The Shrinking of the State of Maine
By Dena L. Winslow, Ph.D.
Copyright 2020 – All Rights Reserved

When Maine became the 23rd state on March 15, 1820, it was 5,500 square miles larger than it is today.  That is about the same size as the state of Connecticut.  The story of how Maine shrunk is a fascinating one which began on September 14, 1814 when Canada was still part of England.[1]  It was on that date that, for the first time, the British Commissioners in Canada began to question the boundary “by which the direct communication [road system] between Halifax and Quebec becomes interrupted…”[2]  Because the maps[3] up to that time clearly show the northern border to be located near the St. Lawrence River, this was an effort on the part of the British Commissioners to claim the land in order to protect their “Communication route” which ran directly through what was then Massachusetts but which become the State of Maine when Maine became a state in 1820.  It was a great ploy and, in the end, it worked in taking away a large portion of Maine.[4]

James Buchanan, (who later became the 15th President of the United States), referred to the “direct communication [route]” in his report to the US Senate from the Committee on Foreign Relations given on July 4, 1838.  He was talking about a system of roads and waterways by which the British military could go from Halifax to Quebec.  This “communication” (as it was referred to) passed through what was then northern Maine.  Today, the “communication” follows the present Trans-Canada highway.  The War of 1812 had made it all too clear to the British that they needed to do something to secure that “communication” route – much of which was located on US soil at that time.  Thus began the British claims for the most northerly part of Maine – which they did ultimately take from Maine by way of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 that ended the Aroostook War.

The original northern border of Maine, then part of Massachusetts, was described in the Treaty of Peace, or Treaty of Paris (which formally ended the Revolutionary War) signed at Paris on September 3, 1783:

Article 2.  And that all disputes which might arise in future on the subject of the boundaries of the said United States, may be prevented, it is hereby agreed and declared, that the following are and shall be their boundaries, viz:  From the north-west angle of Nova Scotia, viz: that angle which is formed by a line drawn due north from the source of the St. Croix River, to the Highlands; along the said Highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the River St. Lawrence from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the northewesternmost head of the Connecticut River; thence… East, by a line to be drawn along the middle of the River St. Croix, from its mouth in the Bay of Fundy, to its source, and from its source directly north to the aforesaid highlands which divide the rivers that fall into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the River St. Lawrence…”

It is important to understand that at the time the Treaty was written, New Brunswick did not exist, it did not become a separate Province until the following year in 1784.  Thus, Nova Scotia included the area of New Brunswick at the time of the Treaty of Peace in 1783.

It is also important to understand that the Treaty was based upon Mitchell’s map of 1755, and it included the “red-line” drawn by Benjamin Franklin to mark the border as part of the negotiations – thus became referred to as “the Red Line map.”  This map depicted what the Treaty intended as the border between the US and Canada.[5]

There were two controversies which arose with the description in the Treaty of Peace.  The first was that there were two rivers that had been identified as the St. Croix River over a period of time, and it was unclear at the time which of the two was the one intended in the Treaty.  The most easterly river would have given more land to the US, and the westerly river would have given more land to England. 

In 1794, eleven years after the Treaty was signed, a commission was established by the two countries to determine which of the two rivers was the one intended in the Treaty as the boundary between the two countries.  The secretary of the commission was Edward Winslow.[6]  Winslow was a Loyalist from Plymouth, Massachusetts, a descendant of the Mayflower Pilgrim Edward Winslow.  Edward was one of the individuals named in the Massachusetts Banishment Act of 1778.  He went on to have a distinguished career in New Brunswick as a public official and prominent judge.  

Ultimately, in 1798 the question of which river was the St. Croix River of the Treaty, and thus part of the border between the US and England (now Canada) was settled by the Commission and accepted by both countries – with the exception of the Passamaquoddy Islands and an island off the coast.  The question of the Passamaquoddy Islands was finally settled in 1817. 

There remains to this day however, a small 18 acre island in dispute between the two countries, Machias Seal Island.  This is a small island located in coastal waters about 12 miles south of Canada’s Grand Manan Island and about 10 miles from the Maine coast at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.  The dispute surrounding this island has parallels to the dispute which led to the Aroostook War in 1839.  There is the question of ownership of the land, but also the question of the rich natural resource in dispute. 

