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Bakerstown Proprietors Records

Bakerstown Proprietors Records

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Bakerstown Proprietors
Title:Bakerstown Proprietors Records
Quantity:1.5 linear feet (4 boxes)
Abstract:The Bakerstown Proprietors Papers contain legal records, surveys, deeds, and other documents relating to the activities of the Bakerstown Proprietors.
Collection Number:MSS 337

Series List

SERIES I. Commonwealth v. Bakerstown Proprietors
SERIES I. Bakerstown Surveys
SERIES III. Bakerstown Land Transfer
SERIES IV. Bakerstown Taxes
SERIES V. Bakerstown Proprietors Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Bakerstown Proprietors Papers contain legal records, surveys, deeds, and other documents relating to the activities of the Bakerstown Proprietors. The papers have been separated into five series.

Series I.Commonwealth v. Bakerstown Proprietors contains the pleadings, petitions, and judicial decisions related to the case, depositions gathered as evidence to be used by the litigants, miscellaneous court papers from other cases involving Bakerstown land, and some of the records of the Bridgham Proprietors, the true claimants in Commonwealth v. Bakerstown.

Commonwealth v. Bakerstown Proprietors arose from a competing claim for the Bakerstown grant, brought by the Commonwealth on behalf of John Bridgham. Although litigation did not formally start until 1790, there are some documents included of earlier date, which were presented in the course of the litigation. As the years passed without a final determination of Commonwealth v. Bakerstown Proprietors, reviews and summaries proliferated, as new judges and commissions had to be brought up to date.

Series II. Bakerstown Surveys includes surveys of the Bakerstown grant, the earliest showing the portion adjoining the Androscoggin River which had been erroneously included in the survey, and later corrected surveys showing a disclaimer by the Bakerstown Proprietors of the land between the Androscoggin River and a "curved line" four miles west of the River, which was part of Pejepscot Proprietors land. (A survey showing the original parameters of the Pejepscot claim, adjoining the Bakerstown claim, can be seen in the Pejepscot Proprietors Papers, MSS 338). Subdivision plans show the parceling of the land into smaller tracts, to be sold either by the Proprietorship, or by the individual Proprietors to whom that portion of land had been distributed. Plans for roads and a plan of a meeting house are also included. Folder 2 contains Surveyors Field Notes for various portions of the grant as well as subdivisions. Series II also includes field survey notes, which are located in Box 3, Folder 1.

Series III. Land Transfers includes: deeds of conveyance of land in Bakerstown; records of tracts seized by the Proprietors for non-payment of taxes and sold at auction, and miscellaneous bonds for the sale of land; and other contracts concerning Bakerstown land. It is important to note that the Bakerstown Grant was subsequently divided into the towns of Poland, Minot, and Hebron, Maine. Some deeds specify land in one of these towns while noting that the land was "formerly Bakerstown", others simply convey land in Poland, Minot, etc., while still others refer to land in Bakerstown, even though, from the date of the deed compared with those from the individual towns, it is clear that the division had already occurred. Therefore, deeds for land in "Bakerstown", Poland, Minot, and Hebron are not separated, as they were all within the original Bakerstown grant.

Large tracts were distributed to each proprietor, according to their investments. Some portions of those tracts were surveyed, subdivided, and sold, and other portions retained by the individual proprietors. The Proprietorship itself sold or granted individual lots to settlers, and some of the granted land remained undivided until a later time. Some of the lots were leased rather than sold, mortgages taken by the Proprietors on others, and some were conveyed in exchange for labor on infrastructure such as roads. Mortgage deeds are included together with the deeds for the sale of land. Some deeds reflected transfers of land pursuant to the judicial decision of 1795, which mandated that all settlers within a certain disputed area who occupied or improved their lots prior to 1780 were to be "quieted in their titles". Also included is a transfer of land necessitated by the error in the initial survey of the Bakerstown grant, which mistakenly included land already owned by the Pejepscot Proprietors (Box 3, Folder 2, Moses Little to the Bakerstown Proprietors, March 12, 1788). Apparently the Bakerstown Proprietors had allotted this portion of the grant to Moses Little individually, which necessitated a transfer back into the Proprietorship so that the appropriate adjustment could be made.

The Proprietorship had the right to assess taxes, and to seize the lands of delinquent taxpayers to sell at public auction. Box 3, Folder 4 contains lists of delinquent landholders, announcements of public auctions ("vendues"), and land transfers resulting from those auctions. Many of the summaries are undated, making it impossible to arrange the documents in folders 1 and 2 in strict chronological order. However, these summaries are valuable to the researcher in keeping track of the fairly complex issues involved and are placed within the folders as their contents seem to dictate.

The pleadings and petitions in Commonwealth v. Bakerstown not only tell the story of the Bakerstown settlement, but they illustrated the tensions between competing interests of government, speculators, individual settlers, and the traditional "frontiersman", or squatter, in a new land.

