State of Mind: Becoming Maine

State of Mind: Becoming Maine explores Maine's Bicentennial. Installed March 13, 2020 through January 31, 2021 at Maine Historical Society in Portland. This online component expands content with Maine Memory Network items, and differs slightly from the physical installation.

Please visit Holding up the Sky: Wabanaki People, Culture, History & Art, a companion exhibition examining 13,000 years of Maine history.

Curated by Tilly Laskey, Maine Historical Society. Advised by Anne Chamberland, Archives Acadiennes, University of Maine, Fort Kent; Brittany Cook, Bicentennial Education Fellow, Maine Historical Society; Deborah Cummings Khadraoui, Abyssinian Meeting House; James E. Francis Sr. (Penobscot) Director of Cultural and Historic Preservation, Penobscot Nation; Bob Greene, Author, Portland, Maine; John Johnson, Portland, Maine; Daniel Minter, Indigo Arts Alliance; Kathleen Neumann, Manager of Education, Maine Historical Society; Lise Pelletier, Director, Archives Acadiennes, University of Maine, Fort Kent; Darren Ranco (Penobscot), Professor of Anthropology and Coordinator of Native American Programs, University of Maine; Jamie Rice, Director of Collections & Research, Maine Historical Society; Donald Soctomah (Passamaquoddy) Director, Passamaquoddy Cultural Heritage Center and Passamaquoddy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer; Elaine Tselikis, Communications & Grants Manager, Maine Historical Society.


Exhibition Contents and Navigation
Page 1 Wabanaki Homeland; Page 2 Explorations, English-speaking settlements, and border disputes; Page 3 The Northeast Boundary and Aroostook War; Page 4 French settlements and Acadien communities; Page 5 Black communities in Maine and Slavery; Page 6 Statehood; Page 7 Maine in 1820; Page 8 Becoming Maine.


The history of how Maine became a state is rooted in the stories of people. The separation from Massachusetts in 1820 had different meanings and implications for residents grounded in geography, culture, race, and economic standing.

This exhibition focuses on four distinct communities—Wabanaki, Acadien French, Black, and English-speaking people—all who have deep ties to the land now known as Maine. The Wabanaki have lived and cared for this land for millennia, and the French, Black, and English-speaking people have resided here since the early 1600s.

While multitudes of distinct cultural communities have, and continue to call Maine home, the Wabanaki, Acadien French, Black, and English-speaking communities were particularly impacted by the effects of statehood on existing treaties, sovereignty, land ownership, borders, slavery, citizenship, and colonialism.

When Maine entered the United States in 1820, the northern border wasn’t fixed, and most citizens had little knowledge about the far reaches of the state. Maine has been continually evolving over the past 13,000 years, into a state of "becoming" the place we know in 2020.

Maine is Wabanaki Homeland

"Dawnland Couture" by Decontie & Brown, Bangor, 2019

"Dawnland Couture" by Decontie & Brown, Bangor, 2019

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Ancestral canoe journey, Motahkomikuk (Indian Township), 2019

Ancestral canoe journey, Motahkomikuk (Indian Township), 2019

Courtesy of Donald Soctomah, an individual partner

Wabanaki means People of the Dawnland, which includes the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki Nations. They have inhabited what is now Northern New England, the Canadian Maritimes, and Quebec since time immemorial, according to oral histories, and for at least 13,000 years according to the archaeological record.

Wabanaki people are constantly adapting in response to changes in the environment, both small and dramatic. Their cultures have changed over time, with the development of unique political networks, philosophies, and a deep understanding of the landscape through Indigenous science.

Wabanaki ways of life radically changed with the coming of European explorers and settlers around 500 years ago. Epidemics, wars, genocidal bounties, treaties, land theft, and the splitting of ancestral territory through the establishment of arbitrary international and state borders all tried to erase Wabanaki culture and communities. In 2020, Wabanaki communities in what is now known as Maine govern themselves by Self-Determination and are recognized as distinct nations by the US Federal government.

The importance of Ash

Baskets are one of the oldest artforms in Maine. Often made of ash and sweetgrass, they are integrally tied to Wabanaki creation histories. Gluscabe (also spelled Glooscap, Gluskabe, Koluskap, Klooscap) is the main figure in Wabanaki oral history. When he shot an arrow into an ash tree, the Wabanaki people emerged—singing and dancing. Gluscabe taught Wabanaki people how to make tools, how to live, and showed them ways to understand and respect the land, the water, and all living things.

Root clubs and Sovereignty

The Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Tribes are sovereign nations, and have maintained a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States since the inception of the country.

Wabanaki people have always had a form of government. They maintain Tribal governments, community schools, cultural centers, and manage Tribal lands and natural resources.

Root clubs are usually made from the stem and roots of immature gray birch trees and are used as a weapon of war. They are also carried during special events, and sometimes a dancer will re-enact a war battle or hunting adventure using a root club.

Commemoration of the Bicentennial

Sovereignty is absolute. We are unique to this land. And with that uniqueness comes special powers of sovereignty. We’re still here today asserting our sovereignty. We’re not going to go away.
Reuben 'Butch' Phillips (Penobscot) 2001

The history of Maine did not begin at statehood in 1820. On the 200th anniversary of Maine separating from Massachusetts, it’s important to acknowledge that this land now known as Maine has been Wabanaki Homeland for at least 13,000 years.

The colonization of Wabanaki nations by Europeans and Maine’s path to statehood has been fraught with injustice, dislocation, and genocide enacted upon Wabanaki people.

Through listening to Wabanaki people, conversations around statehood at Maine Historical Society have been reframed to view the Bicentennial as a commemoration, rather than a celebratory event, and uphold Wabanaki experiences, authority, and sovereignty.

Where did Maine get its name?

Maine has been called many names. Wabanaki—or Waponahkik—is the name the first people of Maine call their Homeland. It is traced to a Passamaquoddy place name, Ckuwaponahkik. The root wapon means both "light" and "things that are white in color"—ckuwapon refers to the rising sun. The ending, ahkik, represents a physical location. Ckuwaponahkik is interpreted to mean "the land of the dawn" more commonly known as Dawnland.

Europeans called the region by several names, including: Norumbega, Arcadia, Lygonia, New Somerset, and Acadie. In 1622, the land between the Merrimack and Kennebec rivers was called the Province of Maine for the first time, in a written land patent granted to Englishmen Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason.

The origin of the name Maine is unclear. One theory claims it’s named after the French province of Maine, or perhaps small village on the coast of England where Ferdinando Gorges’s family came from called "Broadmayne”, also known as Maine or Meine.

Some suggest the name comes from a practical nautical term for the mainland, distinguishing it from over 3,000 islands along the coastline.

Consequences of contact

About 500 years ago, Wabanaki people first received European visitors to their Homeland. Basque fishermen, European explorers, and French and English traders ventured into Wabanaki territories prior to attempts at settlement.

Trade was always important between Native people in the region, and later they incorporated Europeans into the trading system. Furs of all kinds—but especially beaver—were exchanged for metal tools, guns, household items, clothing, alcohol and other items.

These casual interactions proved catastrophic for Wabanaki people. Along with the trade goods came diseases such as measles, chicken pox, and smallpox, from which Native people had no immunity. The arrival of European settlers from 1616-1619 coincided with devastating epidemics that killed up to 75% of the Native population in Maine, known by Indigenous people as the "Great Dying."

Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination

The Indians are tractable. The Lord sent his avenging Angel and swept the most part away.
Thomas Gorges, Deputy Governor of Maine, 1642

Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination, 1493

Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination, 1493

Courtesy of Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Starting in 1452, European monarchies used Doctrines of Discovery to legitimize colonization and genocide of people outside of Europe. The Doctrine provided a framework for explorers, in the name of their sovereign, to claim territories uninhabited by Christians.

The Doctrine of Christian Discovery issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 continues to adversely impact Indigenous Peoples throughout the world today. It gave Spain and Portugal exclusive rights to the lands "discovered" by Columbus the previous year, and suggested Spain owned,

…from the Arctic pole, namely the north, to the Antarctic pole, namely the south, no matter whether the said mainlands and islands are found and to be found in the direction of India or towards any other quarter, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde .

Indigenous Peoples, because they were non-Christians were viewed by Europeans as sub-human, and therefore their Homeland was considered vacant—justifying their dispossession and erasure. If the inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, violent acts were authorized, and Europeans readily enslaved or killed those who resisted. European leaders parceled out Native lands in charters and patents, eventually turning it into private property for settlers.