During the Aroostook War, the issue of the land was the major issue of contention – especially for the British who did not own the land where their vital “Communication Route” was located.  Until the Revolutionary War while England owned all of the land in question, it made no difference that the Communication Route was located where it was, but once the US separated from England, the question of ownership of the land where the Communication Route was located became an important concern for England.  This concern became even more critical during and after the War of 1812.  Similarly, ownership of Machias Seal Island which has a lighthouse and is a puffin sanctuary has become important to both countries.

The other major issue, although less important than the Communication Route, was the valuable timber that was growing in what is now Aroostook County.  Off the coast of Maine, on Machias Seal Island, the dispute not only surrounds who owns the land, but it also pertains to the rich natural resource in the waters that surround the island, the lobster fishery.  With climate change warming the waters of the Gulf of Maine at an unprecedented rate, lobsters are migrating north to the colder waters they prefer, thus, there are fewer and fewer lobsters in the waters in this region.  Disputes have arisen between US and Canadian lobstermen around Machias Seal Island that are becoming more serious as the lobster resource becomes more scarce.  This is not unlike the situation with US and Canadian lumbermen in what is today Aroostook County back in the 1820’s and 1830’s as they fought over the economically important timber that was growing in the area.

The second controversy pertaining to the language in the Treaty of Peace was the location of the “Highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the River St. Lawrence from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean.”  At the time of the Treaty and until September 14, 1814, all of the maps of the region clearly show the border of northern Maine (then Massachusetts) stretching nearly to the Saint Lawrence River.  Everyone understood where that border was located and there was no question as to its location.  However, on September 14, 1814, the British Commissioners in Canada began to be concerned about their “Communication” crossing directly through the United States in an area that was to later become Maine in 1820.

Dr. William Ganong, a prominent Canadian historian, explains the problem with the location of the “Highlands” as described in the Treaty of Peace based upon Mitchell’s 1755 map (which, disappeared after the Treaty was settled in 1783 and was not included with the Treaty documents.  It has re-surfaced in recent years, and there is a copy now located in Portland, Maine at the Osher Map Library, where it is referred to as, “The most important map in North American History.” 

Ganong says:

“We turn to Mitchell’s map, and compare the descriptions of the north-west angle of Nova Scotia given in the treaty with the topography of that map.  We find that a line drawn due north from the source of the St. Croix does reach Highlands (that is a watershed, and in the second edition of the map a range of mountains clearly represented) which divides rivers emptying themselves into the River St. Lawrence from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, so that according to this map the description of the north-west angle of Nova Scotia given in the Treaty is perfectly accurate.”

“Whence then arose all the doubt and dispute as to the position of the north-west angle of Nova Scotia, doubts which never were solved and disputes which brought the two nations concerned well nigh to war?  The answer will be found by comparing Mitchell’s map and the description based upon it by the treaty, with a correct modern map when it will be found, that, while the due north line from the source of the St. Croix meets with Highlands (a watershed) separating rivers flowing into the River St. Lawrence from those flowing into Bay of Chaleur, and also in another place with highlands separating rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean, it nowhere meets with highlands separating rivers flowing into the River St. Lawrence from those flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.  Mitchell’s map, and all of the maps of the time, were seriously erroneous, and the negotiators who relied upon its correctness were misled into a description, which, perfectly correct in the light of that map and therefore to their knowledge, proved erroneous in the later and more correct knowledge of the country, though the intention of the negotiators, and the position they meant to assign to the north-west angle seems unmistakable (highlight and underline added).  The actual words of the description of the north-west angle of Nova Scotia, therefore, do not describe any place whatsoever in this region.  Hence an opening was allowed for questions as to the interpretation of the treaty and thence arose all those disputes only settled by the compromise treaty of 1842.  Had Mitchell’s map proven to be accurate, or had the commissioners had an accurate modern map before them so they could have made their description accurate, or had they annexed a marked copy of Mitchell’s map to the treaty, the controversies over the question could not have arisen, and Maine would, I believe, include the Madawaska region (on the present-day Canadian side of the border) and would extend to the highlands south of the St. Lawrence.”[7] (highlight and underline added).

