A Brief History of Maine
Maine also knows as “The Pine Tree State”, is the easternmost state in the contiguous United States, and the northernmost State east of the Great Lakes. It is best known for its rocky coastline; low, rolling mountains, dense forests, and scenic waterways. Let’s not forget about the seafood cuisine!
The Revolution: The battle of Lexington and Concord in April 1775 marked the start of the American Revolution. Maine immediately became involved in the conflict and on May 9, 1775, Maine citizens captured the British ship Margaretta in Machias. On July 17, 1776, the Massachusetts government decreed that copies of the Declaration of Independence be sent to all Maine towns to be read aloud by their ministers at the next church service. In 1777, the Ranger, first American Warship, was built at Kittery, now the site of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. By 1783 the Treaty of Paris confirmed the end of the war, American independence, and set Maine’s boundaries.
Maine Tourism: Foreshadowing the development of Maine’s tourism industry, Henry David Thoreau left Concord, Massachusetts in 1846 to explore and write about his Maine observations. In 1848 Mount Kineo House, a tourist hotel in Greenville, was completed, beginning a century long resort tradition. To this day, people from all over the world continue to vacation in Maine year after year.
The “Aroostook War”: The end of the Revolutionary War left the northern border of Maine ill-defined, causing local conflicts and controversies. The northern portion of the state (now Aroostook County) demonstrated its political significance in 1838 with the beginning of the bloodless “Aroostook War.” The new government constructed a military road from Bangor to Houlton to aid the movement of troops. It major impact was to open that part of the state to increased settlement. Thanks to the formation of New Hampshire in 1841, Maine’s western border had become defined.
Civil War -1900: After the Civil War, Maine shared in the industrial boom that affected the nation while still remaining a largely agricultural society. The University of Maine was established in 1865, following the federal Morrill Act of 1862. As many Mainers moved west to settle the frontier, efforts were made to attract immigrants to the state. The Swedish Colony of the 1870’s in Aroostook County was one of the notable successes. The first wood pulp was produced in Topsham in 1868, marking the beginning of paper making in the state. Originally characterized by smaller companies, the industry consolidation to come accelerated with the formation International Paper Company and Great Northern Paper Company in 1899.
Becoming Its Own State: In 1785 the first movement to separate Maine from Massachusetts began and the first official election was held on the matter in 1792. Two years later a stagecoach line between Portland and Portsmouth, later extended to Augusta. The War of 1812 gave major impetus for statehood as Maine was attacked but got little support from Massachusetts. In 1814, the British attacked and occupied the Downeast coast beginning at Eastport. By 1819 Maine’s population had ballooned to nearly 300,000 and thanks to efforts by the president of the Constitutional Convention, William King, Maine achieved statehood on March 15, 1820.
The Maine State motto, “Dirigo” (I lead), sits above the shield on the State Seal also on the Maine State Flag. Maine’s special identity continued to develop with the establishment of the Maine Historical Society in 1822 and the Kennebec Journal newspaper in 1825. In 1827 Augusta was officially established as the future State Capital, moving to a more central location than Portland, which served as the first seat of government. The cornerstone of the State House was set in 1829 and the new administration began operations in 1832.
Did you know Maine was originally part of Massachusetts?
In 1652, Massachusetts formally asserted authority over District Maine, establishing York County and incorporating the towns of Kittery and York.
As part of Massachusetts, Maine developed early fishing, lumbering, and shipbuilding industries, and in 1775, was designated one of three admiralty districts of the state during the Revolutionary War. The number of new towns grew quickly and the population again began to expand in District Maine.
Mid-Coast Maine provides world-renowned coastlines, quaint downtown villages, and vibrant working waterfronts.
Read more about the Mid-Coast Maine towns below and be sure to check out
Our Local Area Guides for fun things to do and see during your stay.
I. The Boothbay Harbor Region
The Etchemin, also called Canibas, were the native American inhabitants of the area between the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers before being eventually driven out by white settlers in the early 1700s. This area was used by white fishermen during the first half of the seventeenth century and by the 1660s there were year-round families settled in the region. In 1729 the region was renamed Townsend and finally permanently resettled by a group of around 60 Scotch-Irish. Settlers of English extraction came from Dover, New Hampshire in the mid-1750s. All these families endured privation, near starvation, and the French and Indian wars; some were kidnapped and taken to Canada. Nearly the whole town left the area for a period of years during one war. Townsend was a very poor community on the edge of the frontier, and though the settlers were of a farming background, Boothbay was a rocky place and agriculture was a struggle. The early settlers relied heavily for hard cash on woodcutting for the Boston market. However, over the years a fine fishing tradition emerged; it was inevitable since the fishing banks in the Gulf of Maine were what initially brought white people here regularly. Everything from clam digging to whaling has been carried on in Boothbay, but historically the banks fishermen prospered the most.
