Earliest Records of the Settlement of Washington County ME

Although the intent of this document is to present the earliest known records of what is now Washington County Maine, most of these records are intertwined with records relating to the settlement of all eastern lands between the Penobscot and St Croix rivers. These areas will be covered briefly so as to provide the proper context for documents relating to Washington County.

Washington County ME was a part of Lincoln County, Province or District of Massachusetts, until Hancock and Washington Counties were incorporated 25 Jun 1789 [BHM pg 1623-1624].

Prior to the French and Indian War (late 1750s), the eastern lands of Maine were claimed by both France and the US. This dispute, the Indian dangers and other factors were not conducive to settlement. That changed at the cessation of hostilities. Interest in settling these lands (or in acheiving monetary gain through speculation) commenced in the early 1760's.

1760-62 Petitions for Land Grants

The Henry Dyer genealogy indicates that in 1760, 209 people petitioned for eastern ME land grants and two years later 56 people were given a conditional grant to Township #4 (as well as other conditional grants). This petition has not yet been located but the resulting land grant is obviously one of the 12 townships granted in 1762 (see below).

On 9 Nov 1760 the General Court deferred action on a petition of "Wait Wadsorth and about Sixty five others praying for a Grant of a suitable Tract of Land on the Bay or River of Penobscot..." [Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay Vol 16, pg 430-431].

On 6 Jan 1762 a petition [MA State Archives 117:774-778] was signed at Haverhill MA by 352 men, and addressed to messrs David Marsh, Enoch Bartlett, James McHard Esq, James Duncan, C'pt Edmond Moors, C'pt Peter Parker, Dudley Calton and Benj Harrod, requesting that the MA General Court grant them land between the Penobscot and St Croix Rivers. On 13 Jan 1762 [MA State Archives 117:779-80] the messrs mentioned addressed the previously mentioned petition to the MA House of Representatives. [also see BHM pg 1616-20]

On 3 Jan 1762 Ebenezer Thorndike & others petitioned the MA General Court for a grant of land on the eastern side of the Penobscot River near a place called Sandy Point [BHM pg 1960-1961]

1762 Conditional Land Grants [References as Noted; also BHM pg 29-31, 1620-1623; also Williamson 2:362]

1. Grant That Ultimately Became Six Townships of the First Class (west of Union River)

On 20 Feb 1762 (signed by the Governor 2 Mar 1762) the MA House of Representatives granted to "David Marsh, Enoch Bartlet, James McHard, James Duncan, Edmund Moors, Dudley Carlton, Benjamin Harrod and three hundred and fifty-two others their Associates ... as Tenants in common, six Townships of Land, each to consist of the Quantity of six miles square, of the unappropriated Lands of this Province, between the River Penobscot and the River St, Croix; to be laid out in as regular and contiguous a manner as the Land will admit of ..." [MA State Archives 117:779, 117:781; also Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Massachusetts Bay, Vol 17 pg 171-172]. The stipulations included:

Plans were to be presented to the General Court for its acceptance, on or before 31 Jul 1763.

The 359 grantees are named in the grant and reproduced in BHM pg 1620-23.

2. Grants That Ultimately Became Six Townships of the Second Class (east of Union River)

1762-1764 Survey of Land East of the Penobscot

On 5 Apr 1762 (again at Haverhill MA), David Marsh et al requested of the General Court further information regarding the laying out of their townships. At his request, on 17 Apr 1762 the House of Representatives appointed Samuel Livermore, Esq to inspect the surveyors in laying out the townships [MA State Archives 117:834; also Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Massachusetts Bay, Vol 17 pg 191]. A Committee further recommended on 24 Apr 1762 that Samuel Livermore be directed to first lay out all of the 12 townships granted east of the Penobscot River (6 to Marsh & Associates between the Penobscot and Mount Desert River and 6 to other petitioners east of Mount Desert River). The House of Representatives approved the Committee's recommendation 24 Apr 1763 [MA State Archives 117:834-835; also Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Massachusetts Bay, Vol 17 pg 211]. The Mount Desert River was subsequently named Union River as it was here that the two tracts of 6 townships each met.

Surveys were done of certain lands east of the Penobscot River during the years 1762 to 1764 which resulted in the area being divided into 12 Townships [Williamson 2:362]. The 6 Townships of the first class (west of Union River) were those later called:

  1. Bucksport
  2. Orland
  3. Penobscot
  4. Sedgewick
  5. Bluehill
  6. Surry

The 6 Townships of the second class (east of Union River) were those later called:

  1. Trenton
  2. Sullivan
  3. Gouldsborough
  4. Steuben
  5. Harrington
  6. Addison

1764 Confirmation of the Conditional Grants of 12 Townships

Having completed the surveys of the 12 Townships east of the Penobscot River that were conditionally granted in 1762, in 1764 the General Court reaffirmed the grants of the 6 Townships west of Union River and the 6 townships east of Union River, adding boundaries to the Townships. [MA State Archives 118:20; Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Massachusetts Bay, Vol 17 1761-1764, pg 474-479]

