A look at what Maine was like before it became a state

by Roland D. Hallee

In March 15, 1820, Maine became the 23rd state of the United States. Last Sunday was Maine’s 200th anniversary of admission to the union.

HOW MAINE GOT ITS NAME

There is no definitive explanation for the origin of the name “Maine,” but the most likely origin is that the name was given by early explorers after the former province of Maine, in France. Whatever the origin, the name was fixed for English settlers in 1665 when the English King’s Commissioners ordered that the “Province of Maine” be entered from then on in official records. The state legislature in 2001 adopted a resolution establishing Franco-American Day, which stated that the state was named after the former French province of Maine.

Other theories mention earlier places with similar names, or claim it is a nautical reference to the mainland. Captain John Smith, in his “Description of New England” (1614) bemoans the lack of exploration: “Thus you may see, of this 2000 miles more then halfe is yet vnknowne to any purpose: no not so much as the borders of the Sea are yet certainly discovered. As for the goodnes and true substances of the Land, wee are for most part yet altogether ignorant of them, vnlesse it bee those parts about the Bay of Chisapeack and Sagadahock: but onely here and there wee touched or haue seene a little the edges of those large dominions, which doe stretch themselues into the Maine, God doth know how many thousand miles;” Note that his description of the mainland of North America is “the Maine.” The word “main” was a frequent shorthand for the word “mainland” (as in “The Spanish Main”)

Attempts to uncover the history of the name of Maine began with James Sullivan’s 1795 “History of the District of Maine.” He made the unsubstantiated claim that the Province of Maine was a compliment to the queen of Charles I, Henrietta Maria, who once “owned” the Province of Maine in France. This was quoted by Maine historians until the 1845 biography of that queen, by Agnes Strickland, established that she had no connection to the province; further, King Charles I married Henrietta Maria in 1625, three years after the name Maine first appeared on the charter.

The first known record of the name appears in an August 10, 1622, land charter to Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Captain John Mason, English Royal Navy veterans, who were granted a large tract in present-day Maine that Mason and Gorges, “intend to name the Province of Maine.” Mason had served with the Royal Navy in the Orkney Islands, where the chief island is called Mainland, a possible name derivation for these English sailors. In 1623, the English naval captain Christopher Levett, exploring the New England coast, wrote: “The first place I set my foote upon in New England was the Isle of Shoals, being Ilands [sic] in the sea, above two Leagues from the Mayne.” Initially, several tracts along the coast of New England were referred to as Main or Maine (ex.: the Spanish Main). A reconfirmed and enhanced April 3, 1639, charter, from England’s King Charles I, gave Sir Ferdinando Gorges increased powers over his new province and stated that it “shall forever hereafter, be called and named the PROVINCE OR COUNTIE OF MAINE, and not by any other name or names whatsoever …” Maine is the only U.S. state whose name has exactly one syllable.

ORIGINAL INHABITANTS

The original inhabitants of the territory that is now Maine were Algonquian-speaking Wabanaki peoples, including the Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, Penobscot, Androscoggin and Kennebec. During the later King Philip’s War, many of these peoples would merge in one form or another to become the Wabanaki Confederacy, aiding the Wampanoag of Massachusetts and the Mahican, of New York. Afterwards, many of these people were driven from their natural territories, but most of the tribes of Maine continued, unchanged, until the American Revolution. Before this point, however, most of these people were considered separate nations. Many had adapted to living in permanent, Iroquois-inspired settlements, while those along the coast tended to be semi-nomadic – traveling from settlement to settlement on a yearly cycle. They would usually winter inland and head to the coasts by summer.

European contact with what is now called Maine started around 1200 when Norwegians interacted with the native Penobscot in present-day Hancock County, most likely through trade. About 200 years earlier, from the settlements in Iceland and Greenland, Norwegians had first identified America and attempted to settle areas such as Newfoundland, but failed to establish a permanent settlement there. Archaeological evidence suggests that Norwegians in Greenland returned to North America for several centuries after the initial discovery to collect timber and to trade, with the most relevant evidence being the Maine Penny, an 11th-century Norwegian coin found at a Native American dig site in 1954.

The first European settlement in Maine was in 1604 on Saint Croix Island, led by French explorer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons. His party included Samuel de Champlain, noted as an explorer. The French named the entire area Acadia, including the portion that later became the state of Maine. The first English settlement in Maine was established by the Plymouth Company at the Popham Colony in 1607, the same year as the settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. The Popham colonists returned to Britain after 14 months.

