In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Beyond Borders: an historical overview

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Before the Seven Years War (1756-1763), the land companies’ efforts to coax Scotch-Irish migrants and New England families to the region were halting and often paltry. A series of Anglo-Wabanaki wars, instigated by settler incursions and the proprietors’ own belligerence, soured many potential migrants on Maine. But settlers were important to the proprietors’ designs. Their presence helped to substantiate company land claims, and the roads, mills, and meetinghouses they built helped make the rest of the proprietors’ tracts more appealing to future purchasers. After all, apportioning the land into bustling townships and selling it at a respectable price was the proprietors’ ultimate goal.

Settlers became caught in the mess of overlapping land claims. Moving to Maine in increasing numbers after 1760, many arrived only to find that they were cannon fodder for the proprietors’ legal battles. The companies avoided suing each other directly, fearful of a legal decision that might invalidate their entire title. Instead, they sued settlers who claimed land under rival syndicates. Some settlers came to Maine at the encouragement of proprietary or colonization schemes that subsequently went defunct, leaving them with no legal claim to the land they lived on. Many others came under the auspices of no land company at all. During the Revolutionary War, scores of leading proprietors remained loyal to the British crown; although new leadership soon muscled into control of the companies, many potential settlers nevertheless believed that Maine lands had become free for the taking. Underpaid Continental veterans and indebted farmers from southern New England flocked northward, believing land was the just entitlement of their victory in the Revolution. Between 1775 and 1790, Maine’s settler population tripled.