The Odd British Occupation Of Maine

“As Maine goes, so goes the nation.” —Anonymous political proverb, late 19th century

In A Nutshell

During the last year of the War of 1812, British forces occupied a large portion of Eastern Maine and faced essentially no opposition. The newly conquered Mainers weren’t terribly upset, though, and were in surprisingly little hurry to be “liberated.”

The Whole Bushel

In the summer of 1814, British forces seized some 160 kilometers (100 mi) of Maine’s scarcely defended coastline. The extent of Maine’s defenses were a handful of garrison troops and militia. The region was home to some 30,000 Americans, but few were interested in “defending” their home.

For one thing, the War of 1812 essentially destroyed the Canadian trade that was vital to Maine’s economy. This would explain why one Massachusetts newspaper reported of the occupation, “It is scarcely possible to conceive of the joy of the inhabitants. At the striking of the flag, some huzza’d, and others, men of influence, observed, ‘now we shall get rid of the tax gathers.’ ” Being part of the British Empire meant the renewal of free trade in nearby markets like New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Being part of the British Empire also meant not having to rely on Boston for governance or protection. Prior to the War of 1812, the District of Maine was governed by Bostonians who were pretty much indifferent to the precarious position of the denizens to their north. When President James Madison sought funding from Boston’s banking elite to fund an expedition to liberate Eastern Maine, he was flatly refused; Boston’s bankers had already loaned significant capital to the British.

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Given their own government’s lackadaisical attitude to their well-being, it’s probably not surprising that the occupied Mainers were more than gracious hosts. British officers found the area hospitable enough to make a resort of it and spend their leaves from service there. And black-market trade thrived in occupied Maine, Canada, and the States. British occupation officials knew a good thing when they saw it and tacitly encouraged trade so long as fees and duties were paid to the appropriate persons.

After the war ended in 1815, the British held onto their outpost in Eastport, Maine for another three years before finally withdrawing. As a result of Boston’s wartime disregard for its Mainer constituency, the District of Maine pursued and gained statehood in 1820.

Show Me The Proof

The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier
The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict
History of the Late War

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