Sibling rivalry: The brothers Main
Brothers William Leeds Main and Amasa Main were two prominent characters in southeast Connecticut in the last half of the 19th century that seem straight from a movie script. Opinionated, extremely litigious, wealthy landowners, they were also generous and remembered fondly.
William Leeds and Amasa played roles in the Brown family sawmills in 19th century Ledyard by virtue of loans, lawsuits, and familial love. Albert Brown, the owner of the farm and Ledyard sawmill in the 1860s was married to Surviah Main, the sister of William Leeds and Amasa Main. Both brothers were intimately involved with the family and business lives of Albert, Surviah, and their children.
See the Brown Family Tree.
Williams Leeds Main
William Leeds Main (1812-1890) lived in Ledyard his entire life. W.L. became the largest landowner and the wealthiest man in Ledyard in the latter part of the 19th century (ref. 2, p. 629) which is reflected in the list of dozens of property purchases, sales, mortgages, and foreclosures in the Ledyard land records. His mortgage loan to Israel Brown in 1887 was not his only interest in local sawmills; among his many mortgages was a loan in 1885 to Elias Watrous of Ledyard for a sawmill and property (ref. 7, 5, 599).
William Leeds was a hard-nosed businessman: “Energetic, conscientious, and upright, he prospered abundantly, but always in honorable undertakings, for he held his word sacred, and rendered and demanded strict justice” (ref. 8, p. 439). Strict justice indeed; William sued and foreclosed many times on mortgages he held both for his Ledyard neighbors and family members. He sued family members after they had died, as he did against the estate of his cousin Avery Brown in 1887 (ref. 7, 6, 395). He sued family members after he had died; his estate successfully sued his nephew Aaron Brown to foreclose on the Ledyard Up-down Sawmill property in 1902, 12 years after Williams Leeds death.
Yet William Leeds was also apparently a trusted family member who was a guardian for young Seth Brown after his father Albert, the owner of the Ledyard Up-down Sawmill property died in 1868; WL was the executor for his sister (and Albert’s widow) Surviah’s estate when she died in 1876. He was “a wise counsellor to those in need of advice. In his friendships he was staunch and true, and often lent a helping hand to those less fortunate” (ref. 3, p. 248).
William Leeds Main was known not only for raising money and his net worth, but was also a farmer and renowned for raising geese. In 1871 he had a gander named Brigham that was 27 years old, “is dignified in his demeanor and walks with the elasticity of youth”; Brigham was half of a pair that produced some of the 32 goslings for Mr. Main that year (ref. 18). His gift for raising geese perhaps passed down through the family; nearly 50 years after William Leeds Main’s death, his grandson Harry C.W. Main, the last private owner of the Ledyard Up-down Sawmill, had a gander who honked to alert Harry when strangers approached the property (ref. 16).
Amasa Morgan Main
William Leeds little brother Amasa Morgan Main (1830-1908) was the youngest boy among the 16 children of Thomas and Lois Main (ref. 4, p. 503).
Like big brother William Leeds, Amasa was an enormous financial success: at one point he had a farm with over 1000 peach trees (ref. 14). Peach farmer Main protected his interest in peaches by refusing to comply with state law and going to court over an order to destroy his trees infected with Peach Yellows; Amasa claimed the law was unconstitutional (ref. 9).
In some years Amasa was said to have raised and shipped 40 tons of turkeys (ref. 14) and in 1896 sent a turkey to President McKinley for Thanksgiving (ref. 11).
The threat to Amasa’s turkey flocks by eagles (and pigs) led to his championing to repeal a law that set a fine for anyone who killed an eagles; this after the eagle had been the national symbol of the United States for over 100 years. In 1897 Amasa regaled the Connecticut legislature with his knowledge of eagles including nest building habits and the number of tail feathers during his argument for repealing the law. Amasa became known as the “eagle man” of North Stonington (refs. 13, 14).
