Town of Monroe, ME

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History of the Town of Monroe, ME




Up until 1820, the area of northern New England, now known as the state of Maine, was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. While early settlement in the lower portion of Massachusetts was motivated in large part by a desire for religious freedom, settlement in the northern parts was motivated by a desire for land and wealth. However, at least two factors discouraged settlement in Maine: first, the harsh winters of Maine made life a lot more difficult than in the relatively warmer colonies to the south. Long, cold winters with deep snow drifts and frozen lakes made staying warm and finding food difficult. Unless the settlers had put enough food away to sustain themselves over the long winters, life could indeed be difficult, if not fatal. Few people recall that the first settlement in Maine, at Popham, was established in 1607 at the same time as that of Jamestown in Virginia. This was 13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, MA. However, the settlement at Popham failed because of the harsh winters. To this day, Jamestown is recognized as the first official settlement in America and Popham is hardly recognized at all. A second factor that discouraged settlement was the fact that, in the early 1700's, the area of northern New England was the subject of a dispute between the English and the French, culminating in the French and Indian Wars. The French had been successful in their dealings with the native Americans in northern New England. They traded with the Indians, intermarried with them, and treated them with respect. The English, on the other hand, considered the Indians to be nothing more than savages to be treated with contempt. The native American experience in southern New England was not very good. The English settlers stole their land, chopped down their forests, ruined their hunting grounds, and spread pestilence and disease. In her book "An Old River Town", Ada Douglas Littlefield wrote the following in 1907: "When in June 1755 war was declared against all the Indians in Maine, the Penobscots were excepted, and the government offered to take into its army all able bodied men of the tribe. They were asked to join the marching army of three hundred men, to scout through eastern Maine and protect the eastern frontiers, and were to have full pay as soldiers and officers. The government would care for invalids, women and children. But they did not meet these advances and were afterwards forbidden to come to any of the forts or settlements in the province, for trading or for any other purpose. In November, they were declared "enemies and rebels" and a "Bounty and Encouragement" was to be "given and paid out of the public treasury for every Penobscot Indian Prisoner Brought to Boston and for every scalp". It's therefore not surprising that the Indians of northern New England did not welcome the English settlers with open arms. While there were no major conflicts in northern Maine such as the Pequot War in 1637 or King Philip's War in 1675, the northern Indians discouraged white settlement by attacking and killing, or taking captive, isolated settlers. Tensions escalated when the English captured the St. John River down east and closed it to the French and Indian trade. The English also threatened to close the Penobscot River which was the Indian's last route from northern New England to the sea. The Indian response to this threat was to increase their violence against the settlers. As a consequence, English settlement in northern New England was limited to coastal areas, where it was easier to protect the people. Therefore, it is no surprise that settlement of the interior areas of northern New England was negligible up to the middle of the 18th century.

In 1630, the Plymouth Council had issued a grant of land to John Beauchamp of London and Thomas Leverett of Boston, England. This grant comprised nearly 1,000 square miles of land taking in practically all of present day Knox and Waldo County's. No price was paid for this land because the grantor's hoped its settlement would enhance the value of the surrounding lands. However, the threat posed by the Indians discouraged settlement up until the early 1700's.

After the death of Beauchamp, the title, or patent, to the land passed to Thomas Leverett.

Leverett's son, John, then Governor of Massachusetts, inherited the property from his father. President John Leverett of Harvard College, the grandson of Governor Leverett, inherited the patent in 1714. John Leverett, the grandson, attempted to reorganize and settle the land. He parceled the land into 10 shares and conveyed them to certain persons thenceforth called the “Ten Proprietors”. These proprietors admitted 20 other partners called the “Twenty Associates”, among whom were Cornelius and John Waldo of Boston. The Twenty Associates thereafter transferred to the Waldos, 100,000 acres. Under their auspices, two plantations commenced in 1719-20. These two plantations subsequently became the successful towns of Thomaston and Warren.

In 1726, a man by the name of David Dunbar, who had obtained an appointment as “Surveyor-General of the King's Woods” became very aggressive and threatened the title to the 30 partner's land. Samuel Waldo, the son of John Waldo, was sent to England to procure a revocation of Dunbar's authority. He succeeded in this and was then rewarded by the 30 grateful partners who conveyed to him one-half of the whole patent. In 1734, Samuel Waldo contracted with the 30 partners to purchase one-half of their remaining shares, leaving them with 100,000 acres.

