Initially populated by a variety of Algonquian-speaking native peoples, Maine was fought over by the French and English for much of the seventeenth century, before being absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691. The earliest inhabitants of Maine were members of a larger, Algonquian-speaking group of tribes called the Wabanaki (the name means people of the dawn). Their lands ran west to the Hudson River, north to the Saint Lawrence, east to Newfoundland, and south to the Long Island Sound. Within Maine, these tribes were known as the Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Micmac. While the Wabanaki came in close contact with both French and English, their relations with the Europeans varied widely.
Maine was visited by several European explorers, including Giovanni da Verrazano in 1534, James Rosier in 1602, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1605. Based on their accounts, Captains George Popham and Raleigh Gilbert attempted the first permanent settlement in New England in 1607. The colonists built a fort at the mouth of the Kennebec River, explored Casco Bay, and attempted trade with neighboring Abenaki. Frigid weather and Popham’s death resulted in the colonists’ decision to abandon the settlement and sail home to England in their pinnace, the Virginia (the first ship built by Europeans in the New World).
Although the Popham colony had failed, neither the French nor the English lost interest in Maine. Both countries wanted to control Maine’s rivers and the easy access they provided to Canada. They also wanted Maine’s rich resources of furs, timber, and fish. Seasonal fishing camps were set up along the Maine coast, with men fishing through the summer and returning home to Europe for the winter. The Pilgrims were supplied by camps in the Damariscotta region during their first difficult year at Plymouth.
In 1629, following a treaty between England and France, Maine was divided into two parts. The land between the Piscataqua and Kennebec rivers was called the Province of Maine and was claimed by England. The eastern stretches of the Maine coast were called Acadia and were considered French territory.
Funding for settlement in the New World was provided by companies, usually formed by noblemen, speculators, and explorers. A wealthy English nobleman named Ferdinando Gorges was granted a royal charter in 1621 and formed his own company, calling it the Council for New England. Although his lands stretched from Philadelphia to Newfoundland, Gorges primarily focused his attention on Maine. Unlike most charters of the period, Gorges’s gave him almost total control over his lands, including the right to grant smaller charters as he saw fit.
In 1630, Gorges granted William Bradford and the Plymouth Colony land on both sides of the Kennebec, as well as the exclusive right to trade on the river. By the 1640s, settlers from Plymouth had become an active presence in the Kennebec region. Lands between Cape Porpoise and the Kennebec River were given to Alexander Rigby and George Cleeves in 1643 and became a semidependent province called Lygonia. More lands around the Saco and York rivers also were given as grants. In 1647, Gorges died, leaving the Province of Maine without government. It promptly declared itself an independent region and elected Edward Godfrey, a settler who lived near the York River, as governor.
At the same time, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony also began claiming Maine. With Gorges dead and fellow Puritan Oliver Cromwell on the rise back home in England, the Puritans were able to redraw their boundaries to 3 miles north of the Merrimac River in 1650. This placed New Hampshire and most of Maine within the boundaries of the Massachusetts patent. While southern Maine capitulated, New Plymouth settlers resisted Puritan claims by obtaining bills of sale from their Abenaki neighbors as proof of ownership. All of these claims were put into dispute by the outbreak of King Philip’s War in 1675. Plymouth’s land in both Maine and Massachusetts was fully absorbed into Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.
French interest in Maine stemmed around trade and missionary work. Initially, the French set up seasonal fishing camps in the Penobscot Bay area. As their knowledge of Maine increased, they began trading up and down the rivers, and trading posts were established far into the Maine wilderness. For the most part, the French traders’ relations with the Micmac, Maliseet, Abenaki, and Penobscot tribes were positive. Unlike the English, they had little interest in permanent settlement on Native American land. Another important Native American-French relation grew from the Jesuit missions. Jesuit missionaries spent years with their adopted tribes, converting members to Christianity, describing their surroundings, and gaining fluency in the native languages. In 1671, France laid claim to lands around the Kennebec, arguing that the English settlers living there would prefer French rulership to Puritan. Although nothing came of this claim, it serves as indication of further French interest in southern Maine.
