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Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Brief History of Oxford County

Early History

Oxford County lies within the ancient limits of Maine's original county, York. York was so named following the annexation by Massachusetts in the mid-seventeenth century of the Province of Maine, previously an independent entity governed by its proprietor, Sir Ferdinando Gorges. Maine as first bounded lay between the Piscataqua River in the west and the Kennebec in the east, and stretched sixty miles inland.

The native people of Oxford County were the Abenaki (Wabanaki), or "People of the Dawn Land." Those who lived and traveled along the Androscoggin were of the Anasagunticook, or Androscoggin, tribe, whose principal settlement was at Rockameko, now Canton Point. On the Saco, in what is now the Fryeburg area, lived the Pequawket.

In response to incursions against Dunstable and other Massachusetts towns, Captain John Lovewell engaged the Pequawket in "The Battle at the Pond," or "Lovewell's Fight," on Saturday, May 8, 1725. Lovewell was killed, as was the Pequawket leader Paugus. The natives subsequently withdrew from the region.

With the reduction of Pequawket, and similar successes at Norridgewock and Old Town, hostilities between the natives and white settlers were all but ended. An Indian raid in the area now Oxford County seemed implausible at the time of the last, against Sudbury Canada (now Bethel) and adjacent settlements in 1781. By the time settlement of the region began, the native people had removed to Canada, and returned only in small numbers during the early history of the county.


Settlement

When Cumberland County was set off from York in 1760, the boundary between the two was to run from the northwest corner of Standish on the Saco River "north two degrees west on a true course, as far as the utmost limits of the Province."1 It will be seen by reference to a current map that several towns were subsequently laid out without regard to this county line, and once straddled the boundary between the two old counties. Indeed, the early residents of these towns — which included Bethel and Waterford — were hard-pressed to know at which county seat their deeds should be recorded. (Residents of Waterford acknowledged the confusion in a 1799 petition asking that they be set off entirely to Cumberland County.)

The first lands granted and settled in what would become Oxford County lay near the two large rivers running through the county: Fryeburg, Brownfield, Hiram and Lovell along the Saco River; Turner, Livermore, Jay (which then included Canton), Rumford, Bethel and Gilead along the Androscoggin. Later townships were usually laid out to adjoin those previous settled. Waterford and Porter adjoined the Saco River settlements. Norway, Paris, Hebron, Buckfield, Hartford, Sumner, Andover and Newry all were settled prior to 1790, all within the Androscoggin River Basin.

Several of these early-settled townships were granted to the veterans of expeditions against Canada or to their heirs, and thus were called "Canada Townships." These were Bethel (once Sudbury Canada), Jay and Canton (Phipps Canada), Turner (Sylvester Canada), as well as Livermore and Waterford. (Many of the Canada Townships were bestowed in lieu of previous grants found to lie in New Hampshire when the boundaries of that province were established in 1740.) Fryeburg was granted to Captain Joseph Frye for past military service, and the township of New Suncook (later Lovell and Sweden) was granted to members of Captain Lovewell's company, who had fought the Pequawket tribe nearby in 1725. Later, lands were more often conveyed to individuals or groups of proprietors with some financial stake, or granted to educational institutions as endowments.

Those few who settled in the northern reaches of York and Cumberland Counties during the Revolution were joined soon afterward by an influx of new immigrants, many of them veterans with young families induced to settle by offers of cheap land. Before 1784, the Commonwealth promised one hundred free acres to any who would clear sixteen acres within four years; and the price of real estate was rarely an obstacle even after this provision was repealed. Settlers came from Massachusetts (of which Maine was still a part) and New Hampshire, and from the coastal region of Maine, sometimes individually but often as part of a migratory wave. Hartford and Sumner were populated by dozens of families from Plymouth County, Massachusetts, while Rumford was colonized by residents of Concord, New Hampshire. The makeup of the populace of a township was often determined by the place of residence of the proprietary: most of the landowners of Andover and Albany were citizens of Andover, Massachusetts, and it was from that town their earliest settlers hailed. Other, later towns with more diverse proprietaries — e.g. Greenwood and Woodstock — were settled more haphazardly.

Incorporation

In 1796, a petition was drafted asking that the northern part of York County and northwestern part of Cumberland County be set off to form a new county, to be named Waterford. The plantation of Waterford was to be the county seat. The petition was denied.

A later petition proved successful, and Oxford County was incorporated March 4, 1805, from the northern parts of York and Cumberland Counties. Legend has it that the new county was named by General David Learned of Livermore, its first sheriff, after his native town in Massachusetts.2 It should be noted that the 1804 petition that led to the incorporation of the county left it to the General Court to choose a name, and that "Oxford" had earlier been adopted as a plantation name by the future town of Albany.

