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Beyond Borders: an historical overview

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In the early eighteenth century, Massachusetts merchants, lawyers, and political leaders increasingly saw the Maine borderland as a place to cultivate their own dreams of status and private gain. They formed a bevy of companies to oversee the extension of British trade and settlement into new regions. Land—lots of it—was a means to that end. In 1714, for instance, eight Boston men established the Pejepscot Company, which claimed a large tract stretching four miles on either side of the Androscoggin River. Likewise, in 1719, the Muscongus Proprietors, also known as the Lincolnshire Company, began promoting a million-acre claim (later called the Waldo Patent) to the west of Penobscot Bay. For these proprietors and others like them who spearheaded smaller schemes, landownership was a matter of English law, to be recorded and proved on paper.

Coll. 61, vol. 1A, p. 37
Coll. 61, vol. 1A, p. 37
The Pejepscot Proprietors claim was heavily based on Native titles, their main rival, the Kennebec Proprietors claim was founded on an ancient grant of Land from the King to the Plymouth Colony to trap fur. Maine Historical Society

But in Maine, as in much of Britain’s North American empire, there was no clear or single source of title. Rather, landownership was an argument: a case to be made before provincial officials, imperial authorities, Indigenous powers, and the colonial public, and to be cobbled together from grants, patents, and deeds of varied origins. For Maine proprietors, “Indian deeds” signed with Native peoples in the seventeenth century became an important element of the argument. Some of these documents were dubious or outright fraudulent. Other agreements had been signed by Wabanakis who sought to establish ongoing relationships with English newcomers, and whose own notions of landownership could lead them to bestow multiple parties with rights to a single place. The eighteenth-century proprietors, however, insisted that such deeds were binding, one-time transactions, which conferred exclusive and alienable land rights. In an era of Wabanaki power, they sought out Native leaders who might endorse that interpretation of their Indian deeds, and they brandished these musty parchments before rival companies, metropolitan officials, and ordinary settlers alike as a strategy for asserting title.