A postage stamp honors Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a claimant to land on Mount Desert Island, who founded Detroit, Mich. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Historical records: Early island ownership



By Deborah Dyer, director, Bar Harbor Historical Society

From the April 1917 Bar Harbor Times

If old Bartholemy de Gregoire and his good wife, now sleeping peacefully in the little cemetery on the hill at Hull’s Cove, could come to life and see the procession of automobiles passing every minute, hear the chug-chugging of motor boats in the harbor, or see the hydro-aeroplanes of the navy flying over their heads, they would think that nothing much more could happen in the way of changes in their one time vast domain.

If the land that they possessed a 100 or so years ago were all theirs now at its present valuation, they would be in the class with John D. Rockefeller Jr., Pierpont Morgan and a few other favored of fortune. As it is, all that now remain of their vast holdings are two little mounds marked in the village cemetery by a rude cross.

The little village which was the home of the owners of a vast domain, is peaceful enough today. It is the embodiment of quiet and content, especially on a warm and hazy summer day. The farmhouses, some of them over a hundred years old, the broad fields which the summer breeze waves gently, the little harbor which flows in to meet the waters of a tiny brook, all bespeak an atmosphere of content with the prosperous and happy present. The farmers who form the greater part of its population work hard every possible minute of the spring and summer months to grow enough to supply the needs of Bar Harbor’s ever-hungry and ever-demanding summer population.

On the prettiest points of the harbor and its encircling promontories the summer cottagers have fixed their estates, and one of the most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in the country, where every member is chef in turn and whose membership is strictly limited to millionaires sanctioned by the most supreme high priest and priestess of society, looks down on the shores where so much of the early history of Mount Desert took place.

It was in the year 1688 that among other generous grants to his favorite officers, Louis XIV, King of France, gave to Antoine de la Motte Cadillac, as he is better known, an extensive tract in the new world.

This consisted in part of the island of Mount Desert. Cadillac was a brilliant officer of the marine corps and for nearly 20 years was commandant of MacKinaw and Detroit, and Governor of Louisiana. It was his delight to sign himself, in recognition of the generous grant of the Grand Monarque “Lord of Donaquee (Union River) and Mount Desert in Maine.”

For nearly a score of years the old Gascon remained in the New West, in the great province of Louisiana. Finally however in 1717 he became tired of the lonely life far from real civilization and at last went back to the gay France, which his soul craved for. Some few years afterwards he died.

The first page of a letter from Mme. De Gregoire, an early owner of land on Mount Desert Island, to Thomas Jefferson. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

In the year 1786, just before the troublous times which were to set all France and the civilized world, too, by the ears, Cadillac’s grand-daughter, Madame Marie Therese de Gregoire, nee de la Motte Cadillac, and her husband Bartholemy de Gregoire, came over from France.

Arriving here, they set up a claim to the original grant, in the name of Mme. de Gregoire, the direct line of Cadillac. It was just after the revolution, and gratitude was naturally high toward France for her help in freeing the infant country from the clutches of Great Britain.

Naturally as a mark of gratitude and to show the good feeling, it was not a difficult undertaking to secure the confirming of the grant. Thomas Jefferson interested himself in favor of the two, as did the Marquis de Lafayette through M. Otto, the French ambassador to the United States.

More perhaps as a mark of gratitude than on strictly legal grounds the General Court of Mass., sitting at Boston, reported in favor of the claimants, and by a special act naturalized the de Gregoires and their children.

The original grant to Cadillac was given to the family with the exception of such parts as were not occupied by actual settlers, and which amounted to some 60,000 acres of land, about 60 percent, of the original grant. This was about evenly divided between the island of Mount Desert and the adjacent mainland.

For many years the couple lived quietly upon their grant, which was according to the terms of the grant made by the General Court in June 1787, “all such parts and parcels of the island of Mount Desert and the other islands and tracts of land particularly described in the grant of patent of his late most Christian Majesty, Louis XIV, to said Monsieur de la Motte Cadillac, which now remains the property of this commonwealth whether by original right, cession, confiscation or forfeiture to hold all the aforesaid parts and parcels of the said land and islands to them to the said Monsieur and Madame de Gregoire, their heirs and assigns forever.”

On this grant nearly all the titles to real estate on the island of Mount Desert are based.

Little by little, the princely territory given to the de Gregoires for the purpose of cultivating “mutual confidence and union between the subjects of His Most Christian Majesty and the citizens of this state,” dropped away from the original owners. Where the money went seems to be a mystery.

Toward the latter end of their lives the family was in reduced circumstances, and at the time of their death the two were practically destitute. Another mystery seems to be in regard to the whereabouts of their children. Pierre, Nicholas and Marie are said to have returned to France, and from that time on dropped out of sight. No one has any record of them and the old couple apparently never mentioned their whereabouts to their neighbors. Whether the money received from the sale of the princely territory which would be worth millions at the present day was shipped to France to pay the expense of these 3 children, or rather the old people buried it on the island has never become known. They (the children) never made any claim for the estate of the old people and seem to have dropped entirely out of the life of the de Gregoires.

About 1810 the old gentleman died, universally beloved by the simple people with whom he had lived so long and whose society he was not too proud to esteem.

The De Gregoire grave marker in the Hillside Cemetery in Hulls Cove. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Tradition also tells that it was a living cold winter day when the old Frenchman was buried and the snow was piled in tremendous drifts all over the town. So deep was it that it was practically impossible to enter the little graveyard, and it was necessary to dig a grave just outside the churchyard walls, where the body of the old proprietor was laid to rest.

The lady did not long survive him. Mme. de Gregoire lived for three years after the death of her husband, forsaking the old homestead, whose cellar is still to be seen. She made her home for the last years of her life with the Hulls, for whom the village was named. Indeed, Capt. Samuel Hull who settled there after the Rev. War, was a man of note in those days. He was a brother to General William Hull, the ill-fated victim of Detroit, and it was at his house that the 1st town meeting when the new town of Eden originated, was held.

Finally Mme. de Gregoire, the last of the great family, died, and her remains were laid alongside her husband. From practically millionaires for those days to a destitute old couple was the story of the de Gregoires, the original owners of Mount Desert.

To find out more about Bar Harbor history, visit www.barharborhistorical.org.