I wanted to learn more of the story of Titanic’s least-known clergyman. All that was known of this man from existing Titanic records was that he was supposedly 60 years of age, was from Old Town, Maine and was a Presbyterian minister.
I started the research quest by contacting the Old Town Library. The research librarian was unable to find any record of his residence in Old Town in the city directories and found just one small blurb in the local newspaper from April of 1912, which made a brief reference to his Titanic connection. There was no follow-up in later issues of the newspaper. Seemingly at a dead end, I communicated with the Presbyterian Church of Maine to learn more about this minister of the gospel. The staff were extremely helpful and perused their records carefully, but found no record of any Rev. Charles L. Kirkland as a Presbyterian minister in Maine. They further checked with the national office of the United Presbyterian Church in America and found no record of him. It seems he was not a Presbyterian minister at all – another dead end. Next, a check was made of the Maine birth index on www.ancestry.com. Charles L. Kirkland was not born in Maine – yet another dead end. The census records for Maine were checked next. Finally, Charles L. Kirkland and his family appeared in the 1870, 1880, and 1900 censuses, which showed that Charles L. Kirkland was a carpenter, born in New Brunswick, Canada, where he was also married in 1864.
The quest now moved to New Brunswick, with little success at the New Brunswick Archives. The early life of Charles L. Kirkland seemed to have come to an abrupt halt also. Discouraged at how little information was available, I decided to try the Internet for any information available on Charles L. Kirkland. Amazingly, the breakthrough flashed suddenly before me on the computer screen. Fred and Evelyn Long of Grafton, New Brunswick were posting family genealogical information on the Kirkland family. Fred Long was the great-grandson of Emma Kirkland Withrow Richardson, the youngest sister of Charles Kirkland. In conversation with Fred and Evelyn, I learned of the early life of Charles in Miramichi, New Brunswick, including his marriage in Richibuctu, New Brunswick in 1864. The Longs had pieced together many parts of Charles’ life in compiling the Kirkland family genealogy, but had no information on existing family today. From the Longs’ data, it was found that Charles became a pastor in the Free Will Baptist movement during the 1870’s in Maine and served a dozen small churches in rural Maine between 1873 and 1912. In contacting the various rural churches he pastored, I talked with Sharon Blodgett at the Lagrange, Maine Baptist Church. Sharon told me of an elderly local woman named Helen Lewis who could answer my questions concerning Rev. Kirkland.
As I dialed Helen’s phone number, my heart was racing. Helen answered the phone and responded to my query about Rev. Charles Kirkland with the response, “Yes, I know much about him; he was my grandfather.” I had finally found what was to be my primary source of information about Rev. Kirkland – his last surviving grandchild. Helen went on to inform me that she had in her possession several pictures of him, including the last one taken in Scotland just before he sailed on the Titanic, which was sent in a letter to Rev. Kirkland’s daughter, Maude Kirkland Elden, Helen’s mother. She also possessed his personal Bible, which she greatly prized. Helen and I arranged a summer meeting date and, on July 23, 2005, Shelley Dziedzic and I arrived at Helen’s apartment in the small village of Milo, Maine.
As I rang the buzzer, the door opened and 92-year old Helen Lewis greeted us with a broad smile and invited us in. Helen had the look and demeanor of a 60-year-old and an active mind filled with family memories. Inside the apartment, we met Helen’s son and his wife, Calvin and Helen Lewis, of Bangor. After being served lemonade and ginger snaps, Shelley and I settled in to hear the story of Rev. Charles L. Kirkland from his closest living family members. What follows is the story of Titanic’s least-known clergyman, pieced together from information furnished by Helen Lewis and Fred Long. An interesting twist to the story is that Helen was unaware of her grandfather’s early life and family in New Brunswick and Fred was unaware of the Kirkland family in Maine. I was able to put the two branches of the family together, which was perhaps the most important outcome of this research quest.
Charles Leonard Kirkland was born in March of 1841 in Miramichi, North-umberland County, New Brunswick, the fourth child of John V. Kirkland and Elizabeth Sarah Weeks. The Weeks family had emigrated to New Brunswick from England circa 1820 and John Kirkland, a silk merchant, had emigrated to New Brunswick from Glasgow, Scotland in the early 1830’s. Following their marriage, they moved frequently between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, as John built up his importing business. Charles spent his early years in Miramichi where his older brothers, John (born in 1832), James (born in 1835) and William had also been born and raised.
