The large river near Matt's family's cabin is the Penobscot River. There is actually a smaller river which runs closer to their new home as well, but it is unnamed. In 1768, parcels of land were made available for purchase to pioneers who wished to own their own land and help start a new township in the undeveloped Maine territory. Matt's family, who lived in Massachusetts, were one of many families who took advantage of the offer.
To get to the parcel they had purchased, Matt and his family would have to travel north from their home in Massachusetts. They would first take passage on a ship to a settlement at the mouth of the Penobscot River. From there, they would have to find someone with a boat to take them first up the river and then on up "a smaller river that branched off from it, many days' distance from the settlement." After that, they would have to proceed on foot deep into the forest to claim their parcel of land. The plot of land was pristine, and Matt and his father would have to clear an area on which to build their home, and carve out an even larger area on which to plant some crops. The land-holding, despite its comparative proximity to the rivers, was isolated, in a location inhabited by the Indians (Chapter 1).