Friday, July 10, 2015

York County Exodus of Early 19th Century

In my research into a variety of family groups who resided in Tuftonboro, NH (in Strafford County, which is now Carroll County) in the 19th Century, a common thread has emerged.  Many of these family groups have ancestors who moved in the early part of 19th Century to Tuftonboro from Berwick, Eliot and Kittery Maine, a horse and buggy journey of about 30-40 miles northwest.

To name a few:

I would love to find some kind of rationale, or common thread, if any exists, for these various Maine families to have moved west.  Strafford County (later known as Carroll County) wasn't known for much outside of sheep and cattle farming and a couple old grist mills.  Maine was where all the industrial shipping work was to be found.  The Embargo Act of 1807, however, effectively bankrupted many families in Maine, and was the death knell for much of Maine's timber industry.  Perhaps the move to rural NH was a reaction to the Act?  Perhaps cheap farm land was the way to go?  Perhaps these were all Revolutionary War (or War of 1812) veterans, and they received land patents for their military service?

1 comment:

  1. The primary motive was most likely economic. The embargo act and the war had hurt merchants and the wealthy in Boston and Salem; this same wealthy elite were also the proprietors of undeveloped land in the interior of south/western Maine (still of course part of Massachusetts) and so they held out for highest possible prices and rents for the interior land. Prior to the war, shipbuilding had been driven primarily by the merchants; the fact that they had little capital to invest immediately after the war slowed the return of the New England ship building industry, which also was moving Downeast toward Washington county Maine due to timber availability (there was also a migration from York and Cumberland counties to Washington and Hancock counties during this same period). Families were also growing; young men in coastal York/Cumberland counties saw more opportunity as well as cheaper land in nearby New Hampshire. Interestingly, American migrations have tended to occur at times of economic growth rather than economic contraction; it takes capital to move a household and clear new land. The period of 1807-1814 was a period of economic contraction in coastal New England and so migration was inhibited; the end of the war led to renewed optimism, a new willingness to invest, and thus the release of a generation of young men and families who had been dreaming of striking off on their own, often with the additional stimulus of necessity. The same factors were at work in Massachusetts, Connecticut and the Mid-Atlantic, leading to rapid population growth in upstate New York, Western Pennsylvania and the Ohio River Valley during the post-war decade. And of course there were the cotton mills if one was inclined to remain closer to home; the New England economy was being transformed, and for many who had the gumption to migrate the best opportunities were perceived to be in the interior where there was water power, not along the coastal wharfs and fisheries.