History of York, Maine
From
A Gazetteer of the
State of Maine
By Geo. J. Varney
Published by B. B. Russell, 57 Cornhill,
Boston 1886
Transcribed by Betsey S. Webber



York, in the county of the same name, is a sea-coast town, and
the southernmost but one in the State. Within its limits was established
the first English city in America. In 1641 a tract near the mouth of
York River, three miles square, was incorporated by Sir Ferdinando
Gorges, proprietor of the province, as the town of Agamenticus. In
1642, Gorges, desirous of a suitable capital for his Province of Maine,
replaced the town corporation by a chartered city, upon which he be-
stowed the name of Georgeana. Its limits were seven miles inland
from the sea by three in breadth; and the Agamenticus (York) River
formed its south-western boundary. The date of the first settlement
of York is not known. Edward Godfrey, once governor of the pro-
vince, affirmed that he was an inhabitant in 1629 and 1630, and “the
first that built there.” In 1643 Gorgeana is believed to have had
between 250 and 300 inhabitants. Captain William Gorges, nephew
of the proprietor, had been appointed by him governor of the province,
having come over with his commission in 1635. He appears to have
visited England about the time of the breaking out of the war between
the Puritans and King Charles I., preceding the establishment of the
commonwealth and the protectorate of Cromwell. The death of the
proprietor of the province, Sir Ferdinando, occurring in 1647, and
nothing being heard from Governor William Gorges, the inhabitants of
Kittery, Gorgeana, Wells, and probably the Isle of Shoals, met in con-
vention at Gorgeana, and formed themselves into a confederacy for
mutual protection and just administration of the government, and Ed-
ward Godfrey was chosen governor. In 1652, when Massachusetts ex-
tended her jurisdiction over the province under a new interpretation
of the boundaries of her charter, the name of the city was changed
to York, and that of the province to Yorkshire, to avoid the city charter
and Gorges' right. The province was taken from the control of Mass-
achusetts by the commissioners sent by Charles II., in 1664, and placed
under the protection of the king; but in 1668, by the desire of a large
portion of the inhabitants, it was again placed under Massachusetts.
In 1674, the king ordered Massachusetts to relinquish her control in
Maine, and restored the province to the heirs of Gorges. Upon this,
Massachusetts, in 1677, purchased the whole province of Maine of its
proprietors; and in 1716, York was made the shire town of the county
of Yorkshire, which was now extended over the Sagadahoc region.

In each of the three first Indian wars, great efforts were made by
the savages to destroy the place, but without success. The most dis-
astrous of their attacks was in February, 1692, when an unexpected
assault was made early in the morning by two or three hundred Indians
under the command of Frenchmen. In half an hour, more than 150
of the inhabitants were either killed or captured. After burning all
the undefended houses on the north side of the river, the Indians
retired quickly into the wilderness with about 100 prisoners, and all
the booty they could carry. The effect of this affair was to make
relentless Indian fighters of many of the children who returned
from captivity, who remembered the cruelties and indignities inflicted
upon their parents. Two garrison houses, McIntire's and Junkin's,
built in this period were standing in the town, at a recent date.

Many men from York joined the Louisburg expedition in 1745,
among whom was Rev. Samuel Moody, who was a chaplain. The first
soldiers to enter the continental army from Maine are said to have
been from York. One Benjamin Simpson from this town, nineteen
years of age, apprentice to a bricklayer in Boston, helped destroy the
tea in the harbor. Among the military men of the town was Johnson
Moulton, who reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel. The news of
the battle of Lexington reached York at evening. The inhabitants
met on the following morning and enlisted a company of about sixty
men, furnished them with arms, ammunition, and knapsacks full of
provisions; and they marched 15 miles on the road to Boston and
crossed the ferry into Portsmouth before the day closed. The war of
1812 was not popular on the sea-coast, but the town met all the require-
ments of the government. In the war of the Rebellion, money was
freely paid out, and every quota promptly filled.

