Hancock County has the most extensive seaboard and
more numerous harbors than any other coast of equal extent in the United States. Its geographical position is mainly
between 43° 58’ and 45° 20’ north latitude, and between 60° 47’ and 68° 30’ west longitude. It
is hounded by Washington County on the east, Penobscot and Waldo Counties on the north and west. From north to
south it measures about 85 miles, and in width varies from 6 to 40 miles. The total area is about 1,632,000 acres,
of which 904,528 acres nearly is land, 637,472, ocean, 90,000 pond, and 100,000 island. Nearly half the land is
wild. Hancock County contains 1 city, 31 incorporated towns, and 29 inland and island townships. Within its civic
limits are hundreds of islands, one of which, Mount Desert, is the most conspicuous of any upon the whole Atlantic
coast of the United States. Hancock County was organized in 1789, with Penobscot for its shire town. It then included
portions of Penobscot and Waldo counties, and extended northward to the Canada line. In 1791 a portion was set
off and annexed to Lincoln County. In 1827, a portion was taken off for Waldo. In 1831, and again in 1844 a change
was made in the partition line between Hancock and Washington Counties. In 1858, Greenfleld was set off and annexed
The first European who made definite mention of the Penobscot bay and river, which wash its western side, was Thevet,
a French explorer, in 1556. Martin Pring amid Captain Weymouth, the English explorers, sailed along its shores
in 1603 and 1605, and DeMonts, the Frenchman, explored some portions of the coast in 1604 and 1605. There is a
tradition that Rosier, the historian of Weymouth's expedition, explored Deer Island thoroughfare, making a halt
at the bold promontory in Brooksville, known as Cape Rosier. They found the county occupied by a tribe of Indians,
who with those on Passarnaquoddy waters, were noted for their long journeys in canoes; whence the general name
for these Indians, Etechmins. DeMonts claimed the country in the name of the King of France in the true catholic
style, setting up a cross and calling the country “Acadie.” By this name it continued to be known until the capture
of Quebec by general ‘Wolfe in 1759. When Weymouth came in 1605, he also claimed the country in the name of his
King, James I. of England. Thus the two leading powers of Europe became adverse claimants of the soil of Hancock
County, and the wars these claims occasioned kept the county an almost unbroken wilderness during the provincial
history of Maine. Indeed, it was not until after the war of the Revolution that the French claim to the territory
between the Penobscot and St. Croix was relinquished. The patent of Acadia granted to DeMonts in 1603 was surrendered
two years later to Madame de Guercheville; who, in 1613, sent over Saussaye with 25 colonists. This lady was a
zealous Catholic, and wished to convert the Indians to that faith. Her colony landed on Mount Desert on May 16,
1613, where they built a fort, erected a cross, celebrated mass, and named the place “St. Sauveur.” The exact locality
is now supposed to be that now known as Ship Harbor, in the town of Tremont. The “Pool” at Somes Sound, is supposed
to have been the place where the Jesuit missionaries, Biard and Masse, located themselves in 1609. This colony
was attacked, captured, and removed from the island in the same season by Captain Argall, of Virginia.
The first English possession was a trading post of the Pilgrims at Pentagoet (Castine) in 1625—6. This, however,
soon fell into the hands of thr French, and the flag of France floated over it during nearly the whole of the 17th
century. The indications of old French settlements have also been found at Castine, Newbury Neck, Surry, Oak Point,
Trenton, East Lemoine, Crabtree’s Neck, Hancock, Butler Point, Franklin, Waukeag Neck and Sullivan. No permanent
English settlements were made until after the fall of Quebec, in 1759.
The first grants of land in the county were six townships, each six miles square, between the rivers Penobscot
and union (then known as the Donaqua), which were granted to David Marsh et als, by the General Court of Massachusetts,
upon conditions, one of which was that they should settle each township with 60 Protestant families within six
years. These grants were No. 1, Bucksport; 2, Orland; 3, Penobscot; ; 4, Sedgewick; 5, Bluehill; and 6, Surry.
