History of Madawaska Territory


The original inhabitants of the area that came to be known as Madawaska were Native Peoples -- members of the Malecite and Micmac nations. For more information on these peoples, and how they came to lose their lands to settlers of European descent, go to my page on Native Peoples.

From the time people of European descent began exploring and settling in the valley of the upper St.John River, the land on both sides of the river has gone by the name "Madawaska," although today that word refers specifically to the town, on the Maine side, and the county, on the New Brunswick side. The King of France, who granted land, or "seigneuries", in New France, made a grant of the seigneurie of "Madawaska" in the late 1600s. Regular settlement by people of European descent did not begin however until the arrival of Acadians who had been expelled from what is now Nova Scotia in the mid 1700s by the British.

"Just after the middle of the eighteenth century, a small group of Acadians escaped deportation at the hands of the English [from Acadia, what is now Nova Scotia], who, on their refusal to take the oath of allegiance in 1755, finally determined that they all be removed and dispersed among the British colonies. This small group made a temporary settlement on the St. John River, a short distance above Frederickton [now New Brunswick]. In the following year they pushed up the river and settled along the banks of the upper St. John, where they were joined by other Acadians from New Brunswick, Maine, and Massachusetts.

"The first settlement was made opposite the mouth of the Madawaska River and because of this, the whole region became known as the Madawaska Territory.

"Some important personages came to Madawaska. Louis Mecure, born at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island [at the time called Île St-Jean], in 1753, was one. His name occurs on most of the documents which concern the primitive history of Madawaska. Joseph Daigle, one of the most interesting of the early figures of Madawaska, was a gentleman farmer and a great supporter of the church. The name of Jean-Baptiste Cyr may also be mentioned.

"It was in June, 1785, that the first group which had just left St. Ann went up the St. John River and founded the settlement of Madawaska. The first comers settled not far from the present site of St. David's Church [in the town of Madawaska]. This can be called the origin of the colony. These are the names of the first settlers on the south shore of St. John River as they appear on the official list sent by the Honorable J. Odell to the commissary of the colony: Pierre Duperré, Paul Potier, Joseph Daigle, Baptiste Fournier, Joseph Daigle, Jr., Jacques and François Cyr, Firmin and Antoine Cyr, Alexander Ayotte, Baptiste Thibodeau, and Louis Sampson. Here the Acadians lived a hard and crude life. They had no money for trade and were forced to live by their own industry and ingenuity, as their ancestors had done. They were their own blacksmiths and outfitters.

"The earliest American settlers came about 1817. They were Captain Nathan Baker, the brothers John and James Harford and Captain Fletcher, all American citizens. They came as far as the St. John River and settled at the confluent stream of Méruimticook River (now Baker River) twenty miles west of St. Basil.

"A short time later others came from the Kennebec region. These new settlers were John Baker, brother of Nathan, Jesse Wheelock, James Bacon, Charles Studson, Barnabas Hunnawell, Walter Powers, Daniel Savage, Randall Harford, Nathaniel Bartlette, Augustus Webster, and Amos Maddocks. Some settled on the Baker River and others established themselves farther up the river in the St. Francis region.

"John Baker came from Moscow. Owing to his talents and activity he soon became the acknowledged leader of the Madawaska region. He received a grant of land from the state.

"Since British justice had been established at Madawaska in 1797, a conflict arose, when Maine incorporated this region in 1831, as to which of the two countries had jurisdiction of this area. The question was finally settled by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842."(Chadbourne, pp.41-42).

For a map of the portage between Kamouraska, in what is today Québec, and the Madawaska Settlement, see the 1829 map on this site.

For information on the dispute between the US and Great Britain over the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick--and thus over Madawaska Territory--go to my page on The Boundary Dispute.

Below is the article "Flags in Madawaska: Then and Now," a short history of the Madawaska Territory, written by David B. Martucci and published in the New England Journal of Vexillology. This article is republished here with the kind permission of Mr. Martucci, with revisions and additions by Norm DeMerchant. The focus is on the two flags of Madawaska, but in telling the history of those flags, Martucci also tells the history of the Madawaska Settlement, though from a decidedly US point of view. Norm's additions are an attempt to provide some balance to the story.

I have added, in the text of the original article, links to some of the persons named. These links lead to pages on the Upper St.John Valley web site where you can find other information about the person in question, including their appearance in the various censuses and surveys of Madawaska.