In 1755, in an attempt to clear the region for English-speaking settlements, Massachusetts lieutenant governor Spencer Phips issued proclamations that offered bounties for killing Native people. This proclamation required “his Majesty’s subjects of the province to embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing, and destroying all and every” Penobscot citizens. Scalps were used as proof of the genocidal killings, with bounties ranging from £20 to £50 for men, women, and children of any age. By June 1756, the Massachusetts assembly voted to raise the bounty to £300 per person—equal to about $60,000 in 2020.

James Eric Francis Sr. (Penobscot) is a multi-media artist, a historian, and the Director of Cultural and Historic Preservation for the Penobscot Nation as of 2020. His deep knowledge of Maine history, Penobscot culture, and Indigenous landscapes informs much of his creative output. Describing the painting, Francis noted that,

The artwork urges the citizens of Maine to join hands with the Indigenous population of Maine and walk eternally into the future and move beyond the deadly acts of the past. The use of language, color, and symbolism helps to affirm our resilience as Penobscot people historically, presently, and into the future.

Francis meticulously painted a recreation the 1755 Phips Proclamation for the background of this monumental five by four foot work, with the Penobscot word for "We Walk On; Eternally" painted over the proclamation in red.

Early European explorations and English-speaking settlements

Click here to view early maps of Maine

Click here to view early maps of Maine

1620 Charter from King James I

The first documented European visitor to Maine's coast was Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, who in 1524 heard tales of "Norumbega", a mythical city of gold and silver on the banks of the Penobscot River. This legend of riches made Maine a beacon for explorers, racing to discover fortune.

By 1605, English-speaking people—including Ferdinando Gorges—understood that the wealth of Norumbega was not gold and silver, but furs, fish, and timber. Gorges received a charter from England's King James I, and for more than 40 years he directed the colony's development as the self-proclaimed "Lord of the Province of Maine."

Gorges was a leader in the Plymouth Company, a land speculation or patent company, created to promote non-Puritan settlement. Unlike later patent companies, such as the Pejepscot Proprietors, Gorges never sought to negotiate land transfers and deeds with Native people.

Ferdinando Gorges, Wabanaki captives, and the colonization of Maine

Ferdinando Gorges (1566-1647) was a wealthy English nobleman who sponsored expeditions, such as George Waymouth's 1605 explorations of Maine. After failing to discover a Northwest Passage, Waymouth instead kidnapped five Wabanaki men at Pemaquid: Sassacomoit, Tahánedo, Skicowáros, Amóret, and Mannedo—and brought them to Gorges. They were likely the first Wabanaki people to set foot on English soil.

Three Wabanaki men lived with Gorges, his wife Ann, and their sons, age 10 and 12. Gorges learned the language of his Wabanaki captives, taught them English, and listened as they described the people, geography, and resources of their Homeland. Gorges hatched a business plan with his friend, John Popham, based on fur and timber trade and English settlement in Maine.

A Spanish ship intercepted an English vessel carrying Mannedo and Sassacomoit back to Maine in 1606. Mannedo was lost at sea and Sassacomoit was put in Spanish prison, significantly delaying his eventual return to Maine until 1614.

In May 1607, Gorges sent two ships to establish a colony in Maine. George Popham, nephew of John Popham, was aboard as president of the colony; along with his assistant, Raleigh Gilbert, a son of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, and 120 "planters." Guiding the trip was Skicowáros, who was charged with persuading Wabanaki relations to trade with the English. But the mistrust fostered by Waymouth’s kidnapping doomed the Popham Colony.

Coupled with pandemics, European settlements in the Americas were catastrophic for Native populations, wildlife, and the environment. From 1492 to 1600, up to 90%, an estimated 56 million Indigenous people in North and South America died, disrupting human relationships with the environment. With no Native people to tend the fields, trees and other vegetation reclaimed huge expanses of land previously used for agriculture, especially in Central and South American societies. As a result, enough carbon dioxide was removed from the atmosphere to actually cool down the planet. During this period, the Thames River in London consistently froze over, and harsh winters and cold summers across the globe caused famines and wars.

Maine’s undefined borders

St. John and Penobscot Rivers map, 1798

St. John and Penobscot Rivers map, 1798

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Borders are human designed lines that define states and countries. Although they are invisible, they are powerful when enforced. The shape of Maine has changed over time, reflecting settlement, international treaties, wars, and military actions. Each change has had severe consequences for Wabanaki Tribes and Acadien communities whose families are—even as of 2020— split between the United States and Canada.

As a district of Massachusetts, Maine had little say about how the wars fought between England and France affected the state’s international borders. After the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), attempts to set Maine’s Northernmost border were slowed by a lack of understanding of the topography, with surveyors and mapmakers sent by both the United States and Canada to explore the region.

During the War of 1812, questions over international trade, the occupation of Eastport, and allegiances of Mainers were challenged. Even after statehood, Maine’s Northern border wasn’t fixed for another 22 years, until the end of the Aroostook War in 1842.

Motivations for Maine's separation from Massachusetts: The Coasting Law of 1789

After the Revolutionary War, the newly formed United States of America enacted a Coasting Law in 1789, requiring trading vessels to enter and clear customs at the border of every state they passed between their port of departure and their destination.

Vessels were exempted in states with adjoining borders to another state where they were registered. As part of Massachusetts, Maine’s borders included New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York. Being part of Massachusetts had an enormous economic advantage under the Coasting Law, therefore residents living in York County and in port towns such as Portland, Bath, and Machias generally opposed statehood during the early attempts by separatists to put the possibility to a vote. The Coasting Law was revised in 1819, which helped pave the way toward statehood in 1820.

Motivations for Maine's separation from Massachusetts: The War of 1812

Calls for Maine’s Separation from Massachusetts were delayed when the United States entered into war with Great Britain in 1812. Known as the War of 1812, the conflict began when the British interfered with United States shipping, and forcing American sailors–sometimes entire crews–into the British navy.

Click here to access the exhibition about the War of 1812 and Eastport

Click here to access the exhibition about the War of 1812 and Eastport

Beyond the War of 1812: The British capture and occupation of Eastport 1814-1818

In July of 1814, British troops began occupying Eastport, Maine—a lucrative shipping port they claimed was part of their territory. Great Britain attempted to regain their former land, advertising for peace in New England newspapers and suggesting a plan calling for the annexation of Eastern Maine to Canada. Some conservative Massachusetts Federalists seemed ready to agree to these terms. Although it did not come to pass, the willingness to sacrifice Maine became a major rallying cry as separationists reorganized at the end of the war.

The War of 1812 ended in early 1815, but Eastport continued to be under British control for another four years. In 1818, Eastport was the last American territory occupied by the British to be returned to the United States. Except for the brief capture of two Aleutian Islands in Alaska by the Japanese in World War II, it was the last time that United States soil was occupied by a foreign government.

Prior to the war, Mainers had been divided on whether to pursue independence from Massachusetts. The negative experiences with the War of 1812 and the ambivalence of Massachusetts toward Maine’s suffering accelerated the process that led to Maine’s separation in 1820.

The 1813 naval battle of the Boxer and the Enterprise

Maine's coastline and proximity to British Canada made the province a target during the War of 1812.

On September 5, 1813, the battle between the U.S. Brig Enterprise and the British Brig Boxer took place in the waters off Monhegan Island.

The Boxer's commander, Captain Samuel Blyth, 29 years of age, was killed in the opening exchange of cannon fire. On the Enterprise, Captain William Burrows, age 28, was mortally wounded a short time later. Burrows would not consent to being carried below until the end of the engagement, after which he accepted the British surrender.

The captains are buried side by side at Portland’s Eastern Cemetery.

Maine's Northeast Boundary

The Northeast boundary of the United States was disputed territory between the United States and Canada starting after the American Revolutionary War. Both countries sent teams of surveyors and appointed commissioners to determine the boundary between what is now New Brunswick, Canada, and Maine. Although the surveyors employed Wabanaki people, Indigenous rights to the territory were not considered, nor were the repercussions of splitting Acadien communities along the St. John River.

Moses Greenleaf's map of the District of Maine, 1815

Moses Greenleaf's map of the District of Maine, 1815

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Moses Greenleaf created maps of Maine prior to, during, and after statehood. Greenleaf was an advocate of Maine statehood, and his maps provided government officials and citizens information about Maine’s geography and resources, contributing to the pro-separationist movement.