The French established two Jesuit missions: one on Penobscot Bay in 1609, and the other on Mount Desert Island in 1613. The same year, Castine was established by Claude de La Tour. In 1625, Charles de Saint-Étienne de la Tour erected Fort Pentagouet to protect Castine. The coastal areas of eastern Maine first became the Province of Maine in a 1622 land patent. The part of western Maine north of the Kennebec River was more sparsely settled, and was known in the 17th century as the Territory of Sagadahock. A second settlement was attempted in 1623 by English explorer and naval Captain Christopher Levett at a place called York, where he had been granted 6,000 acres by King Charles I of England. It also failed.

Central Maine was formerly inhabited by people of the Androscoggin tribe of the Abenaki nation, also known as Arosaguntacook. They were driven out of the area in 1690 during King William’s War. They were relocated at St. Francis, Canada, which was destroyed by Rogers’ Rangers in 1759, and is now Odanak. The other Abenaki tribes suffered several severe defeats, particularly during Dummer’s War, with the capture of Norridgewock in 1724 and the defeat of the Pequawket in 1725, which greatly reduced their numbers. They finally withdrew to Canada, where they were settled at Bécancour and Sillery, and later at St. Francis, along with other refugee tribes from the south.

HOW MAINE BECAME PART OF MASSACHUSETTS

Maine in 1798.

The province within its current boundaries became part of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1652. Maine was much fought over by the French, English, and allied natives during the 17th and early 18th centuries, who conducted raids against each other, taking captives for ransom or, in some cases, adoption by Native American tribes. A notable example was the early 1692 Abenaki raid on York, where about 100 English settlers were killed and another estimated 80 taken hostage. The Abenaki took captives taken during raids of Massachusetts in Queen Anne’s War of the early 1700s to Kahnewake, a Catholic Mohawk village near Montreal, where some were adopted and others ransomed.

After the British defeated the French in Acadia in the 1740s, the territory from the Penobscot River east fell under the nominal authority of the Province of Nova Scotia, and together with present-day New Brunswick formed the Nova Scotia county of Sunbury, with its court of general sessions at Campobello. American and British forces contended for Maine’s territory during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, with the British occupying eastern Maine in both conflicts. The territory of Maine was confirmed as part of Massachusetts when the United States was formed following the Treaty of Paris ending the revolution, although the final border with British North America was not established until the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842.

Maine was physically separate from the rest of Massachusetts. Long-standing disagreements over land speculation and settlements led to Maine residents and their allies in Massachusetts proper forcing an 1807 vote in the Massachusetts Assembly on permitting Maine to secede; the vote failed. Secessionist sentiment in Maine was stoked during the War of 1812 when Massachusetts pro-British merchants opposed the war and refused to defend Maine from British invaders. In 1819, Massachusetts agreed to permit secession, sanctioned by voters of the rapidly growing region the following year. Formal secession and formation of the state of Maine as the 23rd state occurred on March 15, 1820, as part of the Missouri Compromise, which geographically limited the spread of slavery and enabled the admission to statehood of Missouri the following year, keeping a balance between slave and free states.

Maine’s original state capital was Portland, Maine’s largest city, until it was moved to the more central Augusta in 1832. The principal office of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court remains in Portland.

The 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, under the command of Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, prevented the Union Army from being flanked at Little Round Top by the Confederate Army during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Four U.S. Navy ships have been named USS Maine, most famously the armored cruiser USS Maine (ACR-1), whose sinking by an explosion on February 15, 1898, precipitated the Spanish–American War.

THE FINAL PUSH TO STATEHOOD

The Missouri Compromise was United States federal legislation that admitted Maine to the United States as a free state, simultaneously with Missouri as a slave state – thus maintaining the balance of power between North and South in the United States Senate. As part of the compromise, the legislation prohibited slavery north of the 36°30′ parallel, excluding Missouri. The 16th United States Congress passed the legislation on March 3, 1820, and President James Monroe signed it on March 6, 1820.

