Date of Award

2009

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor

Richard W. Judd

Second Committee Member

Jerome J. Nadelhaft

Third Committee Member

Liam Riordan

Abstract

As the eighteenth century in British North America progressed, and threats to Maine's security were gradually removed, the seaport of Falmouth in Casco Bay emerged as an economic powerhouse in northern New England. In the 1760's and early 1770's, so great was its success in providing goods manufactured from wooden forest products not only for the Royal Navy, but the British Empire at large, that it gained ascendancy in wealth and population over all but the largest settlements in His Majesty's New World domains. The creation of this wealth was based on the conscientious practice of entrepreneurship, rather than property. Social advancement, by and large, was based on enterprise instead of family connection. The majority of the population was, by modern standards, middle-class, and well educated. With such advantages of human, natural, and geographic resources, Falmouth's growth may have seemed, to some, unstoppable. Falmouth was, between 1760 and 1775, a prosperous, culturally refined, and tolerant community, whose boomtown wealth was based on forest products. The mast trade, which was the basis of its wealth, prospered, but so did shipbuilding and a large number of master craftsmen's shops and small manufacturers. All of these catered to the needs of Falmouth's core industries and to the wants of the numerically dominant and increasingly well-to-do commercial populace. Plentiful specie, collected from the lucrative sale of Falmouth's products abroad, helped support and supply institutions and projects for the improvement of the community. These included well-appointed churches, a public library, a large and active Masonic lodge, many taverns, inns and assembly halls, and the purchase of a powerful fire engine. Merchants imported sizeable quantities of luxury goods originating from a number of exotic places. The people of Falmouth were, however, to fall victim to socioeconomic and political forces beyond their control, and ones that they commonly did not want to confront. The seaport community, the heart of Falmouth, was not the headquarters of a conniving oppressor class. Neither did they conspire to exploit and cheat both laborers and hinterlanders. Forensic evidence and documentary material suggest that the social tone of Falmouth was, rather, one of moderation and tolerance. It was an attitude that was conducive to the orderly conduct of business. It also became unpopular with extremists at both ends of the political spectrum, who demanded either absolute conformity with their views, or exclusion from society. The mercantile population of Falmouth continued to try to carry on business as usual. Falmouth was at last overwhelmed and the commercial infrastructure of its seaport destroyed, caught between British imperial prerogative and insurgent American grievance. The population scattered in a refugee situation disturbingly similar to any seen in the modern era. After the war, those who remained, and who had seized power, strove to eradicate any vestige of the British town. The story of the republican American city of Portland, Maine, is written on the palimpsest of the imperial British town of Falmouth.

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