In 1744, Samuel Waldo distinguished himself at the first Siege of the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, in Canada. His contribution to the defeat of the French during this battle earned him the title of Brigadier or General in the British Army. General Waldo thereafter traveled to Europe in an attempt to entice immigrants to his Maine estate. He was somewhat successful, if not altogether honest. In 1749, German colonists established the town of Waldoborough, now known, of course, as Waldoboro. However, their settlement experience was a lot more difficult than they were led to expect by General Waldo. They were not prepared for the harsh winters or the lack of needed provisions.

In 1759, after the British had defeated the French, Governor Thomas Pownall of Massachusetts, recognizing the economic potential and importance of Maine to the southern portion of the Massachusetts Colony, called the attention of the legislature to the need of establishing a fortification at Penobscot. In May of 1759, an armed force led by Governor Pownall and General Samuel Waldo, sailed up to Maine arriving at the mouth of the Penobscot River. They were determined to put an end to the danger posed by the Indians, as discussed above, and to secure the region for the state. They anchored at what is now known as Fort Point Harbor and set up camp on Cape Jellison. A garrison was established and a fortress called Fort Pownall was built. At this time, no white person maintained a dwelling on the Penobscot River or Belfast Bay. Until 1783, when the St. Croix river was made the boundary between Maine and Canada, Fort Pownall was the easternmost settlement in Maine. General Waldo thereafter sailed up the Penobscot River to tour the northern portion of his estate. Near Bangor, General Waldo died suddenly on May 23, 1759, at the age of 63 years. He was buried at Fort Point.

Samuel Waldo's land descended to his four children, Samuel, Francis, Lucy and Hannah. Hannah Waldo married Thomas Flucker who was the secretary of the Province. Flucker purchased the shares of Samuel Waldo, Jr. Lucy Waldo died without children and her interest in the land passed to her brothers and sister. Francis Waldo and Thomas Flucker were both Tories, or Loyalists, and fled from America to England with their families, at the start of the Revolution. After the victory by the Americans, the property of the Loyalists was forfeited to the State.

After the end of the Revolution, General Henry Knox purchased four-fifths of the whole Waldo Patent. In 1774, Knox had married Lucy Flucker, the second daughter of Thomas and Hannah (Waldo) Flucker. She had obviously remained in America with her husband and not gone to England with the rest of her father's family. The remainder of the property had been inherited by his wife. General Knox had the property surveyed, took formal possession in 1792, and did much to encourage immigration to his estate. In the summer of 1796, General Knox took up residence at Montpelier, the magnificent house he had built at Thomaston on lands his wife had inherited. Knox, however, proved to be a poor business man and embarked upon a number of costly business enterprises which proved unsuccessful. He soon became hopelessly indebted. On April 3, 1799, Knox borrowed eight thousand dollars from Israel Thorndike, a wealthy Boston businessman, pledging some of his land in Maine as security. Knox was thereafter unable to meet interest payments, let alone make any payment toward the loan principal, and was forced to give up more of his land to secure the debt. Meanwhile, Thorndike invited William Prescott, Jr., of Salem, MA, who had previously associated with Thorndike on other land deals in Ohio, to join him in the loans to Knox. Knox continued his streak of bad luck and poor business judgement until 1805 when his note to Thorndike and Prescott became due. Thorndike then made a special trip to Maine to inspect the property. He must have come away impressed for he then offered to purchase a large portion of Knox's unmortgaged property. Needing the money, Knox quickly accepted. On March 4, 1806, Thorndike and Prescott purchased 47,651 acres of land in the area then known as Hancock County from Knox for the sum of $15,200.00. It is assumed that the loans previously made to Knox were factored into the purchase price. In June of 1806, Thorndike invited David Sears, another wealthy businessman, and sometime partner in maritime ventures, to join he and Prescott in the Maine land venture. This new partnership bought huge tracts of land in eastern Maine from Henry Knox. In a statement of purchase dated July 25, 1806, the total investments by the partnership was determined to be $157,517.00. A total of 107,700 acres of land was involved, including all of present day Waldo County, except for Belfast and other areas previously sold by Knox. Thorndike and his partners established a land agency in Belfast in 1809 and began to aggressively market the land. Sales were brisk. However, the individual deals were on a very small scale and usually to individuals short on capital. Therefore, most of the sales were by mortgage rather than cash. To help promote the land sales, Thorndike set aside 2,000 acres for himself in what would become the town of Jackson. On this property he began what became known as the "Great Farm". He employed local farmers and craftsman to clear and plant his fields, to raise and care for his livestock, to plant and maintain his orchards, and to build his magnificent home and barns. These local settlers now had a means to work off their mortgages and Thorndike ended up with a magnificent country estate in which to entertain his summer visitors.