1765 Request for Extension

On 12 Jun 1765 representatives of the 3 townships of 4, 5 and 6, east of Union River, requested an extension of the 18 months time given them to obtain his majesties approbation and to solicit advice on dealing with fellow proprietors not willing to pay their share of expenses.[MA State Archives 118:118]

Several of the other 12 townships also asked for an extension of time and at least 3 of them were granted another 18 months [Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Massachusetts Bay, Vol 18 pg 173, 199, 363]. I have not yet located a General Court ruling on the petition of townships 4, 5 and 6.

Township Granted To Machias 15 Jun 1767 [Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Massachusetts Bay, Vol 18 pg 446-447; also Williamson 2:381]

On 15 Jun 1767, the MA General Court granted a conditional Township to Ichabod Jones and 79 others for the Township of Machias. Conditions were fully confirmed 3 years later and the town was the first one incorporated in Washington County 17 years later.

1770 Petition [source?]

The first formal record signed by persons living at Pleasant River was a petition dated 1770 appealing to the Governor of Massachusetts for a Justice of the Peace. It read in part:

"... and neither law nor gospel embraced among us, every one doing what's right in his own eyes, and a great spirit of mobbing and rioting prevails. Cursing, Swearing, fighting, threatening, stealing, pulling down houses and the like as we can't sleep at nights without fear and living such a distance from any authority that we labour under a great disadvantage of obtaining relief in such matters ..." The signers of the petition were:

James Bryant John Hall Isaiah Nash Chase Stevens
Nathl Buck William Hix James Nash Edmund Stevens
Edward Cates Samuel Knowls Joseph  Nash (his mark) Joseph Tebbut
Ebenezer Coal Benjamin Look Joseph Nash Jr Thomas Tebbut
Samuel Coffing Daniel Look Samuel Nash George Tinney
John Drisko (his mark) Owen McKensey Samuel Nash Jr Wilmot Wass
Joseph Drisko Jr Joseph Mitchell Seth Norton  
Samuel Drisko Noah Mitchell Moses Plumer  
Robin Groas William Mitchell Isaac Smith  

First Records of Deeds in Washington County - (Not yet complete)

Washington County (and Hancock County) was not formed until 25 Jun 1789. Washington County deeds through that date are included in the Lincoln County Deeds.

Petition of 22 Jul 1775

On 22 Jul 1775, 8 representatives of Gouldsborough, Narraguagus, Number Four and Pleasant River pledged their support to the Province of the MA Bay, sought counsel on governing themselves and sought relief from their "Distress'd Situation". The House of Representatives, on 17 Aug 1775, resolved that a Company of fifty men be raised and stationed in the towns of the petitioners.

Documents Re the Eastern Lands During the Revolutionary War

  1. Return of Rations due to Colonel Benjamin Foster's Regiment [Collections of the Maine Historical Society XV:357]
  2. Petition of Jonas Farnsworth [Collections of the Maine Historical Society XV:390]

Pleasant River - List of Inhabitants

One of the very early settlers of Pleasant River (Addison) was Seth Norton. Among his papers was a list of Inhabitants in Pleasant River, April 27, 1778. This list is reproduced in several places including [BHM pg 179] and [Addison and Harrington Register 1905, HE Mitchell Co, 1905]. The latter source appears to be the most accurate since the total of the inhabitants (214) more closely matches the total specified in the document (213). The lists from both sources are shown.

Primary Committee of Lands

On 1 May 1781 a Primary Committee of Lands was formed by a resolve of the MA General Court to inquire into encroachments on the unappropriated lands of ME; to examine the rights and pretexts of claimants; and to prosecute obstinate intruders and trespassers - yet liquidate fair adjustments with all such as were disposed to do right, upon principles of equity, good faith and duty. Five men were appointed to the Committee: Jebediah Preble of Falmouth, Jonathan Greenleaf of New Gloucester, David Sewall of York, John Lewis of North Yarmouth and William Lithgow of Georgetown. [Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1781, pg 429-431]

In 1784, the Committee resigned their trust eastward of the Kennebeck River, realizing the vastness of their task. On 19 Mar 1784 a New Committee of Eastern Lands was formed with more powers. The new members were Samuel Phillips Jr of Roxbury, Nathaniel Wells of Wells and Nathan Dane of Beverly. Their duties were to inquire into all trespasses, illegal entries and encroachments on the public lands; to ascertain how far grantees had complied with their engagements, and what were the limits of the tracts, owned or claimed by the Indian Tribes; and to report the expediency of employing skillful surveyors to run out six townships on the river St Croix.

