Machias, Maine

Machias is a town in and the county seat of Washington County, Maine, United States.GR|6 As of the 2000 census, the town population was 2,353. It is home to the University of Maine at Machias and Machias Valley Airport, a small public airport owned by the town.


The word Machias roughly translates to "bad little falls" in Passamaquoddy. Located on the Machias River in downeast Maine, it was settled in 1763 by settlers from Scarborough. Machias is home to Burnham Tavern, a historical museum which has mementos of the first naval battle of the American Revolution. This battle, which occurred in June 1775 at Machiasport after townspeople refused to provide the British with lumber for barracks, led to the capture of the armed schooner HMS "Margaretta" by settlers under Captain Jeremiah O'Briencite book |last= Maine League of Historical Societies and Museums |editor=Doris A. Isaacson |title=Maine: A Guide 'Down East' |year=1970 |publisher=Courier-Gazette, Inc. |location=Rockland, Me | pages = 280-281 ] and Capt. Benjamin Foster. The Massachusetts General Court incorporated Machias as a town on June 23, 1784. It first encompassed present-day East Machias, Whitneyville, Machias and Marshfield. In the 19th century, it developed into a major railroad center for northern lumber operations.

The 2004 PBS show, "Colonial House", was filmed in the Machiasport area, with scenes in Machias.

Notable residents

*Albert Gallatin, ethnologist, congressman & treasury secretary
*Captain Jeremiah O'Brien, naval officer
*Edward Franklin Albee II, vaudeville impresario
*George Stillman Hillard, lawyer & author
*Jeremiah O'Brien, congressman
*Nelly Parker Spaulding, silent film actress
*Phineas Bruce, congressman
*Stephen Clark Foster, congressman


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 14.8 square miles (38.3 km²), of which, 13.9 square miles (36.0 km²) of it is land and 0.9 square miles (2.3 km²) of it (6.09%) is water. Drained by the Machias River, the town is located at the head of Machias Bay and Little Kennebec Bay on the Gulf of Maine, part of the Atlantic Ocean.

Machias is crossed by U. S. Route 1 and 1A, and by state routes 92 and 192. It is bordered by the towns of Machiasport to the east, Roque Bluffs to the south, Whitneyville to the west, and Marshfield to the north. Separated by water, it is near town of East Machias to the north.


"See also": Machias (CDP), Maine

As of the censusGR|2 of 2000, there were 353 people, 39 households, and 53 families residing in the town. The population density was 169.4 people per square mile (65.4/km²). There were 1,129 housing units at an average density of 81.3/sq mi (31.4/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 95.92% White, 0.64% Black or African American, 0.98% Native American, 1.44% Asian, 0.25% from other races, and 0.76% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.55% of the population.

There were 939 households out of which 24.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.3% were married couples living together, 11.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.4% were non-families. 37.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.10 and the average family size was 2.75.

In the town the population was spread out with 18.9% under the age of 18, 20.4% from 18 to 24, 21.3% from 25 to 44, 20.9% from 45 to 64, and 18.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 87.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 81.9 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $24,318, and the median income for a family was $36,705. Males had a median income of $29,107 versus $21,538 for females. The per capita income for the town was $13,902. About 15.6% of families and 23.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.5% of those under age 18 and 23.6% of those age 65 or over.

History in the Revolutionary War, the capture of the HMS "Margaretta"

Machias, District of Maine, Massachusetts (June 1775) - Aroused by the recent news of skirmishes between colonists and British troops at Lexington and Concord, near Boston, a band of Machias residents responded angrily to threats on their town from a British officer and attacked and captured his 100-ton schooner, the "Margaretta", killing the officer and at least four others in the process.

The battle to take the "Margaretta" was the result of spontaneous reactions -- the British would call it a mob action -- to threats on the town of Machias made by the commander of the British schooner "Margaretta", Midshipman James Moore. The fever pitch of the participants was fueled by recent news of the skirmishes around Boston that started America's fight for independence. In May 1775, a group of Machias men met in the Burnham Tavern in response to the news from Lexington and Concord. In the meeting, Benjamin Foster suggested and the group agreed, that they signal their support for the colonies and independence by erecting a Liberty Pole -- a large pine tree with all but the very top branches stripped off -- in the center of town.

