A newspaper article in the Boston Post dated June 12, 1934 recounts the battle of the Margaretta.
Today, up at Machias, Me., they will tell you this is the 159th anniversary of the first naval battle of the Revolution.
Let it not be forgotten!
There was in port at Machias an armed British schooner, the Margaretta, convoying two sloops loaded with lumber. (This is the Yankee version of the story.)
Inspired by the news from Lexington, the Maine folks determined to capture the King’s schooner.
The British captain fired several shots over the town, then took his vessel down stream some distance and anchored under a high bank.
Thirty five Machias volunteers seized and armed one of the lumber sloops and sailed down to attack the Margaretta.
Shots were exchanged, and the Machias men, armed with scythes and pitchforks, boarded the British schooner.
Twenty men were killed, including Captain Moore of the Margaretta, and the schooner’s crew surrendered.
Two armed British vessels were then sent down from Halifax to arrest the Machias fighters, but the Maine men captured both of them, sailed them down to Boston Harbor and up the Charles River to Watertown and turned them over to the Massachusetts Bay colonists.
Now I’m not sure about the accuracy of all the facts in this newspaper article. I know that many men in Machias had guns, not just scythes and pitchforks. Their women aided the war effort. After all, 17 year old Hannah Watts Weston traveled through the woods for 17 miles with powder, lead, even pewter spoons, to be melted down for ammunition.
For generations, everyone who grew up in Machias, knew this story, retold countless times with great pride. The men of Machias fought the British in the rebellion for independence of the American colonies and to prevent the British from taking their primary resources: timber for ships and their hard-earned money, taxation without representation. Once British demands were made, the townsmen of Machias, not only refused to comply by providing timber or paying their taxes, they erected a “liberty pole” in the town square. And then, they set out to seize British ships that entered their harbor.
A group of townsmen had met to decide on their plan of action. Once agreed upon at the Rubicon, the brook they all jumped across to seal their pact, these men collectively captured the British ship “Margaretta” and hid her upriver. My ancestor, Joseph Getchell Jr. was among the first men who jumped on board the Margaretta in the assault. The captured British ship captain died. His blood remains in the Burnham Tavern where they took him after their assault. It remains there today in the Tavern which is under the care of the Hannah Weston Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, as a reminder to future generations never to yield to tyranny. It was the first naval battle of the American Revolution.
An engraved stone marks the spot where the the men of Machias jumped across the Rubicon.
The Foster Rubicon
Wear this spot, in June 1775, the men of Machias confronted by a peremptory demand backed by armed force
That they should furnish necessary supplies to their country’s enemies, met in open air council
To choose between ignoble peace and all but hopeless war
The question was momentous and the debate long
After some hours of fruitless discussion
Benjamin Foster a man of action rather than words
Leaped across this brook and called all those to follow him
Who would, whatever the risk, stand by their countrymen
And their country’s cause
Almost to a man the assembly followed
And, without further formality
The settlement was comitted to the Revolution.
Erected by the Hannah Weston Chapter DAR 1917
The Historic Burnham Tavern in Machias, Maine. Read more about the Tavern and Revolutionary War history here.
Lura Beam, in A Maine Hamlet (1957), wrote about the effect of the heroic Margaretta story on people who lived in Marshfield/Machias in about 1900.
“This long-ago conquering of the enemy had somehow stiffened the life of every individual in the hamlet,” she wrote. “The blaze still held over, burning in adult pride and endowing children with haughty self-confidence. … The single Battle was in everybody’s bones: the Liberty Pole, the oppressor’s hand, the leap over the brook, the bullets and scythes, the night sail up the river…[all] were part of the local calcium.”
George Drisko, in his Narrative of the Town of Machias, written and compiled in 1904, writes in more explicit historical terms how we should think about the place of the Margaretta incident in history: “Taking all the circumstances of the occasion into view, especially the remote position of Machias from any place where assistance could be obtained, the capture of the Margaretta must be considered as one of the most bold, energetic and extraordinary occurrences of the times.