The History of Piscataquis County
From its Earliest Settlement to 1880
BY REV. AMASA LORING
“The hills are dearest, which our childish feet Have climbed the earliest; and the
streams most settee; Are ever those at which our young lips drank
Stooped to their waters o’er the grassy bank.”
SALES, GRANTS AND SURVEYS.
After the war of the Revolution, and the adoption of our National Constitution, both the National and State governments, were deeply in debt, as they now are. But the State of Massachusetts had a wide domain of unsettled lands, all in the district of Maine. To avoid oppressive taxation, the State government resolved to put these into the market, to raise a revenue from their sales, and to make them taxable.
Commissioners had been appointed soon after the close of the war, to investigate the claims of settlers, and of other claimants; and these earlier titles had been adjusted. The State adopted a “lottery scheme,” selling tickets for a certain price, which would draw a proportionate amount of wild land, in some specified township. By this way large portions of eastern lands lying between Union River and the Province line were disposed of. This waked up a lively interest in wild land, and from 1785 to 1810, a smart land speculation was in full blast, in which the State won considerable profit. But it was soon found that this was crowding too much wild land upon the market, that settlers could not be found to occupy it, and then it wound up this method of disposing of it.
A land office was established, but instead of a Land Agent, a Committee of three was appointed to conduct the business, and they sold townships, or small tracts, on certain established conditions. In each township sold, the purchasers were required to reserve four lots of three hundred and twenty acres each, of average quality and quantity, for public uses; to wit, one lot for the use and benefit of the State itself; one, for the first minister of the gospel that the town after its incorporation would vote to settle as their minister; one to produce a ministerial fund, the income to go for the annual support of the acting ministry in town; and one for a school fund, the income of which should go for the support of common schools.
Purchasers of townships were required to have a certain number of actual settlers residing in the township by a specified time. Some, however, failed, and by petitioning the General Court, obtained an extension. Hallowell and Lowell found this necessary, to confirm Vaughan’s title to Charleston and Dover.
These sales required the running out and numbering of new townships. Toward the close of the last century a wide breadth of wild lands was surveyed and prepared for sale. Plans and minutes of surveys, now in the land office show, that Ephraim Ballard and Samuel Weston, run out the sixth range, the most southerly tier of towns in Piscataquis County, from Lagrange to Wellington, in 1792. Also that Mr. Weston, aided by his brother Stephen, run out the seventh and eighth ranges in 1794. The eighth range is now known to be seven miles wide or more; why, it does not appear, but it gives its included townships an increase of acreage. Grants in the ninth range attribute the running out of that range to Mr. John Boardman, but the date thereof is not known. The lotting out of each township will be noticed in its respective history.
During this same period the State pursued a very liberal policy toward institutions of learning, and other works of public improvement. Large grants were made to Colleges and Academies; also to aid in opening canals, turnpikes, and free bridges over large rivers, and public roads through unsettled places. Several townships in this county were thus granted and conveyed by their grantees to their respective purchasers.
In the act, incorporating Bowdoin College, passed June, 1794 five full townships of the unappropriated lands of the State, were granted to that institution. They were to be selected and laid out under the direction of the State Committee for the sale of wild lands. The grantees were to reserve, in each
township, three lots of three hundred and twenty acres each, for public uses, and to have fifteen families settled in each township within twelve years of the passage of said act. In pursuance thereof, the College Committee selected the Dixmont township; and also four contiguous townships on the north side of Piscataquis River, Numbers Four, Five, Six and Seven in the Seventh Range, now known as Sebec. Foxcroft, Guilford and Abbott.
At a later date the General Court granted two other townships, numbers seven and eight, tenth range, lying east of Greenville, to the same institution. The Monson township was granted, the west half to Hebron Academy in this State, the east half to Monson Academy in Massachusetts. One half of the Greenville township was granted to Saco Academy, and the other half to Saco free bridge; and one half of the Katahdin Iron Works’ township was a grant to Warren Academy.
The west half of Medford was a grant to David Gilmore, for making the Dixmont road; and number nine, ninth range, eventually Wilson, was granted to the Massachusetts Medical Society.
Other townships were early sold by the State to individuals, and though at extremely low prices, and on liberal conditions as to introducing settlers, they sometimes failed to meet their engagements, and the land reverted to the State. Previous to 1820 the State realized only twenty_five cents per acre, as an average price.
This was township Number Three, Seventh Range, having an area of 21,920 acres.
It is watered by three beautiful rivers, the Piscataquis, Sebec and Pleasant, all sufficient for boats and rafts. It has two good mill privileges, one on Pleasant River, two miles below Brownville village, unoccupied, and another on Sebec River, at Trafton’s Falls, now Milo village, with nine feet head, and fourteen feet fall, occupied with various mills. Mark Trafton, when running a raft over these falls, was thrown off and rescued with great difficulty, hence they were so named. The soil is good generally, while upon these rivers, there is a broad extent of rich and beautiful intervals.
