in Seventeenth-Century Maine
Edwin A. Churchill
This chapter looks at the social, economic, and administrative history of the early settlement period in Maine, providing an encompassing view of the sources of stability and disruption in the emerging colony. The social institutions put into place in this period--government, courts, economy, the church, and the military--provided the foundations for colonial Maine. Their evolution, first under the fumbling but persistent overseas administration of Sir Ferdinando Gorges and later under the firmer guidance of Massachusetts Bay's General Court, show the impress of enduring forces in Maine history: a dynamic tension between outside pressures and local adaptations; the burden of severe climatic and environmental conditions; and the presence of conflict--in this case, a legal struggle over title to the formative Maine colony.
During the seventeenth century, English Maine grew from tiny beachheads established by fishermen and fur traders to stable colonial settlements, hosting durable governmental, religious, military, and economic institutions. Maine's early colonial period is characterized by a constant tension between the forces that disrupted society and those that fostered stability. Of these, external forces--an English proprietor's vision of a royal colony in New England, and later the economic, social, and military objectives of the looming Massachusetts Bay Colony--provided the primary impulse to create a government in Maine. Just as important, however, were local initiatives, which filled the gap between the English vision of this New World colony and the realities of living and working on the Maine coast. And finally, the physical world the settlers confronted--resources, climate, soils--limited what was possible in Maine. These three influences--external control, local initiative, and environment--explain the halting movement toward a stable society in Maine during the seventeenth century.
Ferdinando Gorges and Maine's Government, 1620--42
Before 1600, English experience with the Maine coast was confined to a few brief exploratory voyages. George Waymouth's diligent examination of the coast in 1605, for instance, turned up no evidence to indicate "that ever any Christian had . . . [come] before," and Samuel de Champlain's voyage that same year drew him to similar conclusions. More important to the immediate use of the region, however, were reports from several early seventeenth-century explorers of the superb fishing and the potential for trade. It was these incentives that drew the earliest English, and to a lesser degree, French entrepreneurs, to the Maine coast. Attracted by the prospects for economic gain, scattered geographically by the demands of trade, and divided by their inherent competiveness, these speculators were not interested in permanent settlement. Nonetheless, the small fishing and trading posts that appeared in the 1620s initiated the slow process of reconciling the reality of New World colonization with the dreams proprietors had built upon scattered reports dating from the age of exploration.
After the collapse of the Popham colony in 1608, John Popham continued to sponsor annual fishing trips from England. The Jamestown colony, established in Virginia in 1607, was sending fishing vessels to the Gulf of Maine by 1610, and by the same time the French had begun small-scale fishing operations along Maine's eastern shores. In 1615, according to Captain John Smith, six English fishing ships arrived in New England, where they may have been joined by a few vessels from Virginia. The next year the number increased to eight, and by the 1620s forty to fifty vessels were fishing in New England waters.
As this activity increased, year-round fishing stations were established along the shores. One of the first was at Damariscove Island, financed by Sir Ferdinando Gorges and operated by thirteen men. Next came stations at Cape Newagen, Piscataqua, Monhegan, Pemaquid, and, by 1632, Richmond Island. These posts were not permanent settlements but rather working bases run essentially by men. A small number of women resided at a few of the stations, employed in domestic activities. These operations were viable only as long as English proprietors continued their provisioning and administration. They did, however, bring important economies to the fishing industry. In addition to offering a base of operations for year-round fishing activity, they lightened the complement of personnel and equipment on vessels carrying fish back to England. More important, they constituted the first continuous English presence on the Maine coast.
During these same years, prospects for fur trading brought another class of adventurers to the Maine coast. Local fur-trading stations were established at Pejepscot between 1625 and 1630, at Cushnoc (present-day Augusta) and Richmond Island in 1628, at Penobscot (present-day Castine) in 1630, and at Machias in 1631. These small posts, run by agents of English merchants or by the Plymouth Colony, competed aggressively for the lucrative trade in furs. Local merchant John Winter wrote in 1634 that "the traders do . . . under sell [one] another and over throw the trading with the Indians altogether." In the same year, John Hocking of Piscataqua and a Plymouth trader were killed in a fracus at Cushnoc, when Hocking tried to break the Plymouth Colony's hold on the Kennebec fur trade. Still, other than an ongoing dispute with French traders to the east, the business in furs gradually stabilized and, along with fishing, established a rationale for settlement on the northeastern coast.
As fishing and fur trading expanded, English merchants turned their thoughts toward establishing permanent colonies that would provide a stronger local base for extracting profits. Sir Ferdinando Gorges, the premier advocate of settlement in the region, hoped ultimately to develop New England as a royal colony governed by himself and others of his class. To accomplish this, in 1620 Gorges and over forty government officials and courtiers petitioned the Crown, asking for a proporietorial patent to the region. Funds to build the colony, they hoped, would come from a fishing monopoly along the New England coast. Gorges and company received a patent for the Council for New England in 1621 and became sole owners of a domain reaching from the Chesapeake to the Penobscot and from sea to sea--that is, across the continent. (Of course, they had little concept of the actual size of the North American land mass.) They also received the coveted fishing monopoly, a feature which instantly created opposition from British West Country fishermen.
Gorges realized he had to move quickly to maintain the Council's authority in the New World. The Plymouth settlers were already securely established in the heart of the Council's claim. The Pilgrims had procured a patent from the Council, but Gorges feared that unless they saw evidence of Council authority, their cooperation would end. Even more serious were the increasing numbers of independent fishermen along the New England coast, decidedly unenthusiastic about obtaining licenses from the Council. To establish control over the region, in the summer of 1623 Gorges sent his son Robert across the Atlantic, along with Captain Francis West and an Anglican chaplain, William Morrell. As admiral of the coast, West was to enforce the fishing monopoly, routing out unlicensed fishermen; Morrell was to oversea religious affairs.
