Lewis Hine caption: Nan de Gallant, 4 Clark St., Eastport, Maine, 9 year old cartoner, Seacoast Canning Co., Factory #2. Packs some with her mother. Mother and two sisters work in factory. One sister has made $7 in one day. During the rush season, the women begin work at 7 a.m., and at times work until midnight. Brother works on boats. The family comes from Perry, Me., just for the summer months. Work is very irregular. Nan is already a spoiled child. Location: Eastport, Maine, August 1911.
“Spoiled possibly, but more likely, she was not thrilled with the work she had to do. The ladies in Daddy’s family, as I was told, were all very strong-willed and stubborn.” -Nanette Lowe, niece of Anna J. Gallant (her father was Anna’s brother)
This Gothic scene may be the strangest photograph in Lewis Hine’s vast catalogue. It looks like an illustration for a Brontë novel. What are we to think when we look at it and read Hine’s caption? His surprising remark, that Anna is “already a spoiled child,” seems to come out of nowhere. What would have provoked it? Her seemingly defiant look is unsettling, but did Hine work to capture that pose, or was it just the way she reacted? If so, was she scared, suspicious, or just plain tired? Parents know that children this age can be pretty cranky when they are exhausted.
The little girl sitting behind Anna, who also has a ribbon in her hair, might have been her sister, Margaret, who was listed as five years old in the 1910 census. She appears to be staring at the people walking between the shacks that housed itinerant summer cannery workers, among them apparently Anna and her family. Hine captured a haunting little slice of American life, and it begs the questions, “What was Anna really like?” and “Whatever happened to her?”
The answers didn’t come easy, though my research got off to a good start. I saw the photo back in August 2006, almost four years before I finally was able to write this story in April 2010. Right away, I found Anna’s parents, Charles and Jessie De Gallant, in the 1900 census, living in Eastport on Accommodation St., which is now called Chapel St. They were married in 1891, and had five children. Charles, whose occupation was listed as tinsmith, entered the US from Quebec in 1889. Jessie was born in Maine.
By the 1910 census, the family had dropped the “De” from their name, and father Charles had died (I found out later that he was killed on the job earlier that year). Jessie was left with nine children, including 8-year-old Anna. They were living in Lubec, Maine, a short distance down the coast from Eastport. The two oldest children were supporting the family by working in a sardine cannery. The family was also in the 1920 census, living at 23 Key Street, in Eastport. Jessie, still a widow, was listed as a private duty nurse. Anna was one of four children still in the home. Only the oldest child, Marie, was working, in a sardine cannery.
In 1930, I found Anna J. Sears in Eastport, who was about the same age as Anna Gallant. She was married to Carrel Sears and had one child, a boy listed as “Harald,” born about 1920. Anna was working at the cannery, and her husband was a carpenter. According to the Maine State Archives, Anna and Carroll (correct spelling) married on August 26, 1922, about two years after Harald was born. Their marriage certificate confirmed that Anna was indeed Anna J. Gallant.
At that point, everything stopped. I could find nothing further on Anna, Carroll, or Harald (I tried the usual spelling, Harold). For the next several years, I made numerous attempts, each time coming up empty and disappointed. At one point, I found the Maine death record for a Harold Sears, born in 1920, but his obituary confirmed he was not the same Harold who was the son of Anna.
Lewis Hine caption: Nan de Gallant, 4 Clark St., Eastport, Maine, 9 year old cartoner, Seacoast Canning Co., Factory #2. Packs some with her mother. Mother and two sisters work in factory. One sister has made $7 in one day. During the rush season, the women begin work at 7 a.m., and at times work until midnight. Brother works on boats. The family comes from Perry, Me., just for the summer months. Work is very irregular. Nan is already a spoiled child. Location: Eastport, Maine.
In the fall of 2009, I completed a story of another Eastport girl who worked in the canneries, and sent it to the Quoddy Tides, the weekly newspaper serving Eastport. Reporter Susan Esposito contributed a fine article about it, and then asked me if there was anything she could do to help me with my research on other photos. So I told her about Anna.
Within days, I received this email from her:
“I just got off the phone with Mrs. Paul Lowe, the former Nanette Gallant. She said Nan De Gallant was her aunt, and that she was named after her. She says she doesn’t know a whole lot about her, but she’d be happy to talk with you.”
