What Became of Bradbury?

Charles Bradbury, author of The History of Kennebunkport from its First Discovery by Bartholomew Gosnold, May 14, 1602 to A. D. 1837, was born in Arundel, on October 7, 1799, in the Smith Bradbury House (C-5 in Strolling Through the Port). He was descended from Thomas Bradbury, an agent of Sir Fernando Gorges in 1634 and a proprietor in Salisbury, Massachusetts. Charles' father, Smith Bradbury, was a Sea Captain and a merchant in Kennebunkport, who came from Newburyport around 1790. His mother was Mary Hovey, granddaughter of Reverend John Hovey, a minister in Arundel from 1741 to 1768.  The Reverend kept a daily journal of births, marriages and other affairs of the town. Charles Bradbury may have been inspired to write The History of Kennebunkport by what was left of John Hovey’s copious notes in 1837.

As a young man, Charles followed in his father’s footsteps and became a sea captain but life at sea was not for him.  In 1827, he was the principal owner of the Brig Caroline, named after his younger sister and captained by Caroline’s new husband Oliver Smith.  Another local diarist, Andrew Walker described Bradbury as a tall, handsome, highly intelligent man with a distaste for manual labor. Walker quotes Charles as often saying, "All men are naturally lazy"

Charles married Juliet Walker in 1828.  She was the daughter of Captain Daniel Walker of The Cup and Saucer house (C-16 in Strolling through the Port). The couple had two daughters.  Octavia was born in 1829 and Juliet was born in 1840.  Son Charles jr. was born Dec. 20, 1841. 

 Bradbury’s civic service, to the Town of Kennebunkport was not confined to his study of our history.  He taught school and served on the local school board.  He was a State Legislator and he served on the Board of York County Commissioners, being appointed Chairman in 1831.  He also recorded the 1830 Kennebunkport Census in beautiful handwriting.  

Charles Bradbury seemed to be a man invested in his home town with his heart and soul.  The death of three year old Charles Bradbury, Jr., on August 2, 1844, may have been a turning point for the family.  The child was buried at The Bass Cove Cemetery, with his grandparents Smith and Mary Bradbury.

Charles transferred his share of the family home, near the library, to sisters Caroline and Amelia and to the children of his sister Mary Towne, on October 21, 1844.

Andrew Walker claimed that the family stayed in town for a few more years but I believe he may have erroneously based this assumption on the fact that several earlier deed transfers involving Bradbury were not recorded at the Registry in Alfred until years after the actual land transfers.  Walker also reported that the family later lived in Albion, Michigan.    

I have always wondered what happened to Charles and his family after they left Kennebunkport.  I recently had the good fortune to find the email address of Frank Passic, Albion, MI town historian.  I wrote to Mr. Passic about Charles Bradbury hoping he would be able to steer me to the keeper of records in his town.  He responded that it had been a “thrill” to read about the Bradburys in Kennebunkport as the family gravesite had been featured in his most recent tour of Albion’s Riverside Cemetery.  Albion historians knew the family was from Maine but had no knowledge of the Bradbury book or any association with the sea.  He graciously sent me a photo of the Bradbury memorial stone and a copy, of a newspaper reprint, of photographs of Charles, his wife Juliet and their daughter Octavia.  The quality of the images is poor.  The Albion Local History Librarian, Karen Heard, is searching for the original photographs.  I will share them in the winter issue of The Log, if they turn up.   Frank also forwarded the following biography of the Bradbury family from Dr. Elmore Palmer's Biographical Sketches

Charles Bradbury and family came to Albion about 1849.  He was the Michigan Central Railroad station agent here for many years.  He was a good man for the place, always giving satisfaction to the road and its patrons.  For the boys around the village he had no use; as it was their delight to pester the old gentleman, by purloining sugar from the hogsheads as they lay in the old warehouse awaiting delivery to the consignee.  All sugars in those days, except loaf sugar, was always shipped in large casks or hogsheads.  Every boy had his pockets full of damp sugar, and every girl in the old red school house had her boy who kept her sweet all of the time.  Mr. Bradbury died about 1860.  He had two daughters, Octavia and Juliette.  Octavia was a pioneer telegrapher and taught many young men the use of the key.  She never married and died in February 1902, aged 73 years.  Miss Juliette Bradbury married Mr. Gemberling. 

