The History of the Legendary Republic of Madawaska

By Rob Thompson Honorary Consul of Madawaska and Lizbekistan

in New South Wales

Further to your enquiries regarding the Legendary Republic of Madawaska I enclose the following:

Madawaska is a country largely settled by French-speaking people that lies at the very northern tip of Maine and extends somewhat into Canada, being parts of eastern Québec and western New Brunswick. At the present time, there is a Town of Madawaska in Aroostook County, Maine and a County of Madawaska with its capital at Edmundston in New Brunswick.

Historically, Madawaska is the name originally given to the St. John River and is derived from the Algonquin name "Madoueskak" which means "Land of the Porcupine." Today, one of the tributaries of the St. John bears that name and it flows from Lac Temiscouata north of Edmundston south to the confluence with the St. John at that town. Right across the river, and the international boundary is the Maine town of the same name, Madawaska.

The Fief of Madawaska was granted by the French Crown in 1683 to Sieur Charles-Aubert de la Chenaye. Joseph Blondeau, Pierre Claverie and Sieur de Danseville were successive owners until July 1763, when the Sieur de Danseville sold it to General James Murray, the Governor of Québec. In this transfer, the fief was described as "containing three leagues in front, on each side of the river of the same name, by two leagues in depth, together with adjacent Lake Temiscouata." It was owned by Alexander Fraser from 1802 to 1835, then sold to Cummings and Smith of Portland, Maine. Madawaska was largely unsettled prior to the mid-1700s. In 1755, the British deported the Acadians from what is now Atlantic Canada. However, some of the Acadians removed themselves prior to the official action and settled near Fredericton at a place called St. Anne's Point. In 1758, due to British threats to have them removed, the French settlers of St. Anne's Point moved again to Québec. Many of these people returned to St. Anne's Point in 1763, after the Treaty of Paris was signed.

Following the American Revolution, many English speaking Loyalists from Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York settled in the Fredericton area and they agitated for the removal of the French. They organized the Province of New Brunswick in 1784. Most of the Acadians at St. Anne's Point moved to the territory above Grand Falls, Madawaska, in 1785-87.

The Treaty of Versailles in 1783 between Britain and the United States defined the boundary in this area as being "... along the highest points which parts the basins of the rivers which flow into the St. Lawrence, from the ones of the rivers which flow into the Atlantic Ocean, ..." To the minds of the Americans, this included the territory known as Madawaska. At the same time, New Brunswick and Québec were feuding over this territory. New Brunswick had claimed this region since its founding; Québec had sponsored its settlers. In 1787, the surveyors of Canada (Québec) and New Brunswick met to agree on the boundary lines between the two provinces. They were unable to agree on a single foot of boundary line. The settlers of the region in 1790 petitioned the Governor of Québec for inclusion within that jurisdiction and he granted the Seigniory of Madawaska later that year.

During the War of 1812, tensions were high along the border; in 1814, the British reinforced their garrisons along the Great Lakes with troops marched in February up the frozen St. John and then up the Madawaska and across Lake Temiscouata and overland to Québec and then by transport down the river to the Lakes. This surprised the Americans who thought the only way to move troops in would be in springtime by boat. Many of the French settler of Madawaska became disgusted with their status during this period; some settlers dreamed of the day when they would proclaim the contested region an independent country.

In 1817, the first American settlers arrived in the region. Chief among them was John Baker, a bilingual hot-tempered nationalist. He arrived with a group of Kennebec Lumbermen, who had been granted lands by New Brunswick for logging and settling. In 1825, John Baker petitioned the new Maine Legislature for letters patent granting him his land, already granted by New Brunswick, along the Merumticook, now known as Baker Brook and located in what is today Canada.

John Baker and his wife, Sophie Rice, the widow of John's brother Nathan, who had been the original leader of the settlers in 1817, became the leaders of the Americans in this area. On July 4, 1827, a group of Americans gathered at his home to celebrate Independence Day. The American flag was raised during the patriotic celebration. According to Aroostook: Our Last Frontier, he "hoisted the Stars and Stripes to a home-hewn mast. The crowd cheered, merriment was plentiful, patriotism at a high pitch and a date properly set for proclamation of a constitution for American Aroostook."

On August 10, 1827, the date duly set for the proclamation of the new Republic, Magistrate George Morehouse arrived and asked Baker the meaning of the flag. Baker replied, "C'est le drapeau Américain, est-ce-que vous ne l'avez jamais vu? en ce cas vous pouvez l'examiner tout ‡ votre aise ..." ("This is the American flag, have you never seen it? in that case you can take your time and examine it ...") The flag was hauled down by the Magistrate and taken to Fredericton; Mrs. Baker went twenty miles to St. Baisle, and bought cloth and made up another flag which was hoisted in place of the first.

John Baker and his followers were accused of revolt against British laws; a sheriff and 14 men arrested him on September 25 and started down river to Fredericton. The party was not out of sight when Mrs. Baker raised her new American flag, saying "Le drapeau etoilé flottera encore ˆ la brise de Meruimticook!" ("The star-spangled banner will float again on the breeze of the Merumticook!") John Baker was brought to trial on the charge of conspiracy and sedition, May 8, 1828, when he was sentenced to pay 25 louis and to serve three months in the provincial jail.

