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Program 9: Rolling Back the Frontier


By the 1620's and 30's, disgruntled English men and women were increasingly interested in Northern New England's large tracts of land and seemingly limitless supplies of lumber, fish, and fur. Both single men and families alike came to these frontier outposts in search of land to call their own.

They settled on tracts of land along the coast on land that had been granted to them by the regional proprietor, Sir Ferdinando Gorges. Gorges was the leader of the council for New England, a group of English officials interested in colonizing New England.

In 1630, a group of Puritans established the Massachusettes Bay Colony. The Puritans had fervent beliefs that were at odds with the Royal Anglican Church represented by Gorges and his council. Gorges soon realized that the Massachusettes Bay Colony seriously threatened his hopes for a royal colony in New England and he quickly began to issue land grants to encourage settlement in the region.

But the growth of settlements in Maine was sluggish compared to the settlements in Massachusettes. First, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was united by its homogenous puritanical, protestant roots; whereas people in Maine were a more diverse compilation of people from many different areas in England with no strong religious or political bond. In fact, there were smatterings of Anglicans, Puritans, Quakers and Antinomians in Maine - something unheard of in Massachusettes.

Secondly, settlements in and around Massachusetts Bay were centrally located and interconnected, and therefore easier to unite and control. By contrast, Maine settlements were scattered in a ribbon-like pattern all along the winding, rocky coast, making it hard to unify them into a single community.

Thirdly, there was radical transformation occurring in England: a shift towards Protestant control over the government. This shift favored the puritanical Massachusetts Bay Colony over the Anglican centered settlements of Maine.

Lastly, the slightly harsher climate of Maine combined with a sparse population base made winters significantly more difficult to endure.


While the Massachusetts Bay Colony was growing in population and power, there were two provinces formed in Northern New England to try and establish self-governing states: the Province of Lygonia and the Province of Maine.

In 1642, a persistent English settler named George Cleeves (who originally settled in Falmouth (now Portland) in 1632, on the corner of modern day India and Fore Streets) sailed to England to appeal to Sir Ferdinando Gorges for land. With the support of a prominent English merchant named Edward Rigby, he managed to obtain an existing land grant known as the "Plough Patent," which covered the territory from the Kennebec River to Cape Porpus (near Kennebunk). This tract of land, thereafter, was entitled the "Province of Lygonia." By 1647, with the official support of the English Parliament, Cleeves had secured his authority in the region by appointing some "old foes to high offices, holding frequent general assemblies, issuing grants to new settlers and reconfirming old deeds." (Churchill). Cleeves's power and the policies he implemented brought stability to the region.

Settlers who lived outside Cleeves's Lygonia had little official support from other proprietors in England. In 1649, with the death of the deputy of this area of the region, Thomas Gorges (cousin of Ferdinando), the inhabitants of Wells, York and Kittery formed an independent "Province of Maine" to try and protect their land claims and bring some sense of order to the area. A man by the name of Edward Godfrey of York was appointed governor of the new province. ??

Two years later, in 1651, the Province of Maine attempted to obtain official recognition from the English Parliament. The Massachusetts Bay Colony coveted Maine's valuable land and moved resolutely to prevent official recognition of the Province of Maine from taking place.

By using a somewhat skewed reading of the original Massachusettes Bay Colony's charter, the Colony's leaders contrived a claim to the region and thereby thwarted Edward Godfrey. They claimed that their northern boundary included all of Maine to Casco Bay and, in the end, Parliament agreed. Because Oliver Cromwell, a devout Protestant, had become Lord Protector of England in 1649, ousting and executing King Charles I, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, with its strong Protestant roots, was likely given preferencial treatment. In November of 1652, the Bay Colony absorbed Kittery and York. The following summer the Colony annexed Wells, Saco and Cape Porpus, bringing them (who's them?) to the south and western edge of Lygonia's boundary.

In the fall of 1653, George Cleevess returned from England and angrily reasserted his claim to the Province of Lygonia, and for the next few years was able to fend off the Bay Colony's attempts at a takeover. The Massachusetts Bay Colony, probably fearing an adverse reaction from Parliament by overstepping its bounds, waited until conditions suited the move. By the late 50s, Cleeves's influential English backer, Edward Rigby, had died and Parliament was embroiled in domestic troubles as well as wars with France and Spain. Parliament could not longer concern itself with the sovereignty of a minor American colony. In addition, many settlers from the Massachusettes Bay Colony had re-settled in Maine shifting demographics in favor of the Colony. As a result, in 1658, the entire Province of Lygonia was annexed by the Massachusettes Bay Colony.

As it absorbed the territories of Maine and Lygonia, the Massachusettes Bay Colony granted its newest citizens generous terms. Land titles were assured to be secure, local leaders would remain in charge of administration, and "Maine settlers would enjoy the same protection, favor, and justice other Massachusetts residents enjoyed." (Churchill) Religious tolerance, on the other hand, did take a blow: the Church of England was no longer allowed to exist in Maine.

A relative calm ensued for a few years, but with the restoration of the English monarchy and the ascension of King Charles II, Ferdinando Gorges, grandson of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, tried to reclaim the region. Gorges made several attempts to assert his authority by having individual towns pledge allegiance to his new administration. However, by countering with similar campaigns for allegiance, weeding out supporters of Gorges within local governments, and in one instance, jailing a leader of the new rebellion (Robert Jordan), Massachusetts held onto its claim to Maine.

As the Massachusetts Bay Colony solidified its control of southern and western Maine, new settlements sprouted up further north along the coast at Pemaquid, Damariscove, Monhegan, Cape Newagen, and along the banks of the Androscoggin and Kennebec Rivers. These settlements were controlled by the Duke of York, who sent a royal commission to Maine in 1665 to help establish and control the area. Officers were appointed, oaths of allegiance were obtained and licenses were given for trade. But "despite this initiative," the inhabitants of this "eastern" part of Maine petitioned the Massachusetts General Court asking that they be brought under Bay government and protection. On July 27, 1674, this region, founded as Devonshire County, opened court under Massachusetts jurisdiction, bringing all of Maine from Kittery to Pemaquid under the authority of Massachusetts. The very next year, in 1675, King Phillips War began, ushering in nearly a century of intermittent warfare.



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