Brunswick is the home of three former Maine governors: Joshua L. Chamberlain (32nd) and Angus King (72nd) are both well known. However, most have forgotten the first man of Brunswick elected to the top office in the state, serving as Maine’s 11th chief executive.

Robert P. Dunlap. Courtesy photo

On Aug 17, 1794, more than 26 years before Maine’s statehood, Robert Pinckney Dunlap was born, the sixth of nine children, to John and Mary Tappan Dunlap in Brunswick.

The Dunlap family began at Brunswick in 1747 when Robert’s grandfather, a Presbyterian minister, settled down to raise a family. Though he would later build a second home on Oak Street, John became a Brunswick attorney who first owned a modest home on Lincoln Street, where his son Robert was born.

Young Robert was locally educated before entering Bowdoin College’s Class of 1815. He then studied law for three years and passed the bar by 1818. However, Robert wanted to make his name in politics rather than law.

By 1821, Dunlap ran for and was elected to the Maine Legislature where he served in the House of Representatives until 1823. He was then elected to the Maine state Senate in 1824.

Dunlap was described as “a tall and impressive figure” with a “calm and commanding” demeanor, a man “loyal to the Democratic Party,” who exemplified “a dignified impartiality.”


Dunlap also served as a member of the Bowdoin College Board of Overseers and as a member of the Maine State Militia, today’s equivalent of the National Guard.

On Oct. 20, 1825, Robert married Lydia Chapman in Boston and the two raised three sons and a daughter in their newly built home at 27 Federal St. in Brunswick.

Two years later, Dunlap served as the seventh president of the state Senate and was reelected again as the 11th president in 1831, making him the first to hold the position twice. Yet, Dunlap felt there was still an even higher calling.

On Jan. 1, 1834, Robert Dunlap was seated as the 11th governor of the State of Maine. Since there was not yet an official governor’s residence in Augusta, Dunlap’s Brunswick home served as his unofficial Governor’s Mansion.

In that same inaugural year, Dunlap and his wife Lydia converted from Presbyterianism to Congregationalism and joined the First Parish Church.

As governor of Maine, he championed farmers and laborers in the state, oversaw the first geological survey conducted and, despite the financial crisis of 1837, oversaw the establishment of state “pensions and school funds.”


Maine Gov. Robert P. Dunlap’s gravestone at Pine Grove Cemetery in Brunswick. Lori-Suzanne Dell photo

Gov. Dunlap also addressed an invasion of Canadian loggers, militia and officials in a “bloodless” border dispute, which evolved into the Aroostook War of 1839.

After four one-year terms as Maine’s top official, Robert Dunlap was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1843. He would also go on to accept the presidency of the Bowdoin College Board of Overseers, a position he retained until 1859.

By 1848, former Congressman Dunlap was tapped by President James K. Polk to a two-year appointment as Collector of Customs at Portland.

Then, when his former congressional colleague Franklin Pierce entered office as the 14th United States president, Dunlap received another four-year presidential appointment, this time as postmaster of Brunswick.

The Dunlap family plot at Pine Grove Cemetery on Bath Road in Brunswick. Lori-Suzanne Dell photo

Dunlap was also a member of the Fraternal Order of Free Masons, serving as master of the Brunswick lodge, grand master of the Grand Lodge and as grand arch of the United States. Dunlap’s life had been a busy one.

By Oct. 20, 1859, a 65-year-old Robert P. Dunlap suddenly took ill and died from complications of “typhoid” at his home on Federal Street.


Dunlap’s funeral, held at the First Parish Church, was among the most well-attended funerals in Brunswick history. He was laid to rest in the Dunlap family plot at the Pine Grove Cemetery on Bath Road.

The Free Masons erected a monolith to Dunlap which stands today, mostly forgotten, blackened and covered in liken.

His 27 Federal St. home, which became an apartment building for most of the 20th century, was destroyed by a deadly fire on June 17 of 1999. In that tragedy, 72-year-old resident Donald Steele lost his life. Today, the site of this once grand and stately building is a vacant lot with a pristine white fence marking the property boundary.

During his lifetime, he was one of the most well-known political leaders in the history of the State of Maine and one of the most prominent of Brunswick’s citizens.

Sadly, despite the fact that most people ride past his grave each day and glance at the monument that boldly displays the Dunlap name, Robert Pinckney Dunlap remains a largely forgotten figure in the great history of Maine and the impressive legend that is the story of Brunswick.

Lori-Suzanne Dell is a Brunswick author and historian. She has published four books and runs the “Stories from Maine” Facebook page.

The former site of Gov. Robert P. Dunlap’s home on Federal Street in Brunswick. The home served as the Governor’s Mansion during his time in office, because the Governor’s Mansion in Augusta hadn’t been built yet. The building burned in 1999. Lor-Suzanne Dell photo

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