The effort failed miserably. Robert Gorges arrived at Wessagusetts, just below the Plymouth Colony, in September 1623 and immediately mishandled a confrontation with Thomas Weston, a contentious London merchant in the area. Unable to bring the Plymouth Colony under his control, Gorges sailed back to England. Captain West soon followed, having suffered rough treatment from the fishermen along the coast. The Reverend Morrell stayed only through the year. Events in England further doomed the mission: Parliament struck down Gorges's fishing monopoly in 1624, and a war between England and France and Spain preoccupied Sir Ferdinando for several years. Furthermore, the old knight was short of finances. Thus, official efforts to establish a colony languished for half a decade.
By the late 1620s, the war was ending and Gorges had restored his depleted purse by marrying a wealthy widow. Again free to pursue his interests in America, Gorges became involved in a fur-plantation scheme based at Piscataqua and called the Laconia Company. It soon proved to be an expensive failure.
In 1630, the colony of Massachusetts Bay was established and began to grow rapidly. Gorges soon realized that this new competitor seriously threatened his dream of a royal New England colony. With no money to challenge Massachusetts, Gorges and the Council began issuing land grants in northern New England, hoping to encourage settlement. Partly owing to the impetus of these grants, settlers began arriving in southern Maine in a steady stream, both directly from England and via Massachusetts. Joining Pemaquid, probably settled in the late 1620s, were new settlements established at York (1630), Cape Porpus (ca. 1630), Saco (1630), Kittery (ca. 1631), Scarborough (1632), Falmouth (1633), North Yarmouth (1636), and Wells (1642). Unlike the transient fishing stations, these new settlements were made up of people who viewed the Maine coast as a permanent home. They were settled not only by single men but by families, generally young or middle-aged and often with young children. Straggling into the proprietorial claims, they were granted fifty- to one-hundred acre tracts of land along the coast or river banks. Although more permanent than the fishing posts, these early farming settlements lacked the stability of the growing Massachusetts Bay towns. Unlike communities in Massachusetts, those in Maine were scattered--strung out in long, ribbon-like patterns, with no real center. They were also less homogeneous than the Puritan communities; Maine's settlers came from the West Country, London, interior England, and the Bay Colony--areas that were variously farming regions, fishing villages, cities, and small towns. The communities contained an assortment of Anglicans, Puritans, and Antinomians and a sprinkling of Quakers. They lacked the cohesive force of common origin and common religion. Despite their varied backgrounds, most settlers upon arrival turned to farming, which proved to be a more stable occupation than fishing or fur trading. Even Pemaquid, supposedly a fishing port, sent a load of twenty cattle to Salem for sale in 1640. Only after the communities established sufficient agricultural bases would they support more specialized artisan activities. In the meantime, ties to the soil anchored settler families to a particular locale, providing the social basis for permanent community settlements.
As the Maine coast settlements grew, so did the need for organized government. The first impulses in this direction originated in England. In the 1630s, Sir Ferdinando Gorges made the first of two major efforts to fulfill his vision of a royal colony in the New World. Increasingly aware of the rapidly growing Massachusetts Bay Colony's threat to his plans for a unified New England, Gorges dissolved the Council for New England in 1635, dividing its territory among various council members and taking for himself a grant, called the province of New Somerset, stretching from the Piscataqua to the Kennebec River.
After the dissolution of the council, Gorges moved rapidly to institute a government in his new province, appointing his nephew William Gorges as lieutenant governor. In late winter 1635, William sailed to the New World, and on March 21 he assembled a court at Saco, the first of several held over the next two years. The new government was generally well accepted, and it handled a series of minor disputes and transgressions, such as bad debts, drunkenness, and swearing.
William Gorges's governorship was short-lived. In the spring of 1637, the courts, acting on the king's initiative, revoked the Massachusetts Bay Colony charter; Sir Ferdinando recalled his nephew and discharged the commissioners, anticipating a proclamation from the king establishing a general New England government under his own command. Massachusetts, ever increasing in strength, successfully ignored the court's action, and the king, facing increasing problems at home, could do little but lend Gorges moral support. Plagued with bad debts from the bankrupt Laconia venture, the old knight had no funds to pay the fees for a royal charter. When he finally received the charter in late 1639, he sent another nephew, Thomas Gorges, to Maine as his deputy.
In fact, a number of settlements had begun forming local governments well before William or Thomas Gorges arrived in the New World. The inhabitants of Saco united in a "combination" by which they governed themselves, hired a minister, and granted tracts of land to individual settlers. Similarly, York began systematically apportioning its lands and formed plans for a new community meeting house. Between 1637, when William Gorges left New England, and early 1640, when Thomas Gorges arrived, individual communities maintained and elaborated these primitive governmental institutions.
Thomas Gorges, like his predecessor, faced opposition in bringing the colonists under Sir Ferdinando's authority. Local leaders were unwilling to relinquish power, and settlers generally worried that the proprietor intended to "draw them . . . into slavery." Through a careful mix of firmness and conciliation, Thomas Gorges prevailed. The settlers' fears were stilled by Gorges's insistence that they would be governed by "noe act but with their [own] consent." True to his word, Gorges called together representatives from four newly established counties and the incorporated city of Agamenticus (York) to develop a code of laws. These were sent to England for ratification and apparently became the standard by which Maine was administered. Maine government continued to bear the impress of Thomas Gorge's balance between local initiative and outside control.
