Killed by Locomotive on Christmas Day: John Langdon Swain of Meredith and Laconia NH (1824-1866)

John Langdon “Lang” Swain of Meredith and Laconia NH.

The face of John Langdon Swain peers out from a postage-stamp sized (i.e. gem) tintype photograph.  He was the fourth great-grandson of Jeremiah & Mary (Smith) Swain of Reading, Massachusetts. The tintype was another of my online auction ‘finds’ which I purchased because John had such an interesting face.  No doubt the photograph was cut out from a much larger album with related photos.

You would never guess that John “Lang” Swain met an untimely death on Christmas Day of 1866.  He was only 42 years old.  Other than his death certificate which quite simply states”killed by locomotive,” two newspaper stories shed a little light on what happened.  We probably will never know why he ignored the loud whistles of the train’s engineer, or why he was walking on the railroad tracks in the first place.

Newspaper clipping from 31 December 1866 relating Swain train accident.

On December 31, 1866, the Boston Herald newspaper (Boston MA) page 4 published a brief statement under the heading of NEW ENGLAND ITEMS.  “On Tuesday last Mr. Lang Swain, of Lake Village, N.H., was run over by the cars as he was walking upon the track between Laconia and Lake Village, and was killed. He leaves a wife and eight children.

Railroad accidents were frequent in 1866, however the details of this accident were unusual.  On Thursday, January 3, 1867 the Independent Democrat newspaper (Concord NH) on page 3 published this story: “Fatal Accident. We learn from the Laconia Democrat that Mr. John L. Swain, of Lake Village, was walking on the railroad track from Laconia to Lake Village, on Tuesday the 25th ult, and just after crossing the bridge near the Messer place, was struck by the engine of the up passenger train and killed instantly. The engineer saw him on the bridge and blew his whistle, and on nearing him commenced tooting it, supposed, of course, he would step off the track in time to avoid the engine, but he paid no attention to whistle, train or anything else, and was struck within about five rods after he left the bridge. The cause for his thus conducting himself seems to be involved in some mystery. Several persons were in sight, and all agree that Mr. Swain paid no attention to the approaching train, not even looking around or altering his gait, thus showing that no blame could be attached to the engineer. The train was immediately stopped and the body taken to Lake Village. He leaves a wife and four or five children.

—ANCESTORS of John Langdon SWAIN of Meredith & Laconia, NH—

Jeremy Swain (1613-1658) & Mary —

Jeremiah Swain (1643-1710) & Mary Smith [ancestors of Bill West through their daughter Sarah who married John Laughton.]

Benjamin Swain (1669-1747) & Margaret Pierpont

John Farrar Swain (1698-1774) & Mary Perkins

Rev Joseph Swain (1722-1792) & Elizabeth Chipman

Soldier’s Monument in New Ipswich NH, erected in 1878 as a Civil War memorial.

Daniel Swain, son of Joseph & Elizabeth (Chipman) Swain b 5 Sep 1756 Wenham, Essex MA, d. 1808 New Ipswich NH. He m. Hitte “Hittie” Stickney, daughter of Joseph & Anna (Sloss) Stickney. She b. 10 June 1760 in New Ipswich NH, d. 10 June 1848 Antrim NH at the home of her son. They are buried in North Branch Cemetery, Antrim NH [History of New Ipswich NH, Stickney]
Children of Daniel & Hittie (Stickney) Swain:
1. + Benjamin Swain b 19 May 1783 New Ipswich NH
2. Joseph Chipman Swain b 20 Feb 1785 New Ipswich NH
3. Lucy Swain, b and d. 1791
4. Lucy Swain II, b. 1 Dec 1791 New Ipswich NH, d. 12 Sep 1809 New Ipswich NH
5. Oliver Stickney Swain, b 16 June 1794 New Ipswich NH, d. 30 June 1803 New Ipswich NH
6. Sarah Swain, b 12 Jan 1798 New Ipswich NH; d. 7 March 1842 Worcester MA; married Nathaniel Tead.
7. Gilman Swain, b. 6 June 1800 New Ipswich NH, d. 4 April 1862 Antrim NH; m. 19 April 1825 in Antrim NH to Betsey Fletcher Combs. Six children: Roansa F., Adna T., Charles, Sarah M., Anson T, and Henry Eugene.
8. Benjamin Swain, b. 20 Dec 1802 New Ipswich NH, d. 1837

