Aroostook War, The
DESCRIPTION: "Ye soldiers of Maine, your bright weapons prepare: On your frontier's arising The clouds of grim war." "Your country's invaded!" "Then 'Hail the British!' Does anyone cry? 'Move not the old landmarks,' The settlers reply."
EARLIEST DATE: 1916 (Gray); supposedly written 1839
KEYWORDS: political soldier
1839 - the "Aroostook War"
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Gray, pp. 156-157, "The Aroostook War" (1 text)
Cohen-AFS1, p. 4, "The Aroostook War" (1 text)
cf. "Maine Soldiers' Song" (subject: Aroostook War)
cf. "Maine Battle Song" (subject: Aroostook War)
NOTES: When the American Revolution ended, one issue left unsettled was the border between what became the American state of Maine (then still part of Massachusetts) and New Brunswick in Canada. Initially it wasn't much of a problem; there simply weren't enough people in Maine for it to be an issue (there had been provisions in the 1783 treaty between the United States and Britain for a boundary commission, but the commission couldn't figure out what the treaty-makers had intended; Morison, p. 407). Eventually, in the late 1837s, the issue turned into a major boundary dispute.
Brebner/Masters, p. 196, suggests, "The bloodless 'Aroostook War' that brought troops on both sides of the border in 1839 may have been colored by Maine's delighted discovery that beyond miles of her unpromising forest uplands the Aroostook Valley contained broad fertile lands as well as fine trees, but the urgent problem was that its waters and the logs they carried reached the ocean through the St. John in New Brunswick."
Jameson, p. 28, says, "Aroostook Disturbances. In 1838 a band of lawless men, chiefly from New Brunswick, trespassed upon that territory which is watered by the Aroostook, and which was then claimed by noth Great Britain and the United States. The Governor of Maine drafted troops [almost certainly including the man who wrote this song] and drove off the intruders. The President sent General Winfield Scott to the Aroostook country. He arranged that it should be occupied as before, each government holding part, while the other denied its legal right."
Brebner/Masters, p. 150, declares, "The 'Aroostook War' of 1839 came as near as might be to reality, but no lives were lost in spite of raids and counterraides and defense measures which involved Maine and the American Congress on one side, and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Great Britain on the other." McNaught, p. 104, mentions "sporadic 'warfare' between competing lumbermen of Maine and New Brunswick," without mentioning this conflict in particular.
This was not the only border disturbance of the period; an even more serious problem is the subject of "The Battle of the Windmill." The Webster/Ashburton treaty of 1842 at last settled the boundary and ended the problems although McNuaght, writing from a Canadian standpoint, thinks that it gave "a northward thrust to Maine that placed a grave impediment in the path of proposed railway connections between Quebec and New Brunswick -- a concession which left a legacy of serious railway difficulties for British North America." One doubts the composer of this song would agree -- or care.
The Biblical quote, "Move not the old landmarks," is sort of a conflation of several passages, which the King James Bible gives as
* "Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark, which they of old have set by thy inheritance." (Deut. 19:14)
* "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set" (Proverbs 22:28)
* "Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless" (Proverbs 23:10)
We might also note Deut. 17:17, "Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark."
Of course, the problem in this case is that there was no landmark, or settled boundary -- but one suspects that politicians wouldn't let mere facts stop them from whipping up the militia. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.7
- Brebner/Masters: J. Bartlett Brebner, Canada, revised and enlarge by Donald C. Masters, University of Michigan Press, 1970
- Jameson: J. Franklin Jameson, Dictionary of United States History 1492-1895, Puritan Press, 1894
- McNaught: Kenneth McNaught, The Pelican History of Canada, enlarged edition, Pelican, 1982
- Morison: Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, Oxford, 1965
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