Attempts at separation


Falmouth Gazette, 1785

Falmouth Gazette, 1785
Item 20114   info
Maine Historical Society

Benjamin Titcomb was the publisher of Maine's first newspaper, The Falmouth Gazette. He established the newspaper to promote separation from Massachusetts. This edition features a “separationist call to meeting” on September 17, 1785.

The image is the front page of the first edition of the paper.

Appeal for District of Maine to be set off from Massachusetts, ca 1790

Appeal for District of Maine to be set off from Massachusetts, ca 1790
Item 36142   info
Maine Historical Society

An address to the numerous and respectable inhabitants of the great and extensive district of Maine.

Town meeting regarding a Gorham convention, Berwick, 1787

Town meeting regarding a Gorham convention, Berwick, 1787
Item 103661   info
Maine Historical Society

A town meeting held in Berwick on January 25th, 1787 decided not to send delegates to a conference in Gorham. The conference joined together the counties of York, Lincoln, and Cumberland to discuss statehood. Berwick voted against sending delegates to the conference (107 votes to 0).

Two delegates who would have gone to represent the town, Nathaniel Low and Richard F. Cutts, were told not to go by order of the town.

"An address to the inhabitants of the District of Maine upon the subject of their separation," Portland, 1791

"An address to the inhabitants of the District of Maine upon the subject of their separation," Portland, 1791
Item 103653   info
Maine Historical Society

This writing, attributed to Daniel Davis (1762-1835) and printed by Thomas Wait of Portland, marked the first, large-scale written tract about the separation of Maine from Massachusetts. Davis’ lengthy proposition outlined the separation argument from both sides, however, he omitted mention of the Coasting Law (which rendered many coastal towns against separation.) The narrative is full of references to the glory of the Federal Constitution, signed just a few years prior. Davis' primary thesis was a defense of separation, and its benefits to Maine.

Orchard Cook on his frustration with Maine's separation movement, Washington DC, 1806

Orchard Cook on his frustration with Maine's separation movement, Washington DC, 1806
Item 103678   info
Maine Historical Society

Orchard Cook addressed several leaders of the separation movement about his frustration with Massachusetts, as well as the current state of the movement:
How long shall the Trunk be in servitude & pay suit, service, homage & tribute—to a Limb, long since amputated by N. Hampshire? Are we always to be a kind of sub Colony, to a sub state--? If we wait till Land Holders (who now unrighteously pay one third their quota of taxation) be in favour of it far, far, distant will be the era of our freedom & independence.

Born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1763, Cook was a politician from Lincoln County. He held several roles as a public official including Justice of the Peace, Assessor, and member of the US House of Representatives from 1805-1811. He died in 1819, less than a year before Maine achieved statehood.

John Chandler to Henry Dearborn about coasting law and its potential repeal, Monmouth, 1816

John Chandler to Henry Dearborn about coasting law and its potential repeal, Monmouth, 1816
Item 103657   info
Maine Historical Society

John Chandler wrote to Henry Dearborn regarding the Coasting Law and its ability to restrict the separation movement. Chandler sought Dearborn’s advice because of his activity in the shipping industry and his lengthy political career.

Henry Dearborn was a Revolutionary War soldier and statesmen. He served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1793-1797, Secretary of War under Thomas Jefferson, and a high ranking military official during the War of 1812.

John Chandler, a friend of Dearborn’s, served in the Massachusetts senate (1803-1805), was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1805-1809), served as first president of the Maine senate, and ultimately served as a Maine senator (1820-1829).

Call for a meeting to discuss separation from Massachusetts, April 1816

Call for a meeting to discuss separation from Massachusetts, April 1816
Item 9303   info
Maine Historical Society

This paper in the William King papers describes the issues around Maine's possible separation from Massachusetts, and a meeting to be held to discuss these issues for the gentlemen in the counties of Lincoln, Kennebec and Somerset in April 1816.

Letter from the Friends of Separation in York County, 1816

Letter from the Friends of Separation in York County, 1816
Item 1450   info
Maine Historical Society

This letter from the Friends of Separation in York County is asking for assistance from members of another locality regarding the separation from Massachusetts.

Anti-Separation Pamphlet, 1816

Anti-Separation Pamphlet, 1816
Item 104928   info
Maine Historical Society

The summer before the September 1816 vote, anti-separationists continued opposition to an independent Maine. This pamphlet, which belonged to Stephen Longfellow IV, primarily discusses the financial burdens of separation.

Lebanon voting record for separation from Massachusetts, 1816

Lebanon voting record for separation from Massachusetts, 1816
Item 9290   info
Maine Historical Society

At a convention in Brunswick in 1816, delegates reported on how their towns had voted on the separation question. Most inland towns were pro-separation, and coastal towns were against.

