Friday, May 15, 2020

Parsonsfield and Porter - Young Towns in 1820

In 1820 when Maine gained statehood our towns of Parsonsfield and Porter were still very young towns. The History of Parsonsfield, published in 1888, tells us that on August 5, 1771 Thomas Parsons and his associates were deeded the tract of land now known as Parsonsfield by the heirs of Mrs. Bridgett Phillips, the land being part of that property conveyed to her husband, Major William Phillips by Chief Fluellen of the Sokokis or Saco Indians. As the conveyance to Major Phillips was disputed by the heirs of Francis Small and Major Nicholas Shapleigh who held title to the same land by deed of Captain Sandy, a lesser chief, Parsons also purchased the property from them on December 23, 1774 after having the land surveyed by Joseph Cram of Exeter, New Hampshire. The boundaries then established remain unchanged.
The plan of the township was divided into 12 ranges of 220 lots, the average being 150 acres each and a territory north of the 12th range along the Ossipee river of about ¾ mile wide, called the Gore.

The deed to Parsons required him to settle 12 families from the last day of March following, each with a house eighteen feet square, and three acres of cleared land. He was to settle 40 families within 4 years and in 7 years erect and board a meeting house 30’ x 40’ and have a minister settled. The first settlers of Parsonsfield were:

1771 – Thomas Parsons, Esq. & family, from New Hampshire, settled in the southwest part;

1775 – Eben and John Moore, from Scarborough, settled in the southeast corner;

         – John and Gideon Doe, from New Hampshire, settled in the west, near Province Lake;

1776 – Jere Avery, settled on the western side of Ricker’s Mountain (left in 1806);

1778 – George Kezar, who had hunted here as early as 1766, settled near Mudgett Meadow and on Kezar Mountain;

         – Amos Blazo, from New Hampshire, settled in the northwest corner;

         – Samuel Gilman and John Lougee, from New Hampshire, settle at North Road;

1779 – Samuel Pease (purchased land in 1777 and build a home on South Road before bringing his family in November 1779).

The town bypassed the usual step of organizing as a plantation and petitioned for incorporation which was granted by the state of Massachusetts, March 9 1785.


Porter’s earliest years began ten years later than Parsonsfield’s in 1781 a few weeks after the Battle of Yorktown, Virginia, (the final engagement of the Revolution War), when Meshach Libby traveled unaccompanied from Pittsfield, NH to the District of Maine to establish a home for himself and his kin. According to legend as related in the History of Porter by William Teg (1957) Meshach spent his first night near the falls where an Indian foot-bridge spanned the Ossipee River and in the morning made a “moose call” of birch bark which he blew, by some pre-arrangement, to summons none other than George Kezar who three years earlier had settled in Parsonsfield. Meshach and the great hunter/trapper spent several days roaming the pathless forests in search of a suitable place finally settling upon a spot about two miles north of what is now the village of Porter. There, on government land, Meshach decided to stay with a view to obtain title as soon as possible. After working to make a clearing and shelter Meshach returned to Pittsfield in December of that year, returning the following spring of 1782 accompanied by his wife and three of his four children. They were soon thereafter joined by Meshach’s parents, John Libby and wife, and his brother, Stephen. Next came Michael Floyd. These men were the first settlers, and since they had settled in Porter prior to the first day of January, 1784, they were entitled to receive one hundred acres of land each from the government. This right was recognized by Jeremiah Hill and his associates (including Dr. Aaron Porter of Biddeford who was the majority owner with six fifteenth shares of the plantation and for whom the town is named) who purchased the 18,600 acre tract, embodying the present town of Porter and the western section of the town of Brownfield, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on September 24, 1793. The “settlers deed”, however, to the four settlers was dated June 16, 1792. The arrow on the plan below indicates the approximate northern limits of Porter today.

No additional settlers came until 1787 with the influx of four additional settlers, namely: Benjamin Bickford, Benjamin Bickford Jr., and Samuel Bickford from Rochester NH, and Benjamin Ellenwood from Groton, MA.

The population of Porterfield so-called stood at about 280 people when “an act to incorporate a part of Porterfield into a town by the name of Porter, passed both branches of the Legislature of Massachusetts and was duly signed by Governor Caleb Strong on the 20th day of February, 1807”.


The 1820 federal census gives us a picture of what our towns of Parsonsfield and Porter, now joined by their shared village of Kezar Falls, looked like at the time Maine became a state. As the images below show Parsonsfield’s population in 1820 had increased to 2355 while Porter’s was still fairly low at 487.

Who were these citizens of Parsonsfield and Porter who were present at statehood? Future blogs will explore some of their stories…

Friday, May 1, 2020

Maine’s First Governor – 1820 Governor William King (1768-1852)

William King was born in Scarborough, Maine February 9, 1768 the son of Captain Richard and Mary (Black) King.  He was among the youngest of eight siblings including a much older half-brother.  His family was one of the most illustrious in Maine at the time.  His father became prosperous supplying lumber to English shipyards in Massachusetts.  By the time William was born his father had lost all his money and died when William was seven years old.  So, William was sent to work at a sawmill to help make a living for his family. 