Provision for direct participation--necessary because of the very tenuous legitimacy of Thomas Gorges's authority--and the local settlers' desire for stability and order were both addressed in the structure of the new government. The organization consisted of local and provincial bodies. Local governments were designed primarily to insure the communities' economic viability and to uphold accepted moral codes. At annual meetings, officials were chosen for the following year and major community decisions were made. As questions arose during the year, other meetings were held, while the selectmen, clerk, and minor local officials handled day-to-day administrative activities.
The settlements' overall enforcement agency was the provincial government, responsible for adjudicating disputes, enforcing agreed-upon social behavior, and otherwise insuring the smooth running of the society in general. The deputy governor and his counselors, appointed by Sir Ferdinando Gorges, administered the colony, participated in the various courts, and served as local magistrates. Grand and trial juries were chosen to decide the more serious cases before the provincial courts. Besides establishing a court system, Thomas Gorges also attempted to institute a provincial legislative body. In the summer of 1642, locally elected deputies from the four counties met with the deputy governor and counselors to impanel a grand jury and enact a set of laws for the province. By mid-summer 1643, however, Thomas Gorges was headed back to England, bringing that short phase of Maine's early government to an end.
Even though the effort failed, the public institutional structures so fundamental to the maintenance of an orderly society--town governments and the provincial court--proved surprisingly vital. Control over these civil institutions passed from Sir Ferdinando Gorges to Edward Rigby (a short-term proprietor of a portion of Maine), three times to Massachusetts, to the Dominion of New England, and to the Crown. Through these changes in leadership and through the chaos of intermittent political strife and warfare, they showed a remarkable resiliency and adaptability while retaining their basic functions and vigor.
Thomas Gorges's government did much to ensure the stability and permanence of the small communities along the coast. First, it assured inhabitants clear title to a piece of property. For seventeenth-century English people, land was the foundation of organized society, and in the New World it provided colonists with their basic necessities, their means of achieving wealth, and their sense of security. Not surprisingly, land transactions were systematically constructed, carefully prepared, and legally validated according the procedures borrowed largely from England.
Second, local governments regulated economic activity in the fragile colonies. Among other things, local governments controlled the number of trees cut in certain locations, restricted foraging by livestock, and stipulated methods used by local fish catchers. Timber resources were a matter of communitywide concern. Proprietors and inhabitants alike offered special grants to individuals proposing sawmills in their town. In return, local ordinances frequently stipulated that local people could procure lumber at special prices, that local people would be hired first, and that the town would be given special prices for boards.
Local government further ensured stability by maintaining standards of religion and morality. Nearly all the towns along the Maine coast experienced difficulties acquiring ministers. The small, isolated Maine plantations had to compete with Massachusetts and New Hampshire towns--and with each other--in their search for pastors. Because of this shortage, communities were frequently forced to settle for preachers who were at best less than stellar. One of the most notorious was the charismatic Reverend George Burdett, who, having been ousted from Dover, New Hampshire, arrived in York, Maine, where he combined the seduction of local women with his religious activities until he was driven out by Governor Gorges.
The provincial courts reinforced local efforts to secure economic and moral stability. Commissioners traveled from town to town holding court, and, in important cases, disputes were carried to the higher courts. Most disputes were resolved by arbitration or jury trial. Both of these legal tools were designed to provide systematic, prompt solutions and resolve issues to the best satisfaction of all concerned. Broad consensus was important in a frontier society where government legitimacy was tenuous and where divisiveness might endanger the whole system.
The court's effectiveness is exemplified in the experiences of one of Falmouth's irrepressible malcontents, James Cole. In 1636, Cole was fined five shillings and further costs of being "Drunck." Four years later, neighbor Arthur MacWorth declared Cole "an abusive and suspected person" and argued that the reprobate was "by reason of his former and still irregular living . . . injurious unto this complainant his family and goods." MacWorth asked the court to banish Cole from the province or "otherwise bridle his inordinate course of life by a due course of law." The exasperated court put Cole under a eighty-pound recognizance to be levied against his goods and chattels if he didn't straighten up. Apparently, he did!
Forces of Disruption: The Environment
Even as early Maine settlers strove to establish a way of life and to develop solid, peaceful communities, several disruptive forces shook the stability of their society. One of the most significant was the environment itself--the impediments of severe climate, thick, resisting forests, thin soils, and geographic isolation. Colonists had undoubtedly heard about the region's harsh winter weather, but Maine, after all, was at about the same latitude as England. Unaware of the arctic current running along the coast or the polar air masses that glided across the Canadian Shield into northern New England, the colonists discovered winters cold beyond all expectations. Not only were Maine winters colder than England's, they were significantly colder than those of present-day Maine, since this was the depth of the "Little Ice Age," a period from about 1300 to 1700 when the climate of the Northern Hemisphere was several degrees colder than it is today.
For Maine settlers, the winter season was onerous presence. Repeatedly, Thomas Gorges noted the "tediousness" and deep snows of the winters. The clapboard frame houses kept the wind and snow off the occupants, but cracks and inefficient insulation let in liberal quantities of cold. Builders kept windows small and few in number. (Glass, in any case, was expensive.) Heavily draped beds gave the occupants a modicum of protection against the frigid temperatures. Fireplaces burned constantly but sent much of the heat directly up the chimney. Adding to the misery was a chronic shortage of clothing, for cloth was one of the most expensive necessities of the time, and most Maine people were not well off.
Every summer was dominated by preparations for the coming winter. Enormous quantities of wood had to be cut and hauled, clothing made or acquired, and food processed and stored. Most important, fields and gardens had to be tilled, planted, and harvested during a growing season substantially shorter than that enjoyed by Maine people today.
