Date of Award


Project Type


College or School




Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Laurel T. Ulrich

Second Advisor

Charles E. Clark

Third Advisor

J. William Harris


This dissertation examines a remarkable and little known episode in the peopling of early New England: The founding of an Irish-Catholic community in Lincoln County, Maine, 1760- 1820. It details the experience of over three hundred Irish families, tracing them to their Old World origins, following their progress across the Atlantic, and documenting their efforts to establish an ethnic and religious identity on the Maine frontier.

Their story parallels the lives of two immigrants, James Kavanagh and Matthew Cottril, who made a fortune in the Maine timber trade and encouraged kin and countrymen to settle in tne new land. Their career serves as a springboard to discuss the dynamics of Irish migration into northern New England, the Hibernian networks of the Maine timber trade, and the nature of provincial merchant communities in early America - many of which attracted members from the margins of the Anglo-Celtic world.

Kavanagh, Cottril and their Irish companions found a favorable environment in mid-Maine. They established themselves as traders, artisans, and farmers - settling in the timber outports of Lincoln County and the farming community of North Whitefield. While they largely assimilated the lifestyles and material culture of their new neighbors, the Irish were nonetheless able to transplant their religious traditions to northern New England, most visibly in the establishment of St. Patrick's church in Damariscotta Mills. Founded in 1798 it is today the oldest standing Catholic church in New England.

The experience of these Maine Irish challenge the traditional image of Catholic relations in early New England - one that is often understood within the setting of nativism and discrimination. Indeed, in Lincoln County one finds a surprising spirit of toleration for the Irish, as exemplified by inter-ethnic marriages between Yankee and Hibernian, the conversion of native New Englanders to the Roman faith, and the movement of prominent Irish into the public sphere. In large part this cultural acceptance was molded by the positive example of Irish elite such as James Kavanagh, and encouraged by novel conditions on the eastern frontier which placed a premium on energy and enterprise, rather than ethnic or religious affiliation.

Included in

History Commons