History of Machias, Maine
From
A Gazetteer of the
State of Maine

By Geo. J. Varney
Published by B. B. Russell, 57 Cornhill,
Boston 1886




Machias, the shiretown of Washington County, is situated midway of the south shore of the county, on the Machias River, near its mouth. The western portion extends southward to Little Kennebee Bay. Machiasport bounds it on the south-east, also on the east with East Macbias and Marshfleld. The latter also bounds it on thc north, and Whitneyville and Jonesboro on the west. The surface of the town is uneven, but fertile. The rocks along the river are trap but there is an extensive granite quarry within three miles of the falls. The water-power of this town consists of a series of falls on the Machias River, at the head of navigation, six miles above the river’s mouth, and three above its junction with the East Machias River. The gross power of the falls is that of about 937 horses. Vessels of 600 tons receive cargoes within 300 feet of the mills. Freshets do no harm, hence mill machinery is secure. Within this town are eight saw-mills manufacturing long and short lumber, a sash, blind and door factory, one or more ship-yards, an iron.foundry and machine-shop, two grainmills, a carding-mill, canned-food factories, carriage-factories, sail-loft, two printing establishments, a tow-boat company, silver mining company, etc. The Machias Savings Bank held, at the beginning of the fiscal year of 1880, in deposits and profits, the sum of $339,708.36. The town has a connection with Portland by steamboat-line, and with Bangor and Calais by a line of stages. A railroad for freight connect. ing Machiasport and Whitneyville passes through the town.

Machias was incorporated June 23, 1784; then embracing territory now constituting the towns of East Machias, Whitneyville, Machiasport and Marshfield. It was the first town incorporated between the Pen obscot and the St. Croix. East Machias was set off Jan. 24, 1826; Whitneyville, Feb. 10, 1845; Machiasport, Jan. 24, 1826; and Marshfield, June 30, 1846. The English first became acquainted with the place in 1633, when Richard Vines established a trading-post there. A fierce contest was at this time going on between France and England, and in the following spring, La Tour, the French commander in the region, made a descent upon it from his seat at Port Royal, killing two of its six defenders, and carrying the others away with their merchandise. No persistent attempt was again made to hold this point by the English or French for upwards of 120 years. In 1704, Major Church found and captured here John Bretoon, of Jersey, with his wife and child, and M. Lattre, with his wife and three children. In 1734 the place was visited by the Governor of Massachusetts. In 1762, on account of the scarcity of hay arising from the drought, Isaiah Foster, Isaac Larahee, and others from Scarborough, visited the place in search of grass, finding a great quantity of it in the marshes. Quite a number of persons settled here the following year, and having thus become acquainted with the advantages of the place, 80 persons of whom no less than 54 were from Scarborough, petitioned the General Court for a grant of this vicinity for settlement, which was allowed in 1770. Among those who became residents in 1763 were S. and S. Scott, T. D. and G. Jibby. S. and J. Stone, W. B. and J. Larabee, D. and J. Hill, D. Fogg, and J. Foster, most of whom located at the West Fall, and Messrs. Munson, Foster, Levey and Scott, settled at East Falls. Morris O’Brien and his sons, in 1765, built a double saw-mill at the former place. Hon. Stephen Jones settled here in 1768. His son was for many years a judge of the Common Pleas and judge of Probate in Washington County. In 1770, many others having come in, several mills were erected on East and West Rivers, and one on Middle River.

It fell to the lot of the Machias people to initiate the Revolutionary struggle on the sea, as the people of Lexington and Concord had done upon the land. Capt. Ichabod Jones, of Boston, obtained leave to send a small vessel with provisions to Machias on condition of returning with a cargo of wood and lumber. Accordingly his sloop, convoyed by the armed English schooner Margaretta, commanded by Lieutenant Moore, arrived here on the 9th of May, bringing the first intelligence of the bloody conflicts at Lexington and Concord. It was not many days before the inhabitants made known their sentiments by the erection of a liberty pole at a prominent point in the settlement. Lieutenant Moore, learning the significance of the pole, ordered it to be removed, under a threat of firing on the town. By the influence of Mr. Jones, the British commander was induced to delay the execution of his threat from day to day, while several meetings were held by the inhabitants to consider the matter; but they every time voted not to take down the poie. The final meeting was to be held on Monday, and on the previous Sunday, a plot was laid to capture Lieutenant Moore at the meeting-house as the service closed: but seeing through the window some armed men crossing the river above, he took the alarm, sprang through the open window, and escaped to his vessel. An armed company of the settlers followed down to the shore, when the Margaretta, after firing a few shots over the settlement, slipped down the river. Early the next morning, Benjamin Foster, Jeremiah O’Brien and his five stalwart brothers, and some others, gathered at the wharf, and took possession of Jones’ wood sloop; then by shouts they gathered the men of the settlement on board. A plan of capturing the Margaretta was made known, the timid were allowed to go ashore, while the bolder spirits, a few only armed with muskets, others with pitchforks and axes, sailed down the river to attack the British schooner. Another company, in a small coaster, followed them. They found the schooner in the bay, and run alongside with the intention of boarding. She received them with a discharge of several guns, muskets and hand grenades, by which several were killed. The vessels fell apart, only John O’Brien, one of the six brothers, having got on board the enemy. Several of the British instantly fired at him, but not a bullet touched him. Then they charged upon him with their bayonets; but before they could reach him he was overboard, and swimming towards the sloop, which lie reached without other harm than a wetting. The only cannon possessed by the patriots was a wall piece, which they balanced on the rail, and fired with destructive effect. The muskets, also,did good service, and the decks of the Margaretta were cleared. Several of the enemy had fallen, including the coinmander, and when the vessels were brought together again, the officer in command fled below in terror, and the crew yielded at once.

