Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Fairfield

Fairfield, 1895 (photo by George Norris)

by Mary Grow

This article brings readers to Fairfield, northernmost of the four municipalities in this series on the west bank of the Kennebec River. Fairfield is across the river from Benton and Clinton (subjects of the June 13 and June 20 articles).

Fairfield is one of the two towns in the series outside Kennebec County; it is far enough north to be in Somerset County. (Palermo, in Waldo County, is the other outsider; see the July 4 history article.)

Fairfield was settled and incorporated only on the west side of the river, unlike Augusta, which began and still is on both banks, or Vassalboro and Winslow, which lost their west sides (the names of Waterville, originally Winslow, and Sidney, originally Vassalboro, remain to be discussed).

The present town started as Fairfield Plantation, according to a history on the town’s website. The 1988 bicentennial history book, prepared by the book committee of the Fairfield Historical Society, says the plantation was organized in 1774, and the town was incorporated June 18, 1788.

Why Fairfield? When your writer summarized the town’s history in an April 16, 2020, article in this series, she quoted Ava Harriet Chadbourne’s Maine Place Names as saying the name was due to the area’s “natural beauty.”

An unrelated on-line account supports Chadbourne. It says Fairfield, California, was named by an early settler after his home town of Fairfield, Connecticut, and cites a 1903 issue of the monthly Connecticut Magazine saying Fairfield, Connecticut’s “name is descriptive of the tract.”

When Fairfield? is a question one writer in the bicentennial history raises. Most of its authors referred to the 1788 town as Fairfield, and called only the present downtown section Kendall’s Mills, named for an entrepreneur who arrived in 1780.

The writer of the chapter titled Military Involvement, however, wrote, “Because of William Kendall’s dominance in the Town it was known as Kendall’s Mills until the name was changed to Fairfield in 1872.” Another chapter says the name of the Kendall’s Mills post office, not the town, became Fairfield in 1872.

The town was not named after its first settler: multiple sources say he was Jonathan Emery, who in 1771 “built a house on Emery Hill [a short distance north of today’s downtown] near the banks of the Kennebec River.”

The bicentennial history says the house started as a log cabin that was “later sheathed with boards” and otherwise modified. Cianbro Corporation took it down in 1982, the history says.

Jonathan Emery came from Dracut, Massachusetts. His son Samuel, born June 15, 1773, was probably the first white child born in Fairfield, the history says (but see below).

On-line Emery genealogies are full of arguments and contradictions. Majority opinion says Jonathan (born Nov. 23, 1722, in Haverhill, Massachusetts; died June, 1807, in Fairfield) was married twice. His first wife was Jerusha or possibly Johannah (Barron) Emery, from Dracut, Massachusetts, born Aug. 4, 1735. She and Jonathan had nine or 10 children before she died in 1781.

One genealogy identifies Jonathan’s second wife as NN. Another calls her a widow named Whitten. Neither provides dates.

Several sources say Emery came first to Winthrop and then to Fairfield. None explains why he came to Maine.

Contemporary downtown Fairfield began with the first dam built to use a portion of the Kennebec’s water power. It ran from the west bank to the island now called Mill Island, the westernmost and largest of half a dozen islands in that stretch of river. Jonas Dutton started building the dam in 1778; in 1780, Revolutionary veteran William Kendall came to Fairfield and took it over.

Kendall (Sept. 11, 1759 – Aug. 11, 1827) was born in Georgetown. The bicentennial history says he joined the army as a private in March 1777, and was honorably discharged in 1780. Why he came to Fairfield is unstated.

He bought and finished Dutton’s dam and built a sawmill and a grist mill on top of it. The mills remained in the family until 1835.

Several sources tell the story of Kendall paddling his birchbark canoe upriver on Christmas Day 1782, to marry Abigail Chase and bring her back to his Fairfield home. The bicentennial history is inconsistent about where Abigail lived and which house her new husband brought her to.

The chronological introductory section says he “brought her down the Kennebec from what is now Hinckley.” Most sources call Hinckley the site of the former Pishon’s Ferry (where the Kennebec has been bridged since 1910).

The writer of the Military Involvement chapter specified Noble’s Ferry, which was downriver from Pishon’s Ferry. (See the June 20 article on Clinton.)

The history says Kendall’s first house was a log cabin near the river, at the north end of the present downtown area. The writer of the introduction said the couple lived there until the late 1790s, when they moved into a large brick house farther south and farther from the river.

The Military Involvement writer implied that immediately after putting up the log cabin, Kendall “proceeded to dig a cellar and to build the first frame house in the village.” He brought his bride down the river “to the home he had recently completed.”

Kendall also bought land downstream from his dam, starting the present commercial center. The history says he ran a store farther south on the river until he died in 1827.

Kendall’s Mills, and now downtown Fairfield, was/is in the southeastern corner of town. The local histories list another half-dozen early population centers, three upriver from Kendall’s Mills and three in the rest of town.

The next upriver settlement has been called Shawmut since 1889; previous names included Philbrooks Mills, Lyons Mills and Somerset Mills (the name of the post office there from 1853 to 1889). The area was farmland until 1835, the history says, when Ivory Low “bonded his farm with the water power to Milton Philbrook of Fairfield for the round sum of $40,000.”

Philbrook presumably built a dam, though that fact is not recorded. His original mill soon changed hands; Waterville lawyer Alpheus Lyon built Fairfield’s first flour mill there. The history does not explain the names Somerset Mills and Shawmut.

Next up the river was Nye’s Corner, where the post office was Fairfield Corners from 1822 to 1882, the history says. Named for the numerous Nye family, this village in the 1830s was “the hub of the Town with its stores, church, hotel, blacksmith shop, hat manufacturer, cooper shops, coat and shoe shops and carriage shops.”

About eight miles upstream from Kendall’s Mills, at Pishon’s Ferry, was East Fairfield, now Hinckley, in the northeastern corner of town. The name Hinckley, the bicentennial history says, honors George Walter Hinckley, founder in 1889 of the Goodwill Home and School.

Of the three inland settlements, the southernmost, almost due west of Kendall’s Mills, is Fairfield Center. Northward, inland from Nye’s Corner, is North Fairfield; and in the northwest corner of town is Larone.

Neither the on-line nor the printed town history is clear on the origin of the Fairfield Center settlement. It might be part of acreage on the west bank of the Kennebec purchased by two Massachusetts men, Joseph Dimmock and Joseph Nye, on Oct. 11, 1781.

Dimmock and Nye were required to survey 60 195-acre lots and find settlers for them and to build three roads in the tract. If your writer has correctly located their land, they succeeded: the bicentennial history says Fairfield Center, on the main road from Waterville to Skowhegan, had the Fairfield post office from 1807 to 1872, and stores and taverns that made it the town’s “business section” (no dates given).

North Fairfield’s first settlers the bicentennial history describes as “a group of Quakers from Massachusetts” – hence one of its early names, Quakertown. It was also known as Black’s Mills and Blacknell’s Mills, for reasons your writer has not ascertained. The Bowerman brothers, Elihu, Harper and Zaccheus, were the initial settlers.

(There is more about the Bowermans in the history article in the April 20, 2016, issue of The Town Line.)

The village of Larone is in extreme northwestern Fairfield, on Martin Stream. Martin Stream, which the bicentennial history says is named for an early trapper (no first name given), flows into the Kennebec River at Hinckley.

The history says the first settler was Abraham Potter, who paid Massachusetts $1.25 an acre for his farmland. Opening a road to Norridgewock encouraged more settlers, including Daniel Winslow (no date given) who dammed the stream and built “a mill for tanning purposes, a grist mill and later a lath saw.”

The village was therefore called Winslow’s Mills until residents wanted their own post office and a new name for it. Citing an earlier history specifically of Larone, the bicentennial history says during a meeting organized to discuss the post office, Tilly Emery, who owned a roan horse, offered “the roan,” “meaning that if no other way was provided, his horse could bring…[the mail] in.”

Others present amended “the roan” to “Larone,” “and the named was unanimously adopted.”

The writer added that “Mr. Emery became the first postmaster, although Mrs. Emery did most of the business.”

A contemporary on-line map shows these seven early Fairfield settlement centers (plus three other localities).

Two more second-generation Emerys

Some of the varying lists of Jonathan and Jerusha Emery’s children begin with Private David, born in Dracut in 1754. One list, of six sons and four daughters, includes Samuel; two sources say he was born June 17, 1773, in Winthrop (not Fairfield).

An 1890 genealogy, copied on a newer genealogical site, says when Benedict Arnold’s expedition to Québec went through Fairfield in September 1775, 21-year-old David Emery joined and went as far as Dead River. When Lieutenant Colonel Roger Enos and about 450 men turned back from there late in October, Emery came with them.

(Dead River is about 80 miles north and west of Fairfield. Roger Enos [1729 -1808] was a Connecticut native who had been a soldier since 1759 [the French and Indian War]. He was court-martialed for leaving Arnold’s expedition; defended himself on grounds of the lack of food, supplies and boats for the troops; was acquitted and rejoined the army.)

Emery then served in the army outside Boston until March 1777. He spent two years at Ticonderoga, New York, the genealogist wrote, before going to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, to join General George Washington’s Life Guards.

Discharged in March 1780, at Morristown, New Jersey, he returned to Fairfield. The genealogist found an April 5, 1782, record of marriage intentions between “David Emery and Abigail Goodwin [1763 – 1838] both of Kennebeck River without the boundaries of any town, but in the county of Lincoln.” The marriage did not get recorded because the town was not incorporated, the genealogist explained.

David and Abigail had six sons and four daughters. David died in Fairfield on Nov. 18, 1830, and is buried in Emery Hill Cemetery.

Another genealogy says David’s younger brother, Samuel (the one who might have been Fairfield’s first white child), married Deidamia Johnston, whose date and place of birth are unknown. Between April 1786 and April 1817, the couple had 11 children whose names are listed – the website says there were a total of 15.

The children were born in Fairfield except for William (Nov. 20, 1801) and Samuel (May 22, 1810), who were born in Phippsburg, this source says (without explanation).

Samuel was 69 when he died March 7, 1839, in Fairfield; he, too, is buried in Emery Hill Cemetery. Neither Deidamia nor her sister-in-law Abigail have identified graves there.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988)

Websites, miscellaneous

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Albion

Monument erected in Albion for Elijah Parish Lovejoy, an Albion native. On November 7, 1837, Elijah Parish Lovejoy was killed by a pro-slavery mob while defending the site of his anti-slavery newspaper, the St. Louis Observer. His death both deeply affected many individuals who opposed slavery and greatly strengthened the cause of abolition. (photo courtesy of Maine: An Encyclopedia)

by Mary Grow

Of the town and city names your writer has explored in this subseries, none has yet been as frustrating as the Town of Albion.

