Although likely visited by fishing fleets from Europe at a very early date, the earliest recorded purchases and settlers came in the 1600's. The "Indian Wars" around 1668, resulted in abandonment of those earliest settlements, and it was not until the 1700's that the first permanent settlers took root. Descendants of those early settlers still inhabit the Island today.
A part of the town of Edgecomb (Freetown) when it was incorporated in 1774 and known as Jeremisquam, Westport was incorporated as a separate town in 1828. Island history includes colonization dating to the 1600’s, and a role in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Leading up to the Civil War and for sometime after, Westport was largely a fishing island with fishermen and mariners outnumbering farmers. Post Civil War, the island, like many communities in the area saw a gradual decline in its maritime tradition and saw many more summer visitors. Accommodating summer visitors became a cottage industry for some homeowners and local farmers.
Transportation to Westport has shaped both its development and economy. Getting to the Island has evolved over the years from private boats and dories, to a bridge that was carried away by winter ice, to steamers and a two-car ferry, to a causeway and back to a bridge. Probably because of measured access to the island, hotels and motels never became a part of this coastal landscape. The Island was a much more rural, "down home" place to visit with home-cooked meals, local farm fare and blending with the local way of life. The Town Hall became legend for its weekend dances and community events that were the glue for bringing residents and summer visitors together.
More than 70 family cemeteries dot the Island contributing to the stories of those who built the Island. Numerous public and private structures also have historical significance. Four of those structures are on the National Register of Historic Places: The Town Hall (aka former Union Meeting House); the Westport Community Church; The Squire Tarbox Inn and the Josiah Parsons House. The Island's history is a source of pride, and an attraction for geneaologists and historic preservationists.
Historic Sites on Westport Island
In celebration of Maine's Bicentennial, with grant support from the Maine Bicentennial Commission, interpretive signs have been created for the historic sites listed below. See all the sites by following The Westport Island History Trail, a driving trail through Westport Island's History. Download the Trail Guide with Driving Directions here.
Timeline of Jeremysquam and Westport Island History
From "Westport Island, Maine once Jeremysquam" by John and Louise Swanton
1649 Earliest recorded purchase from Native Americans. John Richards from Robinhood -- no later claim.
1664 Wiscasset, including Jeremysquam Island, purchased from Native Americans by George David, confirmed by Robinhood.
1668 Due to "Indian Wars", all settlements were abandoned.
1734 Wiscasset Proprietors purchased Davie's claims for his heirs. After lengthy litigation with Kennebec Proprietors, they laid claim to the island and sold as a group of individual lots to the permanent settlers.
1745 Earliest permanent settlers claimed to be John Doors and Joseph Whitam.
1751 Map in Maine Historical Society shows four settlements.
1760 County of Lincoln formed.
1774 Jeremysquam joins with Freetown to be Edgecomb.
1784 Vote to have a church on the island (Congregational).
1795 Church built, but not completed: Free Will Baptist Meeeting House.
1812-1814 Fort McDonough earth works erected on Squaw Heights.
1820 State of Maine separated from Massachusetts.
1828 Town of Westport separated from Edgecomb with 66 houses and 90 polls.
1829 Post office established -- until 1907 mail carried by boat and wagon.
1838 Bridge built onto West Shore Road.
1847 Wooden bridge from Harrison's to Woolwich -- 1847 destroyed by ice 1893.
1864 Methodists established their own church -- now the Westport Community Church.
1874 North Chapel dedicated.
1885 Old church building taken over as Town Hall.
1899 Ferry established under the county.
1905 R.F.D. began from Wiscasset with Charles Cromwell as mail carrier.
1928 Town celebrated its 100th birthday.
1950 Bridge (causeway) built across the Back River at Cowseagan Narrows.
1955 Bridge became toll free.
1972 New high level bridge opened.
1978 Sesquicentennial of Westport.
To browse Westport historic photographs or documents anytime, visit the Maine Historical Society's digital library, the Maine Memory Network (MMN) and enter "Westport, ME" in the search box. Over 125 photographs and documents have been uploaded to date with new items added regularly. There is also a digital exhibit on the MMN showcasing maritime murals that adorn the Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. house.
Harriman, Beatrice E. (1970). Family Records of Westport, Maine . Publisher: Author. (Available for reference only)
Harriman, Beatrice E. (Ed.) (1977). Westport, Maine 1828-1978 . (Available for reference only)
Swanton, John & Louise (Eds.) (1993). Westport Island, Maine once Jeremysquam . Publisher: Westport Community Association. (Available for sale: $15)
Tarbox, Cora J. (2011). Westport Island Maine 1605----1972 . Publisher: Author. (Available for sale: $20)
Westport Island, Maine Cemeteries (rev. 2014). Publisher: Westport Island Cemetery Committee. (Available for sale: $15)
For those researching family genealogy, the Town Office has significant information on Westport families beginning with its settlement. However, prior to 1892, it was not mandated that birth, marriage and death records be filed with the Town Clerk, so these records are not complete. Also, Westport was a part of Edgecomb until it incorporated as a separate town in 1828. To obtain official copies of records that predate 1828, you must contact the Edgecomb Town Office.
Also check with Maine State Archives.
To Learn More
The "Friends" of Westport Island History is a non-profit 501(c)3 dedicated to supporting and expanding Westport Island's collection of historical records, photos, genealogy, family and business materials, maps, tools and more. The Friends with community partners has been instrumental in the creation of the Westport Island History Center at the Wright Landing to increase residents' and visitors' access to the collections and provide a venue for public displays, space for research, and space for archival storage. To become a member, click here for a membership form.
Please join us on our journey to build on the visual and narrative stories of those who came before us.
All are welcome and can support us on this journey by:
- Participating in our programs and events
- Becoming a member of the Friends
- Donating items related to our history
- Sponsoring an exhibit
- Making a donation