February 20, 2013

Freeport's motto a myth, experts say

The closing of the historic Jameson Tavern draws attention to the town's specious claim to fame.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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The sudden closing the Jameson Tavern, a favorite gathering spot for locals since 1801, has drawn attention to Freeport's specious claim that it was the "birthplace of the state of Maine."

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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A plaque on the exterior of Jameson Tavern in Freeport claims "commissioners met in 1820" at the tavern to sign papers to separate from Massachusetts. That story and Freeport's town motto are a myth, experts say.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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And yet, every county in the District of Maine approved separation that day in July and a constitutional convention was held in Portland the following October. President James Monroe signed the bill for separation and statehood in March 1820.

Freeport's disputed role in the push for statehood was chronicled in "Three Centuries of Freeport, Maine," a book written by Florence Thurston and Harmon Cross in 1940. They recalled that several prominent opponents of statehood, representing Cumberland, Kennebec and Lincoln counties, gathered in Freeport just before the last referendum to organize a campaign against separation.

"They probably convened in the Jameson Tavern," Thurston and Cross wrote. "In time all this could have grown into the story as it is told today."

The plaque outside the tavern, which appears to be the only basis for the town's motto, states that "commissioners met in 1820 and signed the papers which separated Maine from Massachusetts and established an independent state."

According to Thurston and Cross, there was a joint commission of men from Maine and Massachusetts that met several times from 1820 to 1827 to iron out details of the separation. However, the meetings were held in Boston, Portland, Bangor and Augusta.

"There is no record of any meeting of these commissioners in Freeport," Thurston and Cross wrote.

Alan Hall, a local historian who teaches at Yarmouth High School, wrote about Freeport's mistaken motto on his blog, "Focusing on Yesterday."

"It's amazing to me that town officials have been told by their own historians that it's just not true and they refuse to believe it," Hall said Tuesday. "It's stunning the degree to which the town is wed to the idea of being the birthplace of statehood."

Hall said he hopes Freeport officials decide to drop the motto before Maine celebrates the bicentennial of its statehood in 2020.

If not, as Hall wrote in his blog, the motto will continue to "sail on through popular belief propelled only by local pride and wishful thinking."

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

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Jameson Tavern house, 115 Main St., in Freeport, taken in the early 1900s.

Courtesy of Freeport Historical Society

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The shoulder patch of the Freeport Police Department states, "Birthplace of Maine," though historians say the town's motto has no basis in fact.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

 


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