Sources agree on names and dates. In 1802, Freetown Plantation was incorporated, including most of present-day Albion and the northern end of what is now the separate town of China.

Ruby Crosby Wiggin wrote in her 1964 history of Albion that in March 1803 plantation residents petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to create a town. They received three separate approvals, Wiggin wrote, by the House and Senate plus the Governor, and on March 9, 1804, the Town of Fairfax was incorporated.

On March 10, 1821, the Maine legislature approved changing Fairfax’s name to Lygonia (Lagonia, Ligonia). On Feb. 25, 1824, the name was changed again, to Albion.

So said Wiggin. And Henry Kingsbury in his Kennebec County history. So says Wikipedia. And the on-line Maine an Encyclopedia, which adds that Albion is the old name for England. And a website called FamilySearch. And a website called greenerpasture, quoting Wikipedia. And a website called mainegenealogy.net. And a website called heirloomsreunited, which skips Freetown Plantation, naming only Fairfax, Ligonia and Albion.

Some of these sources describe boundary changes, especially in Fairfax; the early 1800s saw multiple land transfers. Some name inhabitants — early settlers, famous people, heads of household listed in the 1790 and 1820 censuses.

Your writer found not one source that explained any of the four names, and not one that explained why the area had four successive names anyway.

* * * * * *

Freetown was a not uncommon name for an early Maine settlement, presumably expressing the settlers’ belief that they had moved beyond the reach of government. But the men who established Freetown promptly asked to live in an incorporated town, and the 1802 Freetown Plantation became the March 1804 Town of Fairfax.

Wiggin had a theory. She wrote that Freetown’s first town meeting, starting at 10 a.m., on Oct. 30, 1802, was held at John Leonard’s house, which she located on the west side of current Route 202 close to the Unity town line, in the northeastern corner of town.

Leonard and Asa Phillips, who was chosen town meeting moderator, “were neighbors in Winslow [incorporated in 1771] before coming to Freetown Plantation,” Wiggin wrote. She surmised that after “something like five years” in this unincorporated area, they were ready to again “enjoy the same privileges their former neighbors in Winslow were enjoying.”

The Oct. 30, 1802, meeting only chose local officers, Wiggin said. A second plantation meeting, on March 28, 1803, included an article to “petition…the General Court [the Massachusetts legislature] for an incorporation of this plantation just as the [boundary] lines now run.” Wiggin said nothing about a name for the incorporated entity.

She wrote that this area’s settlers mostly came east from the Kennebec Valley or north from Jones Plantation (later China). Neither she nor any other source your writer found gave a date for the first land claim more specific than “before 1790.”

Wiggin and Kingsbury agreed the first settler(s) are not known. Kingsbury added that the “weight of evidence seems to point to the Rev. Daniel Lovejoy” (a Congregational minister who moved to the west shore of Lovejoy Pond before 1790, according to Kingsbury).

Wiggin disagreed. Referencing family papers, she said Daniel Lovejoy was only about 14 years old when his father, Francis, and the rest of the family settled on what was then Fifteen-Mile Pond; Francis, therefore, has a stronger claim to the “first settler” title.

(Francis Lovejoy’s most famous grandson was abolitionist Elijah Parish Lovejoy. Two previous articles in this history series have been about the Lovejoy family, in the Aug. 13, 2020, and Feb. 1, 2024, issues of The Town Line.)

Kingsbury went on to list six families he said were in Albion when the 1790 United States census was taken, naming four (plus Lovejoy): Crosbys, Libbeys, Prays and Shoreys.

Wiggin wrote: “Although the Shoreys, Prays and Libbeys were here very early, we believe that there were others who were here even earlier.”

She said the 1790 census report divided present-day Albion between Hancocktown (another name for Hancock Plantation, mentioned in the June 20 history article as including present-day Benton and Clinton) and Jones Plantation (now China).

Men Wiggin was sure were in Albion by 1790 included Bela or Belial Burrill, Jonah Crosby, Jr., and Robert Crosby, Samuel Davis, Thomas Fowler, Nathan Haywood and Francis Lovejoy.

Kingsbury said Robert Crosby’s homestead was “near the foot of the pond,” and in 1892 part of the land belonged to his grandson, Ora O. Crosby.

Wiggin identified Robert Crosby’s first grant by its 1964 owner, and implied it was at the southwest end of Lovejoy Pond by referring to two dams; an 1811 or 1812 sawmill on a stream; and the “new road completed in 1961” (Route 202?) that runs over the mill site.

(The “new road” also crossed “the spot where the old workshop used to set [sic] at the top of the hill.” Here, Wiggin wrote, the “curved pieces on the arms of the Christian Church pews” were probably made – “at least the patterns for them used to be stored under the workshop bench.”

(The Albion Christian Church, she wrote later in her history, was organized Jan. 1, 1825, at “the home of Brother Robert Crosby.” She listed the nine founding members as Elder Samuel Nutt; Robert and Abigail Crosby; Luther and Ethelinda Crosby; William and Demaris Crosby; and Franklin and Lovina Barton. Luther, Demaris and Lovina were children of Robert and Abigail, she said.)

At least three families who lived in what eventually became the north end of China are included as early Albion settlers: the Burrills, Washburns and Wiggins.

Anecdotes about two of these men illuminate the frequency of the boundary changes mentioned in last week’s account of early days in China.

Wiggin wrote that Nathaniel Wiggin (March 16, 1750 – Sept. 15, 1823) built a log cabin on a hill northeast of the head of China Lake. The 1790 census listed him as a Jones Plantation resident; when Freetown’s first town meeting was held in 1802, he was a resident there. “Thus, he lived in Jones Plantation, Freetown, Fairfax and possibly Lagonia without moving from his home place.”

Japheth Washburn is quoted in the China bicentennial history as writing (in a Jan. 14, 1850, letter) that before the 1818 incorporation of the Town of China, “my Dwellinghouse was in Winslow – across the road, directly opposite, stood my store, in Albion, and 40 rods south, stood my Potash, in Harlem [later China].”

(Washburn was referring to his potash works, where he would have poured water through wood ashes and boiled down the leachate to a solid mass, potash or potassium carbonate. Potash was an essential ingredient in soap, one of many products commonly made at home in 19th-century Maine.)

Kingsbury and Wiggin both named more Albion families who arrived by the early 1800s. Their lists partly duplicate each other. Neither includes a settler named Fairfax.

* * * * * *

Wiggin summarized, without explanation, the March 1821 name change: “the name of the town was changed to Lagonia, or ‘Lygonia,’ (both spellings were used) but some of the residents were still not satisfied and in August of that same year another meeting was called to see if they could get it changed back again to Fairfax, but to no avail.”

Voters at a special meeting in December, 1822, did not pass an article to go back to Fairfax, she wrote. In January, 1823, a five-man committee was elected to draft a petition for the selectmen to present (presumably to the Maine legislature) requesting the name Richmond; apparently nothing happened. On Jan. 8, 1824, voters chose a seven-man committee to petition the legislature for Fairfax, again without success.

Lygonia – the most common spelling – was the name of a British province in southeastern Maine from 1630 or 1639 or 1643 (sources differ) to 1658. It encompassed a roughly square area bounded on the southwest by a line that ran about 50 miles from the coast near Kennebunkport almost to the New Hampshire border; on the northwest by a line that reached the Androscoggin River, enclosing most of Cumberland and part of Androscoggin counties; and on the northeast by a line slanting back to the coast near present-day Brunswick.

The coast was the province’s southeast boundary. Lygonia covered 1,600 square miles, by one estimate, including the present Sebago Lake region and the coastal and riverine areas that were the first parts of Maine to be settled.

Wikipedia, whose writer supplied the 1830 date, says Lygonia was a grant from the Plymouth Council for New England to Sir Ferdinando Gorges. Gorges named it in honor of his mother, Cecily (Lyon) Gorges.

(Gorges [1565, 1567 or 1568 – May 24, 1647] was a Plymouth Company member and recipient of royal grants covering much of what became Maine. Though he was influential in Maine’s early history, his story is outside the limits of this series.)

In 1658, Lygonia became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Your writer found no connection between this Lygonia and the inland Lygonia that succeeded Fairfax.

* * * * * *

Citing town records, Wiggin wrote that at an April 5, 1824, meeting, Lagonia voters were asked to accept the name Albion for their town, and agreed. Again, she gave no explanation for the action or the name.

As previously mentioned, Albion is an old name for Britain. Wikipedia offers a scholarly article on the origin of the word (from early Celtic, via ancient Greek), referring to sources from the sixth century B.C. into the Christian era.

“By the 1st century AD, the name refers unequivocally to Great Britain,” the Wikipedia writer says. However, it was soon replaced by words that led to the Roman word “Britannia” and related names.

An on-line Encyclopedia Britannica article says “Albion” is the earliest name for “the island of Britain,” as distinct from Ireland and other islands that make up the British Isles. “The name Albion has been translated as ‘white land’; and the Romans explained it as referring to the chalk cliffs at Dover (Latin albus, ‘white’),” the article continues.

More recently, the Wikipedia writer says, English explorer Sir Francis Drake christened California “Albion” when he visited there in 1579, during his voyage around the world. When the provinces of Québec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were united as the Canadian Confederation in 1867, alternative names “briefly suggested” for what became Canada were “New Albion” and “Albionoria” (translated as “Albion of the North”).

Your writer cannot connect any of this information with people in Lygonia, Maine, choosing a new town name early in 1824.

Historian Ruby Crosby (Bickmore) Wiggin

Headstone of Ruby Crosby Wiggin in Willey Cemetery, in Benton.

Historian Wiggin’s full name is Ruby Crosby (Bickmore) Wiggin. An on-line genealogy (managed by Roger Keith Crosby, who last updated it two years ago) says she was born in Albion on Dec. 5, 1908, daughter of Merlon Linley and Pearl Eleanor Bickmore.

Pearl Bickmore was born in Calais in 1887, to parents whose first names are not recorded in the on-line genealogy, and was adopted by Ora Otis and Hannah Buzzell Crosby.

