Maine's 17th County Fell Off the Map

OL' GRANDPA was smart-alecky, but I atoned by telling Tom about that 17th Maine county. Everybody knows Maine has but 16 counties, and it has always been a schoolroom must to memorize them in alphabetical order. I memorized them in my day, and they were still picking on the kids when Tom came along. It was years after my schooldays that a wise city editor told me never to memorize anything I could look up.

Tom, now well out of grade school, was possessed of this nugget of knowledge and decided to make use of it. His dad, my son, and I were settling the cribbage title again and I had won the first game. Tom approached to say, ``Betcha neither of you sports can name Maine's 16 counties.'' His father tilted his head to think, and said, ``I think I can, but I may need extra time.''

I said, ``Tom, you know from infancy that wagering is not permitted in this family unless you have a sure thing, so we'll have to be hypothetical. If I may ask, what hypothetical amount would you impone in this matter?''

Which tipped my hand, and Tom realized he'd better hedge. So I ran off the 16 Maine counties as I memorized the list in school back in, let's say, 1920:

Androscoggin Oxford

Aroostook Penobscot

Cumberland Piscataquis

Franklin Sagadahoc

Hancock Somerset

Kennebec Waldo

Knox Washington

Lincoln York

This took the fun out of Tom's sally, of course. I told him I could also do the books of the Bible and the kings of England, so I suspect he'll be more careful with his erudition henceforth.

There's an interesting quirk about the names of Maine counties. Cumberland, York, Oxford, and Somerset come from English shires. So does Lincoln, which was so named before Abraham was born. Waldo, Washington, Knox, Hancock, and Franklin memorialize early American men. Androscoggin, Aroostook, Kennebec, Penobscot, and Sagadahoc come from the Indian. This leaves Piscataquis, which just about everybody presumes is also Indian. Look in a Latin dictionary under piscatus and aqua. Somebody in the days of discovery had been to school. The name of Maine's 17th county was Sebastiquacook, named after a sachem of the Sabattus family of the Abnakis. Tome had never heard of it.

``Few people and hardly any schoolmarms,'' I said, ``know about the 17th county.'' I paused to let Tom ask me what happened to it, and he said. ``What happened to it?''

``It's not likely you'll believe this,'' I said. ``But in the long ago a great many things happened in Maine that are not given the dignity of attention in our schools. Tragedy befell Sebastiquacook County, and I think you may be old enough now to hear the truth.

``Sebastiquacook County used to be up in the West Branch area, between Penobscot and Piscataquis Counties, and it was all wild land - nobody lived there. The whole county was owned by the Westfinch Heirs, bought cheap long before they began letting daylight into the West Branch swamps. When it came time to strike an ax into Sebastiquacook County, long lumber was already getting scarce in the other parts of Maine. Paul Bunyan, then a young man, was given the contract to log off the county, and he went in there in August of 1832 to begin. His job was to land the logs on brows at the West Branch, so they could get down to the Bangor sawmills on the run-off of spring, 1833.

``But things didn't go well for Paul, and it came on a winter of heavy snow, and when it got into February Paul could see that he was going to default on his contract. No way could he finish the job before the freshet. But Paul, as always, was equal to the challenge. He hooked Babe, his blue ox, onto one corner of Sebastiquacook County, fetched it over the snow down to the river, logged it off, and finished the whole job on March 22. nd of March. But before Babe could drag the deforested county back to its place, the freshet hit, and Sebastiquacook County was washed down river and out to sea. Today Maine has only 16 counties.''

Tom said it was disgusting to have a know-it-all Grandpop. I asked him if he'd like to hear me do the books of the Bible.

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