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Program 12: Land of Liberty

The Great Proprieters

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines “proprietor” as one granted ownership of a colony (as one of the original American colonies) and full prerogatives of establishing a government and distributing land.

Much of the lands we currently know as Maine were under proprietary ownership as early as the 1600’s when Sir Ferdinando Gorges was given the deed to Maine by the King of England. Historian Alan Taylor writes, “Three major proprietary claims, based on letters patent issued between 1629 and 1632 by the Council for New England of Charles I, covered almost all of mid-Maine.” During the tumultuous wars that marked the 17th and 18th centuries in Maine, the grants languished as much of Maine was abandoned by British settlers. After the Revolution, Maine’s population exploded, tripling in just three decades. At this time, hundreds of thousands of acres of Maine land were held by proprietary companies. Three of the largest owners were:

1. Plymouth Company or Kennebec Proprietors (1752). “About three million acres located fifteen miles deep on each side of the Kennebec, Maine's central and most important river.”
2. Pejepscot Proprietors. “the land four miles back on both sides of the Androscoggin River from its mouth to its 'uppermost falls.'.”
3. Muscongus or Waldo Patent (1630). Later owned by Henry Knox. “about one million acres located between the Medomac and Penobscot rivers."

There were other proprietary claims to Maine lands, including a number of smaller holdings. Because old, inaccurate maps and Indian deeds the boundaries between claims was often under dispute. Further complicating matters were settlers: farmers and veterans from southern New England who flooded Maine looking for cheap or free lands. Conflicts – sometimes violent conflict – marred the Revolutionary era in Maine’s frontier. Because the grants originated with grants given by England and because many had been owned by British sympathizers during the war, many settlers thought or hoped that these lands had been confiscated by the Massachusetts government and turned over to the people. This was not the case and disputes over land rights, pricing and payments terms stretched on for years. (See Betterment Act)


• Old Fort Western
The Fort was built by the Kennebec Proprietors, a Boston-based company seeking to settle the lands along the Kennebec River that had been granted to the Pilgrims more than a century earlier.

• DoHistory
This site documents the life of Martha Ballard, a midwife from Hallowell. Martha’s husband, Ephraim, worked as a surveyor for the Kennebec Proprietors.

• General Henry Knox Museum
After retiring from his post as Secretary of War under George Washington, Henry Knox and his wife, Lucy Flucker Knox, built a mansion in Thomaston, Maine. They had acquired over 600,000 acres of land known as the Waldo Patent.

• Davistown Plantation Museum
Now divided into the towns of Montville and Liberty, Davistown Plantation was a post-Revolutionary community on the Waldo lands and a central point in the conflict between White Indian/Liberty men and the Great Proprietors.


Taylor, Alan. Liberty Men & Great Proprietors. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Special thanks: James S. Leamon


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