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UMFK receives a collection of maps dating back to the Webster-Ashburton Treaty

July 16, 2004


A collection of nine maps that date back to the time of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which determined the border between Maine and New Brunswick, is now in the possession of the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

The series of nine hand-drawn, parchment documents show most of the Saint John Valley from Dickey (west of Allagash) to western Van Buren, with the exception of the areas of Grand Isle/Lille and eastern Van Buren/Hamlin.

Created circa 1843-1844, the maps are the oldest original documents produced here in the Valley now in the Archives collections.

They were produced by or for "the Commissioners of Maine and Massachusetts appointed to carry into effect the 4th Article of the Treaty of Washington" better known to people of the Valley as "the Webster-Ashburton Treaty".

The collection of maps provides primary data on lot holders on the American side of the St. John River during the period 1843-1844, and will be of interest to researchers in genealogy, real estate, the history of the "Northeastern Boundary dispute", the implementation of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, and land division, settlement, and/or inheritance patterns in the Upper St. John Valley.

"The most interesting thing for local people is that the maps show the lot boundaries and lot owners for all lots on the American side of the river, as well as a few features, such as John Baker's mills and the Edmundston blockhouse, on the New Brunswick side," said Nicholas Hawes, assistant director of the Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes. "This allows local people to see exactly where their ancestors lived."

The Joint Commission, for which the maps were produced, was established by the States of Maine and Massachusetts "to locate grants, and determine the extent of possessory claims under the late treaty with Great Britain".

The commission was formed to recognize and formalize the grants issued by the colonial governments or by Great Britain for what ultimately became American territory.

Commissioners were asked to survey the lots, prepare maps showing the lots and listing their owners, and provide proof of ownership of the lots to the state land agent to enable him to convey new deeds for those lots to their owners.

The maps were brought to the attention of the Acadian Archives by Richard Boulet, director of the Blue Hill Public Library in Blue Hill, Maine. The maps had been given to the Blue Hill Library by Phyllis Hamabe, the widow of Maine artist Francis Hamabe, as part of a larger collection of materials her husband had gathered during his lifetime.

Mr. Boulet was asked to disperse any materials not wanted by Blue Hill Public Library to appropriate institutions. He contacted the Acadian Archives and offered them the maps for shipping costs.

The maps were in poor condition when they arrived at the Archives. They were dirty, backed with cloth or cardboard and loosely rolled. Other damage included missing pieces of parchment, water damage, mold growth, cracking, shrinking and embrittlement.

The maps were sent to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts for professional evaluation and conservation.

Using a special fund, set up for the Acadian Archives by former UMFK President Richard Dumont, the maps were restored by reducing surface soil with dry cleaning techniques, separating them from the backing materials, mending tears and breaks. The maps were also humidified and flattened and then encapsulated in polyester film to reinforce them and to protect them from future damage.

Since the maps were returned from the conservators, Archives staff has prepared an extensive seventy-one page finding aid, including detailed, map-by-map descriptions of all lots and other features. A complete, alphabetized lot-holder's index enables researchers to locate quickly all lots belonging to specific individuals.

The finding aid also includes historical information on the maps, the Commission which produced them, and on the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (Treaty of Washington). It also includes a copy of the Commission's final report and a copy of the resolve establishing the Commission.

For more information on the collection, contact the Acadian Archives at (207) 834-7535.