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Program 9: Rolling Back the Frontier

Excerpts from Interview with Tom Johnson

"The whole history of this area really goes back to 1616 because it's in that year that a man named Vines comes to New England to determine the probability of the settlement of English immigrants here. In the early 17th century many of the people in England believed that the winters were too harsh the climates, too harsh in New England. It was the Vines expedition of 1616 that proved that settlement was possible here. Vines comes and spends a winter in what is called Winter Harbor, down near Biddeford and coincidentally in that year a plague breaks out among the Indian populations and decimates 9 out of 10 every Native American living in this region.

It was the Vines expedition that allowed people in England to determine that it was time to settle this area, it was possible to settle this area and it opened the doors for the Puritans to come in Massachusetts Bay in 1620. And fairly rapidly after that settlement of a number of Maine communities. York itself is settled in 1630 by a man named Edward Godfrey. He comes because of the fishing trade that is developing along the coast. He settles at a point called Point O'Lean in the York River."

Shortly thereafter a gentleman named [Walter] Norton came with a group of settlers. He was given a charter by Sir Ferdinando Gorges who had been granted this area of Maine by King Charles I. After that things get a little complicated because Gorges establishes this as a Royalist colony. It is an Anglican Church of England dominated colony. Gorges is taking advantage of some political unrest in England at the time to establish his dominion over New England. King Charles I is the rumblings of the English Civil War are happening. King Charles I is focused on what's going on in his own country. He essentially signs over all of New England to Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Sir Ferdinando Gorges is made Lord Palatine of this region. He sends over his young cousin, Thomas Gorges, in 1640 to oversee the establishment of this area then called Agimenticus into what was to become Gorgeanna, the capital of the Royalist British North America. In 1641 they actually grant a charter for this area to be made into the city of Gorgeanna."

"I think this is hard for us to imagine today that the area that the U.S. now occupies was to rival in size magnificence the city of London. It [Gorgeanna or York] was to be the capital of all of the British Royal dominions of North America. It was to be a cathedral city. Gorges had visions of settling a Bishop and having a cathedral in this his capital city. He established a form of government that there would be a mayor, 8 aldermen and 40 other appointed officials. And this was at a time when there were less then 100 occupants of this area. In fact his nephew, his cousin, excuse me. His cousin Thomas actually complained that if he appointed the 8 aldermen, the 1 mayor and the 40 other officials that it virtually be every man living in the York region at that time"

"Sir Ferdinando Gorges expected this [Gorgeanna or York] to become a metropolitan city. Not only was the church established that you have a number of, there were inns or taverns established very early on. The Puddington family established a tavern down in the York Harbor area to service the sailors that manned these ships that were coming in for a trade. Gorges established the mayor and alderman's positions to run city and the 40 appointed officials that they had a very hard time finding that many men to fill that many positions."

"The other interesting thing that Gorges institutes in Gorgeanna is what is called the public market day and to be called a fair. And it was the establishment of this in York Harbor that is really the beginning of what we know today as the country fairs in America. The first country fair in America was held in York Harbor in the 1640's."

"Prior to 1653 the only way to receive land in Maine would be through a grant from Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who claimed dominion over the entire area. And certainly up until the time of Puritan subjugation of Maine that is how most land was acquired here. After 1653 land grants come from the Province of Massachusetts Bay."

"The story really has to go back to 1616 when a man by the name of Dr. Richard Vines is sent by Sir Ferdinando Gorges to look at the weather of New England. Previous to 1616 most Englishmen believed the weather was too severe in New England to permit it's settlement. Vines was able to prove it was not by spending one winter in what was called Winter Harbor up near Biddeford with the Indians. And it is perhaps not coincidental that it was in that winter the great plague broke out that decimated 9 out of 10 Indians in this area. Vines writes that they did try to take care of these Native Americans and that the English were not touched by this plague, but it wiped out the Native population."

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