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APRIL 11, 1922

I. The Maine Historical Society in Bruns-

By President Kenneth C. M. Sills,
OF BowDoiN College.

II. The Maine Historical Society at Port-

By Hon. Augustus F. Moulton, of

Portland, 1922.

OftrMffl* latl.



The organization of the Maine Historical Society in 1822
followed closely upon the separation of what was once the
Province of Maine from what had long been known as the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In two carefully pre-
pared papers a review of the first century of the Society's
work is herewith presented. The meeting for this purpose
was held at three o'clock in the afternoon of April 11, 1922,
in the hall of the Library Building on what was once the
Longfellow property in Portland. Although the weather
was somewhat unfavorable, the audience was large, and
both Dr. Sills and Mr. Moulton had deeply interested and
most appreciative hearers. At the close of these literary
services each speaker received a very hearty vote of thanks.

Following this vote, and recalling an allusion in Dr. Sills'
paper to Hon. John A. Poor's address in 1859 on "English
Colonization in America," the president of the society,
Dr. Burrage, said that the more he became acquainted
with Mr. Poor's work in connection with the Maine His-
torical Society the more he was impressed with the value
of the services rendered by Mr. Poor. His range of vision
naturally was limited. Very largely the sources of infor-
mation as to the beginnings of our Maine history were not
here then. Accordingly some of the conclusions in his his-
torical papers would not now be accepted. But, more than


any of his associates, he seemed to be impressed with the
value and therefore the importance of original sources in
historical work. His papers in their footnotes show a firm
grasp upon such sources as were within his reach. Also,
too, Mr. Poor sought to interest the people of Maine in the
history of their state. He was by far the most inspiring
personality and indefatigable worker among his associates
in the society. To him especially was due the great Pop-
ham celebration at the mouth of the Kennebec, August 29,
1862, the first of our memorable field-days. While the
society then had other members of great personal worth
and large attainments, there was only one John A. Poor,
and we do well to honor his memory.

Following these more formal proceedings, the members
of the society and their guests assembled in the library
below, where coffee and cakes were served, and where,
among flowers and many interesting historical treasures, an
opportunity was afforded for a social hour, with greetings
and felicitations appropriate to the occasion.

The second centennial of the Maine Historical Society is
far away. May it find its members in possession of its
historic property and of historical treasures of much greater
interest and value than are now in the society's care ; also
with larger opportunities for usefulness in their important
work !



1822 -1880

By Kenneth C. M. Sihhs, LL,. D.

In his famous preface, Livy, the Roman histo-
rian, tells us that in reading history everyone should
consider these points: What life and manners were
in ancient times; and through what men and by
what means, both in peace and in war, empire
was acquired and extended. He then goes on:
" This it is which is particularly salutary and
profitable in the study of history, that you behold
instances of every variety of conduct displayed as
on a conspicuous monument, that thence you may
select for yourself and for your country that which
you may imitate ; thence note what is shameful in
the undertaking and shameful in the result which
you may avoid."

It is well to keep these precepts in mind as we
survey, this afternoon, the origins of the Maine His-
torical Society and its progress until it forsook the
quiet of the college of the pines for the din of the
Forest City. We do not, to be sure, like the


Romans, trace our august beginnings to the activ-
ity of the gods or of Mars in particular ; but the
society did owe its origin to that greater culture and
greater degree of leisure which marked the passing
of a pioneer, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
District, into the urbane and beloved state of Maine.
Indeed, before 1820 very few works, either historical
or literary, had been published in our state with the
exception of sermons and occasional addresses which
had then a very great popularity. Among the more
notable pamphlets or essays were some evidently of
the propagandist type designed to promote immi-
gration into the district. There were also a few
volumes on Maine contributed to the Massachusetts
Historical Collections. In 1795 appeared "The
History of Maine," by General Sullivan, a valuable
historical work. From 1790 to 1820 there were
naturally many pamphlets published on the subject
of separation, but the number of books written for
purely literary or historical purposes can easily be
counted on the fingers of one hand.

