June 23, 2018
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Bay State town thanks Machias, 230 years later

By Diana Graettinger

MACHIAS, Maine — In 1778, 10 men traveled 370 miles to fight in America’s Revolutionary War, not as members of the Machias Militia, but as volunteers in the Dudley Militia.

The pay of 30 pounds sterling that the town of Dudley, Mass., offered looked pretty good to men who cut wood for a living.

Tonight, those 10 men, one of whom was born and raised in Machias, will be honored by the town of Dudley for their service to their country.

Michael Branniff of the Dudley Historical Commission will be at the Machias town office at 6 p.m. to present the town with a framed letter of recognition of the men’s part in their country’s history.

“The Dudley Historical Commission wishes to reveal to the citizens of Machias, Maine and Dudley, Massachusetts that a bond exists between our towns and citizens,” the letter stated. “This is so by virtue of those Machias and Dudley men who served together in Massachusetts infantry formations of the Continental Army recruited to fight in the American Revolution.”

Only one of the men, Joseph O’Brien, had roots to Machias, local historian Val Atwood said Tuesday, and at that time, Maine was part of Massachusetts. The other men appear to have come from other areas and were in Machias working when they volunteered to serve in the militia. They were John Keating, Tim Drummond, Charles Frank Otto, John Otto, James Rainer, John Dunn, James Barnard, William Brown and Matthew Fullsom.

Learning more about the historical link between Dudley and Machias has been fun for Atwood.

It was Branniff who first contacted Atwood through the Burnham Tavern Museum’s Web site about the men’s connection to Dudley.

Sitting in her Machias home surrounded by historical books and papers, Atwood, 77, follows the evidence as she researches the history of her community.

“I love it,” she said. A bumper sticker on her wall states: “I brake for old graveyards.”

Atwood, who at one time was the Machias administrative assistant for the Bangor Daily News, is often contacted by people interested in finding their Machias roots.

So when Branniff e-mailed her, Atwood took his inquiry seriously.

“I wrote him back and told him I was very interested in what he had sent,” she said.

She confirmed that Joseph O’Brien, who was 18 at the time, was the youngest of the six O’Brien brothers who took part in the Battle of the Margaretta on June 12, 1775; it was the first naval battle of the American Revolution, and was fought in Machias Bay. Atwood said 19th century American novelist James Fenimore Cooper called the Margaretta battle the “Lexington of the Sea,” comparing it to the battle in Massachusetts in April 1775.

Little is known of the nine other men, she said.

In 1775, Atwood said, about 100 single men were living in a settlement in Machias and working in the sawmills or lumbering industry.

“They were born elsewhere and came here,” she said.

Unless they married or had families they were not part of the town’s vital records. The town’s records date back to 1767.

“I have been on the Internet trying to find where these men were from,” she said. “I put all the names on, and the only one I get any information on is Joseph O’Brien.”

Why the men traveled to Dudley is unknown, but it appears, Atwood said, that Dudley needed to meet its militia quota and somehow that message got to Machias.

“There must have been some sort of connection between one of these men [and Dudley] and they were getting evidently some money for [joining the militia]. This is what we think,” she said.

Branniff, who is visiting the area from Dudley, agreed.

He said Tuesday night that the town offered a “bounty” to fight.

“At this point they were trying to field an army,” Branniff said. “Every town had a quota on this Continental draft and each town would put up a bounty. Dudley offered the men 30 pounds.” Other towns offered even more. “That was a lot of money and you could buy a lot of snuff,” he added.

Atwood still wonders how the men got there. “They probably went by ship, but the British blockade was on so they probably didn’t go into Boston. I am guessing they came in somewhere else,” she said. From there they had to make their way to Dudley. That part of their travel remains part of the mystery.

Town Manager Betsy Fitzgerald said Tuesday she was pleased to learn of the connection to Dudley. She said the public is invited to tonight’s presentation.

“Machias contributed more than a battle or two to the American Revolution and I think that it is wonderful that that history is coming back here,” she said.

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