Earlier, in February 1819, Representative James Tallmadge Jr., a Jeffersonian Republican from New York, submitted two amendments to Missouri’s request for statehood, which included restrictions on slavery. Southerners objected to any bill that imposed federal restrictions on slavery, believing that slavery was a state issue settled by the Constitution. However, with the Senate evenly split at the opening of the debates, both sections possessing 11 states, the admission of Missouri as a slave state would give the South an advantage. Northern critics including Federalists and Democratic-Republicans objected to the expansion of slavery into the Louisiana Purchase territory on the Constitutional inequalities of the three-fifths rule, which conferred Southern representation in the federal government derived from a states’ slave population. Jeffersonian Republicans in the North ardently maintained that a strict interpretation of the Constitution required that Congress act to limit the spread of slavery on egalitarian grounds. “[Northern] Republicans rooted their antislavery arguments, not on expediency, but in egalitarian morality”; and “The Constitution [said northern Jeffersonians], strictly interpreted, gave the sons of the founding generation the legal tools to hasten the removal of slavery, including the refusal to admit additional slave states.”.

When free-soil Maine offered its petition for statehood, the Senate quickly linked the Maine and Missouri bills, making Maine admission a condition for Missouri entering the Union as a slave state. Senator Jesse B. Thomas, of Illinois, added a compromise proviso that excluded slavery from all remaining lands of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36° 30′ parallel. The combined measures passed the Senate, only to be voted down in the House by those Northern representatives who held out for a free Missouri. Speaker of the House Henry Clay, of Kentucky, in a desperate bid to break the deadlock, divided the Senate bills. Clay and his pro-compromise allies succeeded in pressuring half the anti-restrictionist House Southerners to submit to the passage of the Thomas proviso, while maneuvering a number of restrictionist House northerners to acquiesce in supporting Missouri as a slave state. The Missouri question in the 15th Congress ended in stalemate on March 4, 1819, the House sustaining its northern antislavery position, and the Senate blocking a slavery restricted statehood.

The Missouri Compromise was controversial at the time, as many worried that the country had become lawfully divided along sectional lines. The Kansas–Nebraska Act effectively repealed the bill in 1854, and the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). This increased tensions over slavery and eventually led to the Civil War.

The District of Maine was the governmental designation for what is now the U.S. state of Maine from October 25, 1780, to March 15, 1820, when it was admitted to the Union as the 23rd state. The district was a part of the state of Massachusetts (which prior to the American Revolution was the British province of Massachusetts Bay).

Originally settled in 1607 by the Plymouth Company, the coastal area between the Merrimack and Kennebec rivers, as well as an irregular parcel of land between the headwaters of the two rivers, became the province of Maine in a 1622 land grant. In 1629, the land was split, creating an area between the Piscataqua and Merrimack rivers which became the province of New Hampshire. It existed through a series of land patents made by the kings of England during this era, and included New Somersetshire, Lygonia, and Falmouth. The province was incorporated into the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the 1650s, beginning with the formation of York County, Massachusetts, which extend from the Piscataqua River to just east of the mouth of the Presumpscot River in Casco Bay. Eventually, its territory grew to encompass nearly all of present-day Maine. The large size of the county led to its division in 1760 through the creation of Cumberland and Lincoln counties.

The northeastern portion of present-day Maine was first sparsely occupied by Maliseet Indians and French settlers from Acadia. The lands between the Kennebec and Saint Croix rivers were granted to the Duke of York in 1664, who had them administered as Cornwall County, part of his proprietary Province of New York. In 1688, these lands (along with the rest of New York) were subsumed into the Dominion of New England. English and French claims in western Maine would be contested, at times violently, until the British conquest of New France in the French and Indian War. With the creation of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1692, the entirety of what is now Maine became part of that province.

When Massachusetts adopted its state constitution in 1780, it created the District of Maine to manage its northernmost counties, bounded on the west by the Piscataqua River and on the east by the Saint Croix River. By 1820, the district had been further subdivided with the creation of Hancock, Kennebec, Oxford, Penobscot, Somerset, and Washington counties.

A movement for Maine statehood began as early as 1785, and in the following years, several conventions were held to effect this. Starting in 1792 five popular votes were taken but all failed to reach the necessary majorities. During the War of 1812, British and Canadian forces occupied a large portion of Maine including everything from the Penobscot River east to the New Brunswick border. A weak response by Massachusetts to this occupation contributed to increased calls in the district for statehood.

The Massachusetts General Court passed enabling legislation on June 19, 1819, separating the District of Maine from the rest of the Commonwealth. The following month, on July 19, voters in the district approved statehood by 17,091 to 7,132.

In Kennebec County, the vote was 3,950 in favor, 641 opposed; In Somerset County the results were 1,440 in favor, 237 opposed.

Thus, Maine became the 23rd state admitted to the U.S. on March 15, 1820.

Kennebec Historical Society presents the Spool Mills of Western Maine

(Editor: We’re sorry, this event has been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak!)

