June 24, 2012

The war that made Maine a state

The British occupation of eastern Maine in the War of 1812 prompted a split from Massachusetts.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

Along the border itself, few were interested in fighting, either before the invasion or after. When the town fathers of Calais announced they would have to cancel the 1812 July 4th fireworks display to comply with orders to conserve gunpowder, local lore goes, the people of neighboring St. Stephen, New Brunswick, loaned them the powder to allow the show to go on. After the invasion, resistance was slim to none.

"People in easternmost Maine socialized with people from St. Andrews, New Brunswick, and nobody on either side of that border had a burning desire to kill each other," Taylor says. "They had a burning desire to keep socializing and trading and marrying each other."

While the war failed to drive a wedge between eastern Maine and New Brunswick, it proved devastating for relations with the Bay State. When the war ended in February 1815, Gov. Strong became the focus of hatred for his failure to defend Maine. Mainers ridiculed him as the "Hero of Castine" and some proposed giving him a sword made of soft white pine to symbolize "our estimation of the prompt and efficient protection he afforded the District when invaded by the enemy."

Worsening matters, in the aftermath of the war, Boston made little effort to re-establish jurisdiction over Eastport, which the British insisted was really part of New Brunswick. (The town, one British official insisted, was as British "as Northamptonshire.") For years, residents had to travel 15 miles to Dennysville to access a U.S. post office, while town merchants were forced to operate out of Lubec, just across the harbor. The British didn't finally withdraw until June 1818.

By then, it was too late to undo the damage. Massachusetts' ruling party, the Federalists, were routed in Maine, raising the possibility that they might lose power. "They became anxious to get rid of Maine after the war because its population was growing and much of its population voted for the (rival) Jeffersonian party," says Smith. "The Maine tail was starting to wag the dog."

With divorce supported by both parties, Mainers would go ahead with a referendum on statehood. Although the issue became entangled in the rivalry between slave and free states -- ultimately resolved by the 1820 Missouri-Maine Compromise -- the great impetus for it came from the division between two parts of New England and the trials of an ill-remembered war.

Colin Woodard is state and national affairs writer at The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. He is the author of four books, including “The Lobster Coast,” a cultural history of coastal Maine. Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at: cwoodard@mainetoday.com

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Additional Photos

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Lt. Kervin Waters of the USS Enterprise, Capt. William Burrowes, commander of the Enterprise, and Capt. Samuel Blyth, commander of the HMS Boxer, are buried in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer


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