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Cumberland & North Yarmouth

A Neighboring History of Two Towns

Our Shared History

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Map of North Yarmouth, 1687
Map of North Yarmouth, 1687Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

From One Town, Many: Ancient North Yarmouth

We are now two separate towns, but more than three hundred years ago, North Yarmouth and Cumberland, together with five of our neighboring communities, were all part of Ancient North Yarmouth. The original 1680 plantation of North Yarmouth encompassed present-day North Yarmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, Pownal, Freeport, Harpswell, and the Mere Point portion of Brunswick. It was one of the oldest and largest towns in the Province of Maine. Most of its settlers divided their land into lots and built along the immediate coast, particularly near the Royal River, named for William Royall, one of the earliest settlers of this area called Wescustogo.

Wilderness Origins
Long before the European settlers arrived, our region of Maine was home to members of the Abenaki tribe, who, together with the Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Mi’kmaq and Penobscot Indians, were members of the old Wabanaki Confederacy, the traditional adversaries of the Iroquois. The name Abenaki has an Algonquian root, meaning "people from the east." Settlement patterns suggest a rather fluid arrangement for the Eastern Abenaki, who farmed the fertile plains of the Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers, and spread out along lands west of Casco Bay in small family and tribal settlements.

King's Highway Marker
King's Highway MarkerItem Contributed by
Cumberland Historical Society

English Settlers Arrive
In the mid-1630s William Royall moved to the Casco Bay region from Salem, Massachusetts, and in March 1643 had his land holdings around the river known as Wescustogo confirmed by Thomas Gorges, Deputy Governor for the Province of Maine. In later years the river came to be known as the Royal River, the name it carries today. The Royalls were one of the earliest European settlers, but others soon followed. Most were from England; and many were descendants of settlers in Massachusetts. They were drawn to North Yarmouth, where great tracts of land were still available and natural resources, such as timber and fish, were abundant. William and Phoebe Royall settled on the eastern side of the Royal River. They built a house and farmed land between the Royal (Wescustogo) and Cousins (Chusquissacke) Rivers, in what is now present-day Yarmouth and Freeport.

Royal River
Royal RiverItem Contributed by
North Yarmouth Historical Society

Wescustogo had certain advantages: a good, protected harbor and plentiful reserves for fishing and hunting. The land was filled with huge trees which the European settlers could harvest for trade with England. More settlers followed and began to farm along the coast. The settlements grew in population taking more and more land, which created tensions with the native Abenaki. In 1676, the conflict between the natives, who had been generally welcoming, and the European settlers in New England became known as King Philip’s War. As part of this conflict, all 65 colonists of North Yarmouth were driven off the land on which they had settled. Some returned within a few years to resettle, but were again driven away after a series of attacks which were part of another regional conflict in 1688, known as King William’s War. The retreat from this second conflict was so complete that settlers did not return until around 1715.

The conflicts between the natives and the European settlers continued through the years, escalating during the French and Indian War of the 1750s, when many European settlers were captured, killed, or had their homes burned. However, the settlers were persistent and eventually the Abenaki moved further inland and north towards Quebec, which allowed the settlers to regain their footing. After 1758, peace prevailed and the white settlement of North Yarmouth, at the mouth of the Royal River, grew and prospered.

Establishing Boundaries and Lots
As the area was resettled after 1715, boundaries and lots were established. In the 1720s, twenty families returned to North Yarmouth and built three garrisons for protection. In 1727, the plantation was divided and mapped indicating specific land lots and ownership. North Yarmouth’s boundary with Falmouth was reestablished and marked by a large boulder known as the “white rock”. Returning settlers, who had been driven out in the Indian Wars, were given first choice of lots. Some selected new lots or incorporated them into their old lands. Newly arriving settlers chose from what remained.

One hundred and three original proprietors (owners) purchased “home lots” of 10 acres near the coast. If they were able to improve the lots and keep them occupied for five years, they received an additional lot of 100 or 120 acres in the interior back lots, known as the “after divisions.” This land was a valuable source of timber and after the trees were harvested, the property would serve as farmland. One hundred “after divisions” were created and sixty-four people became owners.

Cumberland Center, 1857
Cumberland Center, 1857

Settlements grow into Town Villages
Settlement progressed rapidly in Ancient North Yarmouth after the American Revolution. The descendents of the original proprietors had large families, and the population grew rapidly. On its books in 1764, North Yarmouth listed 188 families living in 154 houses, for a total of 1,097 inhabitants, including 18 African Americans. By the time of the first US Census of 1790, the town’s population had almost doubled, to 1,905 persons.

Walnut Hill Store
Walnut Hill StoreItem Contributed by
North Yarmouth Historical Society
Col. True's blacksmith shop
Col. True's blacksmith shopItem Contributed by
Cumberland Historical Society

Village centers began to develop where inhabitants could go to acquire goods or services—at general stores, blacksmiths, and carriage-making shops. Villages such as East North Yarmouth, Walnut Hill, and Poland’s Corner were centered around the local churches or at intersections of travel lanes, where inland roads met stagecoach routes. When railroad lines were established, in later years, villages grew where train depots were located.