John Baker

John Baker, his brother Nathan, and Nathan's wife Sophia Rice (who, after Nathan's death, married John), were among the first group of "Yankee" settlers, or people who migrated from the southern part of the Province (later State) of Maine, to settle in the Upper St.John River Valley (Madawaska Territory).

The Bakers and the other lumbermen who accompanied them came from the upper Kennebec River valley, in Somerset County, drawn by the abundant timber available in what was then called Madawaska Territory. Madawaska at that time was a disputed territory, claimed by both the U.S. and Great Britain.

(For more information on the dispute between the US and Great Britain over the Maine-New Brunswick border--and thus over Madawaska Territory--go to my page on The Northeast Boundary Dispute. For a history of Madawaska Territory, including John Baker's role in that history, go to my page on the History of Madawaska Territory.)

John Baker was born in Moscow (Kennebec Co., now Somerset County) in the district of Maine. His gravestone gives a birth date of January 17, 1796. Other sources, however, including the ages he gave in various US and New Brunswick censuses, as well as a statement he gave to a US agent investigating the border dispute in 1827, give the birth year as 1787. He died March 10, 1868. Baker came to Madawaska from the Kennebec valley around 1817-18, after first having gone to the Gaspé peninsula. Source: "RECHERCHE HISTORIQUE de BAKER-BROOK 1817-2000" at

"Somewhere about the year 1816, a small party left Moscow, in Somerset County, Maine, to engage in lumbering on the upper St. John. The party included Nathan Baker, his wife and three children, John Baker, one Stimpson, Captain Fletcher and John Harford.

"After a journey of two hundred and fifty miles in birch canoes and being fifteen days on the way, they arrived at the stream, known as Baker Brook [now in New Brunswick]. John Baker went to the Bay Chaleur and carried on lumbering for several years. On the death of his brother Nathan, he returned to Madawaska to look after his property and soon after married his widow. Mrs. Baker's maiden name was Sohia Rice, daughter of Enoch Rice of Brookfield, Massachusetts (Genealogy of Enoch Rice from Anne Fraser -- go down to "6th generation"). She was born in 1785, married at the age of nineteen years, lived sixty years at Baker Brook and died at Fort Fairfield at the age of ninety-nine years.

Another source notes that Baker "in 1816 ... left the United States and took up his residence in the Province of New Brunswick, where he reamined about two years, and then left New Brunswick for the Province of Lower Canada (Quebec), where he resided about the same length of time. During the whole of this period he was engaged in the lumbering business. In 1820 he left the British Provinces and went to reside with his brother Nathan, at the Madawaska Settlement, and engaged in the lumbering business with him, under Nevers [Samuel Nevers, a merchant of St.John, NB, who had obtained a license from the NB provincial government to cut timber] In 1821 Nathan Baker died, and Johbn Baker continued to carry on the lumbering business under Nevers." From "Report of the Special Agent," part of Appendix 34 of First Statement on the part of Great Britain.

"John Baker is said, by one of his descendants, to have been about five feet eleven inches in height, and to have wighed about one hundred and seventy-five pounds. He was very erect, had a light complexion, bright blue eyes, heavy chin and a very big nose. He was a good talker, could take a glass of liquor, and was charitable and generous to his poorer neighbors." (Raymond, pp.364-365)

After the death of his brother Nathan, Baker took over Nathan's businesses. "He operated a gristmill and a sawmill at the mouth of the Meriumpticook Stream on the north bank of the St. John, and took his place as the leading American in the disputed territory." Source: Aroostook-The First Sixty Years, by Clarence A. Day, Chapter Chapter VI - Baker's Liberty Pole And Arnold's Cow

