Maine

David Dunbar Tries to Steal Maine from Massachusetts in 1729

David Dunbar had an uncanny ability to agitate people. He was born in Ireland to a family of little means, but in 1708 he married Mary Murough, niece of an Irish Lord who served in Parliament. Through these connections he received an appointment to be surveyor of the king’s lands and lieutenant governor of New Hampshire in 1727.

Historians have little positive to say about Dunbar. In his History of New Hampshire Edwin Sanborn notes: “David Dunbar (was) an Irishmen by birth and a bankrupt colonel of the British Army. He was needy, greedy and arrogant. He possessed no qualifications that fitted him for his new position.”

Upon his arrival in New Hampshire, Dunbar immediately joined the faction pushing to expand New Hampshire’s land holdings, in direct opposition to Massachusetts’ political leaders Jonathan Belcher and William Dummer. Belcher would eventually serve simultaneously as governor of both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He was hoping to unite the colonies.

New Hampshire vs. Massachusetts

david dunbar

Twilight in the Wilderness, Frederic Edwin Church (Cleveland Museum of Art)

There were as many as six conflicting land grants that established wildly different boundaries for Massachusetts and New Hampshire. To the extent that he favored either side, Belcher sided with Massachusetts, where most of his business interests lay.

The competing sides took their case to England and all agreed that the king should make the final decision. King George II surprised almost everyone by siding with New Hampshire and giving the state much more property than expected. The decision was based on his reading of the original grants and their intention. He may also have believed New Hampshire was more loyal to the Crown.

Dunbar and his friends had won. He was a thorn in Belcher’s side in other ways, as well. Dunbar agitated local forest holders by aggressively enforcing laws against cutting timber that could be used as masts for ships of the British Royal Navy.

He was so despised that he was attacked in Exeter, N.H. by enraged residents who disguised themselves as Indians, beat up a surveying party, sank their boat and chased them into the woods, where they hid all night. Dunbar, in letters to England, would fume that Belcher and his government forces allowed the attackers to escape unmolested. It was probably not true, though Belcher had no affection for Dunbar.

New Hampshire’s Sancho Panza

In his letters, Belcher mocked David Dunbar. He referred to him as St. Patrick, because of his Irish roots. And he took great pleasure in deflating the rumor that Dunbar’s wife would receive an inheritance of 2,500 pounds per year. The sum, he assured his friends, was 200 pounds.

Belcher often referred to Dunbar in his letters as “Sancho,” or “Sancho Panza” – a reference to the fool in the Don Quixote stories. And indeed there was a Quixotic quality to some of Dunbar’s pursuits. Another nickname Belcher had for Dunbar was “His Pemaqui-ship,” a reference to their biggest dispute.

In all the land grabbing that went on around 1730, Dunbar, who had a military colleague serving on Britain’s Board of Trade, managed to obtain permission to settle a colony in what is now Maine’s Pemaquid Region. In trying to curry favor with the king, he naturally proposed calling this new colony Georgia. And he would be its governor.

David Dunbar – Governor?

Dunbar wasted no time in setting up his new colony. He constructed Fort Frederick, on the foundations of old Fort William Henry at Pemaquid. Dunbar lured several hundred settlers to Pemaquid, drawing on Irish immigrants and New Englanders from elsewhere who were unsatisfied with the government. He offered land grants more generous than those available from other colonies.

He even temporarily received the blessings of the Penobscot people, who welcomed him as a friend. They soon rescinded their friendship. Meanwhile, the settlers built new homes and the seeds of a new trading post with the Indians began to take root. Dunbar quickly established six additional towns in the area as well.

Dummer and Belcher were furious, as were the leaders of New Brunswick. All parties – Massachusetts, New Brunswick and the Penobscots and other Indians in the area - believed Dunbar was trespassing on their land.

The agents for Massachusetts raised the matter in England. The King’s Privy Council reviewed the Board of Trade’s decision. The Council and the king decided the board and Dunbar had overstepped their authority. The new colony of Georgia was officially terminated.

In the aftermath, Dunbar was eventually brought back to England, where he served time in prison for unpaid debts. The fort he constructed at Pemaquid, meanwhile, would survive until 1775 when colonists destroyed it so it could not be seized and used by the British in the American Revolution.

Thanks to: Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690–1763, Jeffers Lennox.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like: New Hampshire’s Pine Tree Riot of 1772.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Claire C

    August 7, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Near the end you give 1630, instead of 1730, as the date of Dunbar’s attempt to settle the colony of Georgia in the Pemaquid area.
    Wikipedia presents him in a more favorable light.

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