Exhibits

Meet Maine Here.

The Long Road to Separation

After the American Revolution, people in the District of Maine made multiple attempts to separate from Massachusetts.

The first movement to separate emerged soon after the American Revolution when Maine’s political and business leaders, largely located in the bustling coastal towns, hoped to preserve the existing power structure, except with themselves at the top rather than the Massachusetts elites.

In this effort, Maine’s political leaders sought to retain their power. These first voices for separation faded when the leaders realized that independence for Maine could mean that inland farmers would demand a more balanced political and economic system. The big landowners and merchants backed off, not wanting to spark revolution at home.

The people of Maine renewed their efforts to seek independence after Massachusetts abandoned the District of Maine in the War of 1812. At that time, Massachusetts provided little military or financial support during the British occupation of eastern Maine, a humiliation neither forgotten or forgiven. These resentments played a part in the area’s national politics during and after the war.

Religious freedom was a key issue. Many people in Maine sought religious freedom. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights established a separation of church and state on a federal level, but let each state decide its own religious laws. Massachusetts state taxes supported an established church denomination, the Congregational church. Newcomers to Maine included many Baptists, Methodists, and other religious groups that each resented their tax money going to a different church.

National party politics came into play after 1800. Federalists were often wealthy political leaders whose conservative ideals stressed the need for order through a social hierarchy. Federalists dominated Massachusetts up through 1820. Democratic-Republicans, on the other hand, felt that the greatest threat to the new republic came from an overly strong central government that was too distant from ordinary people. Most of the landless settlers coming to Maine after the American Revolution subscribed to Democratic-Republican ideals, which contributed to the drive for separation from Federalist Massachusetts.

Ballot Box, 1796-1818, Maine State Museum, 2009.77.1

​This is the oldest known ballot box used in Maine. The most important votes cast in this box decided whether Northport voters wanted Maine to become an independent state.

According to an attached hand-written note, “[t]his is the first ballot box used in the town of Northport, County of Hancock, District of Maine. Daniel Lawrence, Town Clerk…” The term “District of Maine” indicates this ballot box pre-dates Maine statehood.

Itinerant Methodist minister Aaron Young carried these saddlebags as he traveled through Maine’s back country to preach in religious services held in people’s homes.

As the state-sponsored religious establishment of Massachusetts, the Congregational Church received state taxes to pay for its church buildings and ministers. Clergy from all other religious denominations had to travel from town to town over difficult roads to preach in private homes until a religious community raised enough private money to fund its own church building and minister.

Aaron Young’s father and three brothers were also Methodist ministers. His younger brother, Eli Young, was active in the separation movement and represented East Pittston in Maine’s 1819 statehood convention.

Saddle Bags, Owned by Rev. Aaron Young (1783-1875), Pittston, Maine, ca. 1800, Maine State Museum, Gift of The Gardiner Library Association 77.18.22

Itinerant Methodist minister Aaron Young carried these saddlebags as he traveled through Maine’s back country to preach in religious services held in people’s homes.

As the state-sponsored religious establishment of Massachusetts, the Congregational Church received state taxes to pay for its church buildings and ministers. Clergy from all other religious denominations had to travel from town to town over difficult roads to preach in private homes until a religious community raised enough private money to fund its own church building and minister.

Aaron Young’s father and three brothers were also Methodist ministers. His younger brother, Eli Young, was active in the separation movement and represented East Pittston in Maine’s 1819 statehood convention.

Chapeau de Bras (Officer’s Hat), worn by Captain Silas Dunbar (1781-1853), 1812-1814, Maine State Museum. Gift of Silas S. Reynolds, 72.50.1

Captain Silas Dunbar came from Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He served for one month during the War of 1812 defending Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Governor Caleb Strong opposed the war and refused to allow the Massachusetts militia to leave the state. Governor Strong called up soldiers from around Massachusetts and the District of Maine to protect the state’s port cities. Local men protected their nearest ports, but Maine had far fewer soldiers than Massachusetts and more shoreline to defend. Many in Maine were very disappointed when no other Massachusetts troops were sent to expel the British who occupied the whole of eastern Maine in the late summer of 1814.

Maine State Museum