History.—During the 16th century and the early part of the 17th, the coast of Maine attracted various explorers, among them Giovanni da Verrazano (1524), Estéban Gomez (1525), Bartholomew Gosnold (1602), Martin Pring (1603), Pierre du Guast, Sieur De Monts (1604), George Weymouth (1605), and John Smith (1614), who explored and mapped the coast and gave to the country the name New England; but no permanent English settlement was established within what are now the borders of the state until some time between 1623 and 1629. In 1603 De Monts received from Henry IV. of France a charter for all the region between 40° and 46° N. under the name of Acadie, or Acadia, and in 1604 he built a fort on Neutral Island at the mouth of the Saint Croix river. This he abandoned in 1605, but some of his followers were in the vicinity a few years later. In the same year George Weymouth explored the south-west coast, kidnapped five Indians, and carried them to England, where three of them lived for a time in the family of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who soon became the leader in founding Maine. In 1607 the Plymouth Company, of which he was an influential member and which had received a grant of this region from James I. of England in the preceding year, sent out a colony numbering 120 under George Popham (c. 1550-1608), brother of Sir John Popham, and Raleigh Gilbert, son of Sir Humphrey Gilbert. The colony established itself at the mouth of the Kennebec river in August, but, finding its supplies insufficient, about three-fifths of its number returned to England in December; a severe winter followed and Popham died; then Gilbert, who succeeded to the presidency of the council for the colony, became especially interested in his claim to the territory under his father's charter, and in 1608 the colony was abandoned. In 1609 the French Jesuits Biard and Masse established a fortified mission station on the island of Mount Desert, and although this as well as the remnant of De Monts' settlement at the mouth of the Saint Croix was taken in 1613 by Sir Samuel Argall (d. 1626), acting under the instructions of the English at Jamestown, Virginia, some of these colonists returned later. In 1620 the Council for New England, the successor of the Plymouth Company, obtained a grant of the country between latitude 40° and 48° N. extending from sea to sea, and two years later Gorges and John Mason (1586-1635) received from the Council a grant of the territory between the Merrimac and the Kennebec rivers for 60 m. inland under the name of the Province of Maine. In 1629 they divided their possession, Gorges taking the portion between the Piscataqua and the Kennebec. Numerous grants of land in this vicinity followed within a few years; and in the meantime permanent settlements at York, Saco, Biddeford, Port Elizabeth, Falmouth (now Portland) and Scarborough were established in rapid succession. The Council for New England surrendered its charter in 1635. In the division of its territory Gorges retained the portion previously granted to him, and the region between the Kennebec and the Saint Croix north to the Saint Lawrence, though still claimed by the French as part of Acadia, was conveyed to Sir William Alexander (1567?-1640); later, in 1664, this was conveyed to the duke of York, afterwards James II. of England.
Gorges named his tract the County of New Somersetshire, and immediately began the administration of government, setting up in 1635 or 1636 a court at Saco under the direction of his kinsman William Gorges. In 1639 he procured for his province a royal charter modelled after that of Maryland, which invested him with the feudal tenure of a county palatine and vice-regal powers of government. He called into existence a formidably large number of officers to govern it, but his charter was in conflict with the other (mutually conflicting) grants of the Council for New England, east of the Piscataqua; and Gorges and his agents met with a determined opposition under the leadership of George Cleeve, the deputy-president of the Lygonia, or “Plough” Patent, which extended along the coast from Cape Porpoise to Casco, and in issuing which the Council for New England had granted governmental as well as territorial rights. Moreover, Puritan Massachusetts, which was naturally hostile to the Anglicanism of Gorges and his followers, interpreted her charter so as to make her northern boundary run east and west from a point 3 m. north of the source of the Merrimac river, and on this basis laid claim to practically the whole of Maine then settled. The factional quarrels there, together with the Commonwealth government in England, made it easy for Massachusetts to enforce this claim at the time, and between 1652 and 1658 Maine was gradually annexed to Massachusetts. In 1672 Massachusetts extended her boundary eastward as far as Penobscot Bay. Ferdinando Gorges, a grandson of the original proprietor, brought before parliament his claim to Maine and in 1664 a committee of that body decided in his favour; but Massachusetts successfully resisted until 1677, when the king in council decided against her. She then quietly purchased the Gorges claim for £1,250 and held the province as a proprietor until 1691, when by the new Massachusetts charter Maine was extended to the Saint Croix river, and was made an integral part of Massachusetts.
The French still claimed all territory east of the Penobscot, and not only was Maine an exposed frontier and battleground during the long struggle of the English against the Indians and the French, but its citizens bore a conspicuous part in the expeditions beyond its borders. Port Royal was taken in May 1690 by Sir William Phipps and Louisburg in June 1745 by Sir William Pepperell, both these commanders being from Maine. These expeditions were such a drain on Maine's population that Massachusetts was called upon to send men to garrison the little forts that protected the homes left defenceless by men who had gone to the front. During the War of Independence, the town of Falmouth (now Portland), which had ardently resisted the claims of the British, was bombarded and burned, in 1775; in the same year Benedict Arnold followed the course of the Kennebec and Dead rivers on his expedition to Quebec; and from 1779 to 1783 a British force was established at Castine. The embargo and non-intercourse laws from 1807 to 1812 were a severe blow to Maine's shipping, and in the War of 1812 Eastport, Castine, Hampden, Bangor and Machias fell into the hands of the British.
Maine was in general well governed as a part of Massachusetts, but a geographical separation, a desire to be rid of the burden of a large state debt, and a difference of economic interests as well as of politics (Maine was largely Democratic and Massachusetts was largely Federalist) created a desire for an independent commonwealth. This was felt before the close of the War of Independence and in 1785-1787 conventions were held at Falmouth (Portland) to consider the matter, but the opposition prevailed. The want of protection during the War of 1812 revived the question, and in 1816 the General Court in response to a great number of petitions submitted to a vote in the towns and plantations of the District the question: “Shall the legislature be requested to give its consent to the separation of the District of Maine from Massachusetts, and the erection of said District into a separate state?” The returns showed 10,393 yeas to 6501 nays, but they also showed that less than one-half the full vote had been cast. Acting upon these returns the legislature passed a bill prescribing the terms of separation, and directed another vote of the towns and plantations upon the question of separation and the election of delegates to a convention at Brunswick which should proceed to frame a constitution in case the second popular vote gave a majority of five to four for separation; but as that vote was only 11,969 yeas to 10,347 nays the advocates of separation were unsuccessful. But a large source of opposition to separation was removed in 1819 when Congress, dividing the east coast of the United States into two great districts, did away with the regulation which, making each state a district for entering and clearing vessels, would have required coasting vessels from the ports of Maine as a separate state to enter and clear on every trip to or from Boston; as a consequence, the separation measures were carried
- By this charter, issued in 1578, Sir Humphrey Gilbert was entitled to all territory lying within two hundred leagues of any colony that he might plant within six years; although it had long since lapsed, Raleigh Gilbert seems not to have been aware of it.