The primeval forest presented another barrier to settlers. Natural clearings for tillage and coastal and inland marshes for hay, portioned out to inhabitants, provided an initial opportunity to establish homesteads. Then came the backbreaking work of clearing new ground. Not only were settlers compelled to fell the great trees and clean off the underbrush, but they also felt obligated during the early years to grub out the stumps and haul off the seemingly endless supply of rocks.
Unfortunately, the new land offered other surprises. Unlike the rich, fertile earth of southern England, the soils along the Maine coast were both low in natural fertility and acidic. English grains, planted with little fertilization in the old country, grew best in a neutral or basic soil, and did not flourish in Maine. Indian corn did better, probably because settlers used fish as fertilizer. To this mix of discouragements, the Maine coastal environment offered up occasional droughts, wet spells, plant diseases, insect plagues, and early frosts. Getting in a crop could be a major accomplishment. Furthermore, the settlers had to contend with wolves. These predators were attracted by the settlers' stock of swine, goats, and calves, and they were fearless raiders. The settlers tried various methods of eradication, encouraged by governmental bounties, but from all evidence, the wolves were little hindered.
If this were not enough, Maine's settlers faced one more problem: geographic isolation. Maine was off the established English-American trade routes, and the settlements were too few in number to attract major mercantile business. Thus, even if they had products to exchange, colonists lacked suppliers. Merchants traded with them only at extremely high prices. Speaking of Boston merchants bringing supplies into the region, visitor John Josselyn remarked that "if they do not gain Cent per Cent, they cry out that they are losers."
Despite these hardships, by and large inhabitants generally scratched together sufficient food, clothing, and shelter to eke out a reasonably comfortable existence. Life was clearly above the subsistence level. Careful analysis of the extant inventories of mid-seventeenth-century Maine middle-class inhabitants indicate that even the average farm family had some amenities, such as stocks of linen, cotton, and wool cloth, pewter dishes, brass utensils, lanterns, and lamps. Similar patterns are suggested in archaeological findings at early Pemaquid and Arrowsic. Clearly, Maine society offered some of the better things of life, and English settlers were learning to cope with the rugged Maine environment.
Internal Conflict and External Control, 1636--77
The fragile economic, political, and social structures of early Maine communities permitted little tolerance for discord and disruptions. A difficult season could quickly deplete limited surpluses, or an external military crisis could have the same effect, diverting the settlers from agricultural activities. As the colonists were soon to learn, political disputes could similarly disrupt leadership and diminish the cooperative effort so necessary as the new communities struggled for stability.
Political strife emanating from outside the small communities bedeviled Maine throughout the seventeenth century. The source of this turmoil was tension between two political and religious factions: Royalist Anglicans and their Puritan counterparts, both in England and in Massachusetts Bay, and each with its champions among community elites in Maine. Locally, the wrangling began with a seemingly minor dispute between proprietors George Cleeve of Falmouth and John Winter, agent for British merchant Edward Trelawny. Cleeve, whose claim to portions of Casco Bay was disputed by the aggressive Winter, sailed to England in late 1636 and convinced Sir Ferdinando Gorges that his representatives were not carrying out their duties in Maine. On Cleeve's advice, Gorges replaced Richard Vines as deputy governor with a commission headed by Cleeve. Back in Maine, Cleeve quickly obtained formal possession of his land. Meanwhile, Sir Ferdinando had second thoughts and returned the deputy governorship to Vines.
Cleeve surmised that his victory was in jeopardy and sailed back to England in 1642 with a new plan to save his property. With backing from Edward Digby, an English merchant, he managed to obtain a grant known as the "Plough Patent," which predated Trelawny's grant and covered a region stretching from the Kennebec to Cape Porpus. Carefully manipulating and in some cases falsifying the degree of backing for his project, Cleeve obtained parliamentary approval for his patent, thereafter known as the "Province of Lygonia." Having secured his authority by 1647, Cleeve began placating old foes by appointing some of high offices, holding frequent general assemblies, issuing new grants, and reconfirming old deeds. Cleeve's policies brought increasing stability to the region, a task made easier by the death of two powerful English opponents, Robert Trelawny in 1643 and Sir Ferdinando Gorges in 1647.
Cleeve and his former opponents soon faced a new, more powerful outside adversary, however. Massachusetts Bay had long coveted the territory to its northeast and was fearful of any controlling element tied to the Royal government, especially the heirs of Sir Ferdinando Gorges. The Bay colonists also had strong economic designs on the eastern area, where vast forests offered supplies of lumber and naval stores and huge tracts of land beckoned to ambitious speculators.
Those living in sections of territory still independent of Cleeves's Lygonia had little proprietorial support since Thomas Gorges's return to England. In 1649, the inhabitants of Kittery, York, and Wells formed an independent Province of Maine, governed by Edward Godfrey of York. By 1651, the province was attempting to obtain recognition from Parliament, something Massachusetts could not allow. Despite Godfrey's objections, Massachusetts moved resolutely, claiming, by a thoroughly contrived reading of its charter, that its northern boundary included all of Maine to northern Casco Bay. That said, the Bay leaders made good their claims, absorbing Kittery and York in November 1652 and annexing Wells, Saco, and Cape Porpus the following summer. Massachusetts gained some local support by providing liberal terms: inhabitants were assured that their land titles were secure; that local leaders would preside over administration; that freedom of worship would be allowed; and that Maine settlers would enjoy the same protection, favor, and justice other Massachusetts residents enjoyed.