Dr. Ganong goes on to explain the importance to England of the “Communication” which cut across Massachusetts land on what was to became Maine in 1820:

“The importance of the communication along the St. John and Madawaska however, consisted not simply in its being by far the shortest and most direct route from Quebec to Nova Scotia, but also in the fact that it was the only possible route in winter when the navigation of the St. Lawrence was closed by ice…”[8]

“Now, Massachusetts (later Maine), according to the Treaty, … cut completely across the communication, making it possible for the British to use it in time of peace only by the courtesy of a foreign nation, and in time of war only by the expedient of capturing and holding it.  As long as Massachusetts and Nova Scotia were under the Government of Great Britain this did not of course matter in the least; the Revolution changed all that and gave the subject greater importance.  Naturally it was the military authorities at Quebec who first perceived the importance of the subject, and the case was very clearly stated by Lord Dorchester, Governor General of British North America in 1785, to who belongs the credit not only of perceiving the issue clearly but also of formulating the claim for a boundary at the central highlands, afterwards adopted by Great Britain and maintained until 1842….I shall show a little later, all of the men prominent at the time in New Brunswick, Governor Carleton, Winslow, Chipman and others accepted it as a fact beyond dispute that the north-west angle was to lie on the highlands just south of the St. Lawrence, that the communication with Quebec was thus to be cut off, and that in order to preserve it some special negotiation must be made, a view taken by the British Government, … until 1814 or later.”[9]

Dr. Ganong goes on to site the journals of the House of Assembly of New Brunswick for the date of February 15, 1814 which said:

“Resolved that the Council be requested to appoint a committee to meet a committee of this House, for the purpose of preparing a humble petition to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent… to alter the boundaries (bold and underline added) between those States (US) and the Province (New Brunswick) so that the important line of communication between this and the neighboring Province of Lower Canada, by the River St. John, may not be interrupted.”[10]

Thus, it was clear that everyone on both sides of the International Border, understood that the actual location of the northern border of what was to become Maine was near the St. Lawrence River at that time.  Ultimately, leading up to the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, which ended the War of 1812, the British negotiators did ask for a “variation of the line” on August 8, 1814, meaning to move the border, in order to secure their communication route.  The US negotiators indicated they had no authority to cede any part of the US and declined to move the border at that time.[11]

The British negotiators replied that they weren’t asking for all of the land owned by Massachusetts, but only that a small portion of it be ceded to Great Britain which would allow for the communication route.[12] This request also failed, as did the offer to trade some islands for that strip of land, and following the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, there were 3 commissions organized to survey and locate the far northern border near the St. Lawrence River.

It was one of these surveyors, Colonel Bouchette, Surveyor General of Quebec who first proposed in 1815 that Mars Hill Mountain in what is today Aroostook County, Maine was the “highlands” referred to in the Treaty of Peace.  Although Mars Hill mountain in no way fits the description in the Treaty of Peace because it doesn’t, “…divide those rivers that empty themselves into the River St. Lawrence from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean…”, this nonetheless became the point fixated on later by the English in their claim of ownership to the land north of a line running roughly westerly from Mars Hill Mountain.  Other than determining which of the two rivers both named St. Croix the Treaty of Peace meant – which was settled in 1798, there had been no question that all of the area within the region, later referred to as the “Disputed Territory” was owned by Massachusetts, and later by Maine.

Dr. Ganong cites a letter dated January 7, 1818 from Ward Chipman, the British Agent who served on two of the three commissions to determine the northerly point of the land owned by Massachusetts (later Maine), known as the “northwest angle of Nova Scotia,” to the British surveyor Bouchette.  In the letter Chipman says: 

“It appears to me, that it will be my duty to claim on the part of His Majesty as the northwest angle of Nova Scotia some point in the due north line to the southward of the River St. John either on the north or the south side of the River Restook (Aroostook River)… there is as little reason at present to doubt that the American agent will claim on the part of the United States some point on the due north line as the northwest angle of Nova Scotia which will effectually interrupt the present communication between Halifax and Quebec, and give to them a frontier highly inconvenient to his Majesty’s dominions in this quarter.”[13]

There can be no doubt that the English authorities at the time knew that the actual border established by the Treaty of Peace was near the St. Lawrence River – far north of the present-day location.  However, in order to protect the communication route, they were willing to make claims that they knew to be false – out of a sense of duty to the King.