Edited interview with Nanette Lowe (NL), niece of Anna (Nan) J. Gallant. Interview conducted by Joe Manning (JM) on January 15, 2010.
JM: What did you think of the picture?
NL: She was my father’s sister, and she looks a lot like Daddy’s family. She was called Nan, and she wanted my father to name a child Nanette if he had a girl, so when I came along, that’s what I was named. So I was named after her.
JM: They were living in Lubec in 1910, according to the census.
NL: That’s probably around the time that Charles, my grandfather, was killed. He was working there on some kind of construction project, and he was hit by something that fell. I believe his death certificate said, ‘meningitis from accident.’ My father was only three months old when his father died.
JM: And Anna would have been only seven or eight years old. Did she get married?
NL: I don’t know. I never knew her.
JM: When did she die?
NL: I don’t know that either.
JM: Did you know Jessie, your grandmother?
NL: No. She had passed away by the time I was born. I was born in 1934.
JM: Have you lived in Eastport all of your life?
NL: All except 20 years, when I lived in Portland (Maine).
JM: What did your father do for a living?
NL: When he was very young, he quit school to help the family financially. He used to run a horse and buggy out to the railroad station and pick up people with their luggage. He would take them to the hotels here. After that, he worked in the (sardine) factories. When he grew up, he worked at the Eastport Hospital as a bookkeeper, took the x-rays, and did the laundry.
JM: Did he graduate from high school?
NL: He got a GED in Portland.
JM: What about the other children, the brothers and sisters of Anna and your father? What did they do when they grew up?
NL: Uncle Bill was a career serviceman in the Army. Uncle Alfred was also in the service, but he died in the flu epidemic about 1918. Aunt Monica lived in Massachusetts most of her life, and I have no idea what she did. Dad used to tell stories about Aunt Katherine. She was always complaining that she was sick. She used to say, ‘Oh, get the priest. I am going to die.’ She would send Daddy for the priest. Finally the priest said, ‘Go home, Tom dear. She’s going to outlive all of us.’ I believe she died in her 90s.
Aunt Mary was a housewife, and her husband worked at the fish factories. Aunt Peg (Margaret) lived in Massachusetts and worked in a candy factory for many years. Uncle Ozzie was sort of the free spirit of the family. He was very independent. He was in the Navy. When he got out of the Navy, he went to Canada and joined one of the military branches up there and was never heard from again.
JM: What do you think about the fact that Lewis Hine said Nan was ‘already a spoiled child?’
NL: Spoiled possibly, but more likely, she was not thrilled with the work she had to do. The ladies in Daddy’s family, as I was told, were all very strong-willed and stubborn. I can attest to that, because I am pretty stubborn myself.
After speaking with Mrs. Lowe, I tried another angle, and finally tracked down information about Anna’s son. I started by looking again at the 1930 census. On the printed census record, the transcriber had written Harald, age nine, born in Maine. But on the actual census form, his name, as written by the census taker, does not look at all like Harald. In fact, it is simply not discernable.
So I searched Ancestry.com for all males named Sears who were born in Maine in either 1920 or 1921. I came up with only one possibility, the Connecticut death record for Maurice Sears, who was born in Maine on May 26, 1920, and died in Stafford (CT) on September 3, 1985. He lived in Enfield (CT), which is about a 30-minute drive from my home.
I called Helen Archer, the town clerk in Eastport, and asked her to look for birth records for any children born about 1920 whose last name was Sears. She didn’t find any, but she did find one boy born in 1920 whose mother was listed at Anna J. Gallant. But due to Maine laws regarding the birth records of children born out of wedlock, she was unable to disclose the boy’s name. It turned out I didn’t need it. I called the town clerk’s office in Enfield, and they confirmed that Maurice’s death certificate listed his parents as Anna Gallant and Carroll Sears. I also searched NewspaperArchive.com for articles mentioning Maurice and Anna, and came up with several stunning discoveries.
Despite the fact that “their escapade created something of a sensation,” they went on to get married four years later, and according to the Eastport Directory, they were still married and living in Eastport in 1935. Subsequent research showed that Carroll Sears first married Sadie Scott in Eastport in 1912.