Survey expeditions to interior and Northern Maine informed this 1815 map. The fanciful depictions of rivers, mountain ranges, and lakes seen on earlier maps are instead informed by data. For the first time, Moosehead Lake is shown in its entirety and Katahdin—the state’s highest mountain—appears.

Greenleaf’s suggestions for the Northeastern boundary illustrated the confusion over exactly where Maine’s borders lay. In his 1829 publication, A Survey of the State of Maine, Greenleaf stated,

The Northern boundary is formed by the highlands which separate the waters falling into the river St. Lawrence, from those which fall into the Atlantic ocean, and extends from the north-west angle of Nova-Scotia, to the sources of Connecticut river. These boundaries on the east and north separate Maine from the British provinces of New-Brunswick (formerly Nova- Scotia) and Lower Canada; and form the frontier of the United States as far as they extend. As no actual survey has yet taken place to define and mark these boundaries in their whole extent, it cannot be expected to determine with accuracy the precise area of the State.

Maine's Northern Border is fixed after the Aroostook War

Known as the “bloodless” Aroostook War, this diplomatic incident between Great Britain, Canada, and the United States occurred without battles, and ended with Maine finally realizing a fixed Northern border.

The Treaty of Paris in 1783 established the border between the United States of America and British colonies after the Revolutionary War. The area around Madawaska, including parts of Maine, New Brunswick, and Quebec, remained in dispute. Acadien and American locals declared this unresolved borderland "République du Madawaska" or the Republic of Madawaska, which existed from 1827 to 1842.

Residents of the Republic of Madawaska served neither the United States nor Great Britain, until an American settler, John Baker, decided to fly a United States flag on July 4, 1827. Baker’s advocacy for claiming the Republic of Madawaska for America earned him a decade of jail time for charges of conspiracy.

In the 1830s, Maine’s attempts to collect census data and the questioning of British settlers and their timber industries settling into the St. John Valley during 1826-1830 furthered tensions between the two countries.

Baker's actions set off a slow-moving diplomatic incident, leading to unproductive arbitration by the King of the Netherlands in 1831. By 1838, a rush of American and British troops occupied the borderland.

US Secretary of State Daniel Webster and British diplomat Lord Ashburton negotiated the Webster-Ashburton agreement on the Northeast boundary lines of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. They reached a compromise in 1842, establishing Maine’s border with Canada, luckily coming to an agreement before any actual battles.

Much of the dispute involved the timber economy, and many Maine citizens were disappointed, thinking Webster had compromised the interest of Maine and the nation.

The Talcott Survey of Maine's Northern Border

The Talcott survey, headed by Captain Andrew Talcott, mapped the Northern boundary of Maine after hostilities broke out in 1839 between settlers in the Madawaska region around the St. John River.

Artists accompanied the survey and used an apparatus called a camera lucida. By using a glass prism suspended over a sheet of drawing paper, the camera lucida projected an exact outline of the view onto the paper, which could then be traced.

The original 16 paintings from this expedition are in the National Archives, Washington, DC.

Acadien Communities

Acadien deportations. Courtesy of the Canadian-American Center, University of Maine

Acadien deportations. Courtesy of the Canadian-American Center, University of Maine

Maine Acadiens are people of French descent, whose cultural identity is directly connected with family, religion, language, and land. Acadiens are related to the first French settlers who, starting in 1604 made their homes along today’s border between Maine and Canada.

The name “Acadie” could have origins to Italian explorer Verrazzano, sailing under the French flag in 1524, who designated the region as Arcadie. While French colonization dispossessed Wabanaki people of their Homelands and later pressured conversion to Catholicism, unlike many English-speaking settlers, the Acadien-French intermarried with Wabanaki people, creating alliances to protect against the expansion of English-speaking settlements.

After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Acadie was designated a permanent British possession. Great Britain insisted Acadiens give unconditional oaths of loyalty. Following their refusal, between 1755 and 1763, the British forcibly removed Acadiens in Nova Scotia and exiled them to American colonies to the south, who were hostile to French Catholics. Known as "Le Grand Dérangement," this forced expulsion and removal of over 14,000 Acadiens left approximately 7,000 dead. Approximately 4,000 Acadiens escaped by hiding with Micmac families and by traveling to Quebec. Others became captives, slaves, refugees, and asylum seekers.

When peace was finally restored by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the remaining Acadiens were free to settle where they wished, but their communities had been destroyed, and their homes and farmlands taken over by settlers from New England. Still, many returned to their homeland and settled in designated areas of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

When Maine became a state in 1820, the deep connections Acadiens had with Quebec and New Brunswick were challenged. When the international boundary was permanently identified in 1842, the border changed the lives of Acadiens by dividing communities that had shared families, economies, and resources across the St. John River for generations.

Evidence of the vast reaches of Acadien culture remains present in place names and Maine lore, such as Acadia National Park, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Evangeline, a tale of Acadie. Today, Maine Acadiens continue to live and thrive in the Upper St. John Valley, many continuing in the traditional occupation of farming.

The first permanent European settlements in Maine and North America were French

In 1604 Pierre Du Gua Sieur de Monts and Samuel de Champlain established a colony on a small island at the mouth of a river they named Ile Sainte-Croix (Holy Cross). This was the first permanent European settlement in North America.

Pierre Dugua Sieur de Monts pledged to found a permanent colony for King Henri IV of France in North America, in return for a monopoly on the region's fur trade. French traders like Sieur de Monts exchanged iron axes with Wabanaki people for furs or other materials. The Wabanaki used copper and other metals prior to contact, but worked metal was an European introduction. Because cutting with worked metal took less time than using sharpened rocks, axes like this became important and common trade items.

Champlain map copy, St. Croix or Bone Island, ca. 1799

Champlain map copy, St. Croix or Bone Island, ca. 1799

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Iron axe head, Auburn, ca. 1700

Iron axe head, Auburn, ca. 1700

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Because of scurvy, severe cold, and shortages of fuel, wood and fresh water during the first winter, the colony lost half their settlement—35 men.

In the spring of 1605, the Passamaquoddy provided the survivors with fresh food and traditional medicines. The French moved their settlement to Port Royal on the southern tip of Nova Scotia. Mathieu Da Costa, a free African who worked as an interpreter for Pierre Du Gua Sieur de Monts, joined the Port Royal settlement and is the first documented African person to have visited Acadie, or Maine.

In 1607, the King of France revoked Pierre du Gua's monopoly on fur trade activity, the colony was abandoned, and the settlers returned to France. Although both settlements were short-lived, they mark the beginnings of a permanent French presence in Maine.

Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Samuel de Champlain (circa 1570-1635), was a French explorer and cartographer who began surveying what is today Maine and the Canadian Maritimes in 1603. Called the “Father of New France,” Champlain was part of the first permanent European settlement at St. Croix Island in 1604, and established Port Royal in 1605 and Quebec in 1608.

While living in the Port Royal colony in 1605-1606, Champlain explored the Maine and Massachusetts coastlines, resulting in some of the first accurate maps of New England based on first-hand surveys.

Champlain detailed capes, bays, islands, shoals, and rivers along the coast along with heights of land useful for navigation, and Indigenous settlements. Wabanaki guides helped Champlain explore parts of the coast, and provided information about the interior, where he traveled up the Penobscot River to present day Bangor in search of the mythical city of gold, Norumbega.

Only one self portrait of Champlain exists—a small drawing of a man wearing armor and shooting. All other likenesses imagine what he looked like.

Robert Pagan deposition about Doccas Island fort, 1797

Robert Pagan deposition about Doccas Island fort, 1797

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Evidence of Champlain's settlement

During an expedition to establish the Northeast boundary of the United States, Robert Pagan testified about his exploration of ruins on Doccas Island (St. Croix Island), the remains of the 1604 French settlement established by Pierre du Gua Sieur de Monts and Samuel de Champlain.

Pagan reported evidence of architectural structures, fire pits, bricks, and,
a Metal Spoon, a Musket Ball, a piece of an Earthen vessel, and a Spike Nail, all of which gave evident Marks of having Laid a Long Time under the Surface.

At the time of this deposition, a commission was determining the "true" River St. Croix to establish the international boundary between the United States and Canada, proposed by the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Pagan's discovery of the fort remains determined that the St. Croix Island was located on the "true" St. Croix River, but also worked to dispossess Passamaquoddy people of their Homeland, and split Passamaquoddy and Acadien communities with an invisible political line.

