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The Aroostook War (sometimes called the Pork and Beans War) was a confrontation in 1838–1839 between the United States and the British over the international boundary between the British colony of New Brunswick and the US state of Maine. Top level diplomats from the US and Britain met in Washington and forged a peaceful compromise, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842, which fixed the permanent border. The term "war" was rhetorical; local militia units were called out but never engaged in combat.
Colony of New Brunswick, Province of Canada, British North America 
Following the secession of 13 British colonies in the wake of the American Revolution, the British had re-organized the colonial structure in the remaining loyal territories so as to provide a more centralized form of supra-colonial government and a unified military command covering all remaining American British colonies, virtually putting and end to colonial independence and placing all colonies under the authority of the Governor General of Canada, leaving each colony's Governor with severely curtailed powers, mostly over local civilian matters. Canada itself was promoted from Colony to Province, which allowed it to rule other colonies directly for added efficiency. The geopolitical entity that comprised the province of Canada and the adjacent British colonies and territories, at the exclusion of the tiny Crown colony of Newfoundland, was collectively known as British North America and for most of its existence had its civilian and military administrations based in Quebec City.
This structure created a very efficient military organization exempt of inter-colonial rivalries and redundancies, facing a largest but poorly equipped and less coherent army in the United States, which consisted mostly of volunteer officers and enlisted men trained for skirmishes with hostile Indians and peacekeeping, in a poor state of readiness for classic warfare. This explains Washington's will to avert armed conflict with the British. However high tensions and heated rhetoric in Maine and New Brunswick led local state and colonial governments to raise troops and march them to the disputed area, although eventually no combat took place. Small militia-staffed forts were built in Fort Kent (Maine) and Edmundston (New Brunswick), while British troops sent from Quebec City established a substantially larger fortified facility at Fort Ingall (now Cabano, Quebec).
Up until then and in accordance with prevalent Jeffersonian policies that afforded states almost limitless authority to raise volunteer militias and use them as they saw fit, the US government in Washington had barely reacted to a situation it had initially considered a local matter best left to be dealt with by the state authorities in Maine and the colonial administration of New Brunswick, and in which no higher level of authority was likely to get involved, and was hoping that Canada would not get involved. At the time the relatively novel administrative structure of British North America was not yet well understood in Washington and it was not yet clear to US policymakers that a minor border dispute involving any British colony in North America would automatically draw the province (Canada) and the other colonies into the conflict, mobilizing the entire British military infrastructure in North America, against which state militia was powerless. The situation became source of concern for the US Government; the country was not in a position to fight a costly war with the British, a war that could very well result in a substantial loss of US territory with dismal economic repercussions.
When reports began to arrive in Washington that a relatively large British fort was being constructed near the border (Fort Ingall), there was reaction at the highest echelons of the US government. Concern grew into agitation when it was learned that Fort Ingall was being staffed with British Regulars dispatched from Quebec City. These units consisted of professional soldiers led by career officers, not volunteer militias as was expected. While Fort Ingall had ostensibly been established to protect the main inland route between the British garrisons in Quebec City and Halifax, the timing was too eerie to be just a coincidence. Canada was preparing for war. When rumors of a possible and even perhaps imminent invasion of Maine reached Washington, the White House took action. With the avowed objective of defusing a situation that could potentially degenerate into a major armed conflict, President Martin Van Buren sent United States Army Brigadier General Winfield Scott to work out a compromise with colonial authorities in New Brunswick. The compromise created a neutral area, and the excitement faded as the soldiers took a step back and the diplomats took over.
The crisis involved no actual armed confrontation between military forces and negotiations between British diplomat Baron Ashburton and United States Secretary of State Daniel Webster quickly settled the dispute. Webster secretly funded a propaganda campaign that convinced leaders in Maine of the wisdom of compromise. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 established the final boundary between the countries, giving most of the disputed area to Maine while a militarily vital connection between Canada and the Atlantic colonies was secured by the UK, as well as a project for a commercial right-of-way that would allow British commercial interests to transit through Maine on their way to and from southern New Brunswick or Nova Scotia (the right-of way still exists and is used by Canadian Pacific on its Sherbrooke - St. John rail line) Despite the lack of military action the episode had major consequences on the states' right to use military force on their own with the understanding that the main purpose was to address internal conflicts. In the aftermath of the crisis the Federal government assumed complete control over military matters. The episode was to be the last serious confrontation between the US and the United Kingdom, although the latter's moral and commercial support of the Confederate cause during the American Civil War did cause some tensions during the conflict.
Disputed border 
The Treaty of Paris (1783) ended the American Revolutionary War but did not clearly determine the boundary between British North America (Canada) and the United States. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts thereafter began issuing land grants in its District of Maine, including the areas that the British claimed.
