Maine Genealogy Blog

A Failure of Tradition: The Forgotten First Settlers of Greenwood

This is the first in a series of posts I am writing in celebration of the bicentennial of my hometown of Greenwood in Oxford County, incorporated February 2, 1816.

A note appears in the town records of Greenwood that the "House Hold goods" of Anthony Berryment were "Delivered from car Aug. 11, 1898," and that he "Became a citizen of Greenwood on the above date." No such document allows us to date precisely the arrival of the town's earliest resident, so we have relied on tradition to identify the first settlers of Greenwood. But a reexamination of the available records reveals that tradition has failed us. As we mark the bicentennial of Greenwood's incorporation, it is time to recognize the town's first documented settlers.

The First Settlers According to Tradition

Tradition states that Greenwood was settled from the south, the first-comers staking claims on Patch Mountain along a spotted trail that ran from Norway to Bethel. Three families have long been credited with early settlements in what was called Phillips Academy Grant, but that of William Yates (or Yeats) and wife Martha Morgan was given precedence as early as 1859, with the publication of Coolidge and Mansfield's History and Description of New England:

The settlement was commenced in 1802, by William Yates from Minot, who was followed the next year by Thomas Furlong from Danville, and Timothy Patch from Westbrook. Several others came in 1804; and in 1805 there were thirteen families.1

Varney's 1881 gazetteer repeats that "The settlement of Greenwood was commenced in 1802, by William Yates, who was soon followed by Thomas Furlong and Timothy Patch."2 Mitchell's 1906 town register singles out Yates as "The first man to make a home within this town," but The Yates Book, published the same year, makes a more conservative claim, and gives equal credit to another: "The first actual settlers on the academy grant were William Yates and Thomas Furlong."3, 4

That the claims of Yates and Furlong were so well established must be attributed in part to their longevity. William Yates died in 1868 at age 96, Thomas Furlong in 1861 at age 87. Both men lived for six decades in Greenwood and were well known by the second- and third-generation residents of the town. The Yates name persisted in town throughout the twentieth century. Though Thomas Furlong's descendants moved away long ago, Uncle Tom Mountain and Furlong Pond remain. Timothy Patch died fairly early in Greenwood's history, but his son Isaac was a notable figure in town, and his last grandson left town in the early 1880s. Patch Mountain has retained the family name and secured its place in town history.

The case of Benjamin Bacon gives a hint of how tradition might fail us. Bacon lived in the eastern part of Greenwood, near the county road that entered from Paris and passed northward into Woodstock. He was known as an early settler, but not as one of the first settlers until descendant Harold Perham discovered that the publication of his marriage intentions to Rebecca Holmes in Paris gave his residence as "Phillip's Grant."5 That was on October 30, 1802. Benjamin Bacon lived nearly as long as Thomas Furlong, but for some reason his very early arrival in Greenwood was not recognized until a century after his death. Perhaps this was because he lived relatively far from the center of town, in a neighborhood more likely to take its business to West Paris or Woodstock.

Mosher and Haskell's Grant

Greenwood was incorporated in 1816 from Township Number Four, composed of three tracts of land: Mosher and Haskell's Grant, Phillips Academy Grant, and Raymond's Grant (also called Twitchell's Grant or Purchase). It is to the first of these grants that we must turn our attention.

Mosher and Haskell's Grant, comprising 1,000 acres along the southern edge of the township, was granted by the General Court of Massachusetts upon the petition of James Mosher, John Haskell and John Akers, all of Gorham, on June 24, 1795. It had no water power and there were no county roads through this part of the township, so its main appeal to speculators likely was its proximity to the soon-to-be-incorporated town of Norway.

The tract appealed to its neighbors as well. In the first petition for the incorporation of Norway, dated November 26, 1795, the petitioners prayed that a certain gore of land be included in the town when created.

Bounds of the Small Gore of Land belonging to the Commonwealth included in our North line Beginning at the North East corner of Lee's Grant from thence running Westerly straight to Waterford North East corner distance five miles and ten rods thence by the Easterly line of Waterford one mile to the North West corner of Cummings Grant containing about one thousand acres.6

The gore as described would have taken in most of Mosher, Haskell and Akers' recent grant in Township Number Four (of which the petitioners make no mention), and part of the land later granted to Phillips Academy. The petition brought no immediate result, and a second was drafted on May 10, 1796.

[A]s in our petition we made mention that having no Land for the first settled minister the use of the ministry and a public School, that the small Gore of land containing about one thousand acres belonging to the Commonwealth included in our north line might be Granted to the Inhabitants as an equivalent to the Publick lots generally given to the purchasers of any Township, we therefore beg leave to renew our petition to our Honours for the Gore of land belonging to the Commonwealth Included in our north line of the Plan by which we wish to be Incorporated....7

A plan of the proposed town dated March 2, 1797, featured the gore as described, with its "line on Commonwealth Land" running five miles and ten rods.8 But when Norway was incorporated a week later, the gore was not included.

