Historical Sketch of Lee Maine
The Story of an Old New England Town
History of Lee, Maine
by Vinal A. Houghton
Belgrade, Maine (Formerly Lee, Maine)

Nelson Print, Wilton, Maine

JAMES A. GARFIELD. our second martyred President, gave that study and received that disciplined mind fitting him for his heroic life work, at Williams College. in aid of that institution the State of Massachusetts granted Township No. 4, Second Range North of Bingham’s Purchase and east of the Penobscot river, afterwards Lee, the subject of this historical sketch. (February 19, 1805) The deed was not recorded until February 15, 1820.

This grant was sold to different parties, a majority to Nathaniel Ingersoll, of New Gloucester, Cumberland county, Maine, for which the College received, as appears by records in Massachusetts, the sum of $4,500.

The grant to the college was with the condition that thirty settlers were to be put on within three years, probably extended, as Ingersoll did not complete by himself, or those he sold to, the settling duties before 1828, or as appears by the college conveying the township to John Webber on May 11, 1835. Webber lotted out the town in 1820. and seemed to have paid a debt of Ingersoll and other grantees to the college, or a trustee for them.

In 1822 Ingersoll began to perform these settling duties, and to that end he employed a man in Lowell to commence a clearing in Lee. This man, arriving at a point sloping Leeward and in good soil, thought he had reached the point intended and felled ten acres — the amount required. He then reported the same to Ingersoll, or agent. who was about to pay him, when, it being uncertain that the clearing was made in Lee, a man by the name of Harrison Strong was sent to investigate, who reported the land situated in Lincoln half-township.

In 1823 a clearing of ten acres was made on what is now the Harrison Rich farm which is owned by Raymond Curtis, in the southwest part of the town; and in 1824 Jeremiah Fifield and wife, of Howland; Thomas Lindsay of Lowell; and Enoch Stone went to Lee and cleared up and planted the cutting made the year before.

Mrs. Lucy Fifield, wife of Jeremiah Fifield, afterwards received one hundred acres of land as a reward for being the first woman to penetrate the wilderness of Lee. March 13, 1825, Jeremiah Fifield and family located on the ridge on the farm later occupied by Soloman and George Crocker and now abandoned. This ridge lies on a cross-road lying between the Winn and Lee and Lee and Lincoln roads.

In March, 1826, John Tucker of Dexter, Maine, came to Lee and located on the ridge just west of the lot now occupied by Bert Smith. In June, Samuel Parker of Lowell located on the lot just west of Tucker’s. About the same time Isaac Hobbs, of Howland, located on what was later known as the Ames lot and is now owned by Daniel Murchison.

In 1827 the first white child born in Lee saw light. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Tucker. Her name was Mary Lucy. She became the wife of John Varney. Her son, George A. Hanscom, resides in Lee.

The first marriage in Lee was in 1826, when Lucy, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Fifield, became the wife of Thomas Lindsay, one of the 1824 pioneers.

Judith, a daughter of Samuel Parker, was the first child to die in Lee; while the first death of an adult was that of a Mr. Robinson, of Sydney.

The first school in Lee was built by Jeremiah Fifielci and was taught by his daughter Lucy. It was a warm and homelike log-cabin. Among the first male teachers were John Towle, son of Joseph Towle, of Bangor; Benjamin Arnold and John Jackson.

At this early day there were two outlets to civilization, but when they were made can not be ascertained. The United States Government cut a road through the woods from below Lincoln mill. It ran through Lee and Springfield, direct to Houlton, and was used for the transportation of troops and rafters, and for getting supplies to the troops at Houlton. This road was followed by the county road now known as the Lee and Lincoln road, and east of Lincoln as the Lee and Springfield. In the deed it is called the St. Johns road.

Oaks and Cowan who had been engaged in lumbering in Springfield and on what is now Webster Plantation, east of Winn, had a winter road start from where Joseph Snow had located in Winn, in 1820, about a mile from the Lincoln line, running back, very soon struck the town line between Winu and Lee. Following this it very soon struck the line between Springfield and Webster Plantation, and so on to the Mattagordus Stream, where Oaks and Cowan were lumbering in 1826-27. Mattagordus Stream emptied into the Mattawamkeag less than a mile above the village of Kingman. This Oaks and Cowan road was used for a while by a mail carrier to Houlton. Starting from Snow’s with the mail bag over his shoulder, he trudged along this road until he reached the Mattawamkeag, beyond Prentiss. From here he rowed to Haynesville, where. he again took up his journey overland to Houlton. Over this road the immigrants came into Lee with their families. This route can not be traced now as the new forest growth has entirely effaced the old road.

In the. meantime, from the time Ingersoll had commenced the clearing on the Rich place in 1823 he had been actively engaged in inducing settlers to locate in Lee, and had negotiated a large number of tracts from two hundred and fifty acres to one thousand acres in extent to different parties. but had not yet performed his settling duties sufficient to obtain a deed, and in fact did not until 1828.

