For nearly four years now, Holly Hurd, education outreach coordinator at the Osher Map Library in Portland, has been researching Maine’s greatest map maker, Moses Greenleaf (1777-1834).
Greenleaf did most of his groundbreaking work around the time of our Pine Tree State’s birth, from 1815 to 1830. Hurd said Maine would have significantly less territory if it weren’t for Greenleaf.
“He was a very important Mainer; essentially the state’s first map maker,” Hurd said. “I’m trying to get people to know who he was. Rarely have people heard of him.”
A member of the North Yarmouth Historical Society, Hurd gave a talk on Greenleaf on Monday at the society’s Old Town House on Route 9 in North Yarmouth.
Hurd also recently published the “Greenleaf Primer,” a book for school-age children written by Hurd and illustrated by her daughter, Lena Champlin.
Greenleaf has ties to our region. In 1790, at age 13, he left Newburyport, Mass., and moved to New Gloucester with his family. His father, also named Moses, was a retired shipbuilder and wanted to raise his kids in a rural setting. The elder Greenleaf raised peacocks, and this is why a section of New Gloucester is referred to as Peacock Hill.
Young Moses Greenleaf stayed in New Gloucester running a store until he was about 21. But he was not very successful, accumulating massive debts.
“It was after the Revolutionary War,” Hurd said. “People didn’t have much spending money for store-bought items; they traded and bartered.”
While Maine was still part of Massachusetts, Greenleaf’s luck changed upon meeting an enterprising investor from Boston who purchased an entire township in the District of Maine, about 50 miles north of Bangor near Dover-Foxcroft.
“The township was called Williamsburg,” Hurd said, named after William Dodd. “Greenleaf became what was termed a resident land agent. The wealthy Dodd needed someone to move on his land and encourage other people to settle there.”
Greenleaf’s map-making largely came out of those duties, Hurd said. “He became passionate about the wilderness areas of Maine.”
Greenleaf was not the first person to map the District of Maine. Hurd says that distinction goes to Osgood Carleton, whose work was included in a 1793 publication.
It wasn’t long before Greenleaf had his hand in all sorts of pursuits to open up Maine’s interior. He worked on the first road from Bangor to Williamsburg (Routes 221 and 11), which included everything from getting money from the Legislature to actually lending his own physical labor to the construction effort.
He was also a charter member of the first railroad in Maine, called the Bangor & Piscataquis, and had visions to promote natural resource-based industries.
“He wanted to promote iron ore and slate,” said Hurd, adding that Greenleaf was behind Katahdin Iron Works, a venture that took advantage of the area’s ore deposits, wood for charcoal to fuel its massive blast furnace, and water power.
The operation ran after Greenleaf’s death from 1841 to 1890, but Hurd says it was Greenleaf who discovered the ore.
“He collected some ore from the top of Ore Mountain and forged a horseshoe,” Hurd said. “He then took it to the Legislature to show the possibilities of an iron industry.”
It is Greenleaf’s maps that left the most lasting impression. In fact, those with grand ideas for the North Woods in our day can occasionally be seen with an old Greenleaf map in the background.
Roxanne Quimby, the Burt’s Bees co-founder-turned-philanthropist, is proposing that 70,000 acres of her own Maine forest land be gifted in the form of a park. A story that ran in The Portland Press Herald on March 28 — headlined “Another national park in Maine?” — showed a photo of Quimby at her Portland home, where a massive Greenleaf map hangs on the wall behind her.
For more on Greenleaf and early maps of Maine, contact the Osher Map Library, whose exhibit “Printed Maps of the District and State of Maine 1793-1860” runs until Aug. 25.
Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]