Ruby married Raymond Kenneth Wiggin (Jan. 29, 1907 – Nov. 2, 1998). Raymond Kenneth Wiggin was the son of Elmer Ellsworth Wiggin (1868 – 1953); who was the son of George Martin Wiggin (1835 – 1905); who was the son of Ezra Wiggin (1803 – 1894); who was the son of Nathaniel Wiggin, Jr. (1777 -1860); who was the son of Nathaniel Wiggin (born March 16, 1750, in New Hampshire; died Sept. 15, 1823, in China).

Ruby Crosby Wiggin died in Clinton, June 8, 1996.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

EVENTS: China Historical Society going back to school

Members of the China Historical Society (2023). (photo by Roberta Barnes)

photo source: JMG.org

by Bob Bennett

The China Historical Society will be hosting a remembrance and tour of the 75-year-old China (Middle) School following the annual meeting on Thursday, July 18. It is intended these activities will begin in the gym of the building, on Lakeview Drive, at about 6 p.m. Head Custodian Tim Roddy has offered to be the tour guide and though there is some on-going work, he is confident there will be plenty of access. The memories of the attendees will be voiced in the gym and it is hoped that many students, teachers and other China residents of all ages will be on hand to share their experiences. From previous messages and postings, it appears this event is generating quite a bit of interest and enthusiasm, and the CHS is looking forward to a fun and reflective evening; please put it on your calendar!

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: China – Palermo

by Mary Grow

The next town north of Windsor is China, which, like Windsor, began life as a plantation and did not acquire its present name for some years after the first Europeans settled there.

China Lake

A dominant feature of the town is what is now China Lake, earlier known as Twelve Mile Pond because it was 12 miles from Fort Western and the Cushnoc settlement. China Lake is almost two lakes. A long oval east basin runs north-south, with the main inlet at the north end. A short channel two-thirds of the way down the west shore, called the Narrows, connects to a ragged sort-of-oval west basin, with its western third in Vassalboro.

The outlet is at from the northwest side of the West Basin. Outlet Stream runs north through Vassalboro and Winslow to join the Sebasticook River before it flows into the Kennebec River.

Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, wrote that in the fall of 1773, the Kennebec Proprietors had surveyors Abraham Burrell (Burrel, Burrill) and John “Black” Jones “lay out 32,000 acres [50 square miles], including the waters” into approximately 200-acre farms.

Jones spent the winter of 1773-74 in Gardiner and finished the survey in the spring, creating a March 19, 1774, plot plan that Kingsbury reproduced. It is usually called John Jones’ plan, without mention of Burrell; and the Proprietors, Kingsbury said, named the area Jones Plantation.

In Gardiner, Jones met Ephraim Clark (July 15, 1751 – Oct. 20, 1829), from Nantucket, youngest son of Jonathan Clark, Sr., (1704 – 1780) and Miriam (Merriam, to Kingsbury, or Mirriam) (Worth) Clark (1710 – 1776). Ephraim came to Jones’ surveyed area in the summer, took up almost 600 acres toward the south end of the lake’s east shore and built a house.

Following Ephraim to China came his older brothers Jonathan, Jr. (1735, 1736 or 1737 – 1816), and his wife, Susanna (Swain, 1751-1821, according to on-line sources, or Gardiner, according to Kingsbury, who gave no dates); Edmund (1743 – 1822); and Andrew (1747 – 1832 or 1842); his sister and brother-in-law, Jerusha (Clark) Fish (Dec. 20, 1732 – Sept. 25, 1807) and George Fish (Aug. 15, 1746 – unknown; he died at sea on his way to England, sources say); and his parents.

Jonathan, Jr., and Edmund settled in 1774 on adjoining farms on the west side of the lake, south of the Narrows. Andrew chose a lot at the south end. The Fishes settled farther north on the east shore, near the present Pond Meeting House on Lakeview Drive. Jonathan, Sr., and Miriam reportedly lived with Ephraim.

In 1774, the southern part of China, about nine-tenths of the present-day town, was incorporated as Jones Plantation, almost certainly named for surveyor John Jones (though the China bicentennial history says “some sources mention an early settler named Jones from whom the name was taken”).

Settlement expanded over the next two decades. On Feb. 8, 1796, the bicentennial history says, the Massachusetts legislature made Jones Plantation a town named Harlem. The history quotes a source saying the origin of the name was the Dutch city of Harlem, but adds there is no evidence to support the statement “and no evidence of a Dutch settlement in China.”

Wikipedia says “Massachusetts legislative member Japheth Wasburn [sic] submitted the name.” This statement is incorrect; Japheth Coombs Washburn provided the name China 22 years later (see below), but he did not move to the area until 1803 or 1804.

The northern end of today’s China was first called Freetown Plantation. Various boundary adjustments in 1804, 1813 and 1816 moved the acreage temporarily to Fairfax (later Albion), then added land from Fairfax and Winslow.

Harlem, like other early towns, was headed by an elected board of three selectmen, assisted by a town clerk, a town treasurer and other officials as needed. At Harlem’s first town meeting, held at 11 a.m., Monday, March 28, 1796, Ephraim Clark was elected one of the three selectmen (with Abraham Burel and James Lancaster), and also the treasurer and the surveyor of lumber.

On Feb. 18, 1818, the Massachusetts legislature approved an act creating a new town that combined northern Harlem, from about the middle of present-day China, with parts of Fairfax and Winslow. The bicentennial history offers only a surmise, not a definitive explanation, of the action: southern Harlem residents were dominant in town government and northerners wanted more say.

Grave of Japheth Coombs Washburn, in China Village Cemetery.

Japheth Coombs Washburn, who lived in the pending new town and was Harlem’s legislative representative in Boston, was directed to have the new town named Bloomville. However, a town up the Kennebec had been named Bloomfield since February 1814, and that town’s legislative representative objected to so similar a name, fearing mail delivery problems.

Washburn, on his own to name the new town, chose China because it “was the name of one of his favorite hymns and was not duplicated anywhere else in the United States.”

(Bloomfield was combined with Skowhegan in 1861. An article by William Hennelly, chinadaily.com.cn, reproduced in the June 15, 2017, issue of The Town Line, says China, Michigan, was named in 1834, the name proposed by explorer Captain John Clark’s wife, who was a China, Maine, native; and China, Texas, began as China Grove [of chinaberry trees] in the 1860s.)

After another four years of contention, during which Harlem voters tried first to reclaim and then to join China, in January 1822 the by then Maine legislature combined the two, creating the present Town of China. There were minor boundary adjustments with Vassalboro in 1829 and with Palermo in 1830.

* * * * * *

Sheepscot Lake

Two Palermo historians offer three versions of the naming of that town, northwest of China (thus one tier of towns farther from the Kennebec River).

The earlier was Milton E. Dowe, whose 1954 history begins with Great Pond Settlement (sometimes Sheepscot Great Pond Settlement), so called because it was “near the Sheepscot Great Pond.” This large lake in the southern part of present-day Palermo is on the Sheepscot River.

(For the origin of the name “Sheepscot,” see the history article in the Feb. 22, 2024, issue of The Town Line.)

The second historian, Millard Howard, writing in 1975 (second edition finished in September 2014 and copyrighted in 2015 by the Palermo Historical Society), praised Dowe’s history, without always agreeing with it.

About 1778, Dowe wrote, Stephen Belden “rode through the wilderness on horseback with his Bible under his arm” and built a log cabin to found the settlement. His son, Stephen, Jr., born on the spring of 1779, and daughter, Sally, born in the fall of 1880, were the first boy and girl, respectively, born in Palermo.

Grave of Stephen Belden, who is buried in Dennis Hill Cemetery, on the Parmenter HIll Road, in Palermo.

Howard said Stephen, Sr., arrived in 1769, accompanied by his wife, Abigail (Godfrey) Belden (1751 – 1820), and an older son named Aaron. He dated Stephen, Jr.’s, birth to 1770, and said the couple had three more daughters after Sally.

“Probably,” Howard said, Stephen, Sr., was a New Hampshire native; and before coming to Great Pond he might have lived in nearby Ballstown (now Jefferson and Whitefield). Find a Grave says Stephen, Sr., was born Feb. 14, 1745, in Hampshire County, Massa­chusetts. He died June 15, 1822; he and Abigail are buried in Palermo’s Dennis Hill cemetery, on Parmenter Hill Road.

Dowe wrote that the 1790 census listed 26 families in what was by then named Great Pond Plantation. Howard said most later settlers chose land beside the Great Pond; he surmised Belden chose a place farther north because he was settling without title and did not want the Kennebec Proprietors’ agents to find him.

Dowe and Howard agreed that the “township” was first surveyed in 1800, marking (preliminary) boundaries with Harlem (later China), Fairfax (later Albion), Davistown (later Montville) and Liberty. Howard dated the survey to August, 1800, and named the surveyor as William Davis, of Davistown. Apparently incorporation as a plantation followed.

(Dowe said the plantation was resurveyed in 1805; but since the lines were marked on “trees and cedar posts,” they tended to disappear, and boundary disputes, especially with Harlem and then China, persisted. In 1828, Dowe wrote, Palermo’s western boundary was permanently delineated and marked by a stone monument in Branch Mills [a village the two towns now share].)

Dowe found records of plantation meetings between 1801 and 1805, with elections of local officials and passage of local regulations. Howard added that the first, and only, clerk elected and re-elected was Enoch P. Huntoon, aged 25 in 1801, a doctor from Vermont who was one of the settlement’s “most respected citizens.”

Early in 1801, 56 men (including both Stephen Beldens) from “a place commonly called Sheepscot Great Pond Settlement” (no mention of a plantation) petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for incorporation as a town named Lisbon. Similar to the 1808 New Waterford petition mentioned last week, their document cited the “great difficulties and inconvenience from the want of schools and roads and many other public regulations very necessary for happiness and well being” that resulted from being distant from “any incorporated town.”

Dowe offered no explanation for the proposed name Lisbon.

Howard wrote that on Feb. 20, 1802, while the Sheepscot Great Pond petition was pending, the Maine town of Thompsonborough was authorized to change its name to Lisbon. He commented that for residents looking toward future greatness, “One way to get off to a good start was to borrow something of the grandeur of a foreign capital by using the name.”

With Lisbon already taken, Palermo, capital of Sicily, became a candidate; and, coincidentally, the popular plantation clerk’s full name was Enoch Palermo Huntoon, Howard wrote. “One wonders,” he added, “if…anyone…realized that Palermo, Sicily, had been one of the greatest, most cosmopolitan, cities in medieval Europe, and had a more impressive place in history than did their first choice.”

Dowe provided two other “legend only” accounts of the name Palermo.

