Summer in Maine is a favorite time of year, and the Fourth of July is always a joy. With parades, picnics, and fun with family and friends, America throws itself a birthday party every year.
This year, as you look up toward the sky to watch the glorious fireworks, think about the founding generation of Americans who risked all to overcome tyranny so that they, and all the generations to come, could live in freedom. What is today our great State of Maine played a pivotal role in securing American liberty, and summer is a perfecttime to take a road trip to fully appreciate this rich history.
A great place to begin a Patriot’s Tour of Maine is Machias, the scene of the first major naval battle of the Revolution. In early June 1775, less than two months after the opening Battle of Lexington and Concord, the men and women of that fledgling Downeast settlement were issued an ultimatum: in order to receive the supplies they needed to survive, they must send lumber to Boston to build barracks for British troops. To enforce this demand, the British warship Margaretta sat anchored in the harbor, itsguns aimed at the village.
Townspeople met in secret at Job Burnham’s tavern to plan an attack, and on June 12 they put their plan into action. Led by Jeremiah O’Brien, some 40 patriots, armed with a few muskets but mostly pitchforks, scythes, and other farm tools, boarded two merchant ships and stormed the Margaretta. The capture of that warship has been called the “Lexington of the Sea.”
The Burnham Tavern Museum is a beautifully preserved building and well worth visiting. It is an outstanding example of the architecture of the time and a place where history was made. It is a National Historic Site and is listed as one of the 21 homes in the United States with the most significance in the American Revolution.
Down the coast in Thomaston is another important building – Montpelier, a replica of the home of General Henry Knox. From an impoverished childhood in Boston to a modest bookseller, he rose to become a brilliant self-taught military strategist and George Washington’s Chief of Artillery. In 1776, he earned a place in history by successfully transporting 60 tons of captured British cannons from Fort Ticonderoga, New York, through the rugged New England wilderness to the heights above Boston, where he drove the British fleet from the harbor.
After serving our young nation for 10 years as Secretary of War, General Knox built a beautiful home in Thomaston and set out to enjoy the life of a gentleman farmer. In true Maine fashion, however, his entrepreneurial spirit overcame his desire for leisure, and he worked to develop many of the emerging businesses of the time – he shipped timber, quarried lime, made bricks, and dug canals. He helped forge a nation and build a community.
Today, Montpelier is a beautiful museum, filled with artifacts and bursting with activities, including concerts, special exhibits, and family fun.
The footprints of patriots are found all over our state. In York, the Sons of Liberty staged their own Tea Party, a year after Boston’s. Portland (then called Falmouth Neck), was bombarded by the British fleet for its defiance. Castine was the site of the most disastrous naval engagement of the war, with American ships burned and sunk all along the Penobscot. From the mouth of the Kennebec, through Augusta, Skowhegan, and up Route 201 to Jackman, you can follow the path of Benedict Arnold (before he became a traitor) and his troops through the “the howlingwilderness” in their heroic but ill-fated attack on Quebec.
And if your travels take you to the Penobscot or Passamaquoddy communities, you may meet the descendants of Chief Orono and other tribal leaders who were invaluable to freedom’s cause.
Maine is a beautiful state, and one steeped in fascinating history. Summer is the ideal time to enjoy both.