Amasa Main was said to have “accumulated considerable wealth” (ref. 3); enough to declare his livelihood as “Capitalist” in the 1900 federal census. Part of his wealth and large landholdings were acquired via foreclosures, and he was always ready for a lawsuit. In the 1880s Amasa sued his nephew Israel W. Brown, the owner of the Ledyard sawmill, about a contact to harvest timber on a woodlot owned by Amasa. The argument came down to arguing what time of day the contract ended. Not only did Amasa sue Israel Brown for trying to extend the contract period (by hours!), but Amasa had in fact delayed Brown’s work by claiming Brown was not cleaning the woodlot and repairing fences to his satisfaction (ref. 6).
But capitalist and veteran plaintiff Main could also be generous; no doubt he made many friends in the area by paying for substitutes for 173 men who didn’t want to enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War (ref. 14).
The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree: Amasa’s son Lafayette was called “the man of many lawsuits” in an article reporting a foreclosure suit by Lafayette against his brother Amasa E. (an attorney by profession) over their father’s estate. (ref. 15)
Evidently WL and Amasa, like many brothers, had disagreements which may have been worsened because of their similarities as adults. It’s easy to imagine they saw each other as rivals in wealth. They both were involved in politics: Amasa was a Republican who was in the state legislature for years representing North Stonington; WL represented Ledyard in the state legislature as a Democrat in 1858 and 1875 (ref. 1, p. 21) and was the “big gun” for Ledyard Democrats (ref. 10). They both had stores in Ledyard (ref. 12) where they sold liquor (ref. 5). They even married sisters. WL wed Sarah A. Frink of North Stonington in 1837 and Amasa married Sarah’s younger sister Lucy O. Frink in 1851 (ref. 3, pp. 248, 252).
They were primed to disagree and disagree they did! Possibly one of the lowlights was the suit by William Leeds against Amasa for deliberately crashing his carriage his carriage into William Leeds’ as they were passing each other on a local road (The suit was dismissed, ref. 17). The brothers were described as being in bitter enmity for many years, “and at almost every term have had bad cases in court, of the pettiest character, but which they have savagely contested” (ref. 5). It came to a head in 1876 during a lawsuit in which WL sued Amasa for slander for accusing his son of stealing a gun. Presiding Judge Foster called the two brothers into his office for a long discussion. Judicatory oil was poured on the long-turbulent fraternal waters and when all came back to the courtroom the brothers were in tears, settled amicably, and agreed to be “forever friendly and brotherly” (ref. 5).
Although WL and Amasa lived for many more years, the courtroom scene surely would be in the script as the happy ending of the movie.
References1. Avery, John. (1901). History of the Town of Ledyard, 1650-1900. Norwich: Noyes and Davis, p. 21.2. Beers & Co. (1905). Genealogical and biographical record of New London County, Connecticut: containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and genealogical records of many of the early settled families. Chicago: Beers.3. Brown, Cyrus Henry. (1909). Genealogical Record of Nathaniel Babcock, Simeon Main, Isaac Miner, Ezekiel Main, Boston: Everett.4. Brown, Cyrus Henry. (1915). Brown Genealogy. Vol II., Boston: Everett.5. Brothers in Unity, Hartford Courant May 4 1876. 6. Hooker, John, ed. (1889). Connecticut reports: containing cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court of Errors, Volume 56. New York: Banks & Brothers, 345-350.7. LLR. Ledyard Land Records held in the Town Clerk’s office, Ledyard Connecticut. Numbers are book and page.8. Marshall, Benjamin Tinkham (ed.). 1922. A modern history of New London County, Connecticut, Vol 3. New York: Lewis.9. Representative Main Held. Meriden Weekly Republican, November 14, 1895.10. Honored. Middletown Constitution, November 15, 1876.11. New Haven Evening Register, June 10, 189712. New London County Directory and Business Advertiser. Hartford: Brainerd. 1873. p. 172.13. Mr. Main's Eagle. New London Day, March 3, 1897.14. Eagle of the House. New London Day, March 17, 1897.15. Lafayette Main Defends a Suit. New London Day March 6, 1909.16. 200-year-old Ledyard Sawmill Still Works,.New London Day, June 25, 1938.17. W.L. Maine vs. Amasa Maine. Norwich Aurora, December 25, 1858, p. 3.18. Norwich Aurora, December 20, 1871, p. 3.