William’s older half-brother, Rufus, had been sent to Columbia University and made a name for himself in politics.  Because of his father’s early death William did not have the educational advantages of his brothers.  He was largely self-educated by extensive reading and listening to elders.  To the end of his life he could neither spell correctly nor speak grammatically, having no time to master these refinements.  He learned arithmetic and how to save money through necessity.  But he was intelligent, ambitious and had confidence in himself.  At about the age of 21 he decided to leave home and drove his yoke of black steers (his father’s only legacy) on foot forty miles along the coast to Topsham.  There he found a job in a saw mill on the Androscoggin River. Living frugally, he amassed enough cash within six months to own the saw and within a year owned the mill.   He prospered by entrepreneurial spirit delving into a variety of businesses including significant real estate investments and shipbuilding ventures.  

He moved on to Bath where he established one of the first shipyards in Bath and became the largest merchant shipping owner in Maine.  When he became frustrated dealing with Boston banks, he founded and became president of the first bank in Bath.  He acquired stores, warehouses, wharves and ship yards.  In order to fill the holds of his rapidly growing fleet, he bought up huge tracts of land and planted them to potatoes to ship to the West Indies and developed orchards to export fruit to Europe.  His shipping fleet grew, carrying goods farther afield and bringing back goods including cotton from New Orleans. In 1809 he founded the first cotton mill in Brunswick.   

In 1795 he became active in politics and represented Topsham in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1795 and 1799.  When he moved to Bath he represented that town in 1804.  He served in the Massachusetts Senate for Lincoln County 1807 – 1811. 

By age 25 he was financially secure, socially settled and a local civic leader.  At one time he owned the entire township of Kingfield in Franklin country.  His town house in Bath was one of the most elegant in the country, furnished with treasures brought home by his ships from all over the world.  Here he entertained the intellectual, political and social leaders of the new America. By this time he had married Ann Nesbeth Frazier from a well-to-do Boston family.  Through his cultivated wife, he acquired a certain degree of polish, although the cloak of manners never rested very easily on his shoulders.  They had two children, Mary Elizabeth King, born 9/28/1817 and Cyrus William King, born 12/25/1819. 

During his time in Boston serving in the Massachusetts legislature the seeds of distrust were sown which convinced him that Massachusetts would not look out for the best interests of Maine residents.  They looked at the territory of Maine as a source of revenue by extracting its natural resources and their motives were corrupt.  Agitation for secession started as early as 1785 but conflicting loyalties, depending upon one’s financial dependence to Boston and social status, kept Maine divided.  

At the beginning of the War of 1812 Massachusetts made King Major General of the militia, in charge of the Maine district.  He devoted much of his attention to coastal shipping and defenses.  He also led recruiting efforts for the regular army for which he was made a Colonel in the United States Army.  But Massachusetts gave little support to the territory of Maine and the people of Maine were left to fend for themselves in the fight against the British.  The War of 1812 changed the will of Maine people.  After the war, armed with a long list of grievances about the maltreatment of Maine by Massachusetts, William King started touring and agitating for secession and statehood. 

On July 16, 1819 King called a meeting of town officials in Portland where, after four previous unsuccessful attempts, they voted overwhelmingly to petition the United States Senate for statehood and designated William King to become the first governor.   Voters ratified the statehood petition ten days later.  William King then went to Washington at the opening of the 1820 Congressional term to lobby for Maine statehood.  His brother, Rufus, was a United States Senator from New York at the time and ushered his brother around the Capitol and introduced him. 

Meanwhile, the Missouri Territory was causing problems when it failed to win statehood several times because northern Senators feared its admission as a slave state would tilt the federal balance-of-power to the south.   If it did not get ratified as a state by the end of business on March 15, 1820, its petition would expire and Missouri would have to start petitions anew.   Within hours of the deadline, an amended bill to appease both sides was offered called The Missouri Compromise which required that one new free state be admitted for each new slave state admitted.  Senators fast-tracked the Maine petition so that it would be the free state to offset Missouri. 

William King served as governor from March 15, 1820 to May 28, 1821 at which time, President James Monroe named him as a special minister to negotiate a treaty with Spain.  King resigned as governor to take the position of U.S. commissioner.  By 1824 he had successfully negotiated a treaty that kept the U.S. from becoming embroiled in issues surrounding the Mexican struggle for independence.  He returned home and resumed private life.     

He continued as a prominent business man, investor and ship-owner.  Even though he had a very limited education he served for years as a trustee and overseer of Bowdoin College and as a trustee of Colby College. 

William died at home June 17, 1852 and is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Bath.