Interestingly, by suggesting that the “northwest angle of Nova Scotia” described in the Treaty of Peace was located near Mars Hill Mountain, it also meant that New Brunswick was going to shrink considerably and lose a lot more land to Quebec… but no one raised this point – not at the time, nor since.  Subsequent to the Webster-Ashbruton Treaty of 1842, negotiations went on in present-day Canada to determine the boundaries between New Brunswick and Quebec – with New Brunswick claiming the same point of land described in the Treaty of Peace, along the St. Lawrence River as the “Northwest Angle of Nova Scotia” – rather than some point located near Mars Hill Mountain – as they had claimed in 1818.

In September of 1819, survey work continued to determine the location of the Northwest Angle of Nova Scotia (thus the northern border of the US at the time) described in the Treaty of Peace.  Surveyors Johnson for the US, and Odell for Great Britain reached the location of the due-north line from the Source of the St. Croix where it meets the watershed just south of the St. Lawrence River.  It was decided by the English authorities that the location did not fit the description intended in the Treaty of Peace because the waters that were separated there flowed into the St. Lawrence, and into the Bay Chaleur – which they said was NOT the Atlantic Ocean.  Because a quick look at any map will clearly show that the Bay Chaleur is part of the Atlantic Ocean, it is clear that it is an intentional misinterpretation on the part of the British authorities.  Until the Webster-Ashbruton Treaty settled the question in 1842, this argument that the Bay of Fundy was NOT part of the Atlantic Ocean continued to be touted by the British authorities as the reason this could not be the correct location intended by the Treaty of Peace, while at the same time they claimed that Mars Hill Mountain was the correct location, in spite of Mars Hill dividing no rivers that flow into the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Ocean, and not being the “Northwest Angle of Nova Scotia.” 

Following the English claim to Mars Hill Mountain as the “highlands…” of the Treaty of Peace, the area between there and northward to the original border near the St. Lawrence River became known as, “The Disputed Territory.”

As part of their rationale for their invalid claim to Mars Hill Mountain and north being British territory, there also developed a false claim of jurisdiction which the English claimed they had always held over the region.  In spite of there never having been a copy of any such “agreement for jurisdiction giving the British authority over the “Disputed Territory,” and many denials of any such agreement ever existing, even today, the claim continues to be made by at least one Canadian historian, Gary Campbell.[14]

This claim was the primary thesis for a Ph.D. Dissertation by Gary Campbell in 2010 in which he makes the argument that there was such an agreement and that Massachusetts/Maine often violated it.[15]  In spite of over 237 years since the original Treaty of Peace, and literally hundreds of historians looking at all documents pertaining to the border question, NO DOCUMENTS have ever surfaced that support the claim of an “agreement” giving the British jurisdiction over the “Disputed Territory.” 

In his Dissertation, Campbell describes the non-existent jurisdictional “agreement” with words such as, “The US and Great Britain… these two nations appear to have reached an understanding (bold and highlight added) whereby Great Britain, acting through the government of New Brunswick, would exercise jurisdiction in the area…”[16]; “the United States seemed to (bold and highlight added) have reached an agreement about the exercise of jurisdiction…”; “The apparent (bold and highlight added) agreement…”[17]; “The Achilles’ heel of the agreement was that it had not been formalized (bold and highlight added).”[18]  In spite of valiant efforts to try to show that some sort of an agreement existed, Campbell was unable to show even one document that proved its existence.  In fact, there was no such agreement. 

