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Aroostook War

Date

1838-1839

Location

Maine-New Brunswick border

Result

Webster-Ashburton Treaty

The Aroostook War was an undeclared (and ultimately bloodless) confrontation in 1838-39 between the United States and Great Britain over the international boundary between British North America (Canada) and Maine. The dispute resulted in a mutually accepted border between the state of Maine and provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec. It is called a war because not only were tensions high and rhetoric heated in Maine and New Brunswick, but troops were raised and armed on both sides and marched to the disputed border. Only the timely intervention of the U.S. and British governments prevented bloodshed by local militias.

Disputed border


The 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution, did not clearly determine the boundary between Canada (British North America) and the United States. Following the war, the state of Massachusetts began issuing land grants in its District of Maine, including the areas still claimed by Britain. During the War of 1812, the British occupied most of eastern Maine, including Washington County, Hancock County and parts of Penobscot County for a period of 8 months, intending to permanently annex it to Canada. The Treaty of Ghent, however, which ended the war in 1814, reestablished the boundary line of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, but with its ambiguities intact. A collaborative survey team was sent to locate and mark the source of the St Croix River-the principle geographical feature identified in the earlier treaty. The eastern boundary of the United States was to run north to the highland where it would meet the Northwest angle of Nova Scotia. A monument was put on the site as the waters passed through the Chiputicook Lakes.
When Maine broke away from Massachusetts in 1820 to form a separate state, the status and location of the border became a chief concern to the new state government. Massachusetts also retained an interest in the matter, as 50% of public lands in Maine, which included a large part of the disputed territory, were to remain its property.
As late as September 1825, Maine and Massachusetts Land Agents issued deeds, sold timber permits, took censuses, recorded births, deaths and marriages in the contested area of the Saint John River valley and its tributaries. Massachusetts Land Agent George Coffin recorded in his journal during one such journey during the fall of 1825, that returning from the Upper St John and Madawaska area to Fredericton, New Brunswick, a thunderstorm had ignited a forest fire. The Miramichi Fire, as it came to be called, destroyed thousands of acres of prime New Brunswick timber, killed hundreds of settlers, left thousands more homeless, and destroyed several thriving communities. The journal entries of the newly appointed Governor of New Brunswick record the destruction and comments that New Brunswick's survival would depend on the vast forests to the west (the area disputed with the United States).

Growing tensions

The character of the population in the disputed area was mixed. The majority of St John and Madawaska River settlers were early Acadians (descendants of the original French colonists). Some more recent settlers in the Aroostook River Valley were Americans. During the years 1826-1830, Provincial timber interests had also settled the west bank of the St. John river and its tributaries, and Woodstock, Tobique and Grand Falls were home to British families.
The French-speaking population of Madawaska were "Brayons" — nominally British subjects — who (at least rhetorically) considered themselves to belong to the unofficial "République du Madawaska", and thus beyond allegiance to either the Americans or British. The population of the area swelled with outsiders in the wintertime, however, when lumbermen were freed from farm work to "long-pole" up the St. John River to the valley. These migrant lumbermen were a particular point of tension for the governments of Maine and Massachusetts who were responsible for the protection of their respective states' resources and revenues. Some eventually settled permanently in the valley. Most settlers found themselves too remote from the authorities to apply formally for land. Disputes heated up as factions maneuvered for control over the best stands of trees.
John Baker, on July 4, 1827, raised an American flag made by his wife on the western side of the junction of what is now Baker Brook and the St. John River. Baker was subsequently arrested by British Colonial authorities, fined £25, and jailed until he paid his fine.
In preparation for a U.S. census in 1830, the Maine Legislature sent John Deane and Edward James to northern Maine/northwestern New Brunswick to document the numbers of inhabitants and to assess the extent of British trespass (from their point of view). During that summer, several residents of the west bank of The St John at Madawaska filed to be incorporated into Maine. Acting on advice from Penobscot County, Maine officials, a meeting was called to select representatives preparatory to incorporating Madawaska as a town. During these meetings, local representatives of the New Brunswick militia - alerted by a local resident from the east bank of The St John, entered the hall and threatened to arrest any resident attempting to organize. The meetings continued, however, more militia arrived, some residents were arrested, some residents fled to the woods, and letters were sent to the Maine authorities in Augusta. Letters were also sent to the U.S. Government in Washington D.C. and The U.S. Secretary of State contacted the British Minister. As Acadians, most residents, however, were ambivalent about joining either the US or New Brunswick, but identified more with French-speaking Quebec, which also had territorial claims in Madawaska.

