On this Day: The Battle of Machias

The Battle of Machias was the first naval engagement of the American Revolutionary War.

On June 2, 1775, loyalist merchant Ichabod Jones, with two merchant ships, the Unity and the Polly, arrived in the port at Machias, Maine.  He refused to sell and unload his cargo of pork and flour unless the local town would allow him to take on a load of lumber for Boston, then under siege by Colonial forces.  Negotiations apparently took some time because on June 6 the local townspeople voted not to do business with him.  Jones responded by calling on the British armed sloop, the Margaretta, under the command of Midshipman James Moore, to come in and “encourage” them to decide otherwise.

The threat of the sloop, brought into firing range of the town caused the townspeople to hastily have another vote.  This time, with guns pointed their way in the harbor, they voted to allow trade.

Jones apparently wasn’t entirely satisfied with the enforced change of heart and announced that he would only do business with those individuals who voted for the trade.  This angered the folk who had not only lost the vote, but were not able to gain even that much from the result.

As a result, militia leader Colonel Benjamin Foster collected like-minded militia members not only from Machias but from neighboring towns.  The plan was to arrest Foster and Moor at church on June 11 but they failed when Jones noticed the men approaching.  Moore escaped across the harbor while Jones fled into the woods where he remained hiding for the next two days.

Foster’s men regrouped from giving chase to the two men the next day.  Foster took 20 men to the neighboring town of East Machias where they seized the sloop Unity as well as the local vessel, Falmouth Packet.  Other militia members traveled overland to adjacent to where the Margaretta lay anchored and demanded her surrender–a demand that Moore (now back aboard his ship) refused.

The Margaretta sailed to where the Polly was anchored and attempted to recover her.  There was an inconsequential exchange of gunfire with militiamen on the shore and the Margaretta turned and sought a safe anchorage.

Unfavorable winds and the loss of his boom and gaff to same hampered the Margaretta’s navigability.  Once he reached Holme’s Bay, however, he was able to capture a sloop and took it’s own spar and gaff to replace his, also taking the sloop’s pilot, Robert Avery, prisoner.

The Unity, now under the command of Jeremiah O’Brien, sailed in pursuit of the Margaretta, followed by the slower Falmouth Packet.  The Unity soon caught up to the damaged Margaretta.

When he saw the Unity, Moore opened full sail and cut away his boats in an attempt to flee.  When this proved fruitless, he opened fire.  The Unity, nevertheless, pulled alongside the Margaretta and the militiamen of the Unity boarded the Margaretta.  This provided an opportunity for the Falmouth Packet to catch up, pull along the other side of the Margaretta, and the combined militia crews of the two Patriot vessels were able to take the British ship.

In the course of the fighting, Moore was severely wounded by a musket ball to the chest.  He was taken to shore and given to the care of Ichabod Jones’ nephew, Stephen Jones but nevertheless died the next day.


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