In his dissertation, is spite of his valiant efforts to make a case for a non-existent agreement, Campbell even admitted that no agreement existed granting Great Britain jurisdiction over the disputed territory.  He quotes from a report from the “…US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Relations reported that they could find no evidence ‘of any understanding express or implied, much less of any ‘explicit agreement’ that gave the British exclusive jurisdiction over the disputed territory, pending a resolution of the boundary dispute.’”[19]

In fact, there is ample evidence that Massachusetts was selling Maine lands to speculators in the 1790’s, which clearly shows Massachusetts had jurisdiction over the land.  In 1794, Park Holland surveyed a three-million acre tract of land stretching from about the area where Bangor, Maine is located today, northward to the point of the Northwest angle of Nova Scotia described in the treaty of Peace from 1783.  The survey was completed for William Bingham, one of the wealthiest men in the United States at the time, who was “speculating” or purchasing lands in Maine to re-sell for a profit.  During the survey, Park Holland remarked in his notes about a large pile of rocks that he saw that were marking the location of the site along the St. Lawrence River which was the northernmost point of Massachusetts (later Maine).[20]  In other words, the pile of rocks marked the Northwest Angle of Nova Scotia described in the Treaty of Peace.

Newly elected Governor of Maine, Edward Kent, summed up the British claim to part of Maine in his first annual message of 1838 when he said, “…it is a claim of recent origin, growing from an admitted right in us, and proceeding, first, to a request to vary our acknowledged line for an equivalent, and then, upon a denial, to a wavering doubt, and from thence to absolute claim…  Great Britain was anxious for a direct communication between her provinces.  She sought it first as a favor or grant.  She now demands about one third part of our territory as her right…”[21]

What is true is that both the British and Massachusetts/Maine exercised jurisdiction in the territory at various times and for various reasons – dating back to the period when the ink was still drying on the Treaty of Peace in 1783.  These instances of the exercise of jurisdiction by one side or the other often lead to frictions and hostilities between both sides.  This is not a surprise given that England settled Loyalist refugees from the US in New Brunswick along the Communication Route near the border to Massachusetts/Maine, and they brought with them their loyalty to England, and their understandably hostile feelings towards the US following the Revolutionary War.  When proud US citizens like Nathan and his brother John Baker moved to Madawaska, there were bound to be hard feelings and actions on both sides of the political loyalty question – actions which magistrates and the courts sometimes became involved in.

The case of John Baker in 1827 is an example and provides documentation that no such jurisdictional agreement existed.  Mr. Baker was arrested in Madawaska for erecting a liberty pole and an American flag and declaring the place to be the United States when he held a July 4th celebration at his home.  Needless to say, the Loyalists in the vicinity who so recently had their property in the US confiscated from them when the Revolutionary War ended and had been re-located to New Brunswick, were not happy with this and Baker was arrested and taken to Fredericton and put in jail by British authorities in New Brunswick.  The United States immediately demanded his release on the grounds that British authorities were assuming jurisdiction in American territory.  The US would not have made such a claim if there was some sort of an agreement as has been claimed by Mr. Campbell that gave jurisdiction to British authorities over the, “Disputed Territory.”  In opposition to the US, British authorities in New Brunswick refused to release John Baker and he was eventually convicted and served his sentence in Fredericton. 

This false claim of British jurisdiction over the “Disputed Territory” based on a non-existent “agreement” would seem to originate from the fact that the French community along the Madawaska region, which today is located on both sides of the International Border with Maine and New Brunswick, were French Catholic and as such, were overseen by the Catholic Church in Quebec.  At the time, the seigneury system was in place in the Madawaska region with the Catholic Church serving as both the religious authority for the French citizens, and also the de facto governing authority.  It is a stretch, however, to claim that due to the church headquarters being in Quebec that somehow gave the British jurisdiction over the area.

Another Important factor is that the French Acadians in Madawaska had been living in what was to become Canada for several generations.  It is only natural for them to have turned to the British authorities for assistance when needed because they had been accustomed to doing so, and because the British authorities were close at hand where the Massachusetts and later Maine authorities were a considerable distance away and there were no roads or water routes readily available in Massachusetts/Maine linking the Madawaska settlers to Massachusetts/Maine until the late 1830’s and early 1840’s. 