For more information on the Native Peoples of the St.John River valley, go to my page on Native Peoples.

originally published at http://www.midcoast.com/~martucci/neva/madawask.html

by David B. Martucci with additional revisions thanks to Norm DeMerchant

Madawaska Flag Madawaska Map Flag of Acadia

Madawaska is a country largely settled by French-speaking people that lies at the very northern tip of Maine and extends somewhat into Canada, being parts of eastern Québec and western New Brunswick. At the present time, there is a Town of Madawaska in Aroostook County, Maine and a County of Madawaska with its capital at Edmundston in New Brunswick.

Historically, Madawaska is the name originally given to the St. John River and is derived from the Algonquin name "Madoueskak" which means "Land of the Porcupine." Today, one of the tributaries of the St. John bears that name and it flows from Lac Temiscouata north of Edmundston south to the confluence with the St. John at that town. Right across the river, and the international boundary is the Maine town of the same name, Madawaska.

The Fief of Madawaska was granted by the French Crown in 1683 to Sieur Charles-Aubert de la Chenaye. Joseph Blondeau, Pierre Claverie and Sieur de Danseville were successive owners until July 1763, when the Sieur de Danseville sold it to General James Murray, the Governor of Québec. In this transfer, the fief was described as "containing three leagues in front, on each side of the river of the same name, by two leagues in depth, together with adjacent Lake Temiscouata." It was owned by Alexander Fraser from 1802 to 1835, then sold to Cummings and Smith of Portland, Maine.

Madawaska was largely unsettled [by people of European descent--cg] prior to the mid-1700s. In 1755, the British deported the Acadians from what is now Atlantic Canada. However, some of the Acadians removed themselves prior to the official action and settled near Fredericton at a place called St. Anne's Point. In 1758, due to British threats to have them removed, the French settlers of St. Anne's Point moved again to Québec. Many of these people returned to St. Anne's Point in 1763, after the Treaty of Paris was signed.

Following the American Revolution, many English speaking Loyalists from Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York settled in the Fredericton area and they agitated for the removal of the French. They organized the Province of New Brunswick in 1784. Most of the Acadians at St. Anne's Point moved to the territory above Grand Falls, Madawaska, in 1785-87.

The Treaty of Versailles in 1783 between Britain and the United States defined the boundary in this area as being "... along the highest points which parts the basins of the rivers which flow into the St. Lawrence, from the ones of the rivers which flow into the Atlantic Ocean, ..." To the minds of the Americans, this included the territory known as Madawaska. At the same time, New Brunswick and Québec were feuding over this territory. New Brunswick had claimed this region since its founding; Québec had sponsored its settlers. In 1787, the surveyors of Canada (Québec) and New Brunswick met to agree on the boundary lines between the two provinces. They were unable to agree on a single foot of boundary line. The settlers of the region in 1790 petitioned the Governor of Québec for inclusion within that jurisdiction and he granted the Seigniory of Madawaska later that year.

During the War of 1812, tensions were high along the border; in 1814, the British reinforced their garrisons along the Great Lakes with troops marched in February up the frozen St. John and then up the Madawaska and across Lake Temiscouata and overland to Québec and then by transport down the river to the Lakes. This surprised the Americans who thought the only way to move troops in would be in springtime by boat. Many of the French settlers of Madawaska became disgusted with their status during this period; some settlers dreamed of the day when they would proclaim the contested region an independent country.

In 1817, the first American settlers arrived in the region. Chief among them was John Baker, a bilingual hot-tempered nationalist. He arrived with a group of Kennebec Lumbermen, who had been granted lands by New Brunswick for logging and settling. In 1825, John Baker petitioned the new Maine Legislature for letters patent granting him his land, already granted by New Brunswick, along the Merumticook, now known as Baker Brook and located in what is today Canada.

John Baker and his wife, Sophie Rice, the widow of John's brother Nathan, who had been the original leader of the settlers in 1817, became the leaders of the Americans in this area. On July 4, 1827, a group of Americans gathered at his home to celebrate Independence Day. The American flag was raised during the patriotic celebration. According to Aroostook: Our Last Frontier, he "hoisted the Stars and Stripes to a home-hewn mast. The crowd cheered, merriment was plentiful, patriotism at a high pitch and a date properly set for proclamation of a constitution for American Aroostook."

On August 10, 1827, the date duly set for the proclamation of the new Republic, Magistrate George Morehouse arrived and asked Baker the meaning of the flag. Baker replied, "C'est le drapeau Américain, est-ce-que vous ne l'avez jamais vu? en ce cas vous pouvez l'examiner tout á votre aise ..." ("This is the American flag, have you never seen it? in that case you can take your time and examine it ...") The flag was hauled down by the Magistrate and taken to Fredericton; Mrs. Baker went twenty miles to St. Baisle, and bought cloth and made up another flag which was hoisted in place of the first.