Acadien Refugees and Le Grand Dérangement

Acadian woman spinning yarn, ca. 1895

Acadian woman spinning yarn, ca. 1895

Item Contributed by
Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum

Acadien refugees from "Le Grand Dérangement" who returned to Nova Scotia in the 1760s and 1770s found their former homes occupied by American settlers called “New England Planters," and were forced to search for other suitable areas of settlement. They chose the mouth of the St. John River and called their village “Ste-Anne-des-Pays-Bas."

Their peaceful life was destroyed in 1783, when 12,000 Loyalist soldiers and their families immigrated to New Brunswick after the American Revolutionary War. In 1785, a group of Acadiens petitioned the New Brunswick government for land in the territory of Madawaska. They settled on both sides of the majestic St. John River, in long lots, measuring up to two miles, with frontage on the river.

When Maine became a state in 1820, its Northern boundary was not established. Ambiguous wording about the boundary between the United States and British North America (Canada) in the 1783 Treaty of Versailles disputed ownership of the forests and logging rights. These issues were argued until a compromise was reached during the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which declared the St. John River the international boundary between Great Britain and the United States in 1842.

Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie

Evangeline Doll

Evangeline Doll

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

"Le Grand Dérangement" of 1755 was a mass deportation that displaced and split up Acadien families and communities. British soldiers burned homes and forcibly removed Acadiens from New Brunswick, sending them to ports all along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and to Europe. Most were imprisoned and thousands died.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie published in 1847, tells the story of Évangéline Bellefontaine's quest to find her fiancé Gabriel Lajeunesse after they were separated during "Le Grand Dérangement."

Though Longfellow’s poem Evangeline is a fictitious portrayal, Evangeline herself has become a potent symbol of Acadien persistence.

Tintamarre

Écoutez encore, c'est la vie de l'Acadie française en 1955, deux siècles après la mort qu'on prévoyait. (Listen! It is the sound of the heartbeat of French-speaking Acadie in 1955—two centuries after it was supposed to have been extinguished.)
René Lévesque, Radio Canada, 1955

Grosse tête artist Victorinne Dionne (with star) and Evangeline grosse tête at the Tintamarre  parade in Madawaska, 2014

Grosse tête artist Victorinne Dionne (with star) and Evangeline grosse tête at the Tintamarre parade in Madawaska, 2014

Courtesy of Acadie Nouvelle, Gilles Duval

Every August 15, on National Acadien Day, descendants of Acadien settlers march in Tintamarre (pronounced tantamar, from the French Acadien word meaning noise, or din) parades, where they play whistles, horns, bells, clappers and even pots and pans to make noise, to show their presence and to restate, "We’re still here."

Tintamarre in Acadie began in 1955, during the commemorations of the 200th anniversary of "Le Grand Dérangement." Archbishop Norbert Robichaud circulated an instruction sheet for the marking of the event, saying after prayers,
Un joyeux tintamarre de tout ce qui peut crier, sonner et faire du bruit: sifflets de moulin, klaxons d'automobiles, clochettes de bicyclettes, criards, jouets, etc. (There will be a joyful tintamarre lasting for several minutes, featuring anything, everything and everyone that can make noise, shout and ring: mill whistles, car horns, bicycle bells, squawking objects, toys, etc.).

Parade participants wear outfits based on the Acadien flag with colors of blue, white and red, with a gold star. In some communities, giant puppets and the grosse tête are worn in a carnival-like atmosphere. 2014 marked the first time three Acadien regions of New Brunswick, Maine, and Quebec joined together in Madawaska to demonstrate their common Acadien cultural identity, drawing about 10,000 participants.

The French Diaspora in Maine
By Lise Pelletier, Director of the Archives Acadiennes, University of Maine Fort Kent

Acadian Flag design

Acadian Flag design

Item Contributed by
L'Heritage Vivant Living Heritage

Maine's Franco Americans are descendants of two large groups: Acadiens and French Canadians who immigrated to the state and New England in the 19th Century. While both groups initially shared French ancestry, a common language, traditions, the Catholic religion, and history, each evolved differently in the New World.

Acadiens were the first to found a permanent settlement in the New World, on Ste-Croix Island, Acadie, in 1604, preceding the founding of Jamestown in 1607 and of Québec city in 1608. The colonies of Acadie and Québec grew independently and very differently from each other. Most notably, the Acadiens of Nova Scotia were forcibly removed by the British from their homeland in the 1750s and exiled to colonies to the south, thus creating the Acadien Diaspora. During this ethnic cleansing, however, approximately 4,000 Acadiens escaped the "Le Grand Dérangement” by fleeing to the woods or making their way to Québec. Many Acadiens thereafter intermarried with French-Canadians.

After the Treaty of Paris in 1763, some Acadien families of Quebec moved to the lower St. John River and eventually to the Madawaska Territory in 1785. French people of the Upper St. John Valley are descendants of those Acadiens and of French Canadians who joined them in the early 1800s. Together with other Franco-Americans, they share a common 20th Century Maine history, a love of traditional foods such as cretons, tourtières, ployes, tarte au sucre, a strong sense of community and family, and a hardy work ethic.

Black communities in Maine
by Bob Greene

Maine towns with Black populations, 1820-1870

Maine towns with Black populations, 1820-1870

Published in "Maine's Visible Black History", H.H. Price and Gerald E. Talbot, 2006
Collections of Maine Historical Society, H.H. Price Collection

For a state known as one of the Whitest in the nation, Maine has had a remarkably long and strong Black presence. Centuries before Maine broke away from Massachusetts to become a state in 1820, people of color have fished and farmed, sailed and labored on the rocky shores of the most northeastern part of the United States.

The first recorded Black person in what is now Maine was Mathieu da Costa, an interpreter for French explorers Pierre Du Gua Sieur de Monts and Samuel de Champlain. They were part of an exploring party that set up camp on St. Croix Island and Port Royal, New Brunswick 16 years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. Da Costa is believed to have been fluent in Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, Mi'kmaq and pidgin Basque, and both the English and the Dutch hired him to connect with Indigenous peoples in North America.

A 1672 court document describes "Anthony, a Black man." Anthony was Dr. Antonius Lamy and may have been Maine's first doctor. In 1753, there were 21 slaves in the area of Portland, Maine's largest city. By 1764, the number of Blacks in Portland had increased to 44, while there were 322 Blacks living in the territory of Maine.

Reuben Ruby participated at the birth of the Maine
By Bob Greene

Reuben Ruby was a national leader in the abolitionist movement, demanding equal rights in the North as well as the South. And, following in his footsteps, three of his sons were active in politics. Yet Reuben Ruby is relatively unknown today.

In 1819, Reuben Ruby was 21 years old. Because the Maine Constitution allowed male residents, including Black men to vote, Ruby participated in Maine's first elections.

In 1827, he became the agent in Portland for Freedom's Journal, the first Black-owned newspaper published in New York City. The Freedom's Journal editorials attacked slavery and also encouraged free Blacks to push for equal treatment in their communities.

Reuben Ruby hack ad, Portland, 1834

Reuben Ruby hack ad, Portland, 1834

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Ruby became the first hack (horse-drawn taxi) driver in Maine in 1829. The next year, he transported William Lloyd Garrison around Portland and entertained the Boston abolitionist at his home with a dinner that included 20 members of Portland's Black community. Garrison described the men at the dinner as "gentlemen of good intelligence and reputable character."

It was on October 15, 1834, that Maine's anti-slavery organization was formed. Ruby was at the convention along with three White Portland citizens—Samuel Fessenden, William Coe and Isaac Winslow—and was one of the signers of the organization's constitution.

Ruby became involved with the American Association of the Free Persons of Colour in 1835, and that connected him to the Negro Convention Movement, several conventions held by Blacks that aimed at a variety of reforms, including abolition and the fight for equal rights. A meeting at Portland's Abyssinian Church on May 18, 1835, selected Ruby and George Black to represent Portland at the meeting in Philadelphia. Ruby was elected president of the convention by the delegates. The convention created the American Moral Reform Society, of which Ruby was chosen as a vice president.

Ruby and his family moved to New York City around 1838. There, he worked as a cook and a waiter and even owned a restaurant briefly. He joined the California gold rush, earning as much as $3,000 during his short time in California before returning to Maine. In his later years, he worked for the Custom House in Portland, a job he obtained through his political connections.