Having annexed western Maine, Bay Colony officials halted, probably waiting to judge the response their actions brought. Returning from England in September 1653, Cleeve angrily reasserted his claim as deputy governor of Lygonia. Massachusetts hesitated, probably fearing adverse consequences from Parliament, and the verbal conflict continued over the next four years. By the late 1650s, however, conditions favored Massachusetts' plan to annex Lygonia. Cleeve's English backer, Edward Rigby, died, leaving only a young son to defend the Lygonia claim, and Parliament was too deeply immersed in problems at home to worry about the fate of a small colony in America. Furthermore, local resistance disintegrated as new settlers from the Bay Colony moved to Maine. Massachusetts moved into the last of Cleeve's domain in the spring of 1658. Again, generous terms minimized bitterness locally. In this case, two previous foes of Massachusetts, Henry Josselyn and Robert Jordan, were appointed as local commissioners, a decision Massachusetts leaders soon regretted.
For a time, the new administration worked well. However, in 1660, with the ascension of King Charles II, Ferdinando Gorges, grandson of the old knight, began efforts to reclaim the region, and his petition to the newly formed Council for Foreign Plantations was favorably received. Not waiting for final confirmation, Gorges sent a commission to establish his government in Maine. In 1661, the commissioners met with their local counterparts in Wells and began planning a new provincial government. They also set out to collect a decade's worth of back quit-rents. Thoroughly agitated by these activities, Massachusetts sent commissioners to Maine to challenge the proceedings.
Massachusetts commissioners arrived on May 26, and the next few months saw heavy campaigning for the loyalty of Maine's inhabitants. The Bay Colony sent out warrants to individual towns ordering allegiance to its government. Gorges's supporters suppressed several of these and sent out similar documents of their own, some of which were similarly waylaid. By stripping a couple of Gorges's supporters of key administrative posts and throwing Robert Jordan in jail, the Bay leaders prevented the takeover attempt. On July 7, 1663, Massachusetts reopened its court in York with minimal opposition. When Gorges again tried to retake Maine in late 1664, the effort came to nothing.
As the Bay Colony leaders moved to reassert control to the east, they found themselves facing a more dangerous adversary to the south: a royal commission sent to America to settle affairs in New York, newly acquired from the Dutch. The commission was also to investigate complaints concerning the government in New England. Arriving in Boston in May 1665, the commissioners engaged in a story session with Massachusetts politicians, then sailed east, reaching Maine by late June. There they appointed eleven justices of the peace to carry on the affairs of Maine "until his Majesty will please to Appoint another government" and explicitly told Massachusetts to stay out. For the next two years, the area remained generally free of conflict, but each town harbored a substantial pro-Massachusetts faction just waiting for an opportunity to reestablish ties with the Bay government.
By the spring of 1668, many felt the time had come. The last royal commissioner in America, Colonel Richard Nichols, left for England, and on May 12, Massachusetts declared its right to Maine. A month later the Massachusetts commission arrived at York, "attended by 12 armed horse, their two marshalls and several other gentlemen." After a number of minor confrontations, they were able to hold a fairly successful session. A relative peace settled over the region, and in 1677 the General Court secured clear title by purchasing the proprietary rights to Maine from Gorge's heirs. By this time, however, the shock of a native American uprising had descended over the territory, bringing a new and more terrible source of conflict to the Maine frontier.
While Gorges, Cleeves, Massachusetts, and the Royal Commissioners battled for control of the communities of southwestern Maine, a second group of English settlements was developed eastward near the mouth of the Kennebec River. Plymouth inhabitants explored the Kennebec in the fall of 1625 and established a trading post at Cushnoc in 1628. In 1630, the Pilgrims secured a patent for the surrounding lands on both sides of the river.
In 1653--54, agents for merchant Thomas Lake and later Thomas Clarke set up trading posts at Taconnet (Winslow) and Arrowsic Island (near the mouth of the Kennebec). The resulting Clarke and Lake Company gained title to much of the lower Kennebec. Numerous smaller fur-trading operations were developing in the area as well. At the same time, families were settling along the shores of the Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers, at Pemaquid. At Cape Newagen, and on the islands of Damariscove and Monhegan. In 1664, the Crown granted the Kennebec area to the Duke of York, who sent a Royal Commission to Maine in 1665. The commissioners met with local inhabitants, received oaths of allegiance, chose officers, and gave licenses to four entrepreneurs for the "retayling of wine or lyquors or strong drink." Despite this initiative, five years later the inhabitants of the "Eastern parts of New England" petitioned the Massachusetts General Court asking that they be brought under Bay government and protection. On July 27, 1674, the newly designated Devonshire County opened court--under Massachusetts jurisdiction. With this, Massachusetts brought all of Maine from Kittery to Pemaquid under its authority.
Colonial Maine Comes of Age
As the din of these jurisdictional conflicts died away and colonists turned to the task of survival, Maine settlers achieved a permanent hold on the land. Using local resources in various combinations, they managed a workable system of exports and subsistence activity. Pressured by local economic and demographic growth and by new administrative directives from Massachusetts, townspeople created a more stable social, religious, and political life.
By 1670, there were about 3,500 Anglo inhabitants in the region. Of these, approximately 900 were in the Kittery area and 400 to 500 resided in each of the other coastal communities, still largely arranged in shore-hugging, ribbon-like settlements. William Hubbard's description of Kittery as "a long scattering Plantation made up of several Hamlets" applied to communities throughout Maine.
The region's economic structure was organized on a gender-based, interdependent division of activities. Males played a dominant role in agriculture, fishing, lumbering, and a variety of crafts, whereas females directed and largely ran the domestic economy, including the management of the home, food, textiles and clothing, along with the rearing of young children. The occupational training of the young was largely carried on by the parent of the same sex. As might well be expected in a family-structured society, these lines of demarcation were often breeched, with members of the either sex performing work generally ascribed to their opposites when the need arose.