Proprietors.. Mr. Jonathan Hastings early purchased this township, and a Mr. Wells of Boston became his partner. They conveyed the greater part to the settlers, and finally sold out the remaining lots to the late Russell Kittredge.
It was first lotted into three hundred and twenty acre lots, by Park Holland of Bangor, and afterward, some of these were divided into one hundred acre lots by Andrew Strong of Corinth, and still later, the portion south of Piscataquis River, by P. P. Furber.
A Mr. Snow of Belgrade,, who afterward settled in Corinth, early roamed these forests as a hunter. He crossed these intervals, and was delighted with them as a promising agricultural tract. But as he had already passed the meridian of life, he forbore to push so far into the wilderness, and battle with the hardships of a back settlement. But he had two sons, then grown to manhood , Moses and Stephen and they came, probably in 1801, and selected lots on Pleasant River, near the present bridge. Mr. Benjamin Sargent from Methuen, Mass., made a selection on the Piscataquis River, near the ferry, at the same time. In the summer of 1802,. Messrs. Snow felled their first openings on the lots already selected; so did Mr. Sargent on his lot, now the farm of Mr. Holbrook. Mr. Sargent Bylie Lyford, and some other persons, perhaps, came to Bangor, and built a batteau, in which they brought up their Provisions, spending six days in making the ascent of the Penobscot and Piscataquis Rivers. The uppermost settlement on the Penobscot was then at Sunkhaze, now Milford. This was most probably in the summer of 1802, as Mr. Lyford did not move his family into Atkinson until the spring of 1804. The Snows were then single men, but Mr. Sargent had a family. He and his oldest son Theophilus spent the next spring and summer on his clearing, putting in seed and raising his first crop, camping out as was usual. The next August he returned to Methuen to visit his family and to bring his oldest son, who had before returned home, to aid him in harvesting his crop; in building a log cabin and in preparations for moving his family the next spring. But his wife insisted on removing then, knowing little of camp life so remote from the common conveniences of established neighborhoods, and of accessible markets. And move they did. They hastily broke up and made their way to Boston. looking for a passage by water they found a schooner, a Penobscot Packet, then plying between Boston and Bangor. In this they took passage, but it was a ” logy ” sailor, the winds unfavorable, and the passage long and tedious. In about two weeks, Bangor was reached, articles indispensable to the simplest mode of life were selected to be taken with them, and the remainder stored for future removal. At this season of the year the rivers were too low for boat navigation, so two pack horses were hired to convey such as could not walk, and the necessary outfit, and with these heavily laden, they commenced their thirty five miles’ journey to that lone clearing, they moved slowly and wearily on, finding rougher and muddier paths as they proceeded, the wife and mother on horseback, carried the youngest child, Nathan, in her arms, then three and a half years old (as my dates above make it). An occasional fall was unavoidable, and once both mother and child were dumped into a deep slough. A sympathizing settler on the way, with whom they had stopped over night, took his oxen and sled, and carried the weary company several miles, to rest both persons and horses.
Northward of Charleston, the forest had not been broken, till they reached the Piscataquis River. Most of the streams were fordable, but across Alder Brook, the unladen horses were swum, the people crossing it upon a fallen tree, and carrying their baggage over. At length they stood upon the bank of the Piscataquis, opposite the opening of Capt. Ezekiel Chase, in Sebec. With his log canoe they crossed to his cabin, then empty, and in this they lodged for the night. The next morning the eldest son started back to return the hired horses, but the family remained through that day, to take a little needed rest. Before it closed, Capt. Chase arrived with his family, and they spent the night together. As Eli Towne ever dated his family’s arrival, May 8, 1803, and as the Chase family always admitted that Mr. Towne came before them, it seems to be conclusive that the Sargents mistook the year, in their statements made some years later, and that Chase and Sargent moved their families in September, 1803, and were the second and third families that moved into the county. Or they may give the date of Mr. Sargent’s coming to fell his opening, not that of his removal.
The next morning Mr. Sargent borrowed Capt. Chase’s canoe, and boated his family and their effects about five miles down the river, to his own camp, and then and there settled the first family in Milo The next two months were full of hardship and suffering to these lone pioneers. An open camp was a frail shelter from the chilling blasts and the pitiless storms of autumn. ‘The harvest was ripe and must be secured before cold and snow overtook them. They had no teams to aid them, no cellar, no roofs nor barns to afford shelter, no boards to make either house or barn. Grain, therefore, must be stacked, corn placed in cribs built of round poles, and potatoes put into large holes dug in the ground, and covered over so as to exclude frost and snow. The cold of November overtook them before they had a log cabin with tight walls and a rain shedding roof, to house them. For a year or so, their nearest gristmill was at Kenduskeag, twenty five miles distant. In this family the first birth in Milo occurred. Alice Sargent, now Mrs. Alice Fisher of Cooksville, Wis., was born Dec. 28, 1804. This family acted an important part in the early organization of the plantation and town. Henry B. Sargent, mentioned above, departed this life in August, 1877, aged about eighty. But few of that name now remain town.