When it was found that the garrison at Fort Pownall afforded protection and security, the tide of immigration grew. Between 1760 and 1772, all of the towns along the shores of the Penobscot Bay and River saw an increase in settlement. From Camden to Bangor on the one side and from Brewer to Castine on the other side.

It was about this time, most likely in the early 1760's, that a John Couillard arrived in Frankfort with his wife, Mary (Mock) and their young children. It is reported that John Couillard owned one of only two log houses in the area in 1766. John had been born in Gloucester, MA on November 5, 1728, the son of Lt. John Couillard. Lt. Couillard had moved his family up to Arrowsic Island, near Georgetown, ME, and most likely was involved in commercial fishing and farming. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the son, John, was also involved in fishing and, perhaps, trading in Frankfort. At this time in history, the fur of the beaver was a precious commodity and early settlers to Maine often traded with the local Indian tribes for beaver and other furs. It was also true that John's younger brother, James Couillard, served in the garrison at Fort Pownall in 1759, and may have described the beauty and opportunities available in the Penobscot region.

As they grew up and married, John's sons moved away from Frankfort to the surrounding areas. Joshua, the eldest son, moved to Bucksport, ME, which was across the Penobscot River to the southeast of Frankfort. James moved the farthest, to the town of Corinna, ME, which is located some 35 miles to the northwest of Frankfort. Samuel apparently stayed in Frankfort but married a girl from Bangor, so he must have traveled up the Penobscot River. Adam Couillard moved to the unsettled area just west of Frankfort. This area would later be known first as Lee Plantation, and then Monroe. Adam moved there with his wife and small children sometime in the late 1790's. He must have first visited the area in 1797, cleared a piece of land and built a cabin. It is unlikely that he moved his young family, including a pregnant wife, to Monroe during the winter or early spring months of 1798. To this day he is acknowledged to be the first white settler in Monroe and his son, Oliver, who was born in the spring of 1798, is acknowledged to be the first white child born in Monroe. Adam built a log cabin on the eastern bank of the Marsh Stream across from the site of the future general store in Monroe Village. Again, it is assumed that he was trying to establish a trading post in the area. Whatever he was trying to do, other opportunities must have become available, because, after a few years, he sold his cabin to a man by the name of Broadstreet Mason, and moved. There is some evidence that his wife, Elizabeth, inherited land in Bucksport, ME from her recently deceased father, Abner Lowell. The prospect of free land may have lured young Adam Couillard away from Monroe. However, he must have moved back to Monroe at some future date because several of his youngest children were also born in Monroe. Adam died in 1854 in Frankfort, ME. Oliver remained in Monroe, married a local girl named Eleanor Avery, and raised a large family. He died in 1885 in Monroe.

Broadstreet Mason was born in New Hampshire in 1763 and served in the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment during the Revolutionary War. After the war, he married a girl named Elizabeth and, like so many other young men looking for opportunity after the war, moved with his wife to Shepardsfield Plantation in western Maine, located near present day Oxford, ME. Shepardsfield Plantation was the site of Craigie Farm, owned by a wealthy man named Andrew Craigie, who not only encouraged agriculture on his farm but also manufacturing, as well. Mr. Craigie dammed the outlet of Lake Thompson and erected lumber mills and a grist mill. It may be that Broadstreet got himself involved in the lumber mill business at Craigie Farm. Lumber mills were a profitable industry at this time. While in Oxford, Broadstreet's family grew to eight children. In 1799, he shows up in Monroe and buys Adam Couillard's cabin and moves his family to Monroe. During his time in Monroe, Broadstreet built several mills on the Marsh Stream, including a carding mill (a mill for brushing wool so it can be spun into yarn for knitting or weaving into cloth) and several lumber mills. For the longest time, this area was called Mason's Mills, in recognition of the mills built and purchased by Broadstreet Mason. Mr. Mason certainly prospered because mills of this type were a necessity for early New Englanders. They relied on the mills to provide them with cloth for their clothing, flour for their cooking, and lumber for their homes and barns. Broadstreet sold his mills and moved about three miles away and started farming. He died in 1822 and is buried in Monroe.

