American History and Genealogy Project


Land Titles for Burnt Coat Group

As we have already seen, the commonwealth of Massachusetts agreed to sell to James Swan the twenty-five islands included in the Burnt Coat group, which were estimated to contain 12,800 acres, at three shillings per acre, which amounted to £1,920. This Swan paid on March 19, 1785, and he was to receive a deed as soon as the islands could be surveyed. By actual measurement this group was found to contain only 9,623 acres, and the difference which Swan overpaid between the estimated and real measure of this group was returned to him January 19, 1789. The deed of this group was given to Swan by the commonwealth on July 7, 1786. On October 28, 1790, James Swan, late of Boston, by his attorneys, Henry Jackson and Benjamin Hitchborn, sold to Joseph Prince, resident of Burn Coat, for the sum of £300 "and divers other good causes" Burn Coat Island and all other islands within three miles of said Burn Coat. (128)1

After Prince's purchase he followed Swan's agreement with the settlers, by giving a bond to each occupant of the land that he would give him a deed 6f his property at the end of seven years. To Joseph Toothaker he gave a bond of $100 for the one hundred acres extending from the Carrying Place around the Cove, dated April 26, 1792 (3-208), and to Joshua Grindle for the same amount of land extending from Moses Staples, to the Carrying Place, dated May 1, 1794 (3-245). On June 29, 1795, Joseph Prince and wife Joanna sold to Henry Jackson, of Boston, for £300, the same purchase; on July 16, 1795, (3-256) Jackson also bought of Bartolomy DeGregoire land on Mt. Desert for which he paid £1,247. He also bought Bartiett's island. Cranberry Island and Duck Island, and also a tract near Stinson's Neck, Deer Isle.

On September 28, 1796, Henry Jackson sold the Burnt Coat group back to Swan in consideration of the sum of £300 (4-206). He also gave Swan a quitclaim deed of these islands and improvements on the same; also land in Suffolk and Norfolk counties for £5,000 (4-207). On December 6, 1796, Swan mortgaged this property to Henry Jackson to secure the payment of £2,333 (4-203). On July 13, 1798, Swan gave the same security to Stephen Higginson and Samuel G. Perkins, of Boston, as security for $30,000 (5-541). Swan mortgaged this property to other parties at different times to secure payment of loans, all of which were promptly paid.

On February 28, 1798, Swan gave to Joseph Prince, of Swan's Island (formerly Burnt Coat), power of attorney to sell and convey to the settlers the land which they had occupied, and to such other fishermen as might settle, on the conditions which are stated elsewhere. He also gave Prince power to sell a lot of land on "Island of Holt" which Swan had bought of Nathaniel Shelden in 1796. This power of attorney is recorded in (5481) Hancock registry.

We find no further record that any property here was bought or sold for some fifteen years. During all this time the settlers selected whatever property they choose, and no one disputed their claim. The agreement by which Swan promised the settlers a deed of the property that they occupied at the end of seven years was not carried out by him or by the other parties into whose hands this property fell. It may have been for the reason that when the seven years had expired Swan was in France and had no one here to attend to his business. So the failure may have been due to neglect, or perhaps the settlers did not fulfill the conditions of the contract. However, the settlers did not seem to care much about the title to land that they possessed, which was of very little value. Their log cabins and boats comprised the greater part of their possessions, so if they were ousted their loss would not be very great; besides they considered they had a moral right to the land they occupied, according to Swan's agreement.

On October 3, 1812, "James Swan, of Boston, at present residing in Paris, mortgaged to Michael O'Maley, a merchant of Baltimore," a part of this group of islands. Swan was indebted to O'Maley for the sum of 43,080 francs as appears by a bill of exchange drawn at Harve in 1808. Swan paid on this 6,663 francs with interest, leaving the balance due O'Maley on September 1, 1813, of 36,417 francs. As security Swan mortgaged to O'Maley thirteen islands of this group, viz.: Swan's Island, Marshall's island, Black island, Hat island, Great and Little Placentia islands, Long island "and five others the name not recollected", "containing in all about 12,000 acres, together with the grist and the sawmills, farms, stores, mansion house, timber lands, waters and fisheries ". This mortgage was executed at Paris in the Greffe of the prison of St. Pelagie, where Swan was then imprisoned, and acknowledged before David Bailey Warden, United States consul at Paris, October 3, 1812 (33-226). In this transfer it is noticed that only thirteen of the twenty-five islands included in the Burnt Coat group were conveyed. After this there seems to have been no claimants for this property, either mortgagor or mortgagee, until 1817. During all this time settlers continued to come in and select whatever lots they choose to occupy, unmolested by anyone.

On March 10, 181 7, Rufus B. Allyn, of Belfast, as attorney for O'Maley, entered and took peaceable possession of the premises named for the purpose of foreclosing the mortgage. He notified the settlers that in O'Maley's name he should take possession of all this property. He brought as witnesses of this seizure Jesse Holbrook and Paul Giles.

On August 29, 1821, a power of attorney was given by O'Maley to Daniel Webster to transact the business connected with the thirteen islands of the Burnt Coat group, as well as his other transactions with Swan. This was signed by O'Maley in Boston. A power of attorney was given by Swan to William Sullivan (son-in-law) to act jointly with Daniel Webster, they to have the power of substitution, to sell all the islands in this group and execute deeds in their names, and Swan and O'Maley agreed to confirm all acts so transacted. This was dated September 13, 1821.