Questions about the boundary line arose not long afterward, and the negotiators of the 1794 Jay Treaty agreed that a commission should determine the source of the St. Croix River, the principal geographical feature identified in the earlier treaty. The parties sent a collaborative survey team to locate the mouth of the proper river, and to establish its headwaters. In 1798 the commission decided the southernmost portion of this boundary, from the mouth of the St. Croix to its source, which was determined to be the Chiputneticook Lakes. This commission did no work to finalize details of the border north of the lakes, which was described as running in a straight line north to the highlands separating the Saint Lawrence River watershed from watersheds draining to the south. It also left unresolved the question of who claimed which islands in Passamaquoddy Bay.
During the War of 1812, the British occupied most of eastern Maine, including Washington County, Hancock County, and parts of Penobscot County, Maine, for eight months, intending to permanently annex the region into Canada. The Treaty of Ghent ended the war in 1814 and reestablished the boundary line of the 1783 treaty. A commission was appointed which resolved most of the issues surrounding the islands (Machias Seal Island continues to be formally disputed between the United States and Canada). A recommendation by the British commissioner that the northward line to the "highlands" end at Mars Hill (about 100 miles (160 km) south of where this line was eventually negotiated to end) was rejected.
When Maine broke away from Massachusetts in 1820 as a separate state, the status and location of the border emerged as a chief concern to the new state government. Massachusetts also retained an interest in the matter, as it retained ownership of half the public lands in Maine, including a large part of the disputed territory, as part of the separation. For their part the British considered that Maine's territory protruding so deeply into British territory and nearly reaching the St. Lawrence in some areas constituted a serious hindrance to communications between Canada and its colonial satellites on the Atlantic seaboard. Securing the northern half of Maine would cut travel time between Quebec City and Halifax almost in half, as it lay directly between them.
As late as September 1825, Maine and Massachusetts land agents issued deeds, sold timber permits, took censuses, and recorded births, deaths, and marriages in the contested area of the Saint John River valley and its tributaries. Massachusetts land agent George Coffin recorded in his journal during one such journey during autumn 1825, returning from the Upper Saint John and Madawaska area to Fredericton, New Brunswick, that a thunderstorm had ignited a forest fire. This Miramichi Fire destroyed thousands of acres of prime New Brunswick timber, killed hundreds of settlers, left thousands more homeless, and destroyed several thriving communities. The journal entries of the newly appointed Governor of New Brunswick record the destruction and comments that survival of New Brunswick depended on the vast forests to the west in the area disputed with the United States.
Growing tensions 
Mostly early Acadians (descendants of the original French colonists) settled the Saint John and Madawaska River basins. Some Americans then settled in the Aroostook River Valley. During 1826–1830, provincial timber interests also settled the west bank of the Saint John river and its tributaries, and British families built homes in Woodstock, Tobique, and Grand Falls, New Brunswick.
The French-speaking population of Madawaska were "Brayons" — nominally British subjects — who (at least rhetorically) considered themselves to belong to the unofficial "République du Madawaska", and thus professed allegiance to neither Americans nor British. Another factor was the mutual sympathy between John Baker (see below) and many members of French-speaking communities located near Baker's mill, who both felt betrayed by their respective authorities. The population of the area swelled with outsiders, however, when winter freed lumbermen from farm work to "long-pole" up the Saint John River to the valley. These migrant seasonal lumbermen caused particular tension for the governments of Maine and Massachusetts, responsible for the protection of resources and revenues of their respective states. Some itinerant lumbermen eventually settled year-round in the Saint John valley. Most settlers found themselves too remote from the authorities to apply formally for land. Disputes heated as factions maneuvered for control over the best stands of trees.
John Baker on 4 July 1827 raised an American flag, which his wife made, on the western (now Canadian) side of the junction of Baker Brook and the Saint John River. New Brunswick authorities subsequently arrested Baker, fined him £25, and held him in jail until he paid his fine.
Crisis of 1830 
In preparation for a United States census in 1830, the Maine Legislature sent John Deane and Edward James to the disputed area to document the numbers of inhabitants and to assess the extent of British trespass (from their point of view). During that summer, several residents of the west bank of the Saint John at Madawaska filed requests for incorporation into Maine. Acting on advice from Penobscot County, Maine, officials, they called a meeting to select representatives preparatory to incorporating Madawaska as a town. A local resident from the east bank of the Saint John river alerted local representatives of the New Brunswick militia, who entered the hall during one of these meetings and threatened to arrest any resident attempting to organize. The meetings continued, however, while more militiamen arrived. New Brunswick authorities arrested some residents, others fled to the woods, and local Americans sent letters to the Maine authorities in Augusta.