The Abyssinian Meeting House
By Deborah Cummings Khadraoui

Abyssinian Church, Portland, ca. 1890

Abyssinian Church, Portland, ca. 1890

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Creation of the Abyssinian Congregational Church, Portland, 1835

Creation of the Abyssinian Congregational Church, Portland, 1835

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Six African American men founded the Abyssinian Religious Society in 1828. In 1831, church founder Reuben Ruby sold his plot of land on Newbury Street to build the Abyssinian Meeting House. It is the earliest meetinghouse associated with the African American population in Maine and the third oldest standing African American meetinghouse in the United States.

Ministers, community leaders and members of the Abyssinian Church actively participated in concealing, supplying, and transporting refugees from slavery, before and during the Civil War, as recounted in slave narratives and oral traditions.

Because of its easy access by rail and sea, Portland developed as one of the northernmost hubs of the Underground Railroad, the last stop before legal freedom outside the United States. When the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, it allowed slave owners and their agents to track down freedom seekers in the North and return them to slavery. Portland's activists reacted, providing escaped enslaved people safe houses and helping to organize escape routes to England and Canada.

The Abyssinian was a place for worship and so much more. It was a cultural center for the African American community during the 19th century, hosting abolition and temperance meetings, the Portland Anti-Slavery Society, and Negro Conventions. The Meeting House served as a school for African American children—one of only five in the United States at the time.

The Abyssinian Meeting House, as of 2020, is undergoing an extensive renovation to preserve the original character and intention of the building. A committed community group led by the Cummings Family has spearheaded the restoration.


The Maine Historical Society caretakes two bound volumes relating to the Abyssinian Church, including the Church record book and Society record book. Both volumes include extensive meeting minutes. Church records included member listings, vital records and baptisms, and a chronicle of liturgical occasions. The Society's book recorded financial transactions in addition to the organization's meeting minutes. The links below provide page level viewing of the record books.

View the completely digitized pages of the Abyssinian Church records from 1835 to 1876

View the completely digitized pages of the Abyssinian Religious Society records from 1839-1876


Watch "Anchor of the Soul" from 1994, co-produced by Shoshana Hoose and Karine Odlin. This documentary tracks African American history in northern New England through the story of the Abyssinian Meeting House in Portland. Courtesy of Northeast Historic Film


The impact of Black people on Maine
By Bob Greene

James A. Healy, Portland, ca. 1885

James A. Healy, Portland, ca. 1885

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

While a small number, Blacks had an impact on the areas they called home. Richard Earle of Machias was Maine's first recorded Black patriot and hero. Earle was either the servant or slave of Captain Jeremiah O'Brien, who led the capture of the British ship Margaretta off Machias in 1775. Unfortunately for Earle, the Machias Union newspaper gave Earle's spot in history for running a supply vessel through the British blockage to London Atus, a Black man who was one of the first settlers of Machias.

A native of Cape Verde, Narcissus Matheas arrived in Bangor in 1834. At one time, he had seven wagons delivering baggage and express packages in Bangor, the FedEx or UPS of his day. He also owned and drove the first coach–a nine-seater bus–owned by a private individual in the Queen City of Bangor. A member of the Bangor Fire Department, Matheas was the first man in Bangor to deliver ice to individual customers.

Robert Benjamin Lewis was born in Pittston in 1802. He held three United States patents, including one machine to caulk the seams of wooden ships in order to make them watertight. The "hair picker" became a mainstay of Maine shipyards for years. Lewis also wrote the first world history book from a viewpoint of Blacks and Indigenous people, Light and Truth.

Macon Bolling Allen became the first African American lawyer in the United States when he passed the bar exam in Portland in 1844. He later moved to Boston where he became the first Black to become a Justice of the Peace.

James Augustine Healy was the oldest of 10 children born to Irishman Michael Healy and his enslaved wife, Mary Eliza. James was valedictorian of the first graduating class at Holy Cross College in 1849, and in 1875 he became the first Black Catholic bishop in the United States when Pope Pius IX named him to that post in Portland. Under Healy's administration, membership in the Catholic Church in his jurisdiction doubled to about 100,000 people, and he went on to manage the diocese of Maine and New Hampshire.

The Black work force in Maine
By Bob Greene

Jobs. It's a small four-letter word, but "jobs" is the key component of mass migrations, including Blacks to Maine.

In the day of sail, Maine was a maritime power with tall, straight pine trees that were perfect for masts and sheltered harbors that were free of ice in the winter. In those days, when wind powered ocean-going ships, Portland was a day closer to Europe than Boston.

When Maine became a state in 1820, Black labor was prominent on the docks along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico ports. And that included Maine. Of the 359 Black men listed in the 1850 census of Maine, 194 worked on or at the water. The vast majority –157– were employed as mariners, sailors, seaman, fisherman, boatman, river boatman and lobsterman.

Other major seaports in Maine included Bangor-Brewer on the Penobscot River and Augusta-Hallowell on the Kennebec River. Today, the cities appear to be land-locked, but they were busy ports with sea-going vessels. The book The Story of Bangor tells how "in 1860 Bangor shipped 250 million board feet of lumber on the more than 200 ships a day that sailed downriver."

It wasn't until the Irish Potato Famine decimated Ireland during 1845-1849 and triggered a mass exodus to the United States where Irishmen replaced Black laborers on the waterfront. Portland's Black population declined until World War II, when two shipyards in South Portland needed workers. Again, Blacks flocked to Maine for work, mostly in the Portland area. When the war ended and the shipyards closed, many of the newcomers left, looking for work in Boston or elsewhere.

The latest surge in people of color comes not so much for jobs but for safety. Many African refugees, fleeing war in their home countries, have settled in Maine where they feel secure. The newest Mainers have helped to revitalize the state, especially in Lewiston, the second-largest city in Maine, where many Somalians have decided to live and flourish.


Passenger Steamer S.S. Portland, ca. 1895

Passenger Steamer S.S. Portland, ca. 1895

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

The passenger steamer Portland was built in Bath in 1889, and was one of the premier side-wheelers of the Eastern Steamship Company. On a stormy November night during the ship's normal run from Boston to Portland in 1898, the Portland disappeared with all aboard, in what was later coined the "Portland Gale," a blizzard recorded as one of the worst storms of the 19th century.

The exact number of passengers and crew lost to the shipwreck is undetermined, since the only known passenger list went down with the ship. As a result of this tragedy, ships began leaving a passenger manifest ashore. It is estimated the loss was about 190 persons, including 17 Black crew members from the Portland community, who worked as seamen and in food service onboard the Portland.

In 2002, remains of the shipwrecked Portland were found upright and intact in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts.

The Black community in Maine, while small in numbers, is a microcosm of Maine history

The McIntyre family, Houlton, ca. 1900

The McIntyre family, Houlton, ca. 1900

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Ismail Ahmed, Lewiston, 2009

Ismail Ahmed, Lewiston, 2009

Courtesy of Jan Pieter Van Voorst Van Beest, an individual partner

Black communities are closely tied to the success of the Maine economy, initially as unwilling subjects through the institution of slavery and the triangular trade, and later as active participants and leaders in vital industries like maritime, shipbuilding, and service sector businesses. Most recently, the influx of New Mainers has boosted Maine's 21st century economy, with immigrant businesses generating $48 million in annual revenue in 2017.

The connection between Maine and the abolitionist movement—specifically the debates surrounding the Missouri Crisis that bound Maine statehood directly to slavery—provided a platform for the rights of Blacks in Maine, demonstrated by Maine's Constitution that permitted Black men to vote in 1820.

Slavery in Maine and the Abolitionist movement

Slavery existed in Maine starting with the first English-speaking settlements, and while considered an institution of the American South, the profits from enslaving people helped build many of Maine's businesses and coastal communities. Wabanaki and Wampanoag people in New England were captured by English-speaking people and sold as slaves in Europe and the Caribbean. Scottish soldiers defeated by Oliver Cromwell were sold into slavery to labor in Massachusetts mills in the 1650s, eventually settling in York, Maine. Later, Maine shipbuilders and merchants participated in the slave economy through the triangular trading of lumber, molasses, and rum.