To encourage soldiers and emigrants, desirous of settling upon new lands, the Committee were further instructed to offer every such adventurer, at one dollar per acre, his choice of 150 acres any where upon the rivers and navigable waters of ME or to give him 100 acres elsewhere if he would but clear 16 acres in 4 years.

A Land Office was established and on 5 Nov 1784, Rufus Putnam was employed as the state surveyor. Public notice was given in the newspapers that lands would be offered as soon as the surveys and plans could be made; that payment would be received in soldiers' notes or consolidated securities of the Commonwealth; and that all who had entered and made actual improvements upon the State's lands, under mistaken licenses, or without any leave, would be quieted upon fair and feasible terms.

Machias Incorporated 23 Jun 1784 [Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1784, pg 14-15]

1784 Representations of Settlers at Buck's Harbor [MA State Archives ?:?; BHM pg 483-485]

The representations were those of settlers desiring to be quieted. Four years after these representations (on 2 Mar 1788), Buck's Harbor was deeded by the State of MA to John Coffin Jones & associates.

1785 Confirmation of 12 townships conditionally granted in 1762

The Legislature reviewed the conditional grants of 1762 (reaffirmed in 1764) and on 17 Mar 1785 confirmed the grants of Township No's 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 of the first class (townships west of Union River) [Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1784, pg 14-15].

On 21 Jun 1785, the Legislature confirmed the grants of Township No's 1, 4, 5 and 6 of the second class (townships east of Union River) [Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1784, pg 645-647]

Resolve of 21 Jun 1793 [Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1793, pg 541-543]

As a result of a petition of Samuel Freeman and others, the General Court decided that their 21 Jun 1785 confirmation of the original grants of Townships 1, 4, 5 and 6 was "ineffectual for the purposes for which it was intended" and Resolved:

  1. "That the said Resolve of the 21st June 1785 so far as it respect[s] the said Townships No Four Five and Six be and it is hereby declared null and void."
  2. "That the said Townships No Four Five and Six be sold under the direction of the Committee for the Sale of Eastern Lands...". The proceeds of the sale were to be divided one-third to the Commonwealth and two-thirds to the proprietors of the Townships.
  3. Alexander Campbell of No four was to receive 300 acres, Joseph Wallace of No 5 was to receive 300 acres
  4. Any settler, heir or Assign of these Townships who settled prior to 20 Jan 1783 was to receive a lot of 100 acres (and if they were also a proprietor, another lot of 100 acres) laid out so as to include the settler's improvements, at a price of 30 shillings per hundred acres.
  5. Any settler who settled subsequent to 20 Jan 1783 was to receive a lot of 100 acres, again so as to include their improvements, at a price of 3 per 100 acres.
  6. If the lots laid out failed to include all of the settler's improvements, additional land would be given them so as to include all of their improvents at a price of 3 shillings per acre.
  7. All settlers would enjoy a share of marsh lands in proportion to the lands set off for them.

This Resolve has the appearance of simply being a way to coerce the settlers into contributing funds to pay off debts accumulated by the respective townships. Many of these settlers had already paid for what they must have assumed to be titles to their lands. I have not yet done research to determine the motives of Samuel Freeman in submitting his petition to the General Court and what his association might have been with the estate of Francis Shaw, a major beneficiary of this Resolve.

Sale of Townships No 4, 5 and 6 - On 26 Aug 1794, Thomas Ruston of Philadelphia PA purchased the whole of Townships 4, 5 and 6, excluding land assigned to the settlers (see Deeds 2 Apr 1794), from the proprietors of the townships and the Committee for the Sale of Eastern Lands for 4606 as specified in the Resolve of 21 Jun 1793.

Less than one year later (18 Apr 1795), Thomas Ruston of Philadelphia PA sold all of the land that he purchased in Townships 4, 5 and 6 to Eben Warner Judd of Winsor VT [Washington County Deeds 1:463, 1:464 and 1:465].

On 31 Jan 1795 William Shaw of Boston purchased from Eben Warner Judd of Winsor VT a total of 3464 acres  of land (8 lots in Township 4, 18 lots in Township 5 & 5 lots in Township 6 plus marsh lots) for 618 and 2 shillings. Note that this sale occurred prior to the deed above. [Washington County Deeds 1:453]

Deeds 2 Apr 1794 - First settlers & proprietors who received deeds of land under the Resolve of 21 Jun 1793. There are a few inconsistencies between deeds as recorded in Machias and original lot maps which haven't yet been resolved

The "Black Papers" - A 1798 census of Townships No's 7, 8, 9, 11 (Cherryfield) and 12 (Columbia)

Steuben Incorporated 27 Feb 1795 [Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1794, pg 96]

Columbia Incorporated  8 Feb 1796 [Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1794, pg 386-387]

Plantations No 12 and No 13, west of Machias, were incorporated into the town of Columbia.

Deeds Granted in No 8 (Eastport & Lubec) 1802 to 1808 [BHM pg 180-181]