In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Beyond Borders: an historical overview

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This improvisational system for claiming land as legal property sprouted a thicket of conflicts. In addition to the many instances where multiple colonists claimed Native title to the same tract, seventeenth-century Indian deeds often described vague boundaries. So, too, did the other potential sources of legal title: the patents and grants written by provincial or royal officials who most often were wholly ignorant of the region’s geography. Proprietors seeded yet more conflicts when their surveyors pushed the boundaries of their tracts as far as they plausibly could.

Coll. 61, vol. 4, p. 433
Coll. 61, vol. 4, p. 433
Duplicate of writ, Adam Winthrop vs. Jonathan Bane [Bean], charged of illegal possession (taking timber) in the county of York, 1741Maine Historical Society

Then came other projectors, championing their own dreams for the region based on different notions of legal title. Organized in 1749, the Kennebec Proprietors, also known as the Plymouth Company, claimed a tract of some three million acres on both sides of the Kennebec River. In their squabbles with rival companies, they rejected what was by then a longstanding custom of rooting Anglo title in Native land rights, arguing instead that royal or provincial grants, not Indian deeds, were the only legitimate source of ownership. Imperial agents, meanwhile, proposed entirely new colonies, advocating the creation of the Province of Sagadahoc in the 1730s and the colony of New Ireland in the 1770s. These promoters saw the region as an underutilized resource for British success and security. Amid expanding imperial warfare, Maine offered a strategic location, diplomatic access to a vast network of Indigenous powers, and timber aplenty to boost Britain’s naval superiority. Such schemes garnered fierce opposition from Bostonian proprietors and the colonial government they largely controlled.