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Rockford Harbor

Photo: Harbor in Rockport, Maine. Photograph by User:Leif Knutsen (own work), 2004, [cc-by-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed March, 2014

The name of Maine [1], it is supposed by some historians, was bestowed as a tribute to England's Queen Henrietta Marie, feudal ruler of the French province of Meyne or Maine; some think the name was brought directly from France by early French colonists; others hold that it was a term used to distinguish the mainland from the coastal islands on which early fishermen dried their catch. The 'mainland' theory seems especially apt in view of the facts that the serrated coastline of the State measures some 2500 miles, and that there are hundreds of offshore islands. Islanders to this day speak of 'the main.' Variously spelled Main, Mayn, and Mayne, the name was in use as early as 1622. Under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, the region was known as 'The Province of Maine;' and when it was admitted to the Union in 1820, 'The State of Maine' became its official title. The inclusion of the word 'State' was probably inspired by the resounding title of the mother State, 'The Commonwealth of Massachusetts.'

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Maine Counties & County Seats

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Maine, the extreme northeastern state in the Union, is the only one adjoined by but a single sister state. Its comparatively isolated position may be accountable for an aloofness sometimes said to be characteristic of its people. The southern boundary of Maine is the Atlantic Ocean; the eastern boundary follows the St. Croix River to its source, thence due north to the St. John River; the northern boundary extends roughly from the St. John Grand Falls along the river to Crown Monument; the western boundary extends from Crown Monument to the sea at the mouth of the Piscataqua River near Kittery Point. Maine is thus bordered only by the ocean, by Canada, and by New Hampshire. Early charters deemed none but the northern and southern boundaries, so that Maine once theoretically extended, like other eastern colonies, to the Pacific Ocean. Many bitter quarrels arose before the boundaries were established by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842, when all disputed territory on the Maine border was granted to England in return for concessions in other matters.

Maine is much the largest of the New England states, its total area greatly exceeding that of New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut combined. Approximately one-tenth of its area of 33,040 square miles consists of water. Large sections of the state are still unpopulated and have been only partially explored.

Contrary to popular impression in other sections of the country, Maine is a mountainous state. Cadillac Mountain, with an almost sheer rise of 1532 feet, has the highest elevation of any point on the Atlantic coast north of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Mount Katahdin, 5267 feet, is Maine's highest peak; from its base on the shores of the Penobscot, about 800 feet above sea level, it appears to be as high as some of the Rockies, which rise from a plateau 5000 to 7000 feet above sea level. According to Maine State Planning Board figures, Hamlin Peak on Katahdin, 4751 feet, is the second highest mountain; 'Old Spec' in Grafton Township, 4250 feet, and Sugarloaf in Crockertown, 4237 feet, are the third and fourth highest respectively; and there are five other mountains in the state more than 4000 feet and 97 more than 3000 feet in height. Most of these are more or less conical in form, their sloping sides being heavily wooded and always green. Outstanding mountains are Bigelow, Saddleback, Abraham, Russell, Haystack, and Whitecap (in Franklin County). Often, as in the case of Mount Kineo, the best known are not the highest mountains.

Maine has well over 2200 lakes and ponds. Moosehead Lake, about forty miles long and from two to ten miles wide, is one of the country's largest bodies of fresh water lying wholly within the boundaries of a single state. More than 5100 rivers and streams appear on the Maine state map; of these, four are navigable for considerable distances into the interior. Augusta, on the Kennebec, and Bangor, on the Penobscot, are accessible to seagoing vessels. Only six of Maine's sixteen counties are not open to water traffic. The longest rivers are the St. John, 211 miles from its source in St. John Pond to the point where it leaves the Maine boundary; the St. Croix, 75 miles; the Penobscot, 350 miles; the Kennebec, 150 miles; the Androscoggin, 175 miles; and the Saco, 104 miles. The streams of Maine, marked by narrow and rapid currents, and fed by springs and the melting snows of the forest regions, are perhaps the most important natural resource of the state.

Very little actually is known about they earliest inhabitants. They are called the Red Paint People because each of the discovered graves contains a quantity (varying from less than two quarts to a bushel) of a brilliant red ocher (powdered hematite) . Sometimes, though rarely, this pigment is shaded to yellow or brown, the yellow coloration often found in the graves having been created by iron corrosion. The fact of 'ocher burial' is not particularly distinctive, however, because it is a characteristic of certain early peoples the world over. Paleolithic graves in France and Australia show evidences of ocher; later races in New England occasionally painted their bodies with it, and sometimes it is found in their graves. The now extinct Beothuks of Newfoundland had a particular predilection for red ocher, smearing not only their bodies with it but their huts, their canoes, and all their possessions; and for this they were called Red Indians by early explorers. The Beothuks were a comparatively modern race, however, and there are no evidences of Paleolithic man in this section of the New World. Maine's Red Paint People, apparently very early in the development of Neolithic culture, may be regarded then as a cultural unit. Many of their stone artifacts are unlike those of the Indians who later occupied the same territory; certain of their implements, indeed, were made of different materials from any used by later Stone Age people. The similarity of their culture, as manifested by the stone implements, to that of the Eskimo has led some writers to suggest that they were not red Indians at all; others, influenced by their common use of ocher, see in them early relatives to the Beothuks of Newfoundland.

At any rate, they were a somewhat widely scattered and highly developed people. Although not agriculturalists like later Indians who occupied the same territory, they had developed a high degree of craftsmanship. They used fire-making tools of a sort superior to those of the later Indians; their implements imply skill in woodworking, and they made boats, possibly log dug-outs, in which they seem to have traveled considerable distances.

