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Lexington of the Seas: A Narrative

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Those who tried to sustain commerce, as many in coastal towns like Falmouth did, were considered by some to be the traitors and by others to be prudent men, whether they were loyal to the Crown or not.

Jones seems to have consistently aligned himself with the British, and apparently did whatever he could to assist them. Dealing with Ichabod Jones, then, was like touching lightning, and this was the dilemma he brought to Machias in June of 1775.

Jones planned to take provisions to Machias, where people were desperate for them, and take back the lumber so essential to the British war effort, enriching himself in the process. His arrival in town, and especially his effort to get written safe-passage agreements from those he was willing to trade with — creating, in effect, a kind of loyalty oath — ignited the town.

Pageant of Machias Valley, 'The Revolution - 1775'
Pageant of Machias Valley, 'The Revolution - 1775'

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Maine Historical Society

The history of Ichabod Jones leads into the thicket of Colonial ambiguity, where loyalties are divided, commercial motivations abound, law is unclear, and countrymen are pitted against each other in a fierce intramural political struggle.

Revolutionary patriotism was not nearly so clear cut, heartwarming, and unanimous as the Pageant and its whole Lexington-centered agenda suggests. Gone is the neat opposition between Liberty Pole–loving Americans on the one hand, and evil British oppressors on the other.

The truth is there were conflicting political allegiances throughout the colonies, within towns, and even within families.

But how to explain this complicated fact? It is no wonder that the role of Ichabod Jones was softened and downplayed throughout the 19th century, eventually resulting in his bit part in the Pageant. Better to get rid of him than to unearth the historical complexity needed to understand him.

But it is precisely the context that gives meaning to the actions of Ichabod Jones that also helps explain what was truly important in the Margaretta affair, and hence reposition the significance of Machias in the founding of our country.

As James Leamon noted in Revolution Downeast, the taking of the Margaretta and other shipping in the area was not overlooked by the British. In fact, the Commodore of the Royal Navy in North America was so incensed by the incident that he ordered Captain Henry Mowatt to burn the Falmouth as a kind of retribution. This he did on October 18, 1775.

Regardless of the unsteady political motivations that may have led to the taking of the Margaretta, the fact that some people in Machias acted decisively, and followed it up with other military actions, confirmed the revolutionary agenda throughout the population of the town in a way it did not in many other Maine towns.

Machias became radicalized. And this was very important, particularly after the British captured Castine in 1779 and much of the region adopted a policy of accommodation and neutrality with the British occupiers, who, for the most part, worked from their base in Nova Scotia.

Machias, however, stood firm and continued to use its borderland position at the edge of America but in the middle of an international conflict zone to provide a staging area for raids against the British.

Machias does not deserve attention because it was a mini-Lexington; rather it deserves our admiration because it fulfilled a unique historical role at one of the world's other cross roads. Machias may not be the center of the universe, but history, local history can return it to its own true circle of importance.