History/ES 247 Reading Guide

The Kennebec Proprietors and the Backcountry Squatters

  • Alan Taylor, Liberty Men and Great Proprietors: The Revolutionary Settlement on the Maine Frontier (1990)

Taylor’s narrative presents a cast of interacting characters on the mid-Maine frontier in the early republic. He examines these inhabitants and absentee landowners from a variety of perspectives: economic, socio-economic, political, cultural and religious.

  • How does his study add to our understanding of the environmental history of Maine? What does it suggest about the interconnections between environmental and community history, broadly conceived?
  • Why was Maine beset with land conflicts in the years after the revolution? Why had so many squatters settled on land owned by proprietors? Why had the proprietors waited so long to settle their grants?
  • What does Taylor’s description and analysis of the various behaviors and acts of settler resistance and the responses to those by the proprietors in the Eastern Country suggest about the evolution of Maine communities, politics, cultural and religious beliefs, and Maine “character”?
  • How were the conflicts resolved, and why? What arguments did the settlers make about the land and its improvement in their attempts to claim their right to land patented in someone else’s name? How did the proprietors respond?
  • What were the environmental implications of the 1808 Betterment Act?

Map of resisting and non-resisting towns in 1800 mid-Maine. 


Gen. Knox Mansion

The Old Gen. Knox Mansion, Thomaston, Me.  (c. 1905)

Knox Street, Thomaston

Knox Street, Thomaston, Me.  (c. 1905)

  • Dear Hallie  All on Deck Well and Happy  Hattie Wheeler
Meddow St., Bingham, Me.

Meddow St., Bingham, Me.  (c.1905)

Scene near Jefferson, Maine

Scene near Jefferson, Maine [formerly Balltown]  (c. 1915)

Scene near Liberty, Maine

Scene near Liberty, Maine [formerly Davistown]  (c. 1918)

  • [Mar.]  Dear Mrs. Cain,  I am a day late in sending with the others but I was dressing butter and so busy the mail got by ahead of me. Hope you are well this winter. Mrs. & Mrs. Foskee are staying with Mrs. Barton for a while, so I have no near neighbors now. We have had a hard winter, one storm after another. Sincerely yours, Carrie Mason.

Links to more views of Great Proprietors, "Liberty" (Resisting) Towns, Non-Resisting Towns.