On May 9, 1775, Captain James Moore sailed the British warship, the Margaretta, into Machias harbor with news of the battles of Lexington and Concord. The vessel had traveled to Maine to insure that a load of lumber was delivered for the British army’s barracks in Boston. In response the people of Machias erected a liberty pole in the center of town to demonstrate their sentiments.
Captain Moore ordered the pole removed and threatened to attack the town if it wasn’t. The townsfolk refused but did try to negotiate with Captain Moore. The people of Machias had planned to capture the captain at a negotiating session, but he managed to escape.
Lead by Benjamin Foster and Jeremiah O’Brien, they commandeered a merchant ship in the harbor, the Unity, and used it to attack the Margaretta. Although armed with only axes, pitchforks, hunting rifles and shovels, the colonists, apparently including Benen Foster, won the battle by ramming the Unity into the Margaretta and storming aboard.
Local heroine Hannah Westin of Jonesboro, and her sister, carried 50 pounds of lead through the woods to Machias to support the effort. In bloody hand-to-hand combat, Captain Moore and three other Englishmen were killed along with two colonists before the English surrendered.
The Margaretta was hauled up the Machias River to what is now Whitneyville and concealed from the British who, after losing another schooner, punished the residents of Machias in a raid that burned several buildings.
James Fennimore Cooper called this battle the “Lexington of the seas.” Proclaimed by some the first naval battle of the Revolution, the affair and its aftermath encouraged the new government to provide protection to the area. In 1781 Fort Machias was part of the national defense system. It was destroyed by the British in 1814.
The Battle of the Margaretta [sound recording] The story of Fort Foster. Prepared with the cooperation of the East Machias Historical Society, University of Maine at Machias, and WMCS Radio Station. 1973. [University of Maine at Machias, Merrill Library]
Hooper, Leonard N. Machias Patriots and the Margaretta. Machias, Me. Machias Historical Society. c2008.
Isaacson, Dorris A. Maine: A Guide Downeast.
The Story of Hannah Weston: and Her Part in the First Naval Engagement of the Revolution, June 12, 1775. Machias, Me. The Daughters of the American Revolution. Hannah Weston Chapter. c1925. Machias, Me. Union-Republican Press.