When the province of Maine was purchased by Massachusetts, all
unconveyed land and all rents of course reverted to Massachusetts.
To settle the titles in York, Thomas Danforth, in behalf of the gov-
ernor and council of the Commonwealth, in 1684, deeded to certain
citizens of the town as trustees in its behalf, all land granted to it by
the former proprietor, thus giving the town the right to dispose of the
unconveyed lands as it saw fit. The consideration was that each fam-
ily should pay two or three shillings annually to Massachusetts. Thus
the town acquired its present boundaries, which are the sea on the
east, Wells on the north, South Berwick on the west, and Eliot and
Kittery on the south. The number of acres of land in the town is
stated at 20,128. The bodies of water are Chase's and Folly ponds.
The first, which is largest, is 3 miles long and ½ mile wide, or 350
acres in area. The chief streams are York River, Chase's Stream and
Josius River. On Chase's Stream at Cape Neddick is a factory pro-
ducing woolen cloth and yarn. On the power lower down, having a fall
of thirty-five feet, is a saw and grist-mill. There are other small
powers in town which are used a portion of the time. At the Corner
is an extensive brick-yard, and several other small manufactories. At
each, Cape Neddick and York Village, are good harbors for the largest
coasting vessels. The Knubble light-house, at Cape Neddick, has a
fixed red light on a conical iron tower. The tower is painted red, the
lantern black. The keeper's dwelling, a one and a half story house,
painted white, stands fifty feet north of the tower. The town consti-
tutes a customs district.

The principal occupations of the inhabitants are sea-faring and
farming. One or more vessels are built in most seasons. There was
formerly much oak and pine timber in the town; but the larger trees
are now rare. The face of the country along the sea-shore is quite
broken or rocky. In the north-west part of the town is Agamenticus
Mountain, 680 feet in height, overlooking Chase's Pond at its verge.
The United States Coast Survey erected an observatory upon its
summit, from which an extended view of the country is obtained.
There are two notable headlands, Bald Head Cliff and Cape Neddock.
During storms, the sea beats grandly upon the massive blocks of stone
that form the high precipitous shore. The beach is one of the best on
the coast. Off the Nubble is a noted ducking ground. York has
several hotels, of which a number are intended mainly for summer
visitors. Its nearest railroad connections are Wells, South Berwick,
Eliot and Kittery stations, the last being the nearest and connected
by a daily stage-line.

The soil along the York River is clayey and fertile, but gravelly in the
interior. The proximity of the sea-shore fertilizers is quite an advant-
age to the farms. The apple-tree flourishes well and bears bountifully.
Large quantities of blueberries are picked. Corn, potatoes and hay
are the principal crops.

One of the earliest of the distinguished men of York was Colonel
Jeremiah Moulton, who served in the French and Indian wars, and
commanded a regiment at the siege of Louisburg. He was afterward
successively sheriff, councilor, judge of common pleas and of probate.
David Sewall, a native of the town, and a graduate of Harvard College,
was judge of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, and at his death, in
1818, was District Judge of the United States for Maine, having been
a judge forty-one years. William P. Preble, another native, was United
States Attorney for Maine, judge of the Superior Court, and minister
plenipotentiary to the Hague under President Jackson.

The first Congregational church of York is said to have been or-
ganized as early as 1672, by Rev. Shubael Dummer, whose ministry
the place began in 1662. A second congregational parish was incur-
porated in the north-western part of the town in 1730, which had been
recently settled by Scotch emigrants. In 1732 a church was organized,
and the Rev. Joseph Moody was settled as its pastor. The town has
now two Congregational churches, two Methodists, one Calvinist Bap-
tist, and two Christian chapels. The number of schoolhouses in town
is fourteen, and the value of the school property is estimated at $5,000.
The valuation of the town in 1870 was $771,766. In 1880 it was
$716,798. The rate of taxation is 13 ½ mills on the dollar. The pop-
ulation at the same date was 2,654. In 1880 it was 2,463.

Return to [Maine Towns]

Blind Counter