There will be something new and different at this year’s 43rd annual Machias Wild Blueberry Festival on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, August 17, 18 and 19, and it has nothing to do with blueberries. Reminiscent of Paul Revere’s ride and his famous warning, “the British are Coming,” these same words will be shouted from one corner of this shire town to the other as a group of reenactors will showcase their love of history by way of an historic reenactment performed on the Machias River at the dike on Route 1.
The Machias Committee of Safety, a group started by Maine Game Warden Joe McBrine, will give visitors a glimpse of what it was like in August of 1777 at the Battle of the Rim. Two years after the British ship Margaretta was captured, the British returned to end the rebellion, avenge the death of its captain and burn the town of Machias to the ground. The battle was a cooperative effort among the patriots of Machias and three Native American tribes —Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Penobscott. The reenactment is scheduled for Saturday, August 18 at 3:00 p.m.
Col. John Allan, who had recently concluded the 1776 Watertown Treaty, which brought peace among the tribes in the area, persuaded Maliseet Chief Ambrose Bear and the other tribes to join him and the patriots in defending Machias in August of 1777. Leaving their homes in the St. John River Valley, the Native Americans traveled in 120 canoes and arrived in time to help defend the town as the British approached from the waters off Machias. After three days of skirmishes, a much talked about long rifle shot, and an unusual tactic of deception, the British retreated and never returned for the duration of the war.
“This will be the first time we have done an event like this,” says McBrine. “We know it will be ‘a learn as we go process’ and the goal is to make it bigger and better each year.” A number of descendants of the actual participants in the engagement will also be on hand. Wilfred Neptune and his son Willie, direct descendants of Passamaquoddy Chief Francis Neptune will take part in the event as will Jeff Geel of East Machias.
Geel was reluctant to become a member of the group, but he now loves what he is doing and recently learned that it was a house belonging to his ancestors that was burned by the British during the battle. “From where I live, I can look out the living room window and see the exact spot where that house burned,” says Geel. “With each day and each historical event our group recreates, it brings me that much closer to my own family history. I take great pride in doing what I am doing with this group of reenactors and look forward to learning as much as I can about this place and my family.”
“Ernie Atkinson will be the captain of a 20-foot boat that he built,” says McBrine. The Machias Historical Society has also assisted the group by purchasing some British Red Coat uniforms, and Joshua Vose of Whiting will portray the British officer felled by the long rifle shot. “We hope this event grows in the coming years and we will continue to raise money for more uniforms and equipment. We hope to purchase a cannon and a swivel gun,” says McBrine. For more information about the Machias Committee of Safety, go to the Margaretta Days Festival Facebook page.