Things were looking decidedly old-fashioned as the Downeast Lakes Land Trust welcomed two period-clad docents from the Burnham Tavern Museum last Saturday afternoon. By candle light, Dr. Ruth and Robert Ahrens described the Battle of the Margaretta, the first naval battle of the American Revolution which occurred at Machias in 1775.
Dr. Ahrens has, for a number of years, shared the history of the battle with visitors from around the world. Throughout those years she has patiently gathered “pieces of the puzzle” to explain why things played out as they did, and how issues and events in Machias mirrored those in the larger “theater” of the American Revolution.
“We can imagine a world without TVs and computers, but it is harder for us to think about how people lived in the late 1700s, with no indoor plumbing and no central heating. What they lacked in our modern conveniences, they mostly had to make up for in sheer hard labor. And yet, these people are us.” Dr. Ahrens asserted. “The men who took over the Unity, sailed the Falmouth Packet and eventually took the Margaretta were declared pirates by the British government. Thus you see before you today, the descendant of a pirate,” said Dr. Ahrens with a deep curtsy and smile.
Indeed a quick glance at the list of men involved included names familiar in the region now: Browns, Chandlers, Holmes, Spragues, Wheatons, Whitneys and Woodruffs. This drew a few chuckles from the audience as they saw their own names. A sense of pride and the reflection; “We are still here, we are those people” permeated the School Building in Grand Lake Stream, just two days walk from where these events took place nearly 240 years ago.
Dr. Ahrens shared an “up close and personal” look at the history created by people here in Washington County. She described back-up forces who forgot their ammunition, and the pregnant young woman who carried it through sixteen miles of forest to bring it to them. She explained how the people in Machias struggled to balance the needs of their hungry children with their greater ambitions for self-rule. Dr. Ahrens’ storytelling made real and present the struggles and fateful decisions the citizens of Machias made to provide for their families and to secure their future. “Machias is a very special place.” reflected Dr. Ahrens as she concluded her presentation.
The Downeast Lakes Land Trust regularly hosts speakers, sponsors workshops, and leads outdoor adventures that highlight the natural and cultural history of the Maine woods and waters. These programs support the DLLT’s commitment to protecting both the environmental and economic health of the Downeast Lakes region. Visit their website to discover what is happening next.