John Baker and his followers were accused of revolt against British laws; a sheriff and 14 men arrested him on September 25 and started down river to Fredericton. The party was not out of sight when Mrs. Baker raised her new American flag, saying "Le drapeau etoilé flottera encore à la brise de Meruimticook!" ("The star-spangled banner will float again on the breeze of the Merumticook!") John Baker was brought to trial on the charge of conspiracy and sedition, May 8, 1828, when he was sentenced to pay 25 louis and to serve three months in the provincial jail.

Baker was known locally as the fierce American, "le Washington de la république americaine du Madawaska;" his wife, Sophie Rice Baker, as "la vice-présidente de la république," "l'héroïne de Meruimticook," "la Lucrèce du Madawaska," and years later as "la Barbara Fritchie de l'Aroostook."

The State of Maine protested vigorously to Washington. Henry Clay, Secretary of State, replied to Governor Lincoln, "The United States Government, convinced of the justice of her claims on Maine, will espouse the cause of John Baker and his companions, if New Brunswick refuses to set them free." The Maine Governor demanded immediate release of "Americans captured upon American soil," promising that if this were not immediately done, "American troops would march upon the capital of New Brunswick."

"On September 25 Baker was apprehended by a British force, taken to the jail in Fredericton, and charged with conspiracy and sedition. In May 1828 he was brought to trial, convicted, and sentenced to two months' imprisonment in addition to a fine of twenty-five pounds. Douglas [Lieutenant Governor of NB], after giving the governor of Maine a lesson on the impropriety of conducting a correspondence upon a matter that was the business of Washington and London, declined to have further dealings with him. The efforts of Henry Clay, the American Secretary of State, to procure the release of Baker and an indemnity for his arrest were unavailing. In his firm action to sustain New Brunswick jurisdiction Douglas received staunch support of the British government. Many years later he declared that if he had received an order to halt proceedings against Baker he would have disobeyed it and resigned his post." [MacNutt, p.211]

Meanwhile, U.S. regulars were dispatched to the settlement of Houlton, the southernmost outpost of early Aroostook, and they began the opening of a military road in the direction of the St. John River. But Britain preferred to yield rather than fight, and later in 1828, the U.S. and Britain both agreed to submit the boundary dispute to international arbitration. The King of the Netherlands was settled on as the judge of the final boundary and he responded in 1831 with a boundary neither side was prepared to accept.

On February 28, 1831, the Maine Legislature Resolved not to accept the decision of the King of the Netherlands, giving as its reason that he was no longer of any importance since Belgium had since gone its separate way. They also "Resolved Further - for the reasons before stated, That no decision made by any umpire under any circumstances, if the decision dismembers a State, has or can have, any constitutional force or obligation upon the State thus dismembered, unless the State adopt and sanction the decision."

On March 10, 1831, the Legislature passed another Resolve that apportioned Madawaska (among the other towns) one representative to that body. On March 15, an Act to Incorporate "the territory called and known by the name of Madawaska Settlement" into the town of Madawaska. (See map above.) This incorporation included a huge piece of territory, some 4,272 square miles or more than three times the size of Rhode Island, and directed the local inhabitants to organize their town's government. On March 25, the President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, communicated to the State of Maine that he was in receipt of the findings of the King of the Netherlands and expressed his desire through the Secretary of State, "that while this matter is under deliberation, no steps may be taken by the State of Maine, with regard to the disputed territory, which may be calculated to interrupt or embarrass the action of the Executive branch of the Government of the United States upon this subject ..." On April 1, the Legislature passed another Resolve adding "three hundred polls and the sum of $5,714 to the polls and taxable estate ... set to the town of Madawaska ..."

MacNutt states, "Maine was unsatisfied, and her point of view made American national policy. Immediately following the award her truculence was voiced by an act to incorporate the town of Madawaska. This was a challenge not only to New Brunswick and Great Britain but to the government of Washington as well. It had become a powerful cry that the general government could not barter away the territory of a sovereign state. The state government, urged on by the high-pitched eloquence of local patriots, had become a thorn in the flesh of Washington. President Jackson [US President] had no compliments for [Maine] Governor Lincoln, though he went out of his way to express appreciation for the correct conduct of Douglas." [MacNutt p.212]

William D. Williams, a Justice of the Peace, was directed to issue a Warrant for a Town Meeting, which was directed to Walter Powers, inhabitant, and the meeting was scheduled for August 20, 1831 at the house of Peter Lizotte, on the south side of the river, in what is today Maine. This meeting of about 40 men was held out of doors ("en plein air") as Lizotte protested against the meeting being held in his house. A moderator and other town officers were chosen, several French settlers having refused office. British officials arrived and the meeting broke up without any further action. The meeting reconvened on September 12 at Raphael Martin's house in what is today Frenchville, Maine with about 50 citizens present. Captain Peter Lizotte was chosen by 21 to 16 votes over John Baker as Madawaska's Representative to the Legislature.