Baker was known locally as the fierce American, "le Washington de la republique americaine du Madawaska;" his wife, Sophie Rice Baker, as "la vice-présidente de la republique," "l'heroine de Meruimticook," "la Lucrce du Madawaska," and years later as "la Barbara Fritchie de l'Aroostook."

The State of Maine protested vigorously to Washington. Henry Clay, Secretary of State, replied to Governor Lincoln, "The United States Government, convinced of the justice of her claims on Maine, will espouse the cause of John Baker and his companions, if New Brunswick refuses to set them free." The Maine Governor demanded immediate release of "Americans captured upon American soil," promising that if this were not immediately done, "American troops would march upon the capital of New Brunswick."

Meanwhile, U.S. regulars were dispatched to the settlement of Houlton, the southernmost outpost of early Aroostook, and they began the opening of a military road in the direction of the St. John River. But Britain preferred to yield rather than fight, and later in 1828, the U.S. and Britain both agreed to submit the boundary dispute to international arbitration. The King of the Netherlands was settled on as the judge of the final boundary and he responded in 1831 with a boundary neither side was prepared to accept.

On February 28, 1831, the Maine Legislature Resolved not to accept the decision of the King of the Netherlands, giving as its reason that he was no longer of any importance since Belgium had since gone its separate way. They also "Resolved Further - for the reasons before stated, That no decision made by any umpire under any circumstances, if the decision dismembers a State, has or can have, any constitutional force or obligation upon the State thus dismembered, unless the State adopt and sanction the decision."

On March 10, 1831, the Legislature passed another Resolve that apportioned Madawaska (among the other towns) one representative to that body. On March 15, an Act to Incorporate "the territory called and known by the name of Madawaska Settlement" into the town of Madawaska. (See map above.) This incorporation included a huge piece of territory, some 4,272 square miles or more than three times the size of Rhode Island, and directed the local inhabitants to organize their town's government. On March 25, the President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, communicated to the State of Maine that he was in receipt of the findings of the King of the Netherlands and expressed his desire through the Secretary of State, "that while this matter is under deliberation, no steps may be taken by the State of Maine, with regard to the disputed territory, which may be calculated to interrupt or embarrass the action of the Executive branch of the Government of the United States upon this subject ..." On April 1, the Legislature passed another Resolve adding "three hundred polls and the sum of $5,714 to the polls and taxable estate ... set to the town of Madawaska ..."

William D. Williams, a Justice of the Peace, was directed to issue a Warrant for a Town Meeting, which was directed to Walter Powers, inhabitant, and the meeting was scheduled for August 20, 1831 at the house of Peter Lizotte, on the south side of the river, in what is today Maine. This meeting of about 40 men was held out of doors ("en plein air") as Lizotte protested against the meeting being held in his house. A moderator and other town officers were chosen, several French settlers having refused office. British officials arrived and the meeting broke up without any further action. The meeting reconvened on September 12 at Raphael Martin's house in what is today Frenchville, Maine with about 50 citizens present. Captain Peter Lizotte was chosen by 21 to 16 votes over John Baker as Madawaska's Representative to the Legislature.

His Excellency Sir Archibald Campbell, Major General and lieutenant Governor of the Province of New Brunswick, accompanied by two militia officers, the Attorney General of the province, and the sheriff of York County (N.B.) arrived in Madawaska September 25 and issued warrants against all who had voted at the two meetings. Barnabas Hunnewell (moderator), Jesse Wheelock (town clerk), Daniel Savage (selectman) and Daniel Bean were arrested; the French-speaking voters were excused. The first three named were fined 50 pounds each and imprisoned at Fredericton for three months.

When the Legislature reconvened in 1832, Lizotte wrote to Governor Samuel Smith that he had protested at the time of his election that he had no intention of taking the oath of allegiance to the United States, that he was a British subject and intended to die so. (He died a citizen of the United States.) The new Governor backed off on the stand his predecessor had taken and the matter of the Town of Madawaska was allowed to rest for the time being.

In 1836, Maine had a surplus of funds that was to be distributed to the towns. As no census of Madawaska had been taken, Ebenezer Greely of Dover was sent to take one so that the town could have its apportionment of the funds. He was arrested by British authorities. In 1838, Maine Land Agent Rufus McIntire was arrested in Madawaska. Major Hastings Strickland, Sheriff of Penobscot County, deputized a 200 man posse and headed north. The State Militia under General Isaac Hogdon established Fort Fairfield; Federal troops under General Winfield Scott occupied the block house at Fort Kent. In response, the British established Fort Ingals at the head of the Madawaska River at Lake Temiscouata and reinforced the garrisons at Grand Falls and Woodstock. This was known as the Aroostook War. Fortunately, the only casualty was a pig that had strayed over the border from New Brunswick into Maine and was eaten by the American troops.