There was some debate whether the proposed county should have two "half shire-towns"—perhaps in Bethel and Paris. It was ultimately decided that Paris be the county seat, and that the county offices be located on Paris Hill. There they remained until 1895, when the present courthouse was built in South Paris.

Residents of the southwestern towns—Fryeburg, Brownfield, Porterfield, and Lovell— petitioned in the fall of 1805 that Fryeburg be made a half-shire town, arguing that they had expected the new county to extend no farther south than Lovell, some thirty miles from the Ossipee River which now was the boundary. A compromise was reached with regard to the registration of deeds: the Western District Registry of Deeds was located in Fryeburg in February 1806. Deeds from the towns of Stoneham, Stow, Lovell, Fryeburg, Brownfield, Denmark, Porter and Hiram are recorded there, those from the remainder of the county in Paris. (A district registry of deeds for York County had been established in Fryeburg June 20, 1799, for Fryeburg, Bethel, Waterford, and "such plantations and lands in said county of York as lie to the northward of the great Ossapee-River.")

Oxford County Towns

Oxford County has diminished in size since its early years. Several townships were set off to Somerset County in 1819 and 1823. With the incorporation of Franklin County, May 9, 1838, Oxford County lost several more towns and unincorporated townships. The towns of Berlin (later annexed to Phillips), Carthage, Jay, Madrid and Weld were set off, as were the townships later incorporated as Rangeley and Eustis. Two more towns — Livermore and Turner — were set off to form Androscoggin County, Mar. 18, 1854. Oxford County gained a town, July 4, 1978, when Otisfield seceded from Cumberland County.

A list of past and present Oxford County towns, ordered by date of incorporation:
  • Fryeburg (Jan. 11, 1777)
  • Turner (July 7, 1786)
  • Hebron (Mar. 6, 1792)
  • Buckfield (Mar. 16, 1793)
  • Paris (June 20, 1793)
  • Jay (Feb. 26, 1795)
  • Livermore (Feb. 28, 1795)
  • Bethel (June 10, 1796)
  • Waterford (Mar. 2, 1797)
  • Norway (Mar. 9, 1797)
  • Otisfield (Feb. 19, 1798)
  • Hartford (June 13, 1798)
  • Sumner (June 13, 1798)
  • Rumford (Feb. 21, 1800)
  • Lovell (Nov. 15, 1800)
  • Brownfield (Feb. 20, 1802)
  • Albany (June 20, 1803)
  • Dixfield (June 21, 1803)
  • Andover (June 23, 1804)
  • Gilead (June 23, 1804)
  • Newry (June 15, 1805)
  • Denmark (Feb. 20, 1807)
  • Porter (Feb. 20, 1807)
  • Sweden (Feb. 26, 1813)
  • Hiram (June 14, 1814)
  • Woodstock (Feb. 7, 1815)
  • Greenwood (Feb. 2, 1816)
  • Weld (Feb. 8, 1816)
  • Mexico (Feb. 13, 1818)
  • Canton (Feb. 5, 1821)
  • Peru (Feb. 5, 1821)
  • Berlin (Jan. 31, 1824)
  • Carthage (Feb. 20, 1826)
  • Oxford (Feb. 27, 1829)
  • Byron (Jan. 24, 1833)
  • Stow (Jan. 28, 1833)
  • Stoneham (Jan. 31, 1834)
  • Roxbury (Mar. 17, 1835)
  • Madrid (Jan. 29, 1836)
  • Mason (Feb. 3, 1843)
  • Hanover (Feb. 14, 1843)
  • Grafton (Mar. 19, 1852)
  • Upton (Feb. 9, 1860)
  • West Paris (Sept., 1957)

1Quoted in William D. Williamson, The History of the State of Maine. (Hallowell, Me.: Glazier, Masters & Co., 1832), 2:354.
2http://files.usgwarchives.org/me/oxford/oxford/men/parrott1.txt, citing Charles E. Waterman, "Joseph Robinson Parrott of Oxford, Oxford Co, Maine," Sprague's Journal of Maine History Vol. IV, June, 1916, No. I, pp. 29-34.

2 Comments:

At 9:02 AM, March 08, 2011, Blogger Charles said...

This has to be about the finest precis of a ME county I've ever seen. Short, accurate, and fluent. Looking forward to seeing the ones for the other counties.

 
At 8:30 AM, August 17, 2012, Blogger mainelady said...

Thank You for this effort, it's truly appreciated. Clear, concise and interesting, as history should be.

kathryn@halfbarnfarm.com

 

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