Six other townships east of the Union River were granted on the same terms; three of which are in this county,
viz.: No. 1, Trenton, granted to Eben Thorndike, et als; 2, Sullivan, to David Bean, et als; and 3, Mount Desert
(Island) to Governor Bernard. The surveys were made by Samuel Livermore; and as there were three of the townships
on each side of the river, it gave rise to the name which the stream now bears. The grantees individually bound
themselves in a penal bond of $50, conditioned to lay out no one of the townships more than six miles in extent
on the banks of the Penobseot, or on the sea-coast; to build sixty dwelling-houses, at least 18 feet square; to
fit for tillage 300 acres of land, erect a meeting-house and settle a minister. There were reserved in each township
one lot for a parsonage, another for the first settled minister, a third for Harvard College, and a fourth for
the use of Schools; making 1,200 acres in each township, reserved for public uses.
The King of France, about the year 1688, gave to a French gentlemen named Cadilliac a tract of land in Acadia
embraceing the whole of Mount Desert Island, and a portion of the mainland. This he held till 1713, styling himself
“Lord of Donaqua and Mount Desert.” After the war of the Revolution, one M. Gregoire claimed the whole island in
right of his wife, Maria T., a grand-daughter of Cadilliac. Governor Bernard, to whom the island had been granted
lost his title by confiscation, but one half of it had been restored to his son John. In consideration of a request
made by Lafayette in favor of the Gregoire’s claim, Massachusetts recognized it as valid; and this is the only
French claim ever sustained to lands in Maine. The heir of Cadilliac therefore received a quit-claim deed for 60,000
acres on the mainland. This inluded the present towns of Trenton and Lemoine, with a part of Sullivan, Ellsworth,
Hancock, Eden and Mount Desert, with the islands in front of the seaboard. A survey of this grant was made by John
Peters in 1789.
In 1786, Massachusetts attempted a lottery sale of fifty townships of land between Penobscot and Passamaquoddy.
These were exempt from taxes for fifteen years. There were 2,720 tickets, and the price was $2 each. Every one
was a prize ticket; the smallest prize being a tract of land a half mile square, and the largest six miles square.
Leonard Jarvis of Surry, was one of the five managers. On the drawing of the lottery, only 437 were found to be
sold and 165,280 acres drawn; while 942,112 acres remained unsold. The average price realized by the government
for the lands drawn was about 52 cents per acre. The lots not drawn, and also the greater part of the prize lots
were purchased by ‘William Bingham, of Philadelphia, a man of great wealth. He died in England in 1803, leaving
one son and two daughters. One of the daughters married Alexander Baring, of London, who subsequently became Lord
Ashburton; and as ambassador to the United States in 1842. framed with the secretary of state, Daniel Webster,
the treaty fixing the eastern and western boundary of Maine, known as the "Webster-Ashburton Treaty.” The
lottery townships in Hancock County sold to Mr. Bingham were Nos. 14, 15 and 16, (possibly, also, those "up
river” townships sold to him,) each containing 23,040 acres. The conveyance of these three was made January 28,
1793, by Samuel Phillips, Leonard Jarvis and John Reed, a committee appointed by the General Court of Massachusetts.
In 1792, Barthelemy de Gregoire sold 23,121 acres of his grant to Henry Jackson, of Boston; which in 1796, was
purchased by Mr. Bingham, who about the same time also purchased the residue of the Gregoire grant. Col. John Black,
an Englishman by birth, who resided at Ellsworth for many years, was agent for the Bingham heirs.
Hancock County has one mountain chain, and one group of mountains. The line stretching across Mount Desert Island
is a continuation of the Schoodic system, as are also Mount Desert Island anti the Porcupines. There are thirteen
well-defined peaks on Mount Desert Island, of which Green Mountain, in Eden, is highest, having an altitude of
1,522 feet above the sea. In Dedham is a mountain group, where ten mountains are clustered together, from which
the town has gained the name of the “Switzerland of America.” The other elevations sufficiently high to deserve
the name of mountains, are Blue Hill Mountam, in Blue Hill; Bull Hill Mountain, in Eastbrook; Ball and Tunk Mountain,
in Number 10, and Lead Mountain, in Number 28. There are narrow defiles of the gorge form at Morgan’s Bay, Surry,
McHeard’s Landing, in Blue Hill, and near Mason’s Mills, in Orland. There is much waste land, known as "Hesths."