Mr. Boobar was probably the next to bring in a family. He settled on a lot adjoining Mr. Sargent’s, and is known to have had his family there in March, 1805. He afterward moved to Medford, and was an early settler there. His advent was of great value to the new settlements. His wife was skillful in cases of childbirth, and they also brought a hand mill, in which corn and grain could be ground, after the manner of Bible lands in both past and present times.
The settlement increased slowly. In 1810, there were but thirty four persons in the township. The Snows continued to clear land and raise wheat, which was produced in great abundance upon those fine intervals. They remained single for several years, Moses, marrying in 1811, and Stephen in 1813. This last event took place in Brownville, April 13, and the next day he brought his bride, by sleighing, to her new home. She is still living, but her husband died on the farm that be cleared up, in 1871.
The building of mills in Sebec and Browllville essentially aided the new settlers of Milo, as they could get their grain ground, and obtain boards for buildings. Dea. Lemuel Shepley was among the early settlers. He reared up a family here, but now they are all gone to other parts. The names of other early settlers cannot be accurately given.
But little is know of the progress of this settlement for several years. In 1890, it had a population of ninety seven, an increase of sixty three in ten years. In 1825, it had one hundred and nineteen, of school age, and it was then estimated that the entire population would be three hundred.
Previous to 1820, it was organized as Plantation Number Three, Seventh Range, and, Jan. 21, 1823, incorporated as Milo. Lemuel Shepley issued a warrant to Theophilus Sargent to call the meeting of organization. It was held March 3, 1823, and Luther Keene was chosen town clerk. There were then twenty eight voters, none of whom remain in town, Mr. Elisha Johnson, the last one, dying in 1878, more than eighty years of age. About this date, Capt. Winborll A. Sweat built the dam across Sebec River, at Trafton’s Falls, and erected the first saw and gristmill in town. A store had already been opened there by a Mr. Estis. He left, and was succeeded by Amos Davis.
There was from this time a steady increase of inhabitants in town. Mr. Thomas White, afterward a merchant in Bangor, put in a fulling_mill and carding machine; mechanics settled in; and physicians and lawyers began to locate here. In 1829, Allen Monroe commenced trade in the village, and he or his son has continued it till the present time, with one or two suspensions. In 1831, Mr. Daniel Dennett came to Milo, purchased a part of the Snow farm, and he and Stephen Snow bought the saw and grist_mill and the unsold land originally belonging to the mill lot. From this time the village had a steady growth .Mr.Bennett afterward moved into the village, and reared an enterprising family. Dea. William S. Dennett of Bangor, and Daniel Dennett Jr. Of Louisiana, are his sons. Daniel conducted and published a newspaper in Louisiana, for a season, and is still connected with the press. He also prepared and published a book upon the natural resources, climate, and prospects of his adopted State. The elder Mr. Dennett was a man of wealth and influence, and died recently in Milo, at an advanced age. Col. Joseph Lee came to this place from Bucksport, and he was a prominent and highly esteemed citizen. Maj. .P P Furber also dwelt here, known as a land surveyor, a county officer and a Freemason. He eventually moved out West.
In 1842, Joseph Cushing & Co., formerly of Sebec, built a woolen factory here, but in 1848, it was destroyed by fire, and not rebuilt. But Gifford & Co. erected one on the other side of the stream, and this is still running successfully. All the land reserved for public uses was sold and devoted to a school fund, amounting to $1300. High schools have been often taught at the village, both with and without State aid. Milo village has now become quite large and flourishing, having the greatest number of stores of any place in the county, except Foxeroft and Dover. It has also made commendable advances in its social, moral and religious state.
This Town encouraged the Bangor & Piscataquis Railroad. which passes through it, to the amount of $6000. Large quantities of freight from Brownville slate quarries and Katahdin Iron Works are sent from its depot, and the business of the town was essentially benefited by the opening and running of that road.
In 1840, a toll bridge was built across the Piscataquis River, in this town to open a new route to Bangor.
This town has had as physicians, J. F. Califf, Ezra Kimball, Chester Hlucking, S. B. Sprague, G. B. Crane and Hannibal Hamlin.
Lawyers. J.B. Everett, C. A. Everett, J. H. Macomber jr., William P. Young, and M.L,. Durgin jr., have practiced Law in town, the last two now remaining.
In the summer of 1878, J. Fenno & C o .erected a mill for splitting out spool timber, Upon the canal formerly opened for Cushing’s factory. It has commenced operation They purchase a large amount of white birch hauled to the mill. and have bought a tract of wild land, which also furnishes this material.
Upon this land, near Ebeeme Lower Pond, in the northeast part of Brownville, they have also built a steam mill, for the same purpose. Recently a melancholy event occurred there. As a pleasure party from Milo was visiting it, the boiler exploded, killing Effie Snow, and severely, but not fatally, injuring Frank Gray, a workman, and Nellie Gould, all of Milo. It occurred March 3, 1880.
In November, 1879, Mr. Will Frost, a resident of Milo, was fatally injured by the rolling of logs at the Gulf on Pleasant River, and died the next clay.
In 1870, the population of this town was 1938; its State valuation: $161,855.