Bangor had many names before it was officially called Bangor. Before Bangor, the name of the area was Kenderguit, Conduskeag, Kenduskeag, Kadesquit, Kedesquit Settlement at Kenduskeag Stream, Kenduskeag Plantation, Sunbury, and Sunnyside, according to research done at the University of Maine in the 1950s.

So, how did the name of Bangor come to be? The name isn't even remotely close to any of those other names this area of Maine was previously called? Well, it's a funny story, actually.

History states that on February 25, 1791, the town became incorporated under the name of Bangor. How exactly this all went down is unclear but, it is recorded that when incorporated, the town was supposed to be named 'Sunbury' but somehow became incorporated as 'Bangor'.

Many stories point the finger at one Reverend Seth Noble, the representative from the community who was sent South to HQ of the Massachusetts Commonwealth (remember, Maine was originally an extension of Massachusetts at that point) to incorporate the town and pass along the chosen name to an official. From there, a legal document was drafted to incorporate the town as 'Bangor'.

So what went wrong?

This is a great question because there is no solid understanding of how 'Sunbury' was decided by the community but 'Bangor' became the legal or official name.

Many stories seem to involve the town representative, Reverend Noble as the reason for the change. Now, this Reverend Noble seemed like a guy that people liked. He was installed as Bangor's first pastor and was even a former chaplain in Washington's Army. He was gifted land in what is now Eddington, moved up here, did his Reverand thing, and became well-liked by the community. He was described as an eloquent orator and people were down with the Rev.

Adding to this bit of information, one thing that keeps coming up is that Reverend Noble was a fan of one particular hymn that had 'Bangor' in the title. Combining his love for this hymn with the possibilities of why Bangor is the name of the town when it is likely not supposed to be will be important when trying to figure out what the heck went wrong.

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Despite no common consensus of the historical origin, here are possibilities of why Bangor is not now known as 'Sunbury', according to the many bits of history gathered from various documents.

Possibility: Rev didn't like the name 'Sunbury' and switched it to 'Bangor'

There are some stories that the Rev didn't like the name 'Sunbury' and took it upon himself to select 'Bangor' as the name instead of 'Sunbury'. One source of information says the Reverend didn't like the name because it 'smelled of paganism'. Documented in 1880, almost a hundred years after Bangor's incorporation, this account paints the Rev as decisively going against the people for religious reasons which pissed off the community:

"So fair is the situation of Bangor, and so pleasing the views from its hills, that the early inhabitants resolved that its name should be "Sunbury," and so instructed their representative the Rev. Seth Noble. But he was an admirer of the religious tune called "Bangor;" and in some queer way so mingled his hymnological preference with his political duty, that, when the speaker of the House called for the name of the new town to be incorporated, he answered "Bangor," and so it was recorded and remains. The affair looks very like a piece of ecclesiastical finesse, - a bit of Puritan Jesultry; but the result was not altogether happy."

Now, there is some information that contradicts this sentiment. One source states the Rev was actually a fan of the name 'Sunbury', even stating he came up with it, inspired by 'the sunny banks of their village', and insisted villagers called it 'Sunbury'.

Something tells me the Rev liked Bangor and was a good guy and would not have taken it upon himself to name the town whatever he wanted to name it.

Possibility: The Rev wasn't paying attention or just forgot

One account states that Reverand Noble just wasn't paying attention when he was asked by a clerk what the name of the new incorporation should be. Thinking about or singing a well-known hymn with 'Bangor' in the lyrics, he stated 'Bangor', thinking the clerk was asking what he was singing and not what the incorporated settlement should be.

Here's an excerpt from WLBZ Radio 'The Story of Seth Noble and the Naming of Bangor and Performances of the Hymn' from 1956, archived by the University of Maine:

"In the year 1790, Maine was still a district of Massachusetts. In May of that year, the officials of the Plantation of Kenduskeag sent the Reverend Seth Noble to Boston as their representative. His instructions were to petition the General Court for incorporating the settlement under the name of Sunbury. While waiting in the outer office to be summoned before the court, the Reverend Noble sat on one of the waiting benches meditating. As the crawling minutes turned into quarter hours, he was singing unconsciously to himself. It was an old Welsh melody to which the words of a hymn had been set. Suddenly his reverie was shattered. He was snapped into reality by the acerbic question of a clerk who demanded the name. Reverend Noble hurdled so suddenly from abstraction to reality, was momentarily confused. Believing that the clerk had asked him the name of the hymn, the clergyman replied oh, that's Bangor, yes Bangor. The clerk entered the name Bangor on the document. By the time Mr. Noble realized that he had misinterpreted the question, the clerk had disappeared into the inner office. Thus it was that when Mr. Noble was summoned, he learned that the name Bangor had progressed too far into the labyrinth of legislation to warrant its rescission. Therefore on February 25th, 1791, the settlement was officially named not Sunbury, as the town fathers had intended but Bangor."

From the numerous accounts, it seemed likely that Rev wouldn't have forgotten why the heck he traveled many days to incorporate where he lived- and to give an official name. That seems silly but, there may be a legitimate reason why that silliness could have taken place........

Possibility: The Rev was a bit too hammered

A few references of the Rev mention that he was a fan of throwing a few back. One particular historical record states that the Reverend Noble '...he loved the tune as well as he loved toddy'- yes, it actually says toddy. More research recounted that the preacher 'could drink a glass of grog and be jovially merry.' Perhaps his love of the drink caused confusion during his trip to name his beloved town. Oh, old-timey stories and their consistent problems concerning alcoholism.

Possibility: Paperwork mishap

Another story does not include the Reverend Noble and actually is a result of multiple petitions being sent due to clerks in Massachusetts not receiving petitions by the town or not following through with incorporating the town for whatever reason. A petition is in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts archive showing 'Bangor' as the official name and the only one in their archives saying so of this location in Maine. So, maybe our Reverand Noble had no part in the switcheroo, after all...?

No matter the story behind it, Bangor was incorporated on February 25, 1791 and that was that. And, if you're curious, here's the hymn that could have been integral to Bangor getting its name:

Hark! from the tombs a doleful sound;

My ears, attend the cry;

“Ye living men, come view the ground

Where you must shortly lie.


Princes, this clay must be your bed,

In spite of all your towers;

The tall, the wise, the reverent head

Must lie as low as ours!


Great God! is this our certain doom?

And are we still secure?

Still walking downward to our tomb,

And yet prepare no more?


Grant us the powers of quickening grace,

To fit our souls to fly,

Then, when we drop this dying flesh,

We’ll rise

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