In 1764 Boothbay became a legal town, dropping its prior name of Townsend since there was already a town by that name in Massachusetts. Though there have been explanations offered, none has satisfactorily explained the choice of the name "Boothbay" for the town which included what is now Boothbay, Southport, and Boothbay Harbor. For a more complete history of Boothbay/Townsend please visit the link below for an article by Barbara Rumsey, local historian: http://www.townofboothbay.org/about-our-town
The earliest attempts at settling the Boothbay Harbor region were by fishermen, but these settlements were ravaged by King Phillip’s war in 1675 and Indian forays in 1690. The area remained uninhabited until 1720. At that time the entire region became settled as Townsend which incorporated Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor and Southport Island. The area was renamed Boothbay when incorporated in 1746. Boothbay Harbor became its own town in 1889. Boothbay Harbor History is inter-twined with that of Boothbay/Townsend until 1889.
Follow this link to more history about Boothbay Harbor: http://boothbayharbor.org/
Southport Island was incorporated in 1842. Its early history is inter-twined with that of Boothbay/Townsend. Cape Newagen, at the southern tip of the island, was an early European fishing outpost. Originally called Townshend after Lord Townshend, the name was changed to Southport in 1850. One of Maine’s few remaining swing bridges connects Southport Island to Boothbay Harbor. This bridge opens every half hour to allow boat traffic to navigate Townsend Gut – the main waterway between Boothbay Harbor and the Sheepscot River. Cuckolds Lighthouse and Hendricks Head Lighthouse are both on the National Register of Historic Places. While you can arrange to visit Cuckolds, Hendricks Head is a private residence and not open to the public.
Though there have been explanations offered, none has satisfactorily explained the choice of the name "Boothbay" for the town which included what is now Boothbay, Southport, and Boothbay Harbor.
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II. Gray, Maine
The area was granted on March 27, 1736 by the Massachusetts General Court to a group from Boston. In 1737, the township was laid out and roads cleared, with the first settlers arriving in the spring of 1738. But during the ongoing French and Indian War, the settlement was attacked in the spring of 1745 by Indians and resettled again in 1751. The town had been without a name until about 1756, when it began to be called New Boston. On June 19, 1778, New Boston Plantation was incorporated as Gray after Thomas Gray, a proprietor. For a link to more Gray history, use the link below: https://www.graymaine.org/history
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The Civil War was especially painful for the small town, as they had proportionately sent more men to conflict than any other town in Maine. Today, there are more than 178 Union soldiers -- and one Confederate -- buried in the Gray Village Cemetery.
III. Westport Island , Maine
This section of Maine was visited at a very early date by fishing vessels from Europe, but no real settlements began before the 1600's. It is recorded that John Richards bought the island of Jeremysquam in the Kennebec River in 1649 and attended a meeting of landowners to form some sort of government at Merrymeeting Bay in the following year; but no further mention of this is ever made and no early claim was based on this purchase.
In 1734 George Davie purchased Wiscasset including the island of Jeremysquam from three Indians of the Abnaki tribe, which was later agreed to by the chief, Robinhood, after whom a cove in Georgetown has been named. Indian Wars soon wiped out all the settlements in this region. It was not until after 1750 that the permanent settlers began to come in. Westport has a very interesting history.
For more information about the various trades that operated from this island visit the town website link below: http://www.westportisland.com/history.html
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The island is connected to the mainland at the Northwest by one modern bridge, built in 1972 over a slim gap in the Back River called Cowsegan Narrows. Although completely surrounded by water, it is bounded across tidal water by the towns of Wiscasset, Edgecomb, Southport, and Georgetown.
IV. Wiscassett , Maine
The first recorded settlement at Wiscasset was in 1660 by George and John Davie. By 1740, there were 30 families at Wiscasset Point, numbering about 150 people. Wiscasset Point was one of three parishes incorporated in Pownalborough in 1760. It took the name of Wiscasset in 1802.
As Wiscasset prospered as a deep-harbor shipping port during the late 18th and 19th century, grander homes were built beyond the initial simple, smaller homes closer to the harbor. These include the Nickels-Sortwell House, the Wood-Foote House and the Governor Smith House. Other structures of note are the elegant brick courthouse, which is home to the longest continuously operating courthouse in the country; the Old Jail, in operation until the 1950s; the Wiscasset Library; the Town Common; the Sunken Garden; the Ancient Cemetery, and much more.
Link to Wiscasset Website History: http://www.wiscasset.org/visit/historic-and-prehistoric-overview
In 1760, it was incorporated as Pownalborough after Colonial Governor Thomas Pownall. In 1802, it resumed its original Abenaki name, Wiscasset, which means "coming out from the harbor but you don't see where."
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Hesper & Luther Little - Painting by Linda Burley