General Scott renewed his old acquaintance with the Governor of New Brunswick and negotiated a settlement, temporarily recognizing each other's possession of territory. John Baker reappeared in 1840 and called a mass meeting at Fort Kent, hoisted the Stars and Stripes, and took possession of all the region in the name of the American Republic. This time he was not arrested because of the American troops still occupying most of the settled area south of the river. The U.S. and Great Britain signed the Ashburton-Webster Treaty on August 9, 1842, settling the boundary question once and for all. New Brunswick and Québec settled their boundary dispute in 1855, leaving portions of Madawaska in each province and in Maine. John Baker died in 1867, a Canadian citizen. In 1895, his remains were moved to Fort Fairfield, Maine where the State of Maine erected a monument to his memory.

A new Town of Madawaska was incorporated by Maine in 1869. But the "Republic" of Madawaska was not forgotten. According to a pamphlet entitled "The Republic of Madawaska" and published at Edmundston, "The myth of the 'Republic of Madawaska' (because it is not a true Republic in a political sense) draws its origins from an answer given to a French official on a tour of inspection during the troubled times by an old Madawaska colonist. Thinking the official a little too inquisitive he said 'I am a citizen of the Republic of Madawaska' with all the force of an old Roman saying 'I am a citizen of Rome,' and the pride of a Londoner declaring 'I am a British subject'."

Realizing the publicity advantages which could be derived from a Republic in the bosom of a democratic country and a constitutional monarchy, two citizens of Edmundston, Dr. P. C. Laporte, well-known artist-sculptor and the Honourable J. Gaspard Boucher, provincial secretary-treasurer at Fredericton, prepared a coat of arms for the "Republic" which the Doctor had registered at Ottawa, April 5, 1949. It consists of two hands clasped together with a torch rising out of them, above the words "MADAWASKA" and "N.B." on ribbons and the words "Republique du" and "Republic of" inscribed on either edge of the shield. At the base of the shield appears a porcupine and the bottom of the shield is shaped in the form of a fleur-di-lis. Ten knights sit on the executive of the Order of the Republic. Since the death of the Hon. J. Gaspard Boucher in 1955, its presidents have been the Mayors of Edmundston.

The "Republic" also has a flag, researched by Robert A. Pichette in 1960. He stated that the Registers in Fredericton show that John Baker's flag "showed an American eagle on a white background surrounded by a half-circle of red stars." The President of the "Republic" (Mayor Nadeau) commissioned Mr. Robert Benn, professional designer and native of Edmundston to draw the design in 1965. The Reverend sister Marthe de Jesus from the Immaculate Conception Congregation and arts teacher in Edmundston, painted the original flag which hangs above the Mayors seat in the City of Edmundston building. The flag is white, with an arc of six red five-pointed stars over a bald eagle with brown feathers, white head, and beak and claws of yellow, outlined in black. Proportions approximately 3:4. Presented to the City Council, it is said "that there was no beginning and that all was well accepted in a democratic way." Later, in 1966, a visitor asked Mayor Nadeau the meaning of the flag. After a moment of hesitation, he said:

"The Eagle represents the great neighbouring nation, the United States of America, to which Daniel Webster and Lord Ashburton, in 1842, refused the privilege and the honor of having the Madawaska in its territory. A loss for Uncle Sam's Country! The White Background [represents] the purity of the 'Madawaskayen' scenery and of its people: a purified breeding of Acadians, French Canadians, aborigenal [sic] and Anglo-Saxons. The Six Red Stars [represent] the founders and their spilled blood working at clearing the dense forest and opening our land to the abundant cultivation to well feed the very charming and hospitable mouths to enrich Canada be it of Acadians, French Canadians (said canayens), the aboriginal, the English, the Scotch and the Irish."

According to a sheet entitled "Explanation [of] The Flag of the Republic of Madawaska" the stars represent (from hoist to fly) Arcadians/Acadiens, Scots/Ecossais, English/Anglais, Irish/Irlandais, French/Francais, and Indians/Indiens.

According to an article appearing in The Atlantic Advocate, June 1981, entitled "The Republic of Madawaska" by Oneil Clavet, the flag "features an eagle symbol of their independence, on a white background and overhung by six red stars, laid out in a semi-circle, and representing the six ethnic groups, all co-founders of the republic. The Indians, the Acadians, the Quebecers, the Loyalists, the Americans and the Irish."

This flag flies over the Edmundston City Hall and is very much in evidence during La Foire Brayonne, the annual nine-day Madawaskan festival.

However, things are different "on the other side," in the U.S. part of Madawaska. Having traveled there and asking around, there is hardly any recognition of the "Republic" or its flag. The emblem of choice in "the Valley" is the flag of Acadia, the French tri-color with a gold star added in commemoration of the Virgin Mary for her intercession in the Acadian cause thereby permitting them to survive as a people. Although sometimes seen in Canadian Madawaska, this flag is very much used on the U.S. side of the border. It flies daily over the Municipal Building of Madawaska and is seen flying on many homes all along the river. The annual Acadian Festival in Madawaska finds this flag flying from every telephone pole on Main Street and it is sold by the dozens by vendors along the parade route.

It is curious that an "American" flag is popularly used in French-speaking Canada and a "French" flag is popularly used in the French-speaking part of the United States. Only in Madawaska!

The End