Dutch King's arbitration attempt

King William I of the Netherlands was asked to arbitrate the border dispute in 1830. William I determined to compromise between the two listed options, and drew a line very close to the one eventually settled on. The British accepted the king's decision. The State of Maine rejected it, believing that the decision of King William was outside the parameters of his authority—that of choosing one or the other of the contested boundaries—and would establish a potentially dangerous practice of foreign influences within the policies of the United States Government. Additionally, it surrendered territory already lotted, sold and settled by United States citizens and residents of Maine and Massachusetts. Maine and Massachusetts were still intent on continuing their jurisdiction over territory held since 1800. President Andrew Jackson was inclined to accept the new line so as to not be diverted from his policies and programs of control of Native populations in the south and west, particularly in regard to activities involving the growing conflicts in what would become the Republic of Texas. The United States Constitution forbade the Federal government from altering a state's ownership of properties without the state government's consent, which Maine and Massachusetts did not grant. Maine's Senate delegation, led by Sen. Peleg Sprague, an outspoken opponent of Jackson's Indian Removal Program and interference in the internal government of Mexico, forced a compromise and the U.S. Senate rejected the Dutch King's decision.
In the absence of a final ruling, Great Britain and the United States agreed to a provisional settlement (in 1831–32) stating that territory already in the exclusive jurisdiction and authority of the respective state and provincial authorities would remain as such, and that neither would attempt to extend jurisdictional authority over areas still in dispute.

Posses, arrests, and the mobilization of militia

In 1837, as a consequence of the closing of the Second Bank of the United States, Maine residents who paid taxes were to be issued a tax refund. A special census was created to determine eligible recipients. Penobscot County Census Representative Greeley thus began a census of the upper Aroostook River territory. When word reached Provincial authorities, led by the newly appointed Sir John Harvey, that an official from Maine was offering money to settlers, New Brunswick authorities had him arrested and taken to Fredericton. Letters from New Brunswick accused the Governor of Maine of bribery and threatened military action if Maine continued to exercise jurisdiction in the Aroostook river and its tributaries. In response, Governor Robert Dunlap of Maine, issued a general order announcing that Maine had been invaded by a foreign power.
Both American and New Brunswick lumbermen were cutting timber in the disputed territory during the winter of 1838-1839 according to reports submitted to the Maine Legislature. On January 24, 1839, the Maine Legislature authorized the newly elected Governor John Fairfield to send the Maine State Land Agent, the Penobscot County Sheriff and a posse of volunteer militia to the upper Aroostook to pursue and arrest the New Brunswickers. The posse left Bangor, Maine, on February 8, 1839. Arriving at T 10 R 5, the posse established a camp at the junction of the St Croix Stream and the Aroostook River and began confiscating New Brunswick lumbering equipment and sending any lumbermen caught and arrested back to be tried. A group of New Brunswick lumbermen, on learning of these activities and unable to retrieve their oxen and horses, armed themselves by breaking into the arsenal in Woodstock, gathered their own posse, and seized the Maine Land Agent and his assistants in the middle of the night. In chains, the Maine officials were transported to Woodstock where they were held for an "interview".
Terming the Americans "political prisoners", Sir John Harvey sent correspondence to Washington DC that he had to await instructions from London before he could act on the arrests. In the meantime, he added, he was exercising his responsibilities to ensure that the Aroostook was under kept under British jurisdiction and demanded removal from the region of all Maine forces. He then sent his military commander to the T 10 R 5 campsite and ordered the Maine militia to leave. Capt. Rines and the others refused, stating they were following orders and doing their duty. The New Brunswick Military commander was then himself taken into custody by the Maine side.
On February 15, The Maine state Legislature authorized 1000 additional volunteers to augment the posse now on the upper Aroostook River, led by Major General Isaac Hodsdon. Additional correspondence from Sir John Harvey, along with reports that British Regulars were being brought up from the West Indies, that the Mohawk nation had offered their services to Quebec, and that New Brunswick forces were gathering on the St John, resulted in the Issuance of General Order No 7 on February 19, 1839 calling for a general draft of Maine Militia. Mustered in Bangor, militia companies would be sent to the Upper Aroostook until February 26, 1839 when the early construction of Fort Fairfield on the Presque Isle River (built from seized stolen timber by the early posse) allowed for troops to be camped on the eastern boundary.

