William Bingham And His Kennebec Purchase
|William Bingham was considered, by the time he was forty, the wealthiest man in America. Prior to the American Revolution, he served as secretary of the Revolutionary Committee of Secret Correspondence and was heavily involved in matters leading up to the war. He counted among his friends George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin.
Bingham wrote the bylaws for the Bank of North America, the nation's first bank and, in response to a request from Alexander Hamilton, he drafted the new government's first fiscal plan. Through his business dealings, and through his daughter's marriage, he was aligned with London's House of Baring.
Bingham owned a fleet of commercial vessels and acquired great tracts of land in Pennsylvania, New York, and Maine. He served in the Senate from 1795 to 1801 and his Mansion House in Philadelphia was the location of many important political and social gatherings during the time that city served as the nation's Capitol.
It was in January of 1793 that Bingham and his friend Major General Henry Knox, became joint owners of two million acres in Maine, which was at that time still part of Massachusetts. There were two separate tracts of land, one east of the Penobscot River and one straddling the northern portion of the Kennebec River.
The sale agreement called for the buyers to establish 2500 settlers on the lands by 1803 or pay a fee of $30 per deficiency. Despite an expensive marketing campaign, including a European recruitment trip, settlement was to prove a major difficulty for Bingham and Knox, and became an issue for the trustees of Bingham's estate following his death in 1804.
The Kennebec tract extended from the southern border of the present town of Bingham to a line north of Parlin Pond. It extended westerly to the present Kingfield/Mt Abram and easterly to Wellington, inclusive of those towns. A large portion of the Old Canada Road cuts through the tract west of the Kennebec.
After Bingham's death, the trustees found themselves in the position of untangling some of the financial difficulties Bingham and Knox had encountered, including the fact that they had not met the settlement obligations called for in the sale document. The deal that got them out of this situation included the sale of 65,000 acres in the Kennebec tract to the leading Jeffersonians in Maine for $5,000. This group included William King, who became Maine's first governor in 1820. The town of Kingfield, which was part of the sale, bears his name.
Some of the difficulty Bingham and Knox had in settling the Kennebec lands came from the fact that sales were targeted primarily at farming. A portion of the lands was well-suited to farming, but the vast majority was not. The trustees eventually turned their efforts to the sale of timberlands, which were abundant in the Kennebec tract, and by the middle of the 19th century they had disposed of most of the Maine holdings.
An 1820 map made for the trustees of Bingham's estate, shows the tract divided into seven ranges (south to north), each with seven townships - four west of the Kennebec and three east of the river. Many early deeds list locations in terms of their placement in the Kennebec Purchase. Thus, a lot in the present town of Caratunk would have been listed in T1R3 BKPEKR, or Township 1, Range 3, Bingham's Kennebec Purchase, east of the Kennebec River.
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