The first story is of “a group of men…sitting around the stove at one of the local stores about 1804,” debating names. One of them pointed to the words on a box of lemons from Palermo, Sicily.

The second story says Sicilian Italians who had come “up the Sheepscot River to trap” camped near the lake and named their campsite “Palermo.”

The Massachusetts legislature approved incorporation of Palermo on June 23, 1804, Howard said. He and Dowe agreed the first town meeting was not until Jan. 9, 1805; neither explained the delay.

Main sources

Dowe, Milton E., History Town of Palermo Incorporated 1804 (1954).
Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Howard, Millard, An Introduction to the Early History of Palermo, Maine (second edition, December 2015).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Windsor

by Mary Grow

This article continues the subseries on how the dozen towns in this history series got their names.

So far, names have been traced up the Kennebec River on the east bank, from Augusta to Clinton, inclusive. There are two other groups: on the east, four towns – from south to north, Windsor, Palermo, China and Albion – that do not have Kennebec River frontage; and on the Kennebec’s west bank, four towns/cities: from upriver to down, Fairfield, opposite Clinton and Benton; Waterville, opposite Winslow; Sidney, opposite Vassalboro; and (again) Augusta, on both sides of the river.

Your writer has chosen next to discuss the eastern towns, starting with the southernmost, Augusta’s eastern neighbor, Windsor. Henry Kingsbury commented in his Kennebec County history, at the beginning of his chapter on Windsor, that the town had “two of its sides parallel with the general course of the Kennebec river,” though it had no frontage.

Windsor’s river is the Sheepscot. The East Branch of the Sheepscot flows southwest from Sheepscot Pond in southern Palermo through northwestern Somerville and forms a short stretch of Windsor’s southeastern boundary. The West Branch flows south from Branch Pond in northern Palermo through southeastern China and the length of Windsor.

(The two branches join in Whitefield, a short distance south of the Windsor town line. The combined Sheepscot continues past Wiscasset into the Atlantic.)

The area that became Windsor, like the future towns of Benton and Clinton (see the June 13 article in this series), was full of mature hemlocks and pines. Kingsbury said “spars” for the USS Constitution were cut here; presumably, they were floated down the Sheepscot to end up on the ship, attached to the mast that had been cut in Unity and floated down the Sebasticook and Kennebec.

The on-line Maine an Encyclopedia dates the earliest Windsor settlers to 1790, when the area was part of the Plymouth or Kennebec claim. Kingsbury agreed, and named the first settler as former Bristol resident Walter Dockindoff.

Linwood H. Lowden, in his 1993 history of Windsor, said the beginning of settlement was Ebenezer Grover’s 1781 claim to a meadow northeast of the junction of Pinhook Stream and Gully Brook, in southern Windsor. Grover had a farm in Whitefield (then Ballstown), which he sold in December 1786; Lowden surmised he moved to the Windsor property before then, and built his Windsor house “sometime before 1797.”

Kingsbury did not explore the town’s various names; Lowden did. In his account, the southern part of present-day Windsor began as Pinhook Settlement. That name overlapped with the name New Waterford Plantation, and was succeeded by Malta, Gerry and Windsor.

“Pinhook,” Lowden wrote, was the name Grover and his associates gave to the area where Grover settled, probably because it was “close to the ‘hook’ in the West Branch.” The hook is a U-bend where the river goes south, west and north before resuming its course; it appears on contemporary maps on the north side of Route 32.

Lowden cited a series of early documents that called the area “Pinhook,” “Waterford” (the earliest was dated 1799), “Waterford alias Pinhook” or “New Waterford” (plus one from 1805 that called the area south of Harlem, which became China, “a plantation called New Sidney”).

He believed “Waterford” recognized Richard Meagher, the Kennebec Proprietors’ agent, who came from Waterford County, in Ireland. Meagher, he wrote, was another ex-Bristolite, who was living in New Waterford by 1802.

This series’ March 7 article about the Malta War summarized Proprietors’ and settlers’ disagreements about settlers’ rights to the land they lived on. Meagher, Lowden wrote, was “zealous” in acting for the Proprietors, spying on settlers and suing them for trespass. They retaliated so forcefully that Meagher “was literally hounded out of town and forced to return to Boston.”

The Proprietors seemed mostly to call the area Waterford, while the settlers preferred Pinhook, Lowden commented.

Lowden says New Waterford Plantation was never formally incorporated. He and Wikipedia say the area (by then extended to present-day Windsor) was incorporated on March 3, 1809, as Malta.

Here is Lowden’s story of that name, condensed.

It began with a January 1808 petition to the Massachusetts legislature, signed by 43 residents of “a Place or plantation called New Waterford,” asking to be incorporated “into a town by the name of Alpha.”

Their petition said that living in an unincorporated area denied them privileges that came with being incorporated. They cited specifically the “very great inconvenience” of having to go to a neighboring town’s town meeting in order to vote for state officials.

This and “many other causes” were seriously retarding “the settlement & prosperity of said Plantation,” they wrote.

Lowden next printed subsequent legislative documents: a Jan. 23, 1808, order to print a petition to incorporate Alpha; two Feb. 22, 1808, committee orders approving the incorporation of Alpha; and an undated “act to incorporate the plantation, called New Waterford, in the county of Kennebec, into a town, by the name of Malta.”

Later, Lowden called Malta a name that had been “foisted on…[New Waterford residents] by the slip of a clerk’s pen.” He did not explain why “Alpha” was the initial choice.

Malta residents wanted to change the name as early as 1811, he wrote. Voters at an Oct. 8, 1820, town meeting were asked to authorize their selectmen to petition the legislature – by now, the Maine legislature in Portland – for a change; and on Nov. 6, 1820, local voters voted to rename the town Lexington. (Lowden offered no explanation for that choice.)

Elbridge Gerry: It was during his second one-year term as governor that the legislature approved new state senate districts that led to the coining of the word ‘gerrymander.’

Again, the legislature ignored their choice: Lowden found a March 10, 1821, act to make Malta into Gerry. This name, he said, was in honor of Elbridge Gerry (July 17, 1744 – Nov. 23, 1814), Massachusetts businessman and politician.

Wikipedia’s long summary of Gerry’s career begins with his service in the Second Continental Congress (May 10, 1775 – March 1, 1781), during which he was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence in 1775 and the Articles of Confederation in 1777.

He was also a member of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, one of three who refused to sign the Constitution without a bill of rights. Elected to the first session of the U. S. House of Representatives in March 1789, he served until March 1793 (and helped write the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution).

After several unsuccessful campaigns, Gerry was elected the ninth Governor of Massachusetts, serving from June 10, 1810, to June 5, 1812. It was during his second one-year term as governor, the Wikipedia writer says, that “the legislature approved new state senate districts that led to the coining of the word ‘gerrymander.'”

In 1813, Gerry became President James Madison’s second vice-president, after George Clinton died in office on April 20, 1812 (see last week’s history article). Gerry, too, died in office, on Nov. 23, 1814.

(The next vice-president was Daniel D. Tompkins, of New York, elected with President James Monroe in an election described as extending from Nov. 4 to Dec. 1, 1816. Monroe and Tompkins were in office from 1817 to 1825; Wikipedia says Tompkins was the only 19th-century vice-president to serve two full terms with the same president.)

* * * * * *

“Of course,” Lowden wrote, Gerry was not a name acceptable to Malta voters. On Dec. 29, 1821, a six-man committee was chosen whose members asked the legislature for another change, resulting in a Jan. 9, 1822, act changing Gerry to Windsor.

“There is not even the slightest clue as to why the committee chose (supposing that they did in fact choose) the name Windsor,” Lowden wrote. But it stuck.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Clinton

Present day Clinton

by Mary Grow

The town of Clinton, Benton’s ancestor and northern neighbor, is the northernmost Kennebec County town on the east bank of the Kennebec River. Historian Carleton Edward Fisher wrote that Clinton’s first white settler was probably Ezekiel Chase, Jr., who might have arrived by 1761, before the Kennebec Proprietors claimed the area.

Fisher called the first settlers “poor but industrious and daring.” They were homesteading in a wilderness “beyond the protection of Fort Halifax”; he said they did not feel totally “safe from Indian threats” until after the War of 1812.

Fisher wrote that by the end of 1781, 25 families plus about a dozen single men had lived in the area long enough to leave a record. Areas where they homesteaded extended up the Kennebec River to the town’s western boundary, up the Sebasticook River only to Benton Falls.

Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, dated the first settlers at around 1775, after the area became part of the Plymouth Patent. By the time it (including both Benton and Clinton) was incorporated as Hancock Plantation “in or before 1790,” the population was 278, he said.

Fisher wrote that Hancock Plantation was never officially incorporated – at least, he could find no Massachusetts legislative record of the action. Nor could he find any plantation records.

No one your writer found explained the choice of the name “Hancock.” The present town of Hancock, Maine, in Hancock County, was reportedly named after John Hancock, a signer of the Declaration of Independence – as was Hancock County.

On Feb. 27, 1795, the Massachusetts legislature incorporated Hancock Plantation as the Town of Clinton. Fisher wrote that “a highly respected citizen,” Captain Samuel Grant, chose the name to honor Revolutionary War General Clinton, under whom he had served and “whom he deeply admired.”

Gen. George Clinton

Wikipedia identifies this general as George Clinton (July 26, 1739 – April 20, 1812), governor of New York from 1777 to 1795 and (partly at the same time) a brigadier general, first in the state militia and later in the Continental Army.

Clinton’s military service started in the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Wikipedia says. He served on a privateer operating in the Caribbean before joining the New York militia, where his father was a colonel and he became a lieutenant.

Elected to the provincial assembly in 1768, Clinton opposed British taxation publicly enough to be chosen a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, serving from mid-May 1775 to July 8, 1776.

On Dec. 19, 1775, New York’s Provincial Congress (the interim government that convened May 22, 1775) made Clinton a brigadier general in the state militia. The Wikipedia writer says he was by then strongly pro-independence, “even suggesting in one speech to Congress that a reward should be offered for the assassination of King George III.”

On March 25, 1777, Clinton became a brigadier general in the Continental Army, where he served until Nov. 3, 1783. In June 1777 he was elected both governor and lieutenant governor of New York; he accepted the governorship and served from July 30, 1777, to June 1795.

Clinton remained active in politics into the next century. He served as vice-president in Thomas Jefferson’s second term (1805-1809) and in James Madison’s first (1809 – 1813), during which he died of a heart attack on April 20, 1812.

