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XXIII. THE "AROOSTOOK WAR."
BY the treaty of 1783, which closed the Revolutionary War, one half of the river St. John belonged to Maine. But at the end of the War of 1812 Great Britain claimed both banks. The town of Madawaska, an American settlement of log huts, extended for nearly twenty miles along the eastern bank of the river. The inhabitants were chiefly of French descent, refugees from Acadia when that place came into possession of the British.
The English authorities in the vicinity remonstrated against the sending of a representative from this town to the legislature of Maine, which they claimed as English territory, and tried by force of arms to prevent it. In June, 1837, an agent sent by Congress to Madawaska to take the census and to distribute certain surplus money which had accumulated in the United States Treasury was arrested by a British constable.
The prisoner was carried to the nearest English shire town; but the sheriff there regarded the proceeding as high-handed and reckless, and refused to receive the prisoner, who returned to Madawaska and continued to take the census and distribute the money.
When Governor Harvey of New Brunswick heard of the matter, he ordered the agent to be rearrested and lodged in Fredericton jail, on the ground that the distribution of money was a bribe to the people to remain loyal to the United States. There was an outburst of indignation all over Maine. Governor Dunlap issued an order announcing that the state had been invaded by a foreign power, and the militia was called upon to hold itself in readiness for active service. There was a great mustering of forces on both sides and a wild excitement, which was soon allayed by the liberation of the imprisoned agent in response to a message from President Van Buren. Both parties agreed to refer the matter to arbitration; and so there was no Madawaska war.
But the boundary question had not been settled. After the War of 1812 it had been referred to King William of the Netherlands, who decided it in a way that was satisfactory to no one and much displeased the people of Maine. The United States government, dreading war, offered Maine a million acres of land in Michigan in exchange for the territory that she would lose. But it was her Aroostook that Maine wanted, and not land in far-away Michigan. So she declined the offer, and further negotiations were attempted, too long and too tiresome to relate.
The territory in dispute came to be regarded as no-man's land, and was the prey of reckless plunderers. Much of its most valuable lumber was taken away. The robbery was carried to such an extent that the state legislature, in secret session, ordered a force raised of two hundred volunteers to drive off the trespassers and destroy their camps.
A Bangor company marched to Masardis (then Township No. 10), and easily captured the lumbermen and their teams. But as they advanced to the mouth of the Little Madawaska, the captain of the company, and several of his men, were taken prisoners and carried off in a sleigh to Fredericton jail. Then three hundred of the trespassers armed themselves and bade defiance to the Yankees. And Governor Harvey of New Brunswick ordered out a thousand militiamen to protect what he declared was British territory, at the same time sending a communication to the governor of Maine, at Augusta, demanding the recall of the American troops from the Aroostook, "over which territory he was authorized to hold exclusive jurisdiction, by military force if necessary."
A great wave of indignation swept over the state of Maine. A draft of ten thousand men from the militia was made, and they were ordered to be ready for immediate action, and eight hundred thousand dollars was appropriated for the protection of the public lands. Within a week ten thousand American soldiers were either in Aroostook county or on the march there. It was midwinter and bitterly cold, and they were striking and picturesque in red shirts and pea-green jackets above their regular uniforms. A white background of unbroken snow set off the gay habiliments of these Aroostook soldiers, as they "fared forth to war."
Congress was aroused to the passing of a bill that authorized the President to raise fifty thousand troops for the support of Maine—provided that the governor of New Brunswick fulfilled his threat—and appropriated ten million dollars to meet the expense.
General Scott and his staff were sent to Augusta, with the message that he was "especially charged to maintain the peace and safety of the entire northern and eastern frontiers."
Supported by a great force of troops, General Scott was in a position to make peace, if that were possible, and his earnest efforts were at length successful. Governor Harvey of New Brunswick pledged himself that, since negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the boundary question were in progress, he would not take military possession of the territory.
Governor Fairfield of Maine, on the other hand, promised that he would not, without further instructions, disturb any of New Brunswick's Madawaska settlements. This brought peace for the time, and the Aroostook region, which had hitherto formed a part of Washington and Penobscot counties, was constituted a county by itself, under its original name. Two years later the question was definitely and amicably settled under the agency of Lord Ashburton, then British ambassador to the United States. A considerable tract of land, but of little value except to Great Britain, because of the need of free communication between her provinces of New Brunswick and Canada, was surrendered by Maine. The United States received, in return, land of much greater value on the borders of the Great Lakes; and Congress voted to Maine one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the surrender.
So what has been called "the bloodless Aroostook War," and laughed at a little, sometimes, as quite unnecessary and somewhat farcical, was no war at all, but a determined and altogether self-respectful manifestation on the part of Maine that she was "fit for the fight," if she were forced into it for the protection of her rights.
This rich and alluvial Aroostook has become the home of a Swedish colony. As the Northmen were the first, so the Swedes are the latest voyagers to Maine. With industry and enterprise they are more than fulfilling the hermit's prophecies for the Aroostook's future in the way of agriculture. From the vast forests of that region came the lumber for the fine ships, in the days when Maine was known as the builder of some that were equal to any in the world.