News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in Castine Patriot, October 4, 2018 and Island Ad-Vantages, October 4, 2018 and The Weekly Packet, October 4, 2018
Award-winning author Colin Woodard gives talk in Blue Hill

Colin Woodard speaks in Blue Hill

Colin Woodard autographs books following his talk at George Stevens Academy. As a journalist, his career has taken him to over 50 countries where he has written articles for dozens of highly respected publications including The New York Times, The Economist, National Geographic and others.

Photo by Tina Oddleifson Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Tina Oddleifson

Award winning author and journalist Colin Woodard drew a crowd of almost 100 people on September 16 at George Stevens Academy, for a talk titled “Four Hundred Years of Livelihoods in Coastal Maine.”

Woodard is the author of several books including The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier; the New York Times bestseller The Republic of Pirates, and American Character: a History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good, for which he received the 2017 Maine Literary Award for non-fiction. He has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is a contributing editor for Politico, and is State and National Affairs writer for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Woodard, who grew up in Maine, has spent considerable time researching and writing about what it is that makes Maine and its people unique. His talk described the historic and economic events that shaped the character and worldview of Maine residents, and how those events continue to influence the state to this day.

Every area of the country had settlers from different places in the world, with wide ranging and sometimes opposing philosophies that continue to influence culture and politics in America today, explained Woodard. For Maine, its settlement history was in direct conflict with that of Massachusetts, and the opposing historic forces that shaped the two states has had a significant impact on how Mainers view themselves, outsiders, and their place in the world.

European settlement in Maine began when Ferdinando Gorges, a conservative aristocrat who was loyal to the crown and the feudal system, was given a land patent in the new world. By contrast, Massachusetts was settled by religious radicals who were opposed to the king, opposed to the Anglican church, and extremely skeptical of the aristocracy. “These two societies lived side by side, deeply opposed to each other,” said Woodard.

In the aftermath of the British Civil War in the 1640s, Gorges lost his property rights and financial connections when he backed the monarchy, and lost. Massachusetts then annexed the Maine settlements, grabbing land for trade, and creating a “colony within a colony,” said Woodard. All the way up until 1820 when Maine was granted statehood, it remained under the control and influence of Massachusetts. And as a “post-colonial society” it developed many of the same characteristics that other colonies developed all over the world — “like pride and defiance, as well as resentment, insecurity and self-doubt,” said Woodard.

After 1820, Maine experienced a great deal of growth because trade routes ran north to south, by sea. It provided the ships, as well as resources such as lumber, granite, salted cod and ice — all essential to a growing nation. But after the Civil War, when railroads shifted trade routes from east to west, Maine experienced a massive economic depression.

When artists discovered Maine in the nineteenth century and began painting its famous landscapes, the wealthy elite from Boston and New York fled to the state during the summer, in order to escape the pollution and over-population of their industrialized cities. Maine became their idealized view of how life should be, with its picturesque landscape, fishing culture and quaint New England villages. When they established summer homes in areas from Bar Harbor to Boothbay, the dynamic of dependency was re-established, and local residents in need of jobs provided services to summer residents wanting a more idyllic life.

Those two worldviews of Maine are played out in communities all over the state, but Woodard argues that the two visions of preservation and economic development can be compatible. “The things we have along the coast are becoming more and more valuable because of their scarcity,” he said. “Other parts of the country are trying to figure out how to attract people to their areas, but Maine doesn’t have that problem,” he said, “lots and lots of people want to live here.”

But to bring jobs that will allow people who grew up here to stay here, and to preserve the assets that make it so attractive, means that we have to listen to each other, says Woodard. Over the last decade he says he has seen more and more collaborations between groups doing just that. “The way forward is to build that trust, and to have confidence in our own abilities to find solutions,” he said.

The event was sponsored by Colloquy Downeast, in collaboration with the Brooklin Keeping Society, The Ellsworth American, George Stevens Academy, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Sedgwick-Brooklin Historical Society and the Wilson Museum.