History Of Litchfield

By H. D. Kingsbury

From The Illustrated History Of Kennebec County Maine, published 1892


The town of Litchfield - many sided and many angled - constitutes the southwestern extremity of Kennebec county.  Its appearance on the map is that of some unfortunate object whose head lies submerged in Cobbosseecontee pond and whose neck is still being uncomfortably squeezed between Monmouth on the left and West Gardiner on the right, which towns, with a touch of Wales on its lower left flank, form its northern boundary.  On the east lie West Gardiner and Richmond, the latter being separated by Cobbosseecontee and its ponds; on the south it rests on the towns of Richmond and Bowdoin in Sagadahoc, and Wales in Androscoggin county, and its western neighbors are Wales and Monmouth.

The eastern part of Litchfield is somewhat uneven, the central is comparatively level, and the western portion is hilly.  Oak and Neal hills are its highest elevations.  Its soil has all the varieties of southern and central Maine, from the thin sprinkle of sand and gravel that in many spots try in vain to conceal its rocky anatomy, to the rich clay loan and alluvial deposits of its productive plowlands and meadows.  The records of nearly a score of once active, but now generally defunct, saw mills attest the variety and abundance of its primitive forests.

The number and size and the tasteful and durable structure of its farm houses and barns, every one created from the products of its forests and its fields, are unmistakable proofs of the sterling qualities and high character of its permanent settlers and their descendants.  Hundreds of miles of stone walls, made from the scattering and over plentiful deposits of old, snail paced glaziers, before their farms could be leveled and cultivated, are the time enduring monuments of their heroic will and work.  Well does the present generation retain the characteristics of its noble fathers and mothers! The first proof is their continued vigor and thrift - the persistent power of compelling the oft-times reluctant soil to yield a living income, and then that admirable, anti-failure habit of living within it.  The next proof is the fact that they keep in step with modern progress.  Underneath and besides the Litchfield Institute, which was organized forty-six years ago, and has been proceeded by a high school for several years, lie the common schools, which have always been kept in an efficient condition in Litchfield, for without them no demand would have existed for a school that begins where they leave off.  Then, when the highest of all tests is applied  the moral test - the present is encouraging, the churches and Sabbath schools being generally well attended and supported.


SETTLERS - The first comers were hunters, one of the most prominent being a man named Wilson.  They made selections, built cabins, marked trees, hunted and fished and awaited the advent of any prospecting settlers to buy their claims.  A survey made in 1776, by John Merrill, of six lots of eighty acres each, is the earliest definite proof we have of names, dates and location of settlers.  Benjamin Hinckley had lot No. 1; Eliphalet Smith, 2; Barnabus Baker, 3; Thomas Smith, 4; Benjamin Smith, 5; and Barnabus Baker, jun., had lot No 6.  Benjamin Hinckley and Eliphalet Smith were here in 1774, and Thomas Smith, on whose lot his great-grandson, David Thurston Smith, now lives, did not settle here till 1780.

Thomas and Benjamin Smith bought claims of hunters, and it is believed that many other first comers did the same.  When the proprietors of the land, who lived mostly in New York, learned of what was being done, they sent surveyors to establish lines and boundaries and make maps of their possessions.  The hardy pioneers did not take kindly to this.  Disguised as Indians, they attacked the surveyors, drove them from place to place, and made it impossible for them to do accurate work.  But they were determined and plucky, and managed to take observations from one elevated point to another, computed distances they were not allowed to measure, established some land-marks, recorded their work on a map, and returned to their employers with the story of their hazardous and arduous undertaking.

Then commenced correspondence and negotiations between the proprietors and the pioneers, partly of a peaceful and partly of a threatening character.  After a time a conference was effected between the parties and in most cases the differences were adjusted by the settlers surrendering one-third of their claims and receiving quit-claim deeds of the remaining two-thirds.

Sumner Clark lives on the farm owned by his father, Samuel Clark, and by his grandfather, Samuel Clark, who settled and built there before 1800.  Some of the old names in the Ferren school district, in the southwest part of town, were: Richard Ferren, John Thurlow, John Lydston, Alexander Gray, Isaac Randall, James Williams, John Gatchell and Simeon S. Higgins.

On the Earle school house road were: Thomas Alexander, from Topsham, ME.; Edward Gove, Eben and Robert Dunlap, from Brunswick, Me.; Joseph Potter, and a brother of his; Jabez Robinson, David Springer, and his two sons, Thomas and David; Adonis Johnson, and Andrew Springer, and Elisha Nickerson, on a cross road.  On Oak hill were: George Potter, James Marr, Enoch, Isaac and James Danforth, sons of Isaac Danforth; Joshua and Joseph Mitchell, Solomon Dennison, James Hutchinson, Levi Day, Isaac and Nathaniel Frost, Peleg Campbell, Deacon Moss, Thomas Burke, Thomas Bucher, Esquire Shirtliff, Elisha Smith, Samuel K. Smith and Stephen Lemont.  On the Plains road were Cornelius and John Toothaker.  John Potter and James Libby, Jerry and William Potter, lived on the Mill road; also Joseph and James Williams, Samuel Cook, Robert Stinson, John Smith and James Adams.