King Philip’s War began in 1675 between the Wampanoags and their English neighbors in southeastern Massachusetts. The Wampanoags feared total English control over their lands and hoped to drive them out. They were gradually joined by other tribes, including the Wabanaki in Maine. Another cause for war in Maine, beyond land, was a law reiterated by the Massachusetts General Court in 1675, stating that no guns or ammunition could be sold to Native Americans. The French, an active presence in the Penobscot Bay region, supported the Wabanaki by supplying them with weapons and other supplies.
In the summer of 1676, just as the war was ending in Massachusetts, towns and settlements up and down the Maine coast were attacked. Most survivors fled to the relative safety of Massachusetts. Peace in Maine was finally declared in 1678 under the Treaty of Casco.
This relative peace settled over Maine until the outbreak of King William’s War in 1689 and Queen Anne’s War in 1702. As in the wars fought in Europe, these were battles between English and French over imperial control, though these conflicts were further complicated by Native American interests. The patterns of attack were similar to those of King Philip’s War, with a series of raids on English settlements, and the line of the line of attack moved back and forth constantly. When treaties for both wars were signed in Europe, these resolutions had little or no immediate effect on the residents of Maine. By the end of Queen’s Anne’s War in 1714, most Native Americans living along the coast had died due to war or disease. In 1763, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, France ceded all claims to Maine, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia. The English were permanently established in Maine.
Over the next few years, settlements continued to grow along the coast. At this time, Maine’s primary industries consisted of fishing, timber, and shipbuilding. The region was still governed and owned by Massachusetts Bay Colony, although local government thrived. Somewhat similar in its progression to King Philip’s War, the conflicts of the American Revolution began in Massachusetts and then spread north. Following the battles of Lexington and Concord, several Maine towns began forming militias. Maine sent numerous men to the war effort, including troops under Benedict Arnold, who marched to Quebec in late 1775. Maine ships were also used as privateers during the war, frequently capturing British merchants.
As in the other colonies, the question of being a patriot or loyalist was hotly debated within Maine. Unlike Massachusetts, Maine had a relatively strong Anglican presence. The presence of British settlements and troops in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick also had an impact on the region’s loyalties. Most Mainers were accustomed to living balanced between Massachusetts to the south and the Maritimes to the east, trading wherever the price was best. During the Boston occupation of 1775, the British became desperate for firewood. Vice Admiral Samuel Graves in Boston commissioned a Machias sea captain named Ichabod Jones to sail home with a load of supplies and trade them for wood. When the merchant ships and armed schooner arrived in Machias on June 2, the local Sons of Liberty captured them in the first naval battle of the Revolution. Shortly afterward, the British sent several ships to attack Machias in retaliation. Similar British raids took place up and down the Maine coast throughout the rest of the Revolution, including attacks on Falmouth, Damariscotta, and Southwest Harbor.
The only full engagement between the British and American navies in Maine was the Penobscot Expedition of 1779. Hoping to gain control of Penobscot Bay, British troops under the command of Brigadier General Francis McLean began building a fort outside Castine. A small fleet of American ships sailed from Boston, and more men marched overland. McLean called for reinforcements from Halifax, and the Americans were beaten. The British occupied Castine for much of the rest of the war.
At the close of the American Revolution, the Maine coast was heavily settled, but little was known about its interior. Acres of Maine had been given as bounty to Revolutionary War soldiers, and floods of settlers were preparing to head inland. Maine was declared officially part of the new state of Massachusetts in 1776. It remained so until 1821, when Maine was admitted to the Union as a separate state under the terms of the Missouri Compromise. Abigail B. Chandler See also: Massachusetts; Massachusetts (Chronology). Bibliography Bourke, Bruce. Twelve Thousand Years: American Indians in Maine. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. Clark, Charles. “The Founding of Maine, 1600 1640.” Maine Historical Society Quarterly 18:3 (1978): 55 62. Duncan, Roger. Coastal Maine. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. Leamon, James. Revolution Downeast. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993. Reid, John. “French Aspirations in the Kennebec-Penobscot Region.” Maine Historical Society Quarterly 23:1 (1983 1984): 85 92.