News Feature

Stonington
Originally published in Community News, March 6, 2014
Castine occupied
New book details 1814 British invasion of Downeast Maine

The British invasion of Downeast Maine in the summer and fall of 1814—militarily the most active year of the War of 1812—was one of four British attacks on the young American Republic, the other three being the attack on Lake Champlain, the raid on Washington, and the disastrous attempt on New Orleans in January 1815.

The invasion is detailed in a new book by George F.W. Young, The British Capture & Occupation of Downeast Maine 1814-1815/1818, managed and produced for the author by Penobscot Books, a division of Penobscot Bay Press based in Stonington.

The action on the Downeast Maine coast was the most successful and resulted in the capture of a 100-mile stretch of territory, which would have been annexed into the British Empire if particularly the Lake Champlain attack had not been repulsed on September 11, 1814—an event comparable to the 9/11/01 terrorist attack on the U.S., according to author George F.W. Young.

That victory, called by John Quincy Adams negotiating at Ghent “a reprieve from the gallows,” resulted in Downeast Maine being returned to the state of Massachusetts. But because the Federalist government of Massachusetts had done precious little either to defend Downeast Maine and/or to recapture it from the British, the fall-out from the British occupation led directly to the separation of Maine from Massachusetts in the famous Missouri Compromise.

This book tells that story from the beginning to the end: from the disputed boundary between the British and French colonies in eastern North America in the 17th and 18th centuries to the moment when Maine became a state in 1820. It includes the British occupation of Castine, Maine, from September 1814 to April 1815.

A military force numbering about 2,200 men was stationed in Castine during the occupation, with a number of warships in the harbor—and a constant coming and going of troops and ships. The troops worked to refurbish Fort George, build defensive batteries on the shoreline, and excavate what is now called the “British Canal” at the narrowest point of the neck leading to the Castine peninsula. A quarter of a mile long and 10 to 12 feet wide, it made the town of Castine an island and was designed to both defend against a mainland attack and prevent desertion.

By residents who were either sympathetic to the British or benefited from their presence, the officers were considered to be men of good manners and pleasant disposition, including British Major General Gerard Gosselin, who was in command of the area throughout the eight-month occupation.

Author Young is Professor Emeritus in the History Department of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His interest in this subject arose out of reviewing student papers in his seminar on the Era of Napoleon, 1799-1815.

The book is 124 pages and includes 14 maps and illustrations, one of them a hand-drawn fold-out map of the Castine peninsula in 1814. To order, visit penbaypress.me.