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,
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)
LINKS TO EXPLORE:
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.
This site documents the life of Martha Ballard, a midwife from
Hallowell. Martha’s husband, Ephraim, worked as a surveyor for
the Kennebec Proprietors.
WALDO PATENT/HENRY KNOX LANDS
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