* * * * * *

Kingsbury’s early history of the Town of Clinton references the part that became Benton frequently, and Fisher wrote that the southern part of town played a “dominant role” in early days. The majority of the population lived there in 1795, and the first town meeting was held there, at Captain Jonathan Philbrook’s house on April 20, 1795.

At a March 1797 meeting, Kingsbury wrote, voters appropriated $300 for eight school districts (with 166 students), “nearly all of which lay in what is now Benton.”

Fisher provided clarification about the Flagg family, mentioned last week. According to his history, the Gershom Flagg who came to Clinton was Gershom Flagg, Jr., son of the early Augusta settler.

The younger Gershom Flagg was born Sept. 1, 1743, Fisher said. He married twice, on Feb. 10, 1773, to Sally Pond, of Dedham, Massachusetts, and after her death, to Abigail Bigelow of Waltham, Massachusetts (no date given). His two wives gave birth to four daughters and four sons between 1773 and July 1800; Sally’s first son was the third Gershom in the family.

In September 1798, Fisher wrote, Gershom Flagg, Jr., and Joseph North, from Augusta, signed an agreement under which they built a double sawmill (presumably on the Sebasticook). Here Flagg was killed “by logs rolling on him” on May 6, 1802.

Fisher wrote that Flagg held “a number of town offices, including town clerk from 1796 to his death.” His son, the third Gershom, succeeded him as town clerk from 1802 through 1806.

Town meetings were held in school houses until the spring of 1833, Fisher wrote. By around 1815, settlers on the Kennebec and those on the Sebasticook were disagreeing about which community should host each meeting. The first discussion of building a town hall was in 1816.

In November 1831, Fisher said, voters approved building their town hall on Town House Hill, on what he said was then the Morrison Corner Road, “near Abiathar Woodsum’s store.” The location in southern Clinton, west of Clinton Village, was close to population concentrations at Morrison’s and Decker’s corners but still a distance from Pishon’s Ferry on the Kennebec.

The building was used until 1898, Fisher said, “when the present [1970] town hall was built.” In 1905, he found, the old town house was moved to an adjacent farm and made a barn, which was torn down in the spring of 1968.

As described in last week’s article, on March 16, 1842, the Maine legislature made the southern part of Clinton, almost half its about 75 square miles, a separate town that was first Sebasticook and soon afterwards Benton.

Present-day Clinton is bounded on the west by the Kennebec River. The Sebasticook River loops north, south, east and north again in its southeastern corner.

Kingsbury, writing in 1892, identified six population centers: Clinton Village, in the southeastern part of town on the northern curve of the Sebasticook; two villages near ferries on the Kennebec, Noble’s Ferry and about two miles farther up river Pishon’s Ferry; and three corners, Morrison’s, Decker’s, and Woodsum’s.

Clinton Village on the Sebasticook, is now downtown Clinton. Kingsbury counted its first settlers as Jonathan Brown, Asa Brown and “a Mr. Grant.” The last two began farming on the Sebasticook within a mile of the village before 1798, he said. An on-line genealogy adds Jesse Baker and “Mr. Michels” before 1800, and James and Charles Brown by 1812.

Kingsbury dated the first mills in the village, on a dam, to the mid-1830s. They were built by members of the Brown and Hunter families. Kingsbury and an on-line source disagree on some of the Hunters’ first names, but agree that one was named David and was known locally as “King David,” the on-line site says “because of his masterful ways.”

The downriver Kennebec ferry, Fisher wrote, was started by Benjamin Noble, who lived on the west (Fairfield) side of the Kennebec in 1770, in Clinton in 1787 and in Fairfield in 1790. Dean Wyman probably took over the service in 1791; Fisher found a 1797 reference to Wyman’s Ferry. Kingsbury, writing in 1892, said the ferry was “abandoned about twenty years ago.”

Pishon’s Ferry was started by Charles Pishon (originally Pichon, a family who settled in Dresden, Maine), probably around 1790 when he moved to Clinton. Pishon died around 1830 (Fisher) or 1840 (Kingsbury), but the ferry continued until the river was bridged there in 1910.

The 1856 and 1879 Kennebec County atlases show a significant settlement – 10 or so houses in 1856, half again as many in 1879 – at the Clinton end of Pishon’s Ferry, but no such concentration at the Noble’s Ferry landing.

At Pishon’s Ferry, Kingsbury listed farmers; the first tavernkeeper, before 1815; a doctor who set up his practice about 1815; several men who established mills on Carrabassett Stream, which flows into the Kennebec there, from 1815; and storekeepers from 1832.

Morrison’s Corner, where Hinckley Road is intersected by Peavey and Battle Ridge roads, appears on many maps. Kingsbury wrote that the first settler there was Mordecai Moers, who reportedly lived to be 105. The first Morrison, James, came about 1820; the 1856 map shows a J. Morrison on the northwest side of the intersection.

Decker or Decker’s Corner is shown on the 1879 map northeast of Morrison’s Corner; a J. Decker lived there. Kingsbury wrote that Joshua Decker and family settled near the corner about 1797; Joshua’s son Stephen (1780-1873) ran a store in the 1820s; and in 1892 at least two Decker families lived near the corner.

Woodsum’s Corner Fisher identified with Town House Hill. Kingsbury said Abiather (Kingsbury’s minority spelling; other sources say Abiathar) Woodsum (1786-1847) came there before 1820; Daniel Holt and Grandnief Goodwin had stores nearby.

Here, Fisher wrote, was one of Clinton’s six post offices, the North Clinton one. It opened June 10, 1825, in Woodsum’s store, and Woodsum was postmaster until Oct. 13, 1842.

The other five post offices Fisher listed as:

Clinton, opened July 29, 1811, on the west side of the Sebasticook in what became Benton, with Gershom Flagg, Jr., the first postmaster;
West Clinton, which ran only from March 2, 1833, to Aug. 21, 1834, maybe at Brown’s Corner on the Kennebec, which was also included in Benton;
East Clinton, opened June 13, 1836, in Clinton Village on the Sebasticook and renamed Clinton on July 2, 1842, as part of the division;
Pishon’s Ferry, on the Kennebec, from Feb. 6, 1844, to Nov. 11, 1903; and
Morrison’s Corner, Nov. 24, 1891, to June 25, 1903. Kingsbury said in 1892 that post office was in Martin Jewell’s store, one of several stores at the corner since James Morrison opened the first one “in his house” about 1832.

(Kingsbury listed only three post offices: East Clinton in 1836, becoming Clinton in 1842; North Clinton in 1825, becoming Pishon’s Ferry in 1844; and Morrison’s Corner, established in 1891.)

Clinton’s ferries across the Kennebec

Rope Ferry

According to Major General Carleton Edward Fisher’s history of Clinton (cited repeatedly in last week’s article), at least at Pishon’s Ferry and perhaps at Noble’s Ferry, too, the ferryboats that crossed the Kennebec River were at first propelled by oars, and were later converted to cable ferries, also known as rope ferries or chain ferries.

A cable ferry is propelled by the river current. It is therefore practical only in stretches of river where the current is steady and strong. Here is how it works, according to Fisher.

A cable is stretched across the river and the ferryboat is attached to it at each end by a tether whose upper fastening can slide along the cable. The end of the boat pointing to the far shore is on a short tether, so it is under the cable. The boat’s other end is on a longer tether so it can drift downstream, putting the boat at an angle to the current.

The ferryman drops a board down the side of the boat to form a version of a keel, against which the current pushes. With the boat and board held at an angle to the current, the current pushes the boat across the river.

At the far bank, it is unloaded; the shorter tether is lengthened and the longer one shortened to reverse the angle; and the current carries the boat back across. Fisher did not say whether the board is on the upstream or downstream side, or whether the ferryman needs to switch sides for the return trip.

The picture of a ferry on the Kennebec in Alma Pierce Robbins’ history of Vassalboro shows a flat boat with two square ends. On it stand two horses pulling a wagon, with someone at the horses’ heads and at least one person in the wagon. This ferryboat has a stubby mast with a small triangular sail.

An explanation of Clifton’s, not Clinton’s name

The red dot indicates the location of Clifton, Maine. The green square is Baxter State Park.

While researching the Town of Clinton’s name for this article, your writer came across a reference that did not fit with other sources. The on-line Maine an Encyclopedia says the town of Clinton was separated from Jarvis Gore on Aug. 7, 1848, and incorporated as a town named Maine.

The article continues, “The following year, the confusing address ‘Maine, Maine’ was changed apparently in honor of DeWitt Clinton, builder of the Eire [Erie] Canal and New York U.S. Senator, Governor, and Mayor of New York City.”

Wikipedia says explicitly that “the town [of Clinton] is not named for DeWitt Clinton.”

(DeWitt Clinton was a nephew of George Clinton, for whom the Town of Clinton is indeed named, as reported above.)

Your writer found on line a reference to Clifton, Maine, in Penobscot County, set off from Jarvis Gore or “The Gore East of Brewer” and incorporated as the town of Maine on Aug. 7, 1848. The name was changed to Clifton on June 9, 1849.

Main sources

Fisher, Major General Carleton Edward History of Clinton, Maine (1970).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).

Websites, miscellaneous.

EVENTS: A China school reunion planned for July 18

photo source: JMG.org

by Bob Bennett

As we all know, history cannot be changed and, sometimes unfortunately, it can be repeated in a negative sense. But most important of all, it must never be forgotten. This is one of the primary goals of our now, solidly in place, China Historical Society, and to follow that path we are going to coordinate an event with our annual meeting on Thursday, July 18. Since this is the 75th anniversary of the opening of the consolidated China School, we intend to hold our meeting at the present Middle School, on Lakeview Drive, and follow that event with a reunion of China students who attended the school from as far back as we can find them up to and including the present day.

While some of the fine points of this plan still need to be worked out, it is receiving strong support from RSU #18. While we realize that folks who switched to the school when it opened in 1949, from the numerous “neighborhood” facilities, are pretty well along in years, we hope there are a few who might be willing to share their memories of this change, which must have been dramatic to say the least.

Even though my personal ties to China only go back 42 years, I know several folks who started their education, as did most of us, at age 5 or 6, here in town in the early 1950s. Richard Dillenbeck, of the first class, is one of those and he has agreed to be the featured speaker for the discussion. If you readers have knowledge of other individuals who might be willing to share their memories and experiences in the new building, please inform them of our plan and have them reserve the date and a time frame of 6 to 6:30 p.m. We also would like to do a tour of the Middle School to allow those earlier “residents” who haven’t been inside for a while and all others to see the huge changes that have occurred in the five room original structure with a kitchen in the basement.