Box 1, Folder 3 contains the depositions of settlers, surveyors, and others taken as evidence to support the positions of the litigants. Depositions taken in later years relate to the amount of compensation claimed by the parties for land lost, and for the costs of brining ejectment suits in order to reclaim land awarded by the final settlement. Also included in Folder 3 are certificates of individual settlers stating their right to their lots under the conditions set by the final judicial decision in the above case. Folder 4 contains miscellaneous court papers from other lawsuits concerning Bakerstown land, many of them arising from the issues of Commonwealth v. Bakerstown Proprietors. Folder 5 contains a record book of the Bridgham Company

Series IV. Bakerstown Taxes includes tax list and receipts and Proprietors' rate books, setting the tax rates for various parcels of land. It should be noted that with each tax rate book is prefaced by a statement of vote by the Proprietors at a legally held meeting, setting the rate.

Series V. Bakerstown Proprietors contains notices of Proprietors meetings and minutes of the meetings. The method of publishing notices for the meetings was regulated by statute. Folder 2 of Box 4 contains petitions to the Proprietors from individual settlers, and Folder 3, Proprietorship accounts.

Much traveling and business was done by or on behalf of the Proprietorship or the individual proprietors. Accounts were kept of expenses incurred during these travels or in execution of such tasks, often accompanied by a daily journal, recounting daily activities, observations, and various memoranda. Such journals are collected in Folder 4 of Box 4. It should be noted that the "Book of Mem[oranda]" of Col. Moses Little contains notes concerning both Bakerstown and the Pejepscot land. As noted before, the Little family members were agents and major investors in both Proprietorships and individually owned large tracts of land in their capacity as individual investors. Unless the accounts and journals are specific as to the land or company involved, it is impossible to tell whether the activity is on behalf of Bakerstown, Pejepscot, or the land of an individual proprietor/owner. The same is true of the miscellaneous and mostly undated accounts in Folder 5. Box 4, Folder 6 contains miscellaneous items. Some of the items bear witness to the difficulty in dealing with squatters, with those settlers holding title through the Bridgham Company or the Commonwealth, and those who had settled but not paid for their land. Notices to "inhabitants living on the Northeasterly part of Bakerstown to settle and receive payment; offers to "all nonproprietors in Bakerstown (probably squatters) to "peaceably…quit all their Pretended Rite and title to land they have laid out to themselves" in exchange for 50 acres each in the first division of lots. Minutes of a meeting of the inhabitants of Poland plan for the building of a meetinghouse. Two of the documents in this folder deal with a disagreement concerning one boundary of the Bakerstown claim, i.e. the "headline of new Gloucester". In these documents, a meeting was agreed to between the selectmen of New Gloucester and Bakerstown to run and mark the line between the two townships.

It is, again, most important to note that, while the Bakerstown Proprietors were treated as a single entity, many of the investors, most particularly members of the Little family, were also investors in and agents of the Pejepscot Proprietors, holding tracts of land which were also the subject of prolonged litigation. Because of the involvement of the Little family in both these ventures, additional documents concerning both the Pejepscot and Bakerstown Proprietors will probably be found in the Little family papers (MSS 67). Again, researchers interested in the settlement of these portions of Maine, or in the Little family, are advised to examine all three of the allied collections.

Historical Sketch


The origin and governance of New England towns has been a subject of interest to generations of historians. Many towns were founded by entrepreneurs, land speculators who, anticipating future profits as land became scare and values rose, worked to amass large tracts of wilderness land. Individual investors joined together, forming business entities modeled upon the English Joint Stock companies. Transferable shares were sold to raise the capital necessary to purchase land and to finance the building of basic town infrastructures necessary to attract the initial settlers. Such companies, acting as being treated as single business entities which could sue and be sued, were "proprietorships" the individual investors being "proprietors" of the townships so formed.

Town planning in the wilderness was neither simple nor inexpensive. Roads had to be provided, bridges and mills built, and land had to be cleared. Although in many cases investors in wilderness lands had no intention of settling in those areas themselves, they were often prosperous men with the ability to raise the necessary capital.

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, large tracts of land were often granted to groups of "town planters" or land companies, by the General Court of Massachusetts. To facilitate the rapid settlement of the land, the grants were subject to certain typical conditions, such as settling a certain number of families on the land within a given number of years, and providing a church and a minister. In the case of the Bakerstown grant, the company was then sent to have the desired tract surveyed, with the admonition that the land was not to encroach on tracts already granted, or on lands already settled, and be no larger than 7 1/2 square miles with allowance for ponds. The survey should then be submitted to the Massachusetts General Court for approval, and when accepted and confirmed, the company could begin to divide the land into parcels for distribution to the individual shareholders and for grant or sale to new settlers, leaving some of the land undivided for future sale.