On June 13, 1823, Daniel Webster, attorney for O'Maley, and William Sullivan, attorney for Swan, substituted Rufus B. Allyn to act jointly for both parties (43-168), and whatever deeds were given afterwards were in Swan and O'Maley's name. As to the mortgage of Swan to O'Maley, it is believed that it was given to a friend to protect the property from other debtors. Swan had considerable property in Boston and vicinity which was conveyed in somewhat the same manner. It is strange that if O'Maley claimed anything under this mortgage he should have waited several years before asserting his claim.

The year after Allyn's appointment he came to these islands and demanded payment of all the settlers for the land which they occupied. He gave to each occupant a deed of the property he occupied, and took a mortgage to secure payment. Both the deeds and mortgages, which are recorded in Hancock registry, were executed between the years 1823 and 1839. The following were given at that time:

Moses Bridges, of Sedgwick, bought Eastern Calf Island, containing 162 acres, for $400, May 24, 1823. Mortgage was paid December 5, 1839 (43-500).

Peter Powers bought Western Calf Island, containing 256 acres, for $750, September 21, 1822 (43-521).

John Finney bought the place on which he lives October I, 1823, for $147 (44-238).

Levi Torrey paid $160 for the land which he occupied, on October 16, 1823. Deed was witnessed by John Cook (44-239).

Ebenezer Joyce paid $130.27 for 68 acres of land on which he lives, October 3, 1823.

Abel E. Staples paid $175 for land which he occupied 1823.

James Joyce bought of Rufus B. Allyn the place on which he lived for $146.51 on May 27, 1824.

Francis T. Gilley, of Placentia, paid $237. This mortgage was paid December 25, 1839.

Robert Mitchell paid $210 for land on Placentia May 24, 1824. This mortgage was paid October 27, 1828.

Benjamin Smith bought for $365.50 the farm on which he lived, May 18, 1824.

Moses Staples' land amounted to $83.37. Recorded May 20, 1824.

Benjamin Stinson's was valued at $200.

John Staples, a lot near Mackerel Cove, for $60.75. May 17, 1824.

Benjamin F. Staples' lot valued at $42.13. Deed given May 18, 1824.

Moses Staples, jr., bought his lot for $158.16 May 17, 1824.

Daniel Hamblen, for part of Placentia, $140.30, 93 acres, 1825.

Israel B. Lunt, unincorporated place called Long island. His tract of land contained 1,132 acres, for which he was to pay $600. Date of mortgage June 30, 1835.

O'Maley at present in Paris, kingdom of France, sold to Thomas Colomey for $200 a lot near Seal Cove, executed by Rufus B. Allyn on July i, 1835 (60-424).

Scarcely anything was paid on the above mortgages, but no action seems to have been taken by Allyn to enforce payment. Afterwards ex-Governor Edward Kent was said to have been employed by O'Maley to bring suit against the settlers to recover possession of the islands, and to have prosecuted these claims for several years. Some of the settlers paid something, as we have noticed above, while others absolutely refused to pay. In the end Governor Kent could not find his clients and returned to the islanders what money he had collected from them. It is probable that Swan's heirs took this method to get something out of the islands, but, finding the matter likely to be hotly contested, gave up the contest.

No further claim was ever made by O'Maley or his heirs. Nothing more was done until after Col. Swan's death, when Charles J. Abbott, of Castine, was appointed administrator of the estate of James Swan, late of France, in April, 1837. Swan's just debts were $142,995.49. There not being personal property enough to pay, some of these islands were appraised by Thomas Cobb, John B, Redman and Benjamin Rea in December, 1837, as follows:

Island Acres Amount
Little Marshall 42 $63
W 10 10
A 21 21
B 4 4
C 44 66
D 16 80
F 20 30
G 33 49
K 5 6
N 23 46
P 16 16
I 6 5
John's 20 50
U 17 17
V 3 3
Total   $466

This took in the islands that had few or no settlers. How Mr. Abbott settled with the Swan heirs I do not know. He afterwards claimed title to some of the islands.

Up to 1834 the settlers on Swan's Island had no title to their lands except such as they could hold by possession. Neither O'Maley nor Swan ever made any claim after Mr. Abbott sold the outlying islands. We do not know what became of O'Maley. He was last heard from in Paris in 1837, where it is said that he died. A diligent search of the records of Baltimore reveals no account of him or his heirs.

In 1834 Swan's Island was organized as a plantation, when all the property was taxed. In the plantation records of 1839 we find the following land taxed to Michael O'Maley: Seven hundred acres in the southeastern part of the island, and one lot of one hundred and fifty acres bounded by the land of Benjamin Stinson and Benjamin Smith. O'Maley's tax remained unpaid, and in Hancock registry' (8-533) is the following: Benjamin F. Staples, treasurer of plantation of Swan's Island, hereby certifies that real estate assessed in the year 1843 to Michael O'Maley, or unknown, on which a tax of $13.44 remains unpaid at the end of five years, said property was taken possession of by said plantation; dated July 7, 1848.

In the year 1847 John Dodge made a survey of all un-appropriated lands on Swan's Island, and it was divided into lots of fifty acres each, which were numbered and divided into first, second and third class, according to their value. Some of the better lots were sold at public auction.

Many of the other lots, which were of no income to the plantation, were given to settlers. They would choose what land they wished to own, make a record of the boundaries in the book of the plantation clerk, and pay the taxes on the land so occupied. I do not know that the plantation ever gave a deed to the occupants of these lots; all of them have now become the property of private individuals.


1. The figures refer to Hancock registry, volume and page, where these records were obtained.

Source: A History of Swan's Island, Maine, by H.W. Small, MD, Ellsworth Me, Hancock County Publishing Company, Printers, 1808



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