How Dozens of Maine and Massachusetts Towns Sprang Into Being on One Day in 1775

On Aug. 23, 1775, several dozen towns suddenly sprang into existence in the Province of Massachusetts, which then included the Maine frontier.

With one sweeping declaration, the Massachusetts General Court declared that  all districts, along with towns,

…have full right, power, and privilege to elect and depute one or more persons, being freeholders and residents, in such Town or District, to serve for and represent them in any Great and General Court or Assembly

The rights and privileges of incorporated towns were suddenly granted from Cape Elizabeth to Woolwich in Maine, and from West Stockbridge to Wellfleet in Massachusetts.

Resuming Government

Sam Adams

Sam Adams

Incorporating new towns was just one of the ways the Massachusetts Bay General Court resumed governing in the summer of  1775.

After the Intolerable Acts closed the Port of Boston and allowed the quartering of British troops in people’s homes, the General Court resolved itself into the first Provincial Congress on October 7, 1774, and met in Concord. It soon dissolved, followed by two more short-lived Provincial Congresses. Finally, after the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Siege of Boston, the Provincial Congress asked the Continental Congress what its status was.

The Continental Congress decided the positions of governor, lieutenant governor, and the Governors Council were vacant. They urged Massachusetts Bay towns to create a temporary government.

That’s exactly what the Massachusetts towns did. They elected a new General Court, which selected a Governors Council from its members. On July 19, 1775, they assumed the powers of civil government.

On Aug. 23, 1775, the new government declared the enactments of the previous Provincial Congresses to be law.

It also enacted a law, signed by Secretary Samuel Adams, incorporating the new towns:

That every corporate body in this Colony which, in the act for the incorporation thereof, is said and declared to be made a District, and has by such act granted to it, or is declared to be vested with the rights, powers, privileges, or immunities of a Town, with the exception abovementioned of choosing and sending a Representative to the Great and General Court or Assembly, shall henceforth be, and shall be holden, taken, and intended to be a Town, to all intents and purposes whatsoever.

In Maine, the new towns of 1775 were Cape Elizabeth, Harpswell, Newcastle, Pepperellborough (changed to Saco in 1805) and Woolwich. (All Maine districts were accepted as towns by an act of the Maine Legislature in 1775.)

The 36 in what is now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts were Amherst, Charlton, Conway, Cohasset, Conway, Danvers, Egremont, Granville, Greenfield, Hubbardston, Huntington, Lenox, Ludlow, Monson, Montagu, New Braintree, New Marlborough, New Salem, Northborough, Northbridge, Oakham, Palmer, Paxton, Pepperell, Sharon, Shelburne, Shirley, South Hadley, Southampton, Southwick, Spenser, Wales, Ware, Wellfleet, West Stockbridge and Williamsburg.

With thanks to King and People in Provincial Massachusetts by Richard L. Bushman, American Archives and The Massachusetts Archives. Photo: ‘Samuel Adams’ by John Singleton Copley. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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