Maine: An Encyclopedia
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Swan’s Island

Location Map for Swan's Island

Location Map for Swan’s Island

Year Population
1970 328
1980 337
1990 348
2000 327
2010 332
Swans Island Population Chart 1810-2010

Population Trend 1810-2010

Geographic Data
N. Latitude 44:06:33
W. Latitude 68:28:03
Maine House District 134
Maine Senate District 7
Congress District 2
Area sq. mi. (total) 82.4
Area sq. mi. (land) 14.0
Population/sq.mi. (land) 23.7
County: Hancock

Total=land+water; Land=land only

is a town in Hancock County, incorporated on March 26, 1897 from Swan’s Island Plantation. In 1901 it annexed Calf and West Black Islands from Long Island Plantation. It is southeast of Mount Desert Island, accessible by ferry from Bass Harbor in Tremont.

In 1750 Indians attacked the settlement on the island, kidnapped the Whidden family and, as was the practice of the time, sold them into slavery in Canada.

The explorer Samuel de Champlain visited the island a century and a half before Colonel James Swan of Fifeshire, Scotland purchased it in 1765.

Champlain, possibly noticing that an early settler had burned the vegetation off a hill, dubbed the island Brule-Cote, meaning “Burnt Hill.”  Through the succeeding years, the words evolved into “Burnt Coat,” a name that remains for the long harbor at the south of the island.

Mr. Swan was an avid patriot, participating the in famous Boston Tea Party, later becoming a member of the Massachusetts Legislature and Adjutant General of that state.

He built a mansion on the island but, on a trip to Paris, he was thrown, unjustly, into debtor’s prison by the French in 1808 and remained there for twenty-two years, dying days after his release.

As was the case for many islands, fishing and boat building were major occupations, with lobstering emerging as a major source of income in the late nineteenth century, and remains so in the early twenty-first century.

Beaches and picnic areas may be found at the villages of Minturn and Atlantic, in addition to Swan’s Island village.

The Swan’s Island ferry operates from Bass Harbor at the southern tip of Mount Desert Island, bringing summer residents and visitors, who nearly triple the island’s population to over 1,000 during the season.

For a view of the ferry ride in 1959, see this amateur film clip from the archives of Northeast Historic Film.


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Form of Government: Town Meeting-Select Board.

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Additional resources

Graff, Nancy Price. The Call of the Running Tide: A Portrait of an Island Family. Photographs, Richard Howard. Boston: Little, Brown. c1992.

Small, Herman Wesley, 1865-1937. A History of Swan’s Island, Maine. Ellsworth, Me. Hancock County Publishing Co. 1898.

Swan’s Island Comprehensive Plan, January, 1994. Swan’s Island, Me. Comprehensive Planning Committee., 1994. (See Town Office for recent editions.)

Wheaton, Edward L. Images of Swan’s Island Past and Present. Gardiner, Me. Steele Publishing Co. 1989.

National Register of Historic Places – Listings

Atlantic Schoolhouse, Town Road, South side Atlantic Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station, Hockamock Head Swans Island

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