Plenty of Politicians from Paris Hill
How a small hilltop village in rural Oxford County produced so many politicians
You would probably be astonished if you saw a list of the politicians that came out of tiny Paris Hill, Maine during the mid-1800’s. The list includes Congressmen, Senators, Judges, Governors, a Postmaster General, Mayors, and most notably, a Vice President.
But how did this happen?
Birth of a Town, County and State (in that order)
The hill was the site of the first settlement in what would become the town of Paris in 1793. Paris soon grew to have three distinct villages: the original settlement on Paris Hill, South Paris, and North Paris.
In 1805, Oxford County was created and Paris Hill was appointed to be the county seat.
Then in 1820, Maine split from Massachusetts and became a state.
After it became the county seat, Paris Hill needed county buildings in order to perform typical county functions – like a courthouse, jail, and register of deeds. Plans were drawn up and construction began, but while the buildings were being constructed, county meetings were held in the Baptist Church.
Paris Hill grew to become a tidy, condensed village. Everything was within walking distance and the village green was at the heart of it. And at the heart of that was the Hamlin house.
When it became the County Seat, a number of educated men and their families moved to Paris Hill to fill positions – and especially to practice law with the steady supply of defendants coming to the court house for trial. Commuting in the 1800s wasn’t exactly easy and the height of Paris Hill meant that it was far more convenient to live and work there than to live someplace else and travel up the hill to work each day.
Dr. Cyrus Hamlin (b. 1769) moved to Paris Hill with his wife Anna Livermore Hamlin and their three children when Oxford County was organized and Cyrus was invited to be Clerk of Courts. He bought a farm and had a 3 story house built in 1806 on the property. The house featured large windows that afforded views of the White Mountains on one side and the Paris Hill common on the other.
The Hamlins welcomed many visitors and boarded quite a few lawyers and politicians over the years. They hosted gatherings, provided space for village theater productions, and also for the ladies of Paris to quilt. The Hamlin house became quite a hub of village activity. Enoch Lincoln, future Governor of Maine, boarded there for 5 years, supposedly taking advantage of Dr. Hamlin’s extensive library.
It is no surprise that the fifth Hamlin child, named Hannibal after Cyrus’ twin brother, would go onto a very successful political career (see below).
A Cycle of Lawyers, Politics and inter-marriage on the Hill
From roughly 1810-1870, Paris Hill, as the County seat, was responsible for the rise of dozens of lawyers and politicians. Some were born there and many more moved there due to the county court and the legal opportunities surrounding it. As the community grew, sons and daughters of the lawyers married among the families and begat the next generation. Paris Hill started as a farming community and ended up being an odd mix of educated lawyers, politicians, writers and many of them were also farmers.
The Decline of Paris Hill
Forty five years into Paris Hill’s political ascent, the forces of nature and commerce conspired against the Hill. Paris Hill was blessed with stunning views and the County seat but no waterway which was the hallmark of any successful 19th century community. It’s height also meant that it was a struggle to get to. Meanwhile, South Paris had the Little Androscoggin River running through it which had created a blossoming mill community. So when the Grand Trunk Railroad decided to bring the train to Paris, it was no surprise that they chose South Paris instead of Paris Hill. A new station was built in 1850 and a 2nd added in North Paris. Once that happened, the hub of Paris activity shifted to South Paris it eventually made sense to take the county seat away from Paris Hill. A new court and jail were constructed there and in 1896, South Paris officially became the seat of Oxford County. Paris Hill was once again just a village and it’s influence on future Maine politics essentially ended.
Who’s Who in Paris Politics
Levi Hubbard (1762 – 1836)
Levi Hubbard moved to Paris in 1785 and was selectman and treasurer of Oxford County. He then became member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1804, 1805, 1812) and the Massachusetts State Senate (1806-1811). He served as a Major-General of the militia during the War of 1812. He then became a member of US House of Representatives (1813-1815). He died in 1836 and is buried in the Paris Hill cemetery.