In the late 18th century, patrons of James Clark’s cotton thread shop in Paisley, Scotland, first found that they could buy thread wound on wooden spools made by a local wood turner. The convenience caught on and the thread spool industry was born, first in Scotland and Finland, then in the United States. Initially Maine birch wood was shipped to cotton mills in New Jersey and Rhode Island, but it became more economical to turn the spools in Maine, eliminating heavy transportation costs.

Maine had the country’s largest supply of white birch, grown as a succession crop to massive forest fires. Oxford, Franklin, and Piscataquis counties led in the amount of birch available. Following the passage of tariffs on spool created overseas, the spool mill boom was on. Peter Stowell’s ancestors were early to the expansion of these mills as, almost accidentally, they grew the industry from a single mill in Dixfield to dominance in the industry. His presentation traces the history of this now vanished industry in Western Maine.

This month’s KHS speaker, Peter Stowell, grew up in Andover and Bethel. He was entranced early by the majesty of Oxford County’s mountains and rivers and began exploring its history and geography as a child. He is now focused on recovering cultural information long lost to present generations through assiduous research in Maine’s defunct newspapers, official state and federal directories and reports, and informed sources.

This KHS presentation is free to the public (donations gladly accepted). The presentation will be followed by some light refreshments and take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, at Hope Baptist Church, located at 726 Western Avenue, in Manchester.

How, and why, Maine became a state

State celebrates 200th anniversary on March 15

by Tom Waddell

Before Maine became a state in 1820 it was the District of Maine, a territory of Massachusetts. The movement to separate from Massachusetts predates the American Revolution but, during the revolution, separatists put aside their grievances to support the war effort. With independence won, the question of separation reemerged, buoyed by national independence and a growing population and economy in Maine.

In the Fall/Winter of 1785-86, delegates from 20 Maine towns met in Portland to discuss separating from Massachusetts. The arguments for separation included: the Massachusetts Legislature rarely voted for legislation that would help solve problems in Maine; Boston was a long way from Maine and not easily reached; Supreme Court records kept in Boston made it difficult for Maine lawyers to defend local clients; trade regulations favoring Massachusetts resulted in lower prices for Maine lumber; and those living in unorganized Maine territories paid taxes but were not allowed representation in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The phrase “Taxation without Representation” comes to mind.

The two main factors that would ultimately determine when and how Maine became a state were the 1789 Coasting Law and the growing conflict of slavery.

The Coasting Law passed by Congress in 1789 required all ships from one state that were trading with other states along the coast to stop and pay a fee in each state they did not share a boarder with. Because the District of Maine was part of Massachusetts, a state that shared borders with New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, Maine ships were exempt from paying fees in these states. The Coasting Law was a major factor for over 30 years in keeping Maine a part of Massachusetts.

A vote to separate from Massachusetts failed in 1792 and election results showed where separation had support or not. People who lived inland favored separation because statehood would give them an opportunity to buy the land they were farming or lumbering. Coastal and southern Maine towns favored remaining part of Massachusetts due to the Coasting Law and proximity to Boston, respectively.

The two factions kept up their pressure on the Massachusetts Legislature which resulted in another vote on separation in 1807. To maximize turnout, the separatists got the Massachusetts Legislature to hold that vote when the Massachusetts governor was up for re-election. Despite a high turnout the separation ballot question failed again.

As during the Revolutionary War, separatists put their grievances on hold during the War of 1812. After the war Maine’s population grew once again. Consequently, Maine established three new counties, 53 new towns, and the economy grew as well. This renewed prosperity after the war caused more Mainers to favor separation.

Mindful of the last defeat, those in favor of separating from Massachusetts maneuvered to eliminate one obstacle to Maine becoming a state – the Coasting Law – before attempting a new vote on separation. The separatists were able to get a revised Coasting Law passed that removed the requirement to pay fees, which was the primary reason coastal towns opposed separation. As a result, more coastal towns began to favor separation as well.

The July 1819 vote to separate from Massachusetts reflected the increased support and the question passed by a margin of 10,000 votes – 17,000 to 7,000. Now all that remained was for Congress to admit Maine into the Union as the 23rd state.

Unfortunately for Maine, slavery again raised its ugly head at a time when there were 22 states in the Union evenly split between free and slave states. Speaker of the House Henry Clay argued that admitting Maine as a free state would upset the balance of power. He supported legislation, commonly known as the Missouri Compromise, that admitted Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state.

