Select Page

Going their separate ways

Did you ever wonder what happened to the property and things that were part and parcel of one state when a new state was created out of its territory?

memassSo much of the United States was carved out of virgin territory — lands that, for example, the United States bought as part of the Louisiana purchase — that the issue didn’t come up all that often.

But it surely did come up in 1819-1820 when Maine was becoming a state on its own, after having been part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The Legal Genealogist was poking around in old Maine statutes last night, in anticipation of this weekend’s 2016 Annual Fall Conference of the Maine Genealogical Society in Brewer — sure hope to see everyone there!!

And in doing so I came across the act that said just what happened to the property and things that were part and parcel of Massachusetts when the State of Maine was created out of its territory.1

And it’s a fascinating peek into the thought processes of people faced with that kind of an issue.

Its key provisions:

• “All the lands … belonging to the Commonwealth (of Massachusetts), within the District of Maine, shall belong, the one half thereof, to the Commonwealth, and the other half thereof, to (Maine)…”2

• “… the lands within (Maine), which shall belong to (Massachusetts), shall be free from taxation, while the title to the said lands remains in the Commonwealth…”3

• “All the arms which have been received … from the United States, … shall, … be divided between the two States, in proportion to the returns of the Militia, according to which, the said arms have been received from the United States…”4

• “All monies, stock, or other proceeds, hereafter obtained from the United States, on account of the claim of this Commonwealth, for disbursements made, and expenses incurred, for the defence of the State, during the late war with Great Britain, shall be received by this Commonwealth, and when received, shall be divided between the two States, in the proportion of two thirds to this Commonwealth, and one third to the new State.”5

• “The new State shall, as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made for that purpose, assume and per form all the duties and obligations of this Commonwealth, towards the Indians within said District of Maine, whether the same arise from treaties or otherwise;” and to compensate the new State, Massachusetts was to pay Maine $30,000 or give it land worth that much.6

• “All grants of lands, franchises, immunities, corporate or other rights, and all contracts for, or grants of land not yet located, which have been or may be made by the said Commonwealth, before the separation of said District shall take place, and having or to have effect within the said District, shall continue in full force, after the said District shall become a separate State.”7

• But a special tax on banks to support Bowdoin College wasn’t to continue in force but rather be transferred to banks in Maine only. The special powers and privileges of the college were to continue in full force, and “all lands heretofore granted by this Commonwealth, to any religious, literary, or eleemosynary corporation, or society, shall be free from taxation, while the same continues to be owned by such corporation, or society.”8

• And the new State was barred from passing any laws that would disadvantage Massachusetts residents vis-a-vis Maine residents: no laws “with regard to taxes, actions, or remedies at law, or bars, or limitations thereof, or otherwise making any distinction between the lands and rights of property of proprietors, not resident in, or not citizens of said proposed State, and the lands and rights of property of the citizens of the proposed State, resident therein…”9

The Massachusetts law went on for several pages, setting out the need for an election where the residents of Maine would get to vote on whether they really wanted to be a separate state, and “to the end, that no period of anarchy may happen to the people of said proposed State, in case a new Constitution shall not be so adopted and ratified by the people of said District of Maine, the present Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, shall, with the terms and conditions aforesaid, … be provisionally, the Constitution or frame of government, for said District…”10

The act became law June 19, 1819.11

But there was a catch written into that Massachusetts law. It said that Congress had to go along by March of 1820. If Congress didn’t approve the new state by March 4, 1820, Maine would stay part of Massachusetts.12

Now we all know what happened. The people of Maine had been agitating for home rule for years — passing referendum after referendum in favor of statehood and, in that summer of 1819, they voted overwhelmingly for statehood. Delegates met in Portland and wrote a new Constitution for the new State. And when the issue came before Congress in December 1819, it hit a snag: slavery. Because Maine’s application came in at the same time as one from Missouri, which wanted to be admitted as a slaveholding state — and many people in Maine were adamantly opposed to any new slave states.13

The fight went right up to the last minute: it wasn’t until March 3 — one day before the deadline set in the Massachusetts law — that what became known as the Missouri Compromise was enacted, and Maine was admitted as a free state in return for Missouri being admitted as a slaveholding state.14

Ah, the stories you can find in the law books…


  1. “An Act relating to the Separation of the District of Maine from Massachusetts Proper, and forming the same into a separate and independent State,” in Laws of the State of Maine, 2 vols. (Brunswick, Me. : State Printer, 1821), II: 817; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 14 Sep 2016).
  2. Ibid., §1.
  3. Ibid..
  4. Ibid., at 818.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., at 819.
  7. Ibid., at 821.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid., at 826.
  11. Ibid., at 828.
  12. Ibid., at 824-825. See also “Massachusetts Loses Maine, March 15, 1820,” Mass Moments ( : accessed 14 Sep 2016).
  13. Massachusetts Loses Maine, March 15, 1820,” Mass Moments.
  14. Ibid.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email