In addition, these settlements were essentially squatters in US territory strategically located along the Communication Route by the British government for the military purpose of protecting the Communication Route and providing assistance to those traveling along the Route.  The Acadians were strategically settled in the Madawaska area in June of 1785 not long after the Treaty of Peace was signed in 1783.  Although no evidence has come to light to support the conclusion, it is easy to speculate that the British government intentionally placed the Acadians in the Madawaska region to protect and support the Communication Route after the territory was granted to the US two years earlier.  This was not the first time that the British had strategically placed settlements along the Communication Route.  They also settled Loyalists along the St. John River (which was part of the Communication Route) for the same reasons between 1783 and 1785.

Dr. Ganong said that, “…it had become evident that if Great Britain was to preserve her interests in this corner, it must be by her wits.  With nations the end usually justifies the means, and here was a case in which the end must have seemed to the British particularly justifiable.  The result was the British claim of 1818 to the Mars Hill highlands, a claim which as the result proved, largely, if not entirely, attained its end…  Ward Chipman… though he could not obtain the full extent of his claim, he laid, a foundation which resulted in a compromise extremely favorable to Great Britain.”[22]  Here Dr. Ganong is talking about the final settlement of the border as we know it today by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 in which Maine lost 5.500 square miles of land.

Dr. Ganong goes on to say, “Gallatin, the jurist and diplomatist, who so strongly supported the American claim in his various writings, spoke of Chipman’s arguments as ‘a tissue of unfounded assertions and glaring sophistries.’  … as to the sophistries, I think the judgment is correct.  Chipman did indulge in sophistries, but it was that or nothing.  He was an advocate with a very weak case to defend…”[23]

Ultimately, no resolution was reached from the various commissions that were set up to resolve the dispute between England and the US about the location of the border.  Prior to 1818, England had been asking for either a trade of land for the area including the Communication Route, or for a change in the border to allow for them to own the area of the Communication Route.  When that was not successful, Ward Chipman took a new approach and claimed Mars Hill Mountain as the “height of land” from the Treaty of Peace. 

Eventually in April of 1830, the question was submitted to the King of the Netherlands who was agreed to by both nations as an arbitrator.  His decision was to be the final decision regarding the placement of the border.  He was given statements from both sides to use in making his decision, which he made on January 10, 1831.  He provided for a compromise that split the difference and put the border between the border identified in the Treaty of Peace, and Mars Hill Mountain.  No one liked his decision and although it was ultimately accepted by the British, it was not accepted by Maine or Massachusetts and was for that reason also rejected by the US Senate.

Dr. Ganong tells us, “in 1820 the United States for the first time assumed jurisdiction over the Madawaska settlement by including its inhabitants within its official census.  Soon after this New Brunswick seems to have assumed her right to the territory, including the Aroostook Valley as included within the British claim.  This was naturally considered a trespass by Maine, and hence began those frictions and collisions which afterwards resulted in the “Aroostook War.”  …the good sense of both parties resulted in an agreement that while the dispute was pending no exercise of jurisdiction would be allowed to affect the final decision of the questions.”[24]

Ganong makes it clear that no decision regarding jurisdiction had been previously agreed upon between the two nations until the conclusion of the Aroostook War in 1839 when leaders of both countries agreed that the exercise of jurisdiction by either side would NOT alter the final outcome of the decision as to where the border would eventually be located.  This is not to say that the exercise of jurisdiction by both countries in the “Disputed Territory” did not continue, because it did, but it was decided that it would not affect the outcome of the eventual settlement of the border which occurred in 1842.