Albion K. Parris (1788-1857)
Albion K. Parris, a lawyer, had a very long and distinguished political career. He was born in Hebron and attended Dartmouth College. After Dartmouth, he moved to Paris and was in private practice from 1810 to 1811. He was Oxford County prosecutor from 1811 to 1813. He was a member of the Massachusetts House (1813-1814), then Massachusetts Senate (1814-1815). Next, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (1815-1818). From 1818-1822, he was a member of the United States District Court for the District of Maine. He was the 5th Governor of Maine (1822-1827). He was then elected to the U.S. Senate (1827-1828). From 1828 to 1836, he was an Associate Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. He moved on to be the 2nd Comptroller of the Currency for the United States Department of the Treasury from 1836 to 1850. He briefly left politics and resumed private practice in Portland from 1849 to 1852. But he jumped back in the ring and became the Mayor of Portland in 1852. He ran for Governor of Maine again in 1854 but failed in his bid. He was the cousin of Virgil Parris (see below).
Enoch Lincoln (1788-1829)
Enoch Lincoln was born in Worcester, Mass, the son of Levi Lincoln who was Thomas Jefferson’s first attorney general. Enoch studied at Harvard, became a U.S. District Attorney and then moved to Paris Hill in 1819 to practice law where he boarded at Dr. Cyrus Hamlin’s house. He was elected to U.S. Congress in 1818 after Albion Parris (see above) resigned and served until 1826, first as a member of Massachusetts and then of Maine after it became a state. Enoch then was elected to be the 6th Governor of Maine and served from 1827 until his death in 1829. He won three terms (one year terms at the time) – each time with over 90% of the vote. He did not run for a fourth term. He died young before the newly elected governor took over. He was buried in a mausoleum in Augusta’s Capitol Park, directly across from the Maine State House. But supposedly, when the crypt was checked in 1991, it was completely empty and nobody knows what happened to Enoch’s body.
Rufus K. Goodenow (1790 – 1863)
Rufus served as a Captain in the infantry during the War of 1812 and moved to Paris in 1821 to serve as clerk of the Oxford County Courts from until 1837. He was then elected a member of the Maine House of Representatives and served until 1838. He had limited schooling but later did his own studies and passed the bar and became a lawyer and practiced in Maine. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1849 and served until 1851. His brother Robert was also a U.S. Congressman but he did not live in Paris. Rufus is buried in Paris.
Reuel Washburn (1793 – 1878)
Ruel Washburn was born in Raynham, Massachusetts and graduated from Brown University in 1815. His father, Israel Washburn, Sr. purchased the original homestead built by Cyrus Hamlin (father of Hannibal Hamlin) in 1809 and raised ten children with his wife, Martha Benjamin. Ruel moved to Paris Hill to study law under Albion K. Parris (above) and was admitted to the Maine bar. He moved to Livermore and served in the Maine State Senate from 1827 to 1828. In 1829, he served on the Maine Governor’s Council. Then from 1832 to 1835 and in 1841, he served in the Maine House of Representatives. He also served as probate court judge. Washburn ran for election to the United States House of Representatives three times but failed in all attempts.
Timothy J. Carter (1800 – 1838)
Timothy was born in Bethel, became a lawyer, and moved to Paris in 1827. He was appointed secretary of the Maine State Senate in 1833 and was a county attorney from 1833–1837. He was elected to the Twenty-fifth Congress and served from March 4, 1837 until his death in 1838. Supposedly, Timothy witnessed the death by duel of a friend and colleague and was so distraught that he fell ill and died at the tender age of 38 in Washington. Like the brothers Goodenow above, Timothy’s brother Luther C. Carter also served in Congress. His son Samuel would go on to marry the daughter of Elijah Hamlin (brother of Hannibal).
