The history of the State of Maine spans thousands of years, from the earliest human habitations there to European colonization and settlement to its present-day statehood as part of the United States of America.

The origin of the name Maine is the subject of some controversy. Many historians believe that Maine is named after the French province of Maine. Others suggest that the name was coined by English settlers living on islands along the coast, who would speak of going to the mainland as "going over to the main."[1][2]

Pre-European History[]

The earliest culture known to inhabit Maine was the Red Paint People, from roughly 3000 B.C. to 1000 B.C. They were a maritime culture known for their elaborate burials using red ochre. In Maine, they were followed by the Susquehana culture, a pottery using culture.

By the time of European arrival, the inhabitants of Maine were Algonquian-speaking Wabanaki peoples including the Abenaki, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscots.

European colonization and political permutations[]

The first European settlement in Maine was made in 1604 by a French party that included Samuel de Champlain, the noted explorer. The French named the area that includes Maine as Acadia; later English colonization pushed Acadia north into what are today the Canadian Maritimes.

English colonists, sponsored by the Plymouth Company, first settled in 1607, though the attempt was unsuccessful. The territory between the Merrimack and Kennebec Rivers first became known as the Province of Maine in a 1622 land patent granted to Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason. The two split the territory along the Piscataqua River in a 1629 pact that resulted in the Province of New Hampshire being formed by Mason in the south and New Somersetshire being created by Gorges to the north, in what is now Maine. The failure to colonize New Somersetshire, however, resulted in a second patent, granted to Gorges by Charles I, for what became known once again as the Province of Maine. Gorges' second effort also ended unsuccessfully.

What is present-day Maine north and east of the Kennebec River was more sparsely settled and was known in the 17th century as the Territory of Sagadahock. In 1669 this land, along with what had been the Province of Maine, was incorporated into another patent, this time by Charles II, to James. Under the terms of this grant, all the territory from the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean was constituted as Cornwall County, now part of a vastly expanded Province of New York. With the incorporation of Sagadahock, the territory that would become Maine extended along the coast from the Piscataqua to the St. Croix River for the first time, incorporating the entire coastline of the future state.

In 1673, part of this territory was partitioned to create Devonshire. The remainder was lost to the Abnaki in a war in 1675. In 1683 Cornwall County was reconstituted as part of New York, which itself was absorbed into the Dominion of New England in 1687. In 1692 the entirety of the former Province of Maine, from the Piscataqua to the St. Croix, was absorbed into the Province of Massachusetts Bay as Yorkshire, a name which survives in present day York County.

Maine was much fought over by the French and English during the 17th and early 18th centuries. After the defeat of the French colony of Acadia during the French and Indian War (part of the global struggle between France and Britain that is known overall as the Seven Years War), the territory from the Penobscot River east fell under the nominal authority of the Province of Nova Scotia, and together with present day New Brunswick formed the Nova Scotia County of Sunbury, with its court of general sessions at Campobello.

Independence and border disputes[]

American and British forces contended for Maine's territory during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The treaty concluding revolution was ambiguous about Maine's boundary with British North America. The territory of Maine was confirmed as part of Massachusetts when the United States was formed, although the final border with British territory was not established until the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842. (Indeed, in 1839 Governor Fairfield declared war on Britain over a boundary dispute between New Brunswick and northern Maine. Known as the Aroostook War, this is the only time a U.S. state has declared war on a foreign power. The dispute was settled, however, before any blood was shed.)


Maine gained its statehood in 1820 as the result of the Missouri Compromise, a move which paved the way for slavery-free northern states to approve the statehood of Missouri. Maine, which was under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, was free of slavery, and its admission to the union would allow for northern congressional representation which would balance Missouri's pro-southern and pro-slavery influence.

Industrialization and discrimination against French Canadians[]

In the late 19th century, many French Canadians began migrating to Maine and other New England states from the Quebec and New Brunswick provinces of Canada to work in the newly established mills, which took advantage of the state's many rushing rivers. These new arrivals were often forcibly assimilated into Anglo-American culture; notably, children were subjected to corporal punishment for speaking French in schools. In response the French Canadian community in New England was determined to preserve some of its cultural norms; this doctrine, like efforts to preserve francophone culture in Quebec, became known as la Survivance.

See also: Quebec diaspora

20th and 21st centuries[]

By the 20th century, the textile industry which had driven the growth of mills was establishing itself more profitably in other parts of the United States closer to raw materials. The focus of the economy shifted primarily back to logging and shipbuilding; the Bath Iron Works was a notable producer of naval vessels during the Second World War. In recent years, however, even Maine's traditional industries have been threatened; forest conservation efforts have cut down on logging; shipbuilding competition with other parts of the country has been stiff, and restrictions on world fisheries have exerted considerable pressure on each of these key fields. In response the state has attempted to diversify its economic activities, attracting telemarketing call centers to rural towns and villages. Tax incentives allowed outlet shopping centers began to establish themselves in the southern part of the state.

Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, tourism also became a major activity in Maine, which adopted the slogan "Vacationland" for its licence plates. Many began to visit Maine to enjoy its vast area of relatively unspoiled wilderness, its ski-friendly mountains, and its hundreds of miles of coastline. "Cottage people" from New York City and Boston summered in many of the state's seaside towns. The Bush family compound in Kennebunkport is a notable example of this trend. State and national parks in Maine also became loci of tourism, especially Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island.

In recent years the state has sought to address its legacy of intolerance against French Canadians, embracing such symbols as bilingual signs and actively promoting French Canadian culture in schools and local festivities.


  1. ^ "Origin of Maine’s Name". Maine State Library. Retrieved 2006-11-28. 
  2. ^ "Maine". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 

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