Land Office Plan Books uploaded, available online

Land Office Plan Books uploaded

The Land Office Plan Books, in the holdings of the Maine State Archives, are a significant collection of surveys of the State and are frequently requested by researchers. The maps are from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Maine showing the division of lands among settlers and establishment of boundary lines between Massachusetts, Maine and Canada. They often include topographical descriptions and survey notes on the quality and quantity of timber and land. The earliest are from the mid-1700s.

The books had been imaged a few years ago, but archivist Heather Moran recently finished individually cataloging and geolocating each map, and then uploading the more than 1,800 pages to Digital Maine. The collection can now be found here: http://digitalmaine.com/planbook_maps/ 

Although the origin of land ownership in Maine may be traced back to 17th-century royal charters, proprietary grants, and Native American deeds, the derivation of the Maine Land Office begins with the creation of the Massachusetts Committee for the Sale of Eastern Lands in 1783. By encouraging the settlement of the frontier wilderness of Maine, the Massachusetts General Court hoped to generate revenues to counter the financial chaos left after the Revolution. The Committee for the Sale of Eastern Lands undertook surveys of the unorganized portions of the State; and, under various authorizations of the Massachusetts General Court, assumed responsibility for disposing of lands either by direct sale or by lottery. In 1794, when the Lottery failed, the Committee sold more than 2 million acres to William Bingham of Philadelphia. The General Court also authorized the granting of land for settlement of debts incurred by the State, in lieu of pensions to veterans of the American Revolution and the War of 1812 or their widows, and in payment of various State improvements.

In 1803 the Massachusetts General Court authorized the appointment of a Land Agent “to inspect and take care of the Public Lands in the District of Maine, to ascertain their bounds and situation where necessary, to superintend the preservation of all masts, timbers, and trees thereon, to inquire into all trespasses and intrusions on the said lands, and give information thereof to the Solicitor General…” The office of Maine Land Agent was created by the Maine Legislature in 1824. Shortly after Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820, a committee authorized under the Act of Separation to represent the two States proceeded to divide all public lands within the District of Maine between the respective states. It was not until 1853 that Maine purchased the remaining 1.2 million acres of land from Massachusetts for $362,500.

Concerned by the steady decline in the State’s population due to the lure of the American West and the trials of settling the harsh Maine wilderness, the Maine Legislature in 1870 fostered a movement to encourage the immigration of Swedish settlers to Aroostook County, with only moderate success. In 1874-1875 auctions of the remaining public lands were held, and by 1891 all lands had been disposed of and the Office of the Land Agent was discontinued and duties were transferred to the Forest Commissioner.

An example of one of the more colorful pages is below; note that there are three distinct maps in this image.

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