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Town Records, Letters and Early Travel Accounts

Personal letters, travel accounts, and town records provide some scattered details on the early buildings in Maine.

Town Meeting Records
Early Travel Accounts

Town Meeting Records

Since towns were responsible for housing their minister, town meeting records often contain records of the construction of those parsonages. Ministers were leaders of the community, often the only college graduate in town. As a result, they usually had one of the better houses in town.

York, Maine Town Records Book, Volume I, p. 429.
At a legall Town Meeting held in York the 16 day of November, 1698. It is voted that there is a hous to be built forth with fvor the yous of the Ministry upon the Townes Land the demensions as foloeth: Twenty Eight feet in Length and Twenty feet wide with a Lentoe att one End twelve feet wide the house to be two story high with three fire places.

Saco, Maine Town Record Book, Volume I, p. 126.
May ye 12 day in ye eyer of our Lord 1683. At a genrel Town meten coled by the Conestabell.The tounmen ar ordered to agrey with som worcmen to bild a hous of thirty fut long systen fut wid and nin fut stod for a Minester.

Saco, Maine Town Record Book, Volume I, p. 133.
July 3. 1686.  It is ordered at this Meeting that ye Minesters house be mad according to ye dimentions as foloweth viz: 30 fut in length and 20 fut in bredth 15 fut & 1/2 stud with a Lintoo at one end....tis to be understood that ye house must have 4 chimbles.

Saco, Maine Town Record Book, Volume I, p. 133.
1686 At a Meeting held at John Sharps house by ye men before chosen to order conserning ye house & thay have ordered that Mr Blackman & John Egcome dus undertake to see ye afore mention hous framed, rased, and inclosed - John Sharp Georg Page is also see it shingled , Humfree Scamman to se ye sellare dug & stoned, Roger Hill, Francess Backus & Pendleton Fletcher is to see ye chimbes made of brick- 

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Letters were a constant source of information in the seventeenth century, including all aspects of life, including housing.

Acting Governor Thomas Gorges writing to his father, Henry Gorges, about the Governor’s mansion he has just moved into in York (Acomenticus) from Thomas Gorges, letter to Henry Gorges, July 19, 1640,  Robert E. Moody, ed., The Letters of Thomas Gorges (Portland: Maine Historical Society, 1978), 1.

I have now been these three weeks at Acomenticus where I was a welcome Guest to all sorts of people. I found Sir Ferdinando’s house much like your Barne, only one pretty handsome roome & studdy without glass windowes which I reserve for myself....I could wish my mother could see my good housekeepinge. I brew beer one day and tis good stale beer by the next day & we drinke it till we have mayde an end & then we drinke water till we can get more. This we must doe for heer are but few vessels. The weather is hot that quickly sowers it, & likewise I want hops, but now I am makinge a seller & have sent to the Bay for hops, so I hope to have all in a better order. In the meantime I am better contented than ever I was in England.

John Winter, manager of a fishing station on Richmond Island, to the station’s owner, Robert Trelawney,  from John Winter, letter to Robert Trelawney, June 18, 1634, James P. Baxter, ed., "The Trelawney Papers,"   Documentary History of the State of Maine (Portland: Maine Historical Society, 1884),III, 31-32.

Now for our buildinge and plantinge. I have built a house heare at  Richmon Island that is 40 foote in length & 18 foot broad within the sides, besides the Chimnay, & the Chimnay is large with an oven in each end of him, & he is so large that we Can place our Cyttell within the Clavell pece. We Can brew & bake and boyel our Cyttell all at once in him with the helpe of another house that I have built under the side of our house, wherre we sett our Ceves & mill and morter In to breake our Corne & malt & to dres our meall in, & I have 2 Chambers in him, and all our men lies in on of them, & every man hath his Close borded Cabbin: and I have Rome Inough to make a dozen Close borded Cabbins more, yf I have need of them, & in the the other Chamber I have Rome Inough to put the ships sailes into and all our dry goods which is in Caske, and I have a store house in him that will hold 18 or 20 tonnes of Caske Underneath: & underneath I have a Citchin for our men to eat and drinke in, & a steward Rome that will hold 2 tonnes of Caske which we put our bread and beare into, and every one of these romes ar Close with loockes & keyes unto them....and we have built a house for our pigs.

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Published Early Travel Accounts

Descriptions of the early settlements in New England were popular books back in England. Unfortunately, the English readers are more interested in exotic flora and fauna and Native Americans than descriptions of buildings. Still, several authors have left us vague hints about how the earliest buildings were built.

Christopher Levett  writes of spending five nights encamped at the mouth of the Saco River in Christopher Levett,  "A Voyage Into New England Begun in 1623 and ended in 1624," reprinted in Maine in the Age of Discovery (Portland:  Maine Historical Society, 1988), 40.

“We built us a wigwam, or house, in one hour’s space. It had no frame, but was without form or fashion, only a few poles set up together, and covered with our boats’ sails, which kept forth but a little wind and less rain and snow.”

Edward Johnson  described  a different tpe of primitive shelter in his Wonder-Working Providence (1654), reprinted in Jameson, J. Franklin, ed., Johnson's Wonder-Working Providence, 1628-1651 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910).

Although Johnson lived in Massachusetts, archaeological excavations in Maine have revealed sites identical to what he described. He observed that new settlers "burrow themselves in the earth for their first shelter under some hill-side, casting the earth aloft upon timber."

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