His Excellency Sir Archibald Campbell, Major General and lieutenant Governor of the Province of New Brunswick, accompanied by two militia officers, the Attorney General of the province, and the sheriff of York County (N.B.) arrived in Madawaska September 25 and issued warrants against all who had voted at the two meetings. Barnabas Hunnewell (moderator), Jesse Wheelock (town clerk), Daniel Savage (selectman) and Daniel Bean were arrested; the French-speaking voters were excused. The first three named were fined 50 pounds each and imprisoned at Fredericton for three months.

When the Legislature reconvened in 1832, Lizotte wrote to Governor Samuel Smith that he had protested at the time of his election that he had no intention of taking the oath of allegiance to the United States, that he was a British subject and intended to die so. (He died a citizen of the United States.) The new Governor backed off on the stand his predecessor had taken and the matter of the Town of Madawaska was allowed to rest for the time being.

In 1836, Maine had a surplus of funds that was to be distributed to the towns. As no census of Madawaska had been taken, Ebenezer Greely of Dover was sent to take one so that the town could have its apportionment of the funds. He was arrested by British authorities. In 1838, Maine Land Agent Rufus McIntire was arrested in Madawaska. Major Hastings Strickland, Sheriff of Penobscot County, deputized a 200 man posse and headed north. The State Militia under General Isaac Hogdon established Fort Fairfield; Federal troops under General Winfield Scott occupied the block house at Fort Kent. In response, the British established Fort Ingals at the head of the Madawaska River at Lake Temiscouata and reinforced the garrisons at Grand Falls and Woodstock. This was known as the Aroostook War. Fortunately, the only casualty was a pig that had strayed over the border from New Brunswick into Maine and was eaten by the American troops.

General Scott renewed his old acquaintance with the Governor of New Brunswick and negotiated a settlement, temporarily recognizing each other's possession of territory. John Baker reappeared in 1840 and called a mass meeting at Fort Kent, hoisted the Stars and Stripes, and took possession of all the region in the name of the American Republic. This time he was not arrested because of the American troops still occupying most of the settled area south of the river. The U.S. and Great Britain signed the Ashburton-Webster Treaty on August 9, 1842, settling the boundary question once and for all. New Brunswick and Québec settled their boundary dispute in 1855, leaving portions of Madawaska in each province and in Maine. John Baker died in 1867, a Canadian citizen. In 1895, his remains were moved to Fort Fairfield, Maine where the State of Maine erected a monument to his memory.

A new Town of Madawaska was incorporated by Maine in 1869. But the "Republic" of Madawaska was not forgotten. According to a pamphlet entitled "The Republic of Madawaska" and published at Edmundston, "The myth of the 'Republic of Madawaska' (because it is not a true Republic in a political sense) draws its origins from an answer given to a French official on a tour of inspection during the troubled times by an old Madawaska colonist. Thinking the official a little too inquisitive he said 'I am a citizen of the Republic of Madawaska' with all the force of an old Roman saying 'I am a citizen of Rome,' and the pride of a Londoner declaring 'I am a British subject'."

Arms of Madawaska

Realizing the publicity advantages which could be derived from a Republic in the bosom of a democratic country and a constitutional monarchy, two citizens of Edmundston, Dr. P. C. Laporte, well-known artist-sculptor and the Honourable J. Gaspard Boucher, provincial secretary-treasurer at Fredericton, prepared a coat of arms for the "Republic" which the Doctor had registered at Ottawa, April 5, 1949. It consists of two hands clasped together with a torch rising out of them, above the words "MADAWASKA" and "N.B." on ribbons and the words "Republique du" and "Republic of" inscribed on either edge of the shield. At the base of the shield appears a porcupine and the bottom of the shield is shaped in the form of a fleur-di-lis.

Ten knights sit on the executive of the Order of the Republic. Since the death of the Hon. J. Gaspard Boucher in 1955, its presidents have been the Mayors of Edmundston.

