The Battle of Machias

Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the colonial militias laid siege to Boston, blocking British forces from leaving the city on land.

American patriot forces ran several successful supply raids and seizures during the first month of the revolution.

The patriots captured Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point with little resistance and achieved an inspirational victory at the Battle of Chelsea Creek.

On June 2, 1775, the British armed schooner Margaretta arrived in Machias Bay with two merchant ships is search for supplies. At this point the new colonial government didn’t have any armed vessels and the Royal Navy owned the sea.

Ichabod Jones owned the merchant ships Polly and Unity. He attempted to trade goods with the people of Machias in exchange for lumber to be used building barracks for British troops. When the citizens voted against the deal, Midshipman James Moore moved the Margaretta to a position where it could fire on the town. The citizens then had a second vote, this time electing to supply the requested lumber.

Many of the townspeople were unhappy with the situation. On June 11 Colonel Benjamin Foster led the Machias militia in a failed attempt to seize Jones and Moore in a church.

Armed with axes, pitchforks, and muskets, the militia took two merchant ships and sailed out to engage the Margaretta. James Moore turned the armed schooner into strong winds toward the open sea. During the retreat, the Margaretta suffered damage to its main boom, gaff, and rigging. The swift merchant ship Unity, under newly elected Captain Jeremiah O’Brien, caught up with the British as they were completing repairs.

The Margaretta fired on the patriots, but all the cannon balls missed. The Unity pulled up alongside the British vessel and a fierce battle began with muskets and hand-to-hand combat. Another merchant ship under control of the colonial militia, the Falmouth Packet, pulled up on the other side of the Margaretta to join the fighting. Many sailors were wounded or killed. Midshipman James Moore was shot in the chest. Seeing that the battle was lost, the British soon surrendered.

The Battle of Machias was the first naval conflict of the revolutionary war and an important victory for the young nation. We remember the two patriots who lost their lives that day, John McNeil and James Coolbroth. We honor these fine men and all Americans who have fallen in defense of our liberty.

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