It was the men's activities of agriculture, fishing, and lumbering which were most often noted in contemporary descriptions of these early settlements. John Josselyn remarked that "all these towns have stores of salt and fresh marsh [hay] with arable land, and are well stokt with Cattle." Josselyn found Saco and Winter Harbor to be "well stored with Cattle, arable land and marshes" and Hubbard indicated that "upon the banks [of the Sheepscot] were many scattered Planters, . . . a thousand Head of Neat Cattel . . . besides . . . Fields and Barns full of Corn." Farther east lay Pemaquid, "well accommodated with Pasture Land about the Haven [harbor] for feeding Cattel and some Fields also for Tillage." Fishing was also much in evidence.
Even at this early date, however, some communities leaned towards a specific activity. Wells, Saco, Falmouth, and Sheepscot were centers of farming; Cape Porpus, Winter Harbor, Richmond Island, Damariscove, and Monhegan were more oriented to fishing. Islands and coastal areas with good drying spaces attracted fishers, while locations with arable lands, both along the coast and up the rivers, proved more attractive to farmers, especially if marshland for native grass and fertilizer was nearby.
The lumber trade also influenced the development of the Maine coast, as nearly every community had at least one sawmill and a number had several. According to Hubbard, "all or most of [the] . . . Towns and Plantations are seated upon, and near some River greater or lesser, whose Streams are principally improved for the driving of Saw-mills: Those late Inventions; [are] so useful for the Destruction of Wood and Timber . . . that there is scarce a River or Creek in those Parts that hath not some of those Engines erected upon them." The Berwick-Kittery area, on the well-timbered Piscataqua watershed, was particularly active. The first mill was built by Captain John Mason in 1634 on the Little Newchawannock River (Berwick). Although short-lived, it was followed by at least six other mills between 1648 and 1660. By the mid-1670s York supported at least ten mills; Wells and Saco had three each. Farther east, the Clarke and Lake sawmills in the Sagadahoc area readied a hundred thousand feet of boards for shipment in 1675. The Piscataqua region also provided numerous white pine masts and spars, many of which were being shipped directly to England.
Of the various trades in the region, lumbering was the most dependent on outside capital. In nearly all cases local millwrights and carpenters were financed from Boston and other nearby towns, and much of the lumber profit ended up in the pockets of the Boston financiers. Acting as merchants, these same Bostonians usually served the commercial needs of the small Maine towns. Here, too, their terms were generally disadvantageous for the Maine settlers, many of whom slipped deeply in debt to their suppliers. Even those who worked at the mills found their wages absorbed by debts to their employers.
As the towns matured economically, occupations diversified. Blacksmiths, carpenters, and millwrights were joined by coopers, wheelwrights, shoemakers, tailors, and other artisans related to an agrarian society. Essential to the economic and social stability was a vital domestic economy, an enterprise nearly invisible in colonial records and seldom mentioned in traditional economic studies. These domestic responsibilities fell almost exclusively to wives, daughters, servants, and extended female kin within the household.
Historian Laurel Ulrich notes that "a woman's environment was the family dwelling and the yard or yards surrounding it." This included the kitchen, cellars, pantries, brewhouses, milk houses, washhouses, and butteries, along with the garden, milkyard, henhouse, and perhaps the orchard. It also included the nearby woods and marshes, where women foraged for herbs, roots, and berries, and "the houses of neighbors and . . . the cartways of a village or town," where women traded work or bartered items they produced in the home or garden.
Women's economic contributions were fundamental to their families' well-being. They had to obtain foodstuffs--by growing, gathering, trading, or purchasing--and prepare them for the table, activities that could range from butchering a small pig to baking biscuits in a skillet over an open fire. Further, to extend the bounty of the harvest season into the winter and spring, they had to preserve a wide variety of foods, employing a diversity of techniques--salting, smoking, drying, pickling, root cellaring--that were handed down from generation to generation.
Women had to clothe their families and often their servants as well, and they were expected to be skilled at needlework. The yarns and cloth they used were home products or acquired through trade or purchase. Numerous other household tasks demanded attention, including laundry and mending, feeding the livestock, gathering kindling, and--most time consuming--raising children. Women, like the men, were adept petty traders, knowing what they needed, where to get it, its value, and what they might provide in exchange. At times, their offerings were home products or specific domestic labor. Other times, they would trade against their husband's credit. And each of their responsibilities they taught their daughters and servants.
There was yet one more major aspect to women's work in colonial Maine. At times, wives found themselves directly supporting their husbands' occupations. They might help their mate plant field crops, manufacturer craft items, or handle business transactions in his absence. Ulrich observes, "almost any task was suitable for a woman as long as it furthered the good of her family and was acceptable to her husband."
The sexual division of labor was ingrained into the colonial society and economy, a fact underscored by the rapidity with which widowed persons, either male or female, replaced a lost mate. The structure was further solidified by inheritance patterns. Usually male heirs received the family real estate, which they used to continue the broader economic functions of the farm or business. Women usually received household goods, since these items were useful for establishing and maintaining the domestic unit. The importance of this dual system was well recognized by all, and without it early Maine never would have moved beyond the world of transient fishermen and fur traders.
As they responded to the growing complexity of their local economies and to the new initiatives from Massachusetts, Maine's towns found their administrative duties expanding. Certainly two of their most important governmental obligations were defense and transportation, and both proved to be major tasks for the small, scattered communities. The establishment of local militias probably began at some level soon after the first settlers arrived. However, the evolution of local and regional defense systems was much more evident after Massachusetts annexed Maine. This may partly reflect better records, but it also represents the Bay Colony's determination to bolster its eastern defenses.
