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What Became Of Maine's Founders? A Look At The Lives Four Key Figures

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Architect of the Capitol
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Flickr/Creative Commons
A statue of William King, Maine's first governor, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

On Saturday, Maine resumes its bicentennial celebration with a parade through downtown Lewiston and Auburn. And now, we take a look at what happened to four men who had key roles leading up to and just after Maine achieved statehood 201 years ago.

Historian Herb Adams talked with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about what came later for William King, who led the statehood effort; former Gov. Albion Parris and William Pitt Preble.

Adams begins with John Holmes, who cast one of two crucial votes for statehood as a member of the U.S. House from what was then, still, Massachusetts.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Herb Adams: Holmes got to be Maine's very first U.S. senator. Holmes spent pretty much all his life in public office in one way or another. Holmes was serving as U.S. attorney from Maine when he died suddenly at age 70 in 1843. This is a man who helped Maine become a state, and his death notice in the Portland papers is barely two sentences. And he is buried in a totally unmarked grave up in Portland's Eastern Cemetery. Talk about how fickle is fame.

Irwin Gratz: Let's discuss Preble.

Of all of King's cohorts, Preble was the sharpest blade in the drawer. Be careful where you put your fingers. He had an incredibly successful career. He was county attorney for York. He was, again, U.S. attorney for Maine. He was on the first Maine state Supreme Court. He was the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, and president of one of the very first great railroads in all of Maine, the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad. But he was not done yet.

After that long career, when he was 69 years old, he married a woman in her 30s and started a brand new family. It scandalized his former in-laws, the Longfellows. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was absolutely scandalized. Preble died rich and quite successful, in 1857.

The third person we want to talk about is someone who did not really play a role leading up to statehood, and that would be Parris.

Albion Keith Parris came from Oxford County. He was the smoothest and most pleasant of all of King's cohorts in the independence drive. He was good frontman for the independence movement, and he was richly rewarded for it. He was a U.S. congressman, he was a U.S. senator, he was a judge, he was comptroller of the U.S. treasurer, and he was governor of Maine. He was the second man to be elected governor of Maine after King. He was the youngest governor of Maine. He was only 33. And he served five one-year terms as governor.

Parris served as governor of Maine longer than any other person well into the 20th century. Longer than Gov. Joshua Chamberlain, longer than the famous Gov. Percival Baxter. In fact, near the end of his career, he was elected mayor of Portland, defeating Neal Dow himself, the great anti-alcohol crusader.

And that brings us to kind of the star of the statehood show, the very first governor of Maine, King. What happens to him after statehood?

King became the first governor of Maine, but he was also the first governor of Maine to resign, on May 28, 1821. He was governor a little more than one year.

President James Monroe had appointed William King as a commissioner of the Spanish claims. Before Florida was part of the U.S. it belonged to Spain. The English used Spanish Florida to raid the American colonies, and so when it became part of the U.S., there were claims for shipping that had to be figured out. Well, ships, that meant King, and rumors said he might be appointed secretary of the Navy by President Monroe, but that didn't happen.

So King came home, but he'd been away too long. Sailing across Casco Bay to go home, what does he meet coming in the other direction but a steamboat. And going up the Kennebec River to go home to Bath, what's coming down the river but other steamboats. Now King is a wooden ship and sails man.

There's something really poignant about the career of King — there is no third act. Eventually his banks folded. He had to sell much of his investments in land. His shipping slipped away from him in the Age of Steam. There are glimpses of him in his very old age needing money so badly that he would rush down the hillside from his great mansion in Bath, wrapped in his old military cloak from the War of 1812, to collect a few pennies of docking fees at his wharf downtown. And worse, for him, young folks stop listening to him at town meeting, and in fact made fun of him a little bit.

He did run for governor of Maine once again, in 1834 and lost big. William King died in 1852.

For more on the history of Maine statehood, visit www.bicentennial.mainepublic.org. The bicentennial parade steps off at 10 a.m. Saturday on Mill Street in Auburn and winds its way along Main and Court streets in Auburn, then Main Street in Lewiston.