On the 26th of June following, the Massachusetts Congress passed a formal vote of thanks to the heroes of this affair. The Margaretta was the first British vessel captured by the Americans; and the action merits the name it has received of “The Lexington of the Seas.” Foster and Jeremiah O’Brien were soon after commissioned for privateering, and were very successful. Machias soon became aggressive, and an expedition was filled out to aid the patriots in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Thinking it necessary to crush this rebellious town, the governor of Nova Scotia, in 1777, sent Sir George Collier with four vessels and eighty marines to accomplish this purpose. They arrived in the bay early in August, and after burning a tide-mill, two dwellings, two barns and a guard house, and committing other depredations below, one of the brigs was towed by barges to the mouth of Middle River, within half a mile of Machias Falls. Here such a lively fire was poured down upon them from the high banks that the crews of the barges were driven on board the brig, whence again all was driven below deck, and the brig drifted helplessly down the stream. Every man in the place able to bear arms was now upon the shore, Major Stiliman being in charge; while on the other side of the river were forty or fifty Passamaquoddy Indians sent by Colonel John Allan, and led by Joseph Neeala, their chief. The Indians raised their peculiar yell, which the white people imitated, until the woods rang with them; and the British were glad to reach the bay again. A notable incident in this contest was the journey of Hannah Weston, with another young woman from the Pleasant River settlement, 20 miles west, to bring powder for the patriots. A day or two later the squadron sailed away.

Among the first who built mills in the place were Ichabocl Jones and Jonathan Longfellow. The first meeting-houses was built in 1774 on a lot given by George Libby, on the site of which Libby Hall now stands. The building was 42 feet long, 25 feet wide, and one story in height. In 1786, by vote of the town, £200 were raised to build two meeting-houses. The first newspaper of Machias was called “The Eastern State.” It was published by Jeremiah Baich, and bore the date of Dec. 23, 1823. There are now two weekly papers, the “Maehias Republican,” an excellant republican sheet, published every Saturday, by C. O. Furbush, and the "Machias Union,” of which Messrs. Drisko & Parlin are the enterprising publishers. Its day of publication is Tuesday, and its politics are firmly democratic. Among the fine buildings of Machias are the court-house and jail, constricted of brick and granite; the former in 1855, at a cost of $25,000, and the latter in 1857, at a cost of $35,000. The United States building containing the postoffice and custom-house is also of brick and granite. It was built in 1871, at a cost of $30,000. Centre Street Church and Libby Hall are fine wooden buildings. There are also many tasteful and some quite handsome private residences. The streets are adorned with shade trees, and the town bears many marks of age and culture.

George S. Hillard, who died in Boston in 1879, was a native of Machias. He was a leading member of the Suffolk bar, held various honorable public offices, and was the author of several popular works in the departments of geography, history, and travels, and of a series of school readers known as Hillard’s Readers. A notable resident of Machias during and subsequent to the Revolution was Col. John Allan, born in 1746, in Edinburgh Castle, Sèotland. His father, a man of letters and wealth, removed to Halifax, N. S., in 1750. Though a member of the Nova Scotia Assembly, Colonel Allan’s sympathies were with the American people, and in 1776, when thirty years of age, he was forced to leave his home and seek refuge in a more patriotic community. In the following year, by direction of Congress, an order of General Washington made him superintendent of the Eastern Indians and commander of the troops at Machias. Love of liberty seems to have been a ruling passion with him. The Indian tribes respected him as a father. His descendants are distinguished for industry, frugality and integrity. His burial place is on the island formerly owned by him near Eastport, now known as Treat's Island.

The first organized church in Machias and in Washington County was Congregationalist, and dates from September, 1782. Rev. James Lyon, the first pastor, was a graduate of Princeton College, and came to Machias in 1771; continuing in this service in the east and west villages until his death in 1795. He was a man of more than ordinary ability, of deep piety, and an earnest patriot. This society still continues, and is said to be one of the largest in the State. The other societies are Baptist, Methodist, Universalist and Catholic. There is a public library in the village containing about 2,000 volumes. All have good church-edifices. The village has an excellent high-school, with a graded system. There are nine public schoolhouses, some of which are superior structures. The value of the school property is estimated at $18,000. The valuation of estates in 1870 was $978,135. In 1880 it was $779,588. The population in 1870 was $2,525. In 1880 it was 2,203.

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