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Maine's Swedish Colony, July 23, 1870

Narrative History: Maine Swedish Colony

New Sweden fields, ca. 1938
New Sweden fields, ca. 1938

Item Contributed by
New Sweden Historical Society

Before the Swedes, there was the forest.

In the mid-1800s much of Maine north and west of Caribou was unbroken forest. The ridges and hilltops were covered by sugar maple, beech, and ash, while the valleys held spruce, fir, and cedar.

Then in 1861, the State of Maine, which had been losing its younger population to the West, divided T15-R3 WELS (West of the Easterly Line of the State) into 160-acre lots and offered them - free - to anyone willing to put in the labor required to clear roads and create a farmstead. It is this land that would later become the town of New Sweden. No one took the state up on its offer. The state even tried giving land to a railroad company, but that plan also failed. Several similarly-sized lots in the northern portion of Woodland and the eastern portion of Perham were settled around this time, but most were later abandoned, too.

Portrait of William W. Thomas
Portrait of William W. Thomas

Item Contributed by
New Sweden Historical Society

In the early 1860s, President Abraham Lincoln selected thirty war consuls whose job it was to promote the idea of immigration to America under the Homestead Act. William Widgery (known as "W.W.") Thomas graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 1860 and was appointed by President Lincoln as one of the consuls. W. W. spent three years in Sweden in this role; he learned to love the customs and heritage of the Swedes and became fluent in the Swedish language.

William W. Thomas, New Sweden, ca. 1900
William W. Thomas, New Sweden, ca. 1900

Item Contributed by
New Sweden Historical Society

In Maine, the groundwork to promote Swedish immigration had been laid in the state's legislature with several failed proposals, but finally the plan was pushed through. W.W. Thomas, Jr. returned to Sweden and recruited 51 Swedes to accompany him to T15-R3. The Swedes wanted land; it was promised to them in 100-acre parcels with no taxes for five years and a guarantee to become landowners after occupying and improving the farms during that time. Thomas felt that the hard-working and pious Swedish farming families would be excellent citizens to settle the wilderness of Northern Maine and proposed to personally escort a carefully screened group to the "Promised Land."

Here is their story, "The Coming of the Swedes."

Coming of the Swedes, 40th Anniversary, 1910
Coming of the Swedes, 40th Anniversary, 1910

Item Contributed by
New Sweden Historical Society