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Who were the Kennebec and Pejepscot Proprietors?

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The Pejepscot Proprietors formed in 1714 after purchasing a claim tracing back to a deed signed by speculator Richard Wharton in 1684 with six Wabanaki sagamores to land around Merrymeeting Bay, the Androscoggin and Kennebec Rivers. The eight original Pejepscot Proprietors quickly founded Brunswick and Topsham, and spent the next few decades struggling to recruit settler-colonialists willing to move to what they viewed as a dangerous frontier. Most New Englanders did not change their view of Maine until the decisive defeat of the Wabanakis’ French allies in the Seven Years War (1756–1763) ended the possibility of credible Indigenous military resistance to colonization.

The Kennebec and Pejepscot Proprietors, like most settler-colonialist, agreed that their king had a right, as a Christian monarch, to claim and grant away land already within Native jurisdiction under the doctrine of vacuum domicilium, a legal doctrine used to argue that an absence of English-style houses and agriculture in an area meant an absence of any legal ownership. Seventeenth-century English, confronted by the reality of powerful Indigenous Nations on this supposedly vacant land, paid annuities associated with the privilege of staying out of necessity. After being forced to pay the locals for this land, some New Englanders said that “Indian deeds” were a valid form of title on their own, rather than a necessary addition to the all-important royal grant. Holding title from a Wabanaki deed, Pejepscot Proprietors like Adam Winthrop argued that, as “the custom of the country,” deeds from the Wabanakis stood on equal footing to those from the crown. Without acknowledged Indian deeds of their own, the Kennebec Company came to the opposite conclusion.