"His name is indissolubly interwoven with the North Eastern boundary controversy. He had a home on the disputed territory, defied the officers of New Brunswick in many ways and was twice arrested and imprisoned in the Fredericton jail. The last time that he was incarcerated was when he was indicted, tried and sentenced for sedition and conspiracy against the King at
the Hilary term of the Supreme Court for the County of York, province of New Brunswick, May 8, 1828. About all that has been published regarding him may be found in the Report of Charles S. Davies to the Governor of Maine January 31, 1839; a paper on John Baker by George S. Rowell, A. M., read before the Maine Historical Society December, 1911, and published in the Historical department of the Eastern Argus; "The North Eastern Boundary Controversy and the Aroostook War," by John Francis Sprague (Dover: Observer, 1910), and the documentary part of the Piscataquis Historical Society Collections, Vol. 1.)" Source:

In fact, John Baker seems to have purposely provoked the New Brunswick authorities by attempting to stop the mail being sent by canoe from Madawaska to Quebec by the St.John River, by trying to get the French residents of Madawaska to reject British authority, as well as other such defiance of British authority. This despite having in the past accepted the grain bounty from the Province of New Brunswick, and even having stated that he was intending to take British citizenship.

Here is the text of two articles about the trial, courtesy of Norm DeMerchant:

Royal Gazette, Feb 12, 1828

On Tuesday last, the Supreme Court commenced its Hilary Term. Immediately after the opening of the Court, an arrangement was made for attending to the Crown business on Thursday. On that day the Court was at an early hour, thronged with Spectators, who attended, apparently in expectations of hearing something relative to the business of John Baker and others, which, for some time past has excited so much attention.

The Grand Jury, having the day preceding, presented two Bills of Indictment, one against John Baker and two others, for a conspiracy and seditious practices, and another against Baker and six others, for a riot, assault and rescue at Madawaska, Baker was brought up, and charged upon those indictments, to which, after some observations, which he repectfully made to the Court (denying its Jurisdiction) he plead severally not guilty; and upon his stating that he was not prepared, either with witnesses or Counsel, to proceed to trial, at his request the Court ordered the causes to stand over until the next Term, and that he should find Bail for his apperance then to prosecute his traversers with effect. The sum, upon the suggestion of the Attorney General, was fixed at 50 pounds in each cause, that is to say, the Defendant in that sum, and two sureties in 25 pounds each. Mr Samuel Nevers was nominated by the Defendant as one of his Bail, who was instantly approved of, but not being present, Mr Baker was told, that he could name another surety with Mr Nevers to the Attorney general, and that the Court would at any time when he should be ready, admit him to Bail.

Processes were ordered against the other Defendants, and the next day the Crown witnesses, were recognised for their appearances at the next Term, and dismissed,-- The Attorney general declining to press for the trial of the information filed against Baker at the last Term, as it appeared to be his wish, that the whole of the charges should be postponed until then.

There was another Indictment presented against Joesph Arnold and 12 others, for a riot, assault, and false imprisonment of a constable, in the execution of his office on the River Restook {Aroostook River], in the September last, nine of whom appeared, and processes were there upon ordered against them.

We heard the Attorney General moving the Court upon several affidavits which be exhibited, for Rules for the Madawaska Intruders to appear to the Informations heretofore filed against them and also for a compulsory process against Baker, for not having appeared to a like Information, for intrusion under former rule; all of which were ordered accordingly.

Baker was brought up, and gave Bail in the three Prosecutions, and was discharged.

Here is another article from the same newspaper concerning John Baker, after the judgement against him (again thanks to Norm DeMerchant)

Royal Gazette Dec 11, 1833

To be sold at Public Auction, at Harvey's Hotel in Woodstock on Thursday the 12th day of June next, between the hours of 12 and 5 in the afternoon.

All the estate, right, title, interest, claim and demand of John Baker, of in and to a certain tract of land on which he resides, in Madawaska, containing about 200 acres, with a double Saw Mill, Grist Mill, Two Story Dwelling House, large Frame Barn, Sheds and Out Houses built thereon: The said Farm being bounded on the East side by land owned by Fierman Thibadiau and on the West by Nathaniel Bartlett's land and with the aforesaid improvements has been taken on Execution issued out of the Supreme Court , at the suit of Samuel Nevers, against the said John Baker, for the sum of 306 pounds 11 Shillings 1 pence.