The Atlantic slave trade in the early 1600s brought African people as cargo to sugar plantations in the Caribbean, where New England merchants bought them in exchange for fish and lumber. Thomas Gorges, cousin to Ferdinando Gorges, advised against African slavery in Maine in 1642, noting that even if they could survive Maine's climate,
I could frame an argument against the lawfulness of taking them from theyr own country and soe have them and theirs.

Although enslaved people represented less than one percent of the population in Northern New England towns before 1700, their work as house servants and laborers greatly benefitted their owners and the region's economy.

One of the earliest documented African people in Maine was Susannah, an African woman who was about 20 years old when she was brought to Maine in 1686 as an enslaved person. Alexander Woodrup of Pemaquid purchased her, and she lived with him until 1689, when Wabanaki warriors struck Pemaquid. We know about Susannah's life because of a 1736 deposition she gave, recorded in York Deeds.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts outlawed the slave trade in 1787 in both Massachusetts and Maine. In time Mainers led the way in abolishing the institution of slavery in America.

Maine's Anti-Slavery Efforts

Organized anti-slavery efforts began after Maine Statehood in 1833, with the formation of the first Maine Anti-Slavery Society. The Portland group was integrated with Black and White members, and included both men and women, unusual for the time period.

Members acknowledged states' rights in slavery legislation, but remained committed to non-violence, and to convincing slaveholders that slavery was a crime against humanity and a sin against God. Their moral position on abolition alienated proslavery and antislavery supporters alike, since Maine's economy relied on shipping—especially along the East coast and into the West Indies. Ships from Maine did business with those that relied on slave labor, and cotton mills in Biddeford and Saco, Lewiston, and Waterville bought cotton grown by slaves on Southern plantations.

Because Connecticut, Massachusetts—and by extension, Maine—New Hampshire, and Rhode Island had outlawed slavery by 1787, Congress was concerned that Northern free states would become safe havens for runaway slaves, and created the "Fugitive Slave Clause" in 1793. Formally added to the US Constitution, it states that "no person held to service or labor" would be released from bondage in the event they escaped to a free state. The law also imposed a $500 penalty on any person who helped harbor or conceal escaped slaves.

Congress fortified the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, appealing to all citizens to assist in the capture of runaway slaves. Concurrently, the Underground Railroad reached its peak in the 1850s, with many slaves fleeing to Canada to escape US jurisdiction. It wasn't until June 28, 1864, that Congress repealed both of the Fugitive Slave Acts.

John Nichols, Lewiston, ca. 1873

John Nichols, Lewiston, ca. 1873

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Map of underground routes to Canada, 1898

Map of underground routes to Canada, 1898

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad was a network of people, Black as well as White, who offered shelter and aid to escaped slaves from the South. The Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 made capturing escaped slaves a lucrative business. Fugitive slaves were typically on their own until they reached certain points, like Maryland, farther north.

Most Underground Railroad conductors were ordinary people, farmers and business owners, as well as ministers. Hiding places included private homes, churches and schoolhouses. For an escaped enslaved person, the Northern states were still considered a risk because they could be captured and returned at any time, so many made their way to Canada, which offered Blacks freedom.

The Underground Railroad ceased operations about 1863, during the Civil War.

Statehood: Attempts to Separate from Massachusetts

Under Ferdinando Gorges's family tenure during 1607-1658, Maine was a possession of the King. By 1658 the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony claimed Maine, and from 1677-1691, Maine was a colony under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Once the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was established, Maine was considered part of that state until separation in 1820.

As early as 1680, residents of Maine signed a petition seeking a separation from Massachusetts. The 118 petitioners argued that Massachusetts officials obstructed their religious freedoms, and requested direct control from the King of England. Although unsuccessful, this was the first recorded attempt by Maine to separate from Massachusetts.

Starting in 1792, six formal attempts called for Maine’s statehood, prior to the winning vote in 1819. Motivations for separation were based on Massachusetts’s lack of military support, and the cultural differences and the economic disparity between Maine and Massachusetts.

The most common complaints were the distance Mainers had to travel to reach the General Court in Boston, and their under-representation. Taxes and a law that reduced the price of Maine lumber, allowing Massachusetts to prosper at the expense of Maine, was another source of discontent.

Maine's population increased dramatically between 1790 and 1810, suggesting Maine might be ready for statehood even though it was split politically and geographically, with inland Democratic-Republicans whose financial investments included timber and agriculture countering the coastal Federalists with interests in shipping and trade.

Maine Statehood and the Junto

In 1820, Maine's politics were divided between the pro-separation Democratic-Republicans—followers of Thomas Jefferson—who were pro-separation, and the conservative Federalists who were anti-separation.

Four men: William King, John Holmes, Albion K. Parris, and William Pitt Preble led the calls for statehood over nearly a decade prior to separation. Referred to by critics as the "Junto," meaning a political faction that secretly controlled politics.

Nearly thirty years after the first calls for Maine independence in 1792, Mainers were permitted by Massachusetts to vote on separation on July 26, 1819. Separation won with the overwhelming majority support of 70% of voters. Kennebec County contributed the most votes in favor of independence with places like Augusta reporting 99%, and Hancock County was the most closely divided, with 52% in favor.

Gov. William King, ca. 1890

Gov. William King, ca. 1890

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

John Holmes, Alfred, ca. 1840

John Holmes, Alfred, ca. 1840

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Albion K. Parris, Portland, ca. 1848

Albion K. Parris, Portland, ca. 1848

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

William Pitt Preble, ca. 1850

William Pitt Preble, ca. 1850

From "A History of the Law, the Courts, and the Lawyers of Maine" by William Willis

The Great Question of Maine and Missouri

After Maine's hard-won election to separate from Massachusetts on July 26, 1819, citizens awaited confirmation by Congress in December 1819. Maine's bid for statehood came at the same time the slave-holding territory of Missouri was also campaigning for statehood.

Mainers had barely survived the schisms of the vote for separation when Henry Clay of Kentucky, speaker of the US House of Representatives, offered the possibility of a "compromise" where the two requests for statehood would be packaged together—Maine would join the nation as a free state, and Missouri as a slave state to maintain a balance of free and slave states in the Union.

This presented a dilemma. Many people of Maine, who were strongly abolitionist, opposed the very bill that would give them independence. Because Maine's separation from Massachusetts would expire on March 4, 1820, members of Maine's separationist movement known as the "Junto" fought against restricting slavery in Missouri for the sake of Maine statehood, while insisting that they were not pro-slavery.

At the last minute, the bill for Maine statehood passed Congress and on March 3, 1820. Massachusetts congressmen from the District of Maine John Holmes and Mark Hill voted for, and Martin Kinsley, Joshua Cushman, Ezekiel Whitman, and Enoch Lincoln voted against Henry Clay's "compromise." Maine was admitted to the Union as a free state on March 15, 1820 and Missouri joined as a slave state in 1821. Commonly called the Missouri Compromise, this was known at the time in Maine as the "Great Question of Maine and Missouri." Because of the divisiveness it provoked, today is often called the Missouri Crisis.

Creating the Maine Constitution

Following the successful separation vote in July 1819, the Maine state constitutional convention met in Portland on October 11, 1819. According to Benjamin Vaughan of Hallowell, "the appearances of the Aurora (Borealis) were brilliant and frequent" during the writing of the constitution—a good omen.

Thomas Jefferson letter to William King, 1819

Thomas Jefferson letter to William King, 1819

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

The constitution extended to "Every male citizen of the United States of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, excepting paupers, persons under guardianship, and Indians not taxed." While the constitution provided strong protections for religious freedom, extended voting rights to Black men, and had no property requirement to vote, it disenfranchised women, the poor, and "Indians not taxed," tying representation to taxation.

Former President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, wrote a letter to William King responding to the Maine State Constitution, dated November 17, 1819 that King had sent him for review.

Jefferson commended King, but also reminded him about the importance of political representation and democracy, noting that under Maine’s constitution, the rights of individuals were usurped by corporate towns, saying,

Equal representation is so fundamental a principle in a true republic that no prejudices can justify its violation because the prejudice themselves cannot be justified. The claims of the corporate towns in this case, like those of the barons in England have forced the body of the nation to accept a government by capitulation, these equal rights of the people at large are forced to yield to the privileges of a few.

The state constitution was approved by a popular vote in January 1820. Many White women gained the vote in 1920, and although federal law granted Native people voting rights in 1924, Maine state law did not allow it until 1953 in Federal elections and 1965 in State elections. Until Maine's Northern border was set in 1842, Acadiens along the St. John River were unsure if they were Canadian or United States citizens, and therefore were disenfranchised for 22 years.