The Treaty of Ghent (1815) provided for the establishment of a neutral third party as arbitrator in the event that a joint commission could not agree on the border. With this being the case, commissioners Cornelius P. Van Ness of Vermont and Thomas Barclay of Britain asked King William I of the Netherlands to arbitrate the border dispute in 1830. William I determined to compromise between the two listed options, and drew a line very close to the eventual settlement. The British government accepted this decision, but Maine rejected it, claiming that the king's decision violated the parameters of his authority, of choosing one contested boundary or the other, and established a potentially dangerous practice of foreign influences within the policies of the United States government.
Posses, arrests, and the mobilization of militia 
In 1837 Maine took a special census. Penobscot County Census Representative Greeley thus began a census of the upper Aroostook River territory. Governor John Harvey of New Brunswick had Greeley arrested. Letters from New Brunswick accused the Governor of Maine of bribery and threatened military action if Maine continued to exercise jurisdiction in the basins of the Aroostook river and its tributaries. In response, Governor Robert Dunlap of Maine issued a general order announcing that a foreign power had invaded Maine.
Both American and New Brunswick lumbermen cut timber in the disputed territory during the winter of 1838–1839, according to reports submitted to the Maine Legislature, resulting in the Battle of Caribou and other conflicts. On 24 January 1839, the Maine Legislature authorized the newly elected Governor John Fairfield to send Maine's land agent, Rufus McIntire, the Penobscot County sheriff, and a posse of volunteer militia to the upper Aroostook to pursue and arrest the New Brunswickers. The posse left Bangor, Maine, on 8 February 1839. Arriving at T 10 R 5 (an unnamed Maine township in the disputed area), the posse established a camp at the junction of the Saint Croix and Aroostook Rivers and began confiscating New Brunswick lumbering equipment, and sending any lumbermen caught and arrested back to Maine for trial. A group of New Brunswick lumbermen learned of these activities and, unable to retrieve their oxen and horses, broke into the arsenal in Woodstock to arm themselves. They gathered their own posse, and seized the Maine land agent and his assistants in the middle of the night. This New Brunswick posse transported the Maine officials in chains to Woodstock and held them for an "interview".
Terming the Americans "political prisoners," Sir John Harvey sent correspondence to Washington, DC, that he lacked the authority to act on the arrests without instructions from London, which he awaited. He added that he intended meanwhile to exercise his responsibilities to ensure British jurisdiction over the Aroostook, and he demanded removal from the region of all Maine forces. He then sent his military commander to the T 10 R 5 campsite and ordered the Maine militia to leave. Captain Rines and the others refused, stating they were following orders and doing their duty. The Maine side then took the New Brunswick military commander himself into custody.
On 15 February 1839, the Maine Legislature authorized militia Major General Isaac Hodsdon to lead 1,000 additional volunteers to augment the posse then on the upper Aroostook River. Additional correspondence from governor Sir John Harvey of New Brunswick, reports of British Army troops arriving from the West Indies, reports of the Mohawk nation offering their services to Quebec, and reports of New Brunswick forces gathering on the Saint John River resulted in the issuance of General Order No 7 on 19 February 1839, calling for a general draft of Maine militia. Maine militia companies mustered in Bangor and traveled to the Upper Aroostook until 26 February 1839, when the early construction of Fort Fairfield, which the earlier posse built on the Aroostook River from seized stolen timber, allowed for camping troops on the eastern boundary.
The American and British governments step in 
During Congressional debates in Washington on 2 March 1839, Representative Francis Ormand Jonathan Smith of Maine outlined the events and the various communications sent and received since 1825. Representative Smith noted the primary responsibility of the national government to protect and defend its own territory and citizens, but declared that Maine would defend its territory alone if the national government chose to not fulfill its obligations. President Martin Van Buren assigned Brigadier General Winfield Scott, then involved in the Cherokee removal, to the conflict area; he arrived in Boston in early March 1839.
Additional information arriving in Washington through April and May 1839 kept Congressional debate lively until Congress authorized a force of 50,000 men and appropriated $10 million, placed at the disposal of the President in the event foreign military troops crossed into United States territory during the Congressional recess of summer 1839. Maine initially committed three thousand to ten thousand militia to the conflict in addition to the land agent's posse.
Sir John Harvey had supervised Winfield Scott during his time as prisoner of war during the War of 1812, and the President and his advisers saw that relationship as a point of mutual respect. Pursuant to the terms of the truce for administration within the disputed area, the Maine Legislature on 6 April 1839 created an armed civil posse. On advice of Brigadier General Scott, Maine issued General Orders to recall the militia in May and June 1839 and to replace the militiamen with the armed civil posse. The office of the Maine state land agent led the armed civil posse with Deputy Land Agent William Parrott at Fort Fairfield and Captain Stover Rines at Camp Jarvis on the Fish River (later Fort Kent, Maine). The US army began the permanent structure of Fort Fairfield in April 1839 and that of Fort Kent in October 1839. Major R. M. Kirby commanded of Hancock Barracks post near Houlton, Maine, with three companies of the United States 1st Artillery Regiment. Four companies of the British 11th Regiment marched to the area from Quebec City to represent Canada with the intent to build a suitable barracks across the Saint Johns River from Fort Kent. New Brunswick meanwhile armed every tributary of the Saint John River that flowed from the Aroostook Territory with regular and militia soldiers.
