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The Forgotten Longfellow

2010, Artship Publishing

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ISBN:  0-9765975-7-8
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1: Chapter I
Youth and "Forty Fathoms"

27: Chapter II
The Northern Boundary Dispute, Northeast Frontier, Geography, Environment, and Peoples

45: Chapter III
Living Habits and Language, Dangers, Effects of Isolation: "Life in the Rough"

63: Chapter IV
Bed of Boughs, Memento of Civilization, Sacred Ground

73: Chapter V
Return to Civilization; Politics and Society in the Capitol; Coast Surveys: Enchantment and Dangers

103: Chapter VI
Turning Point: "Martyrdom"; Courtship; Marriage

125: Chapter VII
War and the Home Front; The War Front; Home Front Reprise

171: Chapter VIII
Quahog Bay Expedition; Log of Rev. E.C. Bolles; Commanding the Meredith

193: Chapter IX
Alexander, Sr.: Cartographer, Cartoonist, and Humorist, on Land and Sea

205: Chapter X
The Missing Pew Member

223: NOTES

237: INDEX

The Forgotten Longfellow:
Man in the Shadows

by Richard Shain Cohen examination of artist, author, historian, explorer, cartographer, husband, father, friend, and family man: Alexander Longfellow, Senior — through his amusing letters, sketches and narrations as he skirmishes with rough fellows in the wilderness at the Maine-Canadian border, sails through hazardous straits, meanders through the ruins of the Civil War south, dances with the ladies and shakes the hands of presidents in Washington, D.C. ...

His sketches of colorful characters, horrendous mishaps, foreign peoples and customs, the flight of freed slaves and the tangled politics of the 19th century will give you a look at a person, family, way of life, and historical events which are as unique as they are revelational.


Over 260 pages: letters, analysis, index and bibliography — with 55 pages of illustrations: graphs, photos, sketches, and stunning maps.

This is a handsome coffee-table book which will delight all history buffs, lovers of Maine, explorers,world travelers and artists — A VISUAL TREAT.

Plus... it's a DARN GOOD YARN. You'll laugh at the lengths his frustrated intended went to in order to snare her husband. You'll follow the saga of this talented and amazing family. And you'll learn to appreciate the hitherto - unknown talents of the adventurous, contemplative, and humane gentleman you'll wish you had known.

Richard Shain Cohen Interview
Read interviews with Cohen about "The Forgotten Longfellow". Click on a link below to open story and click on the top link above to close the story.
Author explores life of Longfellow brother (Bangor Daily News)

By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff
Posted Oct. 10, 2010 in the Bangor Daily News

BANGOR, Maine — You could call Richard Shain Cohen a man on a mission.

"The Forgotten Longfellow: Man in the Shadows — the Saga of Alexander Longfellow, Sr." is Cohen’s fifth book . . .

Cohen has another thought he’d like to leave with readers of his book . . . .

"This man was probably one of the most unusual men in the Longfellow family, second only to Henry, and he was one of eight children," said Cohen. "He could’ve done anything, but often used the word ‘worthless’ to describe himself.

"He just never realized his own brilliance," he said.

The Boston native and Cape Elizabeth resident first became aware of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s lesser-known brother almost by accident.

"Bill Forbes, a biologist and friend of mine on campus, came across Alexander Longfellow’s log when they were wrecking his South Street home in Portland and asked if I wanted it," Cohen recalled. "It had maps and letters and pressed plants. … It was very intriguing."

"I like his sense of humor because I love satire," said Cohen. "And his letters were like reading really good literature. He wrote like he thought, and it just flowed out of him."

The more Cohen discovered about the man who explored the North American wilderness, met with . . . Indians, voyaged around Cape Horn, knew all of society’s who’s who in Washington, D.C., and visited the ruins of the . . . Civil War South, the more questions Cohen had about him.

"The big unanswered question in my mind, and I don’t know that I’ll ever answer it, but why the people of his time did not know everything that this man did and how much he contributed to this state and the country," Cohen said.

New book finally recognizes brother of Longfellow (Current Publishing)

Posted: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 on
By Tess Nacelewicz

Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Sr. lived in the eclipse of his famous brother, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Then Alexander’s son, Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr., went on to become a well-known architect in the 19th and 20th centuries. While the son today rates his own Wikipedia page, his father does not.

However, that may change with the publication of a new book entitled "The Forgotten Longfellow, Man in the Shadows, the Saga of Alexander Longfellow, Sr."

The book, written by Cape Elizabeth author Richard Shain Cohen, tells the story of one of the younger siblings of the famous poet from Portland. Cohen reveals how Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Sr., who lived from 1814 to 1901, was an accomplished Mainer in his own right, and excelled as a topographer, a mariner, an explorer and an artist. Included in the book are details of his explorations, depictions of maps he created and his sketches of 19th century life, and also extensive quotations from his interesting and amusing letters.