In 1823 Williams College sold to Samuel I. Mallett, of Litchfield, Kennebec county, Name, fifteen hundred acres for which he paid the same price as Ingersoll, on condition he should settle upon it. Mallett looked over the situation and concluded to put in some mills on the west branch of the Mattakeunk Stream, which crosses the Lee and Springfield road at Lee Village. This sale was made June 5, 1827, Mallett giving a mortgage to the college for the payment, which, however, he failed to pay, though he performed his settling duties as agreed. The same year, Mallett and James D. Merrill of Litchfield, who had purchased from Roger Merrill a claim of two hundred and fifty acres, joined their means and built a saw-mill and in 1828 a grist-mill, on the Mattakeunk Stream, a few rods east of the crossing of the Winn and Lincoln roads at the center of the village. A saw mill stands on the Stream today, not on the location of the first one, however.

During the years 1826-27-28, a large number of settlers came into town, especially in 1827, so that by the following year Ingersoll and Mallett completed their settling duties, and obtained a deed of the township from the State of Massachusetts.

Mr. Mallett’s settlers were: Samuel Mallett, James D. Merrill, David Maxwell, Caleb Wilbor, Godfrey Jackson, Hiram Staples and William Randall.

Mr. Ingersoll’s settlers were: Bradley Blake, John Jackson, Enoch Stone, Thomas Lindsay, Jeremiah Fifleld, Samuel Parker, John Tucker, Joel Barnard, Captain Benjamin Arnold, Aipheus Hale, Samuel Moulton, Joseph Hanscom, Joseph Smith, John Carpenter, Jabez Norton, Benjamin Whitten and Moses Thurlow.

Among the other early settlers were: Alvah Tibbets, Joseph and Aaron Rollins, Winslow and Jeremiah Staples, John Lunt, John Moss, Alvord Cushman, George Trask, David Henry, Peleg Jones, Albert Getchell, William Doylers, Captain J. W. Hall, John Snyder, John Mallett, David Dyer, John Ludden, Benjamin Jackson, Alexander Potter, David Bailey, Stephen Lee, Elisha Brown and John Gott.

In 1829 Benjamin Whitten came from Litchfield, and located about a mile and a half from the village on the road to Lincoln, now known as the Chesley Whitten farm and occupied by Charles Thurlow, Jr. Mr. Whitten was afterwards a contractor to get out the timber for the Mattawamkeag bridge, near a brook running into the Mattawamkeag, which later became known as Whitten brook. His grandson, Fred C. Whitten, is Town Treasurer and one of the more prosperous merchants of the town, today.

One of the most active business men of Lee was Arthur Prentiss, who came here from Paris. He was a trader and blacksmith. He built the Elm House. now occupied by H. L. Haskell. and kept the first hotel in Lee. He and his brother, Addison, were the first traders in Lee. He was a cousin of Henry Prentiss, one time professor at West Point and later Mayor of Bangor.

Godfrey Jackson, one of Mallett’s settlers, came to Lee from Sydney in 1827, being a skillful carpenter, he framed the Mallett mills. He made a location near the mills, at what is now the Tuck place; and afterwards, through sickness in his family, he had his attention called to. medicine, and took up the study at a medical college. After completing the course he returned to Lee and became the first settled. physician. He was a lover of the great out-of-doors and spent much time trapping. He caught twenty-two bears and one wolf during. his stay in Lee.

Somewhere during the next decade, two important lawsuits occurred, which greatly interested the settlers in Lee, and lasted for twelve years in the State and United States Courts. Nathaniel Ingersoll, the purchaser of the College grant, conveyed his titles in Lee to Joseph E. Foxcroft, a resident of New Gloucester, who had been a member of the Massachusetts Legislature which gave the Lee grant. When Maine became a State Mr. Foxcroft became a member of the Maine Legislature. He soon brought suit for the Mallett mortgage, which then remained unpaid; and obtained judgment before Judge Shepley for his claim against Mallett and against the settlers on Mallett’s land.

Previous to these suits Ingersoll had by many expeditions endeavored to obtain from the settlers pay for his land sold them, or for the land on which they had made improvements, but they in many instances declared that they had paid enough.

They felt harassed by Ingersoll and his agents, and in more than one instance gave evidence of those sentiments by acts hardly to be misunderstood, and yet not unmingled with the ludicrous.

On one occasion Ingersoll had gone to Lee with a Deputy Sheriff. Sanders, from Passadumkeag. and had taken a load of goods which one William Doble was hauling out to Lincoln for him, when crack went a rifle from the woods nearby, and the officer’s horse fell under him. The driver unhitched his team, and cleared for Lincoln over the hilltop nearby, with Ingersoll and the officer, leaving the goods and the vehicle in the woods. Soon after one William Randall, living in Lee, who was something of a resident agent, went out to Lincoln to get some word from Ingersoll about his affairs in Lee, as he (Ingersoll) rather feared to came back to Lee, and Randall, as he got along to the horse, was trying with the aid of his knife to get the shoes and nails off the dead horse. While intent on this, a bullet struck the frog of the horse’s foot. Randall fled, not even taking his knife, which he afterwards sought for in company with a friend. For years after that horse’s feet were to be seen on the roadside fence as a reminder of the troublous times in Lee that tried men’s souls and horse’s feet.