J. F. W. Winslow, Sheriff.
Woodstock December 4, 1833

In the first written records available on this web site, the 1830 US Census of Madawaska Settlement, John Baker appears on page 375, the head of a household that included, besides himself (aged between 40 and 50), his wife (also between 40 and 50), one boy between the ages of 10 and 15; one male aged 30-40; 2 females aged under 5; one female aged 5-10; one female aged 10-15 (probably Sophronia, daughter of his late brother Nathan, and future wife of fellow-settler Jesse Wheelock); and 2 females aged 15-20. His wife, Sophia Rice, was the widow of his brother Nathan Baker, who had been the leader of the group of lumbermen who came north. Thus some of the children (Sophronia, for example) were Nathan's, others were John's.

In the 1831 survey of the valley of the Upper St.John River commissioned by the State of Maine and undertaken by Deane and Kavanagh, the report notes that Baker owned two lots of land on the North Bank of the river, on one of which he lived. He obtained one of these lots (100 acres) in 1823 from the States of Maine and Massachusetts (Massachusetts owned 1/2 of the public lands in Maine for historical reasons). He also claimed a lot "up the Marirumpticook [now Baker Brook] on which he began in 1826; also claims an island in the St.John, clearing began in 1828." In addition, the report notes that he had previously owned land further upstream, which he had sold to others. Since his first titles to the land were obtained from the British government (the Province of New Brunswick), and since the purpose of this particular survey was to establish US ownership of the region, the origin of his ownership of these lots was not mentioned.

In the 1833 Census of the Settlement of Madawaska undertaken by the Province of New Brunswick in the fall of that year, John Baker is listed as living on ungranted (from the perspective of New Brunswick) land on the Left (that is, north) bank of the St.John, in a household with one woman, 2 boys and 4 girls. The survey indicates that he had no livestock, nor had he sown or reaped any crops in that year or the previous one.

In the 1840 US Census of "Madawaska North of the St.John River" John Baker again appears (on p.52), age between 50 and 60, living in a household with 2 males age between 10 and 15; 1 male age 20-30; 2 males age 30-40; 1 female age 10-15; 2 females age 15-20; and one female age 50-60.

In the 1850 US Census of Aroostook County, John Baker is shown living in "Hancock Plantation," age 64, with his wife Sophia, age 65. The following year, in the 1851 New Brunswick census, John and Sophia are in St.François, New Brunswick (p.6). John is listed as age 64, a farmer and lumberman. He gave the date of his coming to New Brunswick as September 1816. In the 1861 census John is still in St.François (p.15), his age is listed as 75, his occupation as farmer. He is listed (incorrectly) as having been born in New Brunswick. His religion is listed as Baptist.

John Baker died 10 Mar 1868. He was buried in St. Francis, but his remains were at one point removed to where he is currently buried, in the Riverside Cemetery in Fort Fairfield, Maine.

Here are photos of the front and back of the grave of John Baker and his wife Sophia (Rice) Baker:

Click on photos for enlarged views

The text on the front of the grave reads:
John Baker, Jan 17, 1796 - Mar 10 1868
Sophia His Wife, Mar 17, 1785 - Feb 28, 1880

The text on the back of the tombstone reads:
Erected by authority of a Resolve of the Legislature of Maine, A.D. 1895 to commemmorate the Patriotism of JOHN BAKER a Loyal son of Maine in maintaining the Honor of his Flag during the contentions on the disputed Teritory 1834-42

Here is an article on John Baker and the Baker tombstone, by George L. Findlen, reproduced here by permission of the author, "Under His Own Flag: John Baker's Gravestone Memorial in Retrospect"  The article includes fascinating details about Baker's life as well as explaining how and why the memorial came about, the ways in which it misrepresents the actual events, and the relationship to broader political currents in the US and Maine at the time.

For more information on John Baker:

If you have any information about John Baker, his ancestors or descendants, please

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Last revised 16 Feb 2011