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The History of Our Island

Swans Island history is closely associated with the romantic figure of its namesake, James Swan. It is one of a number of islands off Mount Desert Island known as the Burntcoat group. Swan bought the group in 1784.

Map Illustrated by John M. HughesChamplain had visited these islands 150 years before Swan, a Scotsman, bought the islands and colonized them. Three settlements are designated today as Atlantic, near the ferry landing, Minturn, on the southern coast, and Swans Island Village, also on the southern coast across from Minturn.

Colonel James Swan was a Son of Liberty who participated in the Boston Tea Party. He was more than a soldier. He was also a politician, a merchant and an author -- a man with seemingly inexhaustible energy. At 18 he wrote a book about the African slave trade.

On Swans Island, James Swan established saw mills and built a colonial mansion for himself. Lumbering was the island's major industry; fishing was second. Some of Swans's reckless ventures left him broke and forced him to leave the country. He traveled to France where he amassed another fortune and returned to America. But on one of his many trips to France he was arrested for a debt he claimed not to owe. Rather than pay it he spent 22 years in prison until Louis Phillipe ascended to the throne in France and freed all debtors. Swan died shortly after his release.