) Record for David Howe, assistant to the Marshall of the District of Maine.
Submission Edited: 01/19/2012

© Kimberly J. Sawtelle, 2012

Visit the first installment of the Mount Hope Cemetery Virtual tour at:


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  3. Interesting story! My 4th g-grandfather Charles V Lansill supposedly lived next door (see the map in “The History of Penobscot County pg 590-1), dated 1820. It reads P. Junin, murdered (99).

    The map shows his property as being on the opposite side of the Kenduskeag Stream, likely what is now Front Street and not Exchange Street - could Junin have owned more than one property?

    My 4th-grandfather was also from France - were they neighbors by coincidence or relatives? Charles is supposed to have been from Bordeaux but perhaps there is a connection.....

    I wandered around the undocumented part of Mount Hope Cemetery looking for my Charles who drowned in 1831 and couldn't find him. If you ever come across him or his wife Ruth (d. 1837) in the Kenduskeag Village Cemetery, I would love a photo.