Aroostook "Bloodless" War

Although the "Aroostook Bloodless War" resulted in a treaty that was signed between the United State and England with no military action other than some serious posturing, at the time it was dead serious.

Two primary issues were at hand, first was establishing an international border between the United State of America and the English Realm, and second although less publicized but just as important was navigation rights on the St. John River. The conflict continued to boil over the next several years.
In 1828 in response to the continued conflict over land rights the Hancock US Army Barracks was established and by 1831 a military road was completed between Mattawamkeag and Houlton paving the way for additional immigration north and a means to move men and materials into and out of region. For a brief period of time Robert E. Lee served as an engineer on a surveying mission at Hancock Barracks. Many of the soldiers stationed in Houlton brought families with them to Houlton making it the first American settlement in this area of the state.

In March of 1838 then Governor Kent signed a series of resolutions adopted by the legislature declaring that the state would not consent to treating with Great Britain for a conventional line, but "that this state will insist on the line established by the Treaty of 1783,"that the state would not agree to a new arbiter and that the state was pushing for the US government to become involved.

The issue intensified as men returned to southern Maine from Aroostook bringing glowing reports of the richness of the soil, the ease of cultivation, and the abundance of crops. Additionally, many in Augusta felt that if Aroostook could be opened up for settlement, it would help stem the outmigration of people heading west. Therefore establishing the northern border and protecting the states interests was deemed very important. On January 23, 1839 the Maine legislature appropriated $10,000 to employ a land agent and a sufficient force to arrest and imprison all persons found trespassing on state lands. Upon reaching Masardis at the mouth of the St. Croix stream the men threw up log breastworks and mounted several small cannons.

Rufus McIntire, the land agent, accompanied by Major Hastings Strickland, sheriff of Penobscot County, and some two hundred men, among whom were Captain Stover Rines and his company of militia form Old Town marched to Aroostook. This force with some sixty-two horse teams headed to what is present day Caribou to confront the trespassing loggers. The two hundred plus loggers were warned of the approaching militia and fled down river to the Tobique Village on the St. John River. The night of February 12th the Militia made camp at Caribou, while Mr. McIntire and two friends traveled to Fitzherbert's tavern in what is present day Fort Fairfield. News of the land agent's presence at the tavern made its way to Tobique and before morning forty or fifty lumbermen had taken the three captive and hustled them off to Woodstock where they were turned over to British officials who jailed them in Fredericton.

When news of these events spread, both Maine and New Brunswick flamed with angry excitement. Each side quickly called for an additional 300 men to come to the area of contention to defend their interests. The Forts Fairfield and Kent were constructed and the State of Maine raised additional militia. Under the rumors of actual bloodshed, the US Congress voted to raise 50,000 men and $10,000,000 to repel any actual invasion of American soil but directed President Van Buren to search out a peaceable end this conflict if possible.

General Winfield Scott was given the delicate task of getting Maine and New Brunswick to reach an agreement to refrain from further measures until the parent governments could make an attempt to settle the dispute. General Scott was successful in his negotiations, the northern border was agreed upon and in 1842 the conflict was finally put to rest with the signing of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. Not the least humorous incident of this remarkable war was that when General Scott dated his dispatch: "Headquarters, Eastern Division, United States Army, Augusta Maine," his entire force present for duty was one general, one captain, and one lieutenant. One of these officers was Robert Anderson, later of Fort Sumter fame.

On March 16, 1839, Governor Fairfield approved an act incorporating the County of Aroostook, which took effect on May 1st. The whole number of troops actually called into the field was 3,339 officers and men, and their terms of service ranged from twenty-one days to two months and twenty-five days. The cost of the demonstration to the state was several hundred thousand dollars, but its effect in hastening the tedious controversy to a settlement may have been well worth the cost, even if the federal government had not reimbursed Maine later for the money she had expended.


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