Lebanon, located in York County fit the stereotype, reporting,
At a legal meeting of the Inhabitants of the Town of Lebanon qualified by law to Vote in the choice of Senator on Monday the second day of Sept AD 1816 for the purpose of giving in their votes whether it is expedient that the District of Maine should be separated [sic] from Massachusetts proper or not.
For a separation twenty nine votes
Against it one hundred and twenty eight.


Elections in May and September of 1816 failed to get an “extra-majority”—a stipulation required by the Massachusetts legislature. Controversy over an attempt by Maine politicians to manipulate the tabulation of the vote left the movement in disarray by December 1816.

Delegate election results, Bethel, 1816

Delegate election results, Bethel, 1816
Item 1497   info
Maine Historical Society

Bethel voted on a delegate to go to a convention to discuss whether Maine should pursue becoming a state independent of Massachusetts. The convention was held in Brunswick in September 1816.

Barbour Bartlett was elected as the delegate. He ran against Eli Twitchell and Samuel Chapman.

Town of Sidney separation election record, 1816

Town of Sidney separation election record, 1816
Item 1491   info
Maine Historical Society

Inhabitants of the Town of Sidney voted on sending delegates to a convention to be held the last Monday of September 1816 to vote on Maine separating from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Election record from Town of Freeman, 1816

Election record from Town of Freeman, 1816
Item 1498   info
Maine Historical Society

Election record from the town of Freeman (now Kingfield) to decide on separation from Massachusetts, September 2, 1816.

Letter with a verbal tally of votes for separation, Belfast, 1816

Letter with a verbal tally of votes for separation, Belfast, 1816
Item 9272   info
Maine Historical Society

Letter to General William King from Alfred Johnson, Jr., dated July 27, 1816 showing a verbal tally of votes for separation of the District of Maine from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Distribution of separationist sentiment, Portland, 1816

Distribution of separationist sentiment, Portland, 1816
Item 103664   info
Maine Historical Society

Samuel Ayer wrote to Benjamin Ames about the behind-the-scenes propaganda of the post-War of 1812 separation (Maine from Massachusetts) movement. Ayer sought a financial contribution to print and distribute a pro-separation pamphlet, for "the love of Maine." Within this short letter, admittedly written “in haste,” Ayer provided insight into the movement's contemporary printing prices and methods.

Somerset County voting record, 1816

Somerset County voting record, 1816
Item 7579   info
Maine Historical Society

An election was held in 1816 in the District of Maine to see if the population would like to create a separate state - Maine. This manuscript is the record of Somerset County's town results.

William Preble's controversial interpretation of a vote on separation from Massachusetts, 1816

William Preble's controversial interpretation of a vote on separation from Massachusetts, 1816
Item 1495   info
Maine Historical Society

In September 1816, Maine towns voted on whether to separate from Massachusetts. Massachusetts regulators who set up the election required a 5 to 4 majority for separation to pass.

Since the separationists did not achieve majority, William Preble used complex and controversial logic to argue in favor of separation. This document shows Preble's reasoning for victory, which led to a major controversy at the Brunswick Convention later that month.

Shown here are the records from the counties of Cumberland, Hancock, Kennebeck, Lincoln, Oxford, Penobscot, Somerset, Washington and York. Preble used the "aggregate majority" from each county instead of the total numbers of votes in his calculation.

Committee to John Holmes on Maine's statehood, 1818

Committee to John Holmes on Maine's statehood, 1818
Item 102111   info
Maine Historical Society

A committee, formed to begin the process of making Maine an independent state, wrote to John Holmes, a senator of Massachusetts who was a resident of Maine. The committee requested Holmes’ support and any information he had regarding the likelihood that others would also support Maine becoming a state.

John Chandler to William King on Maine statehood, Monmouth, 1818

John Chandler to William King on Maine statehood, Monmouth, 1818
Item 102192   info
Maine Historical Society

John Chandler (1762-1841) of Monmouth served as a Massachusetts state senator and as U.S. Representative from Massachusetts before the War of 1812. He was a veteran of both the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Chandler was a strong supporter of Maine's independence from Massachusetts. He participated in Maine’s Constitutional Convention and served as the first president of the Maine Senate.

In this letter, Chandler informs William King (1768-1852), who would later become Maine's first governor, that it appeared to be a good time to bring the topic of separation to the Legislature once again.

James Bridge to Reuel Williams discussing statehood, Boston, 1819

James Bridge to Reuel Williams discussing statehood, Boston, 1819
Item 103656   info
Maine Historical Society

The process of splitting Maine from Massachusetts was complicated. In June 1819, a committee debated what would happen to public lands owned by Massachusetts, with Bridge noting:
The great question of a division of the state, which is before a very respectable committee of the two houses, progressed very smoothly and auspiciously, till they came to the article of a division of the publick property. One day has been spent in committee upon that point without making any head way—Massachusetts proper claims half of the public lands in Maine—Maine contends that it is essential to her interests to have the whole.

