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CASTINE'S REVOLUTIONARY LEGACY

The more you read and research, the more you are stunned by Castine's prominent place in early American history.  In today's petroleum dominated economy its easy to forget that the strategic resource of the 17th and 18th centuries was located in the wilderness of Maine, large timbers for the masts of sailing ships, particularly naval vessels.  The key to its acquisition was through the few harbors and forts located along the Maine coastline, such as at Castine.  First explored by Samuel de Champlain of France, a French trading post was established here in 1613.  The following year, the English had taken notice of this area and called present-day Castine the Majabigwaduce or Bagaduce Penninsula.  In 1628 the English made their first foray into the area, seizing the French trading post and adding it to the Plymouth Colony.  In 1635 it was retaken by the French.  Following the Treaty of Breda in 1667, the area was ceded to France and a French officer was granted the area by the King of France.  The officer's name was the Baron Jean Vincent d'Abbadie de St. Castin. Eventually, the land granted to this French officer would be called, after his name, Castine. The Baron married a local Native American woman named Madockawando (later she took the French name Mathilde), the daughter of a chief, and they had ten children.  The French eventually built a fort here, known as Fort Pentagoet.The Dutch captured the area briefly in 1674, took the fort in 1676 and then completely destroyed it with its own captured artillery.

In 1692 the British took over this area and the access to the plentiful timbers.  As a result of a fledgling movement for independence from Britain by American colonists, in 1759, the British reoccupied strategic Castine with a military garrison.  During the American Revolution, in 1779, a 700-800 man force of redcoats under the command of Brigadier General Francis McClean, including kilted Scots of the 74th Argyle Highlanders, was dispatched to build a new fort.  The remnants of Fort George are preserved today as a park across from the Maine Maritime Academy.


Fort George as seen in American Public House Review
The remnants of Fort George


Maine at that time was part of Massachusetts.  Upon hearing of the arrival of a sizable British force at Castine, the Massachusetts State Board of War decided to send a force to retake Castine and deny the Royal Navy easy access to Maine's timbers.  The Naval commander of the American expedition was Captain Dudley Saltonstall, whose naval credentials were limited to the fact he had three ships in Boston Harbor with 300 U.S. Marines on board and plenty of gunpowder.  Commanding the 1,000 man infantry force of predominantly Massachusetts militia, was the politically appointed Brigadier General Solomon Lovell.  The commander of Lovell's artillery was awarded this position mostly due to his heroic ride in April 1775 - Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere - and not because he was an artillerist.  On July 21, 1779, 43 American ships (7 naval gunboats, 12 privateers and 24 transports) left Boston Harbor, comprising the Penobscot Expedition, and sailed north arriving off the coast of Castine on July 24. Upon its arrival, the expedition was further reinforced by the local Penobscot Indians.  The British had only three ships, with 56 guns between them, under the command of Captain Henry Mowat and a shore artillery emplacement manned by Royal Marines, known as the Half-Moon Battery.  After several days of inconclusive naval and amphibious skirmishing, the main land assault started  shortly after  midnight on  July 28 with 227 U.S. Marines  in the lead,  followed by  400 Massachusetts militiamen and supported by the guns of U.S.S. Tyrannicide and two privateers.  Much to the shock of many of the lesser ranks, the place the American commanders chose to make the landing was the rugged Bagaduce Bluff, defended by the British 82nd Regiment of Foot and elements of the 74th Argyle Highlanders.  Unable to use their muskets, as it took both hands to climb the wooded and brush-covered steep slope, never the less, the Marines managed to take the bluff and force the British back at the loss of 14 Marines killed, including their Captain, John Welsh, to the loss of 6 Scots.  The assault is commemorated in Charles H. Waterhouse's painting, Assault on Penobscot, 28 July 1779 (the original painting was displayed at the Pentagon and destroyed in the attack of September 11, 2001).  The Marines now joined by some militia and Indians then discovered another bluff behind the first.  The combined American force drove the British back from this hilltop as well and had essentially secured the western portion of the peninsula.  Feeling victory was within their grasp, the Americans awaited their commander's final order for the assault on Fort George.  About an hour later, Lovell and Revere came ashore, Lovell ordered the men to dig in and Revere chose to be rowed back to his assigned ship for his breakfast. Meanwhile the artillerymen came ashore, but without their guns.


Battle of Penobscot by Charles H. Waterhouse as seen in American Public House Review
Charles H. Waterhouse's painting of The Battle of Penobscot


Several days of “councils of war" ensued between the American commanders, with the naval commander, Saltonstall, refusing to participate in an all out assault until the Royal Marine's at Half-Moon Battery were dislodged.  On July 31, the second-in-command of the American force, the capable Brigadier General Peleg Wadsworth, chose to first wait for the Royal Marines to consume their rum rations and then strike.  With fixed bayonet and sword his American Marines drove away the Royal Marines from the battery.  In response, the Argyle Highlanders launched a successful counterattack, driving the Americans back and retaking the battery.  The result was that Captain Saltonstall recalled 200 Marines and refused to press the attack further.  All the American commanders finally agreed to attack Fort George on August 13.  Unfortunately, as the assault got underway, seven British warships with 196 guns between them arrived from Halifax, Nova Scotia under the command of Commodore Sir George Collier.  Collier's force cut off the hopelessly outgunned American fleet from the open ocean.  On August 14, the American warships retreated up the Penobscot River, leaving the transports to defend themselves.  Most of the transports were abandoned, some were burned by their crews and others were captured.  By September, 42 of the original 43 American ships were captured or destroyed, most scuttled by their crews.  For their parts Saltonstall and Paul Revere were court-martialed.  Revere was “acquitted" of the limited charge of failing to deliver a boat at General Wadsworth's order.  Surprisingly, General Wadsworth's grandson, future Castine resident Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, would in 1863 immortalize him in his poem, “Paul Revere's Ride".  Some historians have characterized the Penobscot Expedition as the worst American naval defeat up until the time of Pearl Harbor.

The British still thought so much of Castine that they tried to get the boundary with British-controlled Canada placed there instead of along the St. Croix River.  Castine was the last place Britain evacuated as a result of the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the American War of Independence - in 1784!  The British returned during the War of 1812, but by 1815, British forces finally evacuated Castine for good.

Probably as a result of this battle, a ghost of a drummer boy is said to haunt Fort George.  It is told that he can be heard at dusk.  We visited Fort George at sundown this past August and confess we heard or saw nothing.  Despite this, our two sons claimed to hear what can only be interpreted from their descriptions as a distinct, often loud, quarter beat pounding of a snare drum.  Our oldest son even claimed to see the misty image of the drummer boy approaching our Ford Windstar.

 - Paul and Carolyn Hanczaryk

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