Monday, June 11, 2012

Tomorrow, June 12, is the anniversary of the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War

It happened on June 12, 1775 in the bay at Machias, Maine.  Ichabod Jones was a trader that brought lumber from Maine and returned his ships with their holds filled with supplies and commercial goods.  The lumber that was supposed  to come down from Machias was needed by British General Thomas Gage to build barracks for his troops, which had been increasing in number ever since the insurrections in Lexington and Concord.  Ordinarily, Jones would have just sailed up as soon as the spring replenishments were tucked in the holds of his ships, the Unity and the Polly.  However, recently enacted Boston Port Act of 1774 required the blessing of Admiral Samuel Graves before any vessels could leave the harbor.  Knowing that Gage needed the lumber, and spooked by the April clashes of Lexington and Concord, Graves ordered the British naval sloop Margaretta to "protect" the two commercial ships, though I suspect "protect" may have been defined as making sure they came back with the lumber.  Of course, when poor Jones showed up in the harbor with a British war ship, the good people of Machias figured him for a loyalist.  Jones protested that having the ship tag along was the only way that he could get permission to bring his ships, and the town's supplies, up to the people of Machias.  They had a big meeting at the Burnham Tavern and eventually (one wonders how many pints were consumed in the the decision making) allowed the loading of the lumber to proceed.  Jones overplayed his hand, however.  He said he would only give the provisions he carried to those who pledged their support for him.  Local malcontents/patriots took exception and hatched a plot to capture Jones and the British officers when they came to town for church.  It failed.  Jones made it to the woods and the British officers made it back to the Margaretta.  Nonetheless, the fight was on.  The local boys commandeered the Unity and took off after the British sloop which was having difficulties in  Machias Bay.  Machias bay is very close to the largest tides in the world, and I have a suspicion borne of hard earned personal knowledge from sailing those waters, that  the poor captain of the Margaretta was sailing against the tide.  Either way, aided by a ship called the Falmouth Packet, the colonialists shot the British captain in the chest and forced the sloop to surrender.  The Brits exacted a terrible revenge by burning all of the ships in Falmouth (now Portland, Maine) harbor.  Maybe they decided they had had enough of the twenty foot tides up north, so they opted for a more target rich environment a couple hundred miles to the south.  The Committee of Public Safety in Massachusetts gave the Unity to the Maine revolutionaries and it was renamed the Machias Liberty.  History is unclear about the fate of the Margaretta, but during one of those incredible moon tides, the bare remnant bones of an old ship can still be seen at the bottom of Sawyer's Cove, down the coast in Jonesport, where local lore has it the the burning Margaretta came to her final rest.

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