This Land is MY Land
After the completion of Fort George in 1715, the proprietors of the Pejepscot Company, who had a King’s grant to develop a large swath of land in mid-coast Maine, were ready to divide Brunswick and Topsham into saleable lots. They mapped out long narrow lots to provide water access for traveling, exporting lumber and furs, and importing supplies; and to keep the settlers’ homes close to one another for protection agains marauding Natives.
Some of this land had been abandoned by previous owners during King William’s War. (See They’re Baaack!) Now descendants of those earlier Pejepscot settlers scrambled to reclaim their family homesteads before they were sold to others. Two of those claimants were officers assigned to Fort George, Capt. John Gyles and Sgt. Samuel Eaton.
Capt. Gyles’ late father, Thomas, had owned properties in two communities, Pemaquid and at Pleasant Point in the newly named Topsham. Those places were not just pieces of land, but were the childhood homes of the captain and his siblings. This meant they knew others who had lived there at the same time. It must have taken some time to learn where each potential witness had relocated after fleeing Maine during the war, but over time the Gyles family was able to gather supporting testimony from several people who had known or worked for their father.
These witnesses included a slave; a former servant, possibly indentured; and a Native sagamore. Susannah, the “Negro” slave, confirmed Mr. Thomas Gyles’ possession of land at Pemaquid. Lydia Felt, the Gyles servant, testified to the boundaries of the earlier farm at Pleasant Point on Merrymeeting Bay. Lastly, Chief Terramoggus confirmed that his father, Darrumquin, originally sold the land to Mr. Gyles and cited the man’s intention to pass the Topsham land to his sons and his sons’ sons, in perpetuity.
The result was that the Pejepscot Proprietors awarded Capt. Gyles two lots in Topsham on Merrymeeting Bay, including sixty acres of his father’s land at Pleasant Point and another five hundred and fifteen acres at Cathance Point. For the remainder of his assignment at Fort George, Gyles would make his home at Pleasant Point, Topsham.
Sgt. Samuel Eaton and his brother, Moses, sought to reclaim family land in Brunswick. Some thirty-five years earlier their father, Joseph, and his partner, John Malcom, had regularly traveled from their northern Massachusetts homes, through New Hampshire, and up to Pejepscot to hunt and trap. The land they purchased from local Natives was probably at the most northeasterly point of their range where beaver was especially plentiful.
Joseph Eaton and John Malcom likely had miles of iron traps and snares to tend along river and stream banks both above and below the waterline, in areas frequented by muskrat, mink, and beaver. Eaton and Malcom would have traveled along their entire trapline, dispatching each animal, releasing it from the iron jaws, and resetting the traps.
Back at their encampment, they rinsed off mud and debris before skinning the carcasses, then stretched the valuable waterproof pelts to dry. The American beaver was a particularly important commodity because its European cousin, whose pelts and fur were used for men’s hats, was now nearly extinct from over hunting. The partners also harvested the castor glands and oil sacs to use as lures in their traps, to make medicines, or to sell for use in perfume making. Leaving as little waste as possible, Eaton and Malcom used the fatty meat to make stew over a campfire or jerky to save for later sustenance.
As young lads, Samuel and Moses might have accompanied their father on these treks to the north and back. But, perhaps due to the transient nature of Joseph Eaton’s occupancy on Merrymeeting Bay, Sgt. Eaton was unable to find witnesses or deeds to support his claim.
The brothers still intended to make the newly proclaimed Brunswick their home, so Sgt. Eaton contracted with the Proprietors for land located just yards from Fort George, on what is now the north corner of Maine and Bank Streets. The Eaton family would remain in mid-coast Maine for generations.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the new settlements of Brunswick and Topsham grew.
But, even if all fifteen soldiers at Fort George and all eight Proprietors settled their families here, there still wouldn’t be enough people to grow and process food, protect one another from invaders, provide marriage partners, or yield a profit from sale of the land and its resources. The Pejepscot Proprietors needed more people and they needed them now.
They turned to foreign immigrants.
Next Blog: Location, Location, Location-Part II: This Land WAS Your Land
- Google Maps. 76 Bank St., Brunswick, Maine. https://www.google.com/maps/.Accessed Dec. 29, 2016.
- Kalcomy Enterprises. Today’s Trapper Course: Preparing Beaver Pelts. https://www.hunter-ed.com/trapper/studyGuide/Preparing-Beaver-Pelts/221099_700021536/. Accessed Jan. 7, 2017.
- Ibid. Disposing of Animal Carcasses. https://www.hunter-ed.com/trapper/studyGuide/Disposing-of-Animal-Carcasses/221099_700021537/.
- McKeen, John. Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. Brunswick, Curtis Memorial Library, 1985. Call No. 974-191.
- Minnesota Trappers Association. Online Trapper Certification Course: Skinning and Fur Handling. http://www.mntrappers.org/skinningandfurhandling.html. Accessed Jan. 7, 2017.
- 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.
- York County (Me.). Register of Deeds. York deeds Book IX, by Maine Historical Society; Maine Genealogical Society (1884- ); Publisher Portland Brown Thurston Company. 1894. https://archive.org/stream/yorkdeeds09main#page/590/mode/2up/. Accessed Nov. 19, 2016.
- Wikipedia, Trapping. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trapping#Leg-hold_traps. Accessed Jan. 7, 2017.