The Tallmadge Amendment, as it was called, was a proposed amendment to a bill regarding the admission of the Territory of Missouri to the Union, which requested that Missouri be admitted as a free state. The amendment was submitted in the U.S. House of Representatives on February 13, 1819, by James Tallmadge, Jr., a Democratic-Republican from New York, and Charles Baumgardner.

In 1820, the Missouri Compromise was passed, which did not include the Tallmadge Amendment but attempted to appease both sides of the debate by admitting Missouri as a slave state in exchange for the admission of Maine as a free state, and the complete prohibition of slavery in all of the remaining Louisiana Purchase territory north of the 36˚30′ parallel, except in Missouri.

In response to the ongoing debate in Congress concerning the admission of Missouri as a state and its effect on the existing balance of slave and free states, Tallmadge, an opponent of slavery, sought to impose conditions on Missouri’s statehood that would provide for the eventual termination of legal slavery and the emancipation of current slaves.

Most people in Maine were against slavery. They considered the Missouri Compromise that traded the lives of slaves for statehood to be a Faustian Bargain. Unfortunately, some politicians in Maine and in Washington, DC preferred passing the Missouri Compromise in order to avoid conflict with the slave states, a decision that would come back to haunt the nation 40 years later.

The main source for this article was the Maine Historical Society – Maine’s Road to Statehood.

Kennebec Historical Society to present “Lost Indian Tribes of Western Maine”

Hopelessly caught between the colonial aims of several European nations, primarily England and France, Maine’s native population never stood a chance. Dozens of tribes in western Maine were decimated by an endless series of war, disease, trauma, and displacement from their homelands. Their cultural presence has been lost to the world; their histories are told by white men. This presentation locates the tribes along western Maine rivers and identifies the forces that sealed their fates. Learn of the names of Wawenocks kidnapped by George Weymouth and Capt. Henry Harlow, of the murder of Squanto, and of the western Maine Indians who were tricked into capture at Dover, New Hampshire, and later imprisoned, hanged, or sold into slavery never to be heard from again.

Our KHS speaker, Peter Stowell, grew up in Andover and Bethel. Educated at Gould Academy, the University of Maine, and Tulane University in New Orleans, he was entranced early by the majesty of Oxford County’s mountains and rivers and began exploring its history and geography as a child. He is now focused on recovering cultural information long lost to present generations through assiduous research in Maine’s defunct newspapers, official state and federal directories and reports, and informed sources. For his presentation to the Kennebec Historical Society, Stowell has collected information on Maine’s Indians from more than 100 sources, some of them dating back to the early 1600s and most of them dating before 1900.

This KHS presentation is free to the public (donations gladly accepted). The presentation will be followed by some light refreshments and take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 19, at Hope Baptist Church, located at 726 Western Avenue, in Manchester.

“Manufacturing Augusta: The Cotton Mill Fire and the Breaching of the Edwards Dam” local history presentation at Lithgow Public Library

On Wednesday, January 22, at 6:30 p.m., the Lithgow Public Library, in Augusta, will host “Manufacturing Augusta: The Cotton Mill Fire and the Breaching of the Edwards Dam,” presented by the Heritage Center at Mill Park. The event is free and open to the public.

This is the fifth in the series of presentations on local manufacturing history by the Heritage Center at Mill Park. Come learn about the rich local history of industrial Augusta in this event spotlighting the massive fire at the Bates Manufacturing, Edwards Division cotton mill in 1989 and the breaching of the Edwards Dam in 1999. Jan Michaud, founder of the Heritage Center at Mill Park, will share the video interviews and footage, concluding with a brief discussion.

Lithgow Library is located at 45 Winthrop Street, in Augusta. For more information, please call the library at (207) 626-2415 or visit our website at www.lithgowlibrary.org.

The story behind the first Thanksgiving

by Gary Kennedy

For some of us, Thanksgiving isn’t a space in time, day, week, month or year. In older times it was being thankful for a good harvest which was derived from a year of hard work which would supply the people for the coming months with food. Most crops were obtained in the late part of September to early October, depending on the crop. After this, harvest and storage of food stores were followed by hard winters.

I can’t explain why Thanksgiving Day was given the date of the fourth Thursday of November. I do know that the first winter the colonists endured was wrought with misery and death. Approximately 50 percent of the original 102 pilgrims, as they were known, perished of disease and the elements. The second season they fared much better having built some lodging and making new friends, the Abnaki Indians. The most unbelievable event occurred at this meeting as the Native American who greeted them did so in English. Later the Pilgrims were introduced to a Native American by the name of Squanto who was a member of the Pawtuxat tribe who also spoke English. This became a learning opportunity well needed by the very weak Pilgrims.

