History 2129/EnvS 2449 Reading Guide

Rural life in early nineteenth century Maine

  • David Smith, “Maine’s Changing Landscape to 1820,” in Charles E. Clark et al., Maine in the Early Republic:  From Revolution to Statehood (1988), 13-25.  (e-reserve)
  • Jamie H. Eves, “‘The Valley White with Mist’:  A Cape Cod Colony in Maine, 1770-1820,” Maine Historical Society Quarterly 32.2 (1992), 74-107.  (e-reserve)
  • Wescott, History of Harpswell, Ch.9, “Farming, Fishing, and Shipbuilding, 1730-1820,” 86-106.


  • Why did settlers come to Maine, to older settlements along the coast as well as newer settlements in the Kennebec and Penobscot River Valleys, in the years after the Revolution? Who came, and why did they leave their long-settled communities? What did they believe the Maine “frontier” (both on the coast and inland along the rivers) would offer them?
  • Some of the new agricultural settlements replaced earlier seventeenth-century fishing, fur trade and lumbering economies in that region. Why did settlers persist in pursuing agriculture, given both their prior experience and the trials of farming in Maine?
  • What kind of environmental/ecological experience and perspective did the new settlers bring with them? How did their previous experience in long-settled areas on the southern New England seaboard shape their cultural and environmental attitudes?
  • How does Wescott’s description of farming practices between 1730 and 1820 compare to Smith’s and Eve’s accounts? What sources does he use and what questions does he ask? What other questions might he have asked?
  • How might his account of farming practices be shaped in part by his decision to end the period with a political benchmark (the separation of Maine from Massachusetts)? Did the various wars, both national and international (whether or not the US was actively involved in those wars), have the same effect on farming practices as it did on fishing, and on shipbuilding and shipping?
  • Why were Harpswell men likely to be both farmers and fishermen?
  • How does Wescott describe the evolution of fishing on Harpswell and the various fisheries in which Harpswell residents were engaged? How did international politics and warfare, as well as Massachusetts politics shape fishing practices and rights?
  • How was shipbuilding and shipping an integral part of the economy and community of Harpswell? How might those ventures influence and shape the community, and the experience of community?
  • What kinds of sources do these authors use to uncover the history of the Maine frontier and the Maine coast in the early republic? How do these historians measure and interpret both change and continuity?

Map of the agricultural margin (the upland edge of the agricultural frontier) in Maine.

Map of the settlement of Maine between 1603 and 1799.

Map of the settlement of Maine between 1603 and 1829.

Map of the "emigration" of Harpswell families to Hancock Co., Maine, by 1800.