When Maine became a state, in 1820, her people
very naturally desired, not only from local pride but
also from other even more praiseworthy motives, to
establish a reputation for interest in learning and
culture. It is one of the excellent fruits of inde-
pendence that a state wishing to stand by itself, as
the name implies, is ambitious to encourage not
only industry but literature and the arts, as a sign


that the people are able to look after their own
higher interests. Consequently we find the first
Legislature, which met here in the city of Portland
in the month of May, 1820, giving grants to Bow-
doin College and Waterville College, establishing
the Medical School of Maine, and in general adopt-
ing what was for those days a liberal policy toward
education. In 182 1 the Maine Medical Society
was incorporated.

On February 4, 1822, a bill to incorporate the
Maine Historical Society was passed in the House
of Representatives, and the following day was passed
in the Senate and signed by the governor, Albion
K. Parris. The act of incorporation contains the
names of forty-nine corporate members, headed by
William Allen, then president of Bowdoin College,
and Albion K. Parris, governor of Maine. The
list is a roster of names famous in the history of our
state. You may find there a Mellen, a Preble, a
Payson, a Wingate, a Longfellow, a King, a Lincoln,
a Vaughan, a Weston, a Carey, a Robert Hallowell
Gardiner, a Peleg Sprague, a Packard, an Abbott,
a Williamson, a Sewall, a Shepley and a Dana.
The list includes three who were, at one time or
another, chief justices of our supreme court and sev-
eral who became federal judges. Six of the incor-
porators later became presidents of this society:
Albion K. Parris, William Allen, Ichabod Nichols,
Stephen Longfellow, Prentiss Mellen and Robert

H. Gardiner. From 1822 to 1856, without a break,
the destinies of the society were guided by those
who were interested in, and indeed present at, its
birth. The second section of the act of incorpora-
tion provided that the annual meeting of the society
should be held at Bowdoin College on the Tuesday
next preceding the annual commencement ; but in
1828 this section was repealed, and the society was
authorized to hold their annual meeting and other
meetings at such times and places as it may think

The first meeting of the society was held at Port-
land just one hundred years ago to-day, April 11,
1822. There were present Governor Parris, Chief
Justice Mellen, Judge Preble, the Rev. Ichabod
Nichols, the Rev. Edward Payson, Judge Ware, the
Rev. J. Coggswell and Edward Russell. In the
Eastern Ar'giis, then a weekly newspaper, for April
1 6th of that year there is a brief account of this
meeting. It was held in the Senate Chamber (in
other accounts the Council Chamber) and the fol-
lowing officers were elected: President, Albion K.
Parris, the governor of Maine ; recording secretary,
Benjamin Hadley; corresponding secretary, Edward
Russell; treasurer, Prentiss Mellen; librarian, the
Rev. Edward Payson.

At this meeting a committee was appointed to
draw up by-laws to report at the annual meeting in
Brunswick the next August, commencement then


being at that time of the year. The newspaper
notice requests: "Gentlemen in possession of books,
pamphlets and manuscripts [evidently ladies in those
days were gallantly supposed not to be interested in
erudition] who are disposed to place them in a situ-
ation to be useful to the future historian, are invited
to send them to the librarian."

Yet august as the founding of the society was,
with the governor its president and the chief justice
its treasurer, in its early years it had the usual trials
and struggles. Even less interest than is the case
to-day was taken in historical studies. The society
had to rely for its existence on annual assessments;
it had no wealthy patrons and no funds for publica-
tions. Indeed, until 183 1 the society seems to have
had but a perfunctory existence. Yet we should
not withhold credit from those who kept the society
together and labored in its behalf. Governor Parris
held the of^ce of president but one year and was
succeeded by President William Allen, of Bowdoin
College, who presided from 1823 until 1828. Pres-
ident Allen was a good deal of a scholar and was
particularly interested in philology and history.
Graduating from Harvard College in the celebrated
class of 1802, he was connected with that institution
for some years, during which he published, in 1809,
an "American Biographical and Historical Diction-
ary." yhe third edition of this encyclopedic work,
printed in 1837, contained more than seven thou-


sand biographical notices — a monument to the pres-
ident's industry, if not to his discretion.