Squanto had years previously been kidnapped by the English and sold into slavery. Squanto had the knowledge of both worlds and even though he had been kidnapped and sold into English slavery, he was willing to teach the remaining Pilgrims the art of survival in this new world. After years of being a slave he was eventually sold to a sea captain which allowed him the opportunity to return to the new world, which for him was very familiar. That in itself was a reason to be thankful for the survivors of the Mayflower. Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn, catch fish and tap maple trees for their sap. Corn was the first vegetable, with fish racks for fertilizer, and maple syrup and honey were the first sources of sugars. Squanto taught the avoidance of poisonous plants and he also introduced the pilgrims to the Wampanoag which was another local Indian tribe. This friendly-relationship lasted for at least 50 years.

Governor William Bradford, the first of the Mayflower political figures, organized a celebratory feast in which Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag and a few others were invited. This Native Americans event is remembered as America’s first Thanksgiving and lasted for three days. The official name of Thanksgiving hadn’t been given at this point. The chronicler who gave us most of this information was a Pilgrim named Edward Winslow. When festivities concluded, Chief Massasoit sent some of his men out to hunt and they gave as a gift five deer, which in itself was a blessing. This year turned out well for the pilgrims. Not all years were this great but we won’t visit that area and spoil the spirit here.

Eventually, in 1789, George Washington issued the first proclamation by the National Government of the United States. This had mostly to do with the conclusion of the country’s War of Independence and successful ratification of the US Constitution. President James Madison and John Adams followed suit. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday.

The writer and author Sarah Hale who wrote, “Mary had a Little Lamb,” launched the campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years she pushed for this to happen and finally she reached the ear of Abraham Lincoln, and in 1863 it became so. Although Thanksgiving has lost a lot of its religious over tones it still remains a family/friend event with lots of gaiety and food. The typical meal is still turkey, potatoes, squash, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and various pies, especially pumpkin.

Since 1924, Macy’s of New York puts on the most famous of parades, with marching bands and floats. Now just let me say, “go and join your family and friends and devour those delicious foods which you will surely remember the day after.” I will leave you with this one positive note and that is, “they haven’t made me change the name of this holiday yet.” Have a great holiday our friends, and don’t forget to thank the one who makes all things possible. I promise to continue this story next year. God be with you and yours and God Bless America.

A brief history of Togus VA hospital

Togus in the 1800s

by Gerry Day
Military veteran

Maine veterans are lucky to have access to the oldest Veterans Administration hospital in the United States.

Thanks to the early veterans who took on the challenge to start the new VA hospital, who had to grow their own vegetables and raise animals to be able to feed everyone. They also maintained the buildings and the equipment in the hospital. Without those early veterans, there may not have been a Togus hospital at all.

Togus was named after the Worromontogus Native American tribe that lived in the area.

The hospital was founded following the American Civil War and admitted its first veteran on November 10, 1866.

Today’s VA staff doesn’t have to go through each day the way they did back then. But, do they have it easier?

The current staff has been taxed to provide services not even thought of in those days: budgets, laws passed by Congress, financial benefits, service-related issues and family benefits, life insurance, house loans, school loans for veterans and, in some cases, their family. They also have to determine service and non-service connected benefits. They no longer treat just the sick and injured veterans. Now, with added requirements and computers to process, they also need additional technical training to stay proficient at the job.

Prior to new agreements with the Department of Defense, the information needed to determine eligibility for a veteran’s rating, the VA would contact as many as 20 different organizations, and probably still couldn’t verify their eligibility.

There were many questions to be answered. Was the veteran in the place where the incident happened at the time? Was he treated medically as a result of the incident?

It was a long and trying process for the veteran and the VA. Because of new procedures where the Department of Defense provides the VA with current medical information on what treatment a veteran has been receiving, the VA, in most cases, has to go to one place for the information.

The people who work to get veterans rated for their claims are the VA staff, with help from service organizations, and others who volunteer their time. Some who have retired from the VA and have come back to volunteer to do many jobs, takes the load off the staff who process the claims.

If the veteran has a justified claim, the VA will do all they can to get the claim approved, and get the veteran awarded the benefits they deserve. Currently, the VA, according to the Department of Defense agreement, gets copies of a veteran’s medical records when they are discharged. This makes it easier and quicker to process new claims, as they will have access to documents needed to process the claim.

