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Maine Land Office History

Although the origin of land titles in Maine may be traced back to Seventeenth Century royal charters, proprietary grants and Indian deeds, the derivation of the Maine Land Office begins with the creation of the Massachusetts Committee for the Sale of Eastern Lands in 1783. By encouraging the settlement of the frontier wilderness of Maine, the Massachusetts General Court hoped to generate revenues to counter the financial chaos left by the Revolution. It is significant that during this period, the Confederation Congress was also evolving a far-reaching national land policy that would shape the settlement of the Western frontiers for years to come. There are striking similarities between the objectives of the Massachusetts General Court and those of Congress. 

The Committee for the Sale of Eastern Lands undertook surveys of the unorganized portions of the State; and under various authorizations of the Massachusetts General Court, assumed the responsibility for disposing of lands either by direct sale or by lottery. In 1794, the Committee for the Sale of Eastern Lands, on the failure of the lottery, sold over 2,000,000 acres eventually acquired by William Bingham of Philadelphia. The Massachusetts General Court also authorized the granting of land for settlement of debts incurred by the State, in lieu of pensions to veterans of the American Revolution and the War of 1812 or their widows, and in payment of various State improvements. In 1803, the General Court authorized the appointment of a Land Agent "to inspect & take care of the Public Lands in the District of Maine, to ascertain their bounds & situation where necessary, to superintend the preservation of all masts, timbers and trees thereon, to inquire into all trespasses & intrusions on the said lands, and give information thereof to the Solicitor General.." A similar office was created by the Maine Legislature in 1824. 

Shortly after Maine seperated from Massachusetts in 1820, a committee authorized under the Act of Seperation to represent the two States proceeded to divide all public lands within the District of Maine between the respective States. It was not until 1853 that an agreement was finally reached by which Maine purchased some 1,198,300 acres of land belonging to Massachusetts for $362,500. 

By 1874, the Maine Legislature had determined to expedite the final disposition of remaining public lands. Auctions were held under the supervision of the Governor and Council in 1874-1875; and by 1891, it was reported that all such lands had been disposed of through Legislative action. In that year, the Office of the Land Agent was discontinued. The duties and title of the Land Agent were tranferred to the Forest Commissioner and held by him until 1923 when the title itself was abolished. The Forest Commissioner continued to administer the public lots (the reserved sections of townships that had originally been set aside for the benefit of schools, academies and for "ministerial" purposes). 

The original purpose of the Maine and Massachusetts public land policy - to encourage settlement and the growth of prosperous communities on the Maine frontier was, of course, never realized; for the harsh environment of the interior wilderness could not compete with the lure of the American West. In 1870, the Legislature, disturbed by the steady decline of the State's population, fostered a movement to encourage the immigration of Swedish settlers into Aroostook County in the hopeful belief that those who came from what was throught to be a similar climate would be likely to remain in Northern Maine. The project met with only moderate success. 

The most significant utilization of the wildlands of Maine has therefore been the harvesting of its timber resources, which continues to be of great economic consequence to the State. In recent years, however, the potential of the reserved or public lots has assumed a new importance, as both the government and interested citizens have sought to develop a land use policy that will allow the continued administration and development of the public domain for the best interest of Maine's people and their posterity.