It appears that the industriousness and foresight of Broadstreet Mason encouraged settlement by others. Mr. Aaron Snow, from Cape Cod, MA, moved to Gorham, ME and then to Monroe about 1802. He also took advantage of the water power of Marsh Stream and built a grist mill at the falls in Monroe Village. Also in the spring of 1802, Mr. John Putnam moved to Monroe together with his family of three unmarried daughters together with one married daughter, Anna, and her husband, Mr. Daniel Pattee, and their two very young daughters. Mr. Putnam was the first to settle on land in western Monroe. Mr. Putnam had lived in Charlestown, MA at the beginning of the Revolution. After the outbreak of war, the British Army marched over to Charlestown from Boston and burned everything, including Mr. Putnam's home and all his possessions. As a result, Mr. Putnam fled to Maine and settled in Monroe. Soon thereafter, Mr. Snow sold his grist mill to Broadstreet Mason. Mr. Snow then moved a few miles to western Monroe and began farming. He worked for Mr. Mason while he was establishing his farm.

Also in 1802, two brothers, John B. Nealley and Joseph Nealley, both single, moved to Monroe from Nottingham, NH, and settled just west of the village, one on the north side of present day Route 139 and the other on the south side. Joseph, the younger of the two, managed to meet Cynthia Putnam, the third oldest daughter of John Putnam, and they married in 1803. It was the first marriage between two residents of Monroe. The courtship must have been difficult because there was no road at this time between Mason's Mills and western Monroe, where the Putnam's had settled. Joseph Nealley was later to become one of the most respected citizens of Monroe, a man known as the principal manager of the affairs of the town. He became a magistrate, was elected Representative to the Legislature, and was the town's first postmaster. However, his life ended suddenly in a terrible tragedy. At a training session for the local militia, a gun suddenly burst in the hands of a soldier near Mr. Nealley and a piece of shrapnel struck Mr. Nealley in the temple, inflicting a mortal wound. Mr. Nealley lived about three weeks before he died in October 1830.

Also in 1803, Anna Putnam, oldest daughter of John Putnam and the wife of Daniel Pattee, gave birth to a son, Collins Pattee. Collins was the second white child born in Monroe. In 1826, he married a girl named Ruth Douglass, daughter of Elisha and Hannah Douglass, raised a family of seven children, and lived out his life in Monroe.  Ruth died on July 3, 1890 and Collins died on March 13, 1891.

Late in 1802, two young men from Weston, MA came to Monroe looking for fame and fortune and to make a home in the wilderness. Their names were Elisha Jones and David Stearns. In the spring of 1804, Elisha Jones married Sally Putnam, one of the daughters of John Putnam. They also settled in the western part of Monroe. In the fall of 1804, David Stearns married the remaining Putnam daughter, Hannah, and they settled midway between Mason's Mills and the Putnam farm.

Around 1804, Hosea Emery emigrated from Berwick, ME to Monroe and settled with his family at Monroe Center. He built a saw mill on the Falls and for many years Monroe Center was known as Emery's Mills. Mr. Emery, like Joseph Nealley, became one of the most influential and respected businessmen in the vicinity of Monroe.

Around the year 1804, Mr. Snow was at work for Mr. Mason, getting out timber for Mr. Mason's sawmill, and did not return home one night. This was in early March. Mr. Snow's wife, the mother of his four children, the youngest a nursing babe, left her children alone to walk to one of her nearest neighbors. At that time there were only a few families in Monroe and Mrs. Snow's neighbor was some distance away. While she was gone it started to snow. The snow turned into a storm. The wind blew and the snow drifted, covering the pathways. On her way home, Mrs. Snow lost her way and wandered around in the cold and darkness. The thought of her children home all alone and the harshness of the cold night must have been a very unpleasant experience for Mrs. Snow. Mrs. Snow remained out in the storm all night, all of the next day, and all of the next night. The few men in Monroe at that time gathered to form a search party. They searched without success the day after she became lost. However, they discovered her trail on the second day and followed it some distance until they found her sitting under a thick bunch of boughs, leaning against the trunk of a tree. She was too weak to talk or to move so they carried her home to the warmth of her fireside. She recovered in due time and lived and enjoyed many more years.

