Summarized by Judith Frost Gillis from an Orrington Centennial publication, June 1888, A short sketch of the Life of Azubah Freeman Ryder, A Centenarian and from Kay Washburn’s 1975 Bicentennial tribute, The Story of Samuel and Azubah Freeman Ryder, Early Settlers of Orrington, Maine.
Azubah Freeman Ryder was born in Eastham, Massachusetts on January 5, 1784. In November 1788, four-year-old Azubah arrived in South Orrington on a sailing vessel with her parents, Timothy and Zeruiah Nickerson Freeman, and her nine siblings. She was the youngest daughter. Timothy Freeman had built his cabin, arranged for provisions, and cut firewood to last the first winter, but he could not have prepared for his wife to die the next month giving birth to the Freeman’s last child, Baby Thomas.
In the spring of 1800, there was a memorial service for George Washington who died the previous December. Around a symbolic open grave, stood sixteen girls, sixteen years of age, representing the sixteen states of the young country. Azubah was one of the girls. A sermon was read. Participants walked slowly around the grave, scattering flowers, and singing a hymn composed for the occasion by an Orrington citizen.
The town was prosperous, and Azubah was hired to teach at the Pine Top School near Swett’s Pond, and daily she walked the mile to and from the schoolhouse in the woods. Samuel Ryder from Provincetown had built a successful store on the wharf and a two-story house on a point in South Orrington overlooking the Penobscot. Among his children was a son Samuel, who went to sea at a young age and became captain of his own ship while still in his twenties. A discreet courtship occurred between Capt. Samuel Ryder and Miss Azubah Freeman. They married in 1807, and Azubah continued teaching until giving birth to her first child.
During the War of 1812, the U.S.S. Adams had done much damage to British naval shipping, and the British wanted to capture the ship and its officers. Herself damaged, the Adams was being towed up the Penobscot in a futile attempt to save her and her 24 guns. The Americans scuttled the Adams to keep her from the British. In the safety of darkness, Azubah’s husband, Samuel Ryder, rowed four of the ship’s officers to Boston. Samuel had been given up for dead when he finally returned to his wife and family.
On September 3, 1814, the American militia were marching up the road from Castine, turned right, and disappeared in the woods towards Goodale’s Corner. The British lost the men’s trail and continued up the main road. Azubah saw the uniformed men passing by her home and gathered her children to run through the woods towards Orrington Center, warning residents that the BRITISH WERE COMING. Azubah became the Paul Revere of Orrington, Massachusetts! That night at the Orrington Center home of Capt. Barzillai Rich and his wife, Azubah safely gave birth to her fourth child, a daughter named Deborah. Meanwhile from the Penobscot River, the British Sloop of War Sylph, chased the U.S.S. Adams while firing their cannons at Hampden and Orrington. At Orrington Corner, Capt. William Reed was shot and killed. He is buried with his wife Elizabeth at Riverview Cemetery in North Bucksport.
Azubah Freeman Ryder died on September 30, 1888 at age 104 years, eight months, and twenty-five days. She was the oldest inhabitant of Orrington and thought to be the oldest person in New England. She outlived nineteen Presidents, five of her eight children, and her husband Samuel. Azubah was buried beside her beloved Captain in the old cemetery on a hill, located on what was the farm belonging to Frank Hoxie. These words were written on her stone:
Her pains all o’er, her sorrows past,
Life’s sermon laid aside,
She reaps the great reward at last,
In heaven to abide.