So, in conclusion, we will use The Town Line and social media sites related to China to keep everyone up to date and work to make this a memorable activity; stay tuned!

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Benton

Benton map

by Mary Grow

Continuing north on the east side of the Kennebec River, the next town after Winslow is Benton. Next north of Benton is Clinton.

These two towns share with Winslow not just the Kennebec, but the Sebasticook River as well. The Sebasticook meanders a bit west of south through Clinton’s town center, and past two of Benton’s once-four villages, on its way to join the Kennebec in Winslow.

Unlike Augusta, Vassalboro and Winslow, neither Benton nor Clinton ever included land on the west bank of the Kennebec.

Your writer intended to write about both towns this week. As usual, she found too much information; Clinton’s story will be postponed.

* * * * * *

What is now Benton began as the southern part of Clinton. It was part of the Kennebec Purchase. A summary history on the Town of Benton website says the area was surveyed in 1769.

The history section of Benton’s 2018 comprehensive plan names the earliest European settler as Ebenezer Heald, who in 1763 built the required cabin and cleared the necessary land to get a grant from Gershom Flagg. (Flagg was mentioned in the May 30 history article as a 1764 grantee on the west side of the Kennebec in Augusta.)

The first Benton settlers Henry Kingsbury listed in his Kennebec County history were Irish emigres George FitzGerald and David Gray, who settled on the Kennebec about a mile north of Benton Station. He gave no date, but said elsewhere the first settlers arrived in 1775, later than the Benton website and comprehensive plan say. Kingsbury named Flagg as an early settler on the Sebasticook around 1783, on a Plymouth Company grant that was “fifteen miles long by half a mile wide.”

It was not until 1842 that southern Clinton became a separate town. The Benton website credits the area that became Benton with the first sawmill on the Sebasticook, in 1773; the first doctor in town (Ezekiel Brown, Jr., at Benton Station on the Kennebec, in 1789); the first Clinton post office (at Flagg’s store in Benton Village on the Sebasticook, on July 29, 1811); and the first church building in town (the Congregational Meeting House at Benton Falls, also on the Sebasticook, in 1828).

Kingsbury wrote that Benton town records start with a March 16, 1842, Maine legislative act (Maine had become a separate state on March 15, 1820). This act divided Clinton and incorporated “the town of Sebasticook.”

A Historical Society slideshow on the Town of Clinton’s website illustrates the separation. It describes the line of demarcation beginning on the Kennebec, going east-southeast to the Sebasticook and up the middle of the Sebasticook to Clinton’s east boundary. It appears that Sebasticook took almost half Clinton’s land area.

Sebasticook, the comprehensive plan says, is an Anglicization of “Chebattiscook or Chebattis, meaning John Batstiste’s [Baptiste’s?] Place.” A Maine education website calls it a Penobscot word meaning “‘almost through place’ or ‘short passage river,’ referring to the short portage to the Souadabscook Stream, which connects the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers.”

At a March 4, 1850, town meeting, Kingsbury said, Sebasticook voters directed their selectmen to propose a new name. Selectmen chose Benton, which was approved by the legislature and first used at a September 1850 town meeting.

Sources your writer found are, for once, unanimous on the origin of the name: it honors Democratic U. S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton (March 14, 1782 – April 10, 1858). Benton served in the Senate from Aug. 10, 1821 to March 3, 1851; Wikipedia says he was the first person to serve five terms.

What else he was noted for depends on the source. Kingsbury mentioned only his 1854-1856 two-volume book, Thirty Years in the United States Senate (cited elsewhere as Thirty Years View).

Benton was a lieutenant colonel in the War of 1812, serving as Andrew Jackson’s aide, seeing no combat.

He fought several duels (an unlikely reason to name a town after him).

Wikipedia calls him “an architect and champion of [United States] westward expansion,” the movement also called Manifest Destiny.

He was a slave-owner, but opposed extending slavery into new territories.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says Benton insisted that public lands be distributed to people planning to settle on them; his political base in the 1820s was “small farmers and traders.”

Several sources mention Benton’s support of hard currency (“gold and silver coins instead of paper money and bank notes”), for which he was nicknamed “Old Bullion.”

It would be interesting to know which of these policies impressed the Benton selectmen, or what other choices, if any, they debated. Your writer notes two advantages of the new name: it’s closer to the top of alphabetical lists, and it’s shorter and quicker to say and write.

A Wikipedia article lists more than a dozen United States counties and towns named in Senator Benton’s honor, including Benton, Maine.

* * * * * *

Although Benton did not exist legally until March 16, 1842, Kingsbury and others begin their histories of the town decades earlier. Readers should remember that the name “Benton” in the following paragraphs is used retroactively until incorporation.

Kingsbury, finishing his history in 1892, named four villages in the Town of Benton: Benton Falls, Benton Village, East Benton and Benton Station (originally Brown’s Corner, where Dr. Brown settled). If these population centers began life as Clinton Falls, etc., your writer has found no historian who mentioned it.

Benton Falls and Benton Village were both on the Sebasticook, adjacent to waterfalls that provided water power. Benton Falls was and is on the east bank, on what is now Falls Road, running along the river from Route 139 south to the Winslow town line.

Your writer has been unable to find a definitive location for Benton Village, which no longer exists under that name. More intensive research in 19th-century land deeds should provide the information: Kingsbury identified the village, and other locations, by names of nearby pre-1892 residents.

There were two notable “falls” in the Sebasticook in the late 1700s and early 1800s, called upper falls and lower falls. Several sources, including Benton’s comprehensive plan and the town website, say Benton Falls was/is on the upper – upriver, or more northerly – falls.

The website lists, between 1769 and 1773, “First dam built at the upper falls (in now Benton Falls).” The plan says, “The first dam, erected at the upper falls in Benton Falls[,] was built before the Revolutionary War.”

Kingsbury, however, said the mills and shops at the upper falls were in Benton Village. He wrote that around 1800, Captain Andrew Richardson built an early sawmill on the east bank “at the upper falls (now Benton village).”

After much reading and map study, your writer sides with Kingsbury: as the Sebasticook flows toward the Kennebec, Benton (Village) is upriver, or north, of Benton Falls. This opinion is strengthened by the map in the 1879 Kennebec County atlas, which shows Benton P. O. (post office) on the west bank, upstream of Benton Falls P. O. on the east bank.

(The map in the 1856 atlas shows a densely populated area from south of Benton Falls to north of Benton Village on both sides of the Sebasticook and along roads paralleling it. This combined population center is labeled Sebasticook Corner on the east bank and Benton on the west bank.)

The present bridge where Route 139 crosses the Sebasticook, the Benton town office on the west bank a short distance downriver and nearby residences and commercial buildings are now in the area labeled Benton or Benton Village.

“Before 1800 a toll bridge was built and carried away several times by high water,” the Benton website says. Whether the river was bridged first at Benton Falls or Benton Village is unspecified. The 1856 map appears to show a bridge at each place.

East Benton and Benton Station are easier to locate.

East Benton was south of Fifteen Mile (or Fifteenmile) Stream, along today’s East Benton Road, in the southeastern part of town. Kingsbury listed two sawmills on Fifteen Mile Stream before 1840. They burned around 1855, were rebuilt and burned again sometime after 1870, he wrote.

The East Benton post office opened Aug. 5, 1858, Kingsbury said. The 1879 map shows an area labeled East Benton P. O. on the East Benton Road around the intersections with Richards, Hanscomb and Bog roads, on the west side of Fifteen Mile Stream.

On Dec. 28, 1887, Kingsbury said, the post office name was changed to Preston Corner; Daniel Preston had been postmaster since March 22 of that year, and served until Nov. 20, 1889. The name became East Benton again on May 29, 1891.

Benton Station was and is on the bank of the Kennebec, extending along the river both ways from the bridges between Benton and Fairfield. The 1879 map shows Maine Central railroad tracks through the village. The comprehensive plan says as of 2018, the former railbed was part of Benton’s Kennebec River Walking Trail.

Kingsbury said the first Benton Station post office was not established until May 31, 1878.

Going back to the Sebasticook, the comprehensive plan says a second dam was built at the lower falls in 1809, but it had no fish passage and therefore “so hindered the fishing that six years later the selectmen had it removed.” (But if the lower falls is really at Benton Falls, it must have been soon replaced to provide water power.)

The plan emphasizes the importance of fishing to early settlers, for food and as an “industry.” Main catches were alewives and shad; there were some salmon.

In 1817, the plan says, “fishing privileges were auctioned off so that sections of the river were sold to individuals.” Kingsbury added that people brought wagons from 40 miles around to collect fish, “which were thrown into the carts literally by the shovelful.” Alewives cost 25 cents per 100, shad four cents each.

The Sebasticook was a better fishery than the Kennebec because the Sebasticook was bridged and “could be spanned easily by weirs,” letting residents use both banks, the plan explained. The west bank of the Kennebec was and is in the Town of Fairfield.

Damming the Kennebec at Augusta in 1836 ended the fisheries.

Kingsbury said an early sawmill was built at the Sebasticook’s upper falls about 1800, and listed three mills and a tannery there in the 1820s.

Around the same time, he mentioned a blacksmith shop and Gershom Flagg’s grist mill at Benton Falls. Benton Falls, he said, had its first tavern by 1818, and by 1823 another tavern “where the pulp mill boarding house now [1892] stands.”

The comprehensive plan calls Benton Falls “the hub of the community” in the first half of the 19th century. The writer listed “at least three (3) sawmills, a tannery, carding and dye mill, grist mill and shingle mill.”

By the 1860s, “a brush and block-handle factory was run in the same building that wooden shoe sole shoes were manufactured. In 1872, a potato planter was invented and manufactured at the Benton Falls.”

The plan adds that Benton’s large pine trees were another economic resource. It says the masts for the USS Constitution (launched Oct. 21, 1797) were cut in Unity by a team of six men, mostly from Benton; hauled to the Sebasticook behind 20 oxen; and floated downriver through Benton.

Kingsbury listed early stores at Benton Falls (from 1808), Benton Station (from before 1810), Benton Village (from 1828) and East Benton (not until the 1870s). The East Benton store, “on the west corner of the road to Clinton,” began life as a smithy (no date), was enlarged and converted about 1878, and burned six days after it opened, he wrote.

The comprehensive plan says the “first frame house north of Augusta” was built on Benton’s Eames Road in 1772. (Eames Road runs southeast off Falls Road at the southern end of Benton Falls.) The builder’s name is omitted.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Town of Benton, 2018 Comprehensive Plan (found on line).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Correction and apology

For the article (above) on the Town of Benton, which was separated from Clinton in 1842, your writer reviewed multiple sources’ differing locations for the upper falls and the lower falls on the Sebasticook River.