This also makes it easier for the VA medical staff to treat veterans. They now have current medical information about what has been done to treat the veteran while on active duty.

For those living away from Togus, there have been agreements made for them to be treated closer to home. In some cases, this is not possible because there isn’t a doctor in their area who practices in a specialized field. They, then, have to find treatment elsewhere, and this probably means a trip to Togus.

According to the Togus public information officer, Jim Doherty, the VA currently treats 42,500 veterans in Maine. They have eight full time outpatient community clinics, and three part-time community access clinics.

Maine veterans have the best of the best taking care of their needs. I know, I am a service-connected veteran myself.

With that in mind, thanks to the two Garys – Gary Burns and Gary Kennedy – who spend their time helping Maine veterans as veterans’ advocates. They do a great job mediating cases between the veteran and the VA system. We can’t thank you guys enough.

Christopher Columbus: hero or villain?

Christopher Columbus

by Gary Kennedy

The discovery of America is commonly questioned. I remember the question coming up in 1964 and pundits stating that the Americas were not discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. It was further stated that the Americas were actually discovered prior by an explorer by the name of Amerigo Vespucci. It’s actually uncanny that the ages of the two men are so close. Columbus was an Italian explorer born in 1451 and died in 1506. Vespucci was born the same year 1451 but died in 1512. In all actually Columbus discovered the Islands of the Bahamas with a grant from Queen Isabella using three ships, the Pinta, the Nina and the St. Maria. Although Columbus’s journal of the 1st voyage to the Americas was destroyed, an accurate abstract of the journal, which was written by Columbus’s biographer, Bartolome De Las Casas, is used.

Columbus’s flag ship the Santa Maria went aground on a reef so Columbus was forced to take the wreckage and build a fort on the Island of Hispaniola. Columbus left 40 of his men there promising to return for them. He continued through the islands and finally landed in the new world. (New Spain) Columbus brought African slaves and Europeans who carried diseases with them which completely wiped out the native population. Columbus was a hero for a while, then was ultimately arrested for his crimes against humanity and stripped of his titles and royalty. He died in 1506 a simple man. This is just the short story. Although Columbus was in fact a patriot he was also a very cruel sadistic person, he was still historically considered a great explorer. What a disappointment finding all this out was for me.

Amerigo Vespucci

So this now takes us to Amerigo Vespucci who was on Italian explorer, cartographer, and navigator who was born in the Republic of Florence, Italy. Vespucci’s voyages happened in the same time frame of that of Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage. Vespucci was the 1st person to realize that the North and South American continents were distinct continents that were unknown to the Europeans, Asian and Africans. Vespucci made this discovery while sailing near the tip of South America in 1501. This was the era of exploration. The world’s economy was becoming more and more diverse in a very pleasant way. Curiosity was very intense during this age and progress grew at a very rapid rate. Morality and cost had no part in the end results sought by the developing world. The world lost its flat and gained a global configuration so more places were sought and new and safer pathways were questioned. Vespucci also has credit for discovering the Amazon River.

Exploration led to trade and this led to diversity and profits; of course gold, silver and gems were the most sought after commodities. Both Vespucci and Columbus were influenced by the adventures of Marco Polo. Peoples, cultures and geography were the adventure of the day. As unbelievable as it may seem Vespucci determined the Earth’s circumference accurately, within 50 miles. He also was a celestial genius, thus improving navigation.

So Vespucci more than likely reached the mainland of the Americas a few months before John Cabot and more than a year before Columbus. Using his knowledge of Marco Polo’s books description of the constellations and the coast lines of Asia he came to the conclusion he was not in Asia, but an altogether different continent. He verified his suspicion by travelling 400 miles further south along the South American Coast. In 1538 a mapmaker named Gerardus Mercator used the name “America” to both North and South America, known then as the new world. It remains the same to this very day.

Leif Erikson

I must add the two men were very different. Vespucci died with great honor but Columbus died as a very cruel self serving individual, great in his abilities but very poor in his morality. So disappointing! Well the redemption in all of this is it wasn’t either of these two men who discovered what was known as the Americas. During the years of 900-1000 Leif Erikson, who was a Norse explorer from Iceland, came on the scene to be known as the 1st European to set foot on the continent of North America. Obviously this was a long time before the other two mentioned in this article. Leif was the 2nd son of Erik the Red. Motion pictures played this up years ago. Of course the movies made the story far more exciting than what is realistic.