It is important that a preeminent Canadian historian, Dr. William Ganong, after a very thorough analysis of the situation wrote:  “…the present writer is of opinion that Maine was technically and legally right in her claim (to the border location near the St. Lawrence River)…”[25]

On August 9, 1842, a compromise was reached which preserved the all-important “Communication Route” for England and moved the border significantly south of where it had originally been located – resulting in Maine losing 5,500 acres of the state.  The compromise, known as the “Treaty of Washington” or as the “Webster-Ashbruton Treaty” in the US, or as the “Ashburton-Webster Treaty” in Canada, was negotiated by Daniel Webster, who had become Secretary of State in 1841 and Lord Ashburton, representing England (Canada) in the negotiations.  Interestingly enough, Ashburton had an interest in the settlement because his wife’s family owned land that was affected by the final settlement of the border – something that today would exclude him from participation in such an important negotiation due to a conflict of interest (or so we would hope anyway).  The two men and the Commissioners who assisted them were able to amicably arrive at a compromise which placed the border where it is located today.  Neither side was happy about the compromise, and, after the grumbling was over, the border has remained where they put it, and Maine received partial compensation for the lost lands from the United States.

Dr. Ganong offers the following:

“…the few New Brunswickers of the present time who have examined the original sources of information have come to the conclusion that, in the question of the north-west angle, Maine was technically right and New Brunswick wrong, and that the Ashburton Treaty took from Maine and gave to us a great territory to which we had not a technical right.  Thus, Mr. James Hannay, our best known New Brunswick historian, has expressed this view more than once in his articles in his newspaper, the St. John Telegraph.  Again, Rev. W. O. Raymond, who has investigated the whole boundary question with a richer collection of original materials before him than any other of our writers has had, has long since come, as shown by his correspondence with me, to the same conclusion.  Again, in my own case, as a thorough New Brunswicker, I inherited the old prejudice, assuming as a matter of course that we must be right and the other party wrong, and I have abused Lord Ashburton as roundly as anybody for what I supposed was his betrayal of the interests of the province.  But when I began to examine for myself the original documents, and maps, I found difficulty in reconciling them with this view, a difficulty which increased with further examination, until finally I was forced to the belief that in this dispute Maine was technically right and New Brunswick wrong, and that the Ashburton Treaty gave us a territory to which we were not entitled under the Treaty of 1783.”[26]

Dr. Ganong then goes into great detail in explaining the documents and maps that show Maine was right in her claims to the original location of the border near the St. Lawrence River.  He says:

“Following are the reasons why I think that Maine was right and New Brunswick wrong in the north-west angle controversy:

  • The original charters, documents, maps, etc., when calmly examined by themselves (not as quoted and commented upon by the partisan advocates of either side) seem to me to point irresistibly to this conclusion…
  • The principal men of New Brunswick, those whose duty made them examine minutely into all the documents of the case, namely, Governor Carleton, Ward Chipman and Edward Winslow, all admitted without the least question the full American claim… they realized fully the disadvantages of the boundary thus allowed, but hoped to remove them by some special arrangement.
  • The New Brunswick Legislature in 1814 admitted the American claim, and petitioned the British Government to have an alteration made in the line at the pending Treaty of Peace; the British Government in the same year admitted the American claim, at least in part, in asking for a cession of territory, to preserve the communication from Quebec to New Brunswick.
  • The British claim to the Mars Hill highlands as a boundary did not make its appearance until after 1814; it was tentatively advanced in 1815, had not been elaborated in 1817, and made its first formal appearance in the controversy in 1821 in the argument of Ward Chipman, who, in one of his private letters, speaks of it in such a way as to imply that it was being formulated by himself. Why, if this was the true boundary, did not Great Britain advance it earlier in the controversy?
  • … As soon as the Treaty of 1842 was signed, an active dispute arose between New Brunswick and Quebec as to their interprovincial boundary, and New Brunswick claimed as her northern boundary the highlands south of the St. Lawrence; but since, by the treaty of 1783, the western boundary of New Brunswick was the eastern boundary of Maine, this was granting the Maine claim. Quebec, on the other hand, claimed as a boundary the Mars Hill highlands; if Great Britain’s claim to an international boundary on the highlands was correct, then Quebec’s claim was correct, but Great Britain never admitted it. During the controversy the agents of both sides more or less distinctly admitted the justice of the American claim.  The provinces could not agree, and a commission was appointed by the British Government consisting of two Englishmen and a Nova Scotian, and in 1848 they rendered their decision, in which they asserted that the disputed territory belonged legally to neither party (Quebec nor New Brunswick), but was part of the ancient province of Sagadahock [and therefore Maine]… The territory was divided between Quebec and New Brunswick.