She concluded the village of Benton Falls, on the east bank of the river, was founded at the lower falls. Having since had time to visit Clinton’s Brown Memorial Library and read part of Major General Carleton Edward Fisher’s admirably researched 1970 history of Clinton, she now believes she was wrong: Benton Falls, a mill village in the 19th century and a residential area today, was and is at the upper falls.

Fisher wrote that the lower falls were only about half a mile north of the Winslow town line. The upper falls were about half a mile farther upriver.

Another mile upriver, about where today’s highway bridge carries Route 139 across the Sebasticook a little north of the Benton town office, and where your writer erroneously located the upper falls, is what Fisher labeled Nine Mile Rips, a third stretch where the river drops comparatively rapidly.

The apology is to the writers of the Town of Benton’s website and comprehensive plan histories, who said, correctly, that Benton Falls was and is at the upper falls.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Vassalboro – Winslow

Map of Vassalboro in 1879.

by Mary Grow

Going north from Augusta on Route 201 on the east bank of the Kennebec River, one follows the approximate route of Massachusetts Governor William Shirley’s 1754 military road between Fort Western, in present-day Augusta, and Fort Halifax, in present-day Winslow.

The town between Augusta and Winslow has been named Vassalboro since 1771, though the spelling has been simplified: Vassalborough lost its last three letters in the town clerks’ record books by 1818, according to local historian Alma Pierce Robbins.

Robbins starts her history in early March 1629, when England’s King Charles gave a group of men called the Massachusetts Company in London (or the Massachusetts Bay Company; sources differ) a charter for a Massachusetts colony. Among these men were Samuel and William Vassall or Vassal. In June, the company sent out three ships, which arrived in Salem on June 29, 1629.

Samuel (1586-1667; “probably” died in Massachusetts) and William (1590 or 1592 – 1656) were sons of a London Alderman (city councilman) named John Vassall (originally DuVassall), “a Protestant refugee from France.” In 1609, John Vassall became one of the Virginia Company chartered in 1606 by King James I – and, Robbins wrote, thereby determined that a piece of the Kennebec River valley would be named Vassalboro.

Robbins summarized the family’s ventures in England, Barbados and, to a much lesser extent, North America. William Vassall was briefly in Massachusetts in 1629, and from 1635 to 1648 lived in Scituate with his wife and six children.

Some later Vassalls moved permanently to Massachusetts, Robbins wrote. One of importance to Vassalboro was Florentius. According to Robbins, Florentius was Samuel’s great-grandson: Samuel had a son named John and John had a son named William, father of Florentius.

On-line sources, however, list one Florentius Vassall as a Jamaican sugar planter who married Anna Maria Hering Mill (born c. 1675), by whom he had a son, Florentius (1709-1776; called Florentius II in one source) before he died in 1712.

Another Florentius Vassal(l) was born around 1689 and died in 1778.

Two sources say Florentius II married Mary Foster, born in 1713; they had a daughter, Elizabeth (Vassal) Barrington, and/or a son, Richard (1732-1785 or 1795).

Robbins wrote that the Florentius Vassall who was William’s son and who was born in 1709 was one of the 1749 Proprietors of the Kennebec Purchase. She said he acquired acreage on both sides of the Kennebec from Pownalborough north, including in present-day Augusta and Vassalboro.

James North’s 1870 history of Augusta says the Florentius Vassall who was a Proprietor was son of William and great-grandson of Samuel.

This Florentius was born in Massachusetts, North wrote, where his father had come “as early as 1630,” but later moved to England and died in London in 1778 (not 1776). He had a son named Richard, and in his 1777 will left his land-holdings to Richard’s daughter Elizabeth’s male heirs, touching off title disputes that North said were finally settled by “the Supreme Court at Washington.” He gave no date; Robbins’ history suggests the Supreme Court was involved around 1850.

Robbins listed no Vassall among the early settlers in Vassalboro. The only mention of the family in the latter half of the 1700s is her account of a 1766 petition from the settlers to the Kennebec Proprietors asking for a grist mill at Seven Mile Brook, in southern Vassalboro.

Robbins commented that the petition was unusual in that it was sent to the whole company rather than to the individual Proprietor. Other Proprietors, she said, had built mills and churches for their settlers.

She added, “There is nothing to indicate that Vassall hastened to see that the inhabitants had a grist mill.”

(They did get one, and a sawmill as well, as described in the Jan. 11, 2024, article on mills on Seven Mile Brook.)

The 1761 Nathan Winslow survey, mentioned in previous articles, increased interest in Vassalboro land. Nonetheless, there were only 10 families living there in 1768; and remember, the town then extended 15 miles back from each bank of the Kennebec. The town was incorporated as Vassalborough on April 26, 1771.

Robbins credits the choice of name to Florentius Vassall’s “speculative [and profitable] deals in real estate” on this part of the Kennebec.

Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, wrote that Vassalboro’s town records from 1771 to “the present” (1792) “are in four leather-bound books, well preserved and beautifully written.”

On May 17, 1771, Kingsbury said, Justice of the Peace James Howard (presumably the Fort Western James Howard) called the first town meeting, at “James Bacon’s inn.” Meetings were held in inns on alternate sides of the Kennebec for more than 20 years; the first town meeting house was authorized in 1795, on the east side of the river.

According to Kingsbury, the first “buildings” Vassalboro taxpayers paid for were two town pounds. He named the owners of the lots where they were built, but did not say where the lots were. He did write that the inhabitants were ordered to meet to build them in December, 1771, and anyone (presumably, any able-bodied man) who did not show up was fined.

Kingsbury described the first reference to schooling as a decision at the March 1790 town meeting to create nine school districts on the east side of the river. Less than two years later, on Jan. 30, 1792, Sidney, on the west side, was separated from Vassalboro and incorporated as a separate town. Readers will hear more about Sidney in a later article in this series.

* * * * * *

Winslow is the next town north of Vassalboro on the east bank of the Kennebec. It, like Vassalboro, started on both banks of the river and lost its western part, in its case in 1802.

Fort Halifax in 1754.

Fort Halifax, built in 1754 (and mentioned in last week’s article) was not the earliest European building within the town boundaries. Kingsbury explained in his chapter on Winslow that the location, at the junction of the Sebasticook and Kennebec rivers, was important to Natives and Europeans, because rivers were main travel routes.

Kingsbury used the spelling Ticonic for the junction and for the falls upriver on the Kennebec. Edwin Carey Whittemore and Stephen Plocher, two writers of Waterville history, chose Teconnet; Plocher said the falls were named after Chief Teconnet. Early British records used Taconnett.

Kingsbury wrote that the first trader up the Kennebec, in 1625, was Edward Winslow, who might not have come as far as “the land that was destined to carry his named down to posterity.” On Sept. 10, 1653, according to a document Kingsbury quoted, Christopher Lawson built a trading house on the south side of the Sebasticook where the rivers joined.

In the same year, Kingsbury wrote, Lawson “assigned” his building to Clark & Lake (Thomas Clark or Clarke and Thomas Lake). Clark & Lake and Richard Hammond both had trading posts at Ticonic (and farther downriver) by 1675, when the Natives captured the Ticonic posts and apparently controlled the area until, Plocher wrote, the remaining building “was burned” – presumably by Europeans – in 1692.

Plocher called Hammond Winslow’s first white resident. Multiple sources say he was accused of cheating the Natives in his trading; they killed him in 1676.

As summarized last week, in 1754 Massachusetts Governor William Shirley had Fort Western built at Cushnoc and Fort Halifax built at Ticonic for protection against the French and their Native allies.

After Shirley and the Kennebec Proprietors agreed, on April 17, 1754, to build the two forts, the governor named General John Winslow, from Marshfield, Massachusetts, to supervise building Fort Western. Winslow (1703 -1774) was the great-grandson of Edward Winslow (1595 – 1655), who came to North America in 1620 on the Mayflower, was a governor of the Plymouth Colony and founded Marshfield.

Governor Shirley went up the Kennebec and personally chose the site for the fort, on the north side of the Kennebec-Sebasticook junction, as a strategic location to cut off Native communications and from which to launch an attack upriver.

Captain William Lithgow was the fort’s first commander, arriving on Sept. 3, 1754. Lithgow Street in present-day Winslow runs parallel to the Kennebec south of the rivers’ junction.

The fort’s name honored the Earl of Halifax. Kingsbury said he was the British Secretary of State. Louis Hatch, in his Maine history, said Halifax was President of the British Board of Trade, and added he was “sometimes called on account of his services to American commerce the ‘Father of the Colonies.'”

A settlement developed around the fort. Morris Fling, in 1764, was the first to farm the flat land nearby, Kingsbury said; the name “Fling’s Interval” lasted a couple generations.

Captain Lithgow used to have the river ice swept so his men could “slide the ladies,” Kingsbury wrote. A former island below the falls was a recreation area for Fort Halifax “officers and their families,” and a Native camping site as late as 1880.

Kingsbury also mentioned a brook named after a Sergeant Segar, who built a bridge crossing it. A contemporary on-line map of Winslow shows Segar Brk Avenue, off Whipple Street, north of Halifax Street (Route 100).

Plocher wrote the area’s first incorporation was as the plantation of Kingfield; Kingsbury called it Kingsfield; neither provided a date. It became the town of Winslow on April 26, 1771, including present-day Waterville and Oakland, named after General Winslow.

An on-line genealogy related to the historic Winslow house in Marshfield says Edward Winslow frequently voyaged between Massachusetts and England. He “died at sea somewhere in the Caribbean in 1655 while serving as Chief Civil Commissioner during the British fleet’s expedition to conquer the West Indies.” This information, in your writer’s opinion, increases the probability that General Winslow’s great-grandfather was the same Edward Winslow who Kingsbury said traded up the Kennebec in 1625.

Winslow’s first town meeting, Kingsbury said, was held at Fort Halifax on Thursday, May 23, 1771. In 1787, he wrote, Ezekiel Pattee (an early settler) and James Stackpole, of Winslow, and Captain Denes (or Dennis) Getchell, of Vassalboro, settled the Winslow/Vassalboro town line.

(Pattee was featured in the Jan. 25 issue of The Town Line as the man for whom Winslow’s Pattee Pond was probably named.)

