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Who were the Kennebec and Pejepscot Proprietors?

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Essay by Ian Saxine, Fall 2022

Ian Saxine, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of History at Bridgewater State University where he specializes in Colonial and Native American history in New England. He is the author of "Properties of Empire: Indians, Colonists, and Land Speculators on the New England Frontier" (2019).

Coll. 60, vol. 3. p. 72
Coll. 60, vol. 3. p. 72
Kennebec Proprietors "Voted that Two Town Each of five Miles on the R Kennebeck & fifteen Miles Back..."Maine Historical Society

The Kennebec Proprietors and Pejepscot Proprietors were two of the largest land companies formed in colonial Massachusetts to colonize present-day Maine. Boasting membership that included some of the wealthiest, best-connected families in the colony, the companies played an outsized role in eighteenth-century Maine history. They influenced the location of towns in Maine, their layout, and often, in various ways, the quality of life within those communities.

The proprietors shaped the composition of Maine communities by recruiting Scots-Irish, Huguenot, and German settlers when New Englanders did not find their terms inviting. The proprietors also shaped Massachusetts relations with Wabanaki Nations, both by their actions on the Maine frontier, and their influence within Massachusetts government itself. Two founders of the Pejepscot Proprietors, Adam Winthrop and Thomas Hutchinson, sat on the Governor’s Council. Kennebec Proprietors included Massachusetts governors James Bowdoin and, secretly, British governor of Massachusetts, William Shirley.

This political influence translated into Massachusetts taxpayers funding fortifications to protect company towns, and the creation of Lincoln County in 1760, where the Kennebec Proprietors hoped juries in company towns would be more favorable to their legal arguments. A full understanding of the course of Maine history before its 1820 statehood requires grappling with the vast legacy of the great land companies like the Pejepscot and Kennebec Proprietors. Both companies formed to legitimize and take advantage of titles to vast tracts of Wabanaki Homelands, but the different origins of their claims both led to conflicts between the companies, and contributed to the chaotic process of colonization in Maine, distinguished by its litigiousness.