In 1840, Maine created Aroostook County, Maine, to administer the civilian authority of the area. However, reports of collusion resulted in the Maine Executive Council assigning Alphus Lyons to investigate Sheriff Packard and District Attorney Tabor. The two nations agreed to refer the dispute to a boundary commission, but further clashes between their forces continued in the interim.
Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton, reached a compromise, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of Washington in 1842, which settled the Maine-Canada boundary and the boundary between Canada and New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota. This treaty awarded 7,015 square miles (18,170 km2) to the United States and 5,012 square miles (12,980 km2) to British control. The British retained the northern area of the disputed territory, including the Halifax Road with its year-round overland military communications between Quebec and Nova Scotia. The U.S. federal government agreed to pay the states of Maine and Massachusetts $150,000 each for the loss of the lands of their states while the United States reimbursed them for newly acquired territory in the Northwest Territories and for expenses incurred during the time Maine's armed civil posse administered the truce period.
Webster used a map that Jared Sparks, an American citizen, found in the Paris Archives (and which Benjamin Franklin supposedly marked with a red line in Paris in 1782) to persuade Maine and Massachusetts to accept the agreement. The map showed that the disputed region belonged to the British, and so helped convince the representatives of those states to accept the compromise, lest the truth reach British ears and convince the British to refuse. Later historians discovered that the Americans hid their knowledge of the Franklin map. Britain apparently used a map favorable to the United States claims but never revealed this map. Some claim that British officials created the Franklin map as a fake to pressure the American negotiators. The evidence is that the British map placed the entire disputed area on the American side of the border.
The Aroostook War, though devoid of actual military combat, did see militiamen die of accident or disease, such as Private Hiram T. Smith.
See also 
- Le Duc, Thomas (1947). The Maine Frontier and the Northeastern Boundary Controversy. The American Historical Review Vol. 53, No. 1 (Oct., 1947), pp. 30-41
- Robert Remini, Daniel Webster (1997) 535-64
- See "Under his Own Flag".
- The Works of James Buchanan
- Journal and Letterbook of William Parrott
- Executive Council Report on the investigation of the Aroostook County Sheriff, Oct 1840, Maine State Archives
- John A. Garraty, The American Nation, Houghton Mifflin, p. 336
Further reading 
- Carroll, Francis M. "Drawing the Line" Beaver 2003 83(4): 19-25
- Carroll, Francis M. "The Passionate Canadians: The Historical Debate about the Eastern Canadian-American Boundary," New England Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Mar., 1997), pp. 83–101 in JSTOR
- Jones. Howard. "Anglophobia and the Aroostook War," New England Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Dec., 1975), pp. 519–539 in JSTOR
- Jones. Howard. To the Webster-Ashburton Treaty: A Study in Anglo-American Relations, 1783-1843 (1977). 251 pp.
- Jones, Wilbur Devereux. "The Influence of Slavery on the Webster-Ashburton Negotiations," Journal of Southern History, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Feb., 1956), pp. 48–58 in JSTOR
- LeDuc, Thomas. "The Webster-Ashburton Treaty and the Minnesota Iron Ranges," Journal of American History, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Dec., 1964), pp. 476–481 in JSTOR, shows the value of the iron range was not known when the treaty was drawn
- Merk, Frederick. "The Oregon Question in the Webster-Ashburton Negotiations," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Dec., 1956), pp. 379–404 in JSTOR
- Remini, Robert. Daniel Webster (1997) 535-64
- HISTORICAL SKETCH Roster of Commissioned Officers and Enlisted Men CALLED INTO SERVICE FOR THE PROTECTION OF THE NORTHEASTERN FRONTIER OF MAINE FROM FEBRUARY TO MAY 1839 (Google Books). The Maine Council. Augusta, ME: Kennebec Journal Print. 1904. pp. 4–5. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- Gould, John (2001-07-13). "Hiram Smith, hero of the war that wasn't". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2011-08-11.
- The Upper St. John River Valley: The Boundary Dispute, with maps and historic texts
- Deane and Kavanagh's 1831 Aroostook Valley legislative report (covering present-day Crouseville, Maine)
- Officers in Service During the Aroostook War
- Aroostook War Muster Rolls
- Canadian Militia History
- " The 1837 Foundation of Northern Maine When Governments act in bad faith"