Managing town business became increasingly difficult by the 1790s, especially since there was no bridge across the Kennebec. In 1793, Whittemore wrote, voters appointed two (tax?) collectors, one for each side of the river, and provided for preaching and town meetings to alternate between east and west banks.

After much discussion of a division, usually with the Kennebec as the dividing line (“though once a line one mile west of the river was proposed,” Kingsbury wrote), on Dec. 28, 1801, voters approved a petition to the Massachusetts legislature to make a separate town named Waterville on the west side of the river. The legislature approved June 23, 1802.

Main sources

Hatch, Louis Clinton, ed., Maine: A History 1919 ((facsimile, 1974).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Plocher, Stephen, Colby College Class of 2007 A Short History of Waterville, Maine Found on the web at Waterville-maine.gov.
Robbins, Alma Pierce History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: City of Augusta

Old Fort Western

by Mary Grow

The City of Augusta began its legal existence as part of Hallowell, and has been named Augusta since June 9, 1797. It became the state capital in 1827, and transitioned from a town to a city in 1849. It is the only municipality in this part of the Kennebec River Valley that is still on both sides of the river.

As reported last week, the first permanent settlement inside Augusta’s present-day boundaries was the 1628 Cushnoc trading post. “Cushnoc,” (also spelled Coussinoc, Cusinok, Koussinoc, Koussinok) is a Native American word for “head of tide.”

In 1754, the Kennebec Proprietors built Fort Western, close to the trading post site on the highland on the east shore of the river.

There were two forts downriver: in Richmond, Fort Richmond, built in 1720 and abandoned in 1755, after the upriver forts were ready; and in Dresden, Fort Frankfort, built in 1752 and soon renamed Fort Shirley. The new name honored William Shirley, governor of Massachusetts from August 1741 to September 1749 and again from August 1753 through September 1756. Fort Shirley was garrisoned until 1759.

Upriver, in present-day Winslow, was Fort Halifax (1754-1766), built by the Massachusetts government at Ticonic (Taconett) falls. James North, in his history of Augusta, quoted Shirley’s April 16, 1754, letter to the Plymouth (aka Kennebec) Proprietors proposing the two forts.

The governor explained that the upriver fort would better protect British settlers from invasion by the French, settled in the St. Lawrence River valley and interested in the Kennebec as a route to Québec, and their Native American allies. The disadvantage was that above Cushnoc, the Kennebec wasn’t deep enough for sloops to bring in supplies.

Shirley said Massachusetts would provide the upriver fort, if the Proprietors would build at Cushnoc a “strong defensible magazine,” consisting of a fenced central building, soldiers’ quarters and two blockhouses. The governor promised – and provided – soldiers to protect the men building the fort.

Maine An Encyclopedia, found on line, says the fort was named in honor of a friend of Shirley’s named Thomas Western, of Sussex, England.

This website says supplies were shipped from Boston to Fort Western as often as four times a year. They were unloaded and “taken by flat-bottomed boat, against a strong river current, to Fort Halifax.”

The two forts were also connected by a road passable for wheeled vehicles that Shirley ordered built along the east bank of the Kennebec. North called it “probably the first military road of any considerable length constructed in Maine.” It was also the first iteration of what is now Route 201.

In the winter, North said, the road couldn’t be used because deep snow filled ravines. At least one winter, soldiers hauled sled-loads of supplies to Halifax on the frozen river.

The British recapture of Louisburg in 1758 and capture of Québec in 1759 led to expulsion of the French from North America, clearing the way for British settlement.

Or, as Captain Charles Nash wrote in his first Augusta chapter in Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history, “Only when the gates of Québec opened to the army of the immortal Wolfe did the valley of the Kennebec become disenthralled from the fatal influences that had for a century delayed its development.”

State House

(British General James Wolfe was only figuratively immortal; readers may remember that he died during the battle for Québec, at the age of 32. The French leader, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, Marquis de Montcalm de Sainte-Veran, was severely wounded and died the next day, aged 47.)

In 1760, the Massachusetts legislature incorporated Lincoln County, including most of the Kennebec River valley. In 1761, the Plymouth Company commissioned the Winslow survey on both sides of the Kennebec, mentioned last week.

Winslow’s lots North described as in three tiers. Each lot was a mile deep; those on the river were 50 rods (825 feet) wide with an area of 100 acres; the second tier were 150 rods (2,475 feet) wide and 300 acres; and the third tier were 75 rods (1,237.5 feet) wide and 150 acres. Over half were for settlers, the rest reserved for Proprietors.

In 1762, North wrote, settlers began getting grants around the former fort. By 1764, he found, 37 families owned and occupied lots; 10 more were living on land that was granted to them later. He estimated the population at about 100 people.

Among these settlers was Captain James Howard, Fort Western’s commander. He claimed lots for himself and two sons, and he and his family lived and ran a store in the fort’s main building. The other military structures were torn down or allowed to deteriorate.

On the west side of the river, North wrote that in March 1764, Proprietors’ lots were granted, including to a builder named Gershom Flagg the one “upon which the central part of the city of Augusta is now built, from Winthrop to Bridge streets.”

Settlers were required to build a house, clear at least five acres for farming and live seven or eight years (sources differ) on their lots “in person or by substitute.”

With these conditions, North wrote, by April 26, 1771, four towns were populous enough to be incorporated: Hallowell, Vassalboro, Winslow and Winthrop.

* * * * * *

Post Office

The Hallowell of 1771 included all of present-day Hallowell, Augusta and Chelsea and most of Farmingdale and Manchester. Nash said it covered 65,715 acres (or 102.7 square miles) of mostly wilderness; North called it about 90 square miles (which equals 57,600 acres).

It was named after a Proprietor, Boston merchant Benjamin Hallowell. He owned 3,200 acres on the west side of the Kennebec, about three miles south of Fort Western; North said he was “extensively engaged in ship-building.”

By the mid-1770s, Nash wrote, settlers on the west bank of the Kennebec outnumbered those on the east, because of the better soil and more abundant water-power. Discussion of a building for town meetings began in 1777; when a decision was reached in 1781, the meeting house was on the west side of the river, near the foot of present-day Winthrop Street.

On the west side, mills at the mouths of brooks entering the Kennebec created two small population centers, a northern one called the Fort, nearly opposite Fort Western at Bond (or Bond’s) Brook, and another about two miles south called the Hook.

Nash said the Hook was so called because it was at the outlet of Kedumcook (now Vaughan) Brook, in Hallowell. North quoted a 1767 deposition by Colonel William Lithgow saying the British called the area Bombohook, but the Natives called it Kee-dum-cook, referring to the gravel shoals in the Kennebec River at that point.

By the 1790s, Nash wrote, residents of the Hook and the Fort began to disagree about town business. The result of one dispute, over how money raised to pay ministers should be spent, was the June 1794 division of Hallowell into three parishes, South, Middle and North.

In 1791, Hallowell Academy became “the first incorporated institution of learning in the district of Maine.” It was at the Hook. Nash wrote that at the March 16, 1795, town meeting in the meeting house, “the Hook party brilliantly carried an adjournment to the new academy building.”

This meeting Nash called a contest between north and south. North said the Hook people wanted five selectmen, instead of three, and the two communities disagreed over who was qualified to vote. The Fort won on both issues.

Town of Harrington

There is still a Harrington, Maine, in Washington County. It was incorporated June 17, 1797, according to an online source. Harrington’s website says it has a year-round population of 1,004 and is the home town of the Worcester Wreath Company, founder of the nonprofit Wreaths Across America program that puts wreaths on veterans’ graves every December.

By this time, Nash said, the Hook had the Academy, and in 1796 the South Church was built there. The Fort had the “meeting house, court house, jail and post office.” Each settlement had its own newspaper, whose writers “exchanged many a witty and telling repartee.”

The final straw came in 1796, and involved the river.

Until then, public transportation across it was by Pollard’s ferry, which ran from the east shore below former Fort Western to the bottom of Winthrop Street. Many people wanted a bridge; they realized it would be a major expense, even for the entire town; but Fort and Hook residents each wanted it in their village.

In early 1796, the Fort people asked the Massachusetts legislature to approve a bridge in their area. The Hook residents opposed the request.

But, Nash wrote, both Hallowell representatives in the Massachusetts legislature were from the Fort, and on Feb. 8, 1796, the legislature incorporated the Proprietors of the Kennebec Bridge. The act specified that the bridge’s west end be between Pollard’s ferry and Bond Brook.

Nash said Hook residents were depressed and disappointed. The two sides started opposing each other’s candidates for local office and expenditure requests; relations became so bad that separation seemed the only option.

People from the Fort favored division; people from the Hook were “therefore” opposed, Nash wrote. Nonetheless, when the Fort faction presented a petition to the Massachusetts legislature, the Hallowell representative, who was from the Hook, did not fight it.

* * * * * *

On Feb. 26, 1797, the Massachusetts legislature incorporated Hallowell’s middle and north parishes as the town of Harrington. Nash and North wrote that Harrington took almost two-thirds of Hallowell’s territory, which would have been between 60 and 68 square miles (see the differing figures for Hallowell above), and about half its population and property valuation.

(Wikipedia gives Augusta’s current area as 58.04 square miles, citing the United States Census Bureau. In May 1798, Harrington’s population was 1,140. In 2022, Augusta’s was 19,066.)

The name, Nash said, honored Lord Harrington, “a favorite courtier and honored minister of [King] George the Second.” Around 1730, an earlier royal commissioner had given the name to “ancient Pemaquid” (now Bristol). North said resident and legislative representative Amos Stoddard resurrected it in 1797; neither historian explained why.

Harrington voters held their organizational meeting April 3, 1797, electing officials and appropriating funds for roads, schools, support of the poor and other essentials. However, Nash wrote, the town’s name was “exceedingly unacceptable to the people,” who directed the selectmen to get it changed forthwith.

The selectmen accordingly petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to change Harrington to Augusta, and on June 9, 1797, their petition was granted. Nash said official documents give no reason for the anti-Harrington movement or the substitution of Augusta, but he offered his surmises.

In the 1790s, he said, Cushnoc was a place to catch migratory fish, including blackback herring and alewives, collectively known as river herring. Hook residents easily turned Harrington into Herring Town, leading upriver people to want a name “less susceptible to profane travesty.”

Augusta, he said, had (like Harrington) been used earlier, in 1716, for part of what is now Phippsburg. He called it “more than probable” that memory of that settlement suggested the “half romantic name…which the satirical neighboring humorists could not successfully ridicule.”

The bridge that apparently triggered the creation of Harrington/Augusta opened in November 1797.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).

Websites, miscellaneous.