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Maine History Online
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A Naval Disaster: The Penobscot Expedition

Text by Richard Judd and Candace Kanes

Images from Maine Historical Society

Maine's coastline with its many inlets for ports and harbors offered many advantages to early European settlers – and equal challenges when hostilities erupted.

During the American Revolution, it was often unclear who, if anyone, would protect Maine from the British Navy.

British Captain Henry Mowat burned Portland 1775 and residents of Machias took it upon themselves the same year to stop British commerce between Boston and the Downeast coast when they captured the British ship Margaretta in the first naval battle of the American Revolution.

With much of the American Revolution activity taking place to the south, the British decided to build a fort and a loyalist colony along the Downeast coast at Majabigwaduce at the mouth of the Penobscot and Bagaduce rivers.

Massachusetts attempted to ward off the British action, relying primarily on privateers paid to defend the American settlers and interests in the area. The ill-fated Penobscot Expedition ended in what has been called the worst American naval disaster before Pearl Harbor.

The British victory led to a loyalist colony at Penobscot Bay and raids on coastal towns that the Patriots were unable to stop.