As early as 1656, shortly after it took control of Maine, Massachusetts complained that several towns were not furnishing "sufficient armes, powder . . . as the law requires." A decade later, the king's justices recognized the problem and commanded local officers to order "their Souldgers armes . . . Well fixed and fitted with powder." Clearly this warning was insufficient, for in 1672 Kittery, York, Cape Porpus, Saco, Scarborough, and Falmouth were again admonished.
Most communities built one or more strategically located, fortified "garrison" houses. Of heavy construction, often the residences of the communities' leading figures, these structures provided a place to which nearby residents could flee in case of attack. Each town was also expected to maintain a militia unit. Local officers, usually a lieutenant and an ensign, were to see that citizens were appropriately supplied and periodically trained. Maine's militia forces in the 1660s consisted of over seven hundred men, a fairly formidable number, and it appears from extant inventories that ownership of firearms was fairly universal. Still, the value of inventoried guns ranged widely, and some were described as "ould"; one suspects that not all of these arms--or their bearers--were reliable. Furthermore, some militia officers were apparently less than distinguished. In 1663, Lieutenant Richard Hitchcock of Saco was criticized for "neglecting his office, by not commanding the souldgers to their due exercise . . . for the space of two years." Others were similarly reprimanded. Quite a few individuals petitioned for exemption from practices for reasons of age or occupation. Finally, the very scattered nature of the communities boded ill for any efforts to assemble the local forces quickly.
Creating a usable road system between and within the scattered Maine settlements proved another challenge. While necessary to tie the region together, the process of cutting roads through woods, across swamps, and over ravines and creeks must have seemed an unwelcome alternative to simply sailing along the coast and up the larger streams. In some stretches, especially between York and Wells, broad sand beaches provided a natural highway; those, unfortunately, were rare along the Maine coast.
By law, inhabitants were to build roads "sufficient for horse and man" between towns. Although this meant little more than a marked path through the dense woods, meeting even these minimal requirements proved nearly impossible. Every three or four years Kittery, York, Wells, and Newichawonnak (present-day Berwick) were admonished in court for not keeping up their roads. Hoping "for the more Convenient passage of strangers and others" beyond these southerly communities, in July 1673 the court ordered Wells, Saco, Scarborough, and Falmouth to "marke out the most Convenient Way from Wells . . . unto Falmouth . . . sufficient for horse and man." The next fall, a report was returned stating such a way was not feasible because "there are soe many bridges to bee made over the swampes and Rivers, [and] the ways being soe exceedingly bad." Unimpressed, the court repeated its demand the following summer. Equally uninspired, the local inhabitants ignored it. After all, by using the beaches at low tide, catching the various ferries, and putting up with some less than ideal paths, one could travel by land along the Maine coast.
Within the towns, crops, wood, and other items were moved about by carts, necessitating closer attention to local road and bridge building. In Saco, for instance, a bridge twelve feet wide, sufficient for horse and cart, was constructed. Usually town governments assigned local inhabitants to the tasks of building roads and making seasonal repairs. The towns also had to license taverns for travelers and see to the availability of ferry service over larger streams. At times, the towns had to deal harshly with their own inhabitants in order to keep roads open. Land travel in seventeenth-century Maine, whether local or regional, remained a considerable challenge.
Only with time were the small settlements able to build economic bases substantial enough to support a minister. Some, like Cape Porpus, never really did reach that point in the seventeenth century. Others found the task a formidable one, although the Bay Colony was ever diligent in seeing that efforts continued. In some cases, town residents attended services in neighboring towns. In others, ministers traveled between adjoining communities. Several towns were criticized for not providing places of worship or for letting meeting houses fall into disrepair. York's meeting house was cited for "great indesency and unsutableness" in 1679, "by reasons of Its being open to the weather and the Mischiefe of birds and swallows getting [into] it."
Maine's religious makeup at mid-century was anything but homogeneous, with Anglicans, Puritans, and Antinomians vying for ascendency. Puritan minister Thomas Jenner found Maine people "to be very superstitious, following man's invented formalities in devotion rather than the institutional worship of God"; in other words, those he encountered were good Anglicans. In 1643, the Reverend John Wheelwright arrived in Maine and established the community of Wells. The brother-in-law of Antinomian Anne Hutchinson, he moved to Maine to stay ahead of Bay Colony persecutors. Although he remained only briefly, he established a church at Wells and left behind several enthusiastic disciples.
Despite earlier promises of religious toleration, Massachusetts moved quickly and purposefully to eliminate its competitors, and by the 1670s, the Bay Colony had made significant progress in establishing Puritanism as the dominant religion in Maine. Anglican ministers were an immediate target. Not only were their religious tenets and practices unpalatable, but they represented a link with the royal government and Sir Ferdinando Gorges that could prove politically dangerous. Their first target was Reverend Richard Gibson. Moving about from Richmond's Island to Piscataqua, and then the Isles of Shoals, Gibson had made several anti-Massachusetts remarks along the way. In the early 1640s, the Bay leaders tossed him in jail and then forced him into exile in England. The Puritans' real adversary was Anglican minister Robert Jordan of Spurwink. Aggressive, politically powerful, and wholly unawed by the Bay Colony, Jordan built up a substantial following and flaunted Massachusetts directives. Jordan further roused Bay leaders by calling the revered Boston theologian John Cotton "a lyar [who] dyed with a ly in his mouth, and [went] . . . to hell with a packe of lyes." Jordan was censored, fined, and even jailed, but political connections and sheer tenacity enabled the Spurwink firebrand to continue this ministry right up to the Indian wars.
