Old News Archive

From the 1837 Foundation of Northern Maine

October 01, 2007 - TRC

Dear friends, cousins and internet acquaintances:

Many of you know that I have started The 1837 Foundation of Northern Maine in reaction to the knowledge that Maine doesnt have an Aroostook War museum/library/memorial or even a "I vote in honor of a Veteran" button for those Maine men who left their homes in the dead of winter in 1839 to protect and defend the territorial integrity of The United States and the State of Maine.

After the signing of The Webster-Ashburton treaty in 1842, not only was the Northeastern Boundary of the United States established, but also the Northwestern Territory boundary that includes modern day Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Up until that time, the boundary there was also in dispute and that dispute was partially responsible for the Lower Canada Rebellion and the sinking of the vessel - The Carolina. It was this dispute that brought Gen. Wm. H. Harrison into the public eye and president after Van Buren.

My Knowlen family was the second settler in Masardis on the Aroostook River and the first family there in 1836. My Gr Gr Grandfather, Roswell was the first child born in Masardis. When Maine sent it's Land Agent and military company to "The Aroostook" to arrest poachers and tresspassers, they build their camp right across the road from the Knowlen homestead on the Point where the Aroostook and St Croix met. They then sent parties down the Aroostook looking for poachers. It was one of these parties that was attacked by armed men from New Brunswick, arresting and carting a Maine State representative to a foreign prison that led to the Governor of Maine to declare war on New Brunswick and Great Britain.

During the winter and early spring of 1839, when farmers SHOULD have been planting their fields, the Knowlen homestead had a thousand militia tramping through their fields enroute to the defensive breastworks. In April of 1839, John Knowlen sold his 198 acres property for $25 so he could purchase food to get his family through until the next planting. In 1843, the men of Masardis sent a petition to the state asking the state to give a lot of Land to John and Mary Knowlen-the state did not act on the petition. By 1865: when John as 63 years old and in poor health, two of his sons were dead from the civil war, a third permanently disabled. They lost their youngest son in 1874 from a drowning accident and the remaining son - my gr gr grandfather had to move his family to Presque Isle where the only secondary school was located.

Maine's claim (and The United State's claim) rested on the fact that Massachusetts had established townships in present day Maine and on the presence of American settlers living in the Aroostook River Valley. Our copy of the map and treaty of Paris had been destroyed when the British burned Washington DC in 1814. The United States had only a small Garrison in Houlton at the time, choosing to use it's military forces to remove the Cherokee from Tennessee and Georgia and interfere in the internal affairs of Mexico during the 1830's.

New Brunswick had brought up battle hardened regulars from the West Indies to solidify it's claim to the Aroostook River Valley so as to ensure military routes to the Lower Canadian provinces that were in rebellion.

A Knowlen cousin, Daniel Walker, is a member of the Maine migration descendants who took their timber expertise and moved west to develop the economy of the newly established Northwestern Territories. Daniel and I are developing The 1837 Foundation of Northern Maine to establish the identities of those who protected and defended the Territory of the United States, locate their descendants and pay honor to those settlers and citizen-militia.

Daniel has gotten some attention and publicity but I have run into a roadblock here in Maine. We could use your help. I have resurrected the original petition from 1843 requesting a lot of land for John and Mary Knowlen. I have put it into contemporary language using the original format to ask that a lot of land, currently under state control for delinquent taxes, in T 9 R 5 - the township just south of the original breastworks, to be set aside and designated a state historical site under the ownership and management of The 1837 Foundation of Northern Maine as a memorial to The Aroostook War. I have received confirmation from the National Trust that re-creating the original breastworks and commissary is an acceptable project that falls within the parameters of their foundation. The original site is currently under private ownership and the University of Maine at Presque Isle received permission some time ago to do an excavation on the site in search of evidence of earlier indigenous populations. This excavation destroyed any remnants of the breastworks and military activity.

The legislative Joint Committe on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has the responsibility for designating historic sites and has the control of public lands. I spoke earlier with state Representative Jeff Gifford from Lincoln who is on that committee.
Lincoln played a significant role in the Aroostook War including sending a compliment of soldiers with the original company under Capt Stover Rines. The military road went through Lincoln and town leaders were individually instrumental in developing the mills that would encourage settlers up in T 9 R 6. Rep. Gifford advised me that a meeting of the committee would be held in October some time and advised me to contact the House Chair for an appointment. I have made the contact (several ) but have not received a reply. I have also contacted Sen. Roger Sherman, the state Senator whose district the property is in and also a member of the Joint Committee but again, no reply.

I attended the Maine state conference for The Maine Genealogical Association and had a copy of the petition. I was a bit disappointed to learn how many members of this association - dedicated to the ancestors who developed Maine - weren't aware of this piece of history but I did get about a dozen signatures.

If you think this is a worthy project-I would like you to e-mail the leadership of this committee. They can be located at Maine.gov.legislature then click on the membership/committee section. My target members are Sen. Roger Sherman, House chair Wendy Pieh, possibly Rep Jeff Gifford and Rep. Jackie Lundeen (her distict includes Westfield and Mars Hill where Roswell's son John was postmaster in 1900 and Roswell's daughter Kate Knowlen-Chase: my gr grandmother: served as the first elected woman: 30 years before she could vote for herself.. Kate married the son (Elmer Chase) of state Rep. Cyrus Chase who served twice in the House of Representatives 1896 & 1912. These are the committee members most directly affected and should be most supportive. I don't know any other committee members. All I want is an opportunity to present my petition and get support for a legislative vote. Obviously this is an opportunity to develop another aspect of our state's primary economy-tourism, and one that should be given a chance.

The process for legislative success is that a resolve is presented to both legislatures-House and Senate. It is then sent to the appropriate committee ( in this case Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry) for consideration, if approved it then goes on to a floor vote in both the House and Senate.If passed it then goes back to committee so that both resolves are identically worded then the resolve goes to the governor for signature. The 2nd session begins in January and the SOP is that most decisions on which legislation is to be voted on and sent to committee are already made by then-hence the "working sessions" in October and November. The current lot of property in T 9 R5 is to be put up for bid in Dec and bids are accepted until mid February. IF the legislature can get my resolve to the Governor before the bids are opened, the property can be altered from 122 acres to 100 acres and the 22 acres set aside for The 1837 Foundation of Northern Maine. Rep Gifford has said if he can get Sen. Sherman to assist him with authoring the resolve (he's never done it before) he would gladly present the resolve to the House and my state rep has said he will gladly co-sponsor the bill. I just need to get Sen. Sherman on board to present the same resolve in the Senate but cant get to him.

Please consider assisting me. If you live out-of-state and would consider visiting such a reconstruction/library/museum dedicated to the Aroostook War militia and settlers don't hesitate to mention it. As I said, tourism is a major source of revenue for Maine.

Roberta Williams
President and Chief Researcher
The 1837 Foundation of Northern Maine
P.O. Box 55
LaGrange, ME 04453

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.