Aroostook War

From Academic Kids

Military history of Canada
Military history of the United Kingdom
Military history of the United States
ConflictAroostook War
PlaceMaine-New Brunswick border
ResultWebster-Ashburton Treaty
United States of America Canada
3,000–10,000 500
38 incidental deaths Unknown

The Aroostook War, also called the Pork and Beans War, or the Northeastern Boundary Dispute, was an undeclared, bloodless North American "war" that occurred in the winter of 1838 and early spring of 1839.

The Treaty of Paris in 1783 had not satisfactorily determined the boundary between the British colony of New Brunswick (now the Canadian province of New Brunswick) and the District of Maine (then a part of the state of Massachusetts). The boundary dispute worsened after Maine became a state in 1820 and, disregarding British claims, began granting land to settlers in the valley of the Aroostook River (the Aroostook was a tributary of the St. John River). King William I of the Netherlands was asked to arbitrate the dispute in 1832. Although the British accepted the king's help, the U.S. Senate rejected it.

Lumberjacks, including John Baker, from New Brunswick and Lower Canada entered the Aroostook region, also known as the Madawaska territory, or the Madawaska district, to cut timber during the winter of 1838-1839, and in February they seized the American land agent who had been dispatched to expel them. The "war" was now under way, led by the governors of the respective sides, New Brunswick Governor Sir John Harvey and Maine Governor Edward Kent.

Maine and New Brunswick called out their militiamen, and the United States Congress, at the instigation of Maine, authorized a force of 50,000 men and appropriated $10 million to meet the emergency. Maine only committed somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 troops to the conflict, and these never actually left their garrison at Hancock Barracks. Four companies of the 11th Regiment marched to the area from Quebec City to represent Canada's interests. President Martin Van Buren dispatched General Winfield Scott to the "war zone," and Scott arranged an agreement in March of 1839 between officials of Maine and New Brunswick that averted actual fighting. Britain agreed to refer the dispute to a boundary commission, and the matter was settled in 1842 by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty.

The compromise reached by Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton awarded 7,015 square miles (18,170 km2) to the United States and 5,012 square miles (12,980 km2) to Great Britain. Also given to the United States was an area that later was found to contain the priceless Mesabi iron ore deposits in present-day Minnesota. Retention by the British of the northern area of the disputed territory assured them of year-round overland military communications between the majority of Lower Canada and Nova Scotia by way of the Halifax Road. The U.S. federal government agreed to pay the states of Maine and Massachusetts $150,000 each, and they were to be reimbursed by the United States for expenses incurred while encroaching on New Brunswick territory.

Webster used a map, falsely said to have been marked with a red line by Benjamin Franklin at Paris in 1782, to help persuade Maine and Massachusetts to accept the agreement. As the false map showed the entire disputed region belonged to the British, it helped convince the representatives of those states to accept the compromise, lest the "truth" reach British ears and convince the British to refuse compromise. It was later discovered that the British had a copy of the real map Franklin marked in 1782, which placed the entire disputed area on the American side of the border. (The American Nation, p. 336, Houghton Mifflin, John A. Garraty)

The war, while lacking actual combat, did not lack for casualties. Pt. Hiram T. Smith, a Mainer, died of unknown causes while in service to his state. He is buried in Maine on the side of the Military Road (U.S. Route 2) in the middle of the Haynesville Woods.

Several other Maine militiamen died of illness while on the Aroostook expedition.

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