William King, Maine’s first governor

William King was a Democratic-Republican politician who spearheaded Maine’s separation from Massachusetts and became Maine’s first governor in 1820.

Largely self-educated, King became involved in politics starting in 1795, first representing Topsham and later Bath in the Massachusetts Legislature. During the War of 1812, King served as major general of the militia in charge of the District of Maine. Largely due to his negative experiences with Massachusetts's lack of support for Maine in the War of 1812, King began a seven-year effort in 1813 to separate Maine from Massachusetts.

In 1819, King was named president of the constitutional convention, where political leaders drafted the Maine Constitution. That convention nominated him for governor, an office he won with 21,083 votes of the 22,014 cast in Maine’s first election in 1820.

King was born in Scarborough and later moved to Bath where he founded and was president of the first bank of Bath. He was accomplished and ambitious. King opened the first cotton mill in Maine in Brunswick, and became the largest merchant shipping owner in Maine. He funded the building of at least 14 ships and was owner or part owner of more than 35 merchant vessels involved in trade with England, the West Indies, and various ports in the United States.

Like many New England shipbuilders and owners, King's businesses benefited from the triangular trade, specifically in products made from slave labor. Ironically, Maine's economic benefits from the triangle trade were in juxtaposition to the Missouri compromise under which Maine entered the Union as a non-slave state, and the call to limit slavery in the United States.

Maine Statehood began on March 15, 1820

Proclamation of statehood, 1820

Proclamation of statehood, 1820

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

William King signed a proclamation announcing that Congress admitted Maine to the Union on March 3, 1820, that the constitution was now in effect, and that Maine was a state, "from and after the fifteenth day of March."

The capital of Maine was first established in Portland, on Congress Street, but moved to Augusta in 1832 for its more central location within the state. William King became Maine's first governor, Albion K. Parris the fifth. John Holmes joined John Chandler as the first two US Senators from the state of Maine, and William Pitt Preble served in the Maine Supreme Court.

Moses Greenleaf created a map of Maine in 1820, the same year Maine achieved statehood. It defined county and township boundaries and land ownership through color and notations. The map demonstrates the settlements and dramatic splitting up of land along Maine's coast in 1820, while the Northern sections of the state were not yet populated by non-Natives beyond the Acadien settlements.

This map pre-dates the 1842 definition of Maine's Northern border but noted the Acadien communities, showing locations of the "French and Indian Villages," and the "French settlement of 200 families." Certain tracts are called "Indian Lands" but they do not reflect the treaties and are not designated by Tribe.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts designated tracts of land in the District of Maine for the benefit of educational institutions. Land grants were made in remote regions of what is now Northern Maine for schools such as Deerfield Academy, Bowdoin College, Portland Academy, the Saco Academy, and Williams College. The schools could sell, lease, or reap financial benefit from the natural resources on the allocated land.

Also noted on Greenleaf's map are one million acres on both sides of the Kennebec River that William Bingham purchased from Massachusetts for speculation in 1793, during a time when the Commonwealth was recouping debts from the American Revolution.

Wabanaki people and Statehood

European wars over economic and political power during the 1600s to 1800s extended to North America, often putting Native people in the middle and subjecting them to colonial wars and policies. By the time a there was peace between France and Great Britain, European descendants in America were expanding permanent settlements, often violating previous treaties, and forming the United States of America.

Indian corn for the Penobscots, 1810

Indian corn for the Penobscots, 1810

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

When Massachusetts, rather than Europe, came to power, Wabanaki people negotiated perpetual payments—or treaty annuities—for permitting English-speaking people the limited settlement of land and granting resource use, like harvesting timber and food.

The Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Tribes are sovereign, meaning they are self-governing nations. In 1790 the United States Congress passed the Non-intercourse Act, which limited treaty making only to the United States Congress. In 1794, Massachusetts illegally entered into a Treaty with the Passamaquoddy. When Maine separated from Massachusetts, Wabanaki people were asked to release Massachusetts from its treaty obligations and to have Maine assume this agreement, again without the involvement of Congress. However, the Passamaquoddy refused to sign the agreement. Since the late 1980s, the Tribes in Maine have been continually working to change the 1980 Settlement Act so their inherent sovereignty allies with other Tribes across the country.

Part of the articles of separation between Massachusetts and Maine included the demand that Maine take responsibility for Massachusetts’s obligations and treaty annuities to the Wabanaki. Penobscot leaders agreed to recognize the state of Maine in return for an annual distribution of treaty annuities and an affirmation of their land holdings. Although Maine received $30,000 from Massachusetts to carry out the annuities, these funds were kept in trust, and only limited amounts ever reached the Tribes in meaningful ways.

Although they were denied representation through Maine’s constitution, the Maine legislature included non-voting Tribal representatives from the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy in the early years of statehood, and the Houlton Band of Maliseets in 2010. Maine is the only state in the US to have tribally elected representatives to its state legislature, part of the unique and evolving Wabanaki-Maine relationship.

Becoming Maine

Mainers were eager to brand their independence from Massachusetts. Benjamin Vaughan was a commissioner in the negotiations between Britain and the United States at the drafting of the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War. Vaughn moved to Hallowell in 1797 from London, and was supportive of Maine Statehood, although he was a member of Federalist Party, which had opposed it. He took the lead in designing a new state seal for Maine.

The official Maine State Seal

The official Maine State Seal

Vaughn wrote a manifesto to decode the elements he proposed for the state seal. According to legend, Vaughn’s young daughter sketched the state seal shown here at his direction.

Vaughn’s reasoning for the following symbols of the Maine State seal, quoted below, included:

The North Star: We are the most Northern State in the Union…What is an ordinary star for all other states becomes the North Star for us.

Aurora Borealis: Below the North Star, a bow will be seen…this is a luminous bow such as one occasionally sees as a portion of the Aurora Borealis. When the convention for forming the Constitution of Maine was sitting in Portland in October last, the appearance of the Aurora were brilliant and frequent.

White pine: Another of the peculiar marks of Maine, which continues to abound so as to figure in commerce…hence this pine fills nearly the whole shield…and stands as the representation of all forest trees.

Moose: The moose deer, lying at the foot of the pine denotes the abundance of our wild lands; and therefore our future…the moose, it will be observed, can only exist at a distance from inhabitants.

Farmer: The cutter of the soil… [with] his scythe denoting that after his pasturage is spent, he has a reserve of winter fodder.

Mariner: Our extent of sea-coast and fondness for navigation is denoted by a mariner resting on an anchor, which is the anchor of hope.

Vaughn suggested a motto of “northern lights” reflecting his fondness for the Aurora Borealis, but Maine's state motto became Dirigo meaning “I direct” or “I lead” in Latin. Maine’s first meeting of the legislature. adopted the state seal and motto on June 9, 1820.

Maine Flags

The Maine State Militia featured potent symbols of Maine from the state seal—the white pine tree, a moose, and the North Star—on flags from 1822 to 1861.

After separating from Massachusetts in 1820, Maine Adjutant General Samuel Cony was tasked with supplying flags for Maine's approximately 100 militia companies, because the articles of separation required Maine to return all of Massachusetts’s militia flags. Needing a thrifty solution, Cony had this design engraved onto a copper plate and printed onto silk, the first known mass production of a militia flag.

The official Maine State flag adopted in 1820 featured the state seal centered on a field of blue. States and countries often sanction multiple flag options, and in 1901, the Maine Legislature adopted an updated and simplified flag. The flag includes two elements of the State seal, the white pine tree and the North Star.

Maine Militia Flag, ca. 1828

Maine Militia Flag, ca. 1828

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

State of Maine flag design, 1901

State of Maine flag design, 1901

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Uses of the Maine State Seal

While the doctrine of Manifest Destiny is most often associated with expansion in the American West in the late 1800s, President Monroe invoked it in 1823. Manifest Destiny is the American expression of the Doctrine of Discovery—the idea that the United States was ordained through Christianity to expand and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent. This philosophy was used to justify the forced removal of Native people from their Homelands and to exploit their land as a resource.

The allegory, Scenes from the State of Maine places the Maine State seal in the center of "progress"—the felling of a trees and harvesting of timber. On the right, or east side of the image are visual passages of "civilization," including a tidy log cabin, settlers plowing a field, and a city visible in the distance. To the left, or west are Wabanaki people wearing snowshoes and traditional dress of a century earlier. They are hunting a moose with bows and arrows in the winter, an attempt to show them as outdated.

