Book Review – Pioneers on Maine Rivers

by Wilbur D. Spencer

Review by Don Taylor

Maine’s early history is the story of Europeans coming to the new land to start anew. My understanding has always included the fundamental knowledge that the people settled along the rivers. Indeed, Scarborough and the entire Maine coast contains stories of the various plantations, proprietors, and pioneers. With my volunteer work at the Scarborough Historical Society, I’ve grown to know many of the stories of Scarborough, but I know little about any other places along the Maine coast. Consequently, I was excited to see Pioneers on Maine Rivers as a book to straighten out some confusing stories and provide the basics of many other colonization stories of Maine.

Summary of content

After the dedication and introduction, the author includes several background facts, such as the “Maine Visiting Lists before 1630,” “Proprietary Division,” and “The First Plantations. Then the book takes each river where settlements were established and works north from the Piscataqua River to the Machias River. Most of the settlement writeups include their history and quick identification of the early pioneers.

Analysis and evaluation of the book

To understand the accuracy and what the book can add to my knowledge and understanding, I immediately jumped to the “Scarborough River.” I had heard of the first settlers at Blue Point, Henry Watts and Richard Foxwell. I knew the first pioneers included Hilkiah Bailey and George Dearing, but I didn’t realize that Dearing’s widow married Jonas Bailey. A short subsection about “Stratton’s Islands” included dates of various individuals establishing settlements.

The next chapter in the book is the “Nonesuch River.” Surprisingly, this chapter included a few paragraphs regarding the Alger settlement at Dunstan (where I live on land that was once the Alger property). After the four pages of history about the settlements is a set of short paragraphs about the Pioneers. For example:

BAILEY, HILKIAH, employe or tenant of Richard Foxwell at Blue Point 1640; last mentioned, 1645.

The following chapter, SPURWINK RIVER[i], includes information about Richmond Island and Cape Elizabeth. Again, the Pioneers are listed, which includes Andrew Alger and Jonas Baily.

There are several appendixes, including on on Planters and another on Patents. However, “Appendix C” intrigued me. It is “Ancient Maps of Maine.” It provides a shortlist of maps that I will definitely seek to find copies of. I love maps.  There is an index; the index does not include the individuals listed in the Pioneer sections, but otherwise, it is excellent.


I found the book helpful, and I am delighted to have it in my collection. Whenever I want to know the early history of Maine’s many river settlements, this will be my “go-to” book for gaining basic knowledge of Maine’s 17th-century settlements.[ii]

Spencer, Wilbur Daniel. 1995. Pioneers on Maine rivers: with lists to 1651 compiled from the original sources. Baltimore: Reprinted for Clearfield Co., Inc., by Genealogical Pub. Co., Inc.

Pioneers on Maine Rivers
Publication Date: 1930
Reprint Date: 1995
Pages: 414 pp.


This book is available at the Portland Public Library[iii], the University of Southern Maine Library[iv], and directly from the publisher.

—– Disclosure —–


[i] The Spurwink River provides some of the border between Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth. Today, Higgins Beach is on the western bank of the Spurwink River. Across the river, the eastern bank, is primarily farmland. Also see the area at the mouth of the Spurwink River (43°34’17.1″N 70°16’42.4″W) on Google Maps

[ii] I need to reread the chapter on the Saco River. It’s 20+ pages contained so much information my head is spinning.

[iii] Internet: WorldCat –

[iv] Ibid.

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3 Responses to Book Review – Pioneers on Maine Rivers

  1. Paula Sparks says:

    Does it spend much time on the Presumpscott?

  2. Paula Sparks says:

    Fyi…if you have an ancestry account, this book is available to read there. A good opportunity to preview it and see of you want to purchase it!

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