Generally speaking, an unorthodox minister was first warned to quit preaching. Shortly after, his town might be chastised for failing to support a qualified minister, and in most instances, the censured preachers eventually faded away. A few, like Jordan, gained sufficient local support to persist in spite of opposition from the community's Puritan leaders, but by the 1670s the Bay Colony had gained the upper hand throughout the region. Kittery's upper parish, along with York, Wells, and Falmouth, had settled Harvard graduate ministers, and steady influx of Massachusetts settlers guaranteed that the trend would continue.
Maine's Quakers were the conspicuous exception. As early as the 1650s, Kittery harbored a substantial community of Quakers, some of whom were local political leaders. Despite periodic harassment and disenfranchisement, when Massachusetts retook Maine following the period of the Royal Commission, it found the whole Kittery government in the hands of Quakers. They were quickly dismissed and threatened with heavy fines if they assumed such roles again. Still, the group remained active, and in the 1660s signs of Quaker activity appeared in other southern Maine communities.
With substantial Anglican, Antinomian, and Quaker factions within the region, the Congregationalist Puritans were in no position to demand the level of orthodox conformity they maintained in Massachusetts. A current of tolerance, probably born as much from necessity as desire, permeated the religious structure of early Maine. A century and a half later, that same heritage of tolerance, coupled with the evangelical spirit of the early Antinomians and Quakers, would inspire Baptists, Methodists, and similar sects to seek full religious freedom and disestablishment of the state-supported Congregational church.
As early Maine towns stabilized in political, economic, and religious matters, they exhibited another characteristic of social maturation: institutionalized class differences. Class stratification reflected divergent levels of economic success, transmitted across generations by family or financial connections. In Falmouth, as in other Maine towns, class divisions were evident in landownership patterns as early as the 1660s and 1670s. Groups of substantial land holders were tied directly to Falmouth's early proprietors. The Jane Macworth-James Andrews clan, for instance, retained a large original grant on the northeast side of the Presumpscot River. Marrying into the clan, Francis Neale and George Felt contributed a two-thirds share in a giant Indian grant on the upper Presumpscot. The George Cleeve, Michael Mitton, and Robert Jordan clans similarly acquired large tracts. Poorer citizens seemed to show little such accumulation. Generally farmers and artisans, these middle-class residents lived out their lives on their original holdings. At the bottom of the social scale were a number of landless inhabitants. Some were young men in their twenties waiting for an inheritance, but most were involved in unremunerative occupations working as laborers or fishermen. They and their families rarely experienced much prosperity and often lived in truly destitute circumstances.
Wealthier inhabitants typically married within their own class, further consolidating social stratifications. The marriage of James Andrews and Dorcus Mitton, for instance, tied these two proprietorial clans together, enhancing the dominant statute of both. Some proprietorial matches spanned communities. Elizabeth Andrews of Falmouth married Thomas Purchase, a wealthy trader and political figure from the Androscoggin region. Conversely, the marriage patterns of small farmers and fisherfolk took place within their own occupational groupings, and, significantly, these marriages seldom augmented family wealth and status. Usually the young man acquired a small plot of land, at times a small section from his father's farm or perhaps a modest plot from the town. The woman usually brought little more than her basic dowry. Such was the case of Benjamin Atwell and Thomas Cloyce, who married Alice and Susanna Lewis respectively. Even less promising economically was the union of Anne Lewis and James Ross of Boston. He brought no land to the marriage, and the couple was forced to live on property belonging to her family.
Like landownership patterns, the allocation of political offices reflected Maine's growing class stratification. George Cleeve and Francis Neale, deputies to the Massachusetts General Court, were both from the proprietorial group, as were community representatives for Lygonia, the king's commission, and York County. Selectmen's posts were overwhelmingly held by members of the same elite.
Local justice also reflected class biases, especially among the more common types of personal misbehavior, such as swearing, drinking, quarreling, assault, slander, and disturbing the peace. Those accused usually were fisherfolk or middling farmers--those of the "lesser sort" in terms of real property ownership, political achievement, and connections. Typical were the presentments of Thomas Greenslade and Thomas Standford for swearing and of George Lewis "for being In drink several Tymes." A bit more exciting was the presentment of Lawrence Davis "for rayleing at the Constable and for swearing and saiing the Constable was a lyar." Such transgressions brought fines ranging from six to ten shillings plus fees.
Two court cases clearly illustrate the biases of both sex and class inherent in the society. In 1675, the pregnant servant Mary Moore of Scarborough accused large land holder Robert Jordan of "committ[ing] folly and fornication with her." Persuaded of Jordan's guilt, the court ordered him to provide an allowance of two shillings a week for the child. However, Moore was also adjudged guilty of fornication and was either to pay five pounds in cash or its equivalent, or receive "15 lashes on the bare skine at the poast." The woman's father paid the fine, but it is clear that it was safer for one's "bare skine" to be well-to-do, or at least have ready access to money to pay for transgressions.
In a second case, George Rogers and Mary Batchelder of Kittery, after several warnings, were convicted of adultery. He was whipped and she was to have been after the birth of their child. However, she was also to have been branded with the letter "A," a painful stigma not inflicted on Rogers.
By every measure, from the establishment of militias to the stratification of the classes, colonial Maine was coming of age. In the 1670s, millwrights, artisans, and merchants arrived in the local communities, adding substance and diversity to the economy. Roads and bridges linked towns, facilitating local intercourse. Town governments matured, bringing stability to the frontier establishments, and the evolution of local elites signaled a society well beyond the rudimentary settlements of the 1640s. Unfortunately, these promising English communities were soon engulfed in savage warfare with Maine's native people, bringing ruin to both. Conflict, already evident in Maine from the age of exploration through the period of early settlement, would become the dominant theme in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.