The county has three drainage streams: the Penobscot River on the west, the Union in the Middle, and Narraguagus
on the east. The area within the county, tributary to each drainage basin, as computed from Walling’s surveys,
is Union River, 516,250 acres; Penobscot River, 252,440 acres; Narraguagus River, 113,510 acres. There are about
300 islands within the county limits, 270 of which are represented on the county map. The light stations in the
county are No. 10, Prospect Harbor, 5th order; 11, Winter Harbor, 5th order; 12, Mount Desert, 3d order; 13, Egg
Rock, 4th order; 14, Baker’s Island, 4th order; 15, Bear Island, 5th order; 16, Bass Harbor, Head, 5th order; 17,
Burnt Coat Harbor, 5th order; 18, Burnt Coat Harbor 4th order; 19, Eggemoggin, 5th order; 20, Saddleback Ledge,
5th order; 22, Deer Island Thoroughfare, 4th order; 23, Eagle Island Point, 4th order; 24, Pumpkin Island, 5th
order; 33, Dice’s Head, 4th order; total number, fifteen.
The rock formation of the county is mainly granite, syenite and gneiss. The granite formation appearing at the
surface at Deer Isle continues in a curve through Blue Hill, Sedgewiek, Brooksville, Orland, North Ellsworth, Number
8, Franklin, Sullivan, and ends at Mount Desert. In Eden there is red granite. Most of the granite in Bucksport,
Orland, Dedham, Waltham and Eastbrook is porphyritic, with black mica, like those huge bowiders at Ellsworth Falls.
Within the horse-shoe-like circle of granite which curves from Deer Isle to Mount Desert, the rock is mostly mica
schist, or a micaeous slate. The valley bed of the Union River basin is of this rock. The most abundant variety
of this class of rock consists of alternate layers of mica and quartz. It indicates the presence of gold rather
than coal. At Buck’s Harbor, in Brooksville, Green’s Landing, in Deer Isle, McHeards, in Blue Hill, at Somes Sound,
and in Sullivan and Franklin, the granite crops out in massive form. Extensive deposits of plastic clay are found
at Castine, Penobscot, Ellsworth and Surry. The whole extent of the county is what is termed a “glaciated surface,”
the soil of which is formed chiefly of the simple geological formation “drift.” The course of this drift is shown
by the striae, or scratches upon the ledges, varying from N. 15° W. to N. 15° E. Verd Antique, or green
marble, is found at Deer Isle. Milk-white marble, such as is used for statuary, is said to occur in Eden and Mount
Minerals and ores are found as follows: Brooksville, iron pyrites; Blue Hill,—fluor spur, galena (lead ore), wolfram
(ore of tin), hydrate of silica, manganese, limestone, phosphate of lime; Bucksport,—limestone, clay slate, quartz;
Castine,—quartz, argillacious slate, plastic clay; Deer Isle,—asbestos, novaculite, limestone. Veins of zinc and
copper occur in No. 7 and in Gouldsboro. Bog iron is found in almost every town. Gold has been found in Bucksport,
Orland and Surry.
An abstract of observations in temperature in Surry shows that the average degree of greatest cold for four years
was 12° 20’ below zero; and the average of greatest heat for the sanie length of time was 92° Fahrenheit.
The mean summer temperature for the same time was 67° 21’, and the yearly mean 44° 44’. Hancock County
has two customs districts, two ports of entry, six deputy districts, eight ports of delivery, twenty-six hailing
ports, and thirteen United States custom house officials. The county was organized in 1789, being named in honor
of John Hancock. Portions were taken from it in 1816 to form Penobscot, and in 1827, to form Waldo. Ellsworth has
been the shire town since 1837. The valuation of estates in the county in 1870 was $7,554,073. In 1880 it was $7,897,488.
The population in 1870 was 36,495. In 1880 it was 38,131.