Cohen, an emeritus professor of literature who formerly served as vice president of academic affairs at the University of Maine, Presque Isle, and also was an English professor there, writes in the book that Alexander was "another talented Longfellow who participated in the history of 19th century national exploration coinciding with Western expansion … (and) provided an important addition to the history, environment and geography of the East and of Maine."

Cohen concludes: "Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Sr. was a Maine man who therefore needs not only a biographical study but an emergence from the shadows of his famous brother and son."

To learn more about the book, published by ARTSHIPpublishing of West Yarmouth, Mass., visit The book is on sale locally at the Maine Historical Society and Longfellow Books, both in Portland.

Cohen, whose other publications include novels and a book of poetry, recently answered questions from The Current on his interest in "the forgotten Longfellow" and what he discovered about him, and also about his own background.

Q: The title of your book on Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Sr. is "The Forgotten Longfellow." How did you manage to find out about him, and what drew you to write a book about him?

A: When I worked as vice president for academic affairs at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, a geologist with whom I was friendly took out a log (entitled:) "P.S.N.H. (Portland Society of Natural History) Expedition to Quahog Bay in (U.S.S) Meredith, August, 1869." The geologist said to me, "Dick, do you want this? I don't, and you will probably find it interesting."

Actually, it was a topographical survey by the U.S. Coast Survey – (now called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA) – under the command of Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Sr., who had commanded the Meredith for some time. The log contains drawings and maps by Alexander and was written by a Rev. Bolles who described most of the trip and Alexander.

Incidentally, the log was given to the geologist by a building wrecking-crew member who found it – where in particular in Portland, I am not certain. It may have been (on) South Street where Alexander lived toward the end of his life.

Well, that got me interested in Alexander. After several years, I decided to do research about him. This research was at the Maine Historical Society Library and The Longfellow National Historic Site run by the National Park Service at the Craigie Home, Cambridge, Mass., which belonged to Henry. The Longfellow family papers to a great extent are there. The book, then, is the result.

Q: You describe Alexander Longfellow as a "mariner, explorer, topographer, artist, and humorist." You also say he was a man of great intellectual gifts and important accomplishments, such as helping to settle the boundary lines between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada, through his work surveying and charting that area. Yet he’s virtually unknown today –what’s your theory as to why this accomplished Mainer was forgotten?

A: It is my belief that there has been so much richly deserved focus on Henry (Wadsworth Longfellow) that other accomplished family members have often been overlooked. For example, Alexander's son, (Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr.) was a well-known architect in Boston and was involved in work at the Boston Public Library, as an example. Of course, the Maine Historical Society has done more also to focus on other members. However, for some reason, Alexander (Wadsworth Longfellow Sr.), who in my mind, is very outstanding because of his artistic ability, (the) literary writing shown in his letters, his topography, and all that you mention … is probably one of the most outstanding members of the family. He even created a history of what is now Aroostook Country, because of the boundary dispute. He described the land, the people, the work, the British with whom he worked, and wrote of an area of which many at the time were ignorant. Why no one paid attention to his letters and drawings, quite frankly, is beyond me.

Q: How would you characterize Alexander Longfellow’s relationship with his famous older brother, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow? You speak of both love and resentment in the book.

A: Alexander's favorite family members were his sister, Mary, and her husband, James Greenleaf. (Alexander) loved and, of course, admired Henry and kept in touch with him. His children visited Cambridge (where Henry lived), as did Elizabeth, Alexander's wife. Alexander did care for and listen to Henry who, in fact, was a mentor to Alexander when Alexander first went to Bowdoin College. However, (Alexander) did resent occasionally when people asked if he was Henry's brother. Why? Alexander wanted to be known for himself and what he eventually accomplished. However, the fact is, he felt he never accomplished much and was always in the shadow of his brother, his father, (and) later his son. It was also important to him to have a family so he could take his place in society. When people think (that) Alexander, however, was not close to Henry, I believe they are wrong. This is one of the most loving and tightly knit families about which I have ever read.

Q: Can readers gain more insight into the famous poet by reading this book about his brother? What similarities did the brothers share, in your opinion?

A: No. I do not think a reader would gain more insight into Henry. I cannot say there were many similarities. I do believe that … what they did share was an appreciation of literature (Alexander was an extremely well-read individual), and also the ability to write. When one reads Alexander's letters, it is almost like reading a literary book because of the insights into character, the love of home, the descriptions of people and places. So, if I were to characterize them as similar, it would be (in a) literary (way), one in prose, the other in poetry, of course.

Q: What surprised you most about Alexander Longfellow as you learned about his life?

A: How intelligent and accomplished he was, the fact that he could have become a well-known artist had he concentrated on that facet. His humorous cartoons of self, family members, society, and friends also surprised me, as well as his many accomplishments already mentioned and about which I knew nothing until researching his extraordinary life.

Another aspect to consider is his mapping, which in many respects is the equal of the famous 18th-century mapmaker Debarre. So there was not one aspect in particular, but the whole man who was somewhat equivalent to a Renaissance individual.

Q: What did you come to admire about Alexander Longfellow? Was there anything about him not to like, or that you would consider a fault?