I also found a newspaper obituary (dated December 7, 1968) for Maurice’s daughter, who would have been Anna’s granddaughter. It says in part: “Anna Maria Sears, 23-month-old infant daughter of Maurice R. Sears and Sharon E. Dawson Sears of 45 Westview Dr, Hazardville, died Thursday at home. She was born in West Haven, and besides her parents, she leaves two brothers, Michael R. Sears and Richard F. Sears, both at home. Burial will be in St. Bernard’s Cemetery, in Hazardville (village in Enfield).
No doubt, granddaughter Anna was named after Anna J. Gallant.
Then Helen Archer notified me that she had found Anna’s death record. Sadly, she passed away in Calais, Maine, on September 8, 1936, apparently after a long illness. Her date of birth was reported as February 12, 1902, so she was only 34. Her son Maurice would have been 16 years old when she died. The death record states that she was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Eastport, although she does not appear in the cemetery records.
Further research revealed that husband Carroll Sears moved to El Paso, Texas, in about 1942, and died there on June 30, 1957.
Further research revealed that husband Carroll Sears moved to El Paso, Texas, in about 1942, and died there on June 30, 1957.
Maurice Sears, called Roy, his middle name, married Sharon Dawson in 1962. They had four children, the last one a daughter, Therese. According to his obituary, he retired in 1982 from his job as a truck driver for M & S Tomato Co, of Springfield, Massachusetts, where he had been working for 18 years. He is buried next to daughter Anna.
I was unable to locate any of Maurice’s children. I did locate his widow, who has remarried. I mailed her the photos of Anna, and asked her to pass them on to her children, who would have not known their grandmother. She did not reply, and I could not find a listed phone number. We may never know if the grandchildren ever saw the photo or knew anything at all about Anna.
A few weeks after I posted this story, I received a surprising email from Anna’s great-niece, Gail Russo, who lives in New Hampshire.
“Anna (Nan) was my great-aunt. I just read an article in the Quoddy Tides (Eastport) newspaper about your research about her. One of my cousins sent it to me. I’m grateful for all the work you put into researching Anna. There is a lot I didn’t know. Anna’s oldest sister, Monica, was my grandmother. You have her name as Marie, which is wrong. She helped raise the others. I lived with her as a child, so I spent my childhood listening to stories about Lubec and Eastport. I vowed that someday I would go to Eastport. I’m 57 years old and still haven’t been there. However, I saw that you are going to be speaking there in August, so I’m going to drive up there, and I’ve talked my sisters and my mother into coming with me. So thanks in helping me realize my little dream.”
“I was very interested in the interview you had with Nanette, Anna’s niece. She mentioned the construction accident that killed Anna’s father. It was on Christmas Eve, and it wasn’t something that fell on him, he was hit be a crane. She spoke of Aunt Katherine. She said her father told her stories of how Kate would complain all the time that she was sick and that she was going to die. My entire family found that surprising, because we knew her well. We lived with her off and on throughout her life. She was totally the opposite, very strong and independent, and not one to ever complain. She was a nurse. She worked in Wrentham State School in Massachusetts for years. She died in 1975, in her mid-70s.”
“Nanette was right about the fact that the women in the family were stubborn and strong-willed. We still are. No one knows what happened to Uncle Ozzie. Monica and Margaret both worked in a candy factory for a while and lived just a couple blocks from each other in Arlington, Massachusetts. Monica did seamstress work for years, up until she died at the age of 93. Aunt Mary’s husband might have worked in the fish factories, I don’t know. But I do know that he owned the fish factory. His last name was Clark. Apparently they were considered well-off. In Anna’s obituary, it says she is survived by four sisters, among them Mrs. Henry Clark of Eastport.”
Soon after, Ms. Russo sent me copies of some photos of Anna and her family. Finally, a chance to see Anna as an adult.
Anna J. Gallant: 1902 -1936.
“Many friends here are grieved to learn of the death of Mrs. Carrol Sears at the Calais hospital Tuesday morning and funeral services will be held Thursday morning at St. Joseph’s Church. She is survived by four sisters among whom is Mrs. Henry Clark of Eastport and two brothers, Thomas and William Gallant, her husband and one son.” –Eastport Sentinel, September 9, 1936. (Thanks to Susan Esposito of Eastport.)
*Story published in 2010.