The family relocated to Summerside, Prince Edward Island in 1845, where the first daughter of the family, Lavinia Rebecca, was born in 1849 and the youngest child, Emma Lydia, was born in 1855. The family then moved back to Newcastle, New Brunswick about 1857. Charles had become a master carpenter by 1860, when he and his brother, John, moved south to Richibuctu in Kent County, New Brunswick and became cabinet builders. During the brothers’ years in Richibuctu, both Charles and John gave up their Presbyterian roots and were converted to the Free Will Baptist movement which was sweeping through New Brunswick during this period of time. Charles met his future wife, Rachel Peters Warman, daughter of Free Will Baptist minister Rev. Henry Warman and his wife, Sarah Ann Peters Warman. They were married in 1864 in Richibuctu, where Rachel had been born in 1845, and raised. They continued to live in Richibuctu, where first daughter, Alma, was born in 1864, and a son, Henry, in 1866. A second daughter, Myrtle, was born in Woodstock, New Brunswick in February 1869 and the family moved to Maine in early 1870 and settled in Baring in Washington County on the New Brunswick border, where Charles again set up a carpentry business to support his growing family. The Kirkland family now had established permanent roots in Maine.
The family prospered in southern Maine and the fourth child, Allen, was born in 1871. In early 1873, Charles felt a strong calling to the ministry. In the Free Will Baptist denomination, no formal seminary training was required to pastor the local churches. He applied to the state of Maine and was authorized to solemnize marriages in September of 1873. As he started his ministry, daughter Maude was born in Jonesport, Maine in 1874 during his pastorate at the Jonesport and Addison, Maine Baptist churches. Charles was called to the Baptist Church at Penobscot in Hancock County in south central Maine in 1876 and the family relocated there. Two additional children were born to Charles and Rachel in Penobscot – Grace in 1876 and George in 1878. The family lived happily in Penobscot until early in 1881, when Charles was appointed pastor of the Prentiss Baptist Church in Penobscot County in central Maine. During his pastorate in Prentiss, son Algie was born in 1882, oldest daughter Alma was married to Winslow Jipson in 1885, and the last child in the family, Pearl, was born in 1886.
By early 1887, Charles was conducting revival meetings throughout rural central Maine as noted in the town records at the South Winn, Maine Town Hall – “Rev. Kirkland baptized 10 converts in the Penobscot River at South Winn on May 15th, among them 85 year old Mrs. Chamberlain.” In March of 1887, Charles accepted the call to the nearby Mattawamkeag Baptist Church, where daughter Myrtle was married in 1888 to Albert Treadwell. However, tragedy also struck the Kirkland family in 1888. During the influenza epidemic of that year, three of the Kirkland children died within a short period of time – Grace, 12 years old, George, 10, and baby Pearl, 2. All are buried in the Mattawamkeag Cemetery. Their strong Christian faith maintained Charles and Rachel during this trying time of loss.
The family moved again in 1890 as Charles was installed as pastor of the Chester and Winn Baptist churches. Son Henry was married in Winn in 1890. In 1891-92, Charles was pastor of the Bradford and Lagrange Baptist churches, followed in 1893-94 at the Athens and Parkman churches and, in 1895, at the Baptist Church in Abbot, Maine. The family lost son Allen when he married Iva Kenney in Lagrange in 1892. The family had diminished greatly in size by this time with just Charles, Rachel, Maude and Algie living together. They became very close during this period and Maude and Algie had a stronger bond with their parents than the older children seem to have had. In 1894, Maude was married to Nathan Elden, which left only 12-year-old Algie at home.
