State used to give away land to settlers willing to help build country roads

To the Editor:

Our country roads in the St John Valley (les chemins des concessions) were developed by the State of Maine when our towns were yet plantations. You won’t find a road easement from an abutting land owner to the town because the State of Maine was the primary land developer at the time.

In 1849, a third party candidate ran against the Whig and Democratic Party candidates for the governor’s office. The Free Soil party candidate garnered 7,987 votes out of 73,781 votes cast. This had enough of an impact to influence the next Legislature to pass the Maine Settlement Act of 1850 which set the state as the land developer in the “plantations selected for settlement.”

Madawaska Plantation organized in 1844 qualified as one of those plantations in which the state land agent laid out public ways and sold homestead lots — not for free as the Free Soilers had sought, but rather cheap — with notes, or loans, payable not in cash but in labor on the roads for periods up to three years.

The roads were laid out as public ways before hand. The settler was required “to build a comfortable dwelling house on the lot” and “clear fifteen acres of land into grass in four years from the date of his land certificate.” Only upon completing these duties did the occupant return his certificate to the state land agent who then issued the title to the lot in a land grant.

In sum the State of Maine was the land developer.

In 1847, the Bishop of Boston visited the three parishes in the St. John Valley — St. Bruno in Van Buren Plantation and Ste. Luce in Madawaska Plantation in Maine, and St. Basile on the British side of the international border.

I chuckle when I read a note in the good bishop’s travel journal. It reads: “Saturday crossed the river and traveled by the worse road imaginable to St. Lucy.”

The main highway was likely just being worked on. That highway was set by a provision in the Treaty Grants of July 12, 1845, in which 10 percent of the land from each grant was reserved for public ways. So when the good bishop traveled to Ste. Luce in Madawaska Plantation, the road building crew had likely not finished the job. The plantation did not yet have selectmen. It only had a board of assessors comprised of Regis “Bonhomme” Daigle, Firmin Cyr and Sylvain Daigle.

They very likely had their hands full in discussions with the “fence viewer” over where the lines between the settlers lots were to be found and “who pays for setting the road across my lot?”

In sum, “nos chemins des concessions” came about as a “concession” to the Free Soilers in a law in which the State of Maine took on the role of land developer.

One must read the laws of the time to find the source of our country roads in the St. John Valley.

Guy Dubay


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