Virgil D. Parris (1807 – 1874)
Virgil Delphini Parris, cousin of Albion Parris (above), was born in Buckfield, graduated from Union College, and became a lawyer. He served in the Maine House of Representatives from 1832-1837 and then was elected to fill the U.S. House seat vacated through the death of Timothy Carter (above). He was then reelected to serve a proper term and served until 1841. After failing to get renominated, he served as a member of the State Senate in 1842 and 1843 and as acting governor of the state. From 1844-1848, Parris served as United States marshal for the district of Maine. He too is buried in Paris.
Hannibal Hamlin (1809 – 1891)
Hannibal Hamlin is by far the most important politician from Paris. The Hamlin name is all over the town and the street around the village green is named after him.
Hannibal, son of Dr. Cyrus and Anna (above), was born in Paris. He was a sickly child and there is a very popular legend involving a famous Abenaki folk character named Molly Ockett.
During the winter of 1809-10, Molly Ockett was traveling through the town of Paris in foul weather. She sought shelter with the white residents at Snow’s Falls but was turned away. She uttered an Abenaki curse on the place which caused future businesses to fail in Snow’s Falls. Molly Ockett made her way to Paris Hill and was welcomed into the home of Dr. Cyrus Hamlin and was treated with respect. She returned that spring and found Mrs. Hamlin rocking her feeble infant Hannibal. She looked at the child and said “you give papoose milk warm from cow, or he die.'” Mrs. Hamlin followed the instructions and Hannibal was “cured.” Molly Ockett also predicted that Hannibal would be a great man someday.
Hannibal became a lawyer and married Sarah Jane Emery of Paris Hill in 1833. Her father was Stephen Emery, who was appointed as Maine’s Attorney General in 1839–1840. Hannibal was elected to the Maine House in 1835. He was also an officer in the militia and took part in the 1839 negotiations that helped end the Aroostook War (tale on this very site). He was elected to the U.S. House and served from 1843-1847, then U.S. Senate from 1848-1857 when he temporarily served as Maine Governor for 6 months and then returned to the U.S. Senate. He was staunchly anti-slavery which was one of the things that attracted the attention of Abraham Lincoln.
Election as U.S. Vice President under Abraham Lincoln
Hannibal Hamlin was chosen to run as Abraham Lincoln’s Vice President during Lincoln’s first campaign in 1860. This was partly to geographically balance the ticket (Lincoln was from Illinois) but also because Hamlin was a former Democrat who had left the party because he was anti-slavery and disagreed with the Democratic platform.
At the time, the office of Vice President primarily existed to oversee the Senate. Vice Presidents did not attend cabinet meetings and he was rarely at the White House. He had a good working relationship with President Lincoln and supposedly helped shape Lincoln’s views on slavery. Remarkably, Hannibal spent much of his VP years in Maine and even joined the Maine State Guard during the Civil War. In fact, when his called into service in 1864, he joined the guard and served and mustered out in 1864.
It’s hard to believe that a sitting U.S. Vice President served as the company cook during the Civil War.
After his term was up, he was replaced by Andrew Johnson on the reelection ticket because they felt that Johnson could appeal to a wider audience. Hamlin was more than happy to get out of D.C. return to Maine. He was instrumental in the creation of the University of Maine (then called Maine State College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts) and helped choose the location in Orono – which then named a dorm after him. He was reelected to U.S. Senate in 1869 and served until 1881. He then served as Minister to Spain from 1881-1882.
Hannibal had moved to Bangor in 1851 while a member of the U.S. Senate and became a very important part of that city. He co-founded Bangor’s exclusive “Tarratine Club” in 1884. In fact, he was playing cards at the club on the 4th of July 1891 when he collapsed and died on a couch. That very couch is now preserved in the Bangor Library.
Two of Hannibal’s children, Charles and Sarah, were in attendance at Ford’s theatre the night Lincoln was assassinated – six weeks after their father’s VP term ended.