On another occasion, while the tenantry were itching to give Mr. Ingersoll a personal castigation, the wife of John Tucker, a big, brawny, muscular woman, of whom there are innumerable anecdotes told, volunteered to perform a “birch withing,” for which she was to receive a new gown. So, hearing he was in town, she got her birches and placed them behind the door, and when he called she very cordially invited him in and then gave him an unmerciful beating. Ere the morning sun illumined their household she had her gown, but Ingersoll took her back to the Police Court at Bangor, where she was fined one cent and costs, which was paid by her neighbors in Lee, while she worked in a hotel to pay her way at Bangor and return. *

As appears by a suit of Joseph E. Foxcroft vs. David E. Barnes, to recover the westerly half of lot 12, fifth range. in Lee, the trustees of the college conveyed the township, May 11, 1835, to John Webber. Nathaniel Ingersoll had conveyed all his interests in the township to John Webber on June 19, 1835, and John Webber, on July 19, 1835, conveyed one-hal.f the lands which he had purchased of Ingersoll and of the trustees of William College, to Joseph E. Foxcroft, of New Gloucester.

An abstract furnished by A. W. Paine, Esq., of Bangor, one of the counsel fcir the Mallett land and tenants, in the several lawsuits which involved nearly all the settlers’ claims in town, may afford a clearer idea of the situation and the principles involved:

“The township of Lee was originally granted by the Legislature of Massachusetts to Williams College, and by the College sold in individual parcels to various individuals, as occasion offered, but mostly to parties in Cumberland county. The town was incorporated in 1832. Soon after its incorporation, in 1834, a series of lawsuits was commenced, which lasted for about a dozen years. The litigation pertained mainly to lots No. 11 in the Fourth and Fifth Ranges, though several other lots were involved. They were the lots on which the mill privileges were located, and then owned and occupied by Samuel T. Mallett and his sons. The village was built mostly on these lots.

“The point in dispute was in many respects simple, though calling out a great amount of legal learning, both on the part of counsel and Courts. The original grant was made subject to the condition that the grantee should within three years place on the township thirty settlers. Mallett, having become interested in the town and settled there, had bought and paid for fifteen hundred acres, with the pur-. pose of performing one-fourth the conditions of getting settlers, the acres known being in common. He afterward took a deed of six thousand acres, made in common, and mortgaged the same back to the college, describing the land as * The same this day conveyed to me and subject to the settlers’ lots as land drawn on plan.’”

A proprietors’ meeting was then held to make partition of the land among the owners, at which meeting fifteen lots were assigned to settlers of the fifteen hundred acres, in Lots 11, in Fourth and Fifth Ranges, being a part, but the lots were not marked as such on the plan referred to in the deed, Mallett having thus seventy-five hundred acres in all, six thousand of which were subject to the mortgage. The mortgage was produced, and the holder, then filed a petition for partition in the State Court, which was resisted on the ground that the mortgage did not cover the settlers’ lots. The case was severely contested, but the court over-ruled the objections and granted the petition, and then affirmed the partition, which assigned the lots in question to the petitioner. Other suits were brought, all of which met with a like fate, the court being fixed in the purpose of dooming all the settlers’ lots owned at the time of the mortgage. as forming a part of the land included therein.

In 1842 Mallett, having fought the State Court some eight years without success, by advice of counsel, assigned all his interests to his son David. who moved to New Hampshire and brought his suit for right of the two lots in question in the Circuit Court of the United States, where it was tried before Judge Story with success to his side. From his decision the case went to the United States Supreme Court, which in January, 1846, affirmed the judgment of the Court below and gave Mr. Mallett his land free from all adverse claim; thus overruling the whole series of decisions in the State Court, and established his title as good and valid. W. P. Fessenden and A. W. Paine were counsel for Mallett in United States Court, and Judge Preble and Deblois, for Foxcroft. In the State Court F. Allen and T. P. Chandler appeared for Mallett, and Abbott and Rogers for the College.

On February 2, 1832, Township No. 4. in the Second Range of townships east of the Pençbscot River and north of Bingham’s Purchase, was incorporated into a town by name of Lee. The act of incorporation is on the records of Lee attested by John A. Hyde, town clerk.

Probably if the town had been called for some waterway, it would have been named Mattakeunk, but instead, it bears a short English name.

It is said that Stephen Lee, suggested his name, while others say the modest gentleman suggested the name of General Lee. the Revohitionary Patriot, and to insure the success of his patriotic suggestion offered a barrel of rum as treat.

Another version is that, at the time the citizens were trying to agree on a name for the town, it was decided. to name it a fter the next child born. The next child was that of the Lees!

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