January 28, 2021

Maine mapmaker subject of talk

BANGOR – Nearly 40 people assembled at Bangor Public Library on Monday night to hear author Walter Macdougall of Milo talk about his latest book, “Settling the Wilderness: Moses Greenleaf, His Maps, and His Household of Faith, 1777-1834.”

Moses Greenleaf was a visionary and cartographer whose work charted the interior of Maine before, at and just after the time of statehood in 1820. Greenleaf also was land agent for Williamsburg, near Milo, and served as a justice of the peace in the area. When the northern Maine border disputes with Great Britain were in progress, copies of Greenleaf’s maps of Maine were provided to the negotiating parties on both sides of the issue.

The majority of the audience at the library to hear Macdougall’s lecture were men ranging in age from thirtysomething to eightysomething. The buzz of conversation before Macdougall spoke was of Maine history, surveying and life in remote parts of the state.

Macdougall, illustrating his talk with slides of the maps and books that Greenleaf created, described Greenleaf as a “statist” – in today’s parlance a statistician – and pointed out the complexity of the tables of information about weather and agriculture he compiled for his “Statistical View of Maine” published in 1816, and his “Survey of Maine,” published in 1829.

“He did this without benefit of computers or telephones or any means of communication but pen and ink, in a time when it was a two-day trip by horse [the only means of transportation] to Bangor from Williamsburg,” said Macdougall, professor emeritus at the University of Maine.

To elaborate on the difficulties of travel at that time in that place, Macdougall told how Greenleaf and his wife, Persis, decided to make the trip by sleigh.

“But when they got to Charleston,” Macdougall said, “they ran out of snow and had to turn back or wait for a wheeled vehicle.”

Greenleaf, Macdougall said, was concerned about issues that are familiar to Mainers today.

He struggled with the difficulty of attracting settlers to Williamsburg, where the soil was not the best for farming, and with the problem of keeping people there after they’d settled. He found it especially troublesome that many packed up and headed for Ohio.

Greenleaf was concerned with the role of state government and believed that it should be responsible for education and see that children in poor towns received the same quality of education as those in wealthy towns.

Greenleaf also was concerned with transportation, believing that in order to attract settlers and keep them in Maine, well-maintained roads were essential.

The Greenleaf homestead in Williamsburg is still standing, Macdougall said. Ironically, within 20 years after Greenleaf died in 1834, not one of his descendants remained in Maine. They all went west to Ohio.

While Macdougall was in the process of writing “Settling the Maine Wilderness,” Greenleaf’s journals were discovered in a descendant’s attic in the Midwest and added immeasurably to the text of the book.

Members of the audience wanted to know where Greenleaf’s papers are stored – they’re at the Maine State Archives in Augusta and the Maine Historical Society in Portland. They also were interested in Greenleaf’s anti-slavery beliefs.

Copies of “Settling the Wilderness: Moses Greenleaf, His Maps, and His Household of Faith, 1777-1834” are available by calling Barbara Kelly, 780-4072, or e-mail bkelly@usm.maine.edu. Macdougall also is the author of “The Old Somerset Railroad.”

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