RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, 17 September 2014


Click to download lecture poster

The British Capture and Occupation of Downeast Maine, 1814-1815/18

G. Frederick Young, Professor Emeritus, History Department, SMU.

7:30 pm, Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 6016 University Avenue


In the summer of 1814, after Napoleon had abdicated in April, the British were free to go on the offensive against the young (to RN officers, upstart) American republic to make it feel “the bitters of war.” One of the objectives decided upon in London was to ‘correct the border’ between the Maritime Provinces and the State of Maine stipulated in the Treaty of Paris of 1783, and restore the ‘historic natural frontier’ at the Penobscot. This necessitated a joint naval-military expedition which was organized here in Halifax and which intended to eliminate the American armed outposts at Eastport, Machias and Casine. Eastport was taken easily enough in July, but then the news that the American Corvette Adams (28 guns) had put into the Penobscot for repairs caused the British to go straight to the Penobscot to destroy that American warship. The consequence of this change in plans resulted again in the easy capture of Castine, but then the British had to push upriver to assault the Adams at Hampden. The Americans did mount a defense to protect the ship, but the militia at the Battle of Hampden was no match for the British regulars, and so both Hampden and the ‘timber town’, Bangor, were taken and sacked … much like Alexandria, Virginia, and the 24-hour raid on Washington, DC, at the same time. A mopping up action took Machias a week later.

The British fully intended to hold the 100 miles of coast from the Penobscot to the New Brunswick border, as well as the whole expanse of territory north of the Penobscot River, i.e., the northern salient of Maine, to make contiguous the territory of the Maritimes with Lower Canada (Quebec). They settled in in style at Castine, and opened the port to imperial trade… John Young (later Halifax’s Agricola) being one of the principal traders. Things would have remained this way, but for defeat in the somewhat obscure naval action on Lake Champlain on 11 September 1814, which caused the British to rethink their position (given the diplomatic dealings going on in Vienna — not Napoleon’s ‘escape’ from Elba in March, 1815) and sign a peace treaty with the Americans on the basis of status quo ante. That was on Christmas Eve 1814, and so Castine and Downeast Maine were returned to American sovereignty after ratification of the treaty on 17 February 1815; Eastport was held a little longer but also returned in 1818 after some further negotiations.

Click here for a bio of Dr.Frederick Young.

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.