Maine is well known for its lobster and lighthouses. Some lesser-known facts about Maine date back centuries, though, with the nation’s most eastern state playing a significant role in its earliest history.
Here are seven facts you might not know about the history of Maine:
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1. Jamestown may get the glory, but the same year that famed Virginia colony was founded, Sir George Popham with the Plymouth Company led an expedition that put down roots at Popham Beach for what could have been the New World’s first permanent English settlement
. Those first settlers didn’t survive Maine’s harsh winters, though, and the Popham colony lost its claim to fame.
2. Maine holds the title as the site of America’s first chartered city, with the city soon to be called York founded in 1641. The state’s name wasn’t even established at the time, with early leaders throwing out alternatives including Somerset, Laconia, Columbus and the alternate spelling, which was Mayne. It took a charter in 1655 to officially designate the territory as Maine
3. Maine was established as an antislavery state.
It separated from Massachusetts in 1820 and was admitted to the union to balance proslavery Missouri. The state continued to play a role in defeating slavery going forward. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" at Brunswick, with the book stoking antislavery sentiment leading up to the Civil War.
4. Before Augusta became Maine’s capital, the statehouse was first located in the larger city of Portland
, at the corner of Congress and Myrtle streets. Leaders decided to move the capital to Augusta in 1832 because it’s more centrally located. For decades, Portland tried to win the capital back. It never succeeded, and the original statehouse there burned to the ground in 1866.
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5. Known as the birthplace of prohibition, Maine became the first dry state in the nation
, banning the sale and manufacture of alcohol in 1851. Temperance groups had been forming for decades, leading Portland Mayor Neal Dow to fight for the so-called “Maine Law.” Other states followed suit, culminating in national Prohibition in 1919. The Maine Law stayed in effect until Prohibition was repealed in 1932.
6. Maine native Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
, one of America’s most beloved poets, was born in Portland in 1807. He studied and became a professor at Bowdoin College. Many of his well-known works offer insight into his home state’s history and setting, with poems advocating abolition, chronicling the Revolution and reflecting on the American Indian population.
7. Thanks to plenty of regular rain and snowfall, Maine isn’t typically known for wildfires. But the state fell into drought in 1947, in what became known as “The year Maine burned.” Dry conditions continued for some time, triggering a series of fires that destroyed more than 200,000 acres of the Pine Tree State’s beloved forests.
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