The U.S. and British governments step in

During Congressional debates in Washington on March 2, 1839, Representative Smith of Maine outlined the events, the various communications that had been sent and received since 1825 and declared that the primary responsibility of the Federal Government was to protect and defend its own territory and citizens but if the Government chose to not live up to its obligations, Maine would defend its territory alone. In response, Congress authorized a force of 50,000 men and appropriated $10 million to meet the emergency. Maine committed somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 militia to the conflict. General Winfield Scott, recently removed as commander of the Cherokee relocation, was assigned to the conflict area, arriving in Boston in early March.
During the War of 1812, Gen. Scott had been a Prisoner of War under the supervision of Sir John Harvey and that relationship was seen as a point of mutual respect. On Scott's advice, Maine issued General Orders to recall the militia in May and June 1839, and they were replaced with regular U.S. Army troops. The permanent structures of Fort Fairfield and Fort Kent were begun later that summer. Major R. M. Kirby became commander of the post and three companies of the U.S. 1st Artillery Regiment. Four companies of the British 11th Regiment marched to the area from Quebec City to represent Canada. Meanwhile, New Brunswick armed every tributary of the St John River that flowed from the Aroostook Territory with regular and militia soldiers. In 1840, Maine created Aroostook County to administer the area. The United States and Britain agreed to refer the dispute to a boundary commission and although further clashes between their forces would continue, the matter was settled in 1842 by the Treaty of London, also referred to as the Webster-Ashburton Treaty that settled not only the Northeastern boundary but the boundary between Canada, Michigan and Minnesota as well.

Settlement

The compromise reached by Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton awarded 7,015 square miles (18,170 km²) to the United States and 5,012 square miles (12,980 km²) to Great Britain. Retention by the British of the northern area of the disputed territory assured them of year-round overland military communications between Quebec and Nova Scotia by way of the Halifax Road. The U.S. federal government agreed to pay the states of Maine and Massachusetts $150,000 each, and they were to be reimbursed by the United States for expenses incurred while encroaching on New Brunswick territory.
Webster used a map found in the Paris Archives by the American Jared Sparks (and said to have been marked with a red line by Benjamin Franklin in Paris in 1782) to persuade Maine and Massachusetts to accept the agreement. As the map showed the disputed region belonged to the British, it helped convince the representatives of those states to accept the compromise, lest the truth reach British ears and convince the British to refuse. It was later discovered that the Americans had hidden their knowledge of the Franklin map. A map said to be favorable to the United States claims was apparently used in Britain, but this map was never revealed. Some claim the Franklin map was a fake created by Britain to pressure the American negotiators as their map placed the entire disputed area on the American side of the border (see John A. Garraty, The American Nation, Houghton Mifflin, p. 336).
Ultimately, the only losers were the original Brayon (and Native) inhabitants of the region, who saw their homeland and people split between the American state of Maine and the British colony of New Brunswick.
The war, though devoid of actual combat, was not without casualties. Private Hiram T. Smith, from Maine, died of unknown causes while in service in 1828. He is buried in Maine on the side of the Military Road (U.S. Route 2) in the middle of the Haynesville Woods. Other Maine militiamen died of illness or injury while on the Aroostook expedition and dozens were unaccounted for, leaving their camps to go on patrol and never returning.
(Source: Wikipedia)

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