The close connection between Bowdoin College
and the Maine Historical Society is shown in the
early officers. Professor Samuel P. Newman was
corresponding secretary in 1828 and was succeeded
in 1829 by Professor Parker Cleaveland, who held
that office until 1858. John McKeen, who was an
overseer of Bowdoin for many years, was treasurer
of the Historical Society from 1836 to 1858.
Parker Cleaveland was librarian from 1823 to 1829;
the office was held also by Samuel P. Newman from
1829 to 1834; by Henry W. Longfellow in 1834;
and by Alpheus S. Packard in 1835.

In the early period of its history the society also
owed much to its third president, the Rev. Ichabod
Nichols, 1828 to 1834, the very scholarly minister
of the First Parish Church of Portland, said by
William Willis to be "one of the best cultivated
and universal scholars that Maine has cherished in
her bosom," Small wonder is it, then, that the same
historian informs us: "From excess of thought and
the fulness of his mind his sermons often rose above
the level of the common apprehension and often
required close attention to follow the course of his
reasoning and argument." But be it remembered
those were days of the stalwart sermon tasters.
Dr. Nichols vv^as greatly interested in the Histori-


cal Society and presided with distinction at its

It was during Dr. Nichols' administration, in
183 1, that the first volume of the Maine Historical
Collections appeared. The book has a scholarly
and philosophical preface from the classical pen of
Judge Ware. "We are told," he writes, "that
Americans love rather to tell of what they will do
than of what they have done, and boast more of
what their posterity will be than of what their an-
cestors have been" ; and he goes on to analyze the
reasons why historical research was never popular in
a youthful nation. The main article in the volume
is appropriately the "History of Portland from its
First Settlement with Notices of the Neighboring
Towns and of the Changes in Government in
Maine," by William Willis. The volume also con-
tains brief accounts of towns, particularly Limerick
and Wells, some petitions of the inhabitants of
Maine to Cromwell and Charles the Second, and
the original letters of Benedict Arnold, written in
1775 while on his expedition through Maine,
accompanied by an account of the expedition writ-
ten by President Allen, of Bowdoin. The volume
was thus a very valuable contribution, not only to
local but to American history, and was well received.

The second volume of the Collections appeared
in 1847; the third, in 1853; the fourth, in 1856;
the fifth, in 1857; the sixth, in 1859; the Popham


Memorial Volume, in 1863; the seventh volume of
the Collections, in 1876; and the eighth, in 1881.
I give these volumes in chronological sequence to
indicate the periods in which there seemed to be
the most interest in publication, which was in the
fifties ; while, as we might expect, there was a
decided falling off in the time of the Civil War
and the years subsequent to it.

I confess that I have not read these volumes from
cover to cover; but even a cursory survey of them
shows how rich they are in historical material and
how devoted to real scholarly research were some
of our predecessors. In the Collections appear
some of the addresses delivered from time to time
by the president of the society. One by William
Willis, given at Augusta, February 21, 1855, gives
an interesting account of the origins and early his-
tory of the society, from which I have drawn much
for this paper. The conclusion, in the somewhat
stately style of the period, will bear quoting to-day :
"Maine is moving forward with rapid strides to a
distinguished station among the orbs of our polit-
ical constellation. Her extent of territory, her rich
soil, her long line of seacoast, her large and numer-
ous rivers, intersecting her whole territory; her
various valuable and permanent resources, and last
and best, the indomitable energy, enterprise and
ingenuity of her children — all give token of sure
and steady progress to eminence and wealth — not


to the wealth, I trust, which leads to decay, else
would I none of it. Let her be true to her high
destiny ; let her lay broadly and deeply the founda-
tions of her empire, in general education and a
faithful administration of civil functions, and a firm
adherence, in all classes, to probity, temperance and
good faith, and her prosperity will be as solid and
enduring as it will be rapid and sure."

Another address of unusual interest, likewise
from the pen of William Willis, was given at a
meeting of the society in Augusta, March 5, 1857.
This contained biographical notices of the six first
presidents of the society: Governor Parris, 1822;
President Allen, 1823-1828; the Rev. Ichabod
Nichols, 1828-1834; Stephen Longfellow, the father
of the poet, 1834; Chief Justice Prentiss Mellen,
1835-1840; and Robert Hallowell Gardiner, 1840-
1856. These sketches abound in lively anecdote
and skillful delineation of character and are in
themselves no mean contribution to the history of
our state, for after all it is men that make a com-
monwealth, and an account of these broad-minded
and sturdy progenitors of this society has all the
freshness that vivid personality ever brings forth.