A: I admired his willingness to engage in adventurous undertakings such as his trip as secretary to his uncle Commodore Alexander Scammel Wadsworth, commodore of the Pacific Fleet, when they sailed on a man-of-war around the Horn and to South America, beautifully described in Alexander's letters. Also the admiration stems from his willingness to go north in Maine and to become involved in a relatively unknown part of the state. Of course, he needed work, but engaging in this work gave the people of today another frontier so frequently ignored or even unknown. I also admire his intelligence and the variation among his abilities.

It bothers me when people do not understand their potential. He definitely did not. He was constantly underrating himself and bemoaning his inferiority to the family members he considered far above him, starting with his father. He made too many comparisons between himself and men in the Portland Society whom he considered noteworthy, thereby belittling himself.

Q: You write that Alexander Longfellow and other surveyors working for the government played a role in the Civil War that helped preserve the Union. Can you please explain more of what Longfellow and other surveyors did and why their work was significant?

A: General Winfield Scott devised Operation Anaconda, with Lincoln's approval. This name is appropriate, for it was a metaphor for a two-front war against the South. The North would enwrap the South like an anaconda. Because of this, the (U.S.) Coast Survey was used to survey the Potomac River to help the Eastern Army better fight in Virginia. The work was significant because it gave the Union a better picture of the land and where the armies could attack.

Unfortunately, at the time (Union Gen. George B.) McClellan was in command. A fearful and cautious general, he never took advantage of the information he received from the surveys or the president. Alexander describes how the North took care of the contraband slaves, the ruins along the river, (and) his hatred of the secessionists. His emotions came to the fore because of his help with the Coast Survey for the good of the Army.

Q: How would Alexander Longfellow react to finally having a book written about him, do you think?

A: He would react with surprise and pleasure knowing that someone thought he had achieved so much that a book written about him was worthwhile, and that he was a valuable and honored member of the Longfellow family.



Here we journey with a gentleman of the 1800’s through America:
• in the wilds of unexplored territory among natives, trappers, unbathed wild men, and unprotected settlers
• in the northeast where fights break out over borders
• in the South among the smoldering ruins of once-stately mansions, where slaves who have been granted liberty founder in sudden limbo, aimless and starving
• at sea among old salts and characters worthy of Dickens
• at home, where an "old maid" takes matters into her own hands to secure him for a husband
• in the nation’s capitol, where presidents and ladies mingle in overstuffed drawing-rooms

WHAT witty letters, amusing cartoons, and passionate observations about his country.

Here he paints a picture of his "bed of boughs" among the roughs:

"The wind is sighing and roaring through the primeval trees as I sit alone in my tent - camp fire out, & men all asleep - 'this, this, is Solitude’. . . ."

"After awhile my bed fellows (eugh!) Who had been fishing for salmon the previous evening (and had taken possession of the Shanty for a nap in preference to walking home in the dark) evacuated the premises, — the hive began to swarm (would it had not swarmed before) and after which we got breakfast and started in our route . . . myself rather sleepy as I had enjoyed none of natures soft restorer, during the night. A shower coming up we took refuge in a barn where I had a good nap on a bundle of straw . . . The next night I passed in the woods and much more comfortably. My men made a camp of poles roofed with bark which peels easily from the trees at this Season. Within was a bed of fir boughs upon which wrapped in my blanket and with a fire in front, I managed to sleep — when the moschetoes [sic] would let me. So much for wood life in the rough. . . ."

From the U.S. Review:

"He was a gentleman of the old school, modest and retiring in his disposition, but whose instincts and manners made him a most pleasant acquaintance. It was a pleasure to be in his company..."

The above obituary quote describes the character of Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, Sr., a most interesting and multi-faceted figure, who tremendously contributed to American history, particularly to the history of the state of Maine. ... Longfellow was an explorer of the wilderness of northern Maine long before Henry Thoreau. He also contributed to the state's history by helping with the settlement of the boundary lines between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada, which resulted from the Aroostook War between England and the US in 1838. Sadly, Longfellow's contributions to society as a mariner, artist, civil engineer, cartoonist, cartographer, and coastal surveyor were historically overshadowed by his famous older poet brother, Henry (Wadsworth) Longfellow.

This book is a wonderful compilation of Longfellow's letters to family...Weaving in and out of Longfellow's correspondence is information from the author depicting Longfellow's life, starting from the early childhood years to his death at 86 years of age.

...Of great interest are the letters exploring the wilderness of Maine, and for Longfellow it was, as the author states, not only a new experience but one of discovery and a scale of emotions from consternation to wonder and delight in seeing what others have not...

Throughout the book, Longfellow's drawings grace the pages, depicting anything from horses and family cartoons sketches of sea life and maps from his sailing adventures. The book has a nice glossy cover and an unusual format, but that only enhances the subject matter at hand: A truly remarkable book that should not be amiss in a library of any lover of American history.

— Caroline Blaha-Black, The US Review of Books