Horatio King (1811 – 1897)
Horatio King was born in Paris and learned printing while working for the Paris Jeffersonian newspaper. He and Hannibal Hamlin purchased the paper in 1831 and moved it to Portland. In 1838, Horatio moved to Washington D.C. after being appointed clerk in the post office department. Then in 1861, he was named Postmaster General of the U.S. under President Henry Buchanan. He was a founding member of the Union Literary Society in DC in the 1840s. He hosted a popular salon in his house on H Street in the 1860s and 70s, called “King’s Reunions.” His salon evenings included readings of poetry, original essays, and memoirs, which led to the founding of the Washington Literary Society in 1874. After his Postmaster General duties ended, Horatio stayed in D.C., did extensive traveling to Europe, and became an author.
Elbridge Gerry (1813 – 1886)
Elbridge was born in Waterford, Maine, attended Bridgton Academy and studied law under Judge Steven Emery. He served various slocal functions in Waterford before becoming a prosecuting attorney for Oxford County which brought him to Paris Hill. He then served in the Maine House of Representatives and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served from 1849-1851. After his stint in Congress, he moved to Portland to practice law.
Charles Andrews (1814 – 1852)
Charles Andrews was born in Paris and became a lawyer and practiced in Paris. He was elected to the Maine House of Representatives and served from 1839–1843, serving as speaker in 1842. He became clerk of the courts for Oxford County, Maine on January 1, 1845, serving three years. He was elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore in 1848. He was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-second Congress and served from March 4, 1851, until his death in Paris on April 30, 1852. He was buried in Paris.
Sidney Perham (1819 – 1907)
Sidney Perham was born in Woodstock. In his younger days and while he was an active politician, he was a successful farmer in Woodstock. When he was 21, he purchased the farm of his father id Paris and kept up to 250 sheep on it. He was a member of the Maine House of Representatives in 1854, serving as Speaker. He was a big promotor of prohibition and often spoke on the subject. He was Clerk of the Courts of Oxford County from 1959-1863. He was elected to the U.S. Congress 1863 to 1869. He then replaced Joshua Chamberlain as Maine’s Governor from 1871 to 1874. He was Secretary of State for Maine in 1875. The town of Perham, just West of Caribou, is named after him. He is buried in Bryant Pond.
Charles Wesley Walton (1819 – 1900)
Charles Walton was born in Mexico, Maine, studied law, and went into private practice. He was the attorney for Oxford County from 1847-1851. He moved to Auburn to be the Androscoggin County attorney and was then elected to the U.S. Congress serving from 1861-1862.
Dr. Augustus C. Hamlin (1829 – 1905)
Augustus Choate Hamlin was known more as a doctor and gem expert from Bangor than he was a politician from Paris, but his connection to Paris and his lineage puts him on this “who’s who” list of Paris people. Augustus was born in Columbia, Maine, the son of Elijah Hamlin, brother of Hannibal. His father was a politician and member of the Maine House and Senate and also Mayor of Bangor. No slouch himself, Augustus graduated from Bowdoin and then Harvard Medical School. He studied in Europe for 2 years and then returned and began his medical practice in Bangor. When Civil War broke out, he served as a surgeon eventually rising to be Medical Inspector of the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. After the war, he moved back to Bangor to practice surgery, ultimately becoming the Surgeon General of Maine and the twice elected Mayor of Bangor.
He was a passionate collector and scholar of gems, having inherited a share of the nearby Mount Mica mine that his father Elijah owned – which was the first commercial gem mine in the country. He eventually purchased the mine outright and devoted much of his time to it, ultimately writing multiple books on Maine’s favorite gem – tourmaline. He also wrote “The Battle of Chancellorville.” An accomplished painter, he illustrated his books with original paintings and exhibited paintings in galleries.
As detailed in this tale, Dr. Hamlin purchased the original Oxford County jail in Paris Hill after the county seat moved to South Paris, and deeded it to the town to be the village library. He filled it with gems and artifacts from his own collection and many are still on display in the Hamlin Memorial Library and Museum.