When Church Was State


While Capt. Gyles and company built Fort George, the Pejepscot Proprietors continued to plan the physical layout and municipal setup of the two towns on opposite banks of the Androscoggin River. These they named Brunswick, after the king’s Braunschweig family dynasty, and Topsham, after a town in Devon, the western English county from whence came many of Maine’s earliest settlers.

The Proprietor’s ancestors were Puritan business and political leaders in Massachusetts who believed God conferred upon them the right and duty to rule over inferior peoples and even the earth itself. Thus they saw commandeering Native lands, enslaving non-Christians, warring against Catholics, or otherwise controlling their world for their own benefit as God’s will.


Capt.John Wentworth, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons, Accessed Dec. 6, 2016.

This attitude was passed down to the current leadership of Brunswick and Topsham resettlement. Pejepscot Proprietor Capt. John Wentworth, for instance, only hired good Christian men for his crews, requiring ‘piety and faithful religious observances’ of all his sailors.

The first English settlers of Maine had been a mix of Puritans from the east coast of England who lived by strict rules and rougher sorts from England’s west coast who survived Maine’s harsh conditions by sometimes breaking those same rules. Mindful of the earlier lawless settlements, the Proprietors sought to protect their investment by facilitating moral behavior at the outset. To that end, they set aside three lots each in Brunswick and Topsham: one for a ministry, another for a school, and a third for the home of the first settled minister.

Brunswick’s one and only meeting-house would be financed by taxes, with additional funds from the Proprietors. The town-owned facility would be used for church services, as well as town meetings.

The Puritan bid to dominate the New World extended to the pagan Native peoples. While they attempted to convert the locals to their own Protestant religion, French colonial priests in Quebec and Maine were hard at work converting the Native peoples to Catholicism.


Jesuit Missionary, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons, Accessed Dec. 6, 2016.

Though enemies, these English and French settlers were known to one another and sometimes crossed paths. So it was that Joseph Baxter of Medfield, Mass., the Protestant minister appointed in 1717 by the Massachusetts General Court as missionary to Maine’s Native people, was acquainted with Catholic priest Father Sébastien Râle. The Jesuit priest had been the missionary to the Abenakis at Norridgewock on the Kennebec River since 1694. The two exchanged “heated correspondence” criticizing each other’s religion, but also each other’s countries.

In August 1717, Rev. Joseph Baxter and his wife, likely accompanied by their Negro slave Tony, sailed for Arrowsic Island in the wilderness of Maine. Soon after his arrival, Baxter preached to three Natives at the fort at Brunswick, with Capt. Gyles interpreting. One of his next tasks was to explain to the Natives that keeping the Sabbath holy meant they couldn’t fire their rifles on that day.


A Plan of Kennebek & Sagadahok Rivers by Thomas Johnston, 1754. Osher Map Library http://www.oshermaps.org/map/7404.0013. Accessed Dec. 10, 2016.

Over the next few months, Baxter travelled by sloop up and down rivers and along the coast from his home base in the Arrowsic/Georgetown area to other settlements: west to Brunswick, north to Richmond, east to the fort on the St. Georges River, southeast to Monhegan, and to points in between. He made progress in the Brunswick mission, his congregation having grown to “several” members who “seemed well pleased therein.”


Journal of the Rev. Joseph, Baxter. The New England Historical and Genealogical Register online database. Link below. Accessed Dec. 6, 2016.

By January, though, most of the Natives had left for winter quarters and Baxter’s audience had dwindled down to three “praying Indians.” That April, one of these congregants asked Baxter to the bedside of his dying wife. He noted in his journal that Capt Gyles translated his discourse about “the state of her soul, & directed her how to get prepared for death, and she seemed to be very well pleased with what was said to her.”

Baxter left Maine in early September 1718, he and his wife sailing to the port of Boston to return to his Medfield congregation.

Towards the end of Baxter’s stay in Maine, the Pejepscot Proprietors succeeded in attracting several new families to the area. These were Ulster Scots who had recently arrived in Massachusetts from their homes in Bann County, Ireland.

That November, the men of Brunswick, including the soldiers and the newly arrived Ulster Scots, voted at town meeting to engage a new minister, Reverend Mr. James Woodside, a Presbyterian from Bann County, Ireland. The witty and cheerful Woodside, feeling called to teach the “Eastern Salvages,” accepted the post.


First Parish Meeting House. Image from History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. See Sources below.

The following year the settlers began building the meeting-house on Maquoit Road, halfway between Fort George and the new settlement at Maquoit, about a mile south of today’s First Parish Church. Though it would be several years before the town-owned building was completed, Brunswick had begun to evolve into the town that, three hundred years later, would boast some two-dozen churches, none of them town-owned.

Next Blog: Location, Location, Location


  • Baxter, Rev. Joseph. “Journal of the Rev. Joseph Baxter,” in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1847-. (Online database: org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2013.) https://www.americanancestors.org/databases/new-england-historical-and-genealogical-register/image/?volumeId=11581&filterQuery=databasename:register. Accessed Dec. 1, 2016.
  • Charland, Thomas. “RALE, SÉBASTIEN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003-. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rale_sebastien_2E.html. Accessed Dec. 1, 2016,.
  • Johnston, Thomas. A Plan of Kennebek & Sagadahok Rivers, with the adjacent Coasts: taken from Actual Surveys, and dedicated to his Excely. William Shirley Esqr. Governor of Massachusets Bay Prov: in New England. To which is added a draught of the River La Chaudiere by a French Deserter the same Year. T. Kitchin sculpt. 1754. Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education, University of Southern Maine. Accessed Dec. 10, 2016.
  • McKeen, John. Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. Brunswick, Curtis Memorial Library, 1985. Call No. 974-191.
  • Southicke, Cyprian. The Harbour of Casco Bay and Islands Adjacent. Richard Mount Thomas Page and Company, London, 1720. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. http://maps.bpl.org/id/17665. Accessed Oct. 10, 2016.
  • Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/index.html, accessed July 30, 2016.

About Barbara Desmarais

Writer and amateur historian
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2 Responses to When Church Was State

  1. Deb Gould says:

    James Woodside of today’s Woodside Road? I’m caught up lately in the knowledge that our streets and roads are named for some of these folks…

  2. Deb, most likely Woodside Rd towards Freeport was named for someone from this family. As you’ll see in future blogs, James’s progeny did very well for themselves here in Brunswick. In 1718, though, they’re all living in the Maquoit area rather than towards Freeport.

    Eventually I’ll do deed research for properties on Woodside Rd to figure out which generation farmed that area.

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