by Bruce Tucker, Alfred Historical Society
When we think of York County’s great landed proprietaries, the first name that springs to mind is the Phillips Proprietors. William Phillips and his heirs lay claim to much of central and northern York County based on the numerous deeds he purchased from local Natives in the 1660’s. Neighboring Sanford and Waterboro both evolved through the Phillips heirs but this proprietary shared the stage with others such as the Shapleigh heirs and the Small heirs. Alfred had still another proprietary within her bounds, the shadowy and poorly understood Coxhall Proprietors.
As with the other groups, Coxhall was based on title purchased from the Natives. John Sanders, Mousam ferryman, and his son in laws John Bush and Peter Turbat purchased the land from Fluellin, a local Native. The parcel was ill defined, described as only unclaimed land beyond the Wells headline (eight miles from the coast) and four miles from the Saco River ( the depth of the grants on that River) (YCRD 1:107). Harlackendon Symonds, a young man from Ipswich then residing in Wells, purchased the interest of Bush and Turbat and the description suddenly became a parcel 4 miles square. (YCRD 1:108) The next spring Fluellin sold other land in interior York County to William Phillips and dutifully exempted the 4 mile square parcel, leaving Symonds Coxhall tract surrounded by settled towns and Phillips land. Symonds was well aware of his situation for he witnessed Fluellin’s deed to Phillips. (YCRD 8/220, 3-30-1661) Within weeks, Symonds was back in Massachusetts conveying Coxhall tracts to his father and other relations. (YCRD 1:131-3) When King Phillips War broke out in 1675, his Maine investment became worthless as no one could venture to Coxhall without risking their hair.
Harlackendon Symonds came from a very large and powerful family. His father Samuel was Deputy Gov. of Mass., a magistrate and related by marriage to the Winthrops, Lakes, and other families among the richest and better connected in the colony. The elder Symonds received large land grants in Mass. and southern New Hampshire. As a judge, he was very familiar with commercial prospects on the northern frontier. It was perhaps through these connections that Harlackendon and his brother William had purchased the Wells farm of Henry Boade who dwell where the Laudholm Farms is located. They were on the frontier when well heeled settlers were speculating in Native land titles and took a flier on Fluellin. Symonds later purchased more title in central York County from a Native named Dony. Dony was very active in the Indian Wars and the purchase was likely intended to end any opposition from his quarter rather than acquire more real estate. (YCRD 5:86) In 1688, Harlackendon sold the bulk of his purchase to a group of 36 of his relatives and neighbors, mostly from the Ipswich/ Cape Ann area. (YCRD 5/84) These folks became known in later years as the Coxhall Proprietors. Harlackendon Symonds, after his sale, lived on his father’s farm but had to move on when it was bequeathed to others. One source said he died in Massachusetts, another said he removed to midcoast Maine. He died penniless in any case.
Through the early 1700’s, Symonds legacy remained largely a paper empire as Indian wars prevented any settlement there. Other powerful proprietors in the area began staking their claims to the land that would become valuable once the wars ended. The Phillips heirs especially surpassed the Coxhall group in organizing townships, lotting parcels, granting land and insuring political support for their projects would be available when they were ready to make their move. The Phillips were headed by the Hutchinsons and the Olivers, the most powerful political, judicial and mercantile family in Massachusetts colony, but even they were hindered by the periodic Indian wars that enflamed the Maine frontier. Without buyers the title to Maine hinterlands were worthless and the anxious owners had to bide their time before cashing in on their land holdings.
One attempt to profit from frontier Native deeds in the area was cannily attempted by other men from Ipswich. This did not involve Coxhall land but the instigators were related to Symonds and may have served as his example. In 1659 brothers Daniel Eppes (Harlackendon’s step brother/ brother in law) and Simon Eppes purchased an Indian deed from members of the Wadliegh family. The original deed conveyed everything from the Ogunquit to the Kennebunk River but the Eppes purchased everything from the Cape Porpoise (Mousam) River to the Kennebunk River, about half the tract, encompassing eastern Kennebunk. The original conveyance was made to Wadliegh serving as a town representative in an attempt to extinguish Native claims in Wells. The deed had lay dormant through the Indian Wars and until the principal were long dead but in 1715 the claim was revived by the Eppes. The Wadleighs supported the Eppes claim and all the land title in Kennebunk were thrown into question. After much posturing and rancorous debate, a compromise was effected. In 1720, Eppes were granted 1 mile square and Wadleigh was granted 200 acres to extinguish their claims. These lots were laid out in 1731 in prime real estate along the Mousam River. John Storer acquired the Eppes interest. (Remich 63-65) Thus freed from the title cloud, Kennebunk was set for expansion.
Most of the 36 Coxhall proprietors listed on the 1688 deed were small holders of 100 or 200 acres. The real acreage was still retained within Symonds extended family and their heirs. Because the land was unusable during the wars (and thus unsaleable) it passed from generation to generation along with the hope it would become valuable some day. Occasionally committees were formed to settle boundaries with other proprietaries. This usually occurred during brief interludes of frontier peace but efforts waned when war broke out anew. By the mid 18th century, the most active proprietors were heirs of Symonds grantees. When Quebec City fell to the English in 1759, the wars finally ceased and settlers swarmed into York County. Some of the Coxhall proprietors removed to this area to act as agents to sell and defend their holdings against aggressive neighbors and usurpers. The two most prominent among the Coxhall Proprietors were John Low –Father of Lyman- and Nathaniel Conant – Father of Alfred.