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by Martha F. Barkley
Our very own Belgrade Village historian's book, Water Village: The Story of Waterville, Maine, is a splendid read for the bicentennial of Maine's statehood. Although the pandemic has cancelled many of the gatherings to celebrate this momentous event in 2020, reading our unique Maine history can easily consume our leisure summer days.
The land where the Kennebec River drops to greet two of her tributaries was the perfect place to build a village. The native people had known it for 10,000 years, before the English came and took it over. In but a century, the invaders harnessed the feeder stream called Messalonskee and lined its banks with mills of every kind. The natives had named the place Teconnet for the big river falls nearby…
I bought this history last Fall in Waterville on Main Street to take home to South Carolina for a winter read. I rapidly discovered that the first fifteen pages give a brief history of Maine before its statehood beginning in 1498 until 1802. Yes, there are many fine histories out there on our beloved state that was once part of Massachusetts, but I am always thrilled to find a good historic summary. Earl Smith kept my attention in his brevity.
The Eastern Wabanaki trading partners were willing to share their land with Sebastian Cabot wanting fish and fur for Europe. Of course the French explorers disagreed in 1534 when Jacques Cartier traveled the St. Lawrence.
The Popham Colony was attempted in 1607 and failed. I am always amazed to find the 1607 Jamestown success story in comparison with the exceptionally cold winter's difficulties for these brave early English colonists.
[T]he Indians of the Kennebec and the Penobscot began a devastating border war of their own. After two years of raids and killing, neither side won. Instead, the English simply assumed all the land and promptly assembled a Plymouth Council settlement tract fifteen miles wide, spanning the banks of the Kennebec from Topsham to Cornville.
The newly established Massachusetts government took advantage of the Wabanaki fur trade with "hard drink" and refusing to trade anymore guns. In 1676 the Harspwell and Arrowsic trading posts were devastated by the Wabanakis.
Wars continued, involving the French and broken agreements with chiefs of the Saco, Androscoggin, Penobscot and Kennebec. Many years of wars and many agreements broken finally brought about the building of Fort Western, fifteen miles up the river at the fall line.
Please check out this brief history of our area before statehood. I've only touched on the beginning of Smith's history of Waterville. Perhaps you have already read his two companion novels, The Dam Committee and More Dam Trouble, local Belgrade stories within each. My favorite of Earl Smith's was reviewed several summers ago in this weekly, Head of Falls, a touching novel about Waterville young people and Colby College.
I also found Mayflower Hill a good read about Colby College's beginnings. Go drive Main Street and see the Colby College renovations and additions.
Take time during these unusual days to bring the pleasure of reading back into your life, now that we all need to stay home and not roam around in crowds anymore for awhile.