In 1895, Charles accepted the pastorate of the Danforth Baptist Church on the Maine-New Brunswick border. The following excerpt is from the Danforth Baptist Church records of that year. “On February 17, 1895, Rev. Kirkland from Athens, Maine, preached at Danforth, Maine, and also on March 10 and 17. On March 19 he was hired at $300 a year and given the use of the parsonage. On March 24 Rev. Kirkland was received into membership by letter from Athens, Maine. He was there until September 6, 1896.” Tragedy again struck the Kirkland family, when Charles’ beloved wife, Rachel Peters Warman Kirkland, died suddenly during the first month of his pastorate there. She was buried with her three children in the Mattawamkeag Cemetery. Charles continued his pastorate in Danforth, but was plagued by loneliness, as his beloved Rachel had been his mainstay and best friend for over thirty years. He left the church in September of 1896 due to his depression over the loss of his wife, Rachel.
Early in 1897, he met a divorced woman with four young daughters. Nelllie I. Wheeler Carvell had been born in 1867 in Wicklow, New Brunswick, the daughter of Edward Wheeler and Cecelia Williams Wheeler. After a brief, unsuccessful marriage that produced four daughters, Nellie had divorced her husband and moved to Danforth, Maine. It was here that she was married to Charles L. Kirkland on April 30, 1898 by a justice of the peace. Charles seems to have temporarily put aside his strict Baptist beliefs by marrying a divorced woman in a civil ceremony. By 1900, however, Charles had rededicated his life to God and assumed the pastorate of the Dover Township Baptist Church in central Maine. Between 1900 and 1904, the marriage soured and Charles and Nellie apparently separated.
There is no record of her living with Charles in the 1910 census and two of her daughters were married in Bangor in 1904 and 1908 with no mention of Charles. Helen Lewis relates that the family knew little or nothing of Nellie and that she, personally, never knew that her grandfather had been married a second time. During this time period, Charles became an itinerant evangelist, traveling the circuit of rural Maine. His home base became the home of his daughter, Maude Elden, in Bradford, Maine. One of his saddest duties during this time period was officiating at the funerals of two of his daughter Maude’s children (Ruth and Alonzo) in March of 1902 and again in September of 1904, when Maude’s sons, John and Herbert, died in the flu epidemic of that year. In 1907, Maude lost her daughter Eunice to death. Charles was deeply moved by these events and developed an even closer bond with daughter Maude as he counseled her through the tragedies in her life. The father and daughter maintained that special bond and remained close always. Youngest son Algie lived with his sister Maude until his marriage to Nellie Gray in 1904 in Lagrange.
Charles continued his evangelistic endeavors and was a frequent visitor in Tuxford, Saskatchewan where his sister, Emma Withrow, and her family lived. It was here that he met Frank Hubert Maybery, a real estate dealer in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The following excerpt from the Moose Jaw Evening News following the sinking of the Titanic gives a brief account of his ties to Moose Jaw between 1910 and 1912:
“Among the ill-fated Titanic’s passengers was the Rev. Charles Kirkland, who was on a three months visit to Mrs. J. D. Frazer (his niece), of Tuxford, last summer. The Rev. Charles Kirkland was an evangelistic preacher who left here last November on a business trip to Scotland. On his return trip he intended coming to Tuxford. He has frequently been in Moose Jaw and was well known in the city. Last summer he preached for Rev. A. McGregor at Buffalo Lake Presbyterian Church and also at Wesley Church, Pioneer for Rev. W. Rothwell. He was a brother of Mrs. Isaac Withrow, of Tuxford. Throughout the city and the Dominion flags are floating half mast for the bereaved families of the lost passengers of the Titanic.”
Kirkland's Last Letter
He left Tuxford in November of 1911 to sail to Glasgow, Scotland to settle the estate of his father’s two brothers, who were reputed to have owned a business in Glasgow which was to be inherited by the John V. Kirkland family in America. Charles was commissioned by the family to settle the estate in the interest of the entire family. He arrived in Glasgow early in 1912 and attempted to locate relatives and settle the estate. This proved to be very difficult. This period between January and April 1912 is chronicled in a letter sent by Charles from Glasgow to his daughter, Maude Elden, of Bradford, Maine in April 1912. The letter's sentimental value to Maude can be seen by the penciled notation on the envelope which reads “last letter I received from my father – always keep it –” The letter included the last picture taken of Charles Kirkland. Helen Lewis made the comment about the picture, “Grandfather was wearing a toupee in the picture which we thought was very odd.” It certainly appears to be the case. It seems strange that at age 71, he suddenly developed a sense of vanity and bought a toupee. This seems very out of character for the itinerant preacher and evangelist.