The legal claim of Maine, therefore, seems to me justified by the documents in the case, by the opinion of contemporary New Brunswick and British authorities, and by the decisions of eminent Englishmen since.”[27]


[1] Canada was founded in 1867 as a union of the British Colonies.  It gained full independence from the UK in 1982.

[2] Buchanan, James, Chair of the Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate, “Report to the Senate of the United States,” July 4, 1838, 9.

[3] Ganong, William, A Monograph of the Evolution of the Boundaries of the Province of New Brunswick, Contributions to the History of New Brunswick, No. 5, From the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Second Series, 1901-1902, Volume VII, Section II, Toronto and London, 1901, page 239 says, “The cartographical history of the boundaries during this period is very simple.  Up to 1763 all of the English maps which showed the western boundary of Nova Scotia laid it down as a direct line from the source of the St. Croix due north to the St. Lawrence.  On the maps after 1763 a boundary is laid down along the highlands just south of the River St. Lawrence, and the north line of the St. Croix stops there.  This is as far as I know universally the case; it is certainly so in the many maps I have examined…”

[4] Within the past few years, someone jokingly called the Aroostook War the “Pork and Beans War” as a derogatory reference to the lumber that was one issue leading up to the War.  Unfortunately, many people who have not done their research have latched onto this and continue to use the inappropriate and inaccurate term.  This is a misnomer for many reason, not the least of which is the fact that the real genesis of the hostilities that ultimately brought the two nations to the brink of war again was the issue of the location of the “Communication Route” which England (Canada) so desperately needed to maintain control over.  The second problem with the misnomer is that although lumbermen 100 years LATER did eat pork and beans as regular woods fare, at the time of the Aroostook War, although pork was a staple food of the lumbermen, there is almost no evidence that they ate any beans to speak of (I did find a reference to one small bag of beans being taken into the woods for food over the winter among the thousands of documents I have looked at pertaining to this series of events).  This anachronism would be like calling the Aroostook War the, “Chainsaw War,” when chainsaws did not exist at that time.

[5] Ganong, 242.

[6] Edward Winslow was a Loyalist from Plymouth, Massachusetts, a descendant of the Mayflower Pilgrim Edward Winslow.  Edward was one of the individuals named in the Massachusetts Banishment Act of 1778.  He went on to have a distinguished career in New Brunswick as a public official and prominent judge.  

[7] Ganong, 303-304.

[8] Ibid, 305.

[9] Ibid, 306.

[10] Ibid, 314.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid, 315.

[13] Ibid, 319.

[14] Campbell, W. E. (Gary), Forts, Writs and Logs:  A Reassessment of the Military, Political and Economic Dimensions of the Maine/New Brunswick Border Dispute, 1783-1843, University of New Brunswick, 2010.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid, 13.

[17] Ibid, 107.

[18] Ibid, 156.  Interestingly, in addition to trying to make a case for the existence of a document that did not actually exist as the basis for his argument, Campbell also provided a historiography which did not mention the most thoroughly researched and documented work done to date on the situation by a Canadian historian, William Ganong’s work.  That Ganong’s work was known to Campbell is evident because he cited it in a footnote on page 120.  However, Ganong’s work found that Maine was correct, the border was actually located near the St. Lawrence River as described earlier in this paper, which did not agree with Campbell’s thesis, thus he didn’t include that work in his historiography.

[19] Ibid, 179.  Campbell cites Resolution of the Senate dated February 28, 1839 and the Report of the House of Representatives, n.d. but Burrage, Maine, pg. 266 states it was the same day.  The quote is from the Senate Resolution, p. 403.

[20] Curran, Mary H., compiler, Park Holland Life and Diaries, unpublished manuscript dated 1915.

[21] Kent, Edward, Annual Speech, 1838, as reported in Sprague, John Francis, The North Eastern Boundary Controversy and the Aroostook War, the Observer Press, Dover, Maine, [1810?], 49-50.

[22] Ganong, 330.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid, 334.

[25] Ganong, 338.

[26] Ibid, 349.

[27] Ibid, 350-352.