Scenes in the State of Maine, 1855

Scenes in the State of Maine, 1855

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

"American Progress" 1872 by John Gast

"American Progress" 1872 by John Gast

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Native people relegated to the left side of artworks and being pushed metaphorically westward became a popular propaganda image for the colonization of America, infamously depicted in John Gast’s American Progress from 1872.

Despite over 400 years of colonization, Wabanaki people continue to occupy their unceded Homeland, including what is now known as the state of Maine.


Sally Holmes, an icon of fashion at Statehood

Sarah Brooks Holmes (1773-1835), known as Sally, lived in Alfred. Her husband, John Holmes, was instrumental in Maine's separation from Massachusetts and was one of Maine's first senators after Statehood. The creation of the state of Maine in 1820 wasn't very relevant to women like Sally Holmes, since under both Maine and Massachusetts law, they had no ability to vote, and a married woman's property, contracts, and labor belonged to her husband.

Sally Holmes, Alfred, 1820

Sally Holmes, Alfred, 1820

Item Contributed by
Parsons Memorial Library

John Holmes, Alfred, ca. 1823

John Holmes, Alfred, ca. 1823

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Sally Holmes was regarded as an excellent mother and charming person by her daughter, Sarah Ann Goodenow, who wrote of her mother's parenting skills in 1827,
…if I cannot inherit all her excellent qualities, I consider an opportunity of improving from the instruction and admonitions of so superior a parent a blessing, much to be prized—and with which but few children are favored.

In addition to matronly duties, Sarah noted Sally Holmes's keen intellect,
Mama's task, in the performance of her numerous duties this winter, has been more than commonly arduous—she has not only found it necessary to dictate all the letters written during the season—but to argue in political debate with all the zeal of a skillful politician.

Sally and Sarah Holmes spent "the season" in Washington DC during John Holmes's tenure as Senator for Maine. Fashion was on the mind of 18-year-old Sarah Ann Holmes, who wrote in 1823, "high life and fashion are such a thief of time" and described the bi-monthly "levees" at the White House that she attended with her mother. She told of first lady Elizabeth Monroe's attire at one such party, suggesting that fashion was a reflection of character saying,
At the first levee, she was dressed in a magnificent gold brocade with deep flounces of the same, a turban of the same, with a gold flower and tassels—Spencer sleeves and ruff ornamented with gold—a splendid necklace of cornelian, a cross, and bracelets of the same richly set in gold. And indeed these decorations all combined to set off her charms at the best advantage possible.

Sally Holmes's evening gown, ca. 1824

Sally Holmes's evening gown, ca. 1824

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Sally Holmes's silk satin evening gown, Alfred, ca. 1825

Sally Holmes's silk satin evening gown, Alfred, ca. 1825

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

According to an 1820 edition of La Belle Assemblée, popular sleeves for evening dresses at the beginning of the year were "short and full" along with flounces or borders of lace, ribbons, and flowers on the neckline and hem. A popular short-waisted jacket with long sleeves worn over dresses was referred to as, “Spencer sleeves."

What did life look like in 1820 when Maine became a state?

In 1820, James Monroe was President of the United States, and the Missouri Compromise became law, admitting Maine into the Union as the 23rd state. Maine’s economy revolved around timber, merchant shipping, and agriculture. America’s population was on the rise, and waistlines of women’s clothing began to drop.

The American Empire style, based on French Napoleonic-era furniture and decorative arts was just reaching popularity in 1820, characterized by deep carving, animal-paw feet, gilt-painting, and decorative inlays. Candles, oil lamps, and fireplaces provided light in Maine homes in 1820, until electricity was introduced in the 1880s. Plastic and synthetic materials didn’t exist, so containers, toys, and decorative items were constructed of natural woods, cottons, silks, and even corn husks.

This gallery brings together selected items, providing an intimate glimpse of life in Maine in 1820.

The ever-changing face of Maine

Maine's English-speaking communities developed over hundreds of years and included a complex mix of people from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Some came seeking, economic opportunities, some for religious freedom, and others as indentured servants or enslaved people.

Maine saw an influx of Scotch-Irish people in 1650 when Oliver Cromwell unified Scotland and England. He forced the captured Scottish soldiers to labor in Massachusetts and Maine. About 25 Scottish men set up and worked at Great Works sawmill in South Berwick. When they later received their freedom, many of the Scots stayed in Maine. The same year, Scottish indentured servants who agreed to work for free for seven years in exchange for passage, food, shelter and clothing left Northern Ireland for Maine. In 1718, another large group of Scotch-Irish families made the trip across the Atlantic to settle in Maine's Midcoast region.

Lieutenant Thaddeus Clark was the first known Irishman to settle in Maine in 1662, in what is now Portland. Irish immigrants trickled into Maine until the mid-nineteenth century, when, starting in the 1840s, economic depression and famine in Ireland led to large-scale immigration to America. Irish people eventually became the primary workers on Portland's docks in the early 1900s, displacing Black workers. Like the French, Irish Catholics experienced discrimination in Maine due to their religion.

Once in Maine, English-speaking people further developed into distinctive cultures that were more diverse, more secular, and more democratic than the Puritan Commonwealth of Massachusetts Bay to the south.

The community on Malaga Island

What happened on Malaga Island follows a long trajectory of the history of slavery, racism, science, and politics in Maine, likely contributing to the lack of diversity in Maine today.
Dr. Kate McMahon, 2019

Malaga Islanders with missionary, ca. 1909

Malaga Islanders with missionary, ca. 1909

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Malaga is a small island off the coast of Phippsburg where generations of people lived, beginning with the Wabanaki who called it mάlαtakʷ in reference to the white cedar growing there. In 1860, a community of Black, mixed race, and White people started living on Malaga. Many were descendants of Benjamin Darling, a free Black man who lived in the area in 1794. The Darlings and other Blacks in Maine created closed communities like Malaga where they could live outside of the racism present in many majority white towns. Life on Malaga was hardscrabble, but it wasn't much different than poor communities on the mainland.

At the turn of the 20th century, Maine was being marketed as a "vacationland," and the poverty of Malaga was viewed as unsavory to tourists. Paired with anxiety about monetary social services to Malaga residents, a poor economy, and the rise of eugenics—the incorrect theory that people, usually those of color, were degenerate or immoral and should be removed from society—residents of Malaga were caught in the crosshairs of the state. All of Malaga's residents were formally evicted in 1912. Several were institutionalized, some were and sterilized, and all were displaced. State employees even exhumed the cemetery remains on Malaga Island, and moved them to the "Maine School for the Feeble Minded," once located at what is, in 2020, the Pineland Farms, in Pownal.

Becoming Maine

Over the past 400 years, Maine's settler and immigrant population has changed from the historically dominant English-speaking people to today's mosaic ethnic heritages. The US Census places Maine as the oldest and Whitest state in the nation, with 94.6% reporting as Caucasian in 2019. However, there has always been diversity in Maine's population. In addition to Wabanaki people who have always lived in Maine and the earliest settlers including the Acadiens, Blacks, and English-speaking people, other groups like French-Canadians, Germans, Italians, Jewish, and Swedish immigrants arrived and contributed to the growth of urban industries in places like Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, and Biddeford. At the turn of the 20th century, immigrants including Armenians, Albanians, Chinese and Greeks followed.

In the 1750s, Samuel Waldo recruited about 1,500 German settlers to what is today Waldoboro. Many factors contributed to their immigration, including economic opportunities and religious tolerance. Waldo and his compatriots in colonial Massachusetts Bay encouraged German settlement in the area to act as a buffer between the British and the French along the Maine frontier.

Maine was home to a handful of Jews during colonial times. By 1849, Bangor boasted the state's first synagogue and its largest Jewish community: six families. Jews arrived in greater numbers beginning in the 1870s.

"Portrait of Hawa" Mainer project, Portland, 2016

"Portrait of Hawa" Mainer project, Portland, 2016

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

As of 2020, Maine's workforce is shrinking—baby boomers are retiring, and there are more deaths than births in Maine—resulting in a growing labor shortfall. When faced with a similar predicament in 1870, William Widgery Thomas, Maine's Commissioner of Immigration suggested,
We must augment our population then, by immigration from outside our borders; and this immigration must come from one of two sources—from the other States, or from foreign countries.