Times in cold countries were very difficult at this time in history. Erik the Red was the one who settled Greenland. Obviously Leif Erikson was on the Americas centuries before Columbus. In 1964 the USA Congress authorized the president to proclaim October 9 as Leif Erikson Day.

It might be of interest to mention that this was in fact the time that Christianity was converted from Paganism because of Erik the Red and especially Leif’s mother, Thjodhild. Most of Greenland was converted to Christianity. So all is well that ends well.

You have received a thousand years of information; found out that there are three American claims by explorers to being the first in the Americas. Given the fact there are centuries between them you will have to use your own logic to decide who was first for you. Also, you now know there are two holidays, Columbus Day and Leif Erikson Day. So in the end there will be those who say, “Who cares, we get the day off.” I didn’t want to ruin your day by telling you that the Asians, in fact, crossed the Bering Strait to the Aleutian Islands, way before all of this. We call them, “Native Americans.”

When you look at so called Native Americans can you, without any doubt, tell what Asian area they are derived from? I have an opinion and that is exactly what it is. (Opinion) So, it is my opinion that before we start changing world shattering events, that really don’t change anything, we learn to accept some things and move on to more important things. We know what we know and that is all part of studying and learning. There is so much more to this story which you can research on your own. Some historians have different dates but these are the ones I have chosen. Enjoy your holiday my friends. (It’s just a name and not the story).

Kennebec Historical Society announces logo design contest for public

The Kennebec Historical Society is seeking submissions for a logo design for use primarily across digital media.

Any member of the public is welcome to submit a design. The design should be created keeping in mind that its final use is for concise and easy-to-identify brand use, representative of the KHS mission and/or history of Kennebec County. The logo needs to be usable in social media, such as for a Facebook profile image or brand icon. This logo will not replace the society’s current logo; instead, it is intended to act as a supplemental logo that maintains a connection to the current logo.

A KHS committee, in conjunction with the KHS board of directors, will select the winner.

The designer of the selected logo will receive:

  • $100.
  • A one-year membership in KHS.
  • Recognition across platforms such as our newsletter, our Facebook page, and press releases sent to local media.

Logo designs should be emailed as .JPG, .EPS, and .PDF files to kennhis1891@gmail.com with subject line “Logo Contest Submission” by 5 p.m. December 1, 2019.

For more details about the contest, visit the Kennebec Historical Society’s Facebook page (enter “@KHS1891” in Facebook’s search window), email us at kennhis1891@gmail.com, or call us at 622-7718.

Kennebec Historical Society honors archivist Plummer

The Kennebec Historical Society’s Personnel Committee has picked longtime archivist Ernest L. Plummer, of Pittston, as the first recipient of the society’s newly-established W. Scott Hill Service Award.

Plummer resigned this month after having volunteered in a variety of KHS positions over 16 years, including two terms as president. He and his wife, Joan, plan to move closer to his daughter’s family in Massachusetts.

Ernest L. Plummer

A native of Buffalo, New York, and a retired industrial chemist, Plummer has upgraded and maintained the KHS collections database, enabling catalogers to embed photographs and scanned images or original written documents into the record. The improvement in quality and quantity of society holdings has effectively opened KHS files to many more researchers seeking to learn more about some aspect of Kennebec County history.

Plummer became KHS vice president in 2007 and was elected to two-year terms as president in 2009 and in 2013. Under his leadership, the society pressed forward with efforts to retire the $190,000 mortgage on its present home, the Henry Weld Fuller Jr. house in Augusta, a goal that was achieved less than four years later. He also has been the society’s executive director and treasurer, and he recruited his wife to manage the society’s membership database, which she has done for several years.

He also spent much of his time assisting researchers and fostering cooperative relationships with other historical societies in the county. He clocked several hundred volunteer hours per year for the society’s benefit. As he winds up his years of service, he is training six volunteers to carry on his work of cataloging materials in the database.

For these achievements and others, the KHS Personnel Committee selected Plummer for the Hill award, which was established this year to honor society members who have initiated or organized landmark improvements in the society’s operation, reputation or contributions to the community. The award is named for W. Scott Hill, an Augusta physician who was one of the society’s co-founders and its first president.

The 560-member Kennebec Historical Society, a private, nonprofit organization, was founded in 1891. Its mission is to collect, preserve and make available to the public historical documents and illustrations that pertain to the history of Kennebec County and its 30 municipalities. The society hosts monthly historical lectures in a variety of locations in the county.

For more information, please contact KHS Administrative Director Scott Wood at 622-7718.