On June 2, 1775, the British schooner "Margaretta" escorted two merchant vessels -- Ichabod Jones' sloops, the "Unity" and "Polly" -- into port at Machias to provide provisions for the community and to obtain lumber to erect barracks for the British troops stationed back in Boston. Upon seeing the Liberty Pole, the British commander James Moore ordered its immediate removal and threatened to fire on the town if this order was not obeyed.

This enraged the free-spirited men of Machias, who refused to dismantle the pole. During the following week-and-a-half, Jones conducted tense negotiations for the sale of his provisions and for the purchase of lumber for the British. Moore continued to issue threats if the Liberty Pole wasn't taken down. Tension only increased and the resolve of the Machias community stiffened.

Upon hearing of the events occurring in Machias, men from neighboring towns arrived in support. In turn, the men of Machias conspired to capture the British officer and his ship. Their initial plan to seize Moore at church on June 11, 1775 failed when -- as Rev. James Lyon preached -- Moore sensed the imminent danger, leapt out an open window of the church and escaped back to his ship.

Moore immediately ordered the "Margaretta" to weigh anchor and move further down river to a safer position. As he did, the vessel fired some warning shots over Machias, and some Machias men fired musket shots at the ship from small boats and canoes, as well as from vantage points on shore. This skirmish lasted about an hour and a half before the "Margaretta" moved further out, captured another sloop and impressed its pilot, Captain Toby, to assist in navigating the British ship out to sea.

The next day, Monday June 12th, the men of Machias regrouped and came up with an alternative plan to man some ships, chase down the "Margaretta", board it and take control by force. Benjamin Foster took about 20 men to a neighboring community, East River, to man a schooner, the Falmouth Packet. The remaining men commandeered one of Jones' merchant ships, the "Unity". They quickly installed some planks on the "Unity" as makeshift breastworks to serve as protection, armed themselves with muskets, pitchforks and axes and then set out after the "Margaretta", which by this time had moved further downstream toward open waters.

In fact, when Moore saw the preparations underway on the "Unity", the British vessel once again weighed anchor and sailed on to nearby Holmes Bay. But in jibing into brisk winds, the "Margaretta's" main boom and gaff broke away, crippling its navigability. As a result, once in Holmes Bay, Moore captured a sloop, took its spar and gaff to replace the "Margaretta's" and took captive the pilot of the sloop, Robert Avery, of Norwich, Connecticut.

Some firsthand accounts indicate that both the "Unity" and the "Falmouth Packet" engaged the "Margaretta", but most other sources indicate that Benjamin Foster and company either ran aground in the "Falmouth Packet" or never caught up to the "Margaretta", and that the men aboard the "Unity" alone battled the "Margaretta" directly. During the chase, the "Unity" crew elected Jeremiah O'Brien as its captain, and with the "Unity" being a much faster sailing vessel, O'Brien's crew quickly overtook the crippled "Margaretta".

On the approach of the "Unity", the "Margaretta" opened fire, but the Machias crew managed to avoid that fire and pull alongside the "Margaretta". It took two tries, but they tied alongside and stormed on board the "Margaretta". Captain O'Brien's brother John and Joseph Getchell led the boarding. Both sides also exchanged musket shots, and Moore tossed hand grenades onto the "Unity" until Samuel Watts took him down with a musket shot to the chest.

With their commanding officer down, the British quickly succumbed to the onslaught and surrendered the "Margaretta" to Captain O'Brien and his crew. Moore was taken into care in Machias at the home of Stephen Jones, the son of Ichabod Jones, but Moore died the next day. At least three of Moore's crew were also killed, as well as Robert Avery, the colonist who was impressed by the British. Avery's fate was certainly an extremely unfortunate case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some accounts relate a higher death toll among the British. The remaining crew members of the British schooner were eventually handed over to the Provincial Congress.

Machias lost two men, John McNiell and James Coolbroth. Coolbroth died after the skirmish of his wounds. Three others were badly wounded but survived. They were John Berry, who had a musket ball enter his mouth and exit behind his ear, Isaac Taft and James Cole.