In the Waterman school district, in the southeast part of the town, some of the early settlers were; Samuel Patten, Sylvanus Waterman, John Robinson, James Brown, Nathaniel Smith, Timothy Blanchard, who came in 1791 from Massachusetts; Deacon Morgridge, John Brown, Samuel Jack and Elisha Hopkins.  Barney, Smith and Judah Baker all lived near the Corners, and all came before 1800; also Moses Smith, father of Nathan, Samuel, Elisha and Josiah Smith.  James Earl was a large land owner.  Captain Joshua Walker had fourteen children, all alive when the youngest was forty years old.  Jabez Robinson, David Potter and Andrew Springer, three old settlers, were each killed by falling trees while chopping in the woods.


CIVIL HISTORY - Litchfield was organized as a town in 1795, before which it was known as Smithfield Plantation.  Town meetings were held in Daniel Nickerson's house until 1813, then in the North Litchfield Baptist meeting house until 1840, and in the Free Baptist meeting house in 1841.  The town purchased the site and built the present town house in 1840, at a cost of $1,100.

In 1860 a town farm of 112 acres was bought, on which to support the town poor, who had been boarded by the lowest bidder up to this time.  Rev. Isaac Frost was particularly active in this humane move, which met strong opposition.  At present there are but five inmates of this house.  The total annual expense for town poor is $250 more than the proceeds of the farm.  Reuel W. Cunningham is employed by the town to mange the concern at a yearly salary of $250.

The original area of Litchfield has been reduced three times since its organization by additions to other towns.  November 4, 1816, the town voted to set off the entire neck lying east of the Cobbosseecontee pond.  In 1827, when the town of Wales was erected, a detachment was taken from Litchfield, and in 1859 all that part of West Gardiner lying west of the Cobbosseecontee was also taken from Litchfield.

The affairs of the town have been well managed by a board consisting, from the first, of three selectmen, chosen annually.  For the most part those chosen have been the otherwise prominent men of their time.  The following have served the number of years, not always consecutive, indicated after their respective names, the date of first election being given:* 1795, James Shirtliff and Thomas Morgridge, each 2, and John Neal 29; 1796, John Dennis 3, and Nathaniel Berry 1; 1797, Abijah Richardson 2; 1798, John Smith, jun., 25; 1800, Thomas Smith 8; 1806, Sewall Brown 2; 1808, Sylvanus Waterman 7; 1809, Edward Gower 5; 1812, John Pike 3; 1813, William Robinson 23; 1816, David C. Burr 11; 1827, Samuel Hyde 2; 1829, John Robinson 2; 1829, Hiram Shorey 7; 1830, Martin Metcalf 2, and Elias Plimpton 4; 1833, Ephraim Wadsworth; 1834, William Farr 2; 1835, Asa Bachelder 4; 1837, L.Y. Daley 3; 1838, Thomas Springer 3, and Joseph Williams 3; 1844, Josiah True 11; 1845, James Alexander 2, and Hugh Woodbury; 1847, Samuel Patten 2, and John Woodbury 8; 1849, Smith Baker 3; 1850, David True; 1851, William Buker; 1852, True Woodbury 5, and Daniel Adams; 1853, Isaac Frost 6; 1856, Isaac Starbird 4; 1858, Nathaniel Dennis 7; 1859, Charles H. Robinson 4; 1861, John Hancock 2; 1862, Thomas Holmes 12, and Samuel W. Libby; 1864, James Colby 3; 1867, David S. Springer 8; 1868, Benjamin W. Berry 3; 1870, William G. Williams 2; 1872, John Patten 2, and John L. Allen; 1874, Samuel Smith 9, and Melvin Tibbitts 4; 1878, M. S. H. Rogers 7, and William G. Webber 5; 1880, William S. Snow; 1881, Charles A. Metcalf; 1882, Elisha N. Baker and Charles B. Preble, each 2; 1884, Reuel W. Cunningham 2, and George A. Emerson 4; 1886, John Purington 4; 1887, Samuel Williams 2; 1888, Stillman H. Ring; 1890, E. P. Springer 3 years; and in 1892, Samuel Smith and Frank N. Adams.

The town clerks in succession, with year of election, have been; John Neal, jun., 1795; James Shirtliff, 1802; John Neal, 1803; John Smith, 1808; John Neal, 1809; John Smith, 1810; Sylvanus Waterman, 1812; John Smith, 1814; John Neal, 1815; David C. Burr, 1817; John Neal, 1824; David C. Burr, 1825; Asa Bachelder, 1826; Elias Plimpton, 1832; Asa Bachelder, 1833; Elias Plimpton, 1834; Asa Bachelder, 1837; William O. Grant, 1839; Constant Quinnam, 1847; William O. Grant, 1849; Isaac W. Springer, 1852; William G. Williams, 1860; G. C. Waterman, 1863; Isaac W. Springer, 1870; William G. Williams, 1874; Charles A. Metcalf, 1876; Gardiner Roberts, jun., 1880; and William F. Adams, since 1885.

The successive treasurers have been: John Dennis, elected in 1795; Abijah Richardson, 1797; Jabez Robinson, 1806; Thomas Morgridge, 1810; John Neal, 1811; John Dennis, jun., 1815; William Bartlett, 1831; John Smith, 1835; John Dennis, 1840; C. Toothaker, 1844; John Neal, 1845; John Dennis, 1846; Nathaniel Dennis, 1857; John Hancock, 1864; N. Dennis, 1865; Thomas Holmes, 1873; N. Dennis, 1875; and David S. Springer, since 1882.

*The names in these lists are from the records, by William F. Adams, town clerk.