The 1800 Census

In keeping with the traditional history outlined above, the federal census of Cumberland County in 1800 makes no mention of Township Number Four, suggesting that it was then unpopulated. William Yates and Thomas Furlong were enumerated in Norway, probably in that part known as Lee's Grant, where both were taxed in 1798. Timothy Patch was presumably the same found in Falmouth in 1800. None of them had yet taken up residence in Number Four.

A close look at the fifth and final page of Norway's schedule, though, reveals that the census taker did venture into the future town of Greenwood. Five names are appended — Josiah Hill, William Work, Isaac Royal, Bela Noyes and Jonathan Gurna (Gurney) — identified by a marginal note as "Settlements on a Gore of Land adjoining Norway."

This note is easily overlooked or misinterpreted. Census indexers invariably include the five families in Norway's enumeration. Harry A. Packard, in his history of the Noyes family published in the Lewiston Journal Magazine Section in 1927, assumed that his ancestor had lived in Phillips Gore — a tract in the southwest corner of Norway, annexed to that town in 1821. "Evidently Bela Noyes found Phillips Gore to his liking," he wrote, "for the census of 1800 places him still there."9 But the enumeration of Phillips Gore is to be found elsewhere in the 1800 census. Further, I will show below that four of the five men listed as having "Settlements" on the gore have links to Mosher and Haskell's Grant. It is clear that the "Gore of Land adjoining Norway" was the one adjoining Norway to the north.

The Forgotten First Settlers

Bela Noyes

Of the five first families of Greenwood listed in the 1800 census, that of Bela Noyes had the most significant impact, genealogically speaking. He is most likely the only one of the five men to have descendants still living in the town.

Bela Noyes was a Revolutionary War veteran from Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and with wife Elizabeth Mahan raised eleven children, the eighth of whom was born in Poland on January 18, 1797. Land records strongly suggest that they lived on lot seven in Mosher and Haskell's Grant. In 1807 Bela Noyes conveyed this entire lot to his son Asa by quitclaim deed, and in 1813 Asa secured a warranty deed for the northern part of the lot from one of the proprietors in order to sell it five days later.10 That Bela could give his son only a quitclaim deed indicates that he had no legal title to the land, but that he had some claim, undoubtedly due to improvements that he had made. I suspect that he had established his homestead at the northern end of the lot — the same parcel that Asa Noyes purchased and subsequently sold in 1813. Both Bela and Asa first appear on the tax rolls in Norway in 1813, indicating that they had recently moved to that town. Bela and Elizabeth Noyes lived in Norway for several years, returning to Greenwood to live with son John in their old age.

The original Noyes homestead had passed out of the family, but fifty years later it would be purchased by Bela's grandson Henry F. Noyes and his wife Mary. Henry was a son of John Noyes, who raised a large family in the vicinity. Though too young to have known his grandfather, Henry presumably would have been acquainted with the history of the farm where he spent much of his married life. Nevertheless, the early settlement of his grandparents in the town has never been broadly acknowledged. If Bela and Elizabeth had remained in Greenwood through its incorporation perhaps tradition would have remembered their contribution to its creation.

Jonathan Gurney

It is appropriate that Jonathan Gurney was enumerated directly after Bela Noyes, as there seems to have been a close connection between the men. Both served in Captain Josiah Hayden's company, raised in Bridgewater in May of 1775. Both came to Maine and settled in Bakerstown (later Poland and Minot) around 1788, Jonathan's seventh child being born there on March 8, 1796. Both came to Mosher and Haskell's Grant by 1800, Jonathan probably occupying part of lot seven, just south of the Noyeses. And when Bela and Jonathan applied for their Revolutionary War pensions, each vouched for the other's service.

Jonathan and his first wife Susannah Byram had nine children, three of whom — Samuel, John and Almira (Gurney) Noble — lived as adults in Greenwood. Jonathan never owned land in Greenwood, but his son Samuel purchased the Bela Noyes homestead in 1813.11 Samuel's brother John lived on an adjacent parcel, which may have been the original Gurney homestead. The three children mentioned remained in Greenwood after Jonathan's death in 1818, but by 1830 all three would move to Norway, bringing the family's role in Greenwood's history to a close.

Isaac Royal

Isaac Royal may be the most intriguing of the five settlers, for he is said to have served as a cabin boy under John Paul Jones during the Revolution.12 Five of his children, the last born in February of 1796, were recorded in Hebron. He is supposed the Isaac Royal of Gray who married December 8, 1786, Mrs. Tabitha Nason of Gray, though the Hebron birth records give his wife's name as "Olive." Royal removed to Township Number Three — now Woodstock — by March 1805, when the Commonwealth quitclaimed him a lot in the southeastern part of that township.13 By 1806 he had removed to Frankfort, where a son is known to have been born in July. Royal died of typhus at Dover in 1816 and was buried on his farm there, now home to the "Isaac Royal Training Center of Classical Dressage." Aside from the 1800 census, no trace remains of this family's presence in Greenwood. Given the order of names in the census and the probable locations of the other settlements, I think it likely that they lived on lot five or six.