Accounts indicate that about 40 Machias men manned the "Unity". George W. Drisko, a local Machias historian, actually listed the following 55 names of Machias men for whom he had evidence of participating in the attack on the Margaretta. Jeremiah O'Brien, John O'Brien, William O'Brien, Joseph O'Brien, Gideon O'Brien, Dennis O'Brien, Edmund Stevens, Richard Earle (a Negro servant to Jeremiah O'Brien), Samuel Watts, John Steele, John Drisko, Judah Chandler, John Berry1, James Cole, Richard McNiel, John Hall, Jesse Scott, Wallace Fenlason, Ezekiel Foster, Joseph Clifford, Jonathan Brown, Josiah Libbee, Joseph Getchell1, Joseph Getchell, Jr.1, James Sprague, James N. Shannon, Benjamin Foss1, William McNeil, Jonathan Knights, Josiah Weston, Joel Whitney, John Merritt, Isaac Taft, James Coolbroth, Nathaniel Crediforth, Joseph Wheaton, John Scott, Joseph Libbee, Simon Brown, Beriah Rice, Samuel Whitney, Elias Hoit, Seth Norton, Obadiah Hill, Daniel Meservey, John Steel, Jr., Nathaniel Fenderson, John Mitchell, Will Mackelson, John Thomas, David Prescott, Ebenezer Beal, John Bohanan, Thomas Bewel and Abial Sprague. In addition to those who manned the Unity and the Falmouth Packet, many others participated in the preliminary skirmishes from the shore and smaller boats.

In the following days, the full burden of their actions weighed heavily on the Machias community. Expecting the full wrath of the British empire in revenge, they immediately petitioned the Provincial Congress of the Massachusetts Colony for guidance, supplies and assistance. They organized for the defense of Machias and maintained vigilance in the event of British vengeance. Jeremiah O'Brien immediately outfitted the "Unity" with breastworks and armed her with the guns and swivels taken from the "Margaretta" and changed her name from "Unity" to "Machias Liberty". Joseph Getchell took the "Margaretta" and hid her as far up the Middle River as high tide would take her.

A month later, Jeremiah O'Brien and Benjamin Foster captured another British armed schooner, the "Diligence", that happened to dock at Machias during a mapping expedition along the coast. This gave the Machias residents two armed ships of war.

During the war, different crews of Machias men re-outfitted and armed different ships -- including the "Margaretta" -- and sailed looking for battle with the British. And in 1776 and 1777, different British officers received orders to go and destroy Machias. But the residents of Machias withstood these efforts to the extent that Machias became known as the "Hornet's Nest" to the British admiralty. One British officer, presumed to be Sir George Collier, said "The damned rebels at Machias were a harder set than those at Bunker Hill."

References: George W. Drisko's "History of Machias", the "Life of Captain Jeremiah O'Brien", the "Sea of Glory", William James Morgan's "Captains to the Northwind", and the "American Theatre"

Other relevant resources: Drisko's "The Liberty Pole; a Tale of Machias", William Bartlett Smith's "Historical Sketch of Machias" and "Memorial of the Centennial Anniversary of the Settlement of Machias", Stephen Jones' "Historical Account of Machias, Me.", and Foxhall A. Parker's "The First Sea Fight of the Revolution; the Capture of the Margaretta"


*Machias Memorial High School
* [ Machias Valley Christian School]
* [ Rose M. Gaffney Elementary School]
* [ University of Maine at Machias]
*Washington Academy

ites of interest

* [ Burnham Tavern Museum]
* [ Fort O'Brien State Historic Site]


Further reading

* [ Captain Jeremiah O'Brien and the HMS "Margaretta"]
*A. J. Coolidge & J. B. Mansfield, "A History and Description of New England", 1859; H. O. Houghton & Company, printers; Cambridge, Massachusetts
* [ History of Machias, Maine (1886)]

External links

* [ Town of Machias, Maine]
* [ Machias Bay Area Chamber of Commerce]
* [ Maine government - Machias, Maine]
* [ Porter Memorial Library]

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