Also in 1804, Mr. John Mansur moved with his family to the northerly part of Monroe. He was originally from Methuen, MA but had moved to Belfast, ME three or four years before coming to Monroe.

The proprietors of the northerly portion of the town began surveying the land in 1805 with the intention of dividing it into lots that they could sell. They finished this process in 1806. The proprietors of the southerly portion also sent a surveyor out. However, as the surveyor began to run his lines it was soon discovered that his lines cut in half land that had already been cleared by the settlers. They tried to object on the grounds that they would lose all the land they had labored so hard to clear. These objections apparently fell on deaf ears. The settlers, fearing the loss of their land, came up with a bold, if slightly unlawful, scheme. The dressed themselves as Indians, ran around whooping in the woods, blew horns at different locations, and thoroughly frightened the surveyors, who thought it wise to retire from the woods, knowing full well the stories of early settlers who were murdered or abducted by the savage Indians. The so-called Lee Indians managed to prevent their properties from being carved up. It was quite a few years before another surveyor was sent and not until a compromise was brought about through the influence of Hosea Emery. He succeeded in getting the proprietors to agree that the surveyors would set out the lots as were presently cleared and agreed to by the settlers, and the settlers would be allowed to purchase their lots at agreed upon prices. In return, the settlers agreed that the surveyors could complete their work without further trouble from the Lee Indians.

Another early settler was Benjamin Dodge from Newfield, ME who moved to Monroe about the same time as John Mansur, and settled near him in northern Monroe. Moses Goodwin moved to Monroe from Andover, MA about the same time as the Dodge's and Mansur's and settled near them. All three established farms which provided for them and their families for many years. Many more families and individuals came to settle in Monroe, including the families of Daniel Ricker, who moved to Monroe from Berwick, ME, Nathaniel Twombly from Norwood, NH, Benjamin Buzzell from Sanborntown, NH, Ebenezer Dickey from Boston, MA, Simon Emery from Berwick, ME, and Timothy Plummer, Benjamin Curtis, Jeremiah Bartlett and Hill Clements. Many of their descendants still live in Monroe today.

This territory was by an act of the legislature incorporated into a plantation in 1812 called Lee Plantation. The first meeting under the plantation form was held August 13, 1812, and Andrew Buzzell was chosen Moderator; Rufus Bartlett, clerk; Hill Clements and John Mansur, assessors. On February 12, 1818, it was incorporated as the town of Monroe, in honor of the then President of the United States, James Monroe. On March 23, 1818 the first town meeting was held. Joseph Nealley was chosen moderator; Hosea Emery, clerk; Capt. Ezra Thissell, Hosea Emery and Joseph Nealley, selectmen. In 1825, it was voted to set off a part of Frankfort and annex it to Monroe. In 1826 it was voted to build a pound to hold farm animals which had wandered away from home. In 1829 the poor were set up at auction and bid off from 22 to 29 cents per week. At the same time the town voted “not to allow Innholders and other retailers to sell spirits to be drank in their inns and shops”. In 1837 a meeting was called to see if the town would build a town house, but it was voted to table the article and hold meetings in George Thatcher's barn. But in 1840, it was decided to build. It took three meetings to decide whether to build and, in the end, the contract was awarded to Peter H. Billings for $224.00. In 1847 it was voted not to let cattle run on the highways any longer.


The Oldest Inhabitants of Monroe, Republican Journal, January 26, 1882

The Early History of Monroe, Republican Journal, February 16, 1882

The Incorporation of Monroe, Republican Journal, March 29, 1883

An Old River Town, Ada Douglas Littlefield, 1907

Israel Thorndike: Federalist Financier, by J. D. Forbes, 1953

Sketches of Brooks History, by Seth W. Norwood, 1935

Monroe, Republican Journal, February 7, 1929

History of Waldo County, Maine, by George J. Varney

History of Monroe, Maine, by George J. Varney