Who Owns Baker's Island? Background Trespass Case   Return to Baker Island
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Who Owns Baker's Island?

The Pioneers who settled it,
or the Government that bought it?

by Hugh L. Dwelley

The documents in this folder were copied from files of the U.S. Light House Board held by the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  The documents suggest that the Gilleys may have taken "possession" of Baker's Island as early as 1806 but they also state that William [Gilley] "was a resident on Baker Island for some seventeen years prior to [its] purchase" by the Government in 1827.  Thus, it would appear that William and his family probably began to live on the island full time only in about 1810.

A copy of the deed by which the U.S. Government purchased, for $300, all of Baker's Island from the Bingham estate in 1827 is included.  The purpose of the purchase was to build the lighthouse of which William Gilley became the first keeper.  No provision was made and there appears to have been no thought given to Gilley receiving any sort of a squatter's title to the portion of the island which he and his family had cleared and had been working and living upon for seventeen years.

These records show that William Gilley was "removed" as keeper in 1849 after having served in that capacity for twenty-one years.  There is no hint in these documents as to the reasons for his removal.  The documents indicate that, following his removal, William Gilley left the island but that two of his sons remained.  William had undoubtedly been living in the keeper's house and his sons had houses of their own.  Only those three houses are shown on the 1894 map at "J" in this folder.

In 1853, Lighthouse Inspector Franklin based at Portland, reported that Gilley's sons, Elisha and Joseph, were being so "abusive" to the present keeper (Joseph Bunker) that they should be removed from the island and their houses taken down.  Seeking to accomplish this, the Government initiated suits against the Gilleys for trespass.

Surprisingly, the Gilleys contested the Government and won!  In 1855, the U.S. Attorney at Portland accepted an agreement with the Gilleys that gave the Government possession of a reservation only 40 rods square (about 19 acres) and withdrew the suits for trespass.  The Agreement also granted the Government grazing rights for the keeper and a right of way from the lighthouse to the boat landing.  The Bingham estate deed to the Government was for "one hundred and twenty-three acres and seventy-five rods more or less."

These documents show that the Government raised the issue again in 1896/98 when the Cranberry Isles wished to build a school house on the island.  It was finally settled only in 1909 with the issuance of a ruling by the U.S. District Court at Portland that confirmed the terms of the 1855 Agreement but also gave the Government title and responsibility to forever thereafter "keep open" the boat landing for all persons interested in the island.

Nothing in these documents indicates who must have arranged and paid for the Gilley's attorneys.  Their attorney in 1909 was one Benjamin Thompson.  The Gilleys appear to have been treated with great sympathy by the U.S. Attorneys at Portland.  In 1898, one of them, Isaac W. Dyer, wrote: "...it would certainly be unfair and oppressive at this late day to assert the paramount title of the Government as against the few poor and hardy fishermen living there... ."

Will wonders never cease!!

Hugh L. Dwelley

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Records of the United States Coast Guard
Record Group 26


Records of the United States Lighthouse Service


Selected Records Relating to Baker's Island Lighthouse


The National Archives
National Archives and Records Service
General Services Administration
Washington: 1959


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