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Three generations of Armstrongs rest in Bedford Center Cemetery

Friday, December 13, 2013


Special to the Journal

Their home stood in District 2 and used to be called the Armstrong place before Manchester & Milford Railroad tracks were laid across the old foundation in about 1900.

The Armstrong barn was intentionally burned down to clear the property. The Armstrong farm was a stone’s throw from the Orr Garrison House, with protection from Indian raids that never came. It also neighbored Smith’s Mills to the south.

Near the southwest end of the property, a human skeleton was dug up during guide-post installation at the Wallace and Nashua roads junction. Early town residents sometimes buried their dead on their farms, so this may have been an Armstrong relative. Another possibility is that it was one of the so-called “Indian” skeletons, characterized by seated burials, found in the Merrimack Valley since the 1840s.

The farm’s first Armstrong owner, shoemaker John Armstrong, married Anna Davidson in Windham in 1810. They lived briefly in Bedford before John died in 1812, leaving his widow, and their posthumous son, John D. Armstrong.

Anna was an early member of the First Church in Bedford, as was her son. In 1814, “John Armstrong” donated half a bushel of corn to the survivors of the great Portsmouth fire; this was either a very late pledge, or John’s widow was actually the donor.

In June 1838, John D. Armstrong married Sarah D. Atwood, daughter of Thomas and Susannah (Holmes) Atwood. In 11 years of marriage, the couple had two sons, William H. and John A.

While the small family lived circumspectly, farming for a living, John did serve once as a Bedford selectman in 1847. In 1849, Sarah died very suddenly at age 29.

Less than a year after Sarah’s death, John D. Armstrong married in spring 1850 to Jane Mayo Wells, daughter of mill owner, Thomas Wells, and his wife, Lorinda Martin. Jane was barely 16 at the time, while John was 37. Jane participated in the beginners’ singing school taught at Town Hall by Mr. Willard.

John’s mother, Anna, lived in their household until her death in August 1854.

John and Jane had four children before the Civil War arrived, changing their lives forever.

John’s second son, John A. Armstrong, served as a private in Co. A., Bedford Light Infantry in the state militia, and then enlisted on Aug. 23, 1861, in the 3rd Regiment., New Hampshire Volunteers. He re-enlisted in February 1864.

Although the fighting at Drewry’s Bluff was just a tiny part of the battle of Petersburg, John was wounded there May 13, 1864, and died three days later.

At home, the Armstrongs struggled with the death of their little daughter, Clara, and welcomed a son, Albert Elmer, into the family in 1863.

Eldest son, William, married and had children in Windham. By 1868, John D.’s health failed and he died of brain disease on Nov. 14, 1868, at age 55.

Jane ran a boarding house in Milford after John’s death, providing housing for professional women who were teachers or stenographers.

In her 80s, Jane lived in Milford with a married daughter, Sarah Kendall. She died there of bronchitis at age 92.

At Bedford Center Cemetery, old John’s stone stands on the family plot. Cracked completely across its surface, the ancient repairs were crudely made.

Perhaps his widow Anna’s name and dates were carved into the part now missing.

Young John A.’s stone bears an engraved American flag bravely unfurled and an epitaph stating he died at Fortress Monroe. His body likely remains in Virginia.

Next to young John’s stone is a very small one dominated by the carving of a hand pointing up. It says only “Little Clara” and is probably the marker for John D. and Jane’s daughter born in 1859. John D. and his two wives rest in the plot’s center. Jane’s name and dates are efficiently included on Sarah’s earlier stone.

While they resided only briefly in Bedford, the Armstrongs made important contributions to the town’s military, economic and social history, and richly deserve remembrance as we kick through fallen leaves and snow on a visit to Center Cemetery.

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