All Maine Matters

January 2006



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Profiles in Rural Maine: Oxbow Plantation and Benedicta
by Ken Anderson

In south central Aroostook County, at the confluence of the Aroostook River and Umcolcus Stream, lies Oxbow Plantation, which takes its name from an abrupt bend that the Aroostook makes near that area.

The first settlers arrived in Oxbow in 1842, and the township was organized as N9R6 in 1848, and became Oxbow Plantation in 1870. The early residents of Oxbow Plantation were farmers, who moved to Oxbow for its rich soil.

The first to arrive were Samuel and Elias Hayden (age 43 and 33, respectively), who came from Madison, in Somerset County. They had come to Oxbow through Patten to Masardis. From there, they first traveled down the Aroostook River by boat to Presque Isle, exploring that area before returning, then continuing upstream to the oxbow. Here they chose land on the south side of the river. They then returned to their homes, but came again the following June.

Samuel Hayden moved his wife, Mary, and their several children, built a large comfortable farm, and remained until 1860, when the family moved to Minnesota. Elias Hayden, a bachelor, first built a log cabin before clearing a farm. He bought planks and boards from Pollard’s Mill on the St. Croix, floated them downstream to Masardis, then poled them up to Oxbow in a boat. His barn was the first framed building in the township. The following year, he married and built a frame house which he ran as a hotel.

Next to arrive were John and Ann Winslow, and their family, who moved to Oxbow from Freedom, in Waldo County. Like their neighbors, they were farmers, but John also did some lumbering. John Winslow became the first clerk of Oxbow Plantation.

In 1843, Ira Fish & Company built a sawmill on Umcolcus Stream, not far from where the bridge is today. The company was granted a block of land near the mill, which was later turned into productive farms.

Thomas Goss, Jr., who came only a little way, from Masardis, was another early settler, but he remained only a few years. Others included Aaron and Didama Scribner, who came with their family from Lincoln; William and Francis Botting, from Madison; a young man by the name of Robert Pervis, who married one of the Hayden girls; Selden and Abigail Lane; William and Lucy Day. The 1850 census showed a population of 59 people.

Settlers came to Oxbow from several of Maine’s southern regions, as well as from eastern Canada, establishing one-room schoolhouses, and a small Congregational Church, which stands today. Although it does not appear to have been plowed this year, neither does it look to be in poor repair.

In the 1950s, Shephard Boody, of Old Town, bought the mill property and continued lumber operations there. George Sawyer, of Masardis, purchased the mill in the 1960s, but kept it only a short time before selling it to C.C. Libby, of Newfield.

During this time, others came to Oxbow Plantation, building rambling farmhouses, with apple orchards and fields of potatoes. Barns were filled with chickens and dairy cattle.
Although some of the structures remain, there are few working farms in Oxbow today. Many of the barns have collapsed entirely, while others are in disrepair. Forests have reclaimed the fields that once grew potatoes. It is a beautiful part of the state, but there are fewer people there today than there were in 1850, twenty years before Oxbow was first recognized as a plantation.

The mill, of course, is long closed; and, while there are still a few farms and some affluent homes, sporting camps are the dominant industry in Oxbow today.

The township didn’t have much in the way of roads, but the land was good and a large lumber industry was already flourishing in the area. Village lots were laid out in the middle of town, from north to south. A church and a parsonage were built, and land was set aside for a college farm. One large building intended for the college was nearly built when this part of the project was abandoned, to be located in Worcester, Massachusetts instead. After remaining unoccupied for several years, the building was torn down.

Bishop Fenwick also had a mill built on Molunkus Stream, near the east end of town, but it saw little use and was allowed to deteriorate.


Located on the southwestern part of Aroostook County, Benedicta was named after the Catholic Bishop Benedict Fenwick, who purchased the township from Massachusetts in 1834, hoping to found a Catholic colony, which was originally intended to include a college. Unfortunately, he didn’t receive the deed for his land until 1846, which set his plans back somewhat.

Settlers were charged $2.00 per acre for land along the main road, and $1.50 per acre for land further back. Bishop Fenwick gave them time to pay off their farms.

The 1837 census indicates that seventy-nine people were living in the township at that time, thirty-nine of them being over the age of 21. It is unknown whether the first settlers were part of the Bishop’s colony, or if they were squatters who had arrived before the purchase of the land, but the Joseph Leavitt family, consisting of thirteen people, eight of them over the age of 21, are thought to have been the first settlers in the land.

Others who were living in the area that was to become Benedicta in 1837 were five members of the William Brown family, two members of the John Buske family, four members of the John Kearnes family, seven members of the Daniel Brackett family, four members each of the James Dee and John McNamara families, six members of the Nicholas Larkin family, three members of the William Crook family, five members of the Thomas Casey family, two members of the Jeseh Baggatt family, and a man named Edward Sweeney.

It is uncertain whether they were a part of the Catholic colony or whether they had arrived separately.

Nicholas Broderick, with ten people in his family, were among the first to arrive from the Bishop’s group, as were seven members of the John Millmore family, and three members of the Timothy Dorsey family. These families are documented in the 1837 census records.

Other Catholic settlers were Timothy Dorsey, Martin Qualey, and Philip Finnegan, who were said to have arrived in 1834, but who do not appear in the 1837 census records. Patrick Brade, Christopher Keegan, John Byrne, Francis Smith, and John Perry joined the Catholic colony later, soon followed by Henry Rivers and Martin Lawler. These were all Irish immigrants who had previously worked in the cities of Massachusetts.

Several others arrived between 1838 and 1840. One of them was John Rush, who came in 1838 and settled opposite of where the church was erected in 1843, and remains today as St. Benedict’s Catholic Church.

Benedicta was incorporated as a town on February 1, 1873, becoming the 432nd town in Maine.

These Irish Catholics built many good farms and comfortable homes, some of which still stand today, all in good repair, lending a distinct appeal to a drive down Benedicta Road. While it was not quite the success envisioned by Bishop Fenwick, the population remains primarily Catholic, although the numbers been in decline in recent years. In 1980, the last year for which there are defined census figures, the population was 225. The town was disorganized in 1987. Benedicta Elementary School, where two teachers teach from 15-20 students, remains open but has recently been threatened with closure.

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