Benjamin Swain, son of Daniel & Hittie (Stickney) Swain was b 19 May 1783 New Ipswich NH, d after 1850; m. 16 Jan 1812 in Gilford NH to Polly Davis/Davies. She b. 1790 Canaan NH d after 1850. In 1850 living in Meredith New Hampshire.  [Editor’s note: POSSIBLE Polly Davis parentage: (1) b 22 Sep 1784 Hanover NH dau of Bezaleel & Mary (Wright) Davis /or\ (2) b. 28 June 1789 Orford NH dau of Thomas & Lucy (Simms) Davis.]
Children of Benjamin & Polly (Davis) Swain:
1. George W. Swain b 1813 Meredith NH, d. 24 Feb 1887 in Laconia NH
2. Dorothy “Dolly” Swain b 1814; she m. Arthur P. Atwood, resided Georgetown, Essex Co. MA, Laconia NH and Sanbornton NH. Children (Atwood): Pluma A., George A., Mary A., Nellie.
3. Isaiah Swain b 1818 Meredith NH
4. +John Langdon Swain, b. 11 July 1824 Meredith NH
5. Nancy Swain b 1825 Meredith NH; m. Charles William Crockett, and resided in Meredith NH. Children (Crockett): Z. Taylor, Charles H., Frances J. and George A.
6. Benaiah Swain b 1829-30 Meredith NH; m. Sarah Kelley, resided Meredith and Laconia NH. Also m) 28 Oct 1865 in Laconia NH to Emma A. Folson-Clough, dau of Noah & Mary F. (Batchelder) Clough. She was b abt 1832 and d. 7 Jan 1890 Meredith NH. Two children: Emma B. Swain & Mary F. Swain.
7. Stephen Swain b 12 Aug 1834, d. 4 April 1898; m. 12 July 1855 in Concord NH to Marion T. Abbott.

Old postcard: Road to Meredith Village at Lake Winnipesaukee

John Langdon aka John S. Swain [this story is about him, see photograph at top], son of Benjamin & Polly (Davis) Swain was born 11 July 1824 in Meredith, Belknap Co. NH and died 25 December 1866 in Laconia, Belknap County NH. He married 1) Sarah A. Dockham, daughter of William & Abigail (Smith) Dockham. She was born 15 March 1828 in Meredith NH and d. 23 March 1863 in Laconia NH aged 35 of consumption. He married 2d) 4 Feb 1864 in Laconia NH to Hannah G. Weeks-Grant, daughter of John S. & Judith E. (Gilman) Weeks. She was b. 16 Nov 1823 in Gilford NH and d. 3 April 1888 in Laconia NH. Hannah G. Weeks had married 1st) 1 April 1850 in Gilford NH to Daniel Grant. They are buried in Hillside Cemetery, Laconia NH.
1850 US Census > NH > Belknap Co. > Meredith
John L Swain 25
Sarah A Swain 22
Almira F Swain 3
John D Swain 2
Mary E Swain 0
William Dockham 58
Abigail Dockham 63
1860 US Census > NH > Belknap > Laconia
John L Swain 38
Sarah A Swain 33
Almira F Swain 13
John D Swain 11
Josephine Swain 10
Annett Swain 8
David L Swain 3
Children of John L. & Sarah A. (Dockham) Swain:
1. Almira Frances Swain b abt 1847 Gilford NH; m. 3 June 1867 in Laconia NH to Charles W. Hoit, son of Samuel & Mary (Fitzgerald) Hoit
2. John D. Swain was b. 13 July 1848 in Meredith NH and died 20 October 1891 in Laconia NH. He married Nellie May Swain, daughter of John D. & Esther A. (Yeaton) Swain. She married 2d) 11 Dec 1893 in Concord NH to George William Dolloff. She had a daughter, Edith Marguerite Dolloff. The Dolloffs divorced 5 April 1904. Nellie was born 9 October 1871 in New Hampton NH and d. 20 March 1908 in Hopkinton NH Buried Hillside Cemetery, Laconia NH
3. Mary E. Swain b 1850 NH
4. Josephine Swain, b June 1850 Meredith NH; m. abt 1871 to ?Henry Whitney.
5. Annette “Nettie” Swain, b Dec 1853 Lakeport NH; d. 8 Jan 1907 Maine; m. John Gallagher.
6. David Langdon Swain, b. 30 June 1857 Gilford NH, died 14 August 1923 in Laconia Hospital, Laconia NH of burns. He m 12 April 1880 in Gilford NH to Ada L. Brown, daughter of John H. & Lucy (?) Brown. She was b. in Dover NH. He married 2d) 5 Sep 1890 in Gilford NH to Kate L. Robinson. By 1920 he was employed at the County Farm as a fireman.
Child of Daniel & Hannah G. (Weeks) Grant:
Sarah WEEKS, b. 22 March 1850 in Gilford NH, died 24 June 1902 Laconia NH; single, invalid, Brights Disease and Epilepsy; buried Hillside Cemetery, Laconia NH.

Editor’s note: Comments, corrections and additions to this genealogy are most welcome.


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5 Responses to Killed by Locomotive on Christmas Day: John Langdon Swain of Meredith and Laconia NH (1824-1866)

  1. Amy says:

    Suicide? Deafness? Drunk? What’s your guess? If it took place today, I’d say he had earbuds in while listening to music, but not back in those days.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Exactly Amy, who knows if there was a medical reason, or too much alcohol, or a stroke or something else. We probably will never know.

  2. Virginia Penrod says:

    Confusing about how many children. 4, 5 or 8? Hmmmmmm

    • Janice Brown says:

      Ginny, yes a bit confusing, but then newspaper reporting was not so much fact finding back then. I found 7 children, 6 from his first marriage, and 1 from his 2nd though I could have missed one.

  3. Michael says:

    Purchasing old photographs of random strangers at auction and then researching and writing their lives is a great hobby!

    I have a 4th great-uncle who was killed while walking on the tracks. He was older, though, in his mid-70s and was hard of hearing. Apparently, he didn’t hear the whistle blowing.

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