He explains in the letter that the coal strike made it difficult to get a sailing for home. Why he traveled from Glasgow to Belfast and then by train to Queenstown, Ireland to sail as a second class passenger on the Titanic is a mystery. However, he paid 12 pounds 7 shillings for his ticket and joined his friend, Frank H. Maybery, who had sailed from Southampton on April 10. It is known that he was to return to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to conduct an evangelistic crusade upon his return to America in April of 1912. The family never learned whether he managed to locate family and settle his uncles’ estates to their benefit, but suspect that he did as he had enough money to travel second class on Titanic.
Little or nothing is known of his Titanic experience other than that he spent time with his friend, Frank Maybery. They undoubtedly walked the second class promenade or sat in the second class library discussing religious philosophy and evangelism, which were topics in which they had mutual interest. He attended the Sunday religious service held in the second class dining salon at 10:30 a.m. and also was a participant in the Sunday evening hymn sing at 8:30 p.m. that fateful Sunday on Titanic.
Helen Lewis related that the passages written on scraps of paper or highlighted in his Bible accentuate “fiery evangelism” as a part of his sermons. Helen never met her grandfather. She was the youngest child in her family and was born in 1913, a year after Titanic’s demise. However, her oldest brother, Carl, knew his grandfather well and had attended many of his revival meetings. According to Helen, brother Carl used to play “church,” rather than the more normal childhood game “school,” with his younger siblings and cousins. He would stand on a wooden box with a top hat and play the role of grandfather loudly proclaiming the Gospel. It seems inconceivable that Charles Kirkland, preacher and evangelist, was not involved in helping others “give their lives to Christ” and obtain eternal salvation during those last hopeless moments before Titanic and her human cargo finally slipped under the cold waters of the North Atlantic. Like John Harper, Robert Bateman, Thomas R. D. Byles and so many other clergymen aboard Titanic, he assuredly died a hero serving others until the final moments of Titanic’s life. He died as he had lived so much of his life, helping others “find eternal life.”
Rev. Charles Leonard Kirkland’s body was never recovered. A claim was put in on behalf of his children by his son, Algie L. Kirkland. No mention is made of Nellie Kirkland and no claim was submitted by her, seemingly proof that she and Charles had parted between 1900 and 1904, either by official divorce or separation. Rev. Charles L. Kirkland is memorialized on the family gravestone in the Mattawamkeag, Maine Cemetery where his beloved wife, Rachel, and three young children had been interred years earlier. Charles Leonard Kirkland – born of immigrant parents, master carpenter, Free Will Baptist minister, evangelist – gave up a lucrative cabinet making business to become an itinerant pastor and evangelist, generating little income, but serving mankind selflessly during most of his adult life. He died as he had lived – serving his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in his characteristic humble manner. His gravestone says simply, “Charles L. Kirkland – Buried At Sea.”
However, the sad saga of the Kirkland family may not end here. Rev. Charles Kirkland had an older brother, William, who was also a Free Will Baptist minister. According to family information in their written genealogy, he sailed to England on the Lusitania in May of 1915 with the same quest as Charles. He was to try to settle the Kirkland estate in Glasgow for the remaining family in America. There is no record of his presence aboard Lusitania on the official ship’s manifest for her last fateful voyage, but I am told that it is known that some third class passengers names were not present on the official Cunard lists. If this is indeed the case, what an ironic twist that two brothers, both Baptist ministers, went to their eternal rewards in two of the most infamous shipwrecks in nautical history, both in the same quest for family inheritance overseas. Perhaps that quest was just not meant to be fulfilled.
I wish to personally thank a most gracious lady, Helen Elden Lewis, and her wonderful family, and Fred and Evelyn Long, for all their aid and encouragement to this author in the writing of this article. Generous families such as these make research and its subsequent written articles easy to accomplish. It has been my pleasure to add them to my list of Titanic-related friends.
© Robert Bracken 2006. This article first appeared in Voyage the Journal of the Titanic International Society.