On Aug. 23, 1775, 40 towns suddenly sprang into existence in the Province of Massachusetts, which then included the District of Maine.
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
Suddenly settlements from Woolwich in Maine to West Stockbridge in Massachusetts could send a representative to the Great and General Court.
The Great and General Court, however, had just come into existence as well. It all had to do with setting up a new government after the colony had decided to kick out the British.
Things had gotten a bit chaotic in Massachusetts during that summer of 1775. Before then, the the General Court had resolved itself into the first Provincial Congress on October 7, 1774, The action followed the passage of the Intolerable Acts, which closed the Port of Boston and allowed the quartering of British troops in people’s homes.
Lawmakers met in Concord. They appointed Henry Gardner as receiver-general and organized the Committee of Safety for the colony’s defense.
The first Provincial Congress didn’t last, though. Two more short-lived Provincial Congresses followed. In May, after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Provincial Congress No. 3 asked the Continental Congress to clarify its status. At the same time it disqualified Thomas Gage as governor, something of a formality since militias had Boston under siege.
The Continental Congress decided Massachusetts had no governor, lieutenant governor or Governors Council. It urged the 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. Then on Aug. 23, 1775, the new government declared everything the previous Provincial Congress had done to be law. And it also created 40 new towns. Secretary Samuel Adams made it official.
Most of the new towns in Massachusetts were located in central and western Massachusetts. Some had come about when groups of families struck out from the coastal towns to settle tracts of land “purchased” from Native Americans. New Braintree and New Marlborough, for example, got their names from their parent.
A few new towns owns split off from other towns, like Cohasset from Hingham and Wellfleet from Eastham.
Whatever, the case, 35 new towns in Massachusetts and five new ones in the District of Maine could now send representatives to the new General Court.
The 35 new towns in Massachusetts include:
Amherst, Charlton, Conway. Cohasset, 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 and West Stockbridge.
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.)
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. This story was updated in 2021.