William Work

William Work came from Norway, where he had married in 1795 Elizabeth Stevens, daughter of Jonas. He was the only one of the five men listed in the census to obtain title to his land in Mosher and Haskell's Grant, purchasing thirty acres from the north ends of lots four and five on December 5, 1806.14 William lived in Greenwood until his death, about 1824, when the family was dispersed.

Josiah Hill

The 1800 census partially substantiates a remarkable claim made by Dr. Osgood N. Bradbury, author of a series of articles that appeared in the Oxford County Advertiser from 1886 to 1897 under the heading "Norway in the Forties." Josiah Hill and Sally Wagg were residents of Pejepscot Claim (later Danville, still later part of Auburn) in 1790 when they married in New Gloucester. Bradbury maintains that the couple settled on Pike's Hill in Norway (then Rustfield) soon after marrying, and then, about 1793, moved into Number Four. Their third child, we are told, was born July 8, 1795, in a log house just over the line from Norway, "in the edge of Greenwood," on the west side of what is now Hayes or North Norway Road.15 If true, Mehitable Hill was the first child of whom we have record born within the present bounds of Greenwood. The Hills returned to Norway in about 1813.

It is impossible to verify that the Hills took up residence in Township Number Four as early as 1793, but there is some circumstantial evidence to bolster the claim, all of it negative. Josiah Hill does not appear on the state tax lists for Norway in 1794 or 1796, or the direct tax list of 1798. Nor did he sign the petitions for the incorporation of Norway in 1795 and 1796. As to provenance, Bradbury was well acquainted with two sons of Josiah and Sally Hill at the time of his writing, and with a third not long departed. In short, there is little reason to disbelieve Bradbury's claim, and some reason to believe it. The timing of the Hills' settlement is plausible; and the place of their settlement—on Commonwealth land, close to land in Norway which was then filling up with settlers—is reasonable.

One further piece of evidence exists of Josiah Hill's presence in the vicinity at an early date. The original plan of Mosher and Haskell's Grant, drawn by surveyor Lothrop Lewis of Gorham and submitted to the Committee for the Sale of Eastern Lands, January 18, 1796, bears the following notation:

This plan is a true representation of one thousand acres of Land located on the heads of Cummins's Gore and Lees Grant in the County of Cumberland for James Mosher John Haskel & John Akirs, agreeable to a Resolve of the General Court passd the 24th of June last. Taken in pursuance of a Letter from the Honble Nathl Wells in December Last, with the assistance of Josiah Hill & Willm Yates for Chainmen an[d] plotted by a scale of 100 rod to one inch.16

If Bradbury is correct, Josiah Hill was running the lines around his own homestead in the winter of 1795-96, with William Yates manning the other end of the Gunter's chain. Sixty-six feet separated the man deservedly named, and the man traditionally named, the first settler of Greenwood.


1A.J. Coolidge and J.B. Mansfield, A History and Description of New England (1859), 1:146.

2George J. Varney, A Gazetteer of the State of Maine (1881), p. 260.

3Harry Edward Mitchell and B. V. Davis, compilers, 1906 Town Register: Greenwood, Albany, Waterford, and East Stoneham (1906), p. 50.

4Edgar A.P. Yates, The Yates Book (1906), p. 17.

5See Perham's Westmoreland Ben Bacon : Pioneer Log Cabin Settler of East Greenwood (1974).

6William Berry Lapham, Centennial History of Norway, Oxford County, Maine (1886), p. 45. "Waterford" refers to the Waterford Three Tiers, now the northwestern part of Norway.

7Ibid., p. 46.

8Plan Book No. 25 (containing plans brought from the Massachusetts Land Office), Maine Land Office, p. 42.

9Harry A. Packard, "One of Maine's Old Revolutionary Families—The Noyeses," Lewiston Journal Illustrated Magazine Section, April 30, 1927, p. A1.

10Oxford County, Maine (Eastern District) Deeds, book 2, page 50; book 9, page 4; book 9, page 5.

11Ibid., book 9, page 524.

12Historical Collections of Piscataquis County, Maine (1910), p. 186.

13Massachusetts Deeds, Maine Land Office, book 3, page 287.

14Oxford County, Maine (Eastern District) Deeds, book 4, page 263. In a record dated Aug. 31, 1824 (book 25, page 146) he is referred to as "late of said Greenwood deceased."

15Osgood N. Bradbury, Norway in the Forties (1986), p. 151

16Plan Book No. 25 (containing plans brought from the Massachusetts Land Office), Maine Land Office, p. 44.

 Published February 2, 2016