The ancient Norse sagas tell of the voyages of Eric the Red and those of his son, Leif the Lucky, and how Eric, banished from Norway in A. D. 981, sailed westward and came to a fabulous 'green' land across the sea. Eric got no farther than Greenland; but Leif, in A. D. 1000, reached the mainland, the coast of which he followed southward to a place he called Vinland, from the abundance of grapes he found there. This, it is believed, was Mount Hope Bay in Rhode Island. In 1003, 1006, and 1007, it is believed, other Norse navigators reached the shores of what is now called New England. These early rovers must have been the first Europeans to explore the coast of that region, and, therefore, they would have been the first to sail along the coast of Maine.

Nearly five hundred years passed before white men again came to the New World. In 1496 the Cabots, John and his sons Lewis, Sebastian, and Sancius, were named in letters patent granted to them by King Henry VII of England to discover and occupy isles or countries of the heathen or infidels before unknown to Christians, accounting to the king for a fifth part of the profit upon their return to the port of Bristol. In 1497-99, the Cabots made a number of voyages, the reports of which, excepting the later testimony of Sebastian (which has been challenged by authorities of the period), are very meager. However, the records established beyond question that the Cabots did reach and explore the Atlantic coastline of the North American continent.

In 1580, Captain John Walker, sailing in the employ of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, dropped anchor in Penobscot Bay. In 1602, Bartholomew Gosnold, in command of the English vessel 'Concord,' reached Maine's southern shores. In 1603, Captain Martin Pring, with the vessels 'Speedwell' and 'Discoverer,' entered Penobscot Bay, and thence sailed southward.

After considerable French exploration in America, Pierre du Guast, the Sieur de Monts, accompanied by Samuel de Champlain and the Baron de Poutrincourt, in 1604 established a settlement on an island at the mouth of the river that Champlain called the St. Croix. In the fall of that year, Champlain set forth to explore the coast westward, going by the great island to which he gave the name of Mount Desert ('Isle des Monts Deserts'), up the Penobscot River to the site of present-day Bangor, and then up the Kennebec the following summer. In 1606, de Monts and Champlain sailed down the coast as far as Cape Cod, looking for a more satisfactory site for colonization than the St. Croix island. They found nothing, however, that pleased them more than a place across the Bay of Fundy which they had ceded to de Poutrincourt and called Port Royal. De Monts accordingly moved his colony there and returned to France.

In 1605, Captain George Waymouth visited Monhegan and explored the coast. He secured valuable information about the country and assistance for future colonization by kidnaping five Indians, whom he took back to England. To this crime, subsequent Indian hostility to white men on the Maine coast may be attributed. In 1606, James I granted a charter to the Plymouth Company for the lands lying between the 41st and 45th parallels; and in 1607, the Popham Colony, called St. George, was set up on Sagadahoc Peninsula at the mouth of the Kennebec, where the village of Popham now stands. Although unsuccessful, this was the beginning of British colonization in New England. Before very long, many English settlers had established themselves along these rugged shores. The first Dutch came to Maine in 1609, when Henry Hudson, commissioned by the Netherlands to search for a northwest passage to the Indies, hove to in Casco Bay, to repair his storm-battered vessel, the 'Half-Moon.' The Maine Indians received him kindly, but Hudson requited their hospitality by robbing them of much of their supplies. So fierce was their resentment that Hudson was forced to put from shore. He sailed southward and eventually came into New York waters, ascending the North (Hudson) River until he was sure it was not an 'arm of the sea.'

Soon the French were sending missionaries to the new world. In 1611, Father Pierre Biard founded an Indian Mission on the Penobscot, ancestor of the present Indian church at Old Town. In 1613, a Jesuit colony was established on Mount Desert Island, only to be dispersed shortly by the crew of an English vessel commanded by Captain Samuel Argall, who had come from Virginia ostensibly for a supply of fish. At the mission on Mount Desert, Fathers Biard and Masse had established the first monastery east of California in what is now the United States. In spite of active English hostility, the French continued to set up scattered settlements, notably on the Penobscot and St. Croix Rivers and at Machias. But these settlements did not prosper. Most of the immigrants of this period were unenterprising and ignorant, or they were French gentlemen in search of gold or glory and with no desire to build homes in a new world. The chief interest in America on the part of the French was always the opportunity for trade in furs with the savages.

Captain John Smith arrived at Monhegan from England in 1614. Exploring the coast from the Penobscot to Cape Cod, he made a map of the territory, which he called New England. On November 3, 1620, a new charter, known as the 'Great Patent' was granted to the Plymouth Company under a changed corporate name, 'The Council for Plymouth,' otherwise called 'The Council for New England.' It made the company 'absolute owners of a domain containing more than a million square miles,' between 40 and 48 N. lat., which was to be called New England. From this company the Pilgrims derived their patent to the Plymouth Colony.

The Pilgrims, arriving in America in 1620, reported a thriving fishing and trading post at Pemaquid. There were probably trading settlements at both Pemaquid and Monhegan from the beginning of the century, but Father Biard wrote that the Indians had driven the English out of Pemaquid in 1608-09. In 1622, the Council for New England gave to Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Captain John Mason the land between the Merrimac and the Kennebec, which, the indenture stated, 'they intend to call The Province of Maine. Permanent settlements were established Monhegan in 1622, Saco in 1623, and York (as Agamenticus) about 1624. All the early settlements were easily accessible to shipping, and they grew rapidly.

  1. Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration, State of Maine Development Commission, Maine: A Guide 'Down East,' 1937, American Guide Series, Riverside Press, Cambridge MA; Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston

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