June 11, 1775: The Battle of Machias, the first naval engagement of the Revolutionary War, begins, resulting in the seizure of British vessels by Machias residents and the death of the British commander of the armed sloop HMS Margaretta.

The conflict arose from British efforts to obtain lumber to build barracks for their troops in Boston. Underlying that is the privation the people of the Downeast coast have suffered because of trade disruptions. Reports circulate about children starving to death in some coastal towns.

In a May 25 letter to the Massachusetts provincial congress, 38 residents pledge their loyalty to the revolutionary cause but cite the hardships they have had to endure.

“(W)e must add, we have no country behind us to lean upon, nor can we make an escape by flight; the wilderness is impervious, and vessels we have none,” they write.

The Margaretta, accompanied by two other ships, arrives on June 2 in the Machias River. The British, acting through a local merchant, Ichabod Jones, circulate a document asking locals to allow the lumber shipment in exchange for the provisions they need. After a few false starts, most residents agree. But the British give supplies only to those who signed the document, increasing the locals’ resentment about being forced to flout the Continental Congress’ order not to trade with the British.

On June 11, a group assembles to try to kdinap Jones and the British officers while they attend church, but the British notice their movements. Midshipman James Moore, captain of the Margaretta, flees with his officers to their ship and repositions it downriver. Moore threatens to burn the town.

After dark, the ship pulls closer and exchanges gunfire with locals on the shore before withdrawing downriver again. About 60 men armed with guns, swords and pitchforks use two vessels, including a sloop they stole from Jones, to catch up to the Margaretta as it heads for the open sea.

A pitched battle at close quarters fatally wounds Moore and the Margaretta surrenders. Four others on the British side are killed, and five are wounded. The Americans suffer three fatalities and three wounded.

The battle prompts Machias residents, after consulting the provincial congress in Watertown, Massachusetts, to take other measures to improve their security, including arming one of the sloops they commandeered. They use it July 15 to capture two more British ships in Machias harbor.

Presented by:

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com.  Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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