The land companies so engaged in establishing towns were called "proprietorships", and the individual investors were "proprietors" of the townships so established. In addition to the power to divide and sell parcels of land, proprietors took an active role in controlling town activities, protecting the interests of their stockholders as well as the town inhabitants. A proprietorship retained ownership of all undivided land within the towns, on which they might allow or grant limited grazing or timbering rights to settlers. They could also sell shares in mills, grant fishing rights in rivers, and control other important aspects of town government and economics. Agents were chosen to manage company business and attend to legal affairs. Often these agents were shareholders and officers of the organization.

In order to attract the first settlers, proprietors might offer bounties or free land to the first settlers, provided they were willing to come with their families, clear their lots, and build dwellings of particular dimensions. In lieu of payments or taxes, early settlers might be obliged to work on road building or clear land for commons. With some settlers and an infrastructure in place, the value of the remaining lots appreciated. Lands distributed to the individual investors were further divided by them into lots for sale. In addition to profitable sale of lots in the township, profits could be made from the valuable stands of timber and from mills using the water power of available rivers.

* Portions of the above introduction summarize the analysis of John Frederick Martin's work, Profits in the Wilderness (Chapel Hill, NC, 1991).

Historical Sketch

In 1736, Samuel Gerrish and others, being "the officers and soldiers of the Companies under the command of Capt. John March, Capt. Stephen Greenleaf, and Capt. Philip Nelson"* were granted a township of six square miles, known as Bakerstown, located on the Merrimack River, in payment for their military service in the Expedition against Canada in 1690. This was presumably the establishment of the entity called the "Bakerstown Proprietors". However, when the boundary line was run between New Hampshire and Massachusetts Bay, it was found the land granted was located in New Hampshire, and thus the grant was rendered invalid. On the petition of the grantees to the General Court of Massachusetts Bay for compensation, Gerrish and the others were granted a tract of land in Maine, which at that time and until 1820, was part of Massachusetts. The grant was to be no larger than 7 1/2 square miles, with an allowance of 8,600 acres for ponds and bogs. Gerrish and Moses Little, a member of the group of grantees, were ordered to survey a tract of that size for a township, at their own expense, and submit the plan to the General Court of Massachusetts Bay for acceptance. The grant was made upon certain conditions: that the tract surveyed be no larger than the stated size; that it be laid out upon unappropriated lands belonging to the Province, but adjoining some former grants to the east of Saco River; that sixty families be settled within the first six years; and that land be set aside for a church, to be built within six years. The township granted was designated as Bakerstown, similar to the original grant, and the group of owners/investors, the Bakerstown Proprietors. The first plan was submitted to the General Court, and accepted in October of 1765.

Jonathan Bagley and Moses Little were the named agents for the Bakerstown Proprietors, as well as being major investors, and were handling the business of the Company. Subsequently, Moses' son, Josiah Little, became the primary agent for the Proprietorship. It should be noted that members of the Little family were also major investors in, and agents of, the Pejepscot Proprietors, which held a large tract of land contiguous to and east of the Bakerstown claim. It is important to note that the affairs of the two companies, Bakerstown and Pejepscot, are interrelated at some points, and the two collections, as well as the Little Family Papers, should be regarded as companion collections.

The settlement of Bakerstown was by no means uneventful. Inaccurate surveys, competing land companies, overlapping grants, dissatisfied settlers, and squatters all contributed to involve the Bakerstown Proprietors and those holding title under it in decades of litigation. Issues arising from the case of Commonwealth v. Bakerstown were finally settled in 1826.

The original Bakerstown tract was soon divided into the still-existing towns of Poland, Minot, and Hebron, Maine.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Bridgham, John
Little family
Little, Josiah, 1747-1830
Little, Moses, 1724-1798
Proprietors of the Township of Brunswick
Land companies
Hebron (Me. : Town)
Maine--History, 1776-1865
Minot (Me.)
Poland (Me.)


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Bakerstown Proprietors Records, MSS 337, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The Little Family Papers (MSS 67) originally included the papers of the Pejepscot Proprietors, which were separated out when the Little Family Papers were processed. In the processing of the Pejepscot Proprietors Papers, the Bakerstown Proprietors Papers were separated to make a distinct collection. Provenance of the Little Family Papers is unknown.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Frances Malamy, October 2003. Updated by Anne E. (Holmer) Deschaine, June 2011, June 2014.

Related Material

Akagi, Roy Hidemichi. The Town Proprietors of the New England Colonies; A Study of their Development, Organization, Activities and Controversies, 1620-1770 (Philadephia, 1924).

Martin, John Frederick. Profits in the Wilderness: Entrepreneurship and the Founding of New England in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill, NC; London, 1991).

Resolves of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Respecting the Sale of Eastern Lands; with the Reports of the Committees Appointed to Sell Said Lands. From March 1, 1781 to June 22, 1803 (Boston, 1803).

Little Family Papers, MSS 67

Pejepscot Proprietors Papers, MSS 338

Some additional records of the Bakerstown Proprietors are at the Maine Historical Society, Portland, Maine.

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