Chapter 1 – Settling Down (1650-1800)

The Squirrel Nest - By Heather

The Squirrel Nest - By Heather

“All right youngsters, let’s settle down. It’s time for your history lesson.” Benjamin, Elizabeth, Sammy and Mary scrambled around on the branches of the tree to get to their favorite places.

“When can we go play?” asked Benjamin.

Elizabeth nodded her head in agreement. “This is so boring. Why do we have to learn about history anyway? It already happened. I’d rather talk about those new songs I heard playing in my backyard.”

“Well, Elizabeth that’s true, history has already happened, but it still is important that we remember what’s happened. That way we can learn from the mistakes and the successes. We can understand why some things are the way they are now, by studying about how life was. For example, who knows what work, or industry, was first done in this area by white settlers?”

Sammy looked around. “Well, there are a lot of trees,” he said.

Dirt Roads of Durham - By Sandra

Dirt Roads of Durham - By Sandra

“Good thinking. You’re right, there are a lot of trees. The early settlers came here for the trees. The lumber was cut here and usually it was sent to Freeport and Yarmouth where ships were being built.” Freddy glanced at the young squirrels who had finally settled down and were paying attention.

“What did the town look like then?” asked Mary.

Freddy said, “Close your eyes and see if you can picture what I say.” The young squirrels closed their eyes. “Picture lots of trees with paths and dirt trails wide enough for wagons. The buildings were mostly log houses that were very far apart from each other. Most of the houses were probably near the river so that people could go fishing and get drinking water.”

“Who were some of the people that lived here?” asked Benjamin.

“There was a man named Judah Chandler who operated a saw mill in Royalsborough as early as 1766.”

“Wait a minute, where’s Royalsborough?” asked Benjamin.

“That was what this area was called at that time. Royalsborough was in the colony of Massachusetts in the British colony of America,” answered Freddy.

“You mean they moved the town?” questioned Elizabeth.

“No,” smiled Freddy, “The United States and the state of Maine weren’t formed yet. This colony wouldn’t be a country until after the American Revolution.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that. Who else was here at that time?” asked Benjamin.

“Samuel Gerrish was one of the first settlers in Royalsborough around 1770 along with John Cushing, Israel Bagley and Ebenezer Newell.”

“What was that rev-o-lu-tion that you talked about?” asked Mary.

“The American Revolution was when the colonists said that they wanted to make their own country because they didn’t like the laws and taxes that England was making them follow. There were many battles between England and the colonists. On July 4, 1776 The Declaration of Independence was signed by John Hancock and many others declaring the 13 colonies an independent nation.”

Log Houses - By Steph

Log Houses - By Steph

“But you said something about Royal…”

“That’s right,Mary. This area was called Royalsborough first and then on February 17,1789 the town of Durham was incorporated. That means it officially became a town. There were about 700 people living here at that time.”

“What kinds of things did people do back then?” asked Sammy.

“Well, answered Freddy, ” they had to spend most of their time working. It was quite a job to clear your land, grow your own food and hunt. They found ways of having fun, too. When they wanted to clear their land they’d have a ‘rolling bee’. The neighbors would come over and help cut trees, they’d roll them into a big pile and then burn them. There would be food for everyone and they probably played some games. Another thing they’d do is when someone killed a large animal, like a deer, they’d blow a horn and everyone would come and share the food.”

Bagley Inn - By Erika

Bagley Inn - By Erika

“That’s pretty nice. It sounds like they had to cooperate,” remarked Elizabeth.

“That’s true. Life was very hard then and cooperation was a way to make life easier and to survive.” Freddy glanced across the field.

“Did they ever leave home?” asked Benjamin.

“Oh, yes. Not as easily as people do today. They had to walk or ride a horse or ride in a wagon to get to nearby towns and that took a lot of time. After the corn crop had been harvested they would put the corn in a bag to carry on their shoulders. Then they’d take a path through the forest to a mill in North Yarmouth which was 12 -15 miles away. There the corn would be ground into cornmeal. They use the cornmeal to make things like cornbread.”

“What kind of buildings were around? Was this school there?””

No, Mary. This school building was built much later. The business center of town was midway between North Yarmouth and the Androscoggin River. About where the Rabbit Road crosses Rte. 136. There was a church there and the first store and public house was also in this area.

A public house is an inn where people could eat and stay the night. It was owned by Israel Bagley. That building is still standing today and it is still used as an inn because it is now a Bed and Breakfast. Around 1780, the first school was held at the inn.

“Wow, did they use that building as a school for very long?” asked Sammy.

“I’m not sure how long it was used as a school but around 1790 the town had grown enough to have 6 school districts with a one room school in each area.”

Elizabeth and Benjamin started pulling each other’s tails. The other squirrels started pushing and things were looking pretty bad. Freddy cleared his throat and then whistled. Everyone stopped and looked at Freddy.

“Well, youngsters I guess that you’ve listened to enough for today so you can go play. We’ll meet back here tomorrow to continue our history lesson.

“All right. Let’s go.”

The squirrels scampered over the branches and across the playground before you could blink. Freddy chuckled to himself and followed them into the distant trees.