In 1833 appeared the famous history of the state
of Maine, from its first discovery to the separation
in 1820, by William D. W^illiamson. He was an
original member of the society and a most indefati-
gable historian. Undoubtedly his labors were in-


spired in no small degree by the earlier publications
of the society ; they, in turn, awakened an intense
interest in local history. From 1833 to 1858 no
less than fifteen valuable historical works were
published, nearly all of them by members of the
Historical Society. There was then far more inter-
est in local history than there is to-day; indeed, it
is a great pity that the local historian, the man who
knows all about the traditions and events and prog-
ress of his home town, is in Maine almost as extinct
as the dodo. Our society, in this its centennial
year, could do no more worthy service than to help
to revive interest in local history, and in particular
the writing of the history of the last half century.
To be sure, we have a valuable work in Dr. Louis
Hatch's "History of Maine" ; but nearly every one of
our town histories needs a supplement or extension.
And few seem to care that so much that has hap-
pened in Maine since 1850 has not been recorded
and never will be unless more men like the early
members of this society arise to tell of the past.

In 1849 the society received from the state the
grant of half a township, which, sold for $6,000,
constituted a permanent fund, the income of which
in those beneficent days was enough to bring out
a volume of Proceedings and Collections from time
to time. From 1856 to 1865 William Willis was
the president of the society, and during his regime,
as I have shown, there was a good deal of historical


productivity. In 1863, at the request of the society,
the state appropriated $400 to procure copies of
documents in the British Museum relating to the
early history of Maine.

In Volume VI of the Collections, published at
Portland in 1859, there is an extended account of
the proceedings of the society for that year. Per-
haps a brief summary will convey something of the
character of the meetings sixty years ago. The
first meeting for the year 1859 was held at Augusta,
January 19th. Several papers on historical themes
were contributed by Joseph Williamson, Esq., of
Belfast. In the afternoon, we read, a public meet-
ing was held at the courthouse, at which a paper
was read by Judge Pierce, of Gardiner, on the life
of Major Archelaus Lewis, a Revolutionary hero.
The president of the society, William Willis, pro-
duced some original letters of Lafayette, Talley-
rand, Thomas Paine and other worthies, and then
read some biographical sketches of deceased mem-
bers. The Rev. Mr. Ballard, of Brunswick, read a
valuable paper on the Abnaki Indians, and the Rev.
Dr. Sheldon, of Bath, read an article on St. George's.
In the evening President Woods, of Bowdoin, pro-
nounced a eulogy on the late lamented Parker
Cleaveland; the Rev. Mr. Ballard read another
paper on the Abnaki Indians; the president of the
society closed the meeting by reading a review of a
volume published by the Hon. George Folsom, of


New York, on documents relating to Maine found
in the English state offices. No wonder that the
secretary recorded that the meeting was not only
very interesting but protracted.

Nothing daunted, the society met again in Port-
land, June 29th. The president delivered eulogies
on deceased members. The Rev. Mr. Ballard, of
Brunswick, followed with an account of the history
of the Episcopal Church in Maine; Mr. Robert
Hallowell Gardiner read a paper on Benjamin
Vaughan; the Rev. David Cushman, of Bath, again
turned up to discuss the disputed locality of Captain
George Waymouth's voyage ; Mr. John L. Locke,
of Camden, gave an account of General Waldo's
proclamation in Germany ; Professor Packard read
an interesting letter from Albert Gallatin; the pres-
ident read a paper on the conflicting claims of the
French and English in Acadia ; Professor Packard,
with the assistance of John Marshall Brown, then
an undergraduate in Bowdoin College, exhibited
specimens and explained and read a paper by Pro-
fessor Chadbourne about the celebrated deposit of
oyster shells at Damariscotta. The Hon. Phineas
Barnes presented a proposal for a union with the
Portland Natural History Society, a proposition
which led to an animated discussion. What a relief
to read: "The afternoon meeting was adjourned to
the evening, and a social levee of the members was
held at the mansion of the president."


