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Voting in Vassalborough

 By Vicki Schad

On Tuesday, November 8, Vassalboro voters will make their way to the town office building on Route 32 to cast their ballots - for the 240th statewide election since our incorporation as a town in 1771.  Nearly two and a half centuries have brought some predictable changes, and yet the process remains incredibly similar to that earliest vote.

Our voter registrar, my husband of 41 years, announced at breakfast today, “well, I ordered three new voting booths yesterday, and new curtains for all the others.” That led to a discussion of the buildings where we have voted since we moved to town in 1972.


Elections then were held in the former Lowell Grammar School (aka “the old town office” and now MidMaine Internal Medicine) in the North Village. As Jim and I remember, we entered through the door on the right (Dr. Matthews had his practice on the left side). The front room was the Town Office, where Edith Canham sat behind her huge gray table-desk. To the rear of the office was the “Voting Room” equipped with about ten wooden booths made by the road crew, and outfitted with privacy curtains that looked suspiciously like upholstery fabric. The total ensemble reminded us of a row of sturdy outhouses, but in those primitive booths the citizens of Vassalboro cast their ballots for presidents and senators, as well as the local selectmen and dogcatcher.

“Vassalborough” was incorporated on Friday, April 26, 1771. The first settlers had arrived only about a decade before, so they didn’t waste any time in making their settlement an official town - the 22nd in Maine.1

Their first Town Meeting was held less than a month later,2 and the “freeholders and other inhabitants” of the community met at the home of James Baron, who ran a tavern.

The citizens of the fledgling village met again less than four months later3—this time for purposes of taxation. No time wasted there either! Because Maine was part of Massachusetts, and Massachusetts was at that time a colony of the British Empire, the warrant calling for this meeting started that it was “required in His Majesty’s name” [King George III]. It listed nine articles for discussion (compared with 65 of them in 2010), beginning with the election of a moderator “to regulate said meeting.” In the open assembly, they voted to raise money for road work,4 to hire a schoolmaster and a minister, and to provide town books and boxes for the jurymen.

Vassalborough’s first steps occurred during a time of monumental significance in the history of America, when ties to England were undeniable, yet intolerable. The colonists chafed under their monarch’s policy of “taxation without representation” and eventually decided to risk everything in a bid for independence.

In early 17755 the citizens of Vassalborough were called together “at the house of John Marsh” to add their voices to the grass-roots cry for the colonies’ freedom from British oppression. Article 11: “Whereas the Continental and Provincial congress have manifestly discovered an almost unexampled ‘i.e., unprecedented’ love for the liberties of their county ...therefore resolve that we will abide by the measures they have recommended for the good of our oppressed country,”6 the townspeople chose Remington Hobby to represent them at the Provincial Congress in Cambridge.

The consequences of their resistance were evident immediately. At the same meeting, a militia was formed “for the safety of our much distressed country,” with Dennis Getchell as Captain. They assembled for the purpose of choosing selectmen, a town clerk, constables, and “other such officers as shall be necessary to manage the affairs of said town.” As residents of what was then Lincoln County, they also cast their votes for County Treasurer and “register” of Deeds.

On July 9, 1776, five days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, the people of Vassalborough met at the home of Daniel Fairfield. Matthew Hastings moderated the meeting, at which they voted to “send three men to scout and guard the carrying places.” The chosen scouts were Nathaniel Getchell, Samuel Getchell, and Collins Moore.7

We all know the results of the courageous and audacious “love for liberty” that Vassalborough recognized in its citizens: the colonies became the United States of America, self-governing and free from British tyranny.

Town meetings continued to be held in the inns and taverns around town. (This seems likely to be the reason that alcoholic beverages were banned on Election Days for many decades.) Nathaniel Lovejoy, Jacob Webber, John Getchell, and Joseph Webber all opened their facilities to their fellow townsmen for town meetings—the purest form of democracy then, and now.

It was near the end of the 18th century—April of 1798, to be exact—that the people of the community set aside funds to purchase and maintain a meeting place—called the Vassalborough Town House.

               


Originally located on Route 201 near the Bog Road intersection, the building was moved to the corner of Cross Hill Road and Quaker Lane. For the most of two centuries, it served on that site as the meeting house and polling place for the townspeople.

To the Town House residents rode or drove their horses to discuss and vote on weighty issues as well as articles of purely local interest. In 1820 they voted with other Mainers to separate from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and form an independent state – the 23rd. Four decades later, at great personal sacrifice, they voted to join the Union forces under President Abraham Lincoln for the purpose of preserving these United States. Time and again, the Town House was filled with concerned citizens, energetic debate, and the electoral process we still cherish.

Voting in Vassalboro remains a precious privilege. Currently we have 2,994 registered voters in town, and we consistently have a higher voter turnout that the State average. In the time-honored tradition of your Town, exercise your treasured right to vote. Be part of this amazing and historic process. See you at the polls!
      

© Vicki Schad Reynolds, 2011

1from Atwood’s The Length and Breadth of Maine, 1946, page 260

2Wednesday, May 22, at 8 a.m., according to Town Record Book I, page I

3Monday, September 9, 1771, according to the Town Record Book I, page 3

4The vote designated that town roads be four rods (66 feet)

5Monday, January 16, at 10 a.m., according to Town Record Book I, page 27

6Town Record Book I, page 27

7Town Record Book I, page 36

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