For many ears after statehood Massachusetts continued to own a considerable amount of land in the state of Maine.

James Bridge (b. 1765) was noted as one of the finest lawyers in the District of Maine. Bridge served as a mentor for Williams, helping him pass the bar in 1804. They formed a law partnership and kept in close contact throughout their careers.

Voter list, Baldwin, 1819

Voter list, Baldwin, 1819
Item 104992   info
Baldwin Historical Society

The selectmen from the town of Baldwin: Josiah Pierce, William Fitch, and Nathan Sawyer, were in session at Richard Fitch’s Tavern on February 15, 1819.

The selectmen were assembled to receive evidence to qualify additional inhabitants of the town to be included on the current list of voters for town officers.

Joshua B. Lowell to John Chandler, Chesterville, 1819

Joshua B. Lowell to John Chandler, Chesterville, 1819
Item 102194   info
Maine Historical Society

Joshua Lowell of Chesterville wrote to John Chandler, a member of the Massachusetts General Court and a strong supporter of Maine’s independence. Lowell informed Chandler that the people of Chesterville did not think it was a good time to bring statehood to the Legislature:
There is but little doubt that a large majority if not all in this section of the District are convinced that a Separation of Maine from Massachusetts would advance the interests of Maine. But there is as little doubt that a majority will be found opposed to the measure at present…– hence, perhaps the better way will be to postpone bringing the question anew before the People, or at least the Legislature for a year or two longer.

However, four days later, Abijah Smith in Waterville wrote to Chandler, noting the pro-separation sentiments in his town and in Vassalboro were gaining steam,
I am fully satisfied that the subject of separation is gaining advocates in this quarter, daily– Many who were neutral when the question was last agitated, would now vote in favor of the measure: some who were violently opposed before, would now be neutral: or, perhaps, in favor.

Joshua B. (J.B.) Lowell lived in Chesterville until his death in 1822 at the age of 55. While living in Chesterville, he served as the first town clerk, as well as a selectman, an assessor, and as a postmaster.

Abijah Smith to John Chandler regarding Maine statehood, Waterville, 1819

Abijah Smith to John Chandler regarding Maine statehood, Waterville, 1819
Item 102196   info
Maine Historical Society

Abijah Smith (1773-1841) lived most of his life in Waterville, ME. He served as a town clerk, captain of the fire department, postmaster, and in the Maine state legislature during his lifetime.

In this letter, he wrote to John Chandler, a member of the Massachusetts General Court and a strong supporter of Maine’s independence, in response to a printed letter Chandler issued to determine the feelings of the Maine people toward separation from Massachusetts. Smith felt very strongly the time was right for Maine to become a state, because there were no other current conflicts to derail its success.

Vote for statehood, Baldwin, 1819

Vote for statehood, Baldwin, 1819
Item 104989   info
Baldwin Historical Society

The selectmen from the town of Baldwin, including Josiah Pierce, William Fitch, and Lot Davis, requested the constable John Burnell to notify the qualified Baldwin voters to meet at Richard Fitch’s house on 26 July 1819.

The voters were tasked with deciding the question of whether the district of Maine should separate from Massachusetts and become and independent state.

Seventy-nine votes were cast, fifty-three voted in favor of separation and twenty-six voted against separation.

Moses S. Judkins to William King regarding Maine statehood, Castine, 1819

Moses S. Judkins to William King regarding Maine statehood, Castine, 1819
Item 102197   info
Maine Historical Society

Moses S. Judkins of Castine, ME wrote to William King (1768-1852) seeking reassurance that Maine would become a state. Judkins is nervous about the conflicting reports in the press. King was a well-known supporter of Maine’s independence and would become the first governor of the new state, serving from 1820-1821.

Arguments against separation from Massachusetts, 1819

Arguments against separation from Massachusetts, 1819
Item 20116   info
Maine Historical Society

A year before Maine became a state, a public notice addressed to the "Citizens of Portland" outlined reasons Maine should remain a province of Massachusetts.

George Thacher to William King regarding a vote for statehood, Saco, 1819

George Thacher to William King regarding a vote for statehood, Saco, 1819
Item 102198   info
Maine Historical Society

George Thacher served as a member of the Continental Congress, a US Congressman from 1789-1801, and in 1820 he became a Justice of the Maine State Supreme Court. He was also active in authoring Maine's state constitution.

This letter to William King from Thacher lists the results of the vote on separation in York County. Thacher predicted that based on York’s results the rest of Maine would also vote in favor of separation. William King (1768-1852) was a well-known supporter of Maine’s independence and would be its first governor from 1820-1821.

George Thacher was born in Yarmouth, MA in 1754 but died in Biddeford, ME in 1824.

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