In the evening, John A. Poor, Esq., read a paper
on "English Colonization in America," in which he
claimed for Sir Ferdinando Gorges the honor of
English colonization on this continent and disputed
the claims of the Massachusetts historians in behalf
of the Pilgrims and Puritans. Rufus K. Sewall, Esq.,
then read an interesting paper on the historical
remains at Sheepscot and Sagadahoc. The Rev.
Mr. Ballard again spoke of the Abnaki Indians.
We are not surprised to read in the official minutes :
"The society adjourned late in the evening."

But 1859 is not finished. On August 4th the
annual meeting was held at Brunswick. Of course
the committee on the revision of by-laws reported,
and naturally, after long discussion and amendments
( /. e., long amendments), they were adopted. At
eleven o'clock, the society proceeded to the church
and listened to a profound and interesting discourse
on the methods and laws of history from the Rev. Dr.
Hedge, of Brookline, Mass. This learned produc-
tion, we read, was a fitting and beautiful close of
the annual transactions of the society, and we agree
with the scribe that the space of the society was, in
1859, filled by deeds, not lingering years. In the
sweet language of Ovid,

''Actis aevuni implet, non segnibus annis.''''

There was surely nothing slow about that year.

It is perhaps no surprise to the modern reader to
turn to the next volume, printed in 1876, and to read :


"The long interval since the last issue of our Col-
lections has been occasioned by various circum-
stances." The Civil War was undoubtedly one
reason ; the deaths of several who were vitally inter-
ested in the society left vacancies which the younger
generation did not quickly fill. Nevertheless, dur-
ing all these years from 1859 to 1876, besides the
regular annual meetings each year save one, special
meetings were held at Augusta, Bath and Portland.
Furthermore, the society went afield and met from
time to time at Damariscotta, Pemaquid, York and
Monhegan. Ours is a virtuous society, but it has
had its cakes and ale. During these years there is
also some activity to record. In 1859 the office of
vice-president was instituted, and Bishop Burgess
elected, continuing therein until his death, in 1866.
In 1867 the state contracted with the society for an
annual volume in a series of volumes containing the
earliest documents, charters and other state papers
from the archives of foreign countries illustrating
the history of Maine. Dr. Leonard Woods, who, in
1866, had resigned the presidency of Bowdoin Col-
lege after a brilliant administration, was put in
charge of the work in Europe, and engaged in his-
orical researches until, in January, 1874, his fine
library was destroyed by fire, where a large part of
his books and papers perished. Happily the famous
Hakluyt manuscript was elsewhere. The Collec-
tions published in 1859, 1876 and 1881 contain


many interesting eulogies. It is undoubtedly the
fashion nowadays to minimize the importance of
the eulogy, although the two biographical addresses
lately given by the president of this society have
been very well received. Biography is, after all, one
of the most attractive of the handmaidens that
attend history, and to-day, as with our grandfathers,
"The proper study of mankind is man." Such
eulogies as those by President Woods on Parker
Cleaveland; by Charles Carroll Everett on President
Woods; and by Robert Hallowell Gardiner on
Benjamin Vaughan, are works of permanent worth,
and in themselves justify all the literary activity of

our society.

The other day I spent a few hours in going over
the records of the Maine Historical Society from
1822 to 1880. It was not at all a wearisome task;
for on nearly every page there appeared the name
of someone celebrated in the annals of state or col-
lege. The annual meetings have been held for the
most part in Brunswick. The first was on August
20, 1822, and who knows but that the last may be
on June 20, 1922? Apparently there was no meet-
ing in 1826; and there are no records of meetings
from 1841 to 1846. From 1830 to 1836 the annual
meetings were held in Portland. Sometimes we are
discouraged at light attendance and slight interest.
It is salutary to reflect that some years the society
could not get enough members to meet at all, and


that in 1824 the society voted that the collection of
the annual tax be suspended until further notice.
In 1836 the secretary, the Rev. Asa Cummings,
writes : "The hour of meeting having arrived the
secretary stood alone and continued standing till
he despaired of being met by any other member of

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Online LibraryMaine Historical SocietyCentennial of the Maine historical society → online text (page 1 of 3)