Mrs. Juliette W., wife of Charles Bradbury died in May, 1902 aged 93 years, and was the oldest inhabitant of the city at the time of her death.


The Ship Dana, from Kennebunk, arrived in New Orleans Dec 6, 1844.  Charles Bradbury was listed as a passenger.  He did not move to Albion until 1847, according to records there, so the time between 1844 and 1847 remains unaccounted for. 

Albion was a young town in 1847, having been so incorporated from the larger town of Sheridan, Michigan, in 1836.  The Michigan Central Railroad branch was built through Albion in 1844 extending Railroad access from Boston. 

Charles Bradbury, his wife Juliet (Walker) and his daughters Octavia and Juliet appear in the 1850 census of Albion, MI.  Charles was “railroading”.  The family was living in their own home and they had three boarders.  Octavia was 20 years old and young Juliet was 10. 

The Michigan Central Railroad was a pioneer in the use of the telegraph for directing train operations. Their first telegraph installation in Albion was in 1855.  Ezra Cornell’s telegraph company, which became Western Union in 1856, was headquartered in Albion. Octavia Bradbury was one of the first telegraph operators for the Railroad.    

Charles Bradbury died July 4th, 1864, at 65 years old.

The younger Juliet married Horace Eugene Gemberling, on May 19, 1873.  He was a Civil War veteran born in Pennsylvania and seven years younger than his bride.  Gemberling was the Editor and Proprietor of the Michigan newspaper The Progress and later the Editor and Proprietor of the Independent Weekly, Albion Recorder, at 26 Superior Street.
 Horace and Juliet had a daughter, Adelaide, just 1 month old at the time of the 1880 census.  Juliet’s mother and sister Octavia lived with the young family.  Adelaide Gemberling was just four years old when her father died, at just 37 years old, in 1884.

Either Octavia or Juliet Bradbury did visit Kennebunkport with their mother in 1888.  The Historical Society has in its collection, photographs taken by local photographer, A. B. Houdlette, of the Smith Bradbury house and inscribed by one of the sisters, with a reference to the visit.  Andrew Walker also recalled the women returning to their home town after Charles’ death.

Adelaide Gemberling was a good student.  The Morning Star ran this clip in 1998.

Morning Star, May 24, 1998, pg. 8
Each year at this time in this column we feature the Albion High School class of 100 years ago. The Class of 1898 was AHS’ 21st graduating class, and had 27 members. 19 were girls, and 8 were boys. Most had been born in the year 1880 or thereabouts, and most were deceased by the late 1960s. Class valedictorian was Adelaide Gemberling, who subsequently taught in the Albion Public Schools.

Octavia Bradbury died in February of 1902, at 73 years old.  Her mother, Juliet, outlived her by three months.  Adelaide moved to Torrington, CT to accept a teaching position and brought her mother, Juliet along.  The women lived in Mt. Vernon, NY and finally, Princton, NJ.  In 1930 census, Juliet Gemberling was 90 years old.  She died later in 1930.  Adelaide Gemberling is identified as a Quaker in the Encylopedia of American Quaker Genealogy and there is reason to believe that her Pennsylvania born father was also a Quaker being frequently referred to as Friend Gemberling and Brother Gemberling.  Adelaide died in Princeton, NJ, in 1970.

So goes the ancestry; no sons or grandsons and one single granddaughter. Charles' only grandchild, Adelaide never married and never gave birth.

The details that Mr. Passic and I uncovered do not explain why Bradbury left Kennebunkport.  Something changed the kind of man he was at just 45 years old.  I can find no evidence that he ever served on another civic board.  He does not seem to have been a student of Albion history or to have ever written another manuscript.  His son died in August of 1844 and the family had left the Port within three months of his death.  The line from Mr. Palmer’s sketch of the man, made me wince.  “For the boys around the village he had no use;”

I am most grateful to Mr. Frank Passic, of Albion, Michigan, for his selfless love of history and his willingness to share.

Sharon Cummins

This article was originally published in The Log, Kennebunkport Historical Society's quarterly publication.  Copyright 2001-2006 Sharon Cummins