Born on the 26th of July

Born on the 26th of JulyThe state’s bicentennial is next year, but Maine declared its independence 200 years ago this month.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony took over the Province of Maine in the mid-1600s, and Mainers always felt a little salty about that. So it was no surprise that, not long after America won independence, Maine started agitating for its own. In 1786, the separatists enumerated their grievances, including the lack of political representation for small settlements and the hassle of carrying out official business in a faraway capital. Also, sheep taxes.

“The keeping of sheep is difficult and expensive, by the hazard from wolves . . . and the great length of winters,” they wrote, arguing that a Maine sheep was more likely than a Massachusetts sheep to die and should thus have a lower tax-assessed value.

But sheep aside, public opinion was split over the question of separation. Once again, an independence movement needed a little nudge from the British: When redcoats occupied parts of Maine in the War of 1812, Boston declined to send troops, and Mainers never forgave the betrayal. On July 26, 1819, they cast a landslide vote to part ways with Massachusetts, and our southerly neighbor has been the poorer for it ever since.


Will Grunewald

Will Grunewald is a senior editor at Down East magazine.