The "Republic" also has a flag, researched by Robert A. Pichette in 1960. He stated that the Registers in Fredericton show that John Baker's flag "showed an American eagle on a white background surrounded by a half-circle of red stars." The President of the "Republic" (Mayor Nadeau) commissioned Mr. Robert Benn, professional designer and native of Edmundston to draw the design in 1965. The Reverend sister Marthe de Jesus from the Immaculate Conception Congregation and arts teacher in Edmundston, painted the original flag which hangs above the Mayors seat in the City of Edmundston building.

Madawaska Flag

The flag is white, with an arc of six red five-pointed stars over a bald eagle with brown feathers, white head, and beak and claws of yellow, outlined in black. Proportions approximately 3:4. Presented to the City Council, it is said "that there was no beginning and that all was well accepted in a democratic way." Later, in 1966, a visitor asked Mayor Nadeau the meaning of the flag. After a moment of hesitation, he said:

"The Eagle represents the great neighbouring nation, the United States of America, to which Daniel Webster and Lord Ashburton, in 1842, refused the privilege and the honor of having the Madawaska in its territory. A loss for Uncle Sam's Country!

"The White Background [represents] the purity of the 'Madawaskayen' scenery and of its people: a purified breeding of Acadians, French Canadians, aborigenal [sic] and Anglo-Saxons.

"The Six Red Stars [represent] the founders and their spilled blood working at clearing the dense forest and opening our land to the abundant cultivation to well feed the very charming and hospitable mouths to enrich Canada be it of Acadians, French Canadians (said canayens), the aboriginal, the English, the Scotch and the Irish."

According to a sheet entitled "Explanation [of] The Flag of the Republic of Madawaska" the stars represent (from hoist to fly) Acadians/Acadiens, Scots/Ecossais, English/Anglais, Irish/Irlandais, French/Francais, and Indians/Indiens.

According to an article appearing in The Atlantic Advocate, June 1981, entitled "The Republic of Madawaska" by Oneil Clavet, the flag "features an eagle symbol of their independence, on a white background and overhung by six red stars, laid out in a semi-circle, and representing the six ethnic groups, all co-founders of the republic. The Indians, the Acadians, the Quebecers, the Loyalists, the Americans and the Irish."

This flag flies over the Edmundston City Hall and is very much in evidence during La Foire Brayonne, the annual nine-day Madawaskan festival.

Flag of Acadia

However, things are different "on the other side," in the U.S. part of Madawaska. Having traveled there and asking around, there is hardly any recognition of the "Republic" or its flag. The emblem of choice in "the Valley" is the flag of Acadia, the French tri-color with a gold star added in commemoration of the Virgin Mary for her intercession in the Acadian cause thereby permitting them to survive as a people. Although sometimes seen in Canadian Madawaska, this flag is very much used on the U.S. side of the border. It flies daily over the Municipal Building of Madawaska and is seen flying on many homes all along the river. The annual Acadian Festival in Madawaska finds this flag flying from every telephone pole on Main Street and it is sold by the dozens by vendors along the parade route.

It is curious that an "American" flag is popularly used in French-speaking Canada and a "French" flag is popularly used in the French-speaking part of the United States. Only in Madawaska!

The preceding was presented at the December, 1996 meeting of NEVA.

In the 1820 US Census of Matawascah Parish, then within Penobscot County, included both banks of the St.John.
In that census appears Nathan Baker.

In the 1830 US Census the Madawaska Settlement was within Penobscot County, and included both banks of the St.John River valley.

See also the 1831 survey of the Madawaska settlements by Deane and Kavanagh, the south bank of the St. John river (this covers the valley from what's today St. Francis all the way to Van Buren)

See also the 1833 New Brunswick Census of Madawaska

In the 1840 US Census Madawaska Territory is covered in Madawaska South of the St.John River and Madawaska North of the St.John River. Walter Powers, Jesse Wheelock, John Hayford, Barnabas Hunnewell all appear on p.53, in Madawaska North of the St.John River. John Baker appears on p.52 in the same division.

In the 1850 US Census what was the part of Madawaska Territory south of the St.John River, now in the United States, is covered in several townships, which are listed here from west to east: Township No. 17, Range 9; Hancock Plantation; Madawaska Plantation; Van Buren Plantation.
In the 1850 census Barnabas Hunnawell shows up (as Barnebas Hannewell) in Hancock Plantation (page 126b, line 4). Walter Powers, Jesse Wheelock, and John Baker and Sophia Baker show up in Hancock Plantation (p.126a, all in the same household, on lines 41, 31, 35 and 36) in the 1850 census. Randall Harford shows up in Number 17, Range 9 (p.168a, line 36).

In the 1860 US Census what was once known as Madawaska Territory had been divided up into Townships.

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Last revised 17 Sep 2004
© 2003 C.Gagnon