To a packed room at the Windham Historical Society, over 40 attendees gathered to hear Holly Hurd, an American & New England Studies graduate student at The University of Southern Maine, present a talk on the life of Moses Greenleaf, who is best known for surveying and settling parts of Maine as well as being the State of Maine’s first mapmaker. The presentation was one of the monthly programs sponsored by the Windham Historical Society.
Hurd works as education coordinator at The Osher Map Library (OML) and Smith Center for Cartographic Education in Portland. To aid in her talk, she showed pictures and text from a book she wrote called “The Moses Greenleaf Primer” released in 2010. Her daughter Lena Champlin illustrated the book.
“Greenleaf was a state-maker of Maine,” said Hurd.
Moses Greenleaf was born on October 17, 1777. There are no pictures of him, but there is one of his brother, and there is a silhouette of him. He was born in Newburyport, MA. He was good at math and drafting. His father, Captain Moses, knew George Washington and moved the family to the New Gloucester in the District of Maine when Moses, Jr. was 13 years old.
Moses tried running a store, but once he accumulated $10,000 in debt, which was considerable for the time period, he got rid of the store and became a resident land agent for William Dodd and moved his family to Williamsburg above Bangor, near what is now Milo.
His job was to settle the area and get people to move there. He built a house and then moved much of the house and his family to the other side of the township to a place called Greenleaf Hill. That house still stands today and Moses and his family are buried in the backyard though no one knows exactly where.
Greenleaf was a member of the Masons and was the first Master Mason in the Piscataquis Lodge #44, which still exists in Milo.
Greenleaf had a tough job selling Maine when in 1816, there was a foot of snow in June. It was called “The year without a summer” and “eighteen hundred and froze to death.” He began looking for natural resources that could become an industry. He founded Katahdin Iron Works, which provided 50 years of jobs in that region. He also found slate in that area and many homes had/have slate sinks and slate roofs.
The whole time he was exploring and expanding his community, he was investigating, doing extensive correspondence and using existing maps to create his own maps. His first map was published in 1815.
Maps at that time were made by etching in copper and then rolled with ink and printed. If there was a mistake or a correction to make, the copper was pounded out and re-etched. The first published map of the State of Maine was in 1820 and was a colored map that people bought to hang on their wall. It had nine counties.
In 1820, Williamsburg became a town and Maine became a state. In 1829, a new version of a state map was released called the “Survey of the State of Maine.”
Greenleaf was instrumental in getting the mail to Williamsburg, a stage coach to come to town (although it took eight days to get from Wiliamsburg to Boston) and constructing the road from Bangor to Katahdin Iron Works, the current Route 221.
“He never wanted any of his own fame or reward,” said Hurd at the presentation. Greenleaf died of typhoid fever in 1834 at the age of 56.
Hurd discussed a few maps showing Windham. Each map showed a few different roads through the town.
Greenleaf was a visionary, although that vision didn’t always jive with reality. He thought that by 1870 Maine would have 933,000 residents, but that took until 1970. He also thought that the State of Maine would be completely settled, but it has never been. Much of Maine belongs to timber companies who use it for the lumber.
Greenleaf’s maps and guides can be found at OML and some information on maps can be found at Maine Maps.
Moses Greenleaf was born 19 May 1755 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the second son of the Hon. Jonathan Greenleaf and Mary Presbury. His father was a merchant shipbuilder and served on the Committee of Correspondence, Inspection and Safety, and was a delegate to the Provincial Congress held in Cambridge in 1775. In September of 1776, Moses married Lydia Parsons, the youngest daughter of the Rev. Jonathan Parsons, minister of the Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, with whom he had five children. At the outset of the Revolution, Greenleaf enlisted in a company for the defense of the seacoast and was later commissioned as lieutenant of a company in Ebenezer Francis's 11th Massachusetts Regiment. He served at Fort Miller, West Point, Albany and Saratoga (New York), Valley Forge (Pennsylvania), and Bennington (Vermont), among other places, and rose to the rank of captain before resigning from the Continental Army in 1780. At the end of the Revolution